Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Lemonade Hike

It is a rite of passage at camp.   Described falsely at the front desk as "a moderate 2 mile hike" and accurately elsewhere as strenuous and steep*, it starts out almost quaintly with a hidden little trail post behind a tiny woodland church just off the shore of Fallen Leaf Lake.    As you pass quickly through ferns and lush trees, chatting amiably with your companions at how nice it is to be out of the city and away from it all in nature, the greenery suddenly drops away and you find yourself clambering up shale and slippery rock switchbacks in full sun.

Hike to Angora Lake at EveryTrail

Breathing becomes labored, despite weekly kickboxing sessions, and pleasantries go by the wayside.  Another switchback.  No shade.  Still climbing.  Man, this sucks.   Pant.  Pant.  Turn sharply.  Climb.  Wipe brow copiously.  Steal sidelong glances at companions to make sure everyone else is just as miserable.   Cover exhaustion quickly with call to admire view of the lake way below you, sparkling in the relentless sun.  Turn. Climb. Pant.  Now want nothing more than to reach shade of giant boulders and scrub pine far above.   Regret bacon omelet.  Reach shady part.  Rejoice fleetingly, as switchbacks continue unabated.   Recall too late that you are heading for Angora Ridge, and that the word "ridge" is rarely applied to gently accessible hilltops.  Another great photo op seems to be in order.   Pant.

Eventually, blessedly, the path levels out, trees thicken about you and a breeze springs up.   The crowd is once again conversational, almost jubilant with the achievement of gaining 1000 feet of elevation in about a mile and a half.   You are super hiking ex-suburbanites.   In fact, "mountaineers" might not be putting too fine a point on it.   Your steps are cushioned by a layer of pine needles and soft earth, comfy and cool.   The path curves, and abruptly opens out to reveal...

A parking lot.  A bathroom.  Toddlers with inflatable rings around their middles.   Dogs on leashes.  Couples with coolers, beach chairs and picnic baskets.    Something between blind rage and dejection brings tears to your eyes.

"People drove here?  Are you KIDDING me?"

One of the many signs of civilization you will see in the parking lot.  Probably the only U.S. Forest Service sign in the country to utilize the international symbol for lemonade. 

You cross the asphalt, joining the stream of families heading up the gently sloped sandy trail, feeling a bit ridiculous in your dust coated socks and perspiration-stained clothes.

But it hardly matters anymore...the switchbacks, the heat stroke, the oxygen deprivation all behind you now.   Just ahead is a gorgeous, deep blue alpine lake beneath a granite mountain peak.  A sandy beach with a few scattered cabins dotting the shore.   And a shingled wooden hut with a swinging screen door where a cheerful older couple greets newcomers with a smile.

"Oh, my!  Looks like you had a long hike.  Good for you.  So, will you be having a glass or a pitcher today, folks?"

A pitcher please!

The Famous Angora Lakes Lemonade

Plenty of fresh mountain spring water

Boil equal parts water and sugar together for 5 minutes in a small saucepan, remove from heat, and allow to cool completely.  This makes a simple syrup that can be used to sweeten drinks of all kinds.  Feel free to make ahead and keep a supply on hand in the fridge.  When someone wants lemonade, squeeze the lemons right then.    Strain, then combine lemon juice, simple syrup, and ice cold spring water.     The proportions will vary based on the number of servings you're making, the flavor of today's lemons, and your personal taste, but when you get the mix right, it will be the best, most refreshing drink you've had in a long time***.

To enjoy fully, drink when completely wiped out and elated at the same time, preferably at a lakeside table outdoors on a crystal clear day. 

* I quote: "Clark Trail. Strenuous. Elevation 6420' / 7470'  For the more adventurous, this strenuous hike can provide some solitude. Traversing through loose shale up a steep grade, the trail ends at Angora Lakes."   The trail is also next to last on a list of South Lake hikes "in order of difficulty."
** This year, I confess, we drove the kids up on our way out of camp.   Mother nature was not happy that we cheated, and made it snow just as we got out of the car.   In August.  We still drank every last drop of lemonade.

*** When we asked for the recipe, the Angora lady was kind enough to share their process with us, but she did insist that the real secret is the alpine water.   Unless you get your water from 7500 feet above sea level, results may vary.

