Saturday, April 30, 2011

Top Ten Chic Chickpea Encouraged Experiences: Sensational San Francisco

I love San Francisco. Although this city is in no danger of ever needing a hero to herald the beauty and adventure wound through its undulating streets I will nevertheless be happy to volunteer for the position if such a need ever arises. Every time I return to my beloved city by the bay I extend my trip by a few days, hoping that I can satisfy my need for San Francisco enough to tide me over until the next time I return, alas that is not the case and I cannot wait to make my way back.

Here are the Top Ten Chic Chickpea Encouraged Experiences: Sensational San Francisco.
NOTE: This list is by no means exhaustive and will no doubt be revised on my next adventure in Northern California. If you have yet to visit San Francisco - get thyself to the airport and don't forget the flowers for your hair!
ANOTHER NOTE: This post contains a lot of photos. Be prepared to have major San Francisco crushes people.

Number One:
Wander Haight Street on a Sunday afternoon. Go vintage shopping, buy some tie-dye and enjoy the inhabitants who are a living theatre of their own. One Sunday afternoon I got to experience (in the space of three blocks) a graffiti artist at work (this truly was an artwork too), a band performing fabulous acoustic music on their front doorstep, and a chance to step back in time at three different vintage stores.

Number Two:
Take a ferry across the bay and tour Sausalito; poke around in the little artist shops, visit the Italian deli, walk along the promenade and soak up the sun. Remember to have lunch on the water, there are plenty of great restaurants or you can grab a picnic and settle down on a bench and just watch the tide.

Number Three:
Wander the Cliff Path as the sun goes down and then warm up at the Cliff House. I was lucky enough during this trip to walk along the beach at sunset on both a foggy day and a clear day, and each was as beautiful as the other. On the days when the horizon is smoky with mist enjoy being cloaked in the mystery of the ocean and settle yourself with some hot chocolate in the Cliff House. When you chance on a clear evening watch the sun burn itself into the water and bless you with a sunset you will never forget.

Number Four:
Walk up to Coit Tower and watch sunset on the city. Believe me, the stairs and sweat and tears are worth the view. The landmarks of the city spread at your feet like the finest of silk carpets, each street a precious thread to discover leading you to adventures unknown. After this visual meditation on the beauty of the city stagger back down the hill and revive with fabulous Italian food in North Beach.

Number Five:
Visit Ghirardelli Square and stroll back along the piers enjoying views of the bay. Um, Ghirardelli Square. Need I say more really? Just walking into this cocoa coated heaven is enough to take the edge off a chocolate craving. But really why stop there? Go on, have a little piece (or two...). Take a walk along the piers and be tempted at each turn by different flavours and scents and watch the waterfront life.

Number Six:
Make time for Napa Valley and Sonoma and get in touch with the bounty of the land and the beauty of the sunshine. I didn't know that heaven was only and hour and a half from the city, and now I do; from the rolling hills painted gold with flowering mustard in springtime, to the smell of vintage oak wine casks; Napa and Sonoma are a pleasurable assault on every one of your senses.

Number Seven:
Attend a service at Glide Memorial Church. Even if you aren't religious the music is amazing and the good works of this community are worth supporting. Every week they provide countless meals to the homeless of the city amongst other great deeds. All are welcome.

Number Eight:
See what is playing at Castro Theatre and hope that you can attend a sing-a-long night. The energy is amazing and you get to act like a kid again! Apart from great nights like the Wizard of Oz sing-a-long that I attended this historic theatre showcases a variety of films in a movie palace that is all too rare nowadays.

Number Nine:
Walk the city. It is tempting to jump on a trolley car (you have to do it at least once) or a bus, or a train or in a cab, especially given the topography of this deliciously hilly city, but if you walk the streets you will be rewarded with unexpectedly beautiful views (and photo opportunities beyond the normal tourist vistas), dining discoveries (such as the fabulous lunch I had at Cafe International), and toned legs!
View from California St.
 Wandering through Golden Gate Park.
Journey to the Ferry Building
The paper lanterns and colourful buildings of China Town

The streets and blooms of downtown
Number Ten:
Spend at least one night at The Red Victorian or have breakfast in their Peaceful World Cafe. I have never felt so welcomed by the staff of a hotel. This bed and breakfast is owned by a wonderful lady named Sami Sunchild and lies in the heart of the Haight-Ashbury district. The rooms are clean, comfortable and each one reflects a unique part of the quilt of experiences and places that make up San Francisco.

