08 January 2014

Happy Birthday Ryan

For those of you who enjoy the flavor of mint chocolate chip ice cream.....I'm going to share my recipe for birthday cake for Ryan (which he has requested every year since 2007 or 2008) - After Eight ice cream cake. Why "After Eight" you may ask? Well, when we went to Barcelona in summer, 2006, that was the equivalent flavor to mint chocolate chip.....it was EVERYWHERE, and if you don't already know, in European cities ice cream itself is EVERYWHERE, so there was no escaping partaking of it many, many times. So now After Eight is the favorite ice cream around here, and since it doesn't exist anywhere around the bay area, I had to make my own. So here goes:

First you must purchase the requisite After Eights (for the outside layers). However, to make the ice cream itself, it's much better to use the After Eight candy bar (impossible to find), the Ghiradelli Dark Chocolate with Mint bar (next to impossible to find), or the Ghiradelli Dark Chocolate with Mint squares (they're everywhere).
Make the ice cream. One recipe in your ice cream maker should be perfect if you've got a 1 quart maker.

5 cups half and half
1 ¼ vanilla bean pod, split and seeds scraped
pinch salt
1 ¼ cups sugar
10 whole egg yolks
¾ cup packed fresh mint leaves
1 cup (or however much you want) coarsely chopped After Eight or Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Bar or Squares (these actually work better in the ice cream than After Eights)
45 Individual After Eight candies (2 boxes - if your pan is any larger than 8x8 you'll need 3 boxes)
(See next page for Cookie Crust recipe and ingredient list)

Place chopped up After Eight bar in a bowl, cover, and refrigerate. Combine the half and half, vanilla bean, vanilla seeds and salt in a nonreactive saucepan over medium heat. Bring just to a boil, then immediately remove the saucepan from the heat.

In a large bowl add the sugar and egg yolks and whisk to combine.  Add the half and half mixture, about ¼ cup at a time, to the beaten eggs and sugar, whisking after each addition. 

Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and add the mint leaves.  Cook over medium-low heat until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 5 to 6 minutes.  Do this SLOWLY or the egg will start to cook into chunks. Remove from the heat and strain through a fine mesh sieve into a clean bowl.  Transfer the bowl to an ice bath and stir frequently until custard is completely cool.  Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.

Pour the custard into an ice cream machine and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for churning time.

After the ice cream stiffens (about 2 minutes before it is done), add the chopped After Eight bar, then continue freezing until the ice cream is ready.

Line a square 8x8 pan with After Eights

Add ice cream, leaving about 1/2" for cookie crust bottom. Add plastic wrap so that it touches the ice cream, and place in freezer for at least 30 minutes.  

For cookie crust bottom:
(I need to experiment with halving this recipe....the cookie crust could be less thick)
1 9-oz. pkg. chocolate wafer cookies
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons sugar
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Finely grind cookies, chips and sugar in processor. Add melted butter; blend until wet crumbs form.

Remove pan from freezer and fill pan the rest of the way with cook crust crumb mixture and freeze again until ready to serve.

After freezing again until ready to serve, you'll need to unmold by dipping the bowl into very hot water for about 7 seconds. Turn it over onto a large platter, and unmold!

If I were serving this to guests outside the immediately family, I would have removed a few of the candy pieces around the top and replaced them with new ones.....which would have aptly covered up the melty look. Fortunately, this wasn't necessary for us......we gobble it up just the way it was.

05 January 2014

Epic San Francisco Chocolate Tour 2014

Like the Tcho-vision says: Obsessed (with chocolate)

There's no lack of love for chocolate in this household, but there's one particular boy whose passion for chocolate is probably only surpassed by his passion for dogs (although I'd have to actually check with him on that). And because this boy had some assigned-for-winter-break homework assignments (argh!) that were just not getting done, there needed to be an incentive....and so I created our first ever San Francisco Self-Guided Chocolate Tour of 2014.  I've never seen homework done so fast! So I did some research and created a map:


View SF Chocolate Tour in a larger map

This might look a little daunting. As long as you're familiar with SF and have no fear of driving and finding parking, it's actually a piece of cake. I highly recommend that you begin at Tcho on the Embarcadero at Green, as first thing in the morning it's much easier to get in and out of the area. I'm also not going to review the actual chocolate....there are too many choices and too much variation. The boy is all about dark chocolate and the girl is all about milk chocolate so there ya go. This is more about an excursion of love......

