Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Lady in Stripes


Artisinal cocktails

I don’t want to make you jealous, but my parents are pretty wonderful. When I visit them, they always have ideas of places to take me, that they know I’ll enjoy—Spoonbar is the perfect example.

Ever since they gave us a copy of Scott Beattie’s book, Artisanal Cocktails: Drinks Inspired by the Seasons from the Bar at Cyrus (a mouthful to avoid after a couple of mouthfuls of your drink here), I’ve wanted to taste one of his drinks. 

Beattie has moved on from Cyrus to Spoonbar, a block or two away from Healdsburg Plaza (a formal California plaza with orange trees and palms).  Besides the usual suspects on the wall behind the bar (the many types of gins, vodkas, and whiskeys), are the little bottles that attract miniaturists, mad scientists, and those of us who have some of both of those tendencies as well as a love of fine drink: cordials, essences, and bitters—some of which went into my drinks.

Beattie’s book is full of enticing drinks.  This year, with a spring slow in coming, I’m especially drawn to the Frondsong.  This gin, herbsaint, Chartreuse, and lemon concoction, is fortified with pickled fennel and garnished with anise hyssop, fennel frond, and dianthus and borage flowers.  The picture alone makes me happy . I’m sure the drink would seal the deal. 

frondsong book 2
Frondsong, p. 48 Artisanal Cocktails

Mom and Dad sweetened the deal by thinking of inviting an old friend to join us for drinks.  It had been much too long since I’d seen her.  What could be better than a good drink with a good (and missed) friend? 

You know the answer to that. Two good drinks! 

Sadly, no Frondsong on the menu.  But I’m not one to wallow too long in misery, so I didn’t need to drown my sorrows.  Let’s just say I took them out for a little swim. 

First in the Meyer Lemon Elderflower sour, made with Charbay Meyer Lemon Vodka, meyer lemon juice, and D’Arbo elderflower syrup.

La Nuit du Maroc
La Nuit du Maroc
And then in La Nuit du Maroc, made with Hangar 1 Mandarin Orange Blossom Vodka, lime and sudachi juices, essence of cardamom, pomegranate juice, and a lone blue borage flower (I think it was doing the backstroke).

Both these drinks had what I realize more and more is the thing that makes me happiest.  Perfect balance.  All of the juices and alcohol and essences worked together, stepping to the front and then modestly stepping aside for the next flavor, but standing by in case someone slipped and needed a friendly hand. The drinks kept my interest, but didn’t demand it.

And if spending the late afternoon of a vacation in California over drinks with my parents and an old friend I’ve missed isn’t as good as it gets, how about this: When the bartender mixed my second drink, he turned to Scott Beattie (who had mixed my first drink) and asked who it was for.

Beattie answered, succinctly.  “The lady in the stripes.”  I felt right at home.


That’s the edge of my Meyer Lemon Elderflower Sour, and a bottle of some sort of prune elixir Beattie is working on.  We didn’t get to taste it, Beattie insisted it tastes awful. But boy did it smell wonderful.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Key Lime Pie

Back Camera
Key Limes at Robert is Here fruit stand in Florida City
Yesterday I saw (and bought!) a bag of key limes at the grocery store, and today the sun (or what passes for it in Portland this spring) is threatening to shine.  It’s reminding me of my trip to Key West.

lime and key lime
Key lime by Persian lime
Key limes are much smaller than the familiar Persian lime we generally see in the grocery store.  They also are more acidic, have a thinner rind, and more pronounced scent and flavor. Their juice is light yellow—so please don’t add green food coloring to your pie (the grated rind will tint it slightly)! 

Key Lime Slice 4
My Key Lime Pie
Key lime pie’s filling is traditionally made with just key lime juice, egg yolks, and sweetened condensed milk (there were no cows in the Keys when the pie was invented in the late 19th century).  Be sure you use sweetened condensed milk. I always read the label twice, to be sure I didn’t accidentally pick up a can of evaporated milk—it won’t work here.

