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…]

Burma Street Style

yangon street scene

Downtown Yangon.

When I was packing for my recent trip to Burma (formally Myanmar), I had a tough time figuring out what kind of clothes to bring. I knew it would be hot, and my usual San Francisco uniform (black jeans, button-down shirt and/or sweater, a jacket) wouldn’t cut it. I knew I wasn’t going to blend in, so my main goal was finding things that were practical, appropriate, and unassuming. I ended up filling my suitcase with sandals, lightweight, durable clothes with quick-drying fabric and a neutral scarf. But no convertible zip-away khaki pants/shorts or other multipurpose weirdness. So, generally, nothing that I’d call fashion-forward, but nothing too “safari gear” either.

Far more interesting than what I was wearing were the Burmese wardrobe choices I saw. New styles are infiltrating the culture as the country opens up to the world, but people of all ages are holding onto traditional styles, too. And everywhere we went, plaids and floral prints were mixed with abandon. [click to continue…]

Postcards from Burma

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon.

To cross the road in Yangon, it’s best to take it one lane at a time, even if the road is four lanes wide and has a roundabout. Go slow and steady so cars can anticipate your movement—running will throw off drivers. When possible, align yourself with Burmese women who are crossing, preferably older ones, and follow their lead. There is power in numbers, organized chaos, and deference to elders.

In Myanmar, the country still called Burma in most parts of the Western world, drivers drive on the right-hand side of the road, like they do in the U.S. But after years of severe trade restrictions, the Burmese couldn’t always get cars with steering wheels on the left side of the car, American style. So in most (but not all) cars, the steering wheel sits on the right side as it does in countries where people drive on the left-hand side of the road, like Japan, England, and Thailand. This is just one of the examples of how the Burmese make do and go about things in their own way.

On my first trip to this country, I learned about many of Burma’s quirks (another one: going through security on your way out of the airport). But more noticeable was the pace of change, especially [click to continue…]

A 16 Meatballs

A16 meatballs
It’s been more than six years since A16 Food + Wine was published. Six years is a lot of time and not much time at all. But when I think back to how things were back in the day, my life was a lot different. I wrote the book while I was in my late 20s. It was published the year I turned 30. I was a former A16 line cook who had only recently switched over to the writing side of the food business—and moved to Chicago. I was a transplant still getting used to my new, at times uncomfortable, identity as a journalist.

When the book came out, [click to continue…]

Grilled Radicchio on Cannellini Bean Mash

IMG_5291
It’s been a hectic stretch of days since the 20th, when I helped out in the kitchen for my parents’ annual neighborhood Christmas party. The average guest count for the occasion hovers around 50. There are carols and ornament exchanges, but most people come for the food. We always serve Mexican, a throwback to my mom’s memories of going to posadas in Mexico City when she was growing up. We served pork braised in salsa verde with a host of salsas while friends provided the rice, beans, and desserts. What usually happens after this party is that the rest of the week leading up to Christmas we eat Mexican leftovers in between other parties.

By the 26th, the various family members staying at the casa de Leahy were ready for a change. I took over the kitchen to make pseudo-A16 pizzas on the grill (pseudo because I modified the method significantly to handle a time-crunch situation) and threw together a big green salad. But my favorite component of the meal was a plate of grilled radicchio drenched in balsamic vinegar and olive oil and served over mashed cannellini beans.

The dish comes from [click to continue…]

Minestrone

Minestrone
When I was in elementary school in the 1980s, Californians were locked in the kind of drought pattern that limits how often you can water a lawn or flush a toilet. My mom would save the suds from the dishes to water her roses. When rain came, it was worth celebrating – even more so if you were an introvert kid like me who preferred to stay inside and draw during recess rather than play 4-square on the blacktop.

For the past three years, it’s felt like the 1980s all over again. California’s been locked in another bone-dry spell of weather. This past December was arid, and it didn’t rain at all in January. Which made yesterday’s wild rainstorm all the more incredible. In Sonoma, part of Guerneville was under water after receiving 8 inches of rain and pushing the Russian River beyond its capacity. All the excess water caused manhole covers to blew off in San Francisco.

Luckily, I worked from home all day and never had to battle the standing water on the road. It was definitely one of those days that make you want to use only the food you have on hand–no trip to the store necessary. [click to continue…]

Butternut Squash and Yellow Split Pea Soup

Butternut Squash Yellow Split Pea Soup

Heidi Krahling is one of those people who other people want to be around. The chef-owner of Insalata’s and Marinita’s, two long-running restaurants in Marin County, California, is persistently upbeat. It’s the kind of energy that underplays the mule-like stamina (her words) that you need to