Early Summer

1 07 2015

Just a few photos of these early summer days…

Watermelon DrinkHomemade Watermelon Agua Fresca

TomatoesBackyard tomatoes ready for the roast

DahliasMy dahlias are doing so well!

Dahlias2So pretty! Dahlias (and peonies and anemones and phal orchids and ranunculus) are my fav!

ChickensThese girls are eating my lettuce plants, down to the bare stalk

To more summer days,
AnhD





Elitism and Food

19 06 2015

I have CSA boxes delivered to me, but also have the option of my weekly farmer’s market. I raise my own chickens. I compost. I have half a dozen fruit trees, which will be ripe for harvest later this summer. I have been growing and eating my own herbs, tomatoes, and lettuce.  I like to preserve my own lemons and make my own lemon curd. I homemake the granola I eat each morning for breakfast. I am a new owner of a Vitamix and enjoy fresh fruit and veggie smoothies. I am unabashedly proud/blessed/happy to live in a place where most of my food is grown in-state and within a ~300 mile radius of where I am. Thus by default, I shop local. And I acknowledge that it is an absolute blessing and privilege that not everyone enjoys. But to call the slow food movement elitist? It makes me pause. Our desire to return to a pre-industrialization, pre-processed, pre-packaged way of life – is that elitist? A desire to cook and prepare food the way our grandmothers did – is that elitist? I’m not sure. I acknowledge that cooking this way is not cheaper – a box of instant mac and cheese costs pennies, whereas homemade mac and cheese complete with roux, a variety of cheeses, and whole grain pasta – is easily 5 times the cost. A jug of Tropicana orange juice is way cheaper (and less time consuming), though not as delicious, than manually juicing 2 dozen California-grown navel oranges. But this is the way our grandmothers did it. This is how we are suppose to treat the bounty of the earth – this is how we respect the food. Thomas Keller (perhaps also guilty of being called an elitist) writes in the French Laundry Cookbook (probably the epitome of food elitism) that we must cook slowly and deliberately, “to fully engage ourselves in cooking, to regain the connection to food that we’ve lost in our craving for quick fixes, shortcuts and processed ingredients.” And yet I understand something – that I have the resources to do it the slow way. To do it the more expensive way. To do it the less convenient way. It is definitely an indulgence and requires conscientious decision making to make it a priority. But it is a personal choice, and not one that makes me scoff at Nabisco cookies or Kraft products (trust me – I have both brands in my pantry). So is it food elitism? I remain ambivalent, but this article from the New Republic did make me pause.

EggSammy4

Less Than $4 Toast
I’m sure you’ve all heard of the insanely priced $4 toast here in SF (served at The Mill). It’s been the butt of late night talk shows and Internet memes, and just adds fuel to the elitist fire above. It is actually delicious. But I would much rather take that $4 and turn it into a savory sandwich – and this is it. A sandwich so easy, it doesn’t need a recipe. The best part – it’s all sourced right here.

Ingredients
pesto [Mine is homemade]
2 eggs, fried in olive oil to desired doneness
1 ripe Hass avocado
ripe heirloom tomato, sliced
sliced cheese (optional, but Gruyere would be amazing)
bread [I prefer a good Vietnamese baguette, but use what you like]
fleur de sel
fresh cracked pepper

Directions
Toast bread. Smother it with pesto. Add 2 slices of tomatoes. Lay on the avocado. Top with 2 eggs. Liberally sprinkle with cracked pepper and fleur de sel. Maybe add the slice of cheese. Close up the sandwich. Consume.

EggSammy3

Eggsammy1Definitely enjoying all the flavors and textures in this sandwich. Sure, it’s pretty basic. But when your food is THIS fresh, why bother messing with it. The egg is fried in olive oil (almost like this), with a really crispy white and extra creamy yolk. The pesto still has some bite from the garlic, and is oh-so fragrant, having been picked just minutes before. The avocado adds creaminess, and the perfect foil to the sweet and tangy tomato that’s buried in all the green. I probably could have added some arugula to the mix too. Yum. If this is elitism, maybe I don’t mind being called elitist, after all.

EggSammy2

David is off on a boar-hunting excursion, and I am left to figure out what to do in the event he does successfully bring home a 200+ pound sow. I’m thinking bolognese, stews and ragouts, beautiful BBQ ribs, braised shanks, chopped liver, and of course sausage. In the meantime, I’m shopping for a standalone freezer to hold all the meat that will come back from our butcher. Can’t wait to share more details!

