Thanks...and giving

I found it! My favorite holiday-appropriate post:

How a Cook Spends Thanksgiving.

While you're on the TastingMenu website, I encourage you to scroll through the archives. Dana Cree, Pastry Chef at Seattle's Poppy restaurant, also happens to be one of my favorite writers.

Dana and I met several years ago. She was living in England, and worked as a stage at the Fat Duck, which then held the distinction as "the Best Restaurant in the World." After a move back to Seattle, I spotted her class at a local cooking school...and enrolled immediately.

With her thoughtful approach to cooking, and teaching that was steeped in science, I was hooked! I drew diagrams of molecules in my lecture notes, and purchased every book she referenced. For months, I took every class she taught.

I was an early fan of Dana's work and it's been an incredible journey watching her career blossom. (Catch Dana's interview on Star Chefs.) Her work has been a major influence on my perception of food...and its execution.

While I don't see Dana nearly as much these days, reading through the TastingMenu archives is the next best thing.

Got some time on your hands over the holidays? Here's a collection of my favorite posts from Dana:

The Flavor of Color

Taste vs. Flavor; Splitting Hairs

Controlling Water

Perfecting Panna Cotta

Changing Viewpoints

Twitter love: Drinking Lessons with Douglas Williams

24 hours in the Bay Area. The goal? Good eats. Great drinks. Meet my favorite Twitter peeps. (This is the second installment, part 1 is here).

Truth be known, I’ve been keeping a close eye on @LiquidDouglas. I was intrigued from the moment I heard “Molecular Mixology.” Using laboratory-style techniques, he whips up fabulous cocktails with a nod towards molecular gastronomy. (Using a sous vide, he can custom make a flash infusion before the end of the night.)

A tweet about trouble with humidity revealed his ‘lab’ is on a boat somewhere in the Bay Area. Humidity was affecting his caramel—slated to be turned into dust. Dust? Really? He explained, “As you sip a Reposada tequilla and take a bite of the dust, it gets turned back into a salted caramel, complimenting the vanilla and caramel flavor notes in the tequilla.” Brilliant, no?! The depth and breadth of his knowledge is astounding…and I was determined to meet him.

Our exchange went something like this:

Me: Coming to SF, wanna hook up?
Him: Sure.
Me: Any chance you’d want to lead a cocktail crawl?
Him: Absolutely!
[Insert happy dance!]

@Liquid Douglas, aka Douglas Williams was the perfect host, organizing well-thought out stops for our cocktail crawl. It’s the bartender who MAKES the bar, as is evident by his list:

7:30 PM

bartender: Reza Esmaili
current US bartenders guild for SF


bartender: Brooke Arthur


bartender: Marcovaldo Dionysus
opened legendary Absinthe Brasserie, opened Clock Bar, just recently started working at Rye.


bartender: Eric Castro and company
the new venture from the Bourbon & Branch guys

If people are motivated for another spot like Cantina (bartender: Duggan) or 15 Romolo (bartender: Scott Baird.)

First stop? Conduit with Reza Esmaili. Next stop? Well, uh….that was it! Reza had a captive audience. We sat, he poured. No questions, no decisions to make. We put ourselves in his hands and were not disappointed.

jumped in on the fun and Douglas invited a couple of his friends. Together, the five of us imbibed on a bevy of cocktails, many of them with intriguing wine bases. Douglas noted, “Reza has a great feeling for wine cocktails that pair well with food. You don’t see that much.”

On that cue, we ordered a handful of dishes and let Reza do the rest. While wine pairings are traditional, cocktails—specifically paired with food, was a first for me. Complex cocktails, artfully paired with food…was a revelation! Layers of flavor, intriguing combinations, crafted with house made infusions and extractions. From that point forward, there was a seismic shift in the way I look at cocktails.

Top 10 food experiences in 2009?

Add this one to the list.

If you’re in San Francisco, don’t miss Douglas Williams at Rye. While he was on my side of the bar for this venture, I’m blown away by what this guy is doing with molecular gastronomy and cocktails. Sous vide and liquid nitrogen are just a few of the tools in his arsenal.

