It’s Happening in Raleigh

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Beers al fresco at Trophy Brewing & Pizza Co.

Anyone who has driven down Highway 101 from the Bay Area toward the California coast has passed a sign proclaiming “It’s Happening in Soledad.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. My cousins have a ranch in Soledad. I assumed they used it to get away from all that is happening. Soledad is near the Pinnacles national park, a prison, and little else. My memory of the actual town (visited circa 1988; we ate honey-filled sopaipillas in a no-name diner) is sparse. I think of tumbleweeds rolling down the main drag, although the tumbleweeds probably only existed in my imagination.

Raleigh, though it doesn’t have a sign that says so, is truly happening. Before Mindy’s book launch and after the IACP conference in D.C., I put aside a few days to pay my friend Liz a visit. Liz and I met in grad school at Northwestern. She ended up covering banking for Bloomberg in New York City. My path–working for a trade magazine in which whiffle ball game participation was mandatory–was completely different. Maybe that’s why we got along so well: we respected that each of us would do our own thing.

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The sculpture garden next to the North Carolina Museum of Art.

Also, Liz is so fun to eat out with. One year, when we were both fairly broke and I was visiting Liz in New York, we managed to scrape together enough money for a meal at Per Se. Liz still goes there occasioanally when visiting just to have a drink at the bar and take in the view of Columbus Circle.

In Raleigh, Liz showed me a few of her new home town’s culinary highlights. There were not one but two artisan chocolate bar makers, a Laotian restaurant, an Indian street food kind of place, and a new-American place that found ways to pair bonito flakes with–was it burrata? While walking Liz’s puppy, we ran into friends of hers who happen to be in the coffee business. (One just happened to win an award for her cold-brewing technique.) There was also a bakery, an urban farm, and a few great local breweries and bars, all of which is easily reachable on bike.

A little bit Portland? Maybe — but Raleigh has a groove all its own.

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Zilla, the happy pup.

Raleigh: Where to Go

Bida Manda, 222 S. Blount St.

Liz told me about this fun Laotian restaurant months ago. She said it was the first place we’d go when I came to visit. On the Monday night that I visited, it was packed. We met Vasana Nolintha, who owns the restaurant with his sister. This is an international family (Van is Laotian, though he studied at Trinity College, Dublin, before coming to Raleigh) and the menu is Southeast Asian by way of America (like  green papaya salad with a crispy local trout draped on top).

Stanbury, 938 N. Blount St.

Move over roasted cauliflower — here we had roasted broccoli with a spicy chile sauce and a slow-cooked egg. The restaurant, which is sort of American, sort of everything else, has surprising ways of combining miso with European-style dishes in ways that work.

Escazu, 936 N. Blount St.

Next door to Stanbury is this impressive small-batch chocolate maker that makes flavors like goat’s milk chocolate and a chipotle chile and vanilla. The day after dinner at Stanbury, Liz and I walked over and they were grinding cacao beans. I am kicking myself for not buying more of the goat’s milk chocolate bars. While we didn’t have time to stop by it, Videri is another small-batch chocolate maker. Yep, this city has two of them.

Trophy Brewing & Pizza Co., 827 W. Morgan St.

Like many cities around the country, Raleigh has a growing craft brewing scene. But while cities like Chicago are reaching a saturation point (and will probably need to go through a painful weeding-out period) Raleigh’s small-batch brewers can’t keep up with supply. Or at least that’s the case at Trophy. Liz came to get her growler filled up, but some of the beers were in too short supply to sell in growler quantities.

Garland, 14 W. Martin St.

I didn’t order the right wine for the table on our visit to Garland (sparkling rose that grew a little weary over the course of the meal), but fortunately others at the table did a better job at ordering for the table at this somewhat Indian street food spot. Like the bhel puri, a tamarind-spiked mix of puffed rice, peanuts, chiles, tomatoes, and other bits.

