Category Archives: Life & Pastry

San Francisco Eats, Om Nom Nom

How do you work up an appetite in San Francisco?

You slam your coffee and get started by walking across the Golden Gate Bridge!

The earlier, the better — try to beat those hordes of clueless cycling tourists if you don’t wanna get run over!

I spent three awesome days in San Francisco last week — and, as one of those people who puts adventurous eating and traveling on pedestals of near-equal heights, hearing all the people I knew tell me, “Ohmigawd, San Francisco? You have to eat the food there!” only drove up my excitement and expectations!

So, where to start?

Two obvious stopping points for pastry aficionados: La Boulange (croissant bread pudding = must-try recommendation!) and Miette, a bakery that’s been on my list of “places to eat from before I die” for a long time.

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My friend and I sampled Miette’s buttermilk panna cotta, chocolate pot de crème, lavender shortbread cookies, and their chocolate cupcake with strawberry Italian meringue buttercream.

The must-try recommendation: the cupcake — perfect, moist chocolate cake with fresh, flavourful buttercream. So good!

Also, one more stand-out shop in the Ferry Building Marketplace (home to many local businesses, relatively tourist-free): the Cowgirl Creamery. They sell local and international organic cheeses, and ate the best damned grilled cheese I’ve ever had in my entire life from their cafe next door, the Cowgirl Creamery Sidekick.

Later that day I had another amazing food experience on Fillmore Street, close to the trendy Chestnut neighbourhood: Patxi’s Chicago Pizza.

Whoamigawd.

Honestly, this was probably the most satisfying pizza I’ve ever dug into! I’d never eaten Chicago-style deep dish pizza before — was it ever amazing!

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New York City eats and Momofuku Milk Bar, Corn Cookies with Raspberries

On my way to Europe two months ago, I finally had the chance to see New York City!

I had always, always wanted to go to New York — the skyscrapers, the glamour, the grittiness, the culture, the history, the food. Everyone in Vancouver wants to go to New York (okay — probably not everyone, but most of us have “see New York” on our bucket list).

That dreamy yearning to see the sights of an internationally-renowned city, though, is probably a one-way street  — as in, New Yorkers don’t dream of coming out west and visiting Vancouver… probably because we’re just not nearly as cosmopolitan and cool!

Ha!

It’s sad, but true.

Vancouver is “cool” like “your mom thinks you’re special” — or something like that. We have mountains. We have ocean. We have Canadian geese (they’ll bite you).

I mean, the dirty subways, the brilliance of Times Square, the striking ceiling of Grand Central, the harbor wind on my face on the ferry to Liberty Island… it was all as amazing as I thought it would be!

But, of course, it was the eateries and bakeries that had me most starry-eyed.

My partner and I ate at Cafeteria (lovely lemon ricotta pancakes)…!

We indulged at Spot Dessert Bar (a tip courtesy of daisy’s last visit)…!

We grabbed all the goodies we could hold from Momofuku Milk Bar (cookies, pretzel milk, and bagel bombs — oh my)…!

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Going to Milk Bar is what made rushing through New York totally worth it — I’d been enamored from afar with the quirky recipes in Christina Tosi’s Milk Bar cookbook, and now I was actually up close and personal with the chef’s work!

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Tales of Awesome European Food Adventures, Salted Caramel Madeleines

She lives!

I’m back from the abyss — swallowed by the real world for almost 10 whole weeks!

I return with tales of triumph, sugar, and adventure.

Let’s get my timeline straightened out — first, I vanished in order to concentrate on finishing up pastry school and exams. Thankfully, my dedication and efforts paid off, because I graduated at the top of my class. It was pretty great. I was pretty proud. My mom got all misty-eyed. It was a milestone.

So, what did I do next? I did what any overburdened graduate would do — take off, of course!

My partner and I purchased one-way tickets to Russia (he’s got family over there) and figured we’d stay across the ocean for as long as possible (or at least until our life savings ran out).