Note: Image with view of Fallen Leaf Lake from this website.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Challah Back, Camelback Girl

Family camp in the Sierras.   A glorious day on the lake.   Toddlers are crawdad fishing on the dock.  The annual Yahoo vs. Midoree Capture the Flag grudge match, complete with war paint, is in full swing.   Hikers are heading out in groups, poles and packs at the ready.   Paddleboats and kayaks are bobbing about.  The tennis crew is warming up on the courts.   A few folks are reading the paper on the deck under the enormous fir trees.

Invigorated by the mountain air and hearty breakfast, we check out the list of available activities:

Arts and crafts
Sailing lessons
Staff vs. Guest volleyball
Kids talent show
Nature walk
Challah making

Challah making?

Challah making.   The best thing to hit camp since wi-fi, yoga and the wine steward.

Sierra Camp Challah

Alisa, the wonderful counselor who put the event together, made all the dough by hand two days before we started braiding.   The recipe she gave us comes from The Children's Jewish Holiday Kitchen, by Joan Nathan.

Makes 3-4 loaves

2 scant Tbs. or 2 envelope active dry yeast
1 1/2 c. warm water
1 tsp. sugar
4 eggs
1/2 c. honey
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1 1/2 tsp. salt
9 c. flour
2 c. raisins, optional
sesame or poppy seeds

In a small bowl, stir together the yeast, 1 c. of warm water, and the sugar.  Set aside for 10 minutes until bubbling.   In a separate bowl, beat 3 of the eggs with the honey.  Add the remaining 1/2 c. warm water, oil, and salt.  Add the yeast mixture, beating well with a spoon.   Using 5 c. of the flour, add 1 c. at a time to your mixture, beating well with a wooden spoon after each addition.  The dough will be sticky.   If you are using raisins, add them now.    Add two more cups of flour, beating well with a wooden spoon until the dough leaves the sides of the bowl.

Shake an additional 2 c. of flour onto a smooth work surface.   Turn out the dough and knead until almost all of the flour has been absorbed into it.   Return it to the bowl, cover with a towel, and let rise for about two hours, until doubled in size.    Punch down.  [NOTE:  I think you can refrigerate the dough at this point if you like]

Divide the dough into three or four equal parts, and divide each part into three again for braiding.  Roll the dough into long ropes.  Braid three parts together, as you would hair.   Press down the ends.    You can leave the loaf long, or push the ends into a circle.  Place the loaves on parchment paper covered baking sheets, cover with a towel, and let rise about 30 minutes more, until almost doubled in size again.

Preheat the oven to 350.   Brush the loaves with the remaining egg mixed with a little water.   If you like, press sesame and/or poppy seeds onto the bread.   Bake for 25 minutes, until golden.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Best Post I've Ever Written About An Appliance

I try to be sparing with hyperbole here* in an effort to set a good example for my son, who has a habit of spewing superlatives on a LIFO basis.   Case in point:   he bestowed the title of "Best movie I've Ever Seen in My Life" serially on Inception, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and The Other Guys within the space of a couple of weeks** this summer.

But I am sincere when I say...this is The Greatest Kitchen Appliance I've Ever Owned in My Life***. 

It has a mini freezer RIGHT IN THE MACHINE!!! GENIUS!
To understand why we adore this glossy gray miracle (also known as the Delonghi GM6000 gelato maker), consider the following scenarios.


My son:  Mom, can we make ice cream for dessert tonight?
Me:  Um, I don't think I put the tub thing-y in the freezer.  Can someone check?
My daughter:  Me! Me!  I'll check!
My son:  No, I'll do it.  The ice cream was my idea.

Break for scuffle.   Frozen chicken parts litter the floor as they battle and dig through old Tupperware full of chili, assorted pie crusts, last summer's popsicles, and perfectly good Ben & Jerry's ice cream.

My son:  It's not in here!
Me:  OK.  Well, we'll just put it in now.
Them:  Mom!  It has to freeze for like, FIVE DAYS!
Me: Quit exaggerating.  It's a terrible habit.
Them:  MOM!
Me:  Honestly.  It only has to freeze overnight.  We can make ice cream for dessert tomorrow.
Them:  [glaring at me pointedly]  Hand over the Ben & Jerry's.

A day passes.  I prepare the custard and put it in the fridge.  The entire family is primed and ready for the bliss of homemade vanilla bean ice cream.  We set up the machine****

My son: [who has won round two of the scuffle over the tub thing-y and emerges triumphantly with it from the netherworld of our freezer] Um, this doesn't seem very cold.  Are you sure overnight was long enough? I thought it was supposed to be, like, icy.
Me:  It's colder than it was yesterday.
Them:  MOM!
Me:  Let's just try it and see what happens.

