A Weekend Away

Hello there!

I am terribly sorry for the lack of posting that’s been going on. Being a fourth year journalism major, puts a major crimp in my free time.

For the past few months Matt and I have been trying to take a few days off and visit his mom and step-dad at their new house up in the mountains of Northern California. They moved to a house that sits on 46 acres in a town called Stonyford – population 250. It’s the gosh darn country out there, and we have been itching to try a hand at it. This last weekend we got our chance. It was especially great since this weekend was Easter, because my spring break never falls around Easter, I’ve never gotten to fly home to spend it with my family, so getting to spend it with Matt’s was beyond appreciated.

Our transportation situation is an interesting one, Stonyford is 3 hours away (without traffic) which means its really like 4 1/2 hours away, and neither of us have a car. So his momma, Cherice, had to drive down to get us, only to turn around for another long drive. God bless that woman.

We left Friday afternoon after Matt got out of class and we had to stop at a few stores before heading up to the mountains, so we didn’t get there until after dark. We walked into a house with a fire blazing in the black iron fireplace in the middle of the room, welcome to the country!

We got a tour of the house and then of the barn. Matt found one of his mom’s hunting hats and it was over from there. He fell in love and insisted on posing in front of 2 elk that his mom and step-dad have hunted and are storing in the barn for now.

He was born to be a hunter, no?

We went to bed shortly thereafter (2am), cause we were pooped and wanted to be up early on Saturday. We got to stay in the loft of the barn that is in the process of being converted into a little apartment, so sweet and cozy.

Saturday morning, we were woken up to repeated knocking on the door…only every time we looked, nobody was there! We were like “what the heck?! whose playing a joke on us?!” Turns out, it was a woodpecker, oh the country life!

We got up around 8am, well, I played a little joke on Matt and told him it was 11am cause he was moanin’ and groanin’ about how tired he was.

I know, I know, I’m such a trickster.

When we stepped outside the loft our breath was taken away. It was dark when we arrived last night, so we got our first look at the sweeping views in the early morning sunshine.

After gasping at the views, the trees, and the sheer vastness of the countryside we headed to the main house for a big country breakfast; bacon, eggs, bagels, and coffee. Lots of coffee.

His folks are in the process of renovating the main house as well, so please excuse the painters tape and patched holes!

The barn!

The main house!

After breakfast Cherice and I whipped up some Chocolate Raspberry Swirl Brownies for the Hillbilly Olympics we would be attending in the afternoon – more on that later.

Continue reading

Sea Urchins: An Aphrodisiac I’ll Stay Away From

This is an article I originally wrote for Xpress Magazine all about sea urchin, more commonly known as Uni, it’s history as an aphrodisiac, and my experiences with it.

I hope you enjoy!

Forget chocolate covered strawberries, champagne, and oysters the next time love, or lust, is in the air – there’s a new aphrodisiac in town. Well, maybe not so new, more so under represented as such.

Sea Urchin, or Uni, has been used to inspire desire for centuries. Considering the part that’s eaten is in fact the sex glands of the urchin, it’s not surprising the effects carry over.

It is certainly not hard to believe that the art of seduction has been on the brain since, well, pretty much the beginning of time. The term aphrodisiac is derived from the Greek goddess of love and sexuality, Aphrodite. Over the years various outlandish items have been proclaimed to be the best in putting love seekers in the mood. In ancient days, starfish, dried human marrow, and menstrual blood were the hottest on the market. Later it was a drink that contained gold – perhaps that’s where Goldschläger got the idea. The list goes on with Uni being introduced only a few hundred years ago.

Despite the fact that it is a popular ingredient in many Japanese and Mediterranean dishes, this spiny fellow is extremely hard to track down in the city. A cashier at one of the Asian fish markets in the Sunset scoffs when she says, “That’s a Japanese thing.” Duly noted; they are a bit more accessible in Japantown, though at a steep price – expect to pay five dollars for one urchin, which may not seem too bad until considering that one urchin only yields five “steaks” the size of a chubby pinky finger.

“Sea Urchins have been established as an Asian dish with status because it’s a little pricey,” says Kai Chen, a waiter at All Season Sushi in the Castro.

If sex is still on the brain after shelling out about twenty dollars to get enough meat for two lovers to indulge in, then cracking them open is the next step. With a sharp pair of scissors and determination, cutting the bottom off the urchin is not a big deal, unless they are still alive. As soon as the scissors pierce their shell their spines go wild, moving faster than expected and elevating the threat of getting poked. Even after severing them into two separate pieces they still move with a vengeance. Running them under hot water should do the trick in finally sending them to a watery grave.