It was a once-in-a-lifetime gallivant around the old continent — 24 cities in 12 different countries — we lived out of our backpacks, stayed in budget hostels, and indulged only in sight-seeing and dessert.

We landed in St. Petersburg via Moscow and New York — believe it or not, it’s cheaper to fly to Europe from anywhere but Canada — spend a few days there, then headed west and south, through Stockholm, and Copenhagen, and then into Germany.

After seeing Berlin, I insisted that we travel the scenic route though Prague and to get to the one, the only, Sacher Hotel in Vienna. That was a definite high point for me, as a pastry person, to actually eat one the annals of foodie history.

Passing through Vienna was convenient anyways, because, from there, we caught a sleeper train into Venice. From Venice we skipped through Pisa (best pasta of my life, people), then down to Rome.

Oh, Rome, you captured my heart — if you don’t mind the big city noise, then everywhere you walk is beautiful. Ruins here, vespas there, gelato everrrywhere!

Words don’t even describe how good gelato is in Italy. Nothing I’ve ever had in Vancouver even compares.

Alas, we couldn’t stay in Rome forever, so we took a train up to Milan, saw the sights, then traveled all day on local trains to get to Nice — and, again, Nice was amazing!

It was like every time we arrived in a new place, it was even more fascinating and more beautiful than we expected it to be — the blue Mediterrean, the historic center of town, the 25 minute train ride to Monaco… oh, and nevermind gelato — Nice had it’s own award-winning resident ice cream maker to boast about!

From Nice and Monaco we booked it through Marseilles and into Barcelona, where we spent three nights and still didn’t even see half of what there was to see and do there. Barcelona, unlike other European cities, doesn’t have a condensed core that you can walk around and absorb in a day.

Next time I go to Spain, I spend at least two weeks in Barcelona. Minimum.

After Barcelona came Paris — the hub of which so much of my discipline revolves around. All the beautiful food was so overwhelming, though, so I just decided to concentrate on sampling one particular treat: macaron!

I swooned when I saw Ladurée. I squealed like a kid when I saw Pierre HerméI sampled the goods from Lenôtre and Fauchon, too. The French had flavours that were especially creative, too — peach with apricot and saffron, cherry blossom, olive oil and mandarin… heaven!

We left Paris behind (but packed a few macaron to go!) and headed into Brussels.

It was pouring rain when we arrived, so my partner and I plopped ourselves down in the world famous Delirium Cafe and proceeded to have the best beer of our lives. We drank, we chatted with fellow travelers, some new friends treated us to even more beer, we washed it all down with fries and waffles, and I woke up with a massive hangover.

Totally worth it.

From Brussels, we went to Bruges, then Amsterdam, and Mannhiem. We flew out of Frankfurt and landed in Anchorage, Alaska. The last few days of travel seemed to speed by ever faster than before, and, before I knew it, I was back in Vancouver.

I’ve been taking it easy over the last week, just to get my groove back and figure out what to do from here — getting a new job right away would seem like the obvious thing to do at this point, but I’ve got something better in the works.

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Sugar & Chocolate

Hello, friends!

It’s been a while. Of course, as usual, my life has been busy — sometimes it’s hard to believe that so much time has passed between now and my last update.

Over the past couple months I’ve had a few immensely rewarding school experiences.

I had the chance to stage (pronounced to rhyme with the “rage” in garage) at a very nice restaurant downtown during Dine-Out Vancouver. I got to meet some great people and have fun as a plating volunteer at an award-winning food and wine pairing event.

Then I made an orange-buttermilk cake with vanilla and marmalade mousse topping and won a little cupcake-making competition in my school, so they sponsored me to participate in Vancouver’s annual Cupcake Throwdown fundraiser for the H.A.V.E. Café.

After seeing what a great cause H.A.V.E. was, I tried to donate some money to the Café through the school, but my executive chef suggested that I organize a charity bake sale to raise even more funds, so me and some classmates did that, too!