Three hours later (approximately two days after the first request), we have slightly cool, runny custard in the machine and more Ben & Jerry's for dessert.***** 


Me: [During dinner] Hey, kids!  Who wants ice cream for dessert tonight?
Them:  [Looking up at me angelically and speaking politely in perfect unison] We do, Mother!  Oh, that would be lovely!
Me: Well, say no more.

I plug in The Greatest Kitchen Appliance I've Ever Owned in My Life.   No one goes to the freezer.  And 30 minutes later, we have The World's Most Delicious Vanilla Ice Cream for dessert.  With a side of Incomparable Strawberry Sorbet.

The World's Most Delicious Vanilla Ice Cream
If you think I'm going overboard with the adjectives on this one, try it for yourself and see.  Recipe adapted from The Farmhouse Cookbook, by Susan Herrmann Lewis.

2 1/2 c. heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 c. half and half
2/3 c. sugar
1 vanilla bean
5 large egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, combine cream, half and half and sugar.   Split vanilla bean, and scrape seeds into the cream mixture, then drop in the split bean.   Heat over medium high heat just until tiny bubbles begin to appear at the edge.  Immediately remove from the heat and set aside to steep for 20-30 minutes.   Strain the mixture, but reserve the vanilla bean.  In a large bowl, whisk egg yolks together until light yellow.    Slowly pour in the warm cream mixture, whisking constantly.   Add the vanilla extract.

When completely combined, return the mixture to the saucepan, pop the vanilla bean back in and cook over medium heat until slightly thickened, about 6-8 minutes.   It won't get really thick, but should be cooked enough to coat the back of a spoon and leave a track when you run a finger through it.    Pour into a bowl or a pitcher, cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until cold.  Take out the vanilla bean.  Freeze according to your machine's directions******. Serve immediately. 

Incomparable Strawberry Sorbet
Adapted from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop, which I presciently ordered along with The Greatest Kitchen Appliance I've Ever Owned in My Life.

About a pound of the juiciest, sweetest strawberries you can find, rinsed and tops removed
3/4 c. sugar
2-3 tsp. of freshly squeezed lemon juice
pinch of salt

Slice the strawberries and combine them with the sugar in a medium bowl, stirring until the sugar begins to dissolve.

Let stand for about an hour, stirring every once in a while.   Puree the strawberries with their liquid, the lemon juice and the salt in a blender or food processor until smooth.   Strain to remove the seeds.   Chill thoroughly, then freeze according to your ice cream maker's directions******.

Oh yeah!

NOTE:  Today's post is dedicated to my friend, Darryl, The Planet's Most Gifted Ice Cream Creator*******.   Thanks, Darryl, for letting me in on this marvelous piece of dessert technology.

* Man, that is the biggest lie I've ever told in my life!
** These toppled the prior winner: Sherlock Holmes, heir to the throne after Iron Man.  When pressed to take a breath before speaking, however, he will concede my point that, in fact, nothing even comes close to Toy Story 3.
*** Except for my Kitchen Aid stand mixer and my Cuisinart food processor.   And I'm not just saying this because the ice cream machine arrived in the mail just the other day.  Unlike my son, I distribute superlatives based on the FIFO (Frequency In Full Operation) method.   
**** A decent Krups that was, when functional, about my 27th most useful kitchen appliance.
***** Krups machine now demoted to bottom of the useful appliance list on the basis of being f*#@%ing broken.  
****** Just to reiterate, my machine's directions are:  Plug in.  Go away.  Come back in 1/2 an hour.   Wow!
******* Sour cream ice cream with port-infused cherries.  Nuff said.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Foodie Girls Lunch Brigade - Special San Diego Fro Yo Edition

My sister, AKA FG4, has taken yet another one for the team.    Herewith her latest dispatch:

During my recent trip to San Diego for a work conference, Denise (whom I would like to nominate as an official FG, San Diego chapter) told me about a legendary frozen yogurt shop in her neighborhood.  They have been there for over 30 years and always have a line out of the door.  Clay, Denise's husband, said he recently overheard a conversation by one of their distributors stating they were the most profitable stand-alone frozen yogurt store in the country.

