Food and Light: Best Workshop Ever

July 2nd, 2010 · 21 Comments · Events, Photography, Travel


I've been playing hooky from work and blogging the last few days to enjoy bucketfuls of sunshine, outrageously good food, and the company of some of the most talented bloggers around.

The Food and Light Photography Workshop, organized by Jen of use real butter in collaboration with Helen of Tartelette and Todd and Diane of White on Rice Couple, was hands down the best photography workshop I went to. It really didn't feel like class…more like summer vacation with some great friends.

Although food bloggers are a wonderfully friendly and giving lot, Jen, Helen, Todd, and Diane stand head and shoulders above the rest. I have never met more generous people, so ready to share their knowledge and experience with others. And they are also FUN…see the dinner Jen threw for several of us out-of-town bloggers the night before the workshop (Yes, the workshop also sort of felt like a overachievers' convention).

When I talked to Jen about the workshop, she told me that her goal was to create a class that offered more than the average photography class: a class that gave real, practical advice to photographers on how to take photos, and would give them the tools to let them continue improving their skills on their own after the class.

I think she and the other instructors succeeded fabulously; from the moment the workshop started we could tell how much preparation had gone into organizing everything, and how passionate the instructors were about photography and food. We had lectures that covered the gamut of concerns that many a food blogger has: photography basics, equipment, lighting, and styling.

The lectures were broken up by hands on sessions where we could practice shooting different food items, implementing things we had just learned, and getting instant feedback from the instructors. I really thought this was what set this workshop apart and made it so useful and rewarding. There's no substitute for learning by doing, and having an experienced professional to give you a personal critique was pretty much worth the value of the workshop. I know all the participants appreciated that all four of the instructors were willing to open themselves up and answer endless barrages of questions!

Below, a few shots I took during class. The rest of the class shots are at this flickr group  – you can see how quickly people starting picking tips and tricks from class!





Finally, all the workshop participants were asked to submit their favorite images taken during class to be judged by their fellow classmates and the instructors. We were asked to vote for images in categories such as Best Overall, Most Improved, and Most Original. I'm so thrilled that the class chose this image I shot below as Best Styling :


I call it Little Red Corvette. Thanks again to Jen et al. for awarding prizes and swag bags to the participants – I have never been to a workshop where you got so much free stuff!

Thanks again to Jen, Helen, Diane, and Todd for such a great experience. And another thank you to Lisa, who kindly let me stay with her at her family friend's home and was a blast as a traveling companion. Couldn't think of a better way to start off the summer!

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My Adventure in Hong Kong

February 26th, 2010 · 14 Comments · Sweet Spots, Travel


Hello! First of all, thank you all so much for your notes of congratulations – I was so thrilled to read each and every one of them! I already feel like I got one of the best wedding gifts ever with all your heartfelt wishes! I'm also very excited to learn about all the fellow brides-to-be out there! Congratulations to you all as well, and I hope your planning is also going well! I promise I will share more information and pictures about the big event when it happens – only a few months away, eek!

For this post, though, I also want to share a very cool adventure I had last fall when I went to Hong Kong. Although it was meant to be a vacation, one of my aunts there let me know that she was friends with a well known cookbook author, and would I like to meet her? This was an offer I could not turn down.

So that was how I met Annie Leong, a talented chef and intrepid globe-trotter who has written three cookbooks and also has food columns in several of Hong Kong's newspapers. Annie has led the dream life of many a foodie: in love with food from an early age, she ate her way around the world and also took the opportunity during her travels to study numerous cuisines under several chefs. Ultimately she returned to Hong Kong and began to work on her own cookbook, Cooking with Annie, which reflects the breadth and quirkiness of her culinary interests. Annie graciously gave me a copy of the cookbook, and I find the range of recipes, from lobster bisque to drunken chicken to tiramisu, a testament to the her amazing knowledge and skills.

In return I gave Annie copies of my Field Guide to Cookies and Field Guide to Candy. Upon looking at them, she made a surprising proposal to me: would I like to have some recipes featured in her newspaper column? I knew there was no hesitating on this decision. I told her yes!

This meant that for the last couple days of my vacation I was dashing about town gathering ingredients and tools necessary to do a photoshoot of three recipes for the newspaper. Did you know, in Hong Kong home baking is not extremely popular as most apartment kitchens are rather small and lacking in equipment? I had never even tried baking with the oven in my parents' Hong Kong flat, so I had no idea how my recipes would turn out in a foreign setup.

Fortunately, Annie lent me the use of her gorgeous professional kitchen, which was outfitted with all the tools, equipment, and counter space I could need. If you look at the photos in this post, they were all taken in her kitchen! Afraid that I was going to have to improvise Iron Chef-style in some tiny test kitchen, I was very relieved and wholly impressed by her space!