Now take a look at the half of the urchin with the meat, this is supposed to subconsciously put one in the mood because it should be reminiscent of the female sex organ. Consciously though, it looks like a massacred shell with orange colored meat lining. It may only look like female lady parts in an extremely abstract, not literal sense – that’s for sure. And that smell; once the shell has been punctured get ready for a pungent salt-tinged liquid to come streaming out into, hopefully, the sink.

The taste is at best, acquired. Though the texture is smooth and creamy, the flavor could be compared to what the bottom of the San Francisco Bay would taste like if licked. There is an inexplicable briny flavor to it, a deep bottom of the ocean flavor that to some may be enjoyable, but to others extremely off-putting.

Here the roe has been strained out to incorporate into a cream sauce

After a memorable experience a few years ago, sushi lover Lindsay Mayott has made a point to never let Uni touch her lips again. She’s not buying the hype that has surrounded sea urchin.

“It may be a delicacy, but there is nothing delicate about the taste,” says Mayott, 26, as she wrinkles her nose. “The texture reminds me of that goo toy from the ‘90’s ‘Nickelodeon Gak,’ basically it’s like eating someone else’s boogers.”

So after all this, what makes it an ingredient associated with increased sexual ability?

“Sea urchin is a dish that someone will order again and again because it’s an aphrodisiac,” Chen, 33, elaborates. “Not only that but its exotic and nutritious.”

The fundamental problem with aphrodisiacs is that there is little proof to back it up.  However, broken down, at the very least these little guys pack quite the nutritional punch with their high levels of vitamins A, B1, B2, D, E, zinc, and antioxidants and it is these vitamins that help encourage sexual activity, especially when used in conjunction. Each vitamin serves a part to create an extra memorable sexual experience, vitamin E promotes increased blood flow throughout your body and is needed for optimum endurance and stamina; vitamin B helps turn carbohydrates into the energy essential for prosperous sexual activity; vitamin A, and E for that matter, are antioxidants which fight off the free radicals that cause sexual dysfunction in men and some women; lastly increased levels of zinc in the body boosts concentration and sex drive. All of these vitamins in just a little sea urchin steak. Plus, as mentioned before, the visual look of it should keep the brain fixated on what’s to come after the dishes have been cleared.

Chen laughs as he looks around the restaurant as he says, “I’ll have to pay attention to new lovers who try Uni and then come back for more.”

Homemade Goat Cheese

In keeping with my previous post about a recipe cooking with goat cheese, I felt it was only appropriate to post here my latest magazine article (which will come out online in a few days) about making goat cheese at home. I kept the piece in its original magazine style, to give you a taste of my more “professional” writing style.

Enjoy!

Tangy flavor, velvety texture, and versatility make it loved by the masses and easy to incorporate into so many meals. It has the intrinsic ability to class up any meal, with a name like Chèvre, it’s not hard to believe. It would not be too bold to say it may just be one of the most addicting cheeses in existence. However, as with most fine things in life, the average price for a package of goat cheese can be a bit high considering the amount being bought.

“I find goat cheese to be completely irresistible because of its creamy texture, subliminal tartness, and the semi-subconscious thought that eating it means I have a more sophisticated palate,” says SFSU student Dorothy Niederlander. “Because of the relatively high prices on goat cheese, I only purchase a log once every couple of months.”

Niederlander, and others who feel this pain need not to fear, because perhaps the best part about goat cheese is the fact that it can be made at home in just about twenty-five minutes (plus two hours of inactive time in the fridge). And one batch yields at least two times the cheese for half the cost. Rest assured, making the cheese at home is not one of those DIY projects where halfway through it becomes impossible to finish. The recipe list is simple: Goat’s milk, buttermilk, lemon juice, and salt. Do not bother using low fat goat or buttermilk either, the integrity and texture of the cheese is ruined with such a lack of fat. While that smooth, creamy taste may suggest copious amounts of fat, it is just an illusion; even with using full fat milks, goat cheese is still actually lower in fat than most cow cheeses. Andronico’s is the best place to buy goat milk because they sell it in its raw, unpasteurized form, which is optimal for making the cheese. However, in a pinch, pasteurized milk will do just fine, Trader Joe’s and Rainbow Grocery are just a few of the stores that carry it.

The process is just as simple as the ingredients; pour one liter of goat milk and one cup of buttermilk in a saucepan and let that heat up to 170-185 degrees – a word to the wise, a thermometer is needed for this.

Once the milk reaches that temperature, turn the stove off and squeeze a tablespoon of lemon juice into it, stir, and watch it begin to curdle. This may be the most crucial part of the process, not enough lemon juice and nothing will happen, too much lemon juice and the mixture will over curdle and become grainy. So measure before pouring.

