I love butter and sugar.

Archive for the ‘Food adventuring’ Category

It’s been over two years since I have updated this blog. I stopped mainly because my new job at the time was forcing me to work long hours, and also because it already required me to be in front of a computer for so many hours of the day that once the weekend came, the last thing I wanted to do was be in front of a computer again.

A lot of things have happened in the last two years – lots of new experiences, realizations, and traveling. The most recent and notable travel experience I have had was my first time in Western Europe (France, Italy, Greece, and Turkey). I spent two and a half weeks this summer exploring Europe, and my first stop was in Paris. I’d wanted to come to Paris for as long as I could remember, and this past summer, it finally became a reality. When I had to chose a language to study in freshman year of high school, I unhesitatingly chose French. Although those language skills are close to dead now, during those four years studying French, I gained a deep love of French culture and ways of life. The “je ne sais quoi” leisurely lifestyle and appreciation of fine art and gastronomy were big reasons I’ve been so drawn to French culture. In my mind, the French have a deep understanding of the most important thing in life, and that is the art of living and living well.

Paris is a city that likes to enjoy a glass of wine at every meal, a city that relishes its two-hour lunch breaks, and a city that encourages seeing and walking to appreciate her complete beauty. She is a city that is somehow so green that when I look around at all the lush, vibrant shrubs and trees that have been trimmed and hedged to perfection, I sometimes think that someone just took a can of forest and pine green spray paint and had a field day running through her streets.

Our first night, we walked from the Champs-Elysees to the Tour Eiffel. Although I had seen it so many times in TV shows, movies, postcards, and photos, seeing the Tour Eiffel in person was like a revelation. I was so stunned by its massive size, curves, and light. I felt different emotions as I walked around it and along the Seine, but most of all, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude – gratitude for the fact that I was so privileged to be able to visit one of the most stunning cities in the world, gratitude for all of my life’s experiences, both painful and happy, and gratitude for the people who I have loved and who have loved me and contributed to who I am now. In a city I had never before visited, I began to feel nostalgic and introspective.

As these feelings of nostalgia and introspection fell upon me, I realized exactly how much I missed writing, and almost every day that I was in Europe, I blocked out an hour or two to write about my experiences and feelings while there. In some way, you could say that going to Europe helped me find a part of myself again. Traveling through such beauty gave me an overwhelming sense of gratefulness and happiness in a way that I’d never experienced before.

Paris is one of those places that people visit and have extremely high expectations for. We hope it will live up to all of the hype that television shows and movies have built around it. We expect every building to be stunning and colossal, every work of art to be breathtaking, and every croissant to be buttery, flaky, and melt in your mouth.

Well, not every building was stunning, not every sculpture and painting I saw was breathtaking, and (extremely unfortunately) not every croissant I had was flaky, but I will say that Paris lived up to all of my expectations, particularly when it comes to all things epicurean.

One of the first things I always think about when I remember Paris is Ladurée, the most luxurious and refined pastry and cookie shop in Paris. Ladurée has several locations in Paris and around the world in major metropolitan cities, and just recently (to my absolute giddy delight) opened a shop right here in New York on the Upper East Side. Everything about Ladurée is chic and exquisite, from the jewel-like decor of each shop to the elegant, posh gift boxes (which you have to pay extra for, but if you are a die-hard fan, you should probably just cave in and get one…or two). Ladurée is famous for all of their chocolates, cakes, and sweets, but they are most renowned for their macarons – a cookie made of two little almond meringues sandwiched with a filing between them. Please don’t confuse these with those American coconut cookies. What makes these little sandwich cookies so amazing? Take a look:

The perfect macaron, when you bite into it, should have a small crunch, and then as your teeth dig deeper into it, should be lighter than air. The ideal macaron is light and delicate; it is a meringue, after all, that was piped from a pastry bag, left to sit for a few hours to develop the “shell” on its top to create that tiny crunch in the initial bite. The fillings vary depending on which flavor you get. I can’t decide if I prefer the richer fillings like pistachio or hazelnut cream or the lighter ones like raspberry or orange.

In addition to getting macarons from Ladurée, we also tried them at Eric Kayser and Pierre Herme. The most unique macaron flavor we had was from Pierre Herme – olive oil and vanilla bean. The strong perfume of vanilla was unmistakable, but with the hints of fruity olive oil, the flavor was pretty sensational. You can even see the specs of vanilla bean in the cream filling here.

The Eric Kayser macarons were satisfactory, but honestly, they paled in comparison to the ones we had at Ladurée and Pierre Herme. However, their mini pistachio flavored financiers were incredibly cute and dainty with just the right amount of sweet almond nuttiness.

