Sunday, September 27, 2009

Super Succulents

It has been wedding season for Jake and me. When we attended the last wedding of the season, in beautiful Orcas Island, WA, we were lucky to be able to bring home a garden treat.

The groom's grandpa, affectionately called Grandpa Deaton, is an avid gardener, a description that greatly understates his gardening skills. He and Linda, the groom's mom, have landscaped an amazing yard with beautiful gardens at her house in Vashon, which has been part of the annual Vashon Island Garden Tour.

On our way to Bryan and Laura's engagement party earlier this year, we took a quick detour to Linda's house. While Jake went to knock on the door to see if anyone was home, I took a peek at what was growing in their greenhouse. What I found were hundreds of succulents, several varieties, growing in little 4-inch pots. Ultimately, those were the place cards at the reception and we were encouraged to take one (or some) home when we left. Jake and I each took the ones with our name cards in them and a few left behind, around our table.

Then, on our way out, we stopped to tell Grandpa Deaton about how delighted I was to have such meaningful party favors and he offered us the plant with his name on it as well. It was like being served a meal from the chef himself. So now, in my garden, I have a little reminder of Bryan and Laura's beautiful wedding and a garden treat from Grandpa Deaton.

Two gems - off the beaten path in Ballard

Saturday was date night for Jake and me and we decided to go to Delancey to have a delicious, localtarian meal. Delancey is the gourmet pizza restaurant that Molly Wizenberg, author of A Homemade Life and blog Orangette (thank you Elisa), just opened up with her husband. As most of you know, I stopped eating dairy a few months ago to help with my allergies, but I figured if I really wanted to get the most out of my visit, the dairy ban would have to be temporarily lifted. And it was. We started out with an appetizer of a cheese called Burrata, which they have overnighted from a cheese maker in L.A. Not exactly localtarian, but she was raving about it on her blog, so we had to try it out. It's a little like mozzarella, but softer and more spreadable like cream cheese. They serve it with olive oil and little baguette toasts, and it was delicious.

Then, we tried the pizza, which is the reason for going there. One would really have been enough for us to share, but we ordered two, the sausage pizza and the magherita. I think Jake was a little disappointed that I didn't want to go for one of the mushroom varieties, but I'll have to work up to that. It's wood-fired pizza so the crust is speckled with charred bubbles and is delightfully chewy. The sauce is delicious as well. It really was the best wood-fired oven pizza I've had in a long time.

Then, we had dessert – one of each: plum crumble and a chocolate chip cookie with gray salt. We got the plum crumble because it's the seasonal featured dessert right now, replacing the peaches in white wine that were on the menu last month (the ones I made for the tea party). Plus, Molly just posted recipe for the crisp on her blog, so I had to try a sample from the source.

That brings us to the cookie. A cookie – a simple, normal-sized, chocolate chip cookie. No ice cream, no chocolate sauce, just a cookie. It's what I've been saying we need in restaurants for years! Sometimes you want just a little something sweet after a meal, like a cookie, and not a cookie that arrives like another meal. It was perfect! The gray salt on top, which I can't actually describe since I don't really know what "gray" salt is, was a pleasant surprise. I don't want to seem like a pretentious foodie, but it really added a lot of depth to the flavor. If you've ever made a baked good and forgotten the salt, you know that the salt is imperative for a well-balanced flavor. Plus, this salty accent is subtle, just enough to be noticed every couple of bites, but not as strong as all the salted caramel treats going around.

All in all, it was a delightful experience. We did have to wait quite a while for a table, but the host was very accommodating and even got us a glass of wine to make the wait a little more palatable. You can't go to Delancey, where they only take reservations for 6 or more, and be impatient for a table. It's a small, cozy space with only a handful of tables that are worth the wait. It's hard for me to reflect on my experience objectively. After all, I have been reading Orangette for so long, it feels like I actually know her, like I was visiting the new restaurant of a friend. So, I guess you'll have to go over to Ballard and see how amazing it is for yourself.

While you're there, you should make a mental note to come back the next morning and go next door to Honore. It's my good friends' amazing french bakery. The pastries are amazing and they serve Morning Glory chai (a huge plus for a chai snob like me). I try something different every time I go and I've never been disappointed. Crispy, flaky, buttery goodness - the onion and Gruyere tart is delicious and every one of the fruit tarts I've had has been amazing (blueberry, rhubarb, apple – the list goes on). It's a little place, a hole in the wall, and there's always a line out the door, but I'm telling you, it's so worth the wait.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Pie in the Park

While it may not be autumn according to the calendars, summer is over in the world of teachers. When we let our new students into our classes on Monday, summer sadly came to an end. But not without a bang! We had Pie in the Park on Sunday. My friend Maria came up with this gem of an idea last year. She invited a bunch of friends to a beautiful park near her house and made a bunch of pies for us to feast on. This event happened to be the night we signed a contract that allowed us to go back to school the following morning, after having been on strike for over two weeks.

When school was coming to an end in June, we vowed to join forces and hold Pie in the Park again. But this time, we would get our guests involved. We asked everyone to bring a home-made dessert to share (if it had butter, it was cool with us) and their own utensils and plates to eat with. I made the localtarian nectarine-blueberry pie with crumb topping in the photo up top. Thanks again for your guidance, Mark Bittman! Maria made the yummy deep-dish apple pie above.

Our friend Kate strapped in her home-made blackberry pie and biked to the park. People broke out of their baking comfort zones, got their hands and kitchens dirty, and actually had fun crafting their fattening contributions. We ended up with quite a variety too with apple, cherry, nectarine, peach, blackberry, and even a creamy key lime. And while pie was the inspiration, it wasn't all we had that afternoon. Our guests brought ice cream casserole, bundt cake, shortbread, cookies, and squash bread too. It was an amazing afternoon and fabulous way to say good-bye to summer, all in name of good friends, sunny weather, and pie!