Check Douglas’ website ( for his upcoming class at Bourbon & Branch. (They nailed down the class today...scoop should be on the website soon...)

Twitter Love: San Francisco

Destination: The Worlds of Flavor Conference [Napa Valley, CA]

But first, 24 glorious hours in San Francisco.

Despite the surprising new baggage fees…and the airline loosing that very same bag at my final destination, followed by a few harry moments trying to navigate the BART (light rail) system, I managed to make it to my rendezvous spot…only slightly frazzled.

Surfacing from the underground BART station, I was greeted by a handful of sidewalk hawkers and those quintessential San Francisco trolley bells. For a brief moment, I closed my eyes and took in the sounds. Giddy school kid chatter was punctuated by shoe shine barkers. Metal on metal, I listened as passenger-filled trollies heaved into motion. Each clang of the trolley bell recalled that pervasive advertising jingle: Rice-a-Roni…the San Francisco Treat! By the third refrain, the spell was broken and it was time to move on….

Through a series of e-mails and Twitter messages, I arranged to meet LouAnn just a block away. I was sporting a giant green backpack…while juggling a purse and laptop case in one hand, and cell phone in the other. I must have struck a curious picture…one foot in the corporate world, and a Birkenstock-clad toe firmly planted in the backpacker world. Having never met before, I waved to the ponytailed woman across the street, hoping that was my Twitter buddy @oysterculture. Thankfully, she gave a cheery wave back and made her way to my side of the street.

While others may say meeting friends on Twitter is like blind dating, I liken it to travel during the days of stage coaches and steam ships. Back then, a letter of introduction provided valuable connections—and often hospitality—in far-flung destinations. Today, in our techno-dependent First world, your presence on the web serves as both letter of introduction and calling card.

With some time on my hands and the hope of meeting new friends, I threw out an invitation on Twitter: Coming to San Francisco! Anyone want to meet up?

Within days, my dance card was completely booked!

The San Francisco leg of my adventure began with a trip to the Mission District. The goal? Humphry Slocombe ice cream! Their website boasts an impressive collection of flavors and as a bonafied ice cream geek, I had my spoon poised and ready for action. We arrived during off-peak hours and I warned the counter guy, “I want to try them all!” Migrating through the freezer case—sampling everything from “breakfast cereal” to “balsamic caramel”, eventually I settled on Jesus Juice (red wine & classic Coke) and Fudgescicle. (Lou Ann had the better 2-scoop pairing of Jesus Juice and Olive Oil).

Though we were meeting friends for dinner, LouAnn and I made time for a slight detour…indulging in hearty soft shell chorizo tacos at El Tonayense. They were dripping in grease and mind-bogglingly delicious!

Strolling through the Hispanic-centric Mission District, I marveled at the brightly colored murals, juxtaposed by tell-tale San Francisco-style “painted lady” architecture.

Next stop? A writer/blogger/food editor dinner at funky Ti Couz restaurant.

No, wait!

Scratch that.

Despite calling TWICE, we arrived at Ti Couz to discover…it was closed for a private party. Too late to reschedule now. We picked the closest restaurant nearby and taped our own sign on the Ti Couz door!

Holding camp at our new location, eagle-eye LouAnn spotted a happy hour sign from across the room: $10 Sangria carafes. “We’ll take two, please!” Before long, the wine was flowing and one by one we greeted a string of people I knew only by electronic means.

There’s nothing like eating, paired with animated conversations about food! Multiple plates of tapas danced around the table and large carafes of sangria stood within arm’s reach. I knew these folks through blogs, online articles and Twitter but when we finally met, the miles…and the fact that none of us had ever met before, suddenly slipped away…

I’ve been following Jennifer Jeffrey’s blog from the early days…cheering from my laptop when she found her lost dog, and traveling vicariously on her trips to Morocco and Portland. While her blog is currently on the back burner, the archives make great reading. As a writer and editor, she's got an impressive body of work. (@jenniferjeffrey)

Anita Chu is a dessert girl after my own heart. Her blog, Dessert First, lead to two books: Field Guide to Candy and Field Guide to Cookies. I've kept a close eye on her delicious creations for years. (@anitachu)

