Sunday, December 26, 2010

Coolhaus: a satisfyingly sticky treat to share

It's practically impossible to resist the Coolhaus truck during a night congregating at Santa Monica's Main Street food truck lot.

  The architechturally-themed ice cream sandwich truck empowers eaters to choose their own cookie flavor, then sandwich in flavors such as brown butter with candied bacon or balsamic fig with mascarpone.  I selected the oatmeal cookie to devour, but not before breaking off a few messy dripping pieces for my friends to taste.  From structurally sound to destroyed for consumption in less than 30 seconds, our hands ended up chilled and sticky but it was well worth it.  It's not exactly a food you can share gracefully, but it's too good to finish alone.

The Santa Monica food truck lot happens here on Tuesdays:

Delicious cause marketing from Yummy Cupcakes

The Great American Bakery Hunt would like to give a shout out to Santa Monica's Yummy Cupcakes for participating in the "Season of Wishes" campaign to benefit the Make a Wish Foundation.  From November 23 to December 23, Yummy donated 50% of their proceeds to the organization from every Make a Wish cupcake purchased.  Make a Wish does great work granting the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions.  Ever the fan of bakeries who combine supporting worthwhile causes with delicious treats, I enjoyed a Make a Wish cupcake to join in the effort.  This definitely falls under the category of delicious cause marketing.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A pizza and pastry marriage at Olio Pizzeria

This pastry and pizza dough hybrid pictured above is a nice change from heavier pastries and comes from the belly of a wood-fired oven.  You can find these "wood fired danish" treats at Olio Pizzeria, located among the West Third street business district.  With nearby neighbors such as Magnolia Bakery, Joan's on Third, Doughboys, and the Little Next Door, this area is fast becoming a bakery hunting destination.  (Although beware West Third Street, Santa Monica's Montana Avenue is right behind you with the recent soft opening of Sweet Lady Jane's 2nd location, the arrival of Via Dolce, and new kid on the block Everything Bundt the Cake opening next door to Cafe Luxxe.)

It's helpful to note that while Olio only serves these pastries on weekends, they will let you order a few ahead of time if you call the day before.  Best of all, they're good for sharing with a friend over coffee!

Monday, November 29, 2010

365 days of service launches!

We interrupt all bakery hunting for a brief announcement:
Fellow bakery hunter April Uyehara has started a blog called 365 days of service, a blog based on service, volunteerism, and all-around good deeds.  I was able to write a contributing article for her about a recent volunteer experience.  You can read the article here.  Also, consider submitting a post about an act of kindness you have done to
Onward bakery hunters!

Monday, November 22, 2010

The authors of "Bite Me" take a bite out of Santa Monica with The Great American Bakery Hunt

Last week, the authors of "Bite Me", also known as the saucy sisters, joined The Great American Bakery Hunt for lunch in Santa Monica.  After a morning preparing the last touches of their cooking demo, Lisa Gnat and Julie Albert took a break from a busy day of bringing the flavorful pages of their cookbook to life in LA. 

If you visit the "Bite Me" website, you will notice the sisters described as Lisa "whisk girl" Gnat (the chef) and Julie "ink-slinger" Albert (the writer).  But beyond their technical backgrounds, it's undeniable that both sisters bring a sense of carefree fun, humor, and wit to the table.  When I met Julie and Lisa, it was no surprise that just like their cookbook, the sisters were full of life and food-related witticisms.  

In "Bite Me," clever pop culture references peppered throughout the pages combine with music playlists to rock out to while cooking.  This gives readers the opportunity to question conventional cooking habits, for example: who says you can't air guitar while in an apron? While I adore cookbooks of all sorts, this is a unique question that not many in the food writing genre would stir up.  Fresh and original, Lisa and Julie are like the Chuck Klosterman of the food world, giving you nibbles of pop culture and morsels of music to snack on even as you focus on the main recipe.   

Best of all, with featured quotes ranging from TV-series How I Met Your Mother lines to Bill Cosby sound bites, this book is approachable to members of whatever generation happen to be in the kitchen that day.  Julie commented that the sisters have received feedback from parents who have used "Bite Me" to reconnect with their teenagers through cooking.  But beyond the hip appeal of the book's fresh design, their philosophy is all about creating tasty but approachable food, which lends itself well to teaching cooks of all ages about how to make great meals.  

Wanting to give one of the recipes a try before our lunch, I whipped up the cinnamon swirl breakfast bread (page 224) and proceeded to consume it for both dessert and breakfast.  This comforting  recipe is perfect with a piping hot cup of coffee and I am sure to have it in my back pocket for many years to come.  Best of all, most of the ingredients in the bread are probably in your cupboard already, so it's quite simple to make if unexpected guests come into town.

Since the sisters hail from Canada, I quizzed them on where I could find a good Nanaimo bar.  I assumed these originated in Canada ever since a 3rd grade report I did on the country in which I had to make a regional recipe, and my Canadian neighbor gave me her written version of this layered bar dessert. However, I have since learned that the Nanaimo bar's origins are forever under historical dispute.  Despite the Nanaimo mystery remaining unsolved, Julie and Lisa enlightened me about their culinary philosophy and reminded me why fun is an important part of the kitchen.  (My belief in this philosophy probably explains why I own things like this guitar spatula.  One can't resist a little rock and roll twist in a spatula design!)