AnhD





Oh The Places You Will Go?

17 05 2015

Graduation season is upon us, and around this time every year, I am confounded by the task of imparting words of wisdom to my high school seniors. What advice should I give to this group of students – all vastly different from each other. Some are incredibly self motivated and ambitious, others are still floundering with day-to-day decisions. Some are very sure of their purpose in the world, and others are still discovering that purpose. There is no single piece of advice that you can give this diverse group of students that would be relevant and true. There is no single platitude that applies to all of them. Except one. Just one common denominator. When these students grow up and pursue their careers, whether they’re off to the prosperous world of investment banking or the dignified calling of medicine or the culturally significant realm of the performing arts – there is a single thread that ties us all. No matter how unique, successful, different, prosperous, intelligent, beautiful, handsome, talented, skilled we may perceive ourselves and see us as separate from or better than another person – at the end of the day, we are all built of the same blood, the same bones, the same flesh. And as such, we must act accordingly. However, the world is constantly asking us to prove our differences. In job interviews and the college application process, students are asked to differentiate themselves from the pool of other students. And this encourages a megalomanic way of thinking that forces us to forget (oftentimes) that we are not so different from our neighbor. This separation dehumanizes our neighbors and we are then able to easily vilify or humiliate or ridicule them. So I guess if I had one bit of advice for my seniors this year, it’s that we need to remember and respect that we are all the same, and only the superficial and material things differentiate us. And because we are not so different, we must treat each other with courtesy and respect and even a bit of kindness, because we are all human and thus deserve that bare basic treatment. I think many of our race, religion and class tensions would be eased if more people remembered this and acted this way.

Chila2

Chilaquiles with Salsa Verde
Adapted from Source: FoodNetwork

I’ve been having a long hankering for chilaquiles, and while many places around here serve it, I wanted to challenge myself and make it from scratch. Chilaquiles are essentially a brunch version of “nachos.” Lightly fried chips topped with a any variety of veggies, sauces and meats. This dish was originally created to use of leftover staples like tortillas and salsas. This recipe in particular produces a wonderfully fresh and zingy roasted salsa verde that is simmered before smothering a bed of fresh chips. The homemade chips are a great base for the salsa and all the toppings. It’s easy to make for a crowd, or even just for two – the individual ingredients can be separately stored and thrown together whenever you’re ready to eat. I’ve taken the liberty of adding a few of my own toppings – roasted corn, a fried egg, pureed black beans, bits of avocado – all optional but so wonderful in this brunch dish.

Ingredients
Salsa Verde:
1 pound fresh tomatillos, husks removed
3 fresh serrano chiles (add more for more heat)
5 garlic cloves, peeled
1 large onion, rough chopped
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1/4 cup chicken broth or more as needed
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Chilaquiles:
20 6″ diameter corn tortillas, dried and cut into strips
Salsa Verde
1/3 cup cotija or queso fresco (I prefer the saltier cotija over the melty/oozy queso fresco, but your choice)
kernels from 1 roasted corn on the cob
2-3 radishes, thinly sliced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
Mexican crema (optional)
1 sunny side up egg (optional)
1 cup black beans (optional)
1 avocado, diced (optional)
vegetable oil

Chila4

Directions

To make the salsa, place the tomatillos, chiles, garlic, and onion on a lined baking sheet. Place directly under broiler (>500*F) until the vegetables are slightly charred and soft. Flip the veggies as needed for an even char. The veggies will smell very aromatic and will release a lot of liquid. Add all the ingredients into a blender along with the fresh cilantro and chicken broth. Blend to combine and adjust seasoning as needed. Add more broth or water as needed for desired consistency. Set salsa aside.

Chila5

To assemble the chilaquiles, pan fry the tortillas in batches until browned and crisp. Drain the tortillas on paper towels and discard the oil. Add about a cup of salsa verde for each serving of chips to a hot pan and bring to a simmer. Then, add the chips to the pan and cook until some pieces are soft but not mushy. Transfer to plate and top with cheese, roasted corn, thinly sliced radishes, cilantro, crema, beans, and egg(s) as desired. Serve and enjoy!

