Acceptance

Despite the fact that it’s been nearly three weeks since my last blog post, I actually haven’t fallen behind. 2016 began very quietly, and it’s only been in the last week or so that things have become more interesting. It’s hard to believe that my one-year anniversary in San Francisco passed at the beginning of the month. So much has happened since I arrived that it seems impossible that it’s only been twelve (plus) months.

I think of that very first day, a sunny Saturday, walking into my previously-unseen apartment, with anticipation and excitement. This is where I’ll be living! I remember thinking excitedly. That first walk to Trader Joe’s to stock up the fridge. Jumping right into the SF scene that first night with dinner with my cousin, a jazz show, and a ferry ride to Sausalito the next morning for a friend’s birthday brunch.

Dark chocolate cinnamon cookies. A new recipe, and a winner.

Dark chocolate cinnamon cookies. A new recipe, and a winner.

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Christmas & Lazy Bear

In what will be the last post covering 2015 and also the first post of 2016, I’m highlighting two very specific experiences: my Christmas trip to LA and my incredible dinner at Lazy Bear. There will be a nugget or two of random stuff thrown in, but I wrapped up the year with these two major events and am excited to share them.

Chocolate chip banana bread bread pudding was a special treat we cooked up at Jane, after Christmas.

Chocolate chip banana bread bread pudding was a special treat we cooked up at Jane, after Christmas.

Los Angeles

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December Delights

It’s kind of fun to power through blog posts like I’ve been doing for the last few days. As I gathered photos and made my picks for this particular post, it amazed me to realize exactly how much I accomplished (consumed?) during the month that’s about to end. (And don’t even get me started on the year that’s about to close.) And this post doesn’t even include the final ten days of December, which were just as exciting and action- and food-packed as the rest of the month.

Cauliflower and grits for breakfast at Beatrix in Chicago.

Cauliflower grits and some fried eggs for breakfast at Beatrix in Chicago.

What you’ll see below is case-in-point for why I sometimes need to do cleanses/resets like Whole30 and why you just can’t leave me alone near great food.

Dynamo Donut + Coffee stage

While I’m quite in love with doughnuts, I’d never staged or worked in a professional doughnut environment before. Yes, last December I spent the morning at Stan’s in LA, but it was almost strictly observing. However, a co-worker of mine at Jane, knowing of my doughnut passion, encouraged me to contact Dynamo Donuts, where she used to work, and set up a stage.

The to-go box of doughnuts I packed up at Dynamo.

The to-go box of doughnuts I packed up at Dynamo.

It was a half-shift instead of a full one, running from 3 am (yes!!) to about 6:45 am. It was fascinating to see how Dynamo works. Unlike many doughnut places that use a few different doughs and then just top them with different glazes, it seemed like every single doughnut here had its own unique dough: the orange passion, the spiced chocolate, the maple bacon apple, the huckleberry and more. Everything was done in relatively small batches and the system for proofing, cutting, frying and glazing the doughnuts was very organized. Like my work at Jane, first priority is getting wholesale orders out the door before opening the doors of the business. 

When I finished up, Sara – the owner – let me pack up a few treats to take with me, and I walked a few blocks to my cousin Erin’s house. We had some coffee and tea with our treats before she went to work and before I headed home. (We just did a little bit of sampling, and Erin took the rest to work and I headed to Wise Sons Deli for a real breakfast: pastrami scramble.)

Namu Gaji

After seeing Erin for breakfast that morning, I headed back to the Mission that evening for dinner with her, her boyfriend Steve, and her college roommate Debi (who I have known since college too) and her husband. We met up at Namu Gaji, a Korean restaurant. We ate well, enjoyed lots of small and big bites, and had a fun evening.

The okonomiyaki from Namu Gaji.

The okonomiyaki from Namu Gaji.

Okonomiyaki is traditionally a Japanese savory pancake, whereas this Korean take on it has a lot more of the delicious ingredients and not as much of the pancake itself. And we topped it with a fried egg. Served very hot in a stone pot, it was a bubbling, steamy mixture of magic.

Champions Dinner at Rusty’s Southern

Best fried chicken in San Francisco. Hands down.

Best fried chicken in San Francisco. Hands down.

It’s always fun to meet up with Dario and Paul, the two other winners of SF Cooking’s Curiosity Crawl, for our “champions dinner.” This time we went to a pretty new place, not far from the school. I think we were all expecting good food, but none of us expected to be blown away by how amazing everything was. Their biscuits, not pictured, were also insanely good.

Best pork chop I've ever had. Tender, full of flavor. Yum.

