Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My Best Friend's Wedding

Anyone who follows my blog knows that I've been preparing for this past weekend for many months now; or perhaps even, many years. It was 21 months ago that Nick asked my best friend of the past 19 years to be his wife.

Debbie's a married woman now

It's bittersweet in a way. It's the official end of our "childhood". The end of imagining I still come first to her like I did when we were 12. But at the same time it signifies her finding happiness. It signifies the beginning of a life she always wanted; a life we talked and dreamed about with each other when we were 12 (and 15, and 17, and 22, and 24, and 29...)

Remember this? Whodda thought she'd become this beautiful...

So it was a happy day and truly the most fabulous wedding I've ever been to. And no I'm not just saying that cuz I was the Maid of Honor.
  • Smack dab in the middle of San Francisco, one of the most beautiful cities in the world
    • And smack dab in the middle of "touristy" San Francisco (the famous Ferry Building)
  • Unseasonably warm [read 80°] weather
  • One of the best looking bridal parties I've ever seen *wink*
  • Not a dry eye at the touchingly beautiful ceremony
  • Soaring ceilings and a feeling of grandeur at the gorgeous reception
  • An open bar with free libations flowing for 5 hours
  • Even a local celebrity showing up to personally serenade the couple!

When you're in our age range, you go to LOTS of weddings. I think they started around 4 years ago and haven't stopped - each year seems to bring more and more. And while the Bay Area is a very big place, I've now been to 4-5 weddings where the ceremony or reception brings me back to a place I've "wedding-ed at" before. This was absolutely not one of those weddings. I knew it'd be spectacular when Deb and Nick found that the Ferry Building had an event space upstairs. A wedding at the FERRY BUILDING??

F/4.5, 1/2 s., ISO 400 and HAND HELD!!

Pictures of Deb, Nick and their parents -- LOVED those soaring ceilings and the lighting!

Having a wedding in San Francisco truly puts you in the spotlight for the day. Not only do your guests gaze upon the beautiful and happy couple but so do hundreds of tourists! As we (the bridal party) wound our way through a few city landmarks for pictures, I lost count of the friendly tennis shoe-donned, backpack-laden tourists excited that their sightseeing came complete with a drop dead gorgeous bride in a fairy princess dress...oh and a groom too. ;) Many a traveler went home with pictures of Debbie and Nick stored away on their point & shoots.
Just as I suspected, Deb's wedding felt a little bit like I imagine my own will. I mean, our guestlists would probably be 25% the same - which is a large number when you think about all the [parents'] friends and family who attended! But it was still very much her wedding. Deb planned and executed this wedding perfectly. As of course I would have expected her to. The flowers, the food, the music, the vibe. It was Deb - and Nick too.

I'm still hearing people say it now - days later... from folks who aren't as biased as I: "One of the best weddings I've ever been to." Well, I agree. And for the rest of my life, I'll never forget this day.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Lisa Pizza

Of course people actually called me that in elementary school. It's truly hilarious when you're 7.

For October the Daring Bakers made Pizza!!:

Italian Sausage, Mushroom & Olive ----- Apricot Almond & Pastry Cream

I'm going to try to keep my Daring Bakers post shorter this month - for a couple reasons... 1) no one wants to read an encyclopedia about baking a single item and 2) I just don't have the time after a VERY full last week complete with my very best friend's wedding. (More to come on that later!)

Flour and yeast -------- Adding the water -------- Knead, knead, knead

I was a little bit disappointed and a little bit excited to find that Rosa had chosen PIZZA as our October Daring Bakers Challenge. Disappointed because I've been making a lot of pizza lately - so it's not really much of a challenge. But excited because it's always nice to try another recipe and perhaps try to get creative with it. We all did Peter Reinhart's recipe from The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread - same book we used last month!

Instead of 6 small I made 3 larger pizzas - enough to feed 4 adults

Rosa asked us to make the pizza dough and cover it with a sauce and toppings. We could choose the sauce and toppings as long as we had both!