Chila3

Chila1

When I spoke to last year’s graduating class, I spoke of ambition and goal-setting and progress. I was quoted last year saying – “Don’t be complacent or stand still, because you will already have fallen behind on a planet that’s constantly moving forward.” Well this year, I’ve changed the beat of my drum a bit. Call it maturity or wisdom or age – but what’s becoming increasingly important to me is that human connection and that love and kindness reserved for others. It’s been a bad year in the news – a lot of conflicts. Conflicts that are rooted in misunderstanding and lack of kindness. Lack of patience to understand our neighbor. Too much emphasis on differentiating ourselves from “the other” and not enough conversations on our commonality and collaboration. So if we wish to see a better and brighter future, we have to ask our young and aspiring graduates to course correct. To do what previous generations have not been able to do. That would truly be success. That would truly be progress.

Chila6

Thanks for reading,
AnhD





Butter My Biscuits

22 04 2015

One of my (many) dreams in life is to live on a farm. Preferably about 30 minutes outside a big city (San Francisco) with easy access to a small downtown (obviously with cute restaurants and good food) and freeways, but with enough room to host my brood of chickens, geese, herd of baby goats, swarm of bees and all my puppies. I also want to grow my own fruits and veggies, and have beds of beautiful flowers that I can cut for dinner table centerpieces. I want to host my friends and family on our farm, for weekend picnics under the orchard or a small intimate dinner amidst the vines. By day I’ll don my pencil skirt and button-up blouse, but on weekends – you’ll see me in my wide-brimmed sun hat and garden galloshes. I essentially want to be Martha Stewart.

Biscuits-Whole

Cheddar Bacon Biscuits
Source: Adapted from Williams-Sonoma

Ingredients
6 slices of bacon, small diced then fried until crisp then crumbled
2 c all-purpose flour
1 tbs baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp sugar
3/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 stick (8 oz) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 sprigs of green onion, thinly sliced
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. buttermilk

Directions
Preheat an oven to 425°F.
In a food processor, throw in the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, pepper and butter. Pulse until small crumbs form. Add the cheese and half the bacon, and continue to pulse the food processor to mix thoroughly. Add 3/4 cups of buttermilk and 1 tablespoon of reserved bacon fat, and pulse just until the dough comes together. The dough will be very wet and sticky.
Using a 3 oz ice cream scoop or a large tablespoon, scoop out 12 biscuits and drop right onto a greased parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush the top of each biscuit with the remaining 2 tablespoons of buttermilk.
Bake the biscuits until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 15-20 minutes. Serve warm.

Biscuit Split

Cheddar Bacon Gravy
Source: Food

Ingredients
Remaining bacon crumbles from above
2 tbs bacon fat from above
2 tbs all-purpose flour
2 c milk
1/4 c shredded sharp cheddar cheese
salt and pepper, to taste
1 sprig of green onion, thinly sliced

Directions
In the same pan you used to fry the bacon, discard (or use in the biscuit recipe above) all but 2 tbs of the bacon fat. Once hot, add the all purpose flour and whisk vigorously to dissolve the flour, but without burning it. It should resemble a viscous white fluid. Add the milk, and continue to whisk. Let the gravy simmer and thicken for 10 minutes or so, continuing to whisk so the bottom of the pot does not burn. Once thickened, add the cheddar, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Continue to simmer and whisk until the cheese is all melted and incorporated into the gravy. Remove gravy from heat and add the spring onion. Serve with biscuits.

Biscuit Gravy

Biscuit Open

We have made these biscuits 3 times in the last 3 weeks – and they disappear in a heartbeat. My arteries are probably hating me right now, but my love handles are enjoying every buttery, bacony bite. Because the ingredients in both the gravy and biscuit are similar, this is a match made in heaven. I dare say, it takes the spot of peanut butter and jelly. Yum. In my dream world, I would serve these biscuits during those aforementioned weekend brunches or picnics under the orchard, on a long, rustic, wooden table with aged benches. The biscuits would be wrapped in a red and white checkered kitchen linen, then placed in a cute little wicker basket. To serve, I would unceremoniously place one on a white vintage plate, then generously douse it with cheddar bacon gravy. We would all eat in silence – only the occasional oohs or aahhhs would escape from our mouths. And after, we would wash it all down with refreshing mimosas and nap late until the afternoon.