And so we did begin at Tcho.....

Tcho - New American Chocolate
Bean to Bar factory and retail outlet
Embarcadero - Pier 17
[UPDATE: Tcho Factory is moving to Berkeley. As of June 7, 2014, it's not open yet.

We arrived by 10am (they open at 9) to see if we could put our name on the waiting list for the 10:30a tour. There were 6 names in front of us that did the same. So here's a tip: go in at 9a if you haven't reserved a free tour (10:30a & 2p) - tcho.com/tour.  We did not make it on the tour. While we were waiting we ordered a couple of cups of peppermint chocolate drink, and I got a Blue Bottle redeye. That's coffee with espresso added. Yep...needed to start the day right. And it was very well made. Very friendly retail staff. The displays in the store are pretty. There are a couple of samples set out - dark chocolate and milk chocolate. That's about it, really. We asked for some explanation on all the different boxes and it seems they just create pretty packaging for similar items. So we chose a few things and took our stuff outside to eat.  You see above there is a large table that you could sit inside and eat your purchased goods.....but it was a beautiful day by the water, so why not enjoy that?

XOX Truffles
Truffles made on site
North Beach

A little history....Scott and I used to live right above XOX in our first apartment together in San Francisco. It was 1988-1989. Unfortunately XOX did not exist then - but if you look at the photo below, Petite Deli did - our apartment included all four windows right above XOX (blue awning) and Petite Deli. They apparently opened in October, 1998....actually almost 9 years to the day after we moved out and up to Russian Hill.

So we discovered it on one of our nostalgic tours back around the 'hood way back when. And then, to our amazement, they opened an outlet in Oakland in Montclair. Unfortunately, it didn't last and today when I told him I missed them in Oakland, he said "I don't miss being there." Uh, okay. Then he added that it was too hard to focus on both locations. Makes sense.

Anyway, if you're like me and hate the hard shells that come on most truffles, then this is the place for you. And if you wonder where they're made, then take a look at the owner/chef making a batch. Right here, baby.....right here. 

XOX truffles are like eating only the center ganache of a truffle - and this is the only type of truffle I will eat. The flavors they offer at XOX are so delicious that you have to select at least 4 or 5 flavors. Caramel is always a favorite. I also enjoy the Kahlua. The teens liked orange and lemon and Earl Grey among others.

You can then take your lovely truffles and a coffee and sit outside to enjoy watching all of the Columbus Ave. passers-by.

Moving along, we made our way over to Hayes Valley.

Christopher Elbow Artisanal Chocolates
Hayes Valley

Christopher Elbow is an old favorite. After years and years of SF Boys Chorus and SF Girls Chorus, I have haunted every Hayes Valley location and then some. Especially during the holidays when rehearsals at Davies Symphony Hall were long and frequent. Their liquid chocolate comes in a number of different flavors and it is just over-the-top deliciousness. Their service is almost always top-notch (save for some black Friday craziness, but they get a pass for that). So on this day, a Friday morning with not too many customers, the lovely gal lived up to what I expected in service. There were samples offered to the kids while I was in the restroom (and btw, I'm obsessed with their sink - please check out their bathroom while you're there) and when I returned they had each almost finished their selections of chocolates. They also have seating that is super-comfy. All-around enjoyable experience here.

Now over to Noe Valley.  Unfortunately, I spent a good deal of time trying to locate some Sixth Course Chocolates. They apparently do very well in the International Chocolate Salons held in SF, so I thought we could get some at 24th St. Cheese Co. Sadly they were out and hadn't ordered any more - but meant to. LOL.  Okay...the kids did a little salumi tasting and chose a spicy salami to buy. They enjoyed the little break from sweets. Fortunately, we were only a couple of blocks from......

