Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Pan de Muertos

Pan de Muertos

Seattle Center vendor, $2

As befits a holiday commemorating the dead, Seattle Center's Dia de los Muertos celebration featured a range of fleeting pleasures, from sand paintings and dancing (below), to face paints and skeletal balloons, to sweet treats including calavera sugar skulls and sugar-dusted pan de muertos, or bread of the dead.

On altars built by school and civic groups (below center), pan de muertos of all sizes were laid out with other delicacies as an offering to visiting souls, but the bread is also eaten by the living as
part of their holiday observance. Most pan de muertos is shaped in ways that hint at bones or skulls, or in the case of the bread above, three quick cuts and a twist turned a simple loaf into something quite suggestive of a dead body laid out for burial.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Tropical Banana Bread

Tropical Banana Bread

Consider the banana.

If you're living in North America or Western Europe, it's a safe bet that you have a bunch in your fruit basket. They're the most popular fruit in the the US, purchased and eaten more than even our native apple.

But ubiquitous as the banana is, it's an interloper, a triumph of commerce over nature. It's a fragile and highly perishable fruit that (with a few small-scale exceptions) grows in the tropics. Bananas only began to appear in the US and UK a little over a century ago, when refrigerated containers made import feasible; more recent innovations in banana husbandry and distribution read like something out of sci-fi. (For more on these modern miracles, check out this article from Saveur magazine.)

When World War Two severed supply lines between England and the tropics, some banana lovers sculpted simulacra out of boiled parsnips. To many children growing up under food rationing, a banana was as fantastical as a unicorn's horn. As a mid-war morale booster, the British government arranged to distribute a special consignment of bananas to young children around the country. Years later the writer Auberon Waugh, son of novelist Evelyn Waugh, remembered how banana day utterly failed to boost morale at his house:

'They were put on my father's plate, and before the anguished eyes of his children he poured on cream, which was almost unprocurable, and sugar, which was heavily rationed, and ate all three. From that moment, I never treated anything he had to say on faith or morals very seriously."

By the time I was growing up in the '70s, bananas were back. We ate them or didn't, but never paid them much mind until such time as they turned black and gathered around them small storm clouds of fruitflies. Then it was time to render them into banana bread, bricklike in both shape and specific gravity.

Although I've eaten my share of banana bread, I've only recently done so with much enthusiasm. Trolling for recipes on the website of health food manufacturer Navitas Naturals, I found a recipe that honors the banana's essential exoticism by matching it with coconut oil and palm sugar. It smells as if you haven't so much baked it as left it laying on the beach to work on its tan.

Banana Bread
(this recipe is based on the original by Julie Morris; I have adapted it to make up for the fact that I don't have a kitchen full of Navitas products, although I imagine it would be even more delicious with them.)

2T + 1/2c ground flaxseed
1/2c palm sugar or evaporated cane juice
1/2c melted coconut oil
1/3c water
1 1/2c whole wheat flour
1T baking powder
1T cinnamon or ground cardamon (optional)
1t baking soda
1t salt
2T maple syrup
1 1/4c mashed overripe banana
1/2c chopped walnuts

Mix 2T of flaxseed with the water and set aside for 5 minutes to thicken.

Combine the rest of the flaxseed with the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spice.

In another bowl, combine the melted coconut oil with the sugar, wet flax, and maple syrup, and mix well. (If your palm sugar is very hard, it may be easier to melt it over low heat as you melt the coconut oil). Fold in the mashed bananas and nuts and pour into a greased loaf pan.

Bake for 40-45 minutes at 350 until it passes the toothpick test (although since there are no eggs, you can safely undercook if, like me, you prefer your baked goods a little on the googly side).

Friday, October 21, 2011

Umai-do Grand Opening


If you're in the ID or the CD today, be sure to stop by and try some fresh manju at the grand opening of Umai-do, Seattle's newest purveyor of Japanese sweets. Want the backstory on the shop or owner, Art Oki? Check out my article, "The Japanese Snickerdoodle", published last year in Edible Seattle Magazine.

1825 S Jackson
Wednesday - Saturday: 9am-6pm
Sunday: 9am-4pm

Friday, September 23, 2011

Molasses Cookie

Molasses Cookie

Penland Coffee House, $1.50

In the many years that I've been visiting the Penland School of Crafts, the Coffee House has had at a least a couple of locations, various menus, and an ever-evolving schedule--but I've always sought it out, especially on days when the regular meal service didn't stretch to dessert.

It says something about how busy I was during this most recent visit that I didn't manage to set foot in the Coffee House until my bags were packed and the Airport Shuttle was about to leave without me. The Coffee House is all grown up now, with a custom-built space in the corner of the dining hall, dedicated staff, and an extensive menu. But the bus was waiting so I grabbed something quick and sure-fire: a big, soft molasses cookie from a glass jar next to the register.

It didn't say so on the label, but these cookies have remarkable therapeutic properties. With my mouth full of tender crumbs and crunchy sugar crystals and my nose busily drinking in the molasses perfume, I managed for the first time to leave Penland without bursting into tears. I suspect the cookie also helped to settle my stomach during the sinuous descent from the campus to the base of the mountain.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Smoky Mountain Flan

Penland School of Crafts, free with tuition

I'm currently at Penland, a craft school tucked into the mountains of eastern North Carolina, attending a week-long educators' retreat. There's 100 of us here to teach and learn and we're free to drift from one well-equipped studio to another whenever we feel the urge, 24 hours a day.