Slingshot Cold Brew Coffee, sold at various locations

Cold-brew coffee takes on special significance during humid summers. We ran into Jenny Bonchak with her husband, Jonathan, and beagle on another dog walk. She makes a cold-brew coffee with beans from Counter Culture (where Jonathan works), and the cold brew has a strong following. Jenny’s coffee has won national brewing competitions. We bought a bottle at Yellow Dog Bread, a nearby bakery. Jonathan told us that Counter Culture is opening a new roasting facility in Emeryville, right in my neck of the woods, go figure.

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Ready-to-drink Slingshot.

Cookie Love is out! April Cookbook Events

hot fudge cocoa nib rugelach

At last, it’s Cookie Love‘s on sale date! Mindy has hit the road (she’s currently in NYC), and I’ll be meeting up with her when she arrived in San Francisco later this week. I wrote a bit about the backstory of Cookie Love for Taste Book. (It involved listening to early Black Sabbath.) And if you’re in NYC, SF, PDX, Seattle, or Chicago, here’s where to catch Mindy this month (and snag a signed book). [click to continue…]

What to Ask Yourself Before Collaborating on a Chef Cookbook

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Paul Virant glazing a tart for The Preservation Kitchen, Jeff Kauck with the camera.

This past weekend, my panel at the IACP conference hit on a lot of important points about chef cookbook collaborations. (Before the conference, I had posted this piece about my experience writing chef cookbooks.) After our panel discussion, I thought I’do take a deeper dive into the subject and write a post about what we talked about at the conference to help people navigate this nebulous side of cookbook writing.

And so: If you are a writer who wants to write a book with a chef, here is a list of questions to ask yourself before you start. [click to continue…]

The Truth about Chef Cookbook Collaborations

kate leahy cookbooks

On Saturday, I’ll be on a panel at the IACP conference in Washington, D.C. The subject we’re tackling is cookbook collaborations—mostly of the chef-writer variety— and I’ll be sharing some of the tips I’ve learned on how to make it work.

What has been fascinating about putting together the presentation is talking about the subject with fellow panelists Anne McBride, Amy Collins, and Jody Eddy (although Jody is stuck in India on assignment and it looks like she’ll miss IACP, sadly). It is gratifying to know you’re not the only one who has been in odd or tough situations before (and I guarantee that everyone who has written a book with a chef has some choice stories to share). It is also inspiring to talk with individuals who get a lot out of the collaboration process. We don’t need to do it: we want to. [click to continue…]

Irish Soda Bread with Tea-Soaked Currants

Irish Soda Bread

There are many things I miss about Chicago, but St Patrick’s Day is not one of them. Far better than drinking green beer at O’Shaunnassey’s Blarney Stone Saloon, Bar & Grill and trying to avoid falling into an atomically green Chicago River is to escape the city altogether. And one way to do that is to head to dinner at Vie in Western Springs.

While I don’t think he does it any more, Paul Virant, a friend of mine and the chef and owner of Vie, used to do this low-key prix fixe dinner for St. Patrick’s Day. One of my favorite dishes from the dinner was dead-simple: a toasted slice of Irish soda bread [click to continue…]

Off the Grid

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The first time I heard someone say he was going off the grid, I assumed that he was going to unplug and live somewhere in the woods, preferably in Wisconsin.

In the Bay Area, though, Off the Grid means grazing amid food trucks and tents serving a cultural mishmash of food. Since Off the Grid launched in 2010, visiting these food-truck markets has become weekly rituals for many in and around San Francisco. Off the Grid now operate in more than 40 locations, stretching from the North Bay to the South Bay and all the way east to Pleasant Hill and Concord. Personally, I’m looking forward to the new Off the Grid in San Francisco opening just south of ATT Park on 3rd Street (previously an underused parking lot during the baseball offseason).

But the biggest and brightest OtG is the Friday night market at Fort Mason Center. It kicked off the season on March 6th, and it will go through October 30th.