Chocolate Covered
Noe Valley

Storefront from the Chocolate Covered website
Holy moley.....the holy grail of all chocolate bars you may be looking for from around the world. Truly wonderful shop that you could peruse for hours. The owner is very helpful and knowledgeable and figures out what you're looking for, then provides samples in that realm to help you choose. The boy may have offended him a little as we discussed Oakland, and Bittersweet, and the fact that the owner's friend, who started Bittersweet, went to Hawaii to start up a new chocolate venture - growing beans to bars - and the boy said "oh - Lonohana? I didn't like their chocolate." Way to go dude. To be fair, he's only tried the 'Ele'Ele bar and is open to trying others. Doink.

Give yourselves some time here, as there is much to be seen. 

And now for some lunch......

ChocolateLab - A Savory and Sweet Cafe by Rechiutti

Apparently even chocolatiers want to do other things (isn't it usually tech or business people who want to pitch it all and make chocolate?)

So ChocolateLab has a few very nice menu items, including this sweet little chicken pot pie that the girl ordered and loved. 

The boy ordered a cheese plate that included 3-4 cheeses, crackers, dates, an olive and some honey produced from bees on-site. He was in heaven. I ordered their quinoa bowl with veggies & apples - apparently if you like turkey the smoked turkey version is amazing. I was happy with my choice.

And then there was the dessert menu that includes many decadent items. The boy almost went for the brownie concotion, but at the last second switched to the drinking chocolate with marshmallows. Wait a sec.....didn't he get that at Tcho, also? This is a boy who likes to keep his chocolate as pure as possible.....


After we left we stopped next door to Little Nib, their tiny Recchiuti retail location. This is our first run-in with service that was just okay....or worse. Not a lot of help in sorting through their selection, even when asked....and no samples at all. I don't require samples, but all in all, the store was just... meh. If you like their chocolate, try the Ferry Building location....I have to believe the service is much better.  I think it was a theme, because right around the corner on 3rd St. is.....


We walked in and there's a small retail area with product placed around the front, then desks for workers behind the counter. You're very much left on your own....and the guy who came to the front to help mostly sneered at us and had a bit of that hipster-holier-than-thou 'tude.  After we selected and paid for a couple of items completely without help or input, he did offer a sample of toffee he had to the back of the counter. It was good....but didn't make up for the unwelcome feeling for most of the visit. Really no need to return here....if you like their chocolate they sell it elsewhere.

And we're off to Potrero...which really wasn't going to be part of the tour. However, since we didn't find Sixth Course in Noe Valley, and we had some time, we ran over to Salumeria, which was also supposed to carry them. Nope. Out.  Okay - how about down the block at Heath Ceramics?  Sorry - they were here yesterday! Somebody must have bought them all! Grrrr. Never mind - I'll get some beans at the Blue Bottle that shares the Heath space, and then let's just add....

Potrero Hill

Sweet little shop right next to Charlotte Russe headquarters (hey CR peeps-they do high tea-let's meet for that sometime!).  They actually make the chocolates between 7a and 3p....the retail shop opens at 11a....so if you're there between 11a and 3p you'll see some action.  There are also tours.....which eekgaawd you have to pay for! Aw well, had I planned to come, I'd still have paid to tour. Very sweet girl working the counter....and samples were out and easy to find.  All this time, this place has been less than 3 blocks from the SPCA where the boy volunteers weekly, and he had no idea. Hee hee.

Okay....after running into a friend at Chocolate Covered, we ended up hanging with them awhile at their Noe Valley pad, mere blocks from our ultimate desination.....