Have you ever seen one of those competitions where someone gets two minutes to dash around a grocery store throwing whatever they can into a cart? That's me at craft camp. I start the day by attending a few demos, then do a little woodturning or waxwork or soldering, then there's a debate or discussion about teaching, and finally I wind down for the night by blowing glass or flameworking until 2 or 3am. Then I'm up at 7 to start over.

Each day it gets a little harder to wake up, but I have one alarm clock I can't fling across the room or smother with a pillow: my growling stomach.

Luckily, the kitchen has my back, churning out huge quantities of yummy fuel. Sometimes there's a meal theme, and sometimes there's even a theme dessert. I'd already piled my plate high with beans and guacamole when I became giddy at the sight of a huge flan at the end of the buffet, plump and glistening like a beached seal in a puddle of caramel sauce. It was as good as any I ever had in Mexico and I slurped it down at a picnic bench, watching dusk fall over the foggy nooks and crannies of the neighboring mountains.

And then I went back to work.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Keo Me Xung

Keo Me Xung

Coconut Tree Brand, $0.79

Another discovery from Seattle's pan-Asian Rising Produce grocery, keo me xung is a Vietnamese treat with no easy translation. The label suggests either "sesame cookies" as an English equivalent, or the French for "sesame confection" (confiserie aux sesames). Neither quite fits the bill.

The size and thickness of a large tortilla, keo me xung is a floppy sweet crepe made of whole toasted sesame, ground peanuts, and sugar. Tearing it into bite-sized strips reinforces a fleeting resemblance to sesame-studded gum, but the initial chewy resistance quickly disintegrates into a mouthful of barely-sweet glaze and pleasingly pebbly seeds.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Tamarind Candy Sweet

Tamarind Candy Sweet

Rising Produce, $0.69

"Whenever I hear the word chua, Vietnamese for "sour," I think of tamarind, the sticky brown fruit that grew in abundance on shading trees in my old schoolyard back in Saigon, and its intense sour-sweet memories inevitably cause my molars to vibrate and my mouth to water. I hear "sour" in English and I don't feel a thing."
--Andrew Lam
East Eats West

Even without the amplification of childhood memories, the mention of tamarind provokes in me an identical Pavlovian response. Indigenous to Africa, the tamarind tree has spread to just about every hospitably tropical climate, and the flavorful pulp cushioning the seeds inside its long, leathery pods makes star turns in a number of ethnic cuisines. Although its bipolar flavor is not dissimilar to dried apricot, tamarind pulp has a funky, fetid edge that adds exotic depth to everything from to pad thai to paletas to Worcestershire sauce.

A simple showcase for tamarind's charms, these Thai sweets are made from pulp, sugar, rice flour, and a bare pinch of salt. They're doughy-soft and crystal-crunchy--except when concealing a scrap of shell, which will cut you like a shank if you're not careful. Exotic and dangerous.

Saturday, August 27, 2011



Nutrition-wise, one of the few things I have going for me is the fact that I don't much care for soft drinks. The most popular pops, in particular, leave me cold. Pepsi? Eh. Coke? I probably average one serving every two or three years.

When I do indulge in sweet, fizzy drinks, they tend to have a more old-fashioned bent. I enjoy root beer--with or without ice cream--and birch beer, when I stumble across it. I like ginger ale and love ginger beer, the hotter the better.

And it turns out that I'm a big fan of a drink even less likely that these to appear on grocery shelves or in a gas station cooler: switchel. Flavored with molasses, ginger, and vinegar, it's spicy, stomach-settling, and weirdly refreshing. And luckily, it's really easy to make.

Like so many soft drinks, switchel has historic and utilitarian roots. It first appeared in the 17th century in the Caribbean, where molasses was a plentiful by-product of the sugar refining industry. A couple of centuries later in America, switchel was a kind of proto-energy drink, providing electrolytes and hydration to sweaty laborers doing the hot, heavy work of making hay.

I based my own attempt on a recipe in Ellis Sandor Katz's Wild Fermentation, which was in turn adapted from Stephen Cresswell's Homemade Root Beer, Soda, and Pop. I reduced the amount of sugar and chose not to dilute the syrup to drinking strength right away; the mix stores well in the fridge, so I just make it up as needed, adding a few tablespoons to a glass of cold soda water or a mug of hot water.


1/2 c apple cider vinegar
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c molasses
2 inches grated fresh ginger
1/2 c water

Heat all of the ingredients until just boiling, then simmer for 10-15 minutes. Let cool and strain to remove the ginger. Store, refrigerated, in a jar. Dilute to taste with hot water, cold water, or seltzer.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Plum Jam

Plum Jam

On a neighborhood ramble earlier in the summer, I found a huge tree covered in the worst cherries I'd ever tasted. Their glowing garnet-colored skins were thick and crunchy, their pale amber flesh blandly sweet but with an odd tart edge. At home I did some half-hearted google searches ("worst cherry variety") but came up empty.