Oftentimes when friends have come back from France, they say that the cookies and croissants always taste better there than they do here in the States, even when they are thinking about their favorite pastry shops here. I used to think that this was just because they had such great memories of their travels and wanted to immortalize those epicurean experiences in their minds, but then I read an article a few years back that noted that laws in different countries surrounding butterfat (yes, butterfat laws; there really are regulations around this stuff) actually did make buttery baked goods different depending on where you are eating them. By law in the United States, American butter must contain at least 80 percent butterfat, while the minimum for French butter is 82 percent. Many companies in France that make butter even use 83-86 percent butterfat! A few percentage points might not sound like a big deal, but butterfat is the main determinant of butter’s flavor and texture, so every small bit counts.

The best croissant, baguette, and madeleines I had were from a bakery within walking distance of the Sacre Coeur cathedral called Le Grenier à Pain. Apparently in 2010, they won first place for the best baguette in the 17th annual best baguette contest in Paris at la Chambre de Commerce des Boulangers. The croissant was one of the flakiest croissants I’ve ever eaten, with a texture so light that I probably could have stood there and eaten 10 of them without even realizing it. The crunchy exterior was almost addictive.

Many milk and butter companies in the States, such as Vermont Butter & Cheese Company, are trying to use methods to make butter to mimic the tastes and textures of European butter. They actually make butter with 86 percent butterfat. I still haven’t tried it yet, but I intend on doing it sometime soon. Maybe if I do try it out with the next baked good I make, I will succeed at producing a madeleine that was as tasty as this one at Le Grenier à Pain:

France is a carb lover’s dream – everywhere you go, you are surrounded by the most amazing and decadent cookies, cakes, pastries, and breads. Most of the notable bread places we found were along the way to the Sacre Coeur. For our picnic that day, we bought a gorgeous loaf of olive bread from Boulangerie à L’Ancienne.

This place churns out baguette, madeleines, and other pastries and breads all day long. We even saw a man in the front of the shop shaping baguettes. If I had timed him, it probably took him about 15 seconds per loaf to shape and throw each baguette onto the industrial-sized baking sheets. We used our olive bread to make sandwiches that day, and it was probably one of the best olive breads I’ve had. The olives had just the right amount of saltiness, and the bread was soft yet springy. With our pâté and cheeses, these sandwiches made the perfect lunch.

In the midst of all of the croissants, baguettes, and macarons, we still needed to have some real meals while in Paris. To be honest, while we did eat at a few good places with great steak frites, creme brulee, and charcuterie, none of them were particularly memorable or worth writing home about. The one exception to this was our visit to the much loved Mariage Frères Maison de Thé.

For our last lunch in Paris before jetting off to Rome, I knew we had to visit one of the best tea houses in the world. Mariage Frères has several locations in Paris, as well as in Germany and Japan. Mariage Frères is known by tea connoisseurs for its large selection of teas imported from around the world. Each store is laid out in an apothecary style that makes you feel like you are about to make a purchase that might heal an ailment of some sort that you have. We visited the location in Rive Gauche, which is quietly tucked away on a side street in the area.

If you visit one of the tea salons like we did, you can have the privilege of enjoying your own pot of their spectacular tea in a relaxing, beautiful setting. In addition, you can also have breakfast, brunch, or pastries and cake here. Of the prix fixe brunch selections (all in French, so practice your reading and speaking skills!) listed, we choose the Green Line and the Lucky Melodies.

The Green Line came with a beef filet tartare, a gazpacho, and a salad of long, elegant romaine leaves and roasted, marinated tomatoes, a glass of Mariages Frere’s very own namesake champagne. Lucky Melodies came with a chicken salad that redefined chicken salad for me – a mix of beautifully cut romaine leaves, radicchio, large slices of chicken breast, red beets, with an intensely fruity olive oil and nut dressing. This salad was like a work of art. Both sets came with freshly squeezed grapefruit and orange juice, a buttery berry scone, and a fruit muffin with Mariage Frères tea-infused fruit jellies and butter.

For tea, he had a Sweet Shanghai – a subtle green tea with lychee notes – iced, and I had the Rose d’Himalaya, a first flush Darjeeling tea perfumed with rose petals. The deep red color of the Rose d’Himalaya was so gorgeous in my little tea cup. For dessert, we shared a slice of the matcha green tea tart, which was intensely green tea flavored and silky, and a yuzu tart, which was extremely tart. I don’t think there was a single thing that we did not enjoy the taste or presentation of in this meal. Even the service was impeccable.