Perhaps one of my favorite anecdotes from lunch was when Julie handed me a sticker with a recipe for their chunky white chocolate cranberry cookies.  She said that when offering them to others, such as the postman for example, she will ask them if they bake.  And if they don't bake themselves, she'll suggest "Well give it to the little woman!" Lisa charmed me with her approach to chocolate chip cookies, deeming herself a "chocolate chip cookie purist."  Anyone who takes chocolate chip cookies seriously is a friend of mine.  Generous in spirit, fun, and chocolate chip cookie philosophies, Julie and Lisa were a pleasure to meet and I hope the rest of their travels leave them with some time to take a bite out of life! 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Little Tokyo honorable mention

The best place to do some soul searching in LA?  Do some wandering around Little Tokyo, where you'll find delicious bowls of ramen and $1 mochi ice cream.  It may be the best and most satisfying dollar ever spent. (I know it's not technically a baked good but it's worth an GABH honorable mention.)  

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cornbread is highly underrated

I question why one can't obtain reliably tasty and fresh cornbread at cafes and bakeries.  Cornbread is not only delicious on its own, but it's the perfect accompaniment to soups and dishes like red beans and rice, not to mention gumbos.  Maybe we're just not eating enough gumbo.  Maybe that's it.  I made this recipe from Dorie Greenspan's "Baking From My Home to Yours" cookbook.   I'll continue in my quest to keep fresh cornbread on America's table.  It deserves our love just as much as any fancy yeast bread.       

Tips for living alone and combating cheddar cheese apple pie crust skepticism

If living alone leaves you feeling like you've got no good treats to come home to, then I guess you've never tried this apple pie with cheddar crust recipe.  This all started when I was about to go out of town for work and didn't have enough time to complete all the steps of my recipe.  My empty suitcase awaited packing and the necessity of a good night's sleep beckoned me to my pillow.  

Into the freezer went my two disks of dough as I begrudgingly abandoned my original intentions to bake my second pie of the night.  This was not the first time my overly ambitious culinary nature led me to stop mid-recipe.  If it's possible for an individual to be too inspired to cook and bake, this is definitely my predicament.  Like many passionate food loving folks, my love for all things culinary borderlines on the obsessive, and my drive to create is blind to the realities of time management.  I'm a student of such philosophies as "Why buy ____ when you can just make your own from scratch?" So I find myself spending a lot of time on cooking projects that others (who care less about what they eat) would probably find mundane.       

Lack of time is no friend to a woman trying to master a plethora of baking recipes.  But on the upside, freezing the dough left me with a pie crust that was waiting for me after a busy weekend of hard work. Not only was the dough easier to work with as a result of its stay in the freezer, but with only the filling to make, the hard part was over and I was ready to reap my reward. 

Of course, friends and skeptics alike questioned the idea of cheddar cheese in a pie crust, but I held my ground and the results filled my belly wonderfully.  And there started the chain of pie slice giveaways to neighbors, friends, and loved ones, because as satisfying as it was to fill my own belly, it's even more satisfying to sway the opinion of a cheddar cheese pie crust skeptic.   There's a lot of them out there and I've been called to duty to bake for them.

A few simple steps  delivered my welcome home pie after an out of town trip.  After rolling out the dough, the filling ingredients were tossed together and nestled into the pie dish

With the the top layer of crust placed atop the filling, it just takes a brush of milk (below) to prepare the pie for the oven.  Don't forget to add some slits to allow the steam to escape! 

 Voila!  The welcome home pie is ready!  
Find this recipe in, originally from Gourmet magazine.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Friendship through the lens of a pear tart, kindred spirits, and my first of many Dorie Greenspan recipes

One of the very joyful parts of having good friends is that they encourage your passions.  Such was the case when my friend gave me the gift of Dorie Greenspan's "Baking From My Home to Yours" cookbook.  Dorie herself feels like she could be a friend because we are kindred spirits when it comes to our love for baking, cooking, Paris, and French food culture.  Her book "Paris Sweets", which explores the city's best pastry shops, is definitely in the spirit of The Great American Bakery Hunt.  Ever since discovering it I have had a bit of heartache over the fact that I did not have it as a resource years ago during any of my Paris trips.  Luckily, now I own three of her books ("Baking with Julia" being the 3rd) and I'm sure all of her writing will eventually find its way to my shelves. 

With my love of food, I've become a bit of a cookbook addict.  When I received "Baking From My Home to Yours," it sat sadly on my shelf for awhile because I received it during an incredibly busy time at work.  Since returning to a more normal schedule, I have recently taken advantage of a reunion with my tiny but well-loved studio apartment kitchen.  A potluck invitation was all it took to allow Dorie G's recipe to finally reach its destiny at my table. 

After searching around its pages, I chose the French pear tart.  I believe that creating a simple fruit tart is an art.  Even with such basic ingredients, fruit tarts have an elegance that  transforms dessert into more than sweet tooth satisfaction and adds to the feeling that the last course is indeed a special conclusion. 