When I passed the tree again yesterday, it was covered in the biggest cherries I'd ever seen. And they were plums.

Thousands of them lurked under the coppery leaves in tight knots (it's a wonder I didn't mistake them for grapes). In under 10 minutes, I was headed home with more than four pounds in my bag.

Then I had to figure out what to do with them. Those tough skins--a deal-breaker on "cherries"--weren't much more palatable on plums. And the small pits clung so tenaciously to the fruit that any attempt to remove them just ended up pulping the whole thing.

And so I arrived at jam, the simplest way to tame a feral fruit. I washed my plums and set them to simmering in a huge saucepan until they eventually turned to aromatic maroon mush. I let the mush cool, dumped it into a colander and stirred and pressed until I was left with a saucepan full of juice and pulp, and a colander bristling with stems, skins, and pits. I stirred a minimal amount of sugar and a tiny bit of cinnamon into the juice, set it back on to simmer, and went on with my day.

A couple of hours later, jam appeared. Thick as primordial ooze, with all sorts of mysterious spicy-earthy-fruity flavors darting around under its sweet surface and a smell that reaches the far side of the room about .04 seconds after I take the lid off the jar. It would be a great addition to fancy dishes, both savory and sweet, and while I'd like to say I've exploited it fully I've actually been enjoying more straightforward hits: a spoonful on yogurt or in oatmeal, stirred into a glass of seltzer, or spread on buttered toast.

Monday, August 15, 2011


Blackberry Flaugnarde

Although cherries are my favorite filling for a rich, eggy clafouti, a good clafouti recipe can easily accommodate whatever fresh or frozen fruit you have one hand. Just adjust the flavorings (I prefer almond extract with cherries and vanilla with blackberries) and the name: "clafouti" is specific to the cherry-filled version, while the equally melodious flaugnarde applies to all other fruits.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Cherry Clafouti

For me, cooking is almost a never creative act. Instead of imagining as I chop and whip and stir, I remember, straining to recall and recreate a long-ago or faraway treat.

Case in point: about 10 years ago and approximately 7750 miles from where I now live, I had my socks knocked off by a cherry pastry from a nameless provincial bakeshop. I have since made about a half-dozen bad imitations, and--only recently--two good ones.

I was living in Australia when a couple of dear friends from college came to visit and we trekked out to the Blue Mountains to see the epic scenery. Passing through the small town of Katoomba on our way to a famous overlook we popped into a bakery on the main drag for a picnic lunch. For our dessert course we chose rubbery slabs of something the shop assistant called "cherry flan" (said with than long, flat Antipodean "a", not the American's tongue depressor "ah"). Although we ate the flan while looking out over one of the best-loved views in Australia, my memory of the landscape is a vague wisp compared to my 5-sense record of the fruity, chewy treat. Whenever my friends and I reminisce about that trip, we have a lot to talk about, but that flan always comes up, along with koalas, emus, and emu steaks. I think our friendship was strengthened by shared regret over not making it back to Katoomba until after the bakery had closed for the day.

Trying to find a recipe that would staunch my craving, I discovered that "cherry flan" is more commonly known as
clafouti (or clafoutis). An antique dessert associated with the Limousin region of France, the classic clafouti includes intact cherries, the pits giving a rich almond flavor to the custard (since I've invested heavily in dental work this year, I opt for pitted cherries and almond extract).

Most of the recipes I've tried over the years were butter-logged duds, as heavy, oily, and appetizing as cherry-studded plasticine. Then I came across a recipe in Liana Krissof's
Canning for A New Generation that calls for a minimum of butter and sugar, plus a touch of yogurt. After tinkering a little with the flavorings, I'm as close to Katoomba as I've come in ten years of trying.

Cherry Clafouti
adapted from Liana Krissof's Canning for A New Generation

1/4 c + 2 Tbs sugar
3 generous cups fresh or frozen pitted cherries (Bings work well)
1/2 c flour
pinch salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
3 eggs
1/4 c plain yogurt
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 c milk
1 Tbs butter, cut into bits

Butter a 10" pie pan and dust it with 1 tablespoon of sugar. Set out the cherries in a single layer in the prepared pan.

Sift together the flour, salt, cinnamon, and 1/4 c sugar. Whisk together the eggs, yogurt, and almond extract until smooth, then whisk in the milk. Combine the flour mixture and the egg mixture and whisk thoroughly. Pour into the pan. Scatter the butter over the top and then sprinkle with the last tablespoon of sugar. Bake 40-45 min at 375, until the top starts to brown.

Monday, July 25, 2011


Tiko Riko, $2.75

Many years ago I went to Mexico on vacation and ate flan every single day for a week. I was with my parents and a bunch of their friends and they rented an entire house on the hill overlooking the colonial town of San Miguel de Allende. Each morning over breakfast, we'd peruse the house menu and decide on what to order for dinner, inevitably finishing up with one flavor or another of flan from a long list of possibilities. Whatever the meal's main course, the cool, creamy, caramel-drenched custard was a fitting and memorable finale.