Last Friday, Matt Cohen, the OtG founder, gave a group of us a tour of the market’s newest vendors. I asked him what he looks for when accepting new vendors. He said he looks for vendors who [click to continue…]

Brownie Cookies

brownie cookies
This past weekend was packed with baking and cooking projects. Some of it was prompted by a cleaning-out-the-freezer impulse. (I blame Marie Kondo.) I unearthed some chicken backs and wings and turned them into stock with some celery that needed to be used up. Two lost bags of frozen blueberries became an experimental chia seed jam. Oats, nuts, seeds, and coconut morphed into a kitchen-sink granola. And, unrelated to the spring-cleaning mission, I made cute little cinnamon rolls from the Nordic Bakery Cookbook just because.

The results were mixed. The stock was good, but it’s hard to mess up stock. My experiments with chia have been lackluster, and the jam was no exception (though I suspect that the frost-bitten blueberries were at fault here). It did not spark joy. The granola wasn’t bad, but I have made better. And while I liked the cinnamon rolls, I felt that I needed to improve the filling-to-dough ratio (it was too skimpy).

I figured one of those projects would warrant a post this week, but no. Fortunately, I still had a few odds and ends to clean out of the kitchen. I’m in a transition mode—moving from one book project to another. That was part of the reason that it was time to clean house.

stocking up
Last year, while testing recipes for Mindy Segal’s cookie book, I accidentally bought unsweetened chocolate discs from the bulk bins at Berkeley Bowl thinking they were bittersweet. The discs have been hanging around since June, and I wanted to unload them. I also still had some prune puree left in the refrigerator since making this banana bread. And just the other day I landed upon an old recipe for espresso cookies from my days as a La Farine baker. Which made me remember I also had instant coffee also left over from cookie recipe testing. Something good had to come of all this.

And so I cobbled together this chocolate cookie recipe. [click to continue…]

Seed + Salt, a Restaurant Focused on Seed-to-Stalk cooking

Nut Loaf from Seed+Salt

sprouted S+S nut loaf with housemade nutella

When I first heard about Seed + Salt, I was immediately hooked on the name. Last year I drafted a cookbook proposal focused on baking with nuts and seeds, and while the project never got quite off the ground, I never stopped thinking about the culinary attributes of nuts and seeds—and their under-tapped potential. I had to pay this new place a visit.

Seed+Salt Entrance

Seed+Salt entrance

Seed + Salt, which opened on the north side of Chestnut Street in San Francisco on Black Friday, 2014, takes the nut-and-seed idea to a whole new level. [click to continue…]

Birdseed Banana Bread

Birdseed banana bread mise en place
While all things Burma have been my focus recently, this past weekend I wanted to make a return to baking. This was prompted by a few recent conversations about Cookie Love, the book I wrote with Mindy Segal. This April when the book comes out, I’ll be focused on all things cookie.

But since my future has plenty of cookies in store, I didn’t want to bake cookies. Instead, I wanted to make something that shared some of that same no-fuss ethos. Enter banana bread.

For years, the only recipe I ever thought to be a worthy use of old bananas was the Kona Inn banana bread from an old Junior League of Palo Alto cookbook. It’s the only one my mom ever baked, and every other banana bread I’ve compared it to has tasted dry and bland. But the Kona Inn recipe is rich, with lots of butter and sugar. I started to wonder: did it have to be so rich to taste so good? [click to continue…]

Myanmar Tea

kettles working overtime
There is potential to grow high-quality coffee in Myanmar (formerly Burma), especially in the Golden Triangle, but the product doesn’t have a ready market within the country itself. Here, apart from a few chic coffee shops in Yangon, coffee means Nescafe.

Tea is a different story. There’s a saying in the country that awkwardly translates to this: If it’s meat, it’s pork; if it’s fruit, it’s mango; if it’s leaves, it’s tea.

This saying probably relates to laphet, Burmese pickled tea eaten straight or mixed into a salad. But it applies to what you drink, too. Just about everywhere I went on my recent trip to Myanmar, I downed mild Chinese tea almost like water. And for the higher-octane stuff, I reached for Myanmar tea. After an afternoon spent sampling the milky sweet, seemingly innocuous tea at a tea shop in Yangon, the group I was traveling with were amped up—all of us had trouble sleeping that night. Myanmar tea means business. [click to continue…]