Best pork chop I’ve ever had. Tender, full of flavor. Yum.

Jane

Panettone hang upside-down out of the oven so that the delicate dough can set properly.

Panettone hang upside-down out of the oven so that the delicate dough can set properly.

With Christmas approaching and plenty of holiday gatherings on people’s calendars, all of us at Jane were working hard to make a variety of special treats available for our customers. The bread team has been making the insanely good panettone pictured above. (Unfamiliar with panettone? It’s a sweet bread load, originally from Milan, filled with candied and dried fruits, which has become popular around Christmas.) Meanwhile, among other things, the pastry team has been making large versions of our brownies and blondies for customers to take with them and enjoy.

Our large fudge brownie, with York peppermint patties.

Our large fudge brownie, with York peppermint patties.

When we tasted this thing right out of the oven…it was awesome. Gooey chocolate, melty candies. Wow.

The caramel butterscotch blondie, made large for retail sale.

The caramel butterscotch blondie, made large for retail sale.

Bakery Day Redux

Last April, as the culmination of the classroom-instruction portion of pastry school, we hosted a Bakery Day. We spent the entire week recipe-testing, finalizing a menu, making and remaking items, and having a lot of fun to putting together a “bakery” on the final day of the week. Friends and family were invited and it was a festive and mouth-watering occasion. Fast-forward eight months and the current pastry class is holding their Bakery Day. I was very excited to be included. Only one other classmate of mine was able to attend, as well, but it was great to see what the current students did the same and what they did differently.

Courtney hands out scallion pancakes, one of the introductory savory items.

Courtney hands out scallion pancakes, one of the introductory savory items.

My favorite savory item was one that I never got a picture of, although I had many opportunities (since I ate three!): the pork belly steam bun. Oh my. So good. Below are my top picks from the day, although nothing on the sweet side missed the mark.

Goat yogurt fontainebleau with quince granita.

Goat yogurt fontainebleau with quince granita.


Lemon tart with brown sugar meringue.

Lemon tart with brown sugar meringue.


Hazelnut gianduja.

Hazelnut gianduja.


Pretzel croissants.

Pretzel croissants.


Only when then entire round of passed desserts was finished, and it was time to wrap up, could guests grab a bakery box and fill it up with treats to go.

Only when then entire round of passed desserts was finished, and it was time to wrap up, could guests grab a bakery box and fill it up with treats to go.

Burger Night at Spruce

The killer pastrami sandwich from Spruce.

The killer pastrami sandwich from Spruce.

Correct. That’s not a burger. Because the burger wasn’t as good as the pastrami sandwich that night. Luckily, Mimi and are big into sharing, so when we saw the pastrami sandwich on the menu, we decided we’d order one burger and one pastrami and split. So yummy.

Brown Sugar Kitchen

Fried chicken and waffles.

Fried chicken and waffles.

I met up with Hilary in the East Bay so that we could hit up the Oakland spot famous for their fried chicken and waffles. As you can see from this blog post, I’ve been kind of busy with fried chicken. That’s never a bad thing…unless it’s bad fried chicken. This wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Decent fried chicken, decent biscuit, very good cornmeal waffle. Service was lacking. 

Chicago!

In the middle of the month, I headed back to my home of twenty-plus years for the wedding of two wonderful friends. However, before the big wedding weekend, I got to see plenty of other friends and family and doughnuts. Of course the doughnuts. And in all honesty, I didn’t expect to get so doughnut-happy on the trip. But once I started, it was very hard to stop. Believe me…I tried.

Stan's visit #1: I walked to their new location Diversey and picked up some doughnuts to bring to my sister. We were meeting so that I could borrow her car for the day.

Stan’s visit #1: Lemon pistachio and toffee cake.

I walked to their new location on Diversey and picked up some doughnuts to bring to my sister. We were meeting so that I could borrow her car for the day. The very next day, when Maggie offered to drive me downtown for a meeting I had, want to guess where she suggested we meet? Yep. Stan’s again. Who was I to argue? I think it was the toffee cake doughnut from the day before that convinced her. It was really good. (And what did she and Ben buy as a special treat for Christmas morning? More Stan’s including two of those amazing toffee cake. While I wasn’t there to enjoy that with them, you’ll see in my next post that my Christmas morning wasn’t lacking for doughnuts.)

Glazed and Infused stop #1: the gingerbread old-fashioned.

Glazed and Infused stop #1: the gingerbread old-fashioned.

