lavender strawberry shortcakes (and the best of June)

June was so good. Like so good I wish it didn’t have to end. Here are a few of my favorites from the month:

Moonrise Kingdom I went to see Moonrise Kingdom the night it opened in SF. What a MASTERPIECE! First love. Whimsy. Nostalgia. Welcome to the wonderful world of Wes Anderson. His films have a very special place in my heart, as do his characters – Maxwell Fischer, Margot Tenenbaum, Steve Zissou. I’ll be adding little Sam Schakusky to the list. I want to watch it over and over and over again. And I want to go to summer camp.

Beach House Bloom Gorgeous. Lush. Dreamy. The official soundtrack of Summer 2012. This is in heavy rotation at the moment. Beach House just keeps getting better and better.

Girls I have to admit I was hesitant at first, not because I had been paying attention to the buzz that it had generated (I was actually completely in the dark), but mostly because I had imagined something pretty generic. After catching the last few minutes of an episode, I decided to check it out from the beginning, which resulted in a three hour, six episode marathon. Girls perfectly captures those awkward, at times painful to watch, often hilarious moments that are so very much a part of being twenty-something. I find it admirable that Lena Dunham has created a female protagonist who is far from perfect, even somewhat unlikeable, yet you find yourself routing for her. She also birthed the most quirky, complicated, loveable man/boy on television. I can’t wait for season 2.

au revoir, foie gras My sister and I had been meaning to have dinner at Gary Danko since last September, we just never got around to it. But we were especially motivated to get a reservation this month so that we could have our last rendezvous with foie gras before the ban. Oh California, I love you, but sometimes I just don’t get you. I decided to go big and ordered the five course foie gras tasting menu, which included a foie gras torchon, seared foie gras, foie gras custard, squab with pistachio-crusted foie gras, and foie gras profiteroles. You only live once, right?

SF Pride Since my early twenties, this has been one of my favorite weekends of the year. It is always filled with good friends and sentiment and the best kind of ridiculousness. It is also a reminder of why San Francisco is such an amazing city. This year, I learned a few important lessons: 1) You’re never too old for Pink Saturday, especially if you’re with friends. 2) Your judgement is slightly impaired after a couple of bourbon cocktails; you should listen to your friend when he says you should not get the Four Loko. 3) After age twenty-nine, you are too old to consume malt liquor energy drinks (chased with a beer) and you will pay for it the next day. And maybe even a little the day after that.

lavender strawberry shortcakes One of my favorite vendors at the farmers’ market sells Albion strawberries. They get sweeter every week and I’m totally addicted. They are perfect in their natural state, but I especially like them dressed up as a shortcake. The lavender biscuits are an excellent platform for the strawberries and I love the simplicity of the creme fraiche on top, which really ties it all together. A lovely way to end any meal. I also imagine this making an appearance at brunch.

lavender strawberry shortcakes

from The Food52 Cookbook by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs

serves 8

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

4-6 tablespoons light brown sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon fresh lavender flowers (or 1-1/2 teaspoons dried)

8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces

1 cup heavy cream, plus more for brushing

turbinado sugar

2 quarts small fresh strawberries, rinsed, hulled, and halved

6 – 8 tablespoons creme fraiche

fresh mint sprigs and lavender flowers, for garnish

Heat the oven to 350F. Combine the flours, 2 tablespoons light brown sugar, baking powder, salt and lavender flours in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to mix and break up the lavender. Drop in the butter, one tablespoon at a time, while pulsing. Mix until the dough resembles course meal. Slowly add the cream, pulsing until just incorporated. (Alternately, you can make the dough by hand using a pastry blender or two butter knives. Use a fork when adding the cream.)

Drop 8 large scoops of dough onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Brush the tops with heavy cream and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake for 18-20 minutes until lightly golden brown. Remove from the pan and let cool on a wire rack.

While the biscuits are baking, gently toss the strawberries with a few tablespoons of brown sugar (taste to determine how much sugar to add) until some of their juices are released. Set aside.

To assemble:

Slice the biscuits in half crosswise. Lay the bottom of the biscuit on a plate/bowl and spoon some strawberries and their juice over the biscuit. Add a dollop of creme fraiche and top with the other half of the biscuit. Garnish with mint and lavender flowers.

apricot almond breakfast cake

Apricots are in the house! Is anyone else excited? A good apricot is one of my favorite treats. And there is such a small window of time between late spring and early summer when the apricots are just perfect – fragrant and quietly sweet and juicy. I know I’m late to the party, but I’ve just discovered Blenheim apricots and I am smitten. I haven’t had a bad one yet. They are so pleasant (and pretty!). I can’t stop thinking about them.

The original plan was to make jam. But what I really wanted was an apricot cake. Actually, what I really, really wanted was an almond apricot cake. So I tried the first recipe I found. It was fine, but if I’m being completely honest, it wasn’t anything to write home about. Then a few days later, while working on a scone experiment, I came across another recipe that totally fit the bill.