Comatose,
AnhD





Confessions of a Reluctant Gardener

16 04 2015

Maybe I need to take a friend’s advice and do some blog rebranding…

Dahlia

Ranunculus

Lettuce

WeepingCherry

Up to this point, I have had very limited experience planting anything (terrariums aside). But I’ve found it surprisingly fun and really rewarding. After a day of work, I really like being knee-deep in soil. The earth is musky yet sweet. And there’s just so much life, if you take a second to look around – a pulsating moth pupa or a shy earth worm. And you literally reap what you sow – our plants have been sprouting nicely. From the fruits and veggies to all the lovely flowers we’ve planted. It’s only been a few weeks, but each day, I can see each plant grow a little taller, spread a little wider – this really tickles my need for instant gratification. And our baby chicks have also grown up so quickly, into little majestic pullets. In another month or so, they should begin laying, so I’m looking forward to sharing more details on that.

Chick1

Chick2

But alas this is a food blog – I did manage to capture this image before devouring a dozen of the most amazing cheddar and spring onion biscuits. I’ll be sharing a recipe shortly. These little pockets of buttery, bacony biscuits are just perfect with gravy. I’m going to give Jacob’s Pickles a run for its money.
CheddarBiscuit

Thanks for stopping by and until next time!
AnhD





Early Mornings

15 03 2015

Four weeks after the wedding, and I think my endorphin levels, heart rate, blood pressure, etc. have finally fallen to normal levels. I really wasn’t expecting this biological reaction to the long-awaited anticipation of the wedding or the emotional/psychological/physical stress of the event. But as this is real life and not some fairy tale, there is no rest, and we begin our next project together – landscaping the yard. Before we tackle it today, I’m enjoying a quiet Saturday morning to myself – a homemade cappuccino and my new favorite granola bar recipe.

Img5Another gift from our registry – our very own coffee grinder and espresso machine! Thank you friends for all the love!

Date & Nut Bars
Source: Minimalist Baker
This recipe from Minimalist Baker is amazing – simple to put together, adaptable, satisfying, and so much better for you than the pre-packaged things you can buy at the store. You can swap out the dates for any other dried fruit (apricot works really well), and the nut and nut butters can be substituted as well.

Ingredients
1 c of medjool dates, pitted (about 10-12 dates, packed into a cup)
1/4 c honey
1/4 c creamy almond butter
1 c slivered almonds, toasted until golden brown
1 c rolled oats, toasted until golden brown
1/2 c shredded coconut

Directions
After removing the pits from the dates, whiz the dates in a food processor until the fruit comes together like a sticky ball. In a small saucepan on low heat (alternatively, you can microwave in a bowl), melt the honey and almond butter until combined. To the bowl, add the almonds, rolled oats, and coconut, stirring to distribute.

Img2

Add the dates, working to break up the dates to evenly distribute the dates throughout the mixture. The dates and the honey will act as your glue to hold the granola bar together, so it’s best if these “glues” are evenly spread.

Img1

Img6

Line a small brownie pan (8″ x 8″) with parchment or plastic wrap, and spread the granola mixture into the pan, pressing down until flatted. The tighter you are able to compact the granola, the better the bars will adhere. Cover the pan with plastic wrap, and let cool in the fridge until set, about an hour or so. Once set, remove the entire parchment/plastic wrap from the pan, and use a large knife to cut into bars. Store in an airtight container at room temperature. I find that it’s better to cut into bars, then individually plastic wrap or zip-lock (the smallest ziplock bags work great!) each bar for freshness. This also allows me to take it with me for the road. This is the perfect snack or on-the-go breakfast. The only challenge is if you don’t pack the granola in tight enough, the bar can be a bit crumbly – which is perfect for topping Greek yogurt, but not so good for eating on-the-go. Either way, it’s delicious – enjoy!

Img3

Our backyard project covers about 5,000+ square feet, includes a chicken coop with 2 new chickens, a new raised herb bed, a new flower bed, and about a half dozen fruit trees. We are still in the process of laying a lawn, paving a few stone paths, constructing a stone fire pit – phew. This doesn’t even include the other work we need to do for the house. Just thinking about it makes me tired. Better get to work then!

Thanks for reading,
AnhD

PS. I am in the process of migrating my photos to Flickr
PPS. I just started shooting with a real DSLR and a new macro lens – bear with me!