Tiko Riko is a relatively new strip mall restaurant in Seattle's Greenwood neighborhood where you can eat hot-off-the-griddle pupusas doused in curtido and hot sauce, then fill whatever room you might have saved with housemade dessert, such as this smooth, eggy flan laced with Grand Marnier.

Tiko Riko

10410 Greenwood Ave N
Seattle, WA

Friday, July 15, 2011

Keo Hot Dieu

Keo Hot Dieu
Coconut Tree Brand, $1.49/8

Keo Hot Dieu cashew nut cookies from Thailand are a pleasing combination of ingredients that I normally approach with caution: cashews (simultaneously unctuous and dusty, like freeze-dried astronaut butter), tapioca wafers (saliva-sucking discs of Sham-wow), and sugar glaze (a moment on the lips, a lifetime coating the roof of the mouth). Sandwiched into a sesame-sprinkled cookie, the three become far more than a sum of their parts. They're crisp but melting, nutty but sweet.

In Seattle, keo hot dieu are available from Rising Produce.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hello, Cupcake

Mocha Cupcake
Hello, Cupcake, $2.55

Although cupcakes are redolent of childhood innocence, birthday parties, and bake sales, there's still something about them that can also be quite grown-up, feminine, and even flirtatious.

Tacoma's Hello, Cupcake bakery teases out the sultry side of this popular treat. Their small, moist and flavorful cakes are topped with sculptural heaps of frosting, like an abstract homage to a woman sashaying down the street in a swingy skirt. Most flavors are further accessorized with finishing touches; the mocha (above) is crowned with a chocolate coffee bean, the seasonal banana split (below, center) attracts attention with a sweep of chocolate syrup and a glossy maraschino cherry.

Hello, Cupcake also offers a event room and an enticing decorating party package: $10 per person for two cupcakes and two hours in which to pile them high with frosting, frills, and furbelows.

Friday, June 24, 2011



Shikye is a sweet Korean beverage made from cooked rice that is quickly fermented with malt water, then sweetened and flavored with ginger. This commercial version made by Yakult (tagline: "Nostalgia drink since 1993") is as sweet as syrup but oddly watery and clouded by bloated rice particles. It tastes almost like it would be a hit with hummingbirds.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Peach Pie à la Mode

Peach Pie à la Mode
Seattle Pie Company, $4.75

One great thing about Seattle is the topography of its treats. With so many bakeries, ice cream shops, and candy stores perched on top of steep hills, you can set out on foot from sea level and by the time you haul yourself, sweating and huffing, through their doors, you feel like you deserve to be there.

The Magnolia neighborhood contains many reasons to make the 375-foot climb, including the Seattle Pie Company. Every day owners Alyssa and Patrick Lewis fill a long glass case with juicy-ripe fruit pies, many of them seasonal, and stock a refrigerator with classic cream pies. You can buy whole pies to go, or enjoy them a slice at a time at one of SPC's tables.

The peach pie's sunny, silky fruit and pebbly crust go particularly well with unctuous vanilla ice cream. The practice of calling such a pairing "à la mode" dates to the late 19th century and has remained in fashion ever since.

Seattle Pie Company
3111 West McGraw St.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Coffee Daifuku

Coffee Daifuku

Two days ago my beloved family dog died; today I made coffee daifuku. It was the most fitting tribute I could come up with. (If you want to skip the backstory and head straight to the recipe, it's at the bottom of the post.)

Tucker was a rescue who ended up at the Nashville Humane Society after his previous "family" moved out their apartment in the middle of summer and left him locked up inside with no food or water. When the landlord found him three days later he was in pretty bad shape, and when my mom and I spotted him at the shelter he was about as energetic and engaged as a wet rag; all the other dogs jumped and wriggled and twinkled, but Tucker just laid in the corner of his cage, avoiding eye contact. The same impulse that compels Mom and me to buy stained, one-eyed stuffed animals and spindly Christmas trees led us to take the world's most depressed dog home for a trial adoption.

It was awkward from the get-go. Tucker was ferocious towards strangers, but a whiny crybaby around us, so fearful of separation he'd keen and jam his front paws under the closed bathroom door if you just wanted to pee in private. Neither extreme was attractive. Eventually we had a dog therapist come in, and she said some things that made sense. We humans changed our ways and gradually Tucker transitioned from impossible to merely difficult to, finally, an awesomely affectionate little dog with some residual quirks. He was devoted to my dad and the two of them developed a program of entertainingly elaborate rituals; here's what would happen every morning when Tucker saw Dad for the first time:

One problem that we never really sorted out: Tucker was a binge eater. Our previous family dog, Mac, was a classic Westie, with stumpy legs, a pig body, and a piggish attitude towards food; he'd eat almost anything, but given his limited vertical range, it was usually easy to keep him out of trouble. Tucker, in comparison, could practically levitate. He was roughly the same size as Mac, but leggier by inches.

The first weekend we had Tucker we briefly left him alone in the kitchen; first, he climbed onto the counter and took a polite but dismissive nibble out of every item in the fruit bowl before discovering the real prize, a boxed Derby pie (pecan with chocolate chips), bought at a church sale that morning. When I wandered into the kitchen a little later, hankering for a slice of pie, I was confused to see a brand-new empty pie pan shining in a patch of sun on the floor: no dents, no marks, not a single crumb. The solution to the mystery was around the corner; our catatonic 15-pound dog lying on his side with his emaciated legs stuck straight out and an entire Derby pie swelling his belly like a cow inside a cobra.