This tart was perfect for preparing most steps ahead of time since the recipe prompts you to partially bake the pte sablée dough in the tart pan and prepare the almond cream and fruit topping before the final hour of baking.  It was the perfect situation for carefully transporting the tart across a few west LA neighborhoods before its final stage of transformation, though beware this might be a disaster during peak traffic times.

Before being placed atop the tart, the pears are poached in a syrup of lemon juice, water, and sugar , then brought to room temperature

Blanched almonds are prepared for the almond cream that will form a delicious foundation under the pears 

Once I arrived at the potluck, we put the tart into the oven to bake for the remaining hour as we enjoyed our dinner.  While not necessary, I think this created a nice effect of additional anticipation as the scent of the tart wafted through my friend's house during the savory portion of our feast.

While I have not yet made every dessert in existence, I am going to state right now that fruit tarts will always be among my favorite treats to share at gatherings.   A special sidenote of thanks goes out to my lovely friend who gifted me Dorie's cookbook.  There's a pear tart waiting for you with your name on it the next time you're in California.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Nick Malgieri sits down with The Great American Bakery Hunt in Santa Monica

Imagine my delight when I was recently contacted to arrange a meeting with Nick Malgieri, a legendary American baker who is currently visiting Los Angeles to teach some local classes and spread the word about his latest book Bake!.  We met for lunch at Huckleberry during an uncharacteristically rainy Wednesday in Santa Monica.  While Santa Monica's outdoor exercise and tanning enthusiasts might protest this sentiment, I appreciate that the weather gods provided the perfect setting for enjoying a cozy cafe lunch between two baked good devotees.  

One thing I truly appreciate about Malgieri is that he encourages readers to ignore the intimidation factor associated with various doughs, baking techniques, and kitchen tools. Whether you put on a chef's coat every day or not, you should feel empowered to craft food that is elegant, delicious, and special-- and his writing really speaks to that.  And while there are many times when my passion for baked goods has led me to consider studying pastry professionally, I also love the idea that each day in my studio apartment kitchen is an opportunity to learn.  And this explains my immediate connection to Malgieri's newest book, as the title "Bake!" is imploring me to do so.  Good baking takes commitment, and Malgieri's advocacy for the home baker and his willingness to teach us quality baking is just the encouragement we need.       

In our convenience-driven society, many people turn away from baking either due to the time involved or the techniques, which they may assume are too complex.  Malgieri hopes to ease the worries of home bakers who sometimes "pick up their rolling pin as if it were a grenade." Bake! features beautiful step-by-step photography to confront any inklings of this pastry-related apprehension.  Bake! also offers handy tips including how to store your creations, which is an incredibly helpful bonus if you're serious about leftovers.

One standout recipe is definitely his quick version of homemade puff pastry, something I hope will start somewhat of a puff pastry paradigm shift.  This recipe is particularly symbolic, since frozen puff pastry has become such a standard in American recipes.  "No one makes their own puff pastry," you always hear people say.  And perhaps that will always be mostly true, but it's another frustrating reflection of our convenience-obsessed society and lowered expectations when it comes to baked goods.  As one more example, consider that it is rare to find a coffee house or cafe that serves a non-appalling version of a scone-- more often than not, they are dry, soulless, and attempting to mask their lack of freshness with an icing drizzle.  In Bake!, Malgieri similarly laments the commercially made muffins sold in airports, and provides alternatives for us via much more fulfilling recipes.  In Malgieri's earlier book, "A Baker's Tour", he will tell you that scones of the less- than- fresh variety are not acceptable for serving to guests.  Therefore, The Great American Bakery Hunt asserts that such scones should be illegal to sell to the public.  The man has standards, and we should too.

Aside from our mutual reverence for fresh scones and our passion for baking, I also learn that Malgieri and I have another thing in common: an avid cookbook collector, he has over 9,000 cookbooks in his apartment.  While my collection falls short of 9,000, I love cooking and baking so much that this amount is in no way excessive to me.  In fact, all I can think to myself is that I should strive to someday call my own an absolute minimum of 9,000 cookbooks.  Like Malgieri, I hope to travel enough so that I too can interpret my cooking texts in many languages beyond English.  As he advised, knowing just a few basic words opens up new worlds in baking and cooking, and these are worlds I believe I am destined for. 

Among everything else, we discussed with excitement a Danish meatball recipe I've been craving ever since 2005.  This topic naturally came up since I was eating lunch with an author and chef known for pursuing recipes all over the world and incorporating these into his food writing.  While Malgieri travels to Switzerland most frequently,  he has an enviable list of culinary experiences from his many travels across the globe. In my personal travels, I experienced the perfect meatball, a meatball made so lovingly in a Danish family kitchen that it's worth writing about and hopefully one day, recreating.  Since studying abroad in Copenhagen and living with a host mom who is an outstanding chef, her frikadeller (meatball) recipe is one I have ached for ever since my now 5 year absence from Scandinavia. And with Malgieri being an advocate of savory baking as much as sweet, who knows if he might one day translate such a recipe into a savory tart-- a Los Angeles bakery blogger can dream.  (Note: If this meat and pastry combination appeals to you, make sure to reference the empanada recipe he includes in Bake! using leftover puff pastry.)