One thing I've noticed about cookbooks in Hong Kong is that they are very fond of step-by-step photos. Annie is a master of this setup: all her recipes in her columns are shown step by step, so that was how I would have to make my recipes for the column. I had never done this before! Fortunately the photographer was a pro and captured everything, getting glimpses of my recipes in-the-making even I'd never seen! I've never done in-the-process photos for this blog; I guess I'm just not organized enough or something. So I'm very pleased and proud that some of my recipes finally have step by step photos! Following are scans of Annie's columns in the Sing Tao newspaper featuring my recipes:


These are my apple crumb bars – Annie was quite enamoured with them and I think we sent the whole batch after the photoshoot to the Sing Tao newspaper staff as a thank you.

This is my almond buttercrunch – I will admit I was petrified of attempting to do sugarwork in a foreign, humid climate, but fortunately it turned out just fine. It's hard to go wrong with sugar, chocolate, butter, and nuts.

I also did the linzer cookies for Annie – you can see them in the post on Annie's website. She was kind enough to write a post about my visit, so I'm (belatedly) returning the favor. Thanks for everything, Annie!

I suppose the lesson of this little adventure is to always be prepared for anything: you never know when an opportunity will come your way! I thought I was just going on a little vacation but it turned out to be a very memorable one! I'm very happy to be able to share the fruits of my serendipitous fortune with you dear readers – hopefully it has given you a glimpse into Hong Kong food scene, plus a look at pastrygirl in action!

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Return from Hong Kong: Family, Food, and a Really Good Tart

September 22nd, 2009 · 25 Comments · Fruit, Recipes, Sweet Spots, Tarts, Travel




Hello dear readers, I’m back from Hong Kong! I apologize that this won’t be as comprehensive a travelogue as some of my other reports: a host of family obligations kept me from playing tourist as much as I wanted to. Here are a couple of shots I managed to capture:



Cool blue entrance into Hong Kong while on the airport express


View from my parents’ apartment- yup, that is the full moon up there!


They don’t do anything by halves in HK – new Coach store going up


Bet you’ll never see these in the US – even Mrs. Field’s is making mooncakes for the Mid-Autumn Festival!


Very exciting – I saw my book in a local bookstore! Field Guide to Cookies is international!

Honestly, though, I have to admit I don’t have a ton of photos of sweets, because Hong Kong retail in general tends to frown on picture-taking. I think there is a fear of designs and ideas being stolen and copied, so even if you just want to document the cool-looking bakery display, you may be told by an employee that no photos are allowed. “Touristy” photographing of landmarks, scenery, etc, is acceptable, but I guess trying to get a close-up shot of a cake in the window means you’re an industrial spy. I got to visit a handful of dessert places during my trip, but unfortunately not a lot of pictures as proof. My surreptitious-snapping skills weren’t set on high this time:)



One place that didn’t seem to have any qualms about my snapping away, and coincidentally one of my favorite finds, was Zoë, a chic, light-filled little cafe filled with perfectly presented pastries. The offerings are unbashedly European in flavor and styling: precisely layered chocolate mousse cakes, crisp, fruit-topped tartlets, velvety white cheesecakes. I went with a sweet friend I’d met through this blog, a HK resident and fellow dessert fanatic. When I expressed concern that she hadn’t had time to eat lunch before meeting at Zoë, she reassured me, “I can eat dessert for lunch anyday.” That’s my kind of girl!

Between the two of us, we devoured four pastries with lychee tea – a very model of Hong Kong tea-time.



Clockwise from top left: Zoë’s signature Zoë cake, a cute little square of hazelnut mousse on a crunchy cookie base; a slice of banana cream “pie”, the 1459, Zoë’s version of millefeuille, with satisfyingly flaky puff pastry layers sandwiching pasty cream, and cherry-chocolate mousse cake, which surprised me the most since most Hong Kongers I’ve met don’t seem to be very fond of alcohol-soaked cherries.

Zoë is considered spendy by Hong Kong standards; each one of those lovelies cost about $4.50, which doesn’t seem too bad to me, but I suppose I wouldn’t be buying one every day (this would be out of concern for my waistline too!) They are also on the petite side – my mom complained that my dad would scarf one of these down in mere seconds (hmm, does he even do that with my pastries?:) ) The thing is, in Hong Kong, there is just so much to choose from – I’ve mentioned to many people that Hong Kongers are really spoiled for choice. I mean, look at this display from a Hong Kong Beard Papa store (a cream puff chain):



There’s about twelve different choices in there – in all the SF Beard Papa stores I’ve been to, there’s typically 3 varieties!! And you can’t really make out the labels, but they’ve got varieties like strawberry cream, and mint chocolate, and chestnut, and even summer peach; “seasonal specials” are very big in Hong Kong, to draw customers back into stores. I love it when my mom comes to visit me in the US and she says things like, “Why do the bakeries have the same stuff as the last time I came? Don’t they come up with anything new?” Well yes, but certainly not at the pace that Hong Kong does.