This beauty comes from Tartine. It’s an almond breakfast cake, which is essentially a coffee cake, made with almond paste and almond meal and welcomes any seasonal fruit to be scattered over the batter, my choice of course being apricots, though I am certain that blueberries would be another fantastic choice. This is a very decadent cake, dense and buttery in the best possible way. I love the richness and the almond flavor of the cake paired with the jammy, sweet-tart pockets of fresh apricot. The almond crumble is excellent and adds a nice contrast in texture. I plan to use it on other streusel-topped goodies in the future. I also plan on making this cake again and again. I’ve already made it twice.

apricot almond breakfast cake

from Tartine by Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson

makes one 9-inch cake

crumble topping

1/2 cup unsalted butter

3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2/3 cup natural almond meal

1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar

pinch of salt


1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon (6 ounces) almond paste

1 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar

3/4 cup unsalted butter

1-1/2 cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 large eggs

8-10 apricots, depending on size, pitted and halved

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan, preferably with a removable bottom or a springform pan. Set aside.

for the crumble topping:

Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium-high speed until creamy. Add the flour, almond meal, sugar, and salt and mix only until all the ingredients are evenly incorporated. You do not want a smooth mixture; it should have a crumbly appearance. Transfer the crumble topping to another bowl, making sure to scrape the mixing bowl clean. Set aside.

for the cake:

Place the almond paste in the same mixing bowl used for the crumble topping (no need to wash the bowl first). Mix on low speed until the paste is broken up. Add the sugar and gradually increase the speed to medium. Continue to mix until the sugar breaks up the almond paste fully and there are no more lumps. Add the butter and mix until creamy, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer as needed to scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl with a spatula. On low speed, add the flour, baking powder, salt, and eggs all at once, then increase the speed to medium and mix just until everything is combined. Do not overmix.

Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan. Use an offset spatula to spread the batter evenly in the pan. Place the apricot halves over the batter, cut side up. Distribute the almond crumble evenly over the entire cake. (At this point you can cover the assembled cake loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. The next morning, remove the cake from the fridge and leave it out at room temperature for about 45 minutes before baking.)

Bake the cake until the crumble topping is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling, about 1 hour and 20 minutes (the book says 40 minutes, but my cake took much longer, possibly because of the amount of liquid from the apricots). Start checking the cake after 1 hour, and then every 10 minutes going forward. It is difficult to test the doneness of the cake with a cake tester, as the fruit is moist and the tester wont come out clean. Don’t worry about overbaking – the fruit and almond paste will prevent the cake from becoming dry. If you are not sure if the cake is done, insert a small knife into the center and gently push some of the cake aside to see if it is cooked. Let the cake cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before releasing it from the pan and serving.

boozy rhubarb fool

I have an unexplainable fascination with rhubarb. Perhaps I spent time on the English countryside in a previous life. Whatever the reason, I always make sure to get my hands on some rhubarb this time of year.  So far this season, I’ve made two different batches of rhubarb jam – one with kumquats, one with cherries. But what I really wanted was a fool.

Rhubarb fool is one of those quintessentially English desserts. It’s very simple, featuring stewed rhubarb and softly whipped cream. It’s just what you want to eat in the summer. It’s light. It’s just sweet enough to satisfy a craving, but not so sweet that you feel sluggish afterwards.

This particular fool, or pud as the author calls it, features a few splashes of Pernod and brandy. Pernod is an anise flavored liqueur, similar in taste to absinthe but with a fraction of the alcohol content. It provides a bit of mystique to the rhubarb without being overpowering. What I was most pleasantly surprised by was the toasted breadcrumbs that serve as a topping for this fool. Crunchy, buttery, and just a bit sugary, it’s the perfect contrast to the delicate whipped cream and tangy rhubarb. You’ll want to put those crumbs on everything. And you should.

boozy rhubarb fool

adapted from Thomasina Miers via delicious magazine

serves 6-8

2 pounds rhubarb, trimmed and chopped into 1-inch chunks

1 vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped

zest and juice of 1 lemon, or 1/2 orange

3/4 cup granulated sugar, plus 3 tablespoons

1-2 tablespoons brandy to taste

1-2 tablespoons Pernod or other pastis to taste

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup stale breadcrumbs (preferably sourdough)

2 cups heavy whipping cream

Add the rhubarb, vanilla seeds and pod, and lemon or orange juice to a large pot over medium heat. Cook, covered, for 10-15 minutes until the fruit has softened. Add 3/4 cup sugar, brandy, and Pernod and gently stir. Remove and discard the vanilla bean. Set aside rhubarb to cool.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Fry the breadcrumbs in the butter along with a pinch of salt and 1 tablespoon sugar, stirring constantly for five minutes or until the crumbs are golden and crisp. Set aside to cool.