Bake! is truly a wealth of recipes I look forward to experimenting with and it was a true pleasure to meet the man behind so many great recipes and compelling food writing.   If you're lucky, perhaps you'll catch this modern baker in your own city as he spreads the word of Bake!  Now if you'll excuse me, I have some baking to do...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Everyone should be so lucky...

Everyone should be so lucky as to have coworkers who bring in slices of homemade fresh peach pie to share, ever-so-carefully transported to the office in a tupperware.  Thanks April, friend, coworker, and longtime supporter of The Great American Bakery Hunt!  We salute you!

This pie is a recent apple number that April whipped up...

Monday, October 18, 2010

The moral of the story: gifts of ingredients will surely result in more rides to the airport

Tonight, I ventured out to LAX to pick up my friend Bryan from the airport.  While a lot of people hate airports, I find perfection in them.  Being around people from all over the world and experiencing the rush of travel is exciting-- and waiting time during travel is the perfect time to catch up on old newspaper articles, podcasts, and food writing.   You have no obligation to be anywhere other than on your plane at the required boarding time, so you can enjoy whatever media you want. And if reading doesn't entertain you, the people watching might.  Now I'm not saying I'm perfectly patient 100% of the time-- but I do think I have an unusual appreciation for airports. Needless to say, I envied all of the travelers at LAX tonight, and wondered where they were coming from or going to, where they would settle for the night, and naturally, the meals they would eat when they got there. 

When I finally waved down Bryan in the line of passengers at Terminal 5, he said he had a surprise for me.  As you can see, I was gifted some Kentucky Chocolate Nut Pie mix in return for converting my Toyota into a temporary airport taxi for his departure and arrival.  This gift was incredibly thoughtful and brings me to the moral of the story: while I am always willing take a friend to the airport, gifts of ingredients bind me via the laws of food blogging to guarantee more future airport rides.  Thanks Bryan!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Farmer's market nostalgia

When you're a food lover, sometimes a craving strikes and the rest is history.  You convince other people that the item you're craving is one they should desire as well, sometimes persuading them with a fervor misunderstood by more moderate food seekers.  Such was the case this Saturday when I forced my body out of slumber mode and went to the Santa Monica Saturday farmer's market in search of one thing: the alligator.  Now, it's been months since I have sought joy from the Bread Man's alligator pastry, which in the past I have savored while walking sleepily through the market.  On a day where you want to explore, go breakfasting in your flip flops, and swill coffee, the alligator is the perfect treat.  And this was the experience I wanted for others to whom I had promised a sublime breakfast experience.  But sadly, when I arrived to the market this Saturday, the Bread Man was nowhere to be found.  I had definitely heard news of some farmer's market vendor reshuffling, but I know now I was in denial.  I learned the hard way that rolling out of bed and sacrificing groomed hair to get my hands on one of the often sold-out alligators is no longer an option for me on Saturdays.  I'm planning on showing up to Bread Man's other markets with hope in my heart and a little bit sleepier eyes since now it will require long distance travel to hunt the alligator. 

This Saturday, since I was left lacking alligator, with bad bed head and an increasingly growly stomach, I was happy to try the new kid on the market block, Valerie Confections.  After picking up a few bunches of cilantro, I nibbled on their strawberry hand pie, both pictured below.  Delicious, and buttery, this tasty morsel lasted just long enough to comfort me during my defeated exit to the parking lot.  Don't get me wrong, not all change is bad.   I was excited to see Valerie Confections at the market--their galettes and hand pies are beautiful, and I'll be visiting their storefront soon.  But it's definitely the end of an era, and the alligator and I, we had a lot of great times.   

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The pâté that launched a thousand words...

We interrupt the typical bakery hunting news for a brief announcement about a new food blogging project!  The inspiration for this project was born long ago, with a sudden culinary spark at the age of 9 years, way before the food blogosphere existed in our collective vocabulary.  

In preparation for my tenth birthday, my parents invited friends and family for an afternoon at the local roller rink.  In planning for this momentous double digit celebration, my mother asked me: "What should I make to eat?"  

While most kids in 1990's America would have demanded pizza, I exclaimed "pâté"!  At the time, I didn't think anything of requesting pâté to serve to a cluster of middle school children alongside blueberry slushies, popcorn, and other roller rink fare: I doubt any of them noticed it or dared to seek out a taste.  Nevertheless, my mom's lovingly crafted pâté was how I chose to celebrate, my pâté birthday if you will.  Years before the blog frenzy of the internet age, this was the pâté that would later launch a thousand words.  I'm certain I wouldn't be the food blogging, baking, and cooking fanatic I am today without it.  As you can see below, this recipe was recently enjoyed in the present day at my grandfather's birthday celebration, albeit this time with more age-appropriate beverages (the blueberry slushy pairing was not missed.)