Bakeries are also so ubiquitous in Hong Kong and generally the quality ranges from acceptable to quite good. Maxim’s and St-Honoré, two of the biggest bakery chains in Hong Kong, seem to have outposts at just about every subway stop and street, kind of like Starbucks. But imagine if Starbucks carried freshly baked breads and delicate, fancy-patisserie-like cakes, and they were only a couple dollars each? Makes it really easy to grab dessert on the way home from work – so posher places like Zoë do have to work a little harder to justify their higher prices.

In my opinion, Zoë is worth the price, and the visit. The quality was uniformly excellent, and the flavors understated but pure. Another interesting cultural note is that Hong Kong natives definitely prefer lighter desserts: I can’t count how many times I was told, “American desserts are so heavy and so sweet! Can’t you reduce the sugar?” From all the lovely baking blogs I know and visit, I can say that desserts definitely come in all forms and levels in the good old US (hurray!). But I guess I can see how stereotypes of our sweet preferences can be formed, especially if you look at mass advertising: foot-high wedges of chocolate cake covered in caramel goo, ice cream sundaes drowning in nuts and fudge, pies garnished with a tub’s worth of whipped cream, cookies the size of a sma
ll child’s head. I’d like to advise the good residents of Hong Kong to take a look at food blogs out there to see desserts the rest of us are really eating!

It is true, though, that Zoë’s desserts are very light, although by no means lacking in flavor. The Zoe hazelnut mousse was positively cloudlike, very, very delicate, and very refreshing: no heaviness or gumminess at all, and very nice against a crisp chocolate base. Similarly for the cherry-chocolate cake, which looked like a version of black forest cake, but a pared-down, minimalist version – a perfectly edited bite. My favorite was the banana cream pie, which was a revelation. I have to admit I’m not a big banana fan (apologies to Tartelette, I realize she’s made a similar confession not long ago!) and I always shied away from banana cream pie, because, well, it had bananas, and because it just seemed like a big pile of cream and goo.

Another amusing sidenote: my mom and I bought this cake at another bakery that was supposed to be this wonderfully light and ethereal sponge cake. Well, the sponge cake wasn’t bad, but it was literally covered all around with about 3 inches of whipped cream – rather unusual excess in Hong Kong. I found my mom in our kitchen industriously scraping off all the cream from the cake before she would eat it:)


So I was curious to see how Hong Kong had adapted this very American dessert. It’s actually more of a tart than a pie: you can see the neat edge of the tart shell in the photo, which definitely gives it a sophisticated French flair. Then, a layer of chocolate ganache on the bottom, followed by a very thin layer of bananas – I couldn’t even tell on first bite if there were any banana slices, but there were. I was trying to figure why I could taste so much banana flavor, and I realized that the topping was also flavored with banana – quite clever! Instead of the typical pastry cream filling followed by whipped cream topping, I think they turned it into one banana-infused cream layer, which is much lighter and more to local tastes.

I certainly liked it; I preferred the way the bananas were integrated into the cream so I could taste it without having to deal with the thick texture of the fruit. I loved how it captured the essence of the dessert in a sleek and streamlined form.

So, Zoë, I promise I’ll buy more banana cream tarts from you next time I visit, but while I’m stuck back here in the US, I’m just going to have to try and make my own version. I’m not sure it’s an exact duplicate, but it has a wonderfully crumbly pate sablee crust spread with a dark chocolate ganache. On top, a sprinkling of banana slices, and then a wonderfully fragrant pastry cream laced with bananas, and lightened with whipped cream to delicate softness. I can also add it was such joy experimenting in a new big kitchen: the last weekend spent puttering about with tart crusts and pastry cream in my new place was a wonderful memory-making – and hopefully there’ll be more to come.





freshly baked tart shells filled with ganache  – I know, I hardly ever do in-progress shots, but I had the luxury of all day to put these guys together, so why not!



Placing a layer of banana slices in the shells – you can place more depending on your banana preferences.



finale – a bite of bliss


Two last things before I go – I was asked to compile a list of my favorite dessert blogs for, and here it is – take a look and see what my choices are!

Also, I’m going to be at BlogHer Food 2009 this Saturday – I”m SO excited I got a chance to go. If you’re going to be there, do let me know – I’d love to meet you!


Banana Cream Tarts

makes (6) 5″ tarts

Banana Pastry Cream

1 cup milk

5 tablespoons sugar

3 large egg yolks

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 small banana, ripe (you can use from 1/2 to all of the banana, depending on size and how much banana flavor you want)

1 tablespoon lemon juice


Pate Sablee (adapted from Dorie Greenspan)

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

9 tablespoons (4 1/2 ounces) very cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes

1 large egg yolk



Chocolate Ganache

4 ounces dark (62%-70%) chocolate, roughly chopped

1/2 cup heavy cream




2 bananas, ripe

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream



For the banana pastry cream: Combine 3/4 cup milk and 3 tablespoons of sugar in a saucepan. Heat just until the milk starts to bubble at the edges.