First I thought I'd do a dessert pizza and skip the savory altogether since I've been making so much lately. So I started brainstorming dessert pizza ideas. But soon plans developed for my parents to be over one weekend and while I've made lots of pizza for friends and even for my brother; I hadn't made any for my parents. So savory was back on!

The hardest work is prepping toppings ---- Never make pizza without my baking stone

I'd previously been using the America's Test Kitchen recipe for pizza dough which is great, though maybe not excellent. Now this recipe we made - I really loved, though I'm a bit disheartened that it takes a full day of planning ahead. It's rare that I can do that...

Enough with the pizza making! Can a girl get some sleep?!

We were supposed to toss this dough like a real pizzaiolo (and take pictures of ourselves doing just that) but I got an F on tossing. My dough stretched so thin I thought it'd actually break when I started picking it up to attempt tossing. So since I rather enjoy my crust in a solid plane (and not holey) I opted out on the tossing...

My family are Round Table type pizza eaters. Not California Pizza Kitchen. What I mean is - we enjoy a sausage and mushroom much more so than a pear & Gorgonzola. So choosing toppings for the savory pizzas was easy:
Combo (pepperoni, sausage, onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, olives, mushrooms)

Sausage & Mushroom (with some olives thrown on 'cuz there was extra)

The dessert one was a little bit harder to think up - or maybe I should say it was difficult to settle on one! So I did half and half.

Crust with cinn/sugar ------ Almonds and apricots ------ Caramelizing apples

I returned to my favorite Daring Baker's challenge so far - the Danish Braid - and used the apricot mixture and the pastry cream that Beatrice Ojakangas made with Julia Child. Then I did a rough variation of this pizza I found while scouring the web. The result:

~Apricot Almond with Pastry Cream and Almond Steusel
~Cinnamon Apple with Brown Sugar Sour Cream and Pecan Streusel

I love to end on a sweet note!

Monday, October 20, 2008

One Fall day

Yesterday was a fine day. A Fall day. My favorite kind. It was made all the better by the fact that Mom was here visiting. It sounds so funny to remark that she's "visiting" since she only lives 35 miles away. But when she stays a night or two she really is in fact visiting, yes?
The epitome of my favorite season

Mom and I started our day at the Farmers' Market. I arrived with eco-friendly shopping bag in hand and D40 with 50mm prime lens on shoulder. I figured it was time to practice manually focusing outside my own kitchen. And apropos that I was still shooting food? Me thinks, yes.
A busy Sunday morning

Farmers' Markets [in California] are so absolutely fantastic. Here I sit, about 90 miles north of why California has been the #1 food and agriculture producer in the US for the last 50 consecutive years (the Central Valley). "Restaurants" is listed as one of the biggest reasons why Condé Nast readers voted San Francisco as the best city to visit in the United States (also our friendliness!!) And any guess why our dining is so excellent? It goes full circle - we are smack dab in the middle of the #1 food and agriculture producing state in the United States.
Japanese eggplant - just screams for some minced pork and Sìchuān sauce

Is it true some people outside California don't know what an artichoke is??

So it goes without saying that our Farmers' Markets are not only prevalent (I think I could visit 5 in a week within 7 miles of my home) but FANTASTIC.
Strawberries. In October!

"Smell Good" - I'll take 'em!

Um.. but not for Mom. Mom is not a foodie. She clips coupons and circles grocery store ads. For Dad's birthday she makes his favorite meal (as opposed to dining out at Fifth Floor). She wouldn't buy me cake refills for my Easy Bake Oven when I was little, and instead made cake mix from scratch to the perfect proportions.
Peppers are so vibrant and colorful

Let's just get to the point: Mom thinks Farmers' Markets are nothing to bat an eye at (or about which to write long blog entries). I can't tell you how many times today I heard "$2/pound?!!!!!" "*gasp* 3 for $7??!!!" Mom is also from one of the biggest agricultural areas in California, so I suppose she has a better eye for the lack of difference between a shi-shi $3 Famers' Market pomegranate and one that grows on my Auntie Carole's tree.
I think she just fainted a little bit behind me

Don't get me wrong. She still enjoys going. Those of you out there who know and love a Chinese woman know that they [*ahem*we] love to complain. So she's really happy amidst her price "comparisons".
Shi-shi produce everywhere you look!