Of course, I stopped into Glazed and Infused AFTER just sharing the Stan’s Donuts with Maggie. I had time to kill before heading to the burbs for the rest of the day, and I had noticed that when I got off the L to walk to her office, I was basically recreating the path of the doughnut crawl from last August (click here for lowdown). But I didn’t expect to recreate the crawl itself. However, with some time on my hands, I thought, “Why not stop into one of the shops and just get some coffee?”

This gingerbread old-fashioned was by far one of the best doughnuts I’ve had in a long time. Next to my recent Sidecar experience, it was the best I’ve had in months. And it was spicy too…loved it. Of course, once you had something that good…you have to have more. I swung by there again on Saturday morning to bring back one for my lovely hosts Michael and Leslie. I’ve converted them to the religion of fried dough.

Firecakes: coconut cream.

Firecakes: coconut cream.

Firecakes was not something I really need to add to the list, but if I was ending up recreating the doughnut crawl, why not go all out? Luckily this little guy was small. But the other key highlight of my Chicago doughnut experience was on Friday morning (after Maggie picked me up at Stan’s), when I stopped into Do-Rite, home of the best old-fashioneds in Chicago, on my way to my appointment. (Really…I had to pass by. How could I not stop?) Bad news: my favorite doughnut from there, cinnamon crunch old-fashioned, was sold-out. Good news: their regular old-fashioned was fresh out of the oven. And I have to say, walking through the chilly, windy streets of the Loop with a hot doughnut in my hand (and my mouth) was awesome. It might even have beaten the gingerbread experience at Glazed.

Pita Inn – Skokie

With my sister’s car, I headed up north to see a wide variety of my suburban friends. It started with some people I first worked with close to twenty years ago, when I was first out of college. The four of us used to get together as often as our schedules would allow, and this was a great way to kick off my afternoon. We met at our old standby, Pita Inn, although since I left Chicago they’ve moved into shiny new digs. The food was as good as ever, and the company was of course better.

While waiting for my friends to arrive, the people at the table behind me made this happen.

While waiting for my friends to arrive, the people at the table behind me made this happen.


The "business lunch special" for $5.99. Yum.

The “business lunch special” for $5.99. Yum.

I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening with some other dear friends before heading back to the city. I lived a suburban life for quite a long time but am very happy to have left it in the rearview mirror.

Mindy’s Hot Chocolate

When pastry chef Mindy Segal was in San Francisco early in the fall, I told her I was coming to Chicago in December for a wedding and that I’d love to stage and see her operation. (She owns and runs a pastry-driven restaurant in the Bucktown neighborhood.) Well, that day finally arrived and I spent about four hours in the kitchen with her awesome staff. There were three other people working pastry at the time, and we were surrounded by all sorts of other savory cooks, prep cooks and more. It was a tight kitchen but the vibe was fantastic. I could tell that Mindy’s playful but dedicated attitude sets the tone.

Mexican hot chocolate - to go.

Mexican hot chocolate – to go.

When I finished working, I was sent out with some tasty treats. Considering the place is called Hot Chocolate, I had to have some hot chocolate and chose the spicy Mexican version. It was fantastic, right on par with the drinking chocolate I’ve had at Dandelion in SF. Then, of course, Mindy is famous for her cookies and so I was given some special ones that were being kept in the fridge, and also chose some additional ones from the racks. I do think the Hot Fudge Thumbprint is still her best cookie, but they are all delicious.

Some of Mindy's best cookies.

Some of Mindy’s best cookies.


Cheddar melt with bacon on pumpernickel bread, with tomato soup.

Cheddar melt with bacon on pumpernickel bread, with tomato soup.

The next morning, Michael, Leslie and I happened to be pondering a place for brunch, and I suggested we return to Hot Chocolate. Mindy was kind enough to squeeze us in, and treated us quite well – sending their doughnut holes and the day’s sweet danish selection to our table before our meal. And then this sandwich above…how can you beat melty cheese on flavorful housemade bread? You can’t. Xoxo to Mindy and her team!

Dove’s Luncheonette

The "chicken fried chicken" from Dove's.

The “chicken fried chicken” from Dove’s.

Because I couldn’t subsist on hot chocolate and cookies alone (believe me, it’s been attempted), I stopped into Dove’s for a late lunch on my way back to Michael and Leslie’s after my stage at Hot Chocolate. Dove’s opened right before I left, but I never made it to this Southern-ish, Mexican-ish diner opened by the people responsible for Big Star Taco, The Publican and more big names in Chicago. (Bon Appetit named it one of the Top 50 new restaurants for 2015.) It was cold, I wanted to get warm and nothing on the menu sounded better than fried chicken covered in gravy. A wise choice on my part.