Meanwhille, whisk the remaining sugar and the egg yolks together in a medium bowl. Whisk the cornstarch and remaining milk together in another bowl and add to the egg yolk mixture.

When the milk has started to bubble, pour it in a steady stream into the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly to prevent the eggs from scrambling.

Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and return to the stove, cooking over medium he
at and whisking constantly, until it thickens and comes to a boil. Stir in vanilla and remove from heat.

Let pastry cream cool while you cut up the banana. Puree with the lemon juice in a food processor until smooth.

Fold the banana puree into the pastry cream. You can now press a piece of plastic wrap to the surface of the cream and place in the refrigerator to chill.

For the tart shells: Combine flour, confectioner’s sugar, and salt in bowl of a food processor and combine.

Add in cold butter and process until pea-sized lumps of dough form – do not overprocess into a ball of dough. It should be loose and crumbly.

Add in egg yolk and process until dough starts to come together. Turn the dough out of the bowl onto a work surface and lightly press together into a ball – if it’s too loose, you can process a little more, but don’t do too much – you want to work this dough as little as possible to have a light and crumbly texture.

Butter one 9-inch tart pan or six 5-inch tart pans – ones with removable bottoms work best. Carefully press the dough into the pans, working it over the bottom and up the sides. Again, try not to overwork the dough – press gently and work as quickly as possible.

Chill shells in freezer for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Usually recipes for these tart doughs involve lining the shells with pie weights. If you like doing this or have fears of burning your shells, go ahead. However, I’ve never had issues with just baking the shells as is – I check them halfway through and if the shells are puffing up too much I just press them down with a dough tamper or wooden spoon.

Bake shells for 15 minutes, then rotate and bake another 10-18 minutes until they are golden brown and fully baked.

Let cool on wire rack before filling.

For the ganache: Place chocolate in a medium bowl.

Heat cream in saucepan on stove over medium heat until the edges start to bubble.

Pour cream over chocolate and let stand for a minute. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine the two into a smooth mixture.

Spread a layer of ganache on the bottom of each tart shell and let cool and set. It doesn’t have to set all the way, but it should be slightly firm to avoid mixing with the pastry cream.

Cut the bananas into thin slices, about 1/4″ thick, and spread in a layer over the ganache.


Remove the pastry cream from the refrigerator and beat or stir with a spoon to loosen it up.

Whip the cream in a stand mixer until soft peaks form.

Fold the whipped cream gently into the pastry cream until fully incorporated.

Spread the banana pastry cream into the shells and smooth the surfaces with an offset spatula.

Chill in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes to set before serving. You can decorate the top with chocolate curls if you like.


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Back from Asia – and a Book Event!

January 21st, 2009 · 17 Comments · Field Guide to Cookies, Travel


Hi all! I've just returned from a wonderful, entirely too-short trip to Hong Kong to visit my family and Japan for a little adventuring. I wish I could have stayed for much longer: I always feel like just as I've settled comfortably back into a routine with my sisters and parents, I have to leave them again. Not to mention that departing from two cities known globally as food meccas always makes my stomach shed a tear. I already am rifling hourly through memories of my culinary experiences: charcoal cookies with black sesame cream, pale green wasabi ice cream, maguro freshly cut from the fish moments before, Peking duck at a Michelin two-star, eggettes eaten steaming hot in the street, and macarons everywhere – in Hong Kong!

It appears the macaron craze is not confined to Paris or the blogging world. Hong Kong has definitely embraced the French delicacy, and macarons of all hues and flavors are showing in little boutique bakeries that look like they could belong on a chic Parisian boulevard. Check out these utterly adorable cow macarons made for the coming Chinese New Year (Year of the Ox, natch!)


I'm eager to share some more about my trip, but it's taking me a while to sort through my filled-full camera memory cards. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy a few shots I took while I was traveling through Wakayama, Osaka, and Kobe in Japan:

It actually snowed! Just a gentle fairy-dusting of white, but magical nonetheless.

Lobster two ways: first sashimi, then cooked into an uber-tasty broth.

Omikuji, Japanese fortune telling strips, at a shrine.


Fresh hot red bean manju – perfect on a frosty afternoon.

So many more pictures – I'm looking forward to sharing more soon! However, right now I'm eager to also share with you an event I'm doing for my book, Field Guide to Cookies. (It's also the reason I couldn't stay longer in Asia!)

