Food: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000, at the Smithsonian Museum

Smithsonian Museum

Unfortunately, book tours offer little – if any – free time. Sometimes you want to check out places that are miles away from your hotel, which are hopeless causes (although not always). But since publishers and venues are flying you around, they’re not footing the bill for a leisurely evening with friends, or with copious time to explore the city. (And I don’t blame them.) So you value every precious second you have. Your best bet is to remain within a close radius of your hotel. If you’re fortunate, you can race to a Japanese restaurant, cafe, or doughnut shop. Other times, you’re happy to lie in a nice bed and watch “The View.”

Smithsonian Museum

For the most part, the weather on my tour was spectacular. And while I can’t take credit for that, still, people thanked me for bringing sunny skies with me, wherever I went. In Seattle, I hit the city during one of the rare thirty days of sunshine (out of 365 days.) But not always. Heading to Miami, just as we were poised to take off on the runway, our plane turned around and headed back to the gate to get more fuel because a hurricane warning in Florida, which might force us to land elsewhere. (We ended up arriving okay, but we circled high above the Miami airport for a couple of hours, waiting for it to reopen.) Yet the next day in Miami, the skies were spectacular.

And for my last city and stop of the tour, I had the pleasure of sitting on a green, grassy lawn at the Washington, D.C. farmers’ market, in the nation’s capital, signing books and chatting to shoppers, who were loading up their baskets with bunches of asparagus, strawberries, and radishes as well as first-of-the-season tomatoes and excellent cheeses.

Since I miraculously ended up with a rare, free afternoon the following day, I hoofed it over to the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian, to check out Food: Transforming the American Table, 1950-2000.

The exhibit highlights how American eating and shopping habits have changed during those five decades, and the museum compiled this retrospective to show the progression and evolution of the changes leading up to what shows up at the American table.

Smithsonian Museum

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Lunch at Google

Lunch at Google

I’ve had a lot of interesting experiences on this book tour, from taking in all the gorgeous produce at farmers’ markets, from San Francisco to Washington D.C,, to having someone tell me that he was proud of “my people” for the book I wrote. Wasn’t too sure who “my people” are. At first I thought it was mes amis français, but then I realized it was likely you, my dear readers.

Lunch at Google

As I pack up, ready to head home shortly, it’ll be a relief to be back in my own bedroom (and bathroom), after four weeks of gently explaining to hotel housekeepers that there’s no need to knock on my door at 7:30am to see if I need any of the fourteen towels in the bathroom replaced. I can only imagine what they would think of me if they saw my own bathroom at home, with a mere two towels hanging from the towel bar.

Which makes me wonder: What on earth do people do with all those towels, piled and rolled up, in hotel rooms? If I had my druthers, I would like the option to be able to trade some for a few more electrical outlets. Heading to the finish line, though, perhaps I should have yielded to their queries about extra towels, because I’m about to throw one in.

Lunch at Google

Lunch at Google

If I’m not making sense, you’ll have to excuse me, like the person who was surprised when I mentioned that it was October. (It was, in fact, April.) But one experience that I can still recall as clear as a lens on Google Glass, was visiting Google, where I was invited to speak to a group of Googlers, as they’re called.

(And if using the word “Google,” and linking to it, that many times in one sentence doesn’t jack up my search engine juice, I don’t know what will.)

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Interview with Food Photographer Michael Lamotte & From the Source

Star Route Farms

I met Michael Lamotte back in 1998, when I was looking for a photographer to shoot my first book, Room for Dessert. Because he had done several beautiful books with other Bay Area authors, I was really happy that I was able to work with him because I was a big fan. He did such a great job that he photographed my second book as well. I was a newbie back then and didn’t have much of a sense of what goes into a photo shoot for a cookbook, but I learned a lot working with him. And I also learned why he’s so successful; not only is he a great photographer, but he’s a terrific guy.

There are a lot of food photographers out there, but Michael has a particularly keen eye for food. Which is why I’m fascinated by his current project, From the Source, with images that are both haunting and magnificent, and make me look at everyday foods from a different perspective. I was curious why he chose to take his photography in this particular direction for this very personal project, focusing on local foods from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Michael is currently preparing an exhibition in San Francisco at the a.Muse art gallery (see end of interview for opening dates and related events) and since I was recently in San Francisco, I thought I’d ask him some questions about what he does, how he gets such amazing shots, and what motivated him to take on this project.

FTS B+W

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The Ice Cream Bar

The Ice Cream Bar

Rats! It used to be my dream to open an ice cream bar. But then again, that’s coming from the guy who thought that no one in America would be interested in bean-to-bar chocolate, no one in Los Angeles would ever buy artisan bread, and who sold his Apple stock when it was 38 per share.

As I’ve been traveling around the U.S., I’ve noticed all the artisan places that have popped up, everything from local olive oil at San Francisco airport, folks distilling whiskey in big cities, and people waiting three hours for a plate of smoked meat. Am not sure exactly how to explain this phenomenon to people who live outside the United States, but whatever triggered it, I gotta say, I’m swallowing my words.