On the vet's advice, I took Tucker outside and proceeded to funnel hydrogen peroxide into him at 10-minute intervals until the pie reappeared. If I thought he'd looked dejected at the pound, I hadn't seen anything yet. That pie was probably the best thing that had happened to him in years, and it had gone horribly wrong. He was stoic about the treatment but the look on his face could have been used to solicit charitable donations.

That was only the first of many crises stemming from Tucker indulging in too much of a bad thing. I know this makes me and my parents sound horribly irresponsible, but Tucker was devilishly quick, silent, and so dexterous you'd swear he had thumbs.

Once when he was accompanying my dad on a car trip, they made a few stops on the way out of town: first at Starbucks, where Dad bought an enormous latte for the drive, and then to drop something in the mail slot outside the post office. In the seconds it took for my dad to walk from the car to the building and turn around, Tucker had lifted the venti cup out of the console between the seats, flipped off the lid, and commenced slurping. Dad didn't make a sound ("I knew if I startled him he'd spill the whole thing"), just walked calmly back to the car as Tucker watched him over the rim of the cup, lapping for dear life. By the time Dad reached down and took the cup from between Tucker's paws he'd drunk about half--but hadn't spilled a drop. As they drove off, Tucker curled into a little ball on the passenger-side floor and went to sleep. My dad finished the coffee.

So there's something right about the fact that I was at a chocolate and coffee tasting when Tucker had a stroke. When my parents called with the news, there was sadness but no shock. Over the last couple of years, Tucker's much-abused body had begun to shut down. When I last saw him, about a week before he died, he was totally deaf and blind, his bony little frame studded with lumps and growths, his smile gummy, his coat--to quote my dad--"moth-eaten".

And yet he was still so cute people in cars would slow down and grin out their windows as we jaunted around the block, me as "seeing eye person" trying to keep him from running into trees or spilling off curbs as he clipped along. Even more impressive, he was seemed happier than he had been in his anxiety-riddled prime; sure, he slept 23 hours a day, but every single time you roused him he'd deliver an abbreviated version of the joyful dance in the above video.

The first stage of mourning a rescue dog is raw sadness, and the second is this: "At least I gave him/her a better life than he/she would have had." But that's where my mourning process derailed. Tucker was certainly better off with us than with his first owners, and probably better off than with many other potential adoptive families. So he had a better life--but I didn't really give it to him.

About four months after I incited my family to adopt Tucker, I packed up and moved to Tokyo. As an irresponsible act it wasn't perhaps on par with leaving behind a baby or even a horse, but it wasn't particularly fair to either parents or dog. Tucker's death got me thinking about that stage in my life, about the fine line I walked between adventure and escape, about the things that helped me to adjust to my new life just as Tucker was adjusting to his.

Which is where coffee daifuku finally comes in. Daifuku are basic Japanese sweets, balls of bean paste skinned in fresh rice dough. As an illiterate vegetarian, I was initially drawn to the rack of daifuku at my neighborhood grocery store on the assumption that I could expect them not to contain meat. I visited more regularly when I realized that just around the time I got off work, the day's unsold daifuku were marked down to half-price. And then, eating my way through the rainbow of options, I got to the brown one: it was coffee and it was delicious.

After that I ate them every time I got the chance, sometimes even paying full price. My habit ran for months, until one day, the coffee daifuku were gone. The next day, none again. And the next.

Emboldened by my addiction, I cornered a clerk and in shaky Japanese asked about my treat. He said there were none, which of course I already knew.

"Tomorrow?" I pleaded.

He responded with a clear shake of the head and a well-enunciated "No" (rare in Japan). I never saw those daifuku again.

So today I was feeling sad about Tucker and thinking about Japan and the fact that I hadn't eaten coffee daifuku in almost exactly eleven years when I suddenly realized that I had all the ingredients to make them sitting in my kitchen. And whereas I would normally mull and research and make lists until the impulse passed, today, in Tucker's honor, I made them right away.

I've learned a lot of things from dogs in general and from Tucker in particular: the importance of a good stretch, the need to trust one's instincts, the nobility of expressing unrestrained affection. And whether because of their short lives or their tiny bladders, dogs are also masters of the immediate: they don't make to-do lists, and they don't let things drag on. So with that I headed into the kitchen for a date with coffee daifuku, feeling the ghostly touch of a wet black nose goading the back of my leg.

Spur-of-the-Moment Coffee Daifuku

for filling:
250g (freezer-burned) shiroan white bean paste; you could also use store-bought red bean paste
1 tsp instant coffee

for mochi:
1 1/4 c water
1/4 c sugar
pinch salt

1/2 tsp instant coffee
1 1/2 c (not-too-expired) mochiko sweet rice flour
starch for dusting (eg cornstarch or more mochiko)

Let's say you had big plans to make fancy Japanese sweets last year so you spent a couple of days making a stockpile of white bean paste and that cured you of your urge to make wagashi; unearth a package of forgotten shiroan from the freezer and defrost. Mix the instant coffee with just enough water to make a smooth paste and blend into the shiroan (photo below).