I'll be speaking about Field Guide to Cookies (and serving some cookies) at Omnivore Books in San Francisco this Saturday, January 24, from 3 to 4 PM. If you haven't been to Omnivore and you're in any way a foodie, you must! A store dedicated only to books on food, you'll find all manner of cookbooks and food literature, many of them old and hard-to-find. Celia Sack, the owner, has long specialized in antiquarian books, especially cookbooks. Now her rare, precious finds can be browsed by any curious food lover. I'm honored that Omnivore Books is carrying my book and I'm pleased to be speaking there this Saturday! If you're in town, please do stop by!

Omnivore Books
3885a Cesar Chavez Street
San Francisco, CA 94131

Link to the event on their page


See you there – and Happy Chinese New Year!

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Weekend in Carmel

August 14th, 2008 · 34 Comments · Fruit, Recipes, Sweet Spots, Travel


This post took me quite a while to put together, mainly because I was sifting through vacation photos, and we all know how long that can take. A couple weeks ago, I went down to Monterey for the weekend, and I wanted to share my adventures there. The problem was, choosing from all the photos I took became a week-long endeavor!

Anyway, I love the California coast because it's so easy to drive even an hour and be somewhere completely different – totally new scenery, climate – even the air smells different. We decided that a little escape from the urban claustrophobia of San Francisco (also: San Francisco gets downright cold in summer!) for some more wide-open spaces and sunnier skies down south. So on an overcast Friday morning, we hopped in the car and made the hour-and-half drive down to the Monterey Peninsula.


Our first stop once we arrived, in true foodie style, was for lunch! We went the to Red House Cafe, a little restaurant in Pacific Grove that embodies down-homeyness to a T.


Potato leek soup. Warm and cozy, perfect eaten on the porch of the cafe after a long drive down from San Francisco.


For dessert, we could choose from a vast array of pies, puddings, cakes, and cookies. I went for the special of the day, a peach and blueberry clafouti. More on this later.


Seen in Pacific Grove: quirky and lovely, just like the town.


We took a stroll along Asilomar Beach, which is at the edge of Pacific Grove. This is typical scenery at Monterey and Carmel: overcast, chilly, the sky a pale blank and the sea a sullen grey, the rocks artistically rugged and foreboding. Whether in good or bad weather, the California coast has never been soft or gentle, but a challenging, rough-hewn feast for the eyes.


If you are in Asilomar, do stop by the Asilomar Conference Grounds, a sprawling retreat designed by storied architect Julia Morgan. The numerous buildings and halls scattered in carefully planned nonchalance among the pines and sand dunes are done in the classic Arts and Crafts style – gorgeously erected and detailed, sometimes eccentrically so, as you can see below:



We stayed at the Tickle Pink Inn, which is nestled in the Carmel Highlands and enjoys a view of the ocean and coves. I took this the next morning, before the fog had burned off: the mist-softened landscape and hypnotic crashing of the waves gave the scene an unworldly serenity. I'm sure all the inns and hotels in this area all boast of fabulous views, so really, all I recommend is that if you haven't visited Monterey or Carmel or Big Sur, do so because it's such an all-encompassing sensory experience. Although I did enjoy the Tickle Pink Inn very much – and who can resist the name?


Here's a friendly gull who liked to perch on our balcony railing. He would drop by to visit several times during our stay.


Passionfish is a restaurant passionately dedicated to serving sustainable seafood, and in Monterey, one of the epicenters of the sustainable seafood movement, there seemed no better place to dine our first night. The dining room is unprentiously elegant, the service intelligent and friendly. My hand-lined mahi in a black pepper-rum sauce was richly piquant, and dessert was equally satisfying: a white peach cobbler.


We went up to Carmel the next morning. Looks just like Hawaii, doesn't it? Except for that massive fog bank hanging off the coast. This shot isn't particularly well framed, but I like it because I notice you can see little stories going on with the people: You can see a couple strolling down the beach, a little girl running back to her mother with her father trailing behind, and off in the corner, a woman playing with her dogs. Isn't it cute?


Carmel Beach has some Hawaii-worthy white sands, and is also dog-friendly: here are a couple of canine buddies having some fun in the surf.


After the beach, we made a beeline for Patisserie Boissiere in Carmel-by-the-Sea, a classic French bistro that also offers up fabulous pastries, Paris style. Their strawberry triangle is a flaky delight of puff pastry, pastry cream, and fresh fruit, and their banana chocolate cream tart was a sophisticated take on banana cream pie. This place is also perfect for picking up a lunch to enjoy al fresco down the the coast.


We continued our drive down the coast towards Big Sur. When the sun is out, the waters turn the most gorgeous shades of turquoise, cerulean, and jade.


These have to be some of the luckiest cows ever: grazing with a view.