The Ice Cream Bar

However perhaps I was ahead of the curve because after I’d written my ice cream book, I played with the idea of opening an ice cream shop (unfortunately, not with any money I made on my Apple stock), where I imagined myself churning away all sorts of flavors, using bean-to-bar chocolate (after I got done kicking myself…), artisan breadcrumbs (don’t get me started…) as well as local fruits and berries.

While on book tour, I met a number of swell folks who handed me their battered copies of The Perfect Scoop for me to sign, worn down from being passed around the kitchen of visionaries who had better insight than I, and opened ice cream shops.

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Josey Baker’s Adventure Bread

Josey Baker gluten-free bread recipe

It gives me a little frowny face when people tell me that they can’t find good bread in America. But I’m turnin’ that frown upside down because the more I travel, the more good bread I see. And I love passing on the word because, really, everyone should have access to good bread – no matter where they are.

The San Francisco Bay Area has had a tradition of good bread for a while, from the golden loaves of airy Boudin San Francisco sourdough, to the earthy levain breads from Acme, Tartine, b. pâtisserie, Della Fattoria, and all the other bakeries that are pulling terrific loaves out of the oven daily, in the area.

Josey Baker Bread

People in San Francisco are obsessed with good bread, and good food – a tradition which I am happy to report is still in evidence from all the great meals I’ve been having on this trip. And like France, and many other countries, bakeries are important to the community. One bakery that is extra-special to me is The Mill, which I discovered on my last trip. And one that I was anxious to revisit on this one.

Josey Baker Bread

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I’m sorry, Vancouver

Vancouver Canada

A while back I was discussing something with a Canadian friend in Paris. Until – at one point, she stopped the discussion and said, “Y’know, I’m Canadian. I don’t have an opinion.” And while that may be true, before touching down in Vancouver, I decided to give crowd-sourcing where I should go for dinner another go, since I knew almost nothing about where to go in Vancouver. The only thing I knew was that it was known to have especially great Asian food. And it seemed a shame not to indulge in some of it.

Mexican food truck

Vancouver Food Truck

Since my plane was coming near the tail end of the dinner hour, and I had to be up-and-at-‘em early the next morning, I needed somewhere to go that was near to my hotel. After a day of flying, I wasn’t up for wandering around an unfamiliar city in my dazed stupor. And since I only have the barest minimum of free time, I needed to use it wisely – and make sure I didn’t eat any meals that were duds.

food truck

For an opinion-free culture, folks on Twitter sure had plenty to say about where to go, although many were eliminated since “near” was the operative word. I also learned that apologizing for everything was another trait Canadians were known for. And as we were lining up to exit the plane and race toward the border patrol area, which is usually a scrum elsewhere, I heard plenty of people apologizing and saying “Oh, I’m sorry” to each other. And letting them pass.

canada flag

On the food front, a few places kept popping up repeatedly, and looking at a map once I landed, and talking to the nice folks at my hotel, I saw thatShuraku was just a five minute walk away from where I was staying. So that was the deciding factor.

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City of Light

City of Light Cocktail recipe

There’s nothing like an icy cocktail to start off summer, and I’m considering making this my new seasonal refresher. When the team at Lucques restaurant in Los Angeles presented a menu from My Paris Kitchen for one of their Sunday suppers, head bartender, Christiaan Rollich came up with an inspired cocktail that’s light, and refreshing, and combines a splash of Lillet, a pour of French vermouth, another nod to France with a dash of orange liqueur, finished up with some bubbly from our friends across the border in Italy.

Lucques cocktail city of light.jpg

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My Paris Kitchen (errata)

In some copies of the first printing of My Paris Kitchen, it’s not clear when to add ingredients in two of the recipes in the dessert chapter. They’re correct in most copies of the book. But for the few where they weren’t, here are the clarifications:

– For those who use metrics, the conversion for the tahini in the Beet Hummus (page 58), is 90g, and for the Hummus (page 60), is 120g. 1 tablespoon tahini = 15g.

– In the sardine spread recipe (page 79), the metric conversion for the 1/4 cup of cream cheese is 55g.

– Bay leaf pound cake with orange glaze (page 296): The bay leaf-infused melted butter gets added with the other wet ingredients (the egg mixture) in step 6.

– Bûche de Noël (page 319): The orange syrup is brushed on the cake after it’s unrolled, in step 8, just before spreading on the chocolate/orange/ricotta filling.

And for two other recipes, here’s a tip, and a variation:

– For the Chicken Pot Parmentier (page 166-167), if you don’t have a food mill or potato ricer, you can use a stand mixer to make the potato topping (steps 5 and 60. After drying out the potatoes, beat them in the stand mixer with the paddle attachment, along with the 6 tablespoons (85g) butter, until smooth and the potatoes are cooled down a bit. Then beat in the cream and egg yolks.

– The Chocolate-dulce de leche tart (page 289): If the dough needs help coming together, feel free to add a tablespoon or two of water to it, in step 2.