Olive Oil and Sea Salt Zucchini Bread

zucchini bread

One week into returning home from Myanmar and I’m into the toughest part about writing the Burma Superstar cookbook, which is how to make sense of all the newly acquired information. Here’s an example: on our trip, we tasted a lot of great Burmese sweets, and I want to include some in the book.

The trouble is that many of the sweets rely on techniques and ingredients that are a bit unorthodox compared with more Euro- and American-style sweets. Recipes also start with “take a coconut and make milk from it…..” That’s been the case with a funny little book called Bamar Snacks that we found in a hotel gift shop. The author, Ohnmar Shirr, wanted to create a record of these recipes so that these traditions wouldn’t disappear as western eating habits begin to slowly filter into the country.

This part made me laugh:

“Snacks enjoyed by westerners contain high calories and fats. The westerners therefore gain more weight due to high-calorie snack, that mostly leads to obesity. They suffer from after effect of their calorie-rich snacks. But Bamar snacks are comparatively harmless to consumers.”

Some endorsement. Unfortunately, Shirr’s recipes are not easy to replicate. I tried making “Mandalay Greasy Sweet,” a coconut caramel chew that is truly delicious despite this weird translation, but the results of this particular recipe were terrible—pale and slimy—and nothing like what I tasted in Mandalay. The semolina cake was closer but not perfect. I was starting to go a little mad, so I thought it would be good to step away for an afternoon and enter a more familiar world of baking. [click to continue…]

More Postcards from Burma


We are back from our second research trip to Myanmar for the Burma Superstar cookbook. The last time I was in the country, it was the dry season. Bagan—the medieval archeological zone famous for its pagodas (pictured above), was arid. Yangon was sunny. Mandalay was downright cool in the evenings.

This time around, Bagan and the surrounding plains were lush—but nearly too hot to do much outside of morning and evening. Mandalay was steamy. And Yangon rained buckets at 2pm nearly every day. The rains have brought major flooding to parts of the country especially in the western states, and bags of rice and other aid relief was piled in the domestic terminal at Yangon Airport. While downtown Yangon was safe from the floods, I could tell that residents were looking forward to October when things dry out.

tea kettles We were lucky that the wet, steamy weather did not get in the way of our travels. The rain helped green up cities, too. Mandalay, which had felt a tad tired in January, was alive with leafy trees covering some of the nondescript 1960s architecture. We also visited Namhsan, a rural mountain township in the Shan State known for its tea and dramatic views. To get there, we drove through rainclouds.

We also had a great crew of international travelers, including two additions from the previous trip: Jett Yang, who can entertain kids using magic tricks that require little more than a couple of rubber bands, and John Lee, the photographer shooting the cookbook. John took one for the team when he helped push a car out of the mud-and got covered head to toe in it.


Here are some observations and non-pro snapshots from the trip. The one photo that we all regret not taking was the large Asian dude standing next to the wall air conditioning unit in the sweltering Bagan airport wearing a baggy tank top with a huge cat face in the center.

The shirt tagline: “Check Meowt.” Dude, we totally did. [click to continue…]

Baked Peaches

Baked Peaches with coconut and almonds

Take this as a public service announcement. Baked peaches are amazingly delicious, and peaches won’t be around forever. Before they’re gone, try baking them.

I’ve done this a few different ways, and it’s worked every time. It’s especially revelatory on OK, not very tasty peaches, taking the bland pulp and making it taste sweeter, with complex, near-caramel flavors. Gotta hand it to the Maillard reaction on this one–as the peaches bake and the natural sugars caramelize, their flavor becomes concentrated and enhanced.

You could do this with solely peaches: halve the peach, remove the pit, put on a rimmed baking sheet cut-side up, and bake at about 350 to 400F for 20 minutes.

But it’s even better to drizzle a little honey or maple syrup before baking. Peach juice does get sticky, so I like to line the pan with either foil or parchment paper; whatever I have handy.

For texture, add some unsweetened coconut flakes and/or slivered almonds in the final few minutes of baking.

And that is it. I’ve done this for quick desserts in summer rental cottages and my own kitchen. I’ve eaten leftover baked peaches with yogurt for breakfast the next morning, too. With this granola. Now that combo is really hard to beat.

PS- I leave for Myanmar today for more research on the Burma Superstar project. Can’t wait to share some facts when I return.

Chocolate Sorbet

chocolate sorbet Ice cream and I were best buds right up through college. And then we did the fade out when I gradually realized that we were incompatible. Like a lot of dunzo relationships, I don’t really miss milk-based ice cream—there are so many other great treats out there. But I do miss is that creamy, cooling, rich-but-never-cloying sweetness that great ice cream delivers. [click to continue…]

Peanut Butter and Honey Granola

peanut butter and honey granola
When family or friends face challenging circumstances, it is easy to say things like “everything happens for a reason”—but guess what? Things don’t. They happen, and then you deal with them. So when family in Seattle needed help, my mom and I headed north to take care of easy stuff so they could focus on their challenge.