The highlights for the meal were the fruit and tea-infused jams, the chicken salad, the beef tartare, the flute of champagne, which had more depth and complexity than any other glass of champagne or prosecco I’ve ever tasted, and the green tea tart.

The jams we had with our scones and muffins were amazing. Both had citrusy, floral notes and were infused with tea, and the texture resembled more of a thick jelly than a jam. Every aspect of this meal at the tea salon was memorable, and when I look back on Paris, this was definitely one of the most unforgettable parts of the trip.

Writing about Paris makes me miss it even more and want to impulsively book a flight to go back there just to sit and linger in the tea salon, enjoying a cup of tea and a scone with one of those succulent fruit gelées. In some ways, my outlook on life has been changed by the time I spent in Europe. There are a lot of little joys in life that we take for granted, and sometimes when things get very chaotic and busy, we tend to forget those little things that make life so amazing. Maybe we would all be a little bit happier and more satisfied if we could just take a short break from this everyday life we live, jet off to Paris, and experience an afternoon of respite in a tea salon as tranquil and beautiful as Mariage Frères’.

Whatever you do when you go to Paris, make sure that you indulge in as many croissants, macarons, baguettes, and tea (if that is your fancy) as possible. Eating in Paris is an experience in itself that everyone should embrace. I certainly did.


On the Connecticut River canoeing

Before I moved to the East Coast and actually lived a summer here, I’d never really known about what a “real” summer was like. Back in San Francisco, the land of everyday fog and households ignorant of the need of air conditioners (if you lived in 50-60 degree Fahrenheit weather year-round, would you need central AC?), I lived in complete ignorance of what it is like to change living habits based on the seasons. We never limited ourselves to cooking stews and braises for the winter or making lemonade and sorbets in the summer. We could do whatever we wanted year round, and our kitchen would be at about the same temperature. Cooking was cooking.

Well, I’m no longer in San Francisco now. In my apartment in New York, in which I have lived for over a year, which I will also tell you until yesterday had no AC (my landlord likes me now, so he is loaning me one for the duration of my stay here), if you want to bake blueberry muffins or even do the simplest saute, it will feel as though you are baking yourself. You will just want to throw yourself into the freezer and stay there – forever. I know this because this is how I have felt the few times I have tried to cook this summer. There you have it — my long-winded reason for not updating my blog since June.

Brattleboro Farmers Market fresh produce

Blueberry and I have actually been spending quite a bit of time eating out this summer, partly because of the blistering summer heat, which has just very recently gotten much worse, and partly because we are just out and about in New York and New England and want to try restaurants and check out areas we haven’t yet been to. Last weekend, we wanted to get away and took a day trip to the area around Brattleboro, Vermont. A month ago, a very generous coworker brought me back the most amazing Grade A Dark Amber Vermont maple syrup, and as soon as I’d had a taste on my blueberry pancakes, I knew we had to go to this wondrous maple land that is two hours outside of Boston.

The first stop that we made was at the Brattleboro Farmers Market. It’s considered one of Southern Vermont’s premier farmers markets and has over 50 vendors with everything from Vermont artisanal arts and crafts to local produce and prepared foods from a variety of cultures. The first thing that caught my eye there was this cute Thai food truck run by Anon’s Thai Food:

Anon's Thai Food truck, Brattleboro Farmers Market

This farmers market was probably the nicest farmers market I’ve ever been to — it was bustling with lots of people, and the variety of produce, flowers, food, and items being sold was amazing. The stands themselves looked so rustic, all made of these wooden branches that had little roofs. While I love the New York City Greenmarket and all, it really can’t hold a candle to the depth and breadth of this Vermont farmers market. The vendors themselves were incredibly friendly, too, and more than willing to elaborate on their products and their businesses as a whole, which is not always the case at the Greenmarket back home, unfortunately.

Brattleboro farmers market stands

We picked out some really unique fruit wines from an artisanal winery stand – the Putney Mountain Winery from Putney, VT. One was a sparkling apple wine with a very bright effervescence and a slightly bitter aftertaste. This was definitely a different taste than what I am used to with apple cider-type drinks; the aftertaste was really unique. The other bottle we got was the Vermont Cassis, which is a sweet and tart dessert wine made with local black currants. The woman at the booth who gave us free tastings of all her wines told us that it would be a great topping for ice cream and would last quite a while on the shelf after opening, which was a new idea to us since most wines we have had have lasted only a few days max.