I often think that we are born and raised in one part of the world and it isn't until you travel or really look around you that you realise that your true home is somewhere half way across the world. For me I felt at home the first time I came to San Francisco and I will continue going back to the city because every time I return I unveil another little piece of my soul.
Until next time, I leave part of my heart buried in the middle of Union Square and I promise I'll be back soon San Francisco.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Sharing the (shortbread) Love

This shortbread recipe got rave reviews tonight from my family so I thought that I would share the love and the recipe!

Classic Vanilla Shortbread (adapted from this book)

225g unsalted butter, softened
115g caster sugar (plus extra for sprinkling)
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
210g plain flour
115g rice flour

1. Line two baking trays with paper and set aside
2. Cream butter, sugar and vanilla in a medium sized bowl until pale and fluffy
3. Sift in flours and a pinch of salt and stir with a wooden spoon until it starts to come together
4. Turn out onto a lightly floured bench and knead tenderly until it forms a soft dough
5. Cover in plastic wrap and chill for half an hour
6. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees celsius.
7. Divide dough in half and roll out one half on a lightly floured kitchen bench to form a 20cm round. Carefully transfer to one of the prepared trays and using a sharp knife score the surface of the dough, dividing into eight wedges. Then prick the surface lightly with a fork and press the edges to form a fluted finish. Repeat with other half.
Alternatively roll out dough to about 1cm thick and using a metal cutter punch out heart shapes and transfer these to the prepared trays.
8. Sprinkle rounds or hearts lightly with extra sugar and place in oven.
9. Rounds will take about 15-18 minutes to cook and hearts will take about 10 minutes. Remove when lightly golden. If using rounds cut into wedges while still hot, following score marks. Cool and enjoy.

This shortbread will keep for up to a week if stored in an airtight container. If it lasts that long...

Sometimes a girl just needs to bake....and bake...and bake....

I'm not sure where it starts, not always from hunger, not always from gluttony, there is something inside me that bubbles to the surface on occasion and just demands that I get my hands stuck into flour and butter and chocolate and create something. Today was one of those days.
So I had the motive, now for the means; well today I had the kitchen to myself a few spare hours in the afternoon. Lastly the opportunity, today was the royal wedding and Mum was having our neighbour over for a dinner and viewing party so I had the perfect time to bake and have it eaten and enjoyed.

Into the kitchen of 'The Burrow' (my affectionate name for our house) I went and here is what I came up with:

- Shortbread hearts
- Chunky chocolate and muesli cookies

- Smoked salmon
- Sliced avocado
- Feta, sundried tomato and olive petite tarte tatins
- Salad of blanched asparagus spears, toasted almonds, feta, artichoke hearts and mixed baby greens with olive oil dressing

Now for the photos.

Chocolate chunk muesli cookies:

Shortbread (hearts for Mum and wedges for Dad)

Tarte Tatins and salad

I love to be able to cook for others; to be able to provide for those you love on such a vital and basic level is one of the purest expressions of love in my opinion. Although I certainly enjoy tasting the fruits of my labour it is the labour itself that brings me the most joy; taking something as basic as flour and butter and transforming it into shortbread, and seeing the pleasure on other's faces when they take that first buttery bite warms my soul. The community of a meal plays a large part in the enjoyment of cooking and sharing a meal is the surest way to bring a group of people together. Whatever your differences, politics, religion, football teams; when you break bread (or lavash or pita or tortilla) with someone else there is an instant bond and other matters can be put aside for even just a moment.
I must admit there is something selfish in this for me. I love the way people can feel what you have given of yourself in taking time to cook, and the way they are grateful that you have provided for them in that way. Food represents nourishment; of soul or stomach, it represents effort and time in planting, harvesting, and cooking, and food represents love. For me, baking and food would mean little without having someone to share the final product with.
Epicurus said it more aptly than I could:
We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink...