Do not let pictures online fool anyone, not all curdles were born equal. Some will be big and float on top, while most will remain about the size of ¼ grain of rice and stay somewhere toward the bottom.

Let the mixture cool to 120 degrees, stirring occasionally. Then take the whole pot and pour in through a cheesecloth-lined strainer that’s inside a larger bowl and marvel at all the premature goat cheese sitting there.

Strain it, like so, for about ten minutes, dump the excess liquid out of the bowl, then take the ends of the cheese clot, twist together and squeeze – not too tight. Secure with a rubber band, place back in strainer/bowl duo, cover with a small plate or bowl, and weigh down with a heavy can and pop it in the fridge. The cheese will continue to drain so the bowl is still essential.

After two hours in the fridge, take it out and unwrap like the present it is. If the cheese is too crumbly, take the whey that was strained out in the fridge and fold it back into the mixture. This is a good time to add salt, non-iodized, to taste, the vital ingredient that extenuates the tartness of the cheese. Eat it with everything; the possibilities are endless.

Goat cheese has had a long-standing place in history, even being referenced in The Odyssey, as goats were one of the first domesticated animals, nomads would turn goat’s milk into cheese, which served as the perfect way to preserve it. Their method of curdling the milk involved slaughtering a suckling calf and extracting rennet.

“Rennet is an enzyme that is found in a calf’s stomach that causes curd to coagulate and separate from the whey,” says Jens Thorsgarb, 32, an employee at Say Cheese in Cole Valley. You can also use vegetable rennet, a hyper concentrated microbial, like a super fungus.”

Today, more in depth recipes often call for rennet to be used in the process to ensure firmer curds, though most cheese shops in the city do not carry it. Purchasing it online, in tablet or liquid form, is the easiest route and the least expensive as it only costs about six dollars, comes in fairly large quantities, and can be stored for a long period of time.

If thousands of years of homemaking cheese does not inspire confidence however, several shops around the city offer classes to help. The Cheese School of San Francisco on Powell St. teaches both instructional and educational classes and the Workshop in the Western Addition hosts mozzarella-pulling nights every so often as well. Look out for classes offered by Say Cheese as they have also been considering passing on their cheesy whiz-dom.

“The owner and I have talked about having cheese education classes that I would run,” Thorsgarb mentions while he nibbles on a slice of sheep’s milk cheese. “And as far as cheese making classes go, I’m not expert, so if we were to do that we would bring in two women we know who specialize in it.”

Spread on, fellow cheese lovers.

Chile Pies (& Ice Cream)

Since last May I have been living 3 houses down from Chile Pies (& Ice Cream). When I first moved in I just kept thinking to myself, “Crap, I’m gonna get fat. Great.” With at least 10 varieties of freshly baked pie on any given day AND late night access (they are open ’til 10p.m.), I knew it would take some serious will power to not become their best customer.

It has taken quite a bit of self worth to walk (quickly might I add) past it every day, but here we are a year later and I still wear the same pant size. The times I have gone in though, I have been extremely impressed with the variety and creativity of the pie flavors.

Apple with Golden Raisins and Chai spices? Yes!

Strawberry Rhubarb? Ummm, if it tastes like my Grandma’s – then get me 2 slices.

Cheesecake?! Sadly, they only have it on weekends.

The best part? Chile Pies gives more than just pie to the community. When I saw down with manager Kali Nickless she filled me in on how the shop uses almost all organic, local, and fresh ingredients.Save for a few items like vanilla which they acquire through fair trade and their namesake chilies they have imported straight from New Mexico. I ain’t mad at ’em for that though.

Their philosophy behind the whole project is to bring a great product to a community, to help them in this goal they have enlisted Straus Family Creamery as their main dairy supplier because of their ethical practices, quality dairy, and as Kali says because they are bringing back the vintage glass bottles for their milk.

On the ice cream end of the spectrum Chile Pies was contemplating using Straus as well, until the stumbled upon Three Twins the organic ice cream producers who have been quite the hit in S.F. as far as I can tell. Chile Pies thought so too. Kali explained how they were really drawn to Three Twins because they experiment with unique flavors (my personal favorite, Dad’s Cardamom). I am still itching to try Strawberry Je Ne Sais Quoi – strawberry ice cream with a splash of balsamic vinegar. YUM.

Don’t take just my word for it though, after learning a little more about the shop I decided that a photo slide show was the best way to highlight perfection in a crust.

Oh and I almost forgot to mention, Chile Pies will be opening a new location in the coming months in the Castro in an effort to make more people come together and feel good (and full) by way of pie.