Bean to Bar Chocolate made in the Mission, SF
Mission District

I had crafted the day to end at Dandelion to take advantage of their 6:00pm public tour. My inability to navigate their website appropriately actually helped us in the long run. I called Tuesday, they told me where to go on the website, I said okay, then couldn't find it and filled in a private event webform, then called Friday morning and they said "just come right before and we can usually fit people in" and so we did and then they were full...... I tell you all this because I want you to know the story I told Chelsea, working at the cash register and listening to the crazy lady tell her tale of woe. So Chelsea, who happens to have taught at both Montera Middle School and Oakland Tech (she doesn't look much older than the students so I don't know how that happened!), as I found out later, went upstairs to talk to someone. She came down 10 minutes later to let us know that if, in fact, we could not hop onto the last tour, then the CEO would give us a private tour at 6:30p, if we didn't mind waiting. Wow......just wow. We didn't mind waiting. As we sat at one of their comfy tables, just talking and taking it all in, and frankly, relaxing, since we'd been on our tour-de-chocolate since 10am, Chelsea brought over 3 cups of drinking chocolate....gratis. And pointed to where the marshmallows are that can be added, if you'd like. (Are you keeping track of the # of drinking chocolates the boy specifically has had at this point? 3.  It's 3. Seriously, 3.) This is when we chatted awhile longer with Chelsea, found out her Oakland connection, and fell in love with her. And while you chat with her, notice that she sounds and has mannerisms JUST LIKE Kelly Clarkson. For real. And I'm not the only one who has told her that.....Chelsea also did tell us that there was another guy who had been hanging around and just really, really, really wanted a tour, and would it be okay if he came on our tour? Cuz you know it was "our tour" now. Well, yes of course - anyone who is as passionate about good chocolate as we are should be able to come on "our tour."

Waiting for "our tour"

Anyway, just before 6:30 Todd came out and took us back for a tour. It lasted about 45-ish minutes and covered every single thing I wanted to know. Todd was patient and broke down every component of the process so we understood. We were patient with the guy who came on "our tour" with all of his questions because he was "in the industry." And by that I mean he used to be a coffee guy. Beans, you know. But he kind of really didn't know. Whatever.

The retail space sets out many sample of their bars....which are all made with cacao and sugar, period. End of story. No added cocoa fats, cocoa butter (that's for smooth, supple skin, anyway, right?), no lecithin, nothing but the chocolate and the sugar. There are a ton of menu items, including a fruit blended drink made from the fruit of the cacao bean.....which is not a chocolate flavor at all.

Bottom line is that Dandelion became and will remain our favorite chocolate location in SF. We will visit it and drink it and eat it and wash in it and talk about it and BART to it and try to intern at it forever because of the service we received. Thank you Dandelion, for topping off our SF Chocolate tour so spectacularly!

Because we were a little dizzy from our day o' chocolate, we topped it off with great Mission mexican food at Tacqueria el Buen Sabor at Valencia and 18th. Not a hipster joint....real and true food and beer and horchata. Whew. I think we can go home now. Ni-night San Francisco!

27 March 2011

The Day of the Lemon Cake

Sierra has been wanting to make a cake for a week. No particular reason. Well, if sugar counts as a reason, then yeah, one particular reason. So after searching for just the right flavor and recipe, she came upon a Lemon Cake recipe that looked pretty tasty.

We didn't realize that it also happened to be Gluten Free until we were really concentrating on writing down the ingredients for the shopping list. One would think it would be difficult to find brown rice flour, potato starch, tapioca flour, xanthan gum, guar gum, and maybe even lemon extract. But guess what? Whole Foods has every single one of these items in one aisle!

So with our ingredients in hand, Sierra began the cake making process. First the cake part - pretty straightforward - mix a bunch of stuff together, pour in a pan, and bake. One ingredient we somehow overlooked was canola oil. I always have coconut oil on hand, so I got it out, heated it just enough to bring it to liquid state, then gave it to Sierra to add to a milk/lemon zest mixture she needed to do before incorporating into the cake batter. Guess what happens when you mix coconut oil with cold milk? Uh huh. Back to solid. Oh well, warmed the mixture again back to liquid and had no problems after that.

Next was the lemon curd. This was where she used the guar gum. Very easy and it thickened up really nicely.

So we split the two cake layers in half and basically made lemon curd sandwiches of them before putting them back together for frosting. This is the only part I was allowed to do because she didn't trust herself to split the cakes horizontally.

Finally, there was frosting to be made. I cannot believe it has taken me all these years to realize it - but I only learned about a month ago that you can make your own powdered sugar by putting granulated sugar in a powerful enough blender. What a money saver. So she made some powdered sugar, added it to butter, lemon, lemon extract, and lemon zest and that was the frosting. Oh, 1 1/2 times the recipe of course, for decorating purposes.