To assemble:

Whip the heavy cream with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar until soft peaks form.

Layer the rhubarb and whipped cream alternately in eight 6-8 ounce glasses or jars or one large glass bowl. Begin with a layer of rhubarb, followed by a layer of whipped cream, followed by a second layer of rhubarb, and top with whipped cream. Finish with a sprinkle of breadcrumbs and a few strips of zest. Serve immediately.

*note: The rhubarb and breadcrumbs may be prepared a day in advance. Refrigerate the rhubarb until ready to assemble. Store the breadcrumbs in an airtight container in a dry place. You will need to whip the cream and zest the lemon/orange just before assembling.

spinach chop

Now that I’m back from vacation and back to reality, I am putting myself back on a healthy eating regimen. It must be done – I ate those malasadas with reckless abandon while I was in Hawaii. I’m ready to return to my breakfast smoothies and greens.

I try to make sure to eat at least one serving of leafy greens a day. Lately I’ve been really into raw kale salads. And spinach. I’ve been buying Bloomsdale spinach from the farmers’ market every week and I can’t get enough of it. It’s a little more substantial than regular spinach, and has a bit of a nutty flavor that I really like.

This dish has been in heavy rotation in my kitchen for a couple of months now; I find myself making it at least once a week. This is what Heidi calls spinach chop. It’s wilted spinach, seasoned with garlic and harissa, and topped with hard boiled eggs and crunchy toasted almonds. It’s a great way to have your veggies and is packed with protein. It has become my favorite thing to munch on, especially when I’m eating low-carb. I also really like it for an on-the-go breakfast or lunch. This is what I ate during the flight to Oahu. It was a million times more satisfying than anything I could have ordered on the plane. Pat on the back for planning ahead.

spinach chop

from Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson

serves 4

1 pound spinach, tough stems removed

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon harissa

4 large hard-cooked eggs, peeled and chopped

1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted

scant 1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt

grated zest of 1/2 lemon (optional)

Add 1/2-inch water to a pot and bring to a boil. Add the spinach and stir constantly until the spinach collapses entirely, about a minute. Drain spinach and run cold water over it until it’s cooled. Spin the spinach in a salad spinner to get rid of as much water as possible. Or press it in a clean kitchen towel. Finely chop the spinach.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the garlic and cook for about a minute; do not let it brown. Remove from the heat and stir in the harissa and spinach. Add eggs, almonds, salt, and lemon zest and stir again gently until well-combined. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Oahu, I love you! Let’s eat!

Oh, Oahu. I do love you! I was so sad to leave you. I felt like one of those little kids you see at Disneyland, kicking and screaming and rolling on the ground because they’re not ready for the fun to end. It was a perfect vacation, although much too short. I definitely could have used a few more days of sunshine and waking up to a view of the ocean.

My little brother was an awesome tour guide and shuttled us all over Oahu. We snorkeled, we explored, we chilled on the beach. But most importantly, we ate our way around the island. Here are some of the highlights, all shot with Instagram.

Warm malasadas from Leonard’s. Fried, cloud-like puffs of dough rolled in granulated sugar. The chocolate-filled are my favorite. We managed to eat malasadas twice during our short visit, and I secretly wanted to make one last stop at Leonard’s before we headed home.

You haven’t lived until you’ve had the shrimp scampi at Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck. Juicy, perfectly cooked, and finger-licking good. I am going to have dreams about those shrimp for days.

Shave ice from Matsumoto’s. This is nothing like the snow cones I ate as a child. This stuff is super-duper. It’s like fresh snow, more powdery than icy, drenched in the fruity flavors of your choice (I went with the tropical combo – passion fruit, guava, and papaya). And if you really want to indulge, you can have your shave ice over a scoop of vanilla ice cream and topped with a drizzle of condensed milk. It’s kind of like a 50/50 bar in a paper cone – fruity, icy, and creamy. The most amazing treat on a hot day.

This is what I call a Real Hawaiian breakfast: Spam and eggs over rice at Zippy’s. I rarely eat Spam in my real life, with the exception of a musubi once or twice a year. But I found myself eating spam and eggs for breakfast two days in a row at two different restaurants. As the saying goes, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”.

I wasn’t even hungry when I arrived at Shirokiya. But when I spotted Takoyaki Yama Chan in the food court, I got in line. Takoyaki is a dumpling-like ball of batter, filled with pieces of octopus or other seafood. It is laboriously prepared in spherical cast iron molds in small batches. At Yama Chan, it’s a bit of a celebration each time a hot batch is ready to be served – there is shouting and the banging of a drum involved. The takoyaki is definitely worthy of the commotion.

We had lunch at Nico’s Pier 38 on our way to the airport. I would’ve been happy with pretty much anything on their menu, including the selection of pokes in their deli. Shrimp gumbo, fish tacos, and a cold beer was the perfect ending to a really fantastic trip. I cannot wait to go back. Aloha!