With that kind of information, I just had to take her up on the invitation to go there for dessert.  It was about 7:30 on a Tuesday night when we pulled up to the Yogurt Mill, which sits in an unassuming strip mall.  Denise and Clay affectionately have nick-named it the "Leaning Tower" of yogurt due to the tilting white tall round column atop the building bearing the name of the store.  True to Denise's description, there was a line out the door and into the parking lot.  Denise said although there was a line, they typically have an even longer one, with waits of over an hour on weekends. 

We waited patiently in line for about 20 minutes until we could get inside the store to look at the menu.  Denise let me know they typically have 12 flavors, some consistent while other flavors rotate.  They were out of 3 flavors by the time we got to order, but I was not disappointed in my flavor options and went with the peanut butter cup and vanilla swirl, with peanut butter cup topping.  Amanda went with strawberry.

Seasoned Yogurt Mill customers know to order the kid's size (equivalent to a large size at every other yogurt shop I've been to - and that is quite a few) and have it double-dropped, meaning they take the container and drop it inside the large-size container.  Why?  They fill the cups well over the brim with yogurt, so if it is in a larger container you don't lose a drop.  They are generous with the toppings as well, giving us a good heaping scoop of what we ordered nestled inside the top of the yogurt swirl.
Just another word about the over-generous sizes at amazingly low prices.  I was hungry and still needed two days to eat my kid's size serving.  Amanda wasn't able to finish hers before we left town.  All that for less than $4!!!!

Then came the true test, how did it taste?  Absolutely DELICIOUS!  Amanda's strawberry tasted just like Yoplait strawberry custard style yogurt but frozen - it was very tasty.  My peanut butter cup was rich and creamy, and full of spot-on flavor.  I thoroughly enjoyed my dessert, and would definitely go back again.  But then, an unexpected surprise came as I made my way to the bottom of my cup.  A hidden container, at the bottom of my serving cup, full of more of my topping.  What a treat!  Typically you are all out of topping as you get to the bottom of any ice cream or yogurt dish.  Anticipating such a travesty, the folks at the Yogurt Mill make sure you have plenty of your topping for all of your yogurt by slipping an entire second helping of topping under your serving in addition to the one on top.  They get serious points for that one!

My foodie girl rating:  ON the list, great value and terrific taste.  The line is worth the wait! 
Now I know why Denise has been one of my best friends since elementary school - she knows where to go for a great dessert!
We are, once again, in your debt*, FG4!  

* And I personally owe her big time for taking my daughter, along with hers, to said conference for a week and indulging them both with these giant tubs of fro yo and probably a bunch of other stuff she didn't tell me about. 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Foodie Girls Lunch Brigade - Episode 19

The Foodie Girls are nothing if not open-minded in our quest for ideas about where to eat.   A blog tidbit.  A recommendation from a friend.  A review in the paper.   A conversation at a dinner party.   But the source for this outing was unusual, even for us.

While we were waiting for our lunch at Sunnin, FG10 began telling us about a recent field trip she'd driven on for her youngest daughter.   I was only half listening until my foodie girl subconscious picked up on the phrases "best burrata salad", "incredible fries" and "unbelievable menu" where I should have been hearing "coloring books", "chicken nuggets" and "ketchup."

Me:  Where did you say this field trip was again?
FG10:  8 oz. Burger Bar
Me:  As in, Govind Armstrong's burger place?
FG10: Yep.
Me:  Like, the moms went there while the kids were at the field trip?
FG10:  No, that was the field trip!

I am completely flummoxed at the surreal educational life of an LA pre-K student.  It would be almost mock-able if it weren't so helpful to have this inside information.

Me:  AND??? Did the kids like it??
All of us are riveted now, waiting for her answer.
FG10:  They loved it!

Out of the mouths of gourmet babes...

Episode 19 - We pounce on 8 oz.

Yeah.  We heard about it from a bunch of four-year-olds.  And those preschoolers did not steer us wrong.  The menu is mouthwatering, including phrases like:

Cured in our Himalayan salt-tiled locker*.
Fried olives stuffed with chorizo
Short rib grilled cheese
Humbolt Fog
Green peppercorn aioli
Fried caper tartar sauce
Olive oil poached ahi
Stout battered onion rings
Pumpkin gingerbread shake

It's almost too much to process...and the fun of the place is a "build your own" approach that lets everyone create a completely custom burger out of the abundance of flavorful toppings.   While we were deciding whether it would be a FG faux pas for all of us to have burgers** , the waiter dropped by for a drink order.   Diet cokes all around, and one vanilla shake. 