Valentine

24 02 2015

Love, it’s a special day
We should celebrate and appreciate
That you and me found something pretty neat
And I know some say this day is arbitrary

But, it’s a good excuse
That I love to use baby
I know what to do baby
I, I will love you
I’ll love you
Kina Grannis [and performed by my sister on our wedding day]

DSC05595

So after much anticipation (this, this, and this), we finally got married. And it was beautiful. It exceeded my expectations in every single way – and if it wasn’t so expensive, I would do it again in a heartbeat. It was THAT much fun. Me, my best friend David, and my 400 closest friends and family. I couldn’t have asked for a more spectacular event. Even now that it’s been almost 2 weeks, I still replay and savor the events in my head. Here are some snapshots submitted by our guests:

IMG_0873

We’ve received a ton of positive feedback from our friends and families, as well as a ton of questions from newly engaged couples. We did all our planning ourselves, and as a management consultant, wedding planning was pretty intuitive. We created Gantt charts, RACI matrix, slide decks for all components of the wedding so that none of it would fall to us on the big day. All our decorations were catalogued in a detailed inventory list and labeled with sticky post-its, so that our designated decorators would know where to place everything. We did our due diligence with each and every vendor, in some cases, interviewing 3 or 4 different vendors for the same position. We qualitatively and quantitatively evaluated each vendor before making a selection. All the detailed planning paid off – and it was a beautiful day. Here I would like to share my top 5 tips for wedding planning – more or less the same as my tips for any kind of good project management.

FB_IMG_1424380366095

1. Stay organized
My Gantt charts, RACI matrix, item inventory, daily scrums (yes – David and I had daily scrum meetings), all paid off. They may seem excessive, but at the same time, it made the day itself stress-free, and I was able to engage in the day rather than worry about the granular details. David and I also programmed an MS Excel index array lookup sheet for out seating chart of over 400 guests, so that guest check-in would be effortless and efficient. I highly encourage using Google’s free suite of organization and collaboration products to keep you on top of everything. I used Google Sheets to track budget and timelines; I used Google Keep to manage my day-to-day tasks; I tracked all my vendor meetings in Google sheets; I used Google Presentation to create my setup maps. This way, you have a single source of truth for everything and aren’t having version control and miscommunication issues.

DSC00480

2. Be decisive
Having worked in the wedding industry, I’ve noticed that brides can be incredibly waffley – as in, flipfloppy; as in, indecisive. When I interned with the girls at Vo Floral, we would have brides change color schemes or types of flowers last minute, and would demand refunds for not having their orders meet their new standards. This is not OK. Be decisive early and stick to your decisions. Better yet, record those decisions (in text and also supplemented with images) in a Google Sheet or Google Presentation, so that all your vendors can also view them. This keeps the communication transparent across all the vendors – and your vendors are perfectly clear on what the decisions are and what the final look is.

DSC05555

3. Trust your vendors
Having managed million dollar projects, I’ve learned that you need to have a good working relationship with all your vendors. You hired a vendor because you trust him/her, so please trust the expert to carry out your vision. In most cases, a nice bride will get everything she asked for and then some. Good vendors are happy knowing their brides + grooms are happy. Also, don’t micromanage your vendors – again, if you’ve done your job to communicate your vision, color scheme, etc., then leave it to the experts. You don’t have the time to look through all 200 silver linen options (taffeta or crushed silk or lace overlay etc) or determine the exact layout and placement of the dessert table, trust me.

 

DSC05668

4. Don’t bargain too much
This is in the same vein as #3, but you get what you pay for. Of course, find a vendor that meets your budget and who understands your vision, but do not push him/her too much. They are on your side but need to earn a living too.

i00162_00120

5. Have realistic expectations
I think Disney, StyleMePretty, TheKnot, Pinterest, etc. may have ruined us. We have these grandiose visions of what our weddings should look like, and often times, we do not have the budget or time to support such visions. So, be realistic about your expectations – you’ll have a much better time if you aren’t disappointed that the flowers aren’t like this, or if your groom isn’t wearing this, or if your ballroom doesn’t look like that. Also, don’t expect your wedding day (or night) to be a transformative experience. If anything, it’s just another party with your closest friends and family – so have fun, lighten up, and assuming you’ve done the proper planning and hand-off to your vendors, it’s going to be great regardless.

i00153_00115

Do you have other bits of feedback? Please share in the comments section! I’ll be sharing my 5 tips for surviving the wedding day itself and another 5 tips on infusing personality into your wedding, so stay tuned.

Good luck future brides & grooms!
AnhD








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 46 other followers