The passion for food my family instilled in me was heightened with the opportunity to live abroad in Denmark and travel throughout Europe.  From the wonderfully stinky fromage shops of Paris, to the bakeries of Copenhagen, to the cafes around every corner of the maze-like Seville streets, I discovered a reverence for food and an enthusiasm for the art of culinary travel.  Wherever I am in the world, my brain is wired to hunt down the best local food my surroundings might hold.  Rather than simply consuming this food, my aim is always to celebrate and savor it, in the true spirit of Pâté Birthday.   

My travels sparked the idea for this blog, The Great American Bakery Hunt, a blog I have dedicated to the aggressive pursuit of bakeries.  And while this blog focuses on using my killer sweet tooth to hunt bakeries around the world, I have an appreciation and commitment to all food. Fascinated by learning how to work with new ingredients and explore cooking techniques, I plan to leave no stove top unturned in life's cooking explorations.  And to help document this journey, I am launching a sister blog, Pâté Birthday, where I will focus on exploring as many recipes as possible, particularly ones that connect to family food traditions from all different cultures.

Throughout my life, I hope to seize any opportunity to cook or bake up a storm and to continue to widen my understanding of the world through the vehicle of food.  I'm certain I'm up for the challenge since after hours at work, I often come home excited to cook, spending hours making fresh soup and from-scratch cornbread, mixing up a new homemade hummus flavor, or crafting a quiche or a tart.  Simply, I am driven to blog because food is what I love, and I hope I can share that with others. 

My own family's table is shaped by many different cultures, including roots in Louisiana to the farmlands of the Midwest, from gumbo, okra, and red beans and rice, to the hearty history of American meat and potatoes tradition.  As a native Southern Californian, I am also fortunate to have grown up on delicious Mexican food throughout my youth.  And while I call Los Angeles my home, I am likely to show up in your city one day, toting a baguette from a local bakery and hunting for my next meal.  

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Settling into the fall routine with flatbreads...

Onion and fennel flatbread

Zuchinni and red onion flatbread

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cake and Horticulture unite!

Each year, my family celebrates chocolate cake season, a Friedersdorf family phenomenon I have blogged about in the past.  

A fixture at many birthdays, this traditional chocolate cake from French's Bakery arrives in a telltale pink box. The latest recipient?  My mom, whose birthday was on September 7th.  Happy Birthday Mom!

Since mom has a serious green thumb, she also received a multitude of horticultural gifts to go with her chocolate cake, pictured below. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Los Angeles homecoming is approaching!

Each summer, I say goodbye to Los Angeles and live in the high desert for around three months for work.  During this period, I presume Los Angeles bakers see their sales go down significantly.  Perhaps some even think to themselves, "Kristin, you never call, you never write." Well rest assured, after a little vacation, I will be back in Los Angeles soon and ready to taste and blog devotedly about everything you have to offer.  I also plan to give some attention to my severely neglected oven, which I have not baked in for far too long.

Before going out of town for my annual September vacation, I got a head start on my approaching homecoming by spending a few days moving my life back to LA.  And even more exciting than not living out of a suitcase was my first post-high-desert late night bakery visit: a spontaneous stop at Figaro in Los Feliz.  

It turns out that if you're aching to go to Paris (which is most of the time, for me), you can come here to enjoy something buttery while also overhearing real French people charmingly discuss things in their native tongue.  And even better, Figaro stays open until 10:30 most days and 11 pm Friday and Saturday.  With these hours, The Great American Bakery Hunt can add Figaro to the list of late night LA dessert spots in our ongoing investigation of LA's late night dessert shortage.  (If I wanted to be truly sensationalistic, I might even call it a crisis.)

In the picture above,  you can see Figaro's powdered sugar-dusted butter cookie with jam in the center.  However, instead of enjoying this cookie among the French conversationalists, I enjoyed it back at a cozy LA apartment paired with a Pannepøt, a Belgian beer brewed by De Struise Brouwers.

Nothing says perfect LA homecoming like cookies and craft beer.  Readers, have you also had a busy summer?  Ring in the new fall by making friends with your oven again.  Bake a little, drink a little craft beer, and enjoy the leaves changing-- I've heard rumors that leaves do this in other parts of the world, although I am personally surrounded by palm trees.  Whatever your landscape situation, Happy Fall!

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The fine art of the premeditated airport meal

Do you ever find yourself in airports, hungry and bemoaning the purchase of yet another $12 burrito? Travelers often fall victim to overpriced airport foods, abused by a system that coerces captive audience prey into bad economic and culinary decisions. Well, airports, I refuse to play the victim anymore, which is why I practice the fine art of the premeditated airport meal.

On the way home from the International Food Blogger conference, I was toting the perfect premeditated airport meal with the following ingredients:

1) a baguette from Seattle's Columbia city bakery. While I did not go to the bakery itself, I bought the baguette from Sitka and Spruce while exploring the Melrose Market on Capitol Hill. (As an honorable mention, I wish I lived locally so I could cook from ingredients at Rain Shadow Meats, and was charmed by the fact that they had samples of dumplings made with meat from the store.)
2) Truffle salami from our conference “goodie bags.” This was perhaps my favorite item in the bag full of cooking related treats due to the fact that I immediately recognized the potential of this salami for the premeditated airport meal.
3) a wedge of semi soft goat cheese called La Yerbera that I picked up from Delaurenti's, a gourmet food shop in Pike's Place (Delaurenti's friendly fromage expert was very helpful in guiding me towards the right cheese for the occasion. The Great American Bakery Hunt suggests a cheese easy on the stink since you never know when you'll have an extra wedge left over to eat on the flight).  This cheese was semi aged goat's milk rubbed in olive oil and covered in Spanish almonds.