Putney Mountain Winery at the Brattleboro Farmers Market, VT

We also found a prepared food stand that was selling Malian dishes. We had never had Malian food, so we got a combination plate with peanut butter chicken, beef and spinach stew, rice, and a special Malian hot sauce that was hotter than hot. Blueberry, who usually loves heat in his food, tortured himself eating more and more of this fiery sauce. The small reddish-green pile at the bottom right corner is the Hot Sauce of Death. Here’s our plate of Malian food:

our combo Malian plate at the Farmers Market

We also had a cup of hibiscus juice here. It was really refreshing; sweetened with a bit of sugar, it was ideal for a hot summer’s day. The juice had a hint of floral flavor from the hibiscus and seemed to taste more like a sweetened floral tea than an actual juice.

Malian food booth at the Brattleboro Farmers Market

From The Sun-Dried Tomato Mediterranean stand, we got a spinach-mozzarella roll-up and a piece of homemade baklava. Our baklava was incredibly sweet, nutty, and satisfying. Look at all those layers:

freshly made baklava at the farmers market

After the Brattleboro Farmers Market, our next stop was at the Robb Family Farm. The Robb Family Farm is a family-owned farm/business that has been around since 1907. Their farm is about 470 acres right outside of Brattleboro, and they own over 100 cows, half of whose lives are devoted to producing milk and cheese wholesale and for regional companies such as Hood and Cabot Cheese. They also have a big family of maple trees for genuine Vermont maple syrup. Depending on what time of the year you come, you can also schedule tours, hay rides, sleigh rides, and see maple syrup being extracted and produced. They also produce a small amount of raw milk that you can pick up if you are lucky enough to get there early in the mornings. Unfortunately we didn’t get there until early afternoon, so we missed our chance to taste raw milk. I’ve always wanted to drink raw milk, but with all these tough restrictions in the U.S., it’s hard to find it in regular markets near me.

Robb Family Farm barn

However, we were able to go into the barn and see the cows. Here are two of the little calves we saw. These girls are young and feisty, especially the one on the right, which had a slight obsession with licking my arm all over:

Little Cows at the Robb Family Farm

I always romanticize, like a lot of city people do, about how sweet and idyllic it could be if I just lived out in the countryside, owned a farm, and produced all my own food instead of being so far removed from the food production process in a great big metropolis like New York City or San Francisco. Being out there on the farm and seeing all the cows was fun, but I think after a while I could tire of it, especially from the cow dung smell, honestly. 🙂

Milking cow in heat

We left the farm with a large 16 oz. container of Grade A Dark Amber maple syrup from their farm. Since we got it in a metal container, we’re planning to get some mason jars to store the syrup longer, since maple syrup tends to have a longer life in the fridge if you store it in glass.

Afterwards, we stopped by an organic farm called the Lilac Ridge farm and passed by a cute sign that they had up:

Lilac Ridge Farm sign - what you missed

Another place that was on our itinerary was the Grafton Village Cheese Company. While we were excited to taste different cheeses, we were a little disappointed that the cheese company seemed to be more commercial than we had originally hoped. And while the Vermont-made cheddar cheeses were tasty, none of them were so exceptional that we thought we needed to buy them while we were there. We actually thought that our local markets made cheddar cheeses that were just as good, if not better. Sadly, the one cheese we tried that blew us a way — a really nutty, subtly sweet Gruyere — was actually an import from Switzerland. So much for trying to support local, independent businesses.

Grafton Cheese Company

We ended our day in Vermont with canoeing on the Connecticut river and having dinner at a nice Italian restaurant called Fireworks in downtown Brattleboro. It seemed to be a somewhat new restaurant, what they called a “work in progress.” They try to use organic produce whenever possible, use free-range chicken, and cook with cured meats made only by local producers. It was a fun, relaxing day, and we definitely plan to come back to Vermont for autumn hiking when the leaves are changing color and in the early spring when maple syrup is being extracted and processed. For foodies who are interested in learning more about how different foods are produced, especially maple syrup and Vermont cheese, Vermont is definitely a must-see with the added bonus of having beautiful scenery. New England has so many hidden gems; it makes me happy and grateful to be able to live near an area as beautiful as this.

Lilac Ridge Farm organic produce and fields


  • itsgrant: I want to goooo! Me next vacation, hopefully
  • Jesslyn: Thank you so much for posting this! My husband (who spent several years in Korea) and I have been searching for a good recipe that will produce Ho Duc
  • Didi: I have been searching everywhere for a recipe for this dish and this was spot on!! Thanks for making me and my boyfriend VERY happy :)