Sunday, April 24, 2011

From the Basil Patch

This long weekend has been fabulous, and it just gets better because we still have two whole days left to enjoy!
On Friday I had a glorious sleep in and the sky was such an agreeable blue that I couldn't waste the day inside so I drove down to the coast and enjoyed a lazy day walking along the marina soaking up the sun. There waterfront was alive with couples and families and it felt like everyone was enjoying these fleeting final days of the dying summer.
I have always loved marinas; the tangle of masts against the sky, the stark contrast between white hulls and blue grey water, the generally relaxed feelings that the place emanates.

Saturday I woke before dawn and went for a run in the city. It was beautiful to see the sun rise over Brisbane and greet the day with a racing heart. I caught up with so many friends and then pored over some new recipe books. My (miniature) vegetable patch has a lush crop of basil at the moment and my lovely neighbour's lemon tree has been burgeoning with fruit so these two flavours have been playing at my mind. When I came across this recipe I wondered if it could be modified slightly to incorporate the fragrant basil that I harvested yesterday. I made some further changes to the recipe to see whether a vegan version would work.
To my delight, it did!

Lemon and Basil Cookies
  • 100g non-dairy margarine
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 flax egg (1 tablespoon ground flaxseed + 3 tablespoons water and mixed until gelatinous)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh basil chopped finely
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 150g rice flour
  • 50g cornflour
  1. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees celsius
  2. Cream margarine and sugar together until light and fluffy
  3. Beat in flaxseed and water mixture
  4. Mix in zest and basil
  5. Stir in sifted flours until dough comes together
  6. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours to firm up
  7. Roll teaspoons of mixture into balls and place on baking trays, flatten each ball slightly with your fingertips and then bake for about 15 minutes
  8. Cool and enjoy
I noticed with these cookies that they do not brown on top, rather they retain a smooth pale top and the underside only darkens slightly. I left them plain this time but they would be nice with a blanched almond pressed in the top before baking, or a drizzle of lemon glaze after they have cooled.

Before the oven.

I really enjoyed these cookies with their faint fragrant basil flavour supported by a twist of citrus, the texture is pleasing and different as a result of the combination of flours but overall I thought these were perfect alongside a cup of camomile tea after dinner.

Tomorrow is ANZAC day and my respect goes to all men and women who have served and those who continue to serve our country. Lest We Forget.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Top Ten Chic Chickpea Encouraged Experiences: Las Vegas Edition

Finally, the promised post on (and links for) the Top Ten Chic Chickpea Encouraged Experiences.
I thought I would be conventional and start with Las Vegas as that was the first place I visited on my trip, I must admit I struggled a little though as I wanted to try and make each top ten item unique and so much of this part of the trip was spent either shopping or eating (how I prefer to spend so much of my time really) so I have included one item (number nine) that I actually did on my last trip to Las Vegas but that I feel is absolutely essential if you can manage to do it.

Without any further ado I present the list:
Number One:
Have dinner at one of the many fantastic restaurants at the
Wynn or Encore. I highly recommend the Society Cafe or Bartolotta.
This is a statue outside one of the entrances to the Wynn. So pretty.
Number Two:
Go up the 'Eiffel Tower' at night. Oh yes, I know it's not Paris (It's Paris Las Vegas) and I know it is a little cheesy (okay, a lot cheesy) and I know Gustave Eiffel is probably turning in his grave, but the view is absolutely unparalleled and there is no better vantage point for the Bellagio water fountain show. For the romantics there is also a restaurant inside. 

Number Three:
Breakfast at Grand Lux Cafe. I am not a fan of buffet so I ordered off the a la carte breakfast menu and it was sublime. Not only that, the staff were very friendly and the atmosphere suited both solo diners and those in groups. Bonus: Only a few moments away from the Palazzo shops!