We made it as far down the coast as McWay Falls, one of the most famed sights in Big Sur. This 80-ft high ribbon of water is actually a tidefall, as it empties directly into the ocean. This is about as close as you can get to this transcendentally beautiful cove; public access is prohibited, ensuring that this view will remain untrammeled by the touch of humans.


This is the view of the Pacific from the Post Ranch Inn, a ridiculously sybaritic hotel perched on the edge of the Big Sur cliffs. Sadly, we did not get to stay here, but we did venture onto the property to see what the fuss was all about. And I have to admit that in a weekend full of gorgeous views, these were far and away some of the most stunning.


Standing tiptoe on the edge of the continent, I am reminded of the poem Blackberrying by Sylvia Plath:

The only thing to come now is the sea.
From between two hills a sudden wind funnels at me,
Slapping its phantom laundry in my face.
These hills are too green and sweet to have tasted salt.
I follow the sheep path between them. A last hook brings me
To the hills' northern face, and the face is orange rock
That looks out on nothing, nothing but a great space
Of white and pewter lights, and a din like silversmiths
Beating and beating at an intractable metal.


Magic hour.


This view (as well as the one above) were from our room balcony. I love how you can see the lights going on in some of the homes; it looks so lush and dreamlike, like cottages in a Hansel and Gretel forest.


Here's our gull friend again, admiring the sunset as well. Imagine! He gets to see this view every day, for free!


On our way back north the next day, we stopped by Santa Cruz, a true bohemian laid-back surfer town, and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in all its glorious childish cheesiness. The west coast has never had as many of these amusement-parks-by-the-sea as the east, and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is one of the few remaining ones today. The Boardwalk is celebrating its centennial, and the city has clearly done a very thorough job of polishing up the place, which may be why it looked so much shinier and spiffier than in my childhood memories.


Summer vacation was clearly in full swing when we arrived: families waited in line for the big old wooden rollercoaster or the log water ride; teenagers in swimsuits ran down to the golden beach or headed for the arcades, the smells of cotton candy, hot dogs, and grilled corn wafted our way, and our ears were filled with the cacaphony of happy people out enjoying themselves.


Notice a pirate theme in our vacation? This was one of those pendulum-style rides where you're slowly swung back and forth and finally in a full circle. I didn't go on this ride, since it makes me rather queasy.

Although you can probably guess which ride I did go on:


It's amazing to me that in the space of a weekend you can experience so many different places, all within a few hours of each other. I don't know if this qualifies as a "stay-cation", as the buzzwords seems to be, but if it is, it doesn't seem to terrible to stay at home!

One of my favorite desserts from the weekend was the peach blueberry clafouti from Red House Cafe, and once I got home I couldn't wait to replicate it. I think I got carried away and put too much fruit in there, but with peaches at their bursting-sweet ripeness I couldn't help myself. Combined with the tartness of the blueness and the creamy, vanilla bean-flecked custard, this makes for one sweet summer memory.


Peach Blueberry Clafouti

makes one 9-in clafouti or (2) 5-in clafoutis

2 ripe peaches

3/4 cup blueberries

2+6 tablespoons sugar

3 large eggs

3/4 cup milk

3 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a 9-in baking dish or pie plate, or individual dishes, and place on a baking sheet.

Wash and peel the peaches, and cut into small wedges. Combine the peaches and blueberries and 2 tablespoons sugar in a bowl and let macerate for about 15 minutes.

Whisk the remaining sugar and eggs together in a mixing bowl.

Add in the milk and whisk until combined.

Sift the flour over the mixture and whisk until combined.

Whisk in the vanilla bean paste.

Spread th e fruit over the bottom of the dish. A single layer is fine; don't put too much fruit in or you'll overwhelm the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, just covering the fruit.

Bake in the oven for about 35-40 minutes (if you are making individual dishes, be sure to check halfway through to see if they are baking faster) until the batter looks puffed and golden and is set in the center.

Let clafouti cool for about 10 minutes out of the oven before serving. You can also serve at room temperature – it will keep for about 12 hours.


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The Sweet Side of New York

April 11th, 2008 · 24 Comments · Sweet Spots, Travel


I’ve been trying to pull together a report on New York City all week, and finally came to the conclusion that I’d have to split in two -there’s just too much to talk about!

Here, then, the first part: a report of all the sweet spots I visited during my time in the city. I mentioned in an earlier post that this trip pushed my sugar-ingesting capabilities to the limit – it’s hard to rein in indulgence in a place where temptations are not only omnipresent but of the quality and caliber that earns them the label, "Only in New York." When there are so many wonderful places to try and desserts to taste, made by some of the most talented people in the industry, restraint and prudence and skinny jeans all get pushed to the side.

I made it through four consecutive nights of multi-course dessert tastings, experiencing the dazzling spectrum of pastry in New York, from classic French to globally inspired to avant-garde. I also visited enough bakeries, chocolate shops, and candy stores during the day to fill one of my suitcases for the trip home. Although I came perilously close to sugar shock, my only real regret is that I couldn’t stay longer to try all the other places I missed out on!