You might also have some mochiko, with which you planned to make microwave mochi, but then the microwave died and you were intimidated by the idea of making stovetop mochi so you pushed the box of mochiko into a dark corner of the cupboard; dig it out and dust it off.

Combine the water, sugar, salt, and coffee over medium heat, stirring until everything has dissolved. Use a dampened wooden spoon to stir in the mochi about 1/3c at a time. Once it's all in, continue to stir the gluey mass vigorously for 2-3 more minutes.

Dump the mochi out onto a surface heavily dusted with cornstarch or more mochiko. Allow to cool for a couple of minutes, until you can handle it without wincing. Roll into a fat snake and divide into 10 pieces. Dust your hands well, then roll each piece into a ball and flatten into a small patty. Top that with about 1 Tbs of the bean paste, and stretch the edges of the mochi up until they meet and pinch them together to seal the shiroan inside. Set the daifuku seam-side down on the starched surface to cool.

You can tweak the daifuku to make them as round as possible but don't expect them to look like something a machine plopped onto a conveyor belt; you are not a machine. They will be lopsided and lumpy but you will enjoy the hell out of them anyway, as will the friends you share them with.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Intrigue Chocolates + Zoka Coffee

As part of the Northwest Coffee Festival, Intrigue Chocolates hosted a guided tasting of their flavored truffles paired with specially-selected joe from Zoka Coffee.

In a small kitchen just off Pioneer Square, Intrigue concocts French-style truffles; with no hard chocolate shell to protect them, these sexy little morsels of ganache start to liquefy the instant they hit your tongue. Intrigue's chocolatier, Aaron Barthel (above), is constantly tinkering with new flavor infusions, offering old favorites and new discoveries six at a time on a rotating basis.

For the tasting Aaron matched six of his truffles with single-origin and blend coffees roasted by Zoka and brewed with military precision by Zoka rep Jessica Schmidt. It was a fundamentally delicious experiment, in theory like a deconstructed mocha but so much more interesting. It was fascinating to experience how the flavors of the different chocolates and coffees played off each other, and how that interplay was further complicated by so many other variables--the order of consumption, the temperature of the coffee, the brewing technique used, etc.

Plenty to think about during the long sleepless night ahead...
Intrigue Chocolates
76 S Washington St #M104
Seattle, WA

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Tofu Pudding Pops

Okay, so let's say you buy too much fresh tofu pudding to eat before it turns into a seething vat of evil. What to do? Hmm...


Admittedly, they won't make Bill Cosby turn vegan, but tofu pudding pops are pretty good. Matcha above, and vanilla below.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Xoi Vi La Cam

Xoi Vi La Cam
available at Viet Wah grocery, $1.95

I think that one of the most relevant measures of human ingenuity is the number of delicious ways in which we as a species manage to combine beans and rice. To that long list add xoi vi la cam, a Vietnamese sweet sandwich (and close cousin of xoi nep than).

A thin, crumbly layer of sweetened mung beans is held in place by chewy slabs of sticky black rice, which turns an intense violet color when cooked. Because of its pigmentation, black rice is up for membership in the fabled "superfood" club--but more importantly, it has a rich, nutty flavor that brings out the soft sweetness of the beans. A sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds on the surface adds crunch and more nuttiness.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Dairy Free Mochi

Dairy Free Mochi

Trader Joe's, $3.49/6

It wasn't so long ago that mochi was unknown in most of the US. I was introduced to the pounded rice confection by an Asian friend in college and went to on eat my body weight in the stuff on trips to Japan. I was always surprised that Americans hadn't fallen hard for a treat that's delicious, relatively healthy, and not so far removed from rice cakes. Even as sushi mania swept the country and raw fish and seaweed became every 5-year-old's favorite food, mochi continued to lurk in the shadows. Some people have told me that it wasn't so much the mochi they couldn't stomach, but the sweetened bean paste that's a standard filling.

Then came ice cream mochi, nuggets of ice cream inside a puffy mochi jacket: red bean flavor for the traditionalist, a dozen choices for everyone else. Suddenly mochi was on everyone's lips--and mochi starch on everyone's faces.

The real irony of ice cream mochi hadn't occured to me until I saw the "Dairy Free Mochi" in the freezer at Trader Joe's: the vast majority of Asians are lactose intolerant. The TJ's treats are filled with a coconut-based ice cream and come in three flavors: coconut, mango, and chocolate. They're rich and creamy and more than tasty enough to induce the lactose-intolerant to join the eat-a-box-of-ice-cream-mochi-in-a-single-sitting club.

The faux ice cream was fine but what really struck me was the mochi: slippery and dense, it was unlike any mochi I'd ever eaten. A look at the ingredients revealed that what they're calling "mochi" isn't mochi at all: "mochi starch" is composed of tapioca starch, water, coconut milk, sugar, and flavoring. A little misleading, sure, but by genercizing the concept of "mochi" Trader Joe's is actually jumping on a very Japanese bandwagon.