I, on the other hand work a full-time job. I barely have time to clean my house (which my mother also enjoys complaining about). So while it makes perfect economical sense, I [*gasp* Mom, plug your ears!] don't clip coupons or shop around for deals. In fact, one of the reasons I take Mom with me is to ask her "is $2/pound for bell peppers a rip off, or acceptable?"
They look like jelly beans! And are practically just as sweet :)

I am also a total foodie, and I'm not afraid to admit it. I am a $150+ per meal restaurant whore (eeks I just wrote the word "whore" in my blog!) I don't shrivel up and go to my happy place when buying vanilla beans. I covet All-Clad and Le Creuset cookware like others would covet a Louis Vuitton handbag (mmm although one of those wouldn't be bad either...)
Fresh [Kumamoto] oysters. At the FARMERS' MARKET!

Fresh shucked Miyagi oysters. It don't get better than this.

I LOVE Farmers' Markets. I love the idea of strolling in with my skinny (bridesmaid dress this weekend, remember?) caramel macchiato and buying organic produce in abundance to last a week, only to come back 7 days later. I love the samples and the bustle and the variety. I love that I can buy flowers for my table and flowers for my salad.
Flowers for the table

Flowers for the salad

And I CAN'T believe how much I just wrote about Farmers' Markets!! Can you tell I have SF-Bay Area pride or what?

The day did hold more than just the FM... We also got coffee.

And went shoe shopping.
Even the shoes [boots] I got were "Fall anticipating Winter".

Mom and I closed our afternoon marveling at how we DO get a little fall color here in California. It's not all reserved for New England! The Chinese Pistache is one of the only trees that turn vibrant colors in the Fall. It's really tremendous how red they become.

There is such a thing as fall foliage in California


Oh, what a day.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A mousse of a dessert

It's been busy around here. My best friend's wedding is next Saturday and there's many-a-thing for me to do. Yes, even little 'ol me. Certainly not as much as the bride. But as the Maid of Honor I am some responsibilities - some helping the bride and some the bride doesn't even know about. (Hmmm I doubt she'll have time to read my blog this week anyway.) But enough about that!
Chocolate Mousse Torte - it's SO rich
I somehow managed to squeeze in a dessert for a friend's get-together last Saturday night. I wracked my brain for a while on what to make. These friends know I bake pretty well, so I didn't want to show up with chocolate chip cookies!

Not a bad start, eh?

This is actually my cousin, Sue's recipe. It's a dessert she's become a little famous for making for our Thanksgivings each year. My brother always gets seconds, all the while exclaiming about how much "bad stuff" goes into it. I guess it's not enough to faze him.
Wow - lookie that melted butter...

Yup, chocolate chips work -- Whipping the cream -- Folding the cream into the choc

I could have gone way fancy and used an expensive semi-sweet chocolate. But Sue's recipe called for chocolate chips, so chocolate chips I used. Let me tell you - no one complained about the quality of the chocolate as they were digging in.

Fold, fold, fold = mousse!

Chocolate mousse - or mousse of any kind is really quite easy. You make the "flavor" (in this case a rich chocolate sauce; lemon mousse you'd start with a tangy lemon curd), whip up some cream and fold them together: MOUSSE!

Pour into crust and chill overnight

Ready to chill -------------- Ready to decorate -------------- Ready to pipe

Don't you hate it when this happens? You have a blank slate on which to decorate. You have no idea what you want to do; so you just start. And it's awful and ugly? And you can't really scrape it off and start again since you can now see remnants of the decorations? So you scrape it off anyway and just cover the entire top with whipping cream? Um, yea I don't know anything about that.

Just cover the whole top ------------- Ready to serve!

The nice thing about this dessert is that it's so rich, you only need to cut tiny slices. No one needs a huge wedge. So a little goes a long way. One homemade dessert for a group of ~25!
Can't you just tell it melts in your mouth?