As a note, for all the restaurants below, I did not have a full dinner at any other them, choosing to focus my attention (and appetite) on the desserts. I also, unfortunately, don’t have many pictures of the desserts I tasted either, out of consideration of the low light conditions of most of the places. I do hope my descriptions will help you envision the creations I tasted – or entice you to try them yourself!



Dining at Chanterelle is like having dinner with an old friend – one with impeccable taste and style. Chanterelle is a New York fixture, and its history shows; from the moment you step in the door you are treated with an effortless grace and surety that comes from long experience. The dining room is classy and refined – warm-lit walls, high ceilings, sweeping flower arrangements – but the atmosphere is  intimate and cozy, never snooty. Chanterelle is, of course, home of Kate Zuckerman’s desserts and I was thrilled to finally get a chance to taste what her desserts were like made out of her pastry kitchen.

Favorites: I was thrilled to find so many of Kate’s creations from The Sweet Life on the menu. Her Madagascar Vanilla and Brown Butter Cake, which has been embraced by many a blogger, is a slice of warm buttery bliss, with a tantalizing crisp exterior giving way to a soft, velvety vanilla center – divine, especially with the crème fraîche ice cream. The Goat Cheesecake in Hazelnut Brittle also made an appearance  – about as far from the traditional New York cheesecake as you can get, her refined rendition is almost soufflé-light, the slight tang of goat cheese set off by the sweetly crunchy hazelnuts and a piquant marmaladed kumquat sorbet. My other favorite was a coconut-cardamom rice pudding packaged in a crispy wrapper like a bonbon, drizzled with rose syrup, with a scoop of pistachio ice cream nestled nearby. This gorgeous interplay of colors, tastes, and textures made me wish Kate had included the entire dessert in her cookbook – she does give the recipe for the rice pudding, and it’s certainly moved up several notches on my to-make list.

2 Harrison Street
(between Hudson Street and Staple Street)
(212) 966-6960

photo from


Chanterelle may be classic New York dining at its most elegant and gracious, but p*ong is as modern and eclectic as its name, a funky, downtempo lounge of a place, with sleek white banquettes and a sweeping, angled bar – the preferred place to sit so you can watch the servers make your cocktails or plate your dessert.

Service was efficient, but the highlight, needless to say, was Chef Ong himself, who would materialize in the dining room like a mercurial firefly to exchange a friendly word or two with guests before vanishing again. We discovered that he had just opened his new bakery next door that morning – poor guy! But despite the stresses of opening day, he kindly took the time to show the bakery space to us and told us to come back the next day when they would be restocked. I must disclose here that I adore Pichet. He recounted how they opened the bakery at 11 in the morning, worried that no one would come. No one come to Pichet Ong’s bakery? Hmm, right. In reality, they sold out by 1 in the afternoon. More on batch later. But Pichet is charmingly modest and slyly funny. Be warned, he has a habit of stopping by and checking on the progress of your dessert decimation. "Why didn’t you finish the cake? Is it bad?" "No, of course not, it’s delicious!" we’d demur. "Oh, well, you should really finish it. It’s a special cake!" I don’t think he’s praising his own desserts so much as he’s espousing the old Chinese virtue of cleaning your plate, which all my relatives always had me do. Of course, none of my relatives ever told me that I had to finish my dessert – so advantage to Pichet, I’d say!

Favorites: One of my favorite desserts from my trip came from p*ong: a warm date and ginger cake in a pool of rum toffee sauce, sprinkled with walnuts. It’s like a cross between sticky toffee pudding and the best gingerbread I’ve ever had, the very definition of soul-satisfying. I liked it so much that I had to make it when I returned home. Other desserts that tickled the tastebuds included a chevre cheesecake and walnut croquette, a bit richer and earthier than Chanterelle’s, and a grilled pear "steak" with hazelnut and caramel – again, desserts hitting that elusive combination of unexpected and intriguing and utterly satiating.

150 W 10th Street
(between Greenwich Avenue and Waverly Place)
(212) 929-0898

photo fr om


It seemed fitting that I’d visited the MOMA earlier in the day before I went to wd-50. An afternoon of high-concept art followed by an evening of high concept food. Be prepared to go with an open mind and you’ll be rewarded with some amazing, thought-provoking plates. wd-50 is surprisingly low-key and mellow for being a high temple of molecular gastronomy; my friend and I were seated at a row of two-tops placed so closely together that by the end of the evening we felt more like we were sitting at a communal table. It was amusing to see the diners seated next to us darting sideways glances as a new feat of whimsy was placed before us, just as we could not resist doing the same to them. Eager to experience as many of Alex Stupak’s creations as we could, we chose the five-course dessert tasting, but be warned: each person at the table has to order the tasting, so it’s a whole lot of sweets. Make sure you leave enough room!