Mochi, the doughy confection, takes its name from mochigome, the glutinous "sweet" rice that is traditionally steamed and pounded to produce it. Other starches have since been used to produce non-rice variations on mochi, such as fern-based warabi mochi and kudzu-based kuzu mochi. One thing that these and many other foods have in common is a particular and pleasing type of chewiness--a quality known in Japanese as "mochimochi".

Trader Joe's Dairy Free, Mochigome Free Mochimochi Mochi: yum.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Cupcakes for Change

Salted Caramel Cupcake

Divine Bites, $3

The Divine Bites cupcake bakery is the latest enterprise from Vancouver, WA-based Gifts For Our Community. Since 1997 the group has offered grants in support of community projects promoting "human services, education, and the arts". Fundraising takes several forms, including a holiday sale, the volunteer-run used furniture store Divine Consign, and Divine Again, a re-upholstery shop that keeps consignment items looking their best.

Divine Bites cupcakes are baked off-site and brought into Divine Consign each day, where they are carefully displayed in a huge glass case. Around 20 flavors are available at any given time, most of which include a decadent hidden core of fudge or flavored cream: the "Elvis Special" is banana cake with peanut butter frosting and a fudge center, while "Marshmallow Elegance" is chocolate on chocolate with marshmallow cream. I had what might one day be known as the "Obama Special", a moist chocolate cupcake with an oozy caramel center, topped with caramel buttercream, a drizzle of caramel sauce, and a sprinkle of sea salt.

Divine Consign
904 Main Street
Vancouver, WA 98660

Find more delicious treats in far-flung places over at Wanderfood Wednesday...

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Tofu Pudding

Tofu Pudding
Northwest Tofu Inc.

Seattle's Northwest Tofu makes and sells fresh tofu in a huge range of formats, including jugs of milk, silky blocks, sheets of wrinkled tofu skin, gnarled fried cubes, a salty "Chinese donut", and tubs of soft-set pudding--either plain or lightly sweetened. The pudding is creamy and smooth, but in a much lighter and more refreshing way than dairy-based puddings. The flavor is slightly sweet and slightly beany, but like all plain tofu, tofu pudding is able to soak up other flavors like a new sponge (personally, I think of tofu as "blank" rather than "bland"). Bowl by bowl I enjoyed stirring in new flavorings, with matcha, vanilla, and instant coffee being my favorites so far (did I mention it's a large tub?).

Northwest Tofu Inc.

1913 S Jackson St

Seattle, WA

Monday, May 30, 2011

Yaki Kasu

Yaki Kasu

Kasu snacks are the pork scratchings of sake production, industrial by-products that have become beloved foodstuffs in their own right. When sake has fully fermented, it can be filtered to remove the starchy solids. There are a couple of different methods for squeezing the lees or kasu to extract most of the precious alcohol; hand-wrung kasu comes in soft lumps and contains more residual alcohol, while machine-pressed kasu looks like thick sheets of paper and is less alcoholic.

Kasu has a range of uses. It can be added to winter soups or used to pickle vegetables. Sake manju are sweet buns flavored with kasu, and an almost-instant version of the fortifying winter drink amazake can be made by those who want a similar flavor without the 3-day process of making amazake from scratch (simply dissolve kasu in hot water and add grated ginger and sugar or honey to taste).

I had also heard that you could grill sheets of sugared kasu, so when I found raw kasu for sale at Uwajimaya, I decided to try. I don't have a grill and I didn't have any real recipe, so there is probably a method that would be better/or more authentic. I just sprinkled a sheet of kasu with a thick layer of sugar and stuck it under the grill until the caramel bubbled and the edges crisped. The result was sticky, chewy, sweet, and surprisingly boozy--like butterscotch's exotic and intense cousin. One of my odder experiments, but something I'd definitely try again.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Shelley Miller's "Stained"


Shelley Miller
Open Space Residency, April-May 2011

Wandering the streets near Victoria's Chinatown, I stumbled across an amazing edible art installation by artist Shelley Miller at one end of the Waddington Alley.

is a trompe l'oeil mural of sugar and icing made to mimic traditional Portuguese tiles. The center originally held a painted scene of ships at sea; still visible in this photo are the columnar cakes at the top, and a silhouette of slaves cutting cane in the bottom center. The progressive disintegrate is a key aspect of the piece:

"Miller’s ephemeral installations are like history itself, eroding and dissolving over time, subject to the distortions of told and retold stories, lore and myth...It is best viewed repeatedly as it changes."

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Dutch Bakery

Dollar Roll
Dutch Bakery, $2.25

Sometimes stepping through a doorway can be almost like traveling back in time; think of 1950s diners, Gothic churches, Colonial Williamsburg, or Cracker Barrel restaurants.

Particularly evocative are those rare places that owe their anachronistic atmosphere to genuine continuity, rather than to revival, recreation, or re-enactment. Places like Victoria, BC's Dutch Bakery.

Funnily enough, when Dutch migrants Kees and Mable Schaddelee opened Dutch Bakery back in 1956, it was a high tech vision of the future. Unsatisfied with the commercial baking equipment available in Canada, Kees had the latest technology shipped over from Europe: ball-bearing rolling pins, a mechanical dough divider, a dough spreader capable of handling 2,000lbs per hour. His attention to innovation and detail extended to the retail area, which was fitted out with the best booths, stools, and display cases available--as well as Victoria's first air conditioning system.