It was time for the base level of frosting.

But just a simple layer of frosting isn't too exciting, now is it? So you need some whoop-te-doos and piping and whatnot, and of course some sprinkles, because what is a cake without sprinkles? Wait...I wonder if the sprinkles un-gluten-freed the cake!?! Hmmmm.

And the finished cake with the baker.

And finally, the cake after cutting. It always gets dark outside when I'm trying to photograph food and you just can't see the layers as well as I'd like - but they're there, believe me.

UPDATE: Daytime photo of the yummy layers

I told Sierra this and I don't think she truly believes me...but this is the best cake I have ever eaten. I cannot explain exactly why - of course it was made with love, and it's flavors that I adore, etc. - but the flavors shine through with the exact right amount of sweet, moist, and flavorful: not too much or too little of anything.

I would say that you could potentially double the lemon curd recipe if you really like lemon curd....I thought we really weren't going to be able to taste it at all because it's a pretty thin layer, but surprisingly it held up really well and you could definitely taste it.

If you'd like to try it yourself, you can go to the Lemon Layer Cake recipe at Epicurious. It's from the November, 2005 Gourmet, which, like any good packrat, I have in my "November section" of my food magazine racks.

And yes, I did call this The DAY of the Lemon Cake for a reason. What was supposed to be a 2-hour-total-time cake recipe somehow took around 5 hours. Oh well, that's okay. It was worth it.

09 April 2010

Ryan finally wanted me to video the whole song....so here you go:

30 March 2010

A couple of minutes of Ryan's latest song....

Don't forget - Train at the Fox Theater in Oakland April 10!

01 February 2010


Check out the new video from Judgement Day, a local "string metal" band made up of guys playing violin, cello and drums. The strings players happen to be the sons of Sierra's violin teacher, and they were nice enough to ask her to be part of the video. Click here for some behind-the-scenes info.

You'll see Sierra at 1:49; 2:02; 2:19; 2:28; 2:31; 2:41; and 2:47. It's fast, so pay attention!

10 November 2009


It's that time of year again folks. Cough/cold/nasty what-the-heck-is-that-person-hacking-up time. We go through bags and bags and bags of Ricola. The only person who is a bigger baby about having a sore throat than me is Sierra. Way bigger. Where'd she get that from? So I thought...hmmm...how hard can it be to make these things? Turns out not hard at all. You just have to approach it like I try to approach sewing - NO FEAR.

So I researched (you know...I googled it) recipes, formulas, and herbs and settled in on one recipe. All properties described are internet-retrieved, so you choose whether to believe the purported properties of the herbs. However, I will say that my brain believed them as I sucked on the finished product.

Here's the recipe:

1 cup dried herbs (see here for herb guide). Mix and match according to your preference

3 cups boiling water

3 1/2 cups brown sugar or same amount of honey [see note about honey]

2 teaspoons peppermint extract if desired (may not go with honey?!)

Candy thermometer

First you will want to steep the dried herbs in the tea. Steep for about 30 minutes or so. Strain well using a tea press or cheesecloth.

Next add brown sugar or honey over medium heat and bring to a boil slowly. Be sure to keep stirring constantly. When the brown sugar or honey herbs mixture reaches 290 to 300 degrees and pulls apart in threads it is done.

At this point remove from heat and add the peppermint extract if desired. You can then proceed to pull the mixture like taffy and make little balls. Or the easiest and fastest thing to do is spread over a cookie sheet. I tried putting them in a loaf pan (I made a 1/2 recipe) and scoring them. When the herbal mixture it hardens you can then break into pieces. Use wax paper to store them.

[Note about honey - These tasted great but after a couple of weeks in a container began to draw in moisture and try to become liquid again. Still edible....just had to twist a piece off. Someone suggested putting one of those little silicon(e)? packets inside the container to prevent this which I think I'll try next time]

The herbs were easy to find. Whole Foods was my first stop and they had everything but horehound. However, next time I'll just go to Lhasa K to get everything, which is where I found the horehound.