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Egg Noggies, for Charity

Big news! Big news! So much news!

Where to start — um, um… okay — so, first off, I’ve just come out on the other side of a round of practical exams.

I’m totally thrilled with my marks, mostly over 9+/10 on all my items (although I didn’t do a great job on my hand-rolled chocolate truffles), and my chef told me that I “set the bar” for the exam. Squee! How great is that?

Of course it’s my dream to become a truly skilled pastry chef — and of course I think I can do it — it’s just nice when someone I respect immensely throws a bit of fuel on the fire of my hopes and ambitions, y’know?

Look out, next semester, here I come!

On top of that, I was able to get a seasonal position (a second job, no less) helping out The Vancouver Club during their Christmas rush.

I recently had the luck of meeting their pastry chef, too, and she’s totally nice — she offered to let me come to the club one night and follow her around to see what she does for free, but this is even better.

Doesn’t it seem serendipitous that I’m able to work with her so soon after meeting her?

I don’t even know if I’m getting paid or not and I just don’t even care — money would just be gravy at this point — the opportunity of experience and the ballin’ reference on my resume is really all I’m lookin’ for!

Whoooooa shit — okay. Must calm down.

So, in other news, now that it’s the season of giving, my school is making cookie tins to sell and raise money for the local BC Children’s Hospital. Each pastry class has to produce at least 150 cookies to contribute to the tins.

I love the idea of baking for charity, and I was totally eager to participate no matter what kind of cookies my class decided to make, but imagine my surprise when my chef instructor asked me to make 150 cookies of my own recipe for the tins!

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Parkin & Cake Trials in Pastry School

So, here’s one of the reasons I’ve had cake on the brain:

Whadya think?

I think it looked okay-ish. Tasted great, but looked pretty amateur — I’ve gotta improve my masking and frosting skills.

Y’know, like, when you make something and you think, “This is pretty good…” and then not even 10 minutes later you think, “This is pretty good… but I should have done THAT!” — that’s totally how I felt about my cake project.

It’s comprised of a mocha sponge cake brushed with coffee syrup, layered with chestnut liqueur-infused ganache, and covered in chestnut whipped cream.

My chocolate-coffee-chestnut cake came into being because last week everyone in my class had to make their own cake project and present it to our chef for dissecting and tasting. While my creation definitely wasn’t the prettiest of the bunch, chef gave it top marks for taste and texture.

Besides — I know what I can do next time to make it look a lot better!

This parkin recipe I’m posting today is pretty much the exact opposite of what I was trying to do with my cake project — my cake was supposed to be elegant and sweet, while parkin is a down n’ dirty spice cake snack of the people.

I didn’t realize this before sifting through recipe books and planning posts for the month of November, but parkin is one of the festival foods commonly associated with Bonfire Night in England (which is, sadly, something I missed by about 10 days).

It’s weird timing that I would come across this recipe now, just because of the Occupy movement that’s been hitting major cities — little is it know that the movement actually started in Dataran, Kuala Lumpur, before igniting the high profile protest in Wall Street.

There’s even an Occupy protest happening in Vancouver right now, although I’m not totally sure what it’s supposed to accomplish.

While it would have been good to have a solidarity march for Wall Street or something, there’s not quite enough social inequity and crazy right-wing politicians in Canada to justify a full blown Occupy for any length of time.

Especially considering that the people who’ve pitched their tents on the Art Gallery lawn downtown don’t really seem to have any clear demands, other than to legalize raw milk — a stupid, irresponsible demand to which I’m 100% opposed.

Also, some of the protesters have been going to our local mayoral debates and heckling the candidates. I mean, good job, geniuses — the political change you want will come way faster if you interrupt democratic process.

Ugh.

The other weird thing about the Occupy movement is how the Guy Fawkes mask has been appropriated for the cause.

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