Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Seabell Bakery

Seabell Roll
Seabell Bakery, $2

Seabell is a small strip-mall bakery specializing in "Japanese style" breads.  While the Japanese make and enjoy many types of bread, "Japanese style" usually indicates a matrix so light and fluffy that just looking at it makes you want to take a nap.  

Seabell's eponymous roll is an exemplar of its type:  the freshest, finest-grained hot dog bun imaginable, coiled around a core of real whipped cream and lightly sweetened red bean paste.   Astringent matcha tea sprinkled on top and stirred into the cream gives the Seabell a little bite and backbone. 

Seabell Bakery
12816 SE 38th St Ste F
Bellevue, WA 

425 / 644-2616 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Bon Odori Kori

Seattle Bon Odori, $3 

Obon is a Japanese summer-season holiday that sees droves of city-dwellers returning to their hometowns to gather in appreciation of their ancestors; it's a homecoming for both the living and the dead.  The traditional Obon activities range from temple ceremonies to the cleaning of graves to the festive group dances known as Bon Odori.  

In Seattle, Bon Odori takes place in the street outside the Japanese Buddhist Temple.  There are displays, speeches, performances, souvenirs, dozens of dances, and--for those who've worked up an appetite or a sweat--plenty of festival foods.  

On hot days the demand for kori shaved ice cups keeps Temple volunteers on the hop.  The huge blocks of ice (below, left) have to be sawn down to the right size to fit in the ice shaving machine, then the piles of snow are rapidly packed into paper cups (below, right) and decked out with the buyer's choice of syrups (top), condensed milk, or soupy red beans. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Punjab Sweets

Punjab Sweets, $4.75-10.99 per pound

When food writer Jeffrey Steingarten compares Indian sweets to cosmetics, I'm with him--but only up to a point. While he concludes that, ”The taste and texture of face creams belong in the boudoir, not on the plate,” I'd happily eat these rich and luxuriously perfumed desserts in any room of the house. 

Aptly enough, the glass cases (below) full of housemade mithai (literally "sweet things") at Pujab Sweets in Kent are as artfully arranged as eyeshadow samples at Sephora. This small shop regularly makes more than 20 different varieties, including (above, from top) besan (creamy yet earthy fudge with toasted chickpea flour), rose burfi (delicately floral fudge), rasgulla (fresh cheese soaked in syrup), coconut roll, and kalakand, (a moist but crumbly cream cake).  

The most prevalent ingredients are dairy products such as whole milk, cream, cheese, and ghee (clarified butter), and a wide range of grains, nuts, and pulses, which are used both whole and ground into flour.  Cooks can manipulate the flavor of these staple ingredients by cooking or toasting them, or by adding ingredients like coconut, rosewater, cardamom, saffron, or chocolate.  Finally, the mithai are formed with care--balls are rolled by hand, sheets are cut into regular rectangles or diamonds--and perhaps given a finishing touch, such as a sprinkle of crushed nuts or a patch of edible silver leaf. 

Mithai are an essential part of many Indian occasions and observances; although many recipes are achievable for home cooks, the labor involved, multiplied by the quantities required for big events, add up to a strong demand for professionally-made mithai.  Since 2001 the Kent valley community has been able to count on Punjab Sweets, a combination confectionery and vegetarian restaurant begun by Iqbal and Gurmit Dha and Iqbal's brother Jasbir Rai and now helmed by the Dhas' daughter, Harpreet Gill.  You can order hundreds of pieces for your wedding or Diwali celebration, or pick up a small assortment to try with your afternoon tea. 

Punjab Sweets
23617 104th Ave SE C  Kent, WA 98031
253 / 859-3236

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Bánh Bò Hấp

Bánh bò hấp
White Center Supermarket, $1.25 

 Bánh bò, or "cow cakes", are the Vietnamese version of a steamed rice cake that originated in China.  Bánh bò batter includes rice flour, coconut milk, sugar, and a leavener--traditionally yeast, but baking powder is sometimes used as a shortcut--which causes the batter to bubble dramatically when cooked.  The resulting texture is as spongy as beef liver, earning these cakes their unexpected name.  

Baked bánh bò nướng has a thin golden crust and is usually cut into wedges before serving.  Steamed bánh bò hấp are usually smaller, round, and colorful; natural extracts of pandanus or magenta plant produce pastel green or purple, whereas the neon hues of the banh bo pictured hint at artificial food coloring.  As sold in Seattle's Asian groceries, bánh bò hấp come snuggled onto a deli tray along with a tiny cup of creamy dipping sauce (coconut milk thickened with tapioca flour). 

White Center Supermarket
9828 15th Ave SW
Seattle, WA

Friday, July 13, 2012

"A World of Sweets in Washington State"

2012-14 Speakers Bureau: Julia Harrison from Humanities Washington on Vimeo.

"A World of Sweets in Washington State" 

From bienenstich to bánh xu xê, marzipan to mochi, the diverse range of sweets we enjoy across Washington state reveals much about our shared history and culture.  Each sweet tells a story: ingredients illustrate trade routes and trends, recipes record migration patternsspecial forms point to special occasions. This mouth-watering, thought-provoking presentation explores the ways in which sweets reflect how individuals and communities celebrate, adapt and interact.  
For the next two years, I'll be offering this talk through Humanities Washington Speakers Bureau.  Interested in attending a free public presentations?  Please take a look at my schedule.   Interested in having me speak at your venue?  Humanities Washington sponsors this presentation for qualified groups; check out these application guidelines.  And should you want to find out about something other than sweets (really??) I have 27 colleagues on the current Speakers Bureau roster; learn about their specialties here

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Lengua de Gato

Lengua de Gato
Sweet Coconut Bakery, $5.75/12

I went to the Urban Craft Uprising summer show to check out some jewelry...and left with cookies.  I have my priorities.

Seattle's Sweet Coconut Bakery is a young company on a misson:  "to create sweet treats that might induce you to sit down, maybe put your feet up, and enjoy a cup of coffee, cocoa, or tea. Let time tick slowly, as you would if you were on vacation on a tropical island, where coconuts abound, and life is sweet."  

Sweet Coconut's treats are largely Filipino, American, or some combination of the two.  Crisp, rich little cookies that resemble cats' tongues in both shape and texture, lengua de gato are a Spanish recipe beloved in the Philippines and here given a Seattle spin with the addition of cacao nibs from Theo Chocolate.  Sweet Coconut's menu includes other well-traveled favorites such as polvorones (shortbread), pastillas de leche (cooked milk candy), sampanguita (coconut-butter cookies), macaroons, marshmallows, brownies, and peanut butter cookies.  

Available around Seattle at selected farmer's markets--and the occasional craft fair--these treats can also be Sweet Coconut treats can also be ordered from Sweet Coconut's Etsy shop.