The pie traditionally wasn’t baked; instead, the acidic key lime juice reacted with the sweetened condensed milk (the process is called ‘souring’) to ‘cook’ the pie.  It’s the same process that is at work in ceviche and many soured milk products.  These days, at least in restaurants, it’s always baked.

Key Lime Pie 3

When I was in Key West in January I ate a lot of key lime pie.  Most often I ate the classic version: graham cracker crust, key lime juice, egg yolk, and sweetened condensed milk.  There’s some debate over whether the pie should have a crumb crust or a pastry crust.  The pie is chilled, and I prefer how the crumb crust tastes cold.  But don’t get me wrong. I wouldn't say no to a pie with a pastry crust.

Back Camera
Pie at Azur
Sometimes the classic version was dressed up a bit.  At Azur Restaurant it was cut in a square, its top lightly caramelized, and a parade of sliced strawberries were just begging to be knocked over like dominos.

Back Camera
Pie at Marker 88
At Marker 88 in Islamorada the pie was topped with a pile of meringue and garnished with more strawberries, tangerine, and mint.

Versailles Key Lime Pie
Pie at Versailles
And at Versailles in Miami’s Little Havana a thin layer of meringue was piped on the top, its ridges deeply toasted.  Their pie, incidentally, can also be bought at the adjoining bakery.  It’s in the bakery case, next to the cigars.

Sometimes the pies were riffs on the traditional.  At Sarabeth’s I had a delicious key lime cream pie, its filling lightened (and considerably heightened!) with whipped cream.

Back Camera
Of course I brought key limes home with me, and made my own pie.  The recipe I followed, more or less, originally came from Cook’s Illustrated Magazine.  They found that the pie sets better when baked 15 minutes, so I did that.

Key Lime Slice 1
My Pie
The result?  Much better than most of the pies I had in Florida. Mine was creamier, and a bit looser.  The Florida pies were baked longer, and generally made with bottled juice, which gives a slightly bitter taste to the pie.  Mine also had grated rind, which those made with bottled juice lacked. 

But (and it’s a big but). There’s not a lot to mess up in this pie, so whether I ate it at a fish joint right by Key West’s main tourist strip,

Back Camera
Pie at Two Friends Patio Restaurant
or at a roadside diner on Sugarloaf Key, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Mangrove Mamas Key Lime Pie
Pie at Mangrove Mama’s


Key Lime Pie

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated (I added a bit more sugar and butter to the crust)
Key Lime Filling:
4 teaspoons grated lime zest (from about 8 key limes)
4 egg yolks
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup lime juice (from about 1 lb or 20 limes)
Graham Cracker Crust
11 graham crackers, crushed to fine crumbs (1-1/4 cups)
5 Tablespoons sugar
6 Tablespoons butter, melted

To make filling:
  • Whisk together lime zest and egg yolks together for about 2 minutes. 
  • Beat in sweetened condensed milk and then the lime juice. 
  • Set aside to thicken while you make the pie crust.
Pie crust:
  • Preheat oven to 325. 
  • Mix cracker crumbs and sugar together. 
  • Add melted butter and stir with a fork until the crumbs are evenly coated with butter.
  • Put the mixture into a 9-inch pie pan. Press the crumbs into an even layer on the bottom and sides of the pan. 
  • Bake 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool 20 minutes.
  • Pour the thickened filling into the cooled crust.
  • Bake until the center is just set, about 15 to 17 minutes.  It should still jiggle a bit when you move the pie. 
  • Cool to room temperature, and then thoroughly chill in refrigerator (about 3 hours).  Serve with whipped cream. Or not.

Key Lime Pie 1

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Portland’s Bake Sale for Japan

coconut cake
Little Branch’s Banana Cake with Coconut Frosting
Last Saturday we threw a bake sale here in Portland.  It’s not the sort of thing I usually do, but I have friends and acquaintances affected by the immense disaster, and wanted to help.  Last year Samin Nosrat of Berkeley threw a bake sale to help Haiti and raised $23,000.  Right after Japan’s quake, she was planning a bake sale for Japan.  I got in touch, hoping someone here in Portland already had the bake sale covered, and I could send along some cakes.

bake sale 2
Instead, Samin connected me with Elizabeth Nathan, and the two of us put together the Portland sale.  Elizabeth turned out to be a friend of a friend—it was great meeting her, great working with her.