Sister time

While I’d seen Maggie on Thursday, for a little while, during the car handoff, and on the car ride into the city that morning, it wasn’t until Friday night that we got some quality time together. And that was also my first time seeing Ben. We kicked off the evening at Q BBQ, which became a favorite of mine the fall before last when the three of us went there after my garage sale. Everything there was so delicious and I made the big, bold move to get their monster platter, featuring every type of meat on their menu. While I didn’t finish it (I would have exploded), I enjoyed every bite. And the leftovers made a great dinner while I was stuck at O’Hare on Sunday. 

The Papa Q platter at Q BBQ. Every meat on their menu - including my personal favorite, the brisket burnt ends.

The Papa Q platter at Q BBQ. Every meat on their menu – including my personal favorite, the brisket burnt ends.

This doesn’t even include the amazing brussels sprouts and hush puppies. But as they rolled the three of us out of there, Ben was very clear that if Maggie and I wanted to just be in food-coma-mode on her couches while he went to do his show, we could. However, I wouldn’t let that happen. As much as just going to bed sounded appetizing, I wanted to see the final night of his newest show. Ben had turned Fifty Shades of Grey into a 50-minute stage version, in which cast members would read the parts aloud in front of the audience, having never seen the script (or book or movie) before. They were exploring it fresh. Of course, the sex was taken out. (It’s an extension of his Porn Minus Porn production.)

Ben literally getting the show started.

Ben literally getting the show started.

Ben served as the narrator for the show and it was a fun night. I kept my eyes open the whole time, which was quite an accomplishment considering: all the food in my belly; and the show started at 10:30 pm. But we had a great night together.

The Wedding Day

Finally, what I’d arrived in Chicago for in the first place had arrived. With Marnie and Andy, two great people and two food-lovers, planning the event, I had no doubt we’d eat well. They’d told me, back at Michael and Leslie’s wedding in June, that they wanted to serve chicken and waffles at their wedding. Would they? Time would tell.

Of course, I kept up my Chicago power-eating that day: a quick breakfast at Beatrix with Jason and Liz before their flight to Colorado; grabbing the aforementioned gingerbread old-fashioneds at Glazed and Infused for Michael and Leslie; and the lunch/brunch at Hot Chocolate. I cut off the food at that point and I tried to hold off for the big show.

First of all, the ceremony was beautiful. It was held in the same room that was featured in the end of the Harrison Ford version of The Fugitive – the Gold Room at the Chicago Hilton and Towers. (Remember when he confronts the other doctor in that large ballroom while he’s presenting about the new (bad) drug, and then they have this monster fight on the roof? That’s the ballroom.) I saw friends I didn’t expect to see, and friends who didn’t know I was in town were surprised to see me. Lots of fun. And of course…the food was kick-ass.

Ken and his selfie stick captured some happy folks before the dinner began.

Ken and his selfie stick captured some happy folks before the dinner began.


Sure enough, there were chicken & waffles (on a stick) as part of the appetizer stations.

Sure enough, there were chicken & waffles (on a stick) as part of the appetizer stations.


More comfort food apps: mac and cheese; grilled cheese sandwiches (brie with fig jam); and tomato soup.

More comfort food apps: mac and cheese; grilled cheese sandwiches (brie with fig jam); and tomato soup.


The happily wedded couple and their first dance.

The happily wedded couple and their first dance.

While sitting at the dinner table during the salad course, I happened to glance around the room and noticed behind me a very familiar logo. It was the Stan’s Donuts box, sitting on a table. I wandered over and sure enough, they were setting up a massive dessert display, with Stan’s featured prominently. Was this the best wedding ever? It might have been.

One of the dessert displays.

One of the dessert displays.


More desserts

More desserts


The ballroom transformed from the ceremony to the party.

The ballroom transformed from the ceremony to the party.

It was a lovely evening and I went to bed very tired from the long day, the delicious food, and the dancing. Fortunately, I was staying at the hotel that night and only had to make my way to the elevator. I was asleep in a hurry!

My Chicago trip ended the next day, after Maggie and I joined our wonderful family friends the Blenners for brunch, before I headed to the airport. It was a whirlwind time in Chicago, and I wasn’t looking forward to a long flight home and then being up for another 4 am shift the next morning…followed by a trip to LA that afternoon at 3:30 pm. I hadn’t paid careful enough attention to my travel plans and had created an unforgiving schedule for myself.

Oh well…that’s life! With the winds in San Francisco impacting flights, I was delayed three hours and didn’t make it home until 10 pm…a mere six hours before I needed to be at work. But it all worked out in the end, and I was excited for what awaited me in LA for the remainder of the week. I’ll tell you all about it in the next post…