This is what the dried herbs look like pre-tea:

Horehound has been used for decades for coughs and bronchial upsets. It is a great herb for breaking up congestion. It contains murubiin which stimulates bronchial secretions.

Mullien is an herb that will help soothe the bronchial and lungs. It is extremely gentle and effective. It will help ease coughs.

This herb is used to help relieve inflammation of the bronchial.

So you make up this big pan of tea and then do the straining:

The tea comes out looking like this:

Then, put it back in a pan with the brown sugar or honey.

Pour it in a pan (for a 1/2 recipe I used a loaf pan)....next time I'll probably line the pan with wax paper and butter it, for easier removal.
If you decide to pour it on a cookie sheet you're done. You'll simply break it up like brittle when it's ready. But if you use a pan like I did (thinking I could make the shape of the original herbal flavor Ricolas) you need to score the cough drops...unless you're a hard candy expert and know how to quickly and efficiently pull and shape the taffy-like candy into little balls. That's not me so I'm scoring. The challenge is that you have to score when it's not too hot and not too cool. I would run my small, sharp knife through a little butter, then dip the tip in and draw a line. Sometimes I'd start at the edges and do the edges all the way around, then wait as the middle cooled a bit more a go back in a little at a time. When it's too hot the candy sticks to the knife - too cool, you won't be able to score it at all.

Sounds hard but it's not. Although I do want to look into getting hard candy molds so I can make nice little round balls without the taffy-pulling part. Good luck!

26 July 2009


I am trying to reimagine our front yard. My imagination is currently hovering somewhere between art garden and/or courtyard found in San Miguel de Allende. And frankly, I don't believe they're mutually exclusive. Why San Miguel? Color, color and more color, natch.
A few inspiration photos:

Sort of art garden meets the casa. Our house style is Monterey Colonial, which is already kind of a mash-up, so I figure let's mash some more. We obviously have a long way to go...
The old yard:

It's okay. But the boxwood and the camellias bored me to death. And I wanted a front porch somethin' fierce. So, after putting the camellias on Craig's List (free to whoever came and dug them out-3 offers within 2 hours), I built me one.

It hard to see, but I've got some great slate-like tiles, bordered and sectioned by railroad ties. The front tie, 15 feet long, I drove to Modesto for, had them load it on top of Scott's ski racks, and pushed the sucker off the car myself into the front yard. I don't mess around when I want something done.

(Oh, and did you notice the lovely carpet of leaves is basically unchanged? Yes, that's my solution to the drought....never let them see your lawn - or lack thereof.)

The loveseat and chair are an Ohmega Salvage purchase, for which I have the cushions and fabric for recovering. I finished one since last summer.....speed's not my middle name.

I also made these end tables, inspired by a french pigeon basket coffee table I saw (for $1200!), and I love them with the loveseat and chair.

Also note the hanging lanterns purchased a separate time from Ohmega, as well as the wall lantern, for which I am still looking for a mate.

So in the casa-inspired version, all the brick comes out, the gate moves to the corner, there's some kind of pavers curved to the front door, the house gets painted, there's a cool-ish new fence and a fountain.....somewhere.

So now you're mostly you're up-to-speed. Oh, well, except for the piece of....ummm....art?.....that I bought at Urban Ore. Some employee had put it together as a display for their area, and I happened to come in on a day she was gone, and they sold it to me. The best shot I have of it is from behind Ryan and Sierra's heads. It's a frame, built from leftover electrical components and such, and I'm still figuring out how and where to place IT in the front yard.

OK, now to the part where I need some help/ideas/suggestions. Here is my latest Ohmega Salvage purchase:
It's galvanized steel, and it's former life was as a floral display used with individual pots. For those not familiar with Ohmega, they have lots of great architectural salvage materials, and then lots of just plain WTF? stuff. Not sure into which category my new purchase falls, but that's neither here nor there. I don't intend to use it the way it was originally intended, and here's where I need your help.

I envision putting it upright (full upright-not slanted upright like in the photo)......
But then what? What am I not thinking of? What could it do? What could it look like? What could it represent? Would love your input.....just comment, e-mail, or Facebook me. Thanks!