In the end, the whole experience was wonderful.  Home bakers filled our email box with offers to bake. Others asked if they could come help run the sale.  People tweeted and blogged and put up flyers.  Ristretto Roasters and Barista both offered sidewalk space. 

Elizabeth and I worked at the Ristretto sale.  Barista was run by two women who just stepped up and offered.  One of them was a young woman I’d known as a very young child—she went to the same babysitting co-op as my kids!

Chocolate Gingerbread
Chocolate Gingerbread
I managed to do a little baking myself.  I made chocolate ginger crinkle cookies and chocolate gingerbread cakes from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours; almond tortes from my mother's book, and one of my favorite standbys, a cornmeal rum prune loaf with lemon glaze  from Fannie Farmer Baking Book.

On the morning of the sale Elizabeth and I showed up at Ristretto, a little unsure where to begin.  The Ristretto staff brought us coffee and helped us move tables.  Volunteers arrived to transport pastries to Barista. 

bread (478x640)
A young man who was set to volunteer showed up with a backpack full of beautiful loaves of bread he’d just baked.

And then the baked goods started to pile up.  There’s something lovely about having people line up to hand you their contributions.  We had already picked up some of the donations from local bakers. 

caneles 2
The home bakers brought more pies, cakes, candies, canelés (miniature!), cookies, and even dog biscuits.  Somehow, in the whirlwind, I neglected to take photos. Shame on me.

caneles 4
See how tiny these canelés are?
It was an honor to be part of this, a real pleasure meeting and working with all the volunteers.  We nearly sold out of goodies.  Elizabeth took the few leftovers to Operation Nightwatch, a local organization that addresses the problems of social isolation among the homeless.

My daughter’s birthday was the day after the sale.  I realized I didn’t really want to bake again, so bought a birthday cherry pie and a beautiful little lemon cake.  No photo, again.  But imagine a six-inch square cake, iced in lemon yellow swiss meringue buttercream.  The top held a bouquet of sugared violets, from baker (and local graphic designer) Holly O’Leary’s garden.  Inside were four layers of white cake, lemon curd, and more buttercream.  Just as delicious as it was pretty.

bake sale

And the totals.  From sales at the two locations, we raised $5223.93.  Local businesses (Ristretto, Ink and Peat, and Tumbleweed Boutique) all added percentages of their day’s sales.  Intel matched the first $2000.  That meant, all together, Portland raised $7889.93. 

But wait.  Portland wasn’t the only city that threw a bake sale on Saturday.  Samin helped people in about 25 cities (there were more than 40 locations all together) gather their finest bakers—home and professional—and hungriest shoppers.  The total raised nationwide, as of today, is over $120,000 for Peace Winds America

It turns out cookies matter (not that I ever doubted them).

Thanks to these businesses who pitched in (sorry for any I’ve forgotten). And a huge thanks to all the home bakers who baked such wonderful things and wrapped them with care.
Ristretto Roasters
Alder Pastry and Dessert
Alma Chocolate
Baker & Spice
Bakery Bar
Bees & Beans
Fleur de Lis Bakery & Cafe
Kim Boyce of Golden Oven (and recent James Beard Award Nominee for Good to the Grain)
Grand Central Bakery
Ink & Peat
Helena Root of Irving Street Kitchen
Kir Jensen of The Sugar Cube
Little T American Baker
Little Branch Jam
Miss Zumstein
Kristen Murray of Paley's Place
Petunia's Pies & Pastries
Pix Patisserie
Random Order Coffeehouse & Bakery
Alissa Rozos of St. Jack
Woodlawn Coffee and Pastry
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