While there, I got into a daily rhythm of [click to continue…]

Plum Jam

plum jam on toast

My parent’s backyard plum harvest is short and sweet—leave the Bay Area the wrong week in June or July and you miss it completely. And if no one is around to claim the fruit, it all goes to the birds.

A couple of weeks ago when I was watching their house and taking care of King Henry, the family cardigan welsh corgi, the plum tree was entering its peak harvest level. I took action: in the morning, I’d go out and pick all the ripe fruit, which was smaller this year than last because of the drought. I ate plums plain (over the sink to catch the juices dripping off my face) or sliced them up and put them on yogurt or in galettes.

By the end of the week, I still had a lot of plums, and most wouldn’t keep much longer in the refrigerator. It felt wrong for me to be the only one in the family to enjoy them. It’s been a tough summer for us. The least I could do was sweeten the pot a bit by preserving some plums.

2 plums

So I made plum jam the easy way. [click to continue…]

How to Make Galettes

I’ve been on an “everything is better with pie dough” kick lately, and apparently I’m far from alone, especially when it comes to galettes. Just the other day, my friend Cecile ran this post on Facebook:

“Galettes are definitely the pastry of summer 2015 when 6 friends in 5 different cities post instagrams of galettes over the past 2 days. Where is my galette, I ask you?”

Cecile, since you are in Chicago and I’m all the way out on the West Coast, I can’t help you directly with this request. Indirectly, I can tell you how to make one of these casual hand-shaped fruit-in-pie crust desserts. It is so much easier than it appears (and much easier than pie).

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been sorting out best practices. Last week in California, Sam, Robin, and Jana came over and sampled a few. I had picked a bunch of small, tart plums, and at first didn’t get the balance of sugar-to-fruit correct. The first was way too tart. I learned, adjusted, and made one that was pretty close to perfect. A strawberry one made with a rye flour crust was also decent enough to go back for seconds. Today, as I type this out from a rental cottage in Seattle, I hit near galette nirvana with a blueberry and peach combo.

Thinking back to last week’s tasting with the amigos, the crazy part was that two of them confessed to not liking pie. I prodded. It turns out that to them, the ratio of fruit to crust in an average pie is all off. There is just too much fruit, and the bottom crust is sort of mush, if anything. But a galette, they decided, had the perfect balance of fruit to crust. And the crust holds its shape, even when covered with fruit. When making galettes, even when they turn out completely ugly with juices oozing everywhere, it is hard to go wrong.

I will never give up on pie, but lately it’s hard to get me to stop messing around with galettes. They can be made in small and large shapes, they bake faster (thus heating up the house for less time), and they are easy to freeze, if you need to preserve the season of a particular summer fruit for a bit longer.

A few tricks I’ve learned: [click to continue…]

How to Make Pie Crust

Pie dough primer

Hunger is a good motivator. In high school, I taught myself how to make pie crust because it would guarantee that I’d get to eat pie.

It’s funny to think about someone like me experiencing a growth spurt. I’m 5’2 on a good day; I’ve never woken up with the kind of leg pain that my taller relatives experienced as they shot a foot or so above me. But in high school, I was hungry all the time, packing two sandwiches for lunch because one wouldn’t be enough to dull the pangs that came calling every hour. This was the kind of eating behavior of someone who was destined to be 6’2.

Being a soccer-fanatic-always-in-motion tomboy had something to do with it, but my hunger also had a lot to do with how much I loved food. It wasn’t just the eating; it was the making. I was in awe of food that I didn’t know how to make. When a girl in my high school class said she had spent the weekend baking pie, my first thought was that she must possess incredible baking talent. My next thought: could I learn how to bake pie, too? 

Yes, of course. The first hurdle I had to get over was the idea that pie crust is impossibly difficult to make. My mom always stuck to crisps and crumbles and pies were the domain of the inimitable SandyB of blueberry pie fame, which is one of the reasons pie took on such a mythical place in my dessert imagination. There are many ways to approach making pie, and all good ones have merit.

There are also countless ways to screw up pie, too, and through the years I’ve made nearly every mistake. Getting comfortable with pie dough takes practice, but not an insurmountable amount. Like any dough, you get a sense of what it’s supposed to feel and look like at certain stages, cutting out the need to follow a recipe. I have made off-the-cuff pie in rental cabins and friends’ apartments using wine bottles as rolling pins and the results have always been edible, if not downright delicious. Being able to pull this off is much easier than my high school self would have believed. There aren’t any secrets. You just need to have some common sense and a near-foolproof formula for pie dough in your back pocket.

Here, how to make + master pie crust: [click to continue…]

Summer = Blueberry Pie

blueberry pie
Most people I know love apple pie above all other fruit pies. When I was little and we lived in the southern Philippines, apples were hard to come by. So the expat community got its fix by seasoning sliced, underripe mangoes with cinnamon and sugar and baking them in pie crust. That’s how much Americans missed their American pie: rather than do without, they got resourceful. Or just plain faked it.

[click to continue…]