Just a few easy steps and then voila! The Great American Bakery hunt has beat the system.

Seattle explorations: hunting coffee and pastries around the city during my IFBC trip

At the end of August, I stayed in a Seattle neighborhood called lower Queen Anne during my travels to attend the International Food Blogger Conference organized by Foodista and Zephyr Adventures. Queen Anne charmed me immediately due to the fact that the Scandinavian bakery Nielsen’s resides in its quarters.  
Rumor has it that among several bakers at Nielsen's, an actual Dane is involved in the business (although he is now semi-retired.)  Danish flags hanging over the storefront lured me in with the promise of marzipan.  
The Danish symbol for bakeries, an upside down golden pretzel, hangs in Nielsen's like a beacon of soul-satisfying buttery dough, magic, and bakery euphoria. Anyone familiar with Denmark knows what the pretzel means, and it means good things for the passerby.
upside down gold pretzel, the Danish symbol for bakeries
Aside from Hygge in LA and Andersen’s in Santa Barbara, I have yet to visit a bakery in the states that offers some of the same pastries I once enjoyed in Denmark: Napolean’s Hats (a hat shaped cookie with a ball of marzipan in its core and chocolate on outside of the hat),  Snitters (a combination of sweet pastry dough layered with custard and white icing), and poppyseed pastries.  
Pictured above, Nielsen's poppyseed pastry (left) and the Snitter (right)
Naturally, the theme of any typical Danish bakery visit is wonderful, wonderful marzipan, and Nielsen’s was no exception.  I started and ended my tour of Seattle with a stop at this charming little bakery, which left me nostalgic for Copenhagen, a place I have missed ever since I finished my study abroad program five years ago.

Among my personal belongings, I count a Nielsen's pastry box as the most important while en route to the airport. My luggage sits here as I wait at the bus stop for my last ride into downtown, where I will catch the light rail to the SeaTac Airport.  Perfect snack for a passenger awaiting flight? Definitely!
Queen Anne also endeared itself to me because it happens to be the name of a tasty brew from a delicious coffee shop Cafe Lladro, named for their first store location (now one of many) in the upper Queen Anne neighborhood.   As a die-hard coffee enthusiast, it was essential that I try as many good cups of joe as possible in Seattle, a city proud of its coffee culture. This led me to places including  Vivace, and Victrola, where I purchased their Ethiopian Sidama Ardi coffee at the suggestion of the friendly barista. The conference provided a steady flow of Cafe Vita coffee throughout the weekend to add to the constant and wonderful supply of caffeine running through my veins. And though I may have looked a little jittery on the light rail ride to the airport, I wouldn't have had it any other way.