We also order, on his recommendation, truffled potato skins, mac and cheese with chorizo, and the burrata salad so beloved by the pre-school moms.  He's back a moment later.

Waiter:  I'm sorry, we're out of ice cream, so we can't do that shake for you.
Us:  Really?
We look down at our menus.  Every single decadent sounding dessert item, and there are about ten of them, involves ice cream.  
Waiter:  Yes.
Our eyes narrow.  We happen to know that you can buy ice cream.   Easily.  Really close by.   We are not happy.  He leaves quickly and returns with the starches to appease us.

It almost works.  The potato skins are pretty much the opposite of the mess you get at TGI Friday's.  Instead of soggy mush buried beneath a pile of greasy cheddar cheese, these are almost airy...light and crisp and salty and rich with truffle oil, a dusting of Parmesan and parsley.  We cannot stop eating them.   The mac and cheese is fantastic.   The tiny bits of smoky chorizo are almost invsible, but add depth and heat to the dish.  The texture is also just right...not runny, not dry, but that perfect, cheesy in-between.   The lauded salad is indeed wonderful, with milky soft cheese, sweet tomatoes and a slew of greens in a bright vinaigrette, but it's just not fattening enough to hold our attention.

Waiter:  How's it going, folks?  Everything OK?
Us:  Delicious.  How's it looking on the ice cream run?
Waiter:  Let me go check on your burgers.

The burgers are also very, very good.  The meat is cooked exactly medium, pink in the center.  The house mix of sirloin, tri-tip, chuck and short ribs is delicious.  Between three orders we have them covered with balsamic grilled red onions, fried mozzarella, arugula, bacon, cheddar, roasted garlic aioli, gruyere and peppercorn sauce.   We also have one of those short rib grilled cheese sandwiches on the table for variety's sake.   And, of course, a huge basket of excellent, hand-cut fries. 

 Sample quotes:

"This is better than Umami"
"I am so happy right now"
"These fries are killer"
"My favorite place we've been so far"
"Are they serious about being out of ice cream?"

Personally speaking, I like but don't adore the burger.  The buns are just OK, bready and slightly dry, and I'm missing a little char or sear on the meat. But these are small distractions from an otherwise worthy entry into the expanding pantheon of LA's gourmet burger pubs.    The almost ridiculously meaty grilled cheese is a distant second in terms of the crowd's favor, but it's definitely nicely done.   It's simply hard to compete without toppings.

Licking our lips, we pay the bill after delaying just long enough to be sure that the ice cream truck really isn't coming.

Sigh.  I bet the kids got milkshakes when they came.

FG Final Verdict? 8 oz Burger Bar is ON the list!
Pricing Info:  Burgers start at $8 and go up, depending on toppings.  Sides $4,  Appetizers $5-8.  Desserts and shakes (!!!!) $4 and up.
FG Value Rating:  Fair Deal

*  Dear Santa, I have been very good this year.  Please bring me a Himalayan salt-tiled locker.  Love, me.
** It is a burger place, but we're supposed to be broad minded in our sampling...argh!!  And two FGs were going for the exact same combo of toppings!!! Compatible, yes.  Helpful to our audience? Not so much.

Where will the FG strike next?  Check our website to find out!

Monday, August 9, 2010

10 things I loved about Hawaii (an alphabetical photo collection with only one footnote)

1.  Banana bread from a roadside stand (hot from the oven, with a cold Diet Coke)

2.  Black sand beaches (and the regular ones, too)

3.  Blow holes, well aimed

4.  Clouds above...

  ...and clouds below

5.  Dinner at Paia Fish Market (the best meal I ate on Maui*)

6.  Marshmallow Peep-shaped rock formation

7. Nerf, the baby spinner dolphin (with family and friends)

8.  Rainbows

9. Scuba-certified 11 year olds

10.  SHAVE ICE!!!!

*  Other food notes:  The setting and service were great at Mama's Fish House, but the bill was outrageous and the food was very good but not incredible.  The best single bite of the week was the seared scallop appetizer at Merriman's.  The view and wine were also amazing.  Plus, they wrote "Happy Anniversary" in Hawaiian, in chocolate on our dessert plate.  A runner up for the meal of the week was the combination taco plate at a strip mall fish joint in Napili.   Also, the fresh pineapple I sliced up for breakfast every day made me really, really happy.