Little has changed in subsequent years, but the Dutch's innovations have slowly mellowed into quaintness. The decor is the same, the recipes are the same, but what seems most significant is that many of the people are the same. Kees continued to bake until in his 70s and hung around the coffee shop up until his death at age 97. His four sons and several daughters-in-law joined the business, as did many of their children, four of whom now run the show. A few other non-Schaddelee employees have been with the bakery for more than 30 years.

The same holds true for the patrons. Although in its heyday the Dutch's coffee shop served about a thousand customers every weekday, patrons never felt rushed, and many made Dutch Bakery a daily or weekly habit. It's still one of those places where it seems like 90% of the people know--and like--each other.

On the strong recommendation of an elderly couple at the next table, I had a strawberry shortcake (only available in season) and the dollar roll, a signature sweet of rolled-up sponge and buttercream swaddled in housemade marzipan: soft, sweet, and surprisingly light. Other pastry options include Parliaments, Flying Saucers, Deer Legs, and Sacher Torte. Takeaway pastries, cakes, cookies and chocolates are also available, displayed in the Dutch's original wood and glass cases.

Dutch Bakery
718 Fort Street
Victoria, BC

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Paris Baguette

This new addition to the category of sweets I've dubbed "performance confectionery" comes courtesy of my former colleague Candace, now a teacher (and Sweet Travel corespondent) in South Korea.

Inside a primly-wrapped package from Paris Baguette (a popular chain of bakeries found throughout Korea) were 16 nuggets of yeot, a quintessentially Korean sweet. This stiff grain-based taffy can be made from rice, wheat, sorghum, or corn, to which may be added various nuts, seeds, legumes, fruits, and spices. My best guess as to the flavors pictured above (top to bottom): molasses with pine nuts and sesame seeds, toasted soybean flour, peanuts, and ginger.

Yeot is such a complex tradition that specific words differentiate different consistencies and ingredients, including the famed regional variations of various provinces (eg maize or radish). The harder versions are eaten as candy, while softer yeot mixed with therapeutic herbs offers relief from colds and sore throats.

While Paris Baguette is a high-end treat boutique, yeot is more commonly sold by street vendors working from small stalls or carts. In order to attract attention and customers, these vendors take advantage of yeot's Silly Putty-esque properties; although chewy, yeot will shatter like safety glass if hit correctly. Many YouTube videos show vendors cutting a slab of fresh yeot into bite-size pieces by striking a chisel with a huge pair of rattling metal scissors, keeping up a syncopated racket as cut candy shoots into a growing pile. It's a mesmerizing performance, but leaves me wondering if yeot is also a cure for headaches.

Hankering for more? Check out other travel-related food posts at Wanderfood Wednesday.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Kumquats in Syrup

Kumquats in Syrup

Like baby corn, Vienna sausages, and mini donuts, a kumquat's appeal is due, in part, to its infantile charm. But while the fruit might look like a prepubescent orange, it offers a mindbendingly different taste sensation. A fresh kumquat is entirely edible (although some have large seeds), with a sweet rind and contrastingly sour flesh.

You could call kumquats the weird cousins of the citrus family, but the jury's still out; some botanists think kumquats belong to their very own genus, Fortunella. The fruit originated in China and the name translates as "golden orange". The association of kumquats with gold and good fortune is widespread throughout Asia, making the fruit a popular motif during Lunar New Year.

Like good fortune, kumquats can slip away all too easily. In most regions the harvest season is relatively short, and the fresh fruits don't last long. In Asia it's common practice to preserve the wealth of a good kumquat harvest by salt-curing or candying the fruit.

Of the two most common varieties found in the US, the oval-shaped Nagami kumquats I found at Trader Joes are tarter than the rounder, sweeter Marumis, and therefore perfect candidates for candying. I followed the recipe on the Put Up or Shut Up blog, omitting the ginger. I also elected not to remove the seeds, even though they're big; I figured I'd rather spend seconds spitting them out than hours deseeding dozens of tiny fruit (I just have to remember to pass that along to anyone I share the kumquats with...).

Both the fruit and syrup are absolutely delicious--bright and lively and almost overwhelmingly flavorful. I can see kumquats earning a permanent spot in my pantry of grey-day antidotes.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Taro Dumplings

Taro Dumplings
Din Tai Fung

The 2010 census shows that Washington state's Asian population has grown by 49.2% in the last decade, with gains distributed unevenly. Statewide, Asians make up 7.6% of the population; in Seattle, 13.8%; and in Bellevue, the upstart tech town just across Lake Washington, the population is 27.6% Asian.

Which might explain why famed Hong Kong dumpling purveyors Din Tai Fung would choose to locate their "Seattle" branch in Bellevue. Although DTF is best known for broth-filled soup dumplings, the white-clad prestidigitators in the glass-walled kitchen also make a range of desserts. Their taro dumplings are succulent rosettes of steamed dough filled with a fluffy, barely sweet, and pale purple paste made from the exotic tuber.
700 Bellevue Way NE #280
Bellevue, WA