Favorites: Needless to say, these were some of the most exactingly plated dishes I saw on my whole trip. Every dessert was a Japanese rock garden, little hills and dunes of cake and cream in a sea of sinuous curves and undulating swirls, amidst carefully calibrated scatterings of crunchy flourishes. The desserts that not only struck me with their art-museum aesthetic but also their successful exploration of the unusual and offbeat included a delectably soft cornbread pudding in a lemongrass sauce with prunes; it was homey and exotic at once and most importantly, delicious. Another winner was a gianduja dome with ice milk ice cream, fennel, and little chocolate truffles that oozed warm hazelnut filing when you cut into them. It’s pretty hard to go wrong with chocolate and hazelnut, but the flavors were used in such untraditional ways that it made the dessert interesting and new, a pleasure to explore. The little chocolate covered chicory ice cream petit fours were scrumptious as well.

50 Clinton Street
(between Rivington Street and Stanton Street)
(212) 477-2900

Other sweet spots

Having only five days in New York City and one stomach, I could only visit a fraction of all the bakeries, pâtisseries, dessert bars, chocolate shops, and other sweet spots the city had to offer. New York demands your return, anyway, with its kaleidoscopic, ever-changing aspect – even if I’d visited 50 dessert places I’m sure another 50 will have opened by the end of this year. Here, some of the places I did get to try:

Amai Tea House
Tiny, but warm and serene.  I love that all the display cases look like they came from an old Chinese apothecary, a perfect setting for all the Asian-inspired desserts. Although their green tea cookies are their signature item, I really like their white tea and strawberry cookies, which have a touch of ginger and peppercorn, and the red vanilla cookies, which are laced with rooibos tea.

171 3rd Avenue
(between 16th Street ad 17th Street)
(212) 863-9630



This place was literally a day old when I walked in, but it already looks like it has its own quirky personality. I recognized many of Pichet Ong’s creations from his The Sweet Spot cookbook – the Dragon Devil’s Food Cupcakes were there, as well as the coconut-lemon cupcakes and chocolate tarts. There are also puddings, cookies, brownies, and other delights by the batch. There’s Pichet serving the customers; I also got to meet one of the bakers there – hi, Betty!

150b W 10th St
(212) 929-0250


In the excitement of visiting new dessert places, I didn’t have much time to spend revisiting ones I’d been to before, but I knew I really wanted to go back here. So narrow that customers are basically sandwiched between the wall and the display case, nevertheless I love this place because of the tiny dining room in the back, a brick-walled oasis plastered with vintage posters, resembling a cross between speakeasy and secret clubhouse, where you can tuck into your tart and coffee far away from the city bustle.

55 Spring Street
(between Cleveland Place and Lafayette Street)
(212) 274-9179


A perfectly apropos name, as all three branches of this pâtisserie are located in the Financial District. With its celery-green and cream-yellow decor and rattan chairs, you can almost think you are eating your pain au chocolate in Paris – until you see the skyscrapers outside the window.

35 Cedar Street
(between Pearl Street and William Street)
(212) 952-3838


Kee’s Chocolates

Barely more than a storefront on a SoHo street, Kee’s Chocolates is nevertheless a window into chocolate heaven. Kee Ling Tong’s creations are masterpieces of flavor and texture, chocolate brought to a spellbinding zenith. I’ve never had any chocolates where the shell almost dissolves in your mouth to the filling inside – dreamy. Flavors I loved include passionfruit, lavender, and hazelnut praline.

80 Thompson Street
(between Broome Street and Spring Street)
(212) 334-3284


There are plenty of Asian-inspired desserts on menus nowadays, but Kyotofu the balance tips the other way, with Asian desserts just tempered with a French/Western edge. Their signature item is their homemade sweet tofu, which is light, silken, and refreshing, especially with a black sugar syrup poured over the top. Other sweets I liked included the chocolate matcha cupcake, sake cheesecake, and coconut-yuzu macaron. Different, and definitely worth a visit.

705 9th Ave
(between 48th Street and 49th Street)
(212) 974-6012


You can’t get closer to a Parisian grand café in New York than François Payard’s pâtisserie and bistro. Go to admire the gorgeous Belle Époque decor, all high ceilings, coffee-colored wood, and blown-glass fixtures. Stay as you try to choose from dual counters filled with cakes, tarts, macarons, chocolates, and cookies of every sort. Or perhaps the ice-cream cart is calling your name?

1032 Lexington Avenure
(between 73rd Street and 74th Street)
(212) 717-5252

 Well, that’s about it! I wanted to include a recipe for the Pichet Ong’s date cake that I loved, but this post is already running long so it’s going to show up in part 2! Stay tuned and have a good weekend!


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