When Scott Hocker, the editor of San Francisco’s Tasting Table introduced himself, others chimed in, “Didn’t you used to be the editor at San Francisco magazine?” Yep. And now, following on the heels of the wildly successful LA, NYC and Chicago Tasting Tables, San Francisco has a newly launched site with a daily dose of deliciousness. (@nogracias)

Stephanie Stiavetti writes the award-winning blog Wasabimon. She was hot on the heels of a big weekend, having attended the FoodBuzz Food Blogger Festival, and working as Jaden’s escort during the SF leg of the Steamy Kitchen book tour. (@sstiavetti)

My ice cream and taco buddy, LouAnn Conner, writes a blog called Oyster Food and Culture and she just finished a terrific piece on breads around the world. Generous and in-the-know, with LouAnn as my guide, I was definitely in good hands! And check out this score. A jar of her sangria jelly is coming home with me! (Are we sensing a theme here????) (@oysterculture)

Surprise, surprise! Enroute to another event, my friend Andre--the wizard behind, stopped by to say hello. PSST: Andre’s also the man behind the Luxury Chocolate Salons (San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle and New York) and the upcoming Tasty Awards gala in San Francisco. (@tastetv)

Ah…there’s more to tell but I’ll save it for another post.

My Life List

Inside a hot air balloon, looking up

This post is inspired by my friend Rachel Strawn and Maggie's Life List.

I recently wrote a post about attending the upcoming Worlds of Flavor Conference…and it sparked a surprising amount of dialog—not about the conference itself, but about my Life List.

For most of my life, I’ve kept a list of things I’d like to do. It’s in a constant state of flux—items get checked off (hot air ballooning) or I no longer have an interest (live in a castle). And I’m constantly adding new things to The List.

My current list ranges from the fantastic (shark diving in South Africa) to the mundane (journal daily), but I truly believe there’s power in the written word. Will I ever visit Dubai? Or be in Italy for the olive harvest? Attend Mardi Gras in Trinidad? Who knows? But it’s on my list!

What else is on my list? Here’s a sampling:

1. Attend a Conference
2. Make homemade pasta
3. Make homemade pizza dough
4. Attend the Worlds of Flavor Conference
5. Photograph the bazaars of Istanbul
6. Travel to Morocco
7. Visit the White House Kitchen
8. Attend a diner at the James Beard House
9. Learn how to temper chocolate & make confections
10. Ride in a helicopter
11. Attend the Food & Wine Classic
12. Attend the Oregon Truffle Festival
13. Make a wedding cake
14. Make my own beer
15. Find another mentor
16. Harvest sugar, cacao, coffee, and Vanilla
17. Attend Day of the Dead in Oaxaca
18. Attend a wedding in India
19. Make a mean margarita
20. Learn how to make coffee art
21. Attend Mardi Gras in Trinidad
22. Catch and cook my own crab
23. Visit a tea plantation
24. Love, for real
25. See the confluence of the Rio Blanco & the Rio Negro by air
26. Visit a refugee camp
27. Scuba dive with seals
28. See a whale shark under water
29. Attend an East Coast crab fest
30. Go white water kayaking
31. Raft the Grand Canyon
32. Forage for my supper
33. Kill a chicken for my supper
34. Work in a soup kitchen
35. Visit Mexico City. Art, Frieda Kahlo’s home.
36. Learn how to ride a motorcycle
37. Attend Quillasascut Farm School
38. Drive a combine
39. Harvest honey
40. Make delicious bread
41. Ride the Alaska Marine Highway System
42. Climb Mt. Rainier
43. Travel through the Middle East
44. Ride a camel
45. Read Harold McGee’s “On Food & Cooking” from beginning to end
46. Practice yoga
47. Get my books on shelves (need bookcases)
48. Attend the Greenbrier writing workshop
49. Kayak Vietnam's Ha Long Bay
50. Scuba dive in the Red Sea
51. Photography trip to Cuba
52. Grub crawl in Vancouver, BC’s Chinatown
53. Dinner at Cafe Juanita
54. Great white shark cage diving in South Africa

And you? What’s on your life list?