Number Four:
Go shopping. I am not a gambler, I always tend to give the 'house' any money that I lay on the table so I prefer to shop because that way I know I am going to win! Las Vegas is heaven for those of us with a sartorial weakness; exclusive labels are neighbours with more accessible chains in the shopping sections of each casino and just a short taxi ride away is the Las Vegas Premium Outlet. My pick for high end shopping would be either The Shoppes at the Palazzo or the Forum Shops at Caesar's Palace. I would encourage anyone who is wanting to purchase an item from Fendi to visit their Palazzo store as the staff is wonderful and attentive.

Number Five:
Walk the strip at dusk. Deserted in the morning, crowded and neon starlit at night, dusk is my favourite time to walk the strip. As the sun goes down over sin city take a stroll down Las Vegas Boulevard and see the city take on a different light and the glow of the dying day paint the distant mountains and remind you that you are in the middle of some very beautiful desert country.
Number Six:
Spend at least one night somewhere luxurious and make use of all the amenities in your room. I am not usually an advocate for spending much time in a hotel room when you could be out exploring the place you came to see. However, if you have a spare evening in a really nice hotel enojoy it! My room in the Venetian was so exquisite that I didn't feel bad about spending a lovely evening inside luxuriating in all the in room experiences I could. Run the bath as warm as you dare, use every single towel they supply, watch the junky TV that you never really watch at home (while soaking in the tub if you are as lucky as I was to get a room with a TV over the bath!) and take your time getting ready to go out. When do you really get to act like a princess who doesn't have to clean her own bathroom and wash the towels?

Number Seven:
Casino hop and appreciate the effort that has gone into creating each of these places. It really is Disneyland for adults. Even though it is all a facade a lot of people have worked very hard to make Las Vegas as enticing as it is and a lot of people work very hard to keep it as clean as it manages to be. Each casino is like a world of its own and while they are all there trying to do the same thing (entertain people and make a lot of money), each has a unique vibe that is created by the themes, structure and mood of the buildings and interiors.
I liken it to seeing a photograph of an historic place, you can capture the beauty but never the authenticity and history of the original.

"Paris" Las Vegas

The Venetian "canals"- nothing like Venice, but still beautiful.

It also has to be likened to Disneyland - see they have candy too!
Candy apples of all different varietals (none natural I'm sure) just watch out Snow White!

Number Eight:
Get dressed up all fancy and see a show. Las Vegas hosts wonderful performers and world class shows every day. Cirque du Soleil has shows at multiple casinos (just pick a performance you can't go wrong here), Phantom of the Opera plays at the Venetian, Jersey Boys, the Blue Man Group, Human Nature, Celine Dion - the list is endless and you are sure to find someone who plays your kinda tune. It is always best to book ahead if you want to see a certain show, or get the best seats (trust me, people were queued up for ever to get tickets the night I saw Cirque du Soleil last time I was in Vegas) but if you aren't too fussy and love a bargain try Tix4Tonight or keep an eye out on the show's hosting casino website for last minute sales.

Number Nine:
Take a helicopter ride through the Grand Canyon. This is an experience that should be on everyone's bucket list. There is simply no way to capture the true alien beauty and exquisite natural architecture of this place, Ben and I were comparing notes and we came to the conclusion that no mere photograph or video recording can convey the feeling of being over and within the solidified history that is the Canyon. Many people take the bus ride out to the rim but to understand the sheer size and appreciate how it carves it's way through the land, and to get views of the Hoover Dam and the mighty Colorado River you really have to see it from the air.

Number Ten:
Hire a limousine for the round trip between airport and hotel - trust me, this is how you get in the mood for Vegas! I don't really think this needs much explanation, however the justification I give is that after a (total travel time) of over twenty hours I was allowed to spoil myself by having someone waiting for me who would take my bags, call me ma'am and give me a glass of champagne. At the end of the trip you know that someone will get you to the airport on time, and it stretches out that holiday feeling just a little longer. It's also a whole lot more fun than a shuttle bus and if you are travelling with a group it isn't really that expensive. I recommend Bell Trans, their limousine drivers and service centre staff were all charming!

So there we have it. My Top Ten Chic Chickpea Encouraged Experiences: Las Vegas Edition. I hope that this might be useful for those planning a trip or provide inspiration for those contemplating an escape to sin city.

Next up: Top Ten Chic Chickpea Encouraged Experiences: Sensation San Francisco.