Reflections on the 2010 International Food Blogger Conference in Seattle

As I sit down to reflect on my Seattle food blog conference experience, I remain moments away from Pike's Place Market, in the stage of the night I can only describe as pajama brainstorming.  The post conference pajama dress code was necessary after a busy schedule of sessions and a celebratory walk "home" past the market, through the streets between downtown and lower Queen Anne, and back to the apartment complex where I'm staying.
Aside from the locals, most of my other blogging counterparts have since traveled home to their respective origins, but I planned my flight with a one-day cushion so I could absorb some unstructured observations of the city.  Luckily for my travel budget, a good college friend Peter has provided me a couch to call my very own in the lower Queen Anne neighborhood.  Since tonight Peter is otherwise engaged at an out of town wedding, I sit here in his empty apartment, a tired temporary resident determined to gather my thoughts from conference.
To help me in this endeavor, I am armed with an Itunes library that is not my own, thankful for a large and thoughtful collection of indie, rock, folk, and other musical genres I am certain should help stimulate blogging inspiration (blogspiration, if you will.)  No longer able to rely on the steady stream of conference wifi, I struggle to find a local connection and take a few swigs of the Darigold chocolate milk I purchased from the Mercer mini mart during my walk home.  My nightcap, adorned with a grinning cartoon cow, stares back at me.  Internetless, passwordless, and miles away from the Theo Chocolate Factory (conference headquarters), I take comfort in Andrew Bird's song "Tenousness" appearing on the playlist that is currently the foreign soundtrack of my night.  Full of surprises, Peter’s Itunes playlists will serve as my own personal Pandora as I spread out my conference notes, camp out in the living room, and take sips of cold milk in between keyboard approaches.   Reassuring in its cheerfulness, the personified Darigold cow has a shockingly red mohawk and wears wraparound sunglasses, both familiar accessories I might see on any given day around the streets of Los Angeles.  In a way, the punk rock cartoon cow staring at me in between swigs of moo juice really brings the conference full circle.  
On our first night, Morgan Spurlock, most known for his Super Size Me film, spoke about our country's current convenience-driven food paradigm and his goal to bring people back to cooking fresh, unprocessed meals around the family table with their kids.  The discussion led to banter within the crowd about using cartoon characters on health food packaging to attract young consumers, much like the manner in which corporations adopt animated mascots to peddle fast food to our nation's youth.  Continually more intrigued by the spokescowperson, I slurp up some more moo juice and learn (guided by my Iphone connection and twisted curiosity) that he has a Facebook profile under the name Smooth and that he is “looking for Friendship”.  I wonder to myself if Morgan Spurlock would approve of Darigold’s cartoon cow marketing efforts. Could punk rock dairy icons be a part of the solution?
With internet no longer possible, I go back to cavewoman status by simply opening up a word processor document and tapping away at the page. As I sit here wi-fi-less, it is striking how strange it feels to be so disconnected considering that just hours before, I was breaking bread with bloggers from as far away as Canada, Baltimore, Boston, and Philadelphia.  Attending the conference was a great opportunity to meet a lot of writers, photographers, and others romanced and captivated by the culinary world.  In particular, bloggers from Seattle were well represented and generous in sharing local hole in the wall food finds or suggestions for bakeries I should try.  Aside from networking with fellow bloggers, I was able to listen to and learn from a group of tremendous speakers.  
James Oseland, Editor-in-Chief of Saveur and self-described food blog addict, told the audience passionate stories of dishes discovered in faraway lands, journeys during which he connected with local food bloggers in order to gain the full culinary experience his destinations had to offer.  Oseland said he was a “food blogger before the web” who now uses technology to transform the way he explores the gastronomy of a city. Before traveling someplace, he examines online reviews and blogs to get a richer and more immediate experience.  Oseland’s delivery of his culinary adventures felt deeply personal, as if he were sharing travel diaries among old friends sipping wine in his living room.  His stories accompanied by exceptionally beautiful and vibrant food photography, he shared with bloggers his appreciation for our world, one where food obsessed people have a platform and support group.  And perhaps this is why James Oseland felt like such a kindred spirit, and really, why all of us bloggers ended up sitting together in a room at the Theo Chocolate Factory being moved by his words.  James Oseland, with the heart, soul, and travel inclinations of a food writer,  is like many of us whose wanderlust seems to naturally revolve around the romance of flavors that await in each city.  Oseland understands the thrill of the hunt for the authentic and local meal, each meal an opportunity to discover the way people live.  He expressed that blogging should never be a popularity contest, but that writers should respect their material and use their content to bring people together.  True, this is a message that could be considered in conflict with the Search Engine Optimization session, a session that emphasized maximizing traffic and using keywords to draw in readers.  However, it could also reflect the fact that the conference offered an excellent mix of practical strategies for bloggers combined with pure inspiration. Furthermore, whether you plan to aggressively pursue search engine optimization or simply write for the love of the culinary hunt, it was a rare opportunity for us to gather and appreciate one another as members of a creative community that deeply respects food.
A “Pitch to Publish” session on Sunday featured practical yet encouraging advice, emphasizing to bloggers that the most important thing to establish is what you want to say to the world and how to say it with excellence and purpose, whether your platform is print,  blog publication, or podcast.   This session discussed bloggers' relation to the publishing industry, often a very hyped subject in the blogosphere since many writers lust after the blog to book phenomenon.  Panelists included Victoria von Biel (Executive Editor of Bon Appétit), Kirsty Melville (President, Book Division at Andrews-McMeel) and Molly Wizenberg (Bon Appétit columnist,  Orangette author, and author of A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table.)  They offered candid commentary on the relationship of blogs to the print world, a relationship their dialogue helped to demystify for the audience.
There were many other informative conference sessions, such as the Art of Recipe Writing with professionals Kristine Kidd (who just launched a new blog), Dianne Jacob, and Amy Sherman who discussed strategies for recipe writers based on their experience within this industry.  Surprisingly, they said a common (but very avoidable) recipe writing mistake was listing ingredients in the needed materials only to forget to include all of them in the recipe's prep or cooking instructions.  (A particularly humorous part of their panel included a passionate debate about semicolon use.)  The moral of the story: if you're a writer, you should learn to enjoy proofreading, regardless of your semicolon politics.  Kathleen Flinn’s session on “Writing with all Five Senses” provided bloggers with interactive writing exercises and a chance to feed off of one another’s creativity, which only brought me closer to the realization that I wish I had about 1,000 more hours in my day to write.  These exercises were also a fun way to become familiar with the styles and voices of other bloggers. In another session, Penny de Los Santos of Saveur offered bloggers a vision of food photography so compelling that I was inspired to further develop my photography skills. Though I have always been a writer at heart more than a photographer, Penny certainly made the case for “making pictures” thoughtfully, passionately, and with creative intention, and watching her describe her beautiful photographs was enthralling.  Bloggers had access to yet another impressive body of work through Dr. Myhrvold’s presentation on modern cuisine. During this session, we had the opportunity to listen to behind-the-scenes stories about the making of his soon-to-be published 2,400 page food science and modern cookbook, Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking.  All I can say is these books look like an epic and fascinating read! There was also a session that featured commentary on specialized diets, including vegan and gluten free. While I do not follow a specialized diet, I was thankful for this session since I have so many people in my life who could benefit from additional culinary resources in this area. As an advocate for people with special needs, I think it is important to bring inclusiveness into the conversation and I appreciated this was a part of the conference dialogue.

Another conference highlight was my tour of the Theo Chocolate Factory, conference headquarters and home to a fair trade, small batch chocolate company.  
Exterior of Theo Chocolate Factory, IFBC conference headquarters 2010
Along with other conference attendees, I covered myself with a company mandated powder blue shower cap and was ushered through the factory by an enthusiastic tour guide Nicole.  
Pictured above, a powder blue hat that can only be described as "functional factory tour fashion" at my Theo Chocolate Factory tour. As you can see, I am dressed warmly as I am a Southern California weakling who cannot handle the slightest bit of Seattle chill in the air
While I have never had a chocolate factory tour guide before, I am convinced she might be the most endearing one for all of her passion for Theo Chocolates and their socially responsible company ethos.  Championing their fair trade philosophy, she started off the tour with giving “a shout out” to cocoa farmers and explaining how chocolate is made, an explanation that included a variety of delicious samples.   After giving an outstanding tour, Nicole explained that after three years working for Theo, her work has inspired her to embark on a travel expedition to explore Central American cocoa farms.  With our group of bloggers being one of her last tours, chocolate fans may be able to hear more by reading her blog about sustainable food systems called Our World in Food.  
 Aside from the conference stimulating dialogue regarding the way we think about food, it also provided food to sample.  The tasting aspect of the food blogging conference is arguably what defines it as more enjoyable than any other existing conference one might consider attending.   They certainly started things off right by providing breakfast from Bakery Nouveau, with a beautiful spread of pastries.  After catching a glimpse of Bakery Nouveau’s blog, it is clear that behind this bakery are people with a passion for food and a sense of community, as they donate cakes each month to different charitable organizations.  The last day of the conference featured Top Pot Doughnuts for breakfast, a privately owned local donut chain known for its “hand-forged” doughnuts.  While the doughnuts were delicious, they actually make a bear claw so big that even I was defeated in trying to finish the whole beast's fried and frosted paw.  (I knew it would be important to save some room for our later meals!)

A longtime street food devotee, I appreciated that one conference lunch was devoted to “Food Trucks of the Northwest.” Among other small bites, we were able to sample several dishes including Skillet’s slider burger, a burger so juicy and delicious that I guiltily went back to their airstream trailer for a second taste.  The grass fed beef burger was topped with arugula, their trademark bacon jam, and cambozola cheese resting upon a soft roll.  The cambozola cheese, a harmonious hybrid of bleu cheese and creamy brie, may have been what I loved so much about the Skillet experience.  
An especially enjoyable addition to our lunchtime was the fact that Pike’s Brewery was on-site to provide some beer tastings, a perfect compliment to our street food fare and a small glimpse into Northwest beer culture during a fairly wine-heavy conference (not that I’m complaining!)  Pike’s Brewery offered tastes of their Naughty Nellie golden ale, as well as a seasonal white ale called Dry Wit, but most memorably, a Scotch style ale called Kilt Lifter (easily the tastiest of the three options.)  After a tall glass of beer and a few Skillet burgers, I was able to explore the Sunday farmer’s market taking place just feet from the conference.  Since finding the local farmer’s markets is a key staple of my travel experiences, I was happy this all worked out so seamlessly during our lunch break!  

The conference also included a beautiful dinner featuring a series of dishes from local Washington chefs.  Easily my favorite dish at this dinner was the beef cheeks with squash blossoms, along with the dish from a team of two chefs featuring both a gritz and a polenta component as a take on both of their styles.  While I enjoy every style of food, my roots always bring me back to comfort foods, foods that I just can’t resist after a hard working day of learning about blogging strategies!   While I tried to sample every dish, there was an intimidating amount of food-- so my only regret is not having more room in my stomach.

If I have any criticism of the conference, it would be that most attendees did not stay long enough to enjoy the closing film Today’s Special, a hearfelt story about family and food culture told through the lens of a struggling family-owned Indian restaurant in New York.  Certainly, bloggers can find a screening of the film upon its release in their respective cities, but it’s hard to replicate the experience Foodista created (in a genius move) when they arranged for warm trays of Indian food to accompany the screening.   I am hoping bloggers everywhere will come together to plot a guerilla marketing campaign where baskets of homemade samosas are smuggled into movie screenings across America (or, try a pot of curry if you like, but this will be decidedly more messy.) Now, it’s not that the movie can’t stand alone, because it is a great film.  However,  I guarantee you that the overall experience of the movie will be better if you have a warmly waiting samosa resting in your jacket pocket, ready to consume during any one of the many inspiring cooking scenes.  (Operation samosa jacket pocket, coming to a city near you wherever Today’s Special is screened.)
Overall, as you can probably tell, the conference was a great experience.  There were wines to taste, beers to sample, beef tartare dishes to devour, and tastes of virtually anything you might imagine.  I plan on posting separately about some of the food, coffee, and baked goods I was able to explore outside of the conference, so stay tuned! Until then, thanks to Foodista and Zephyr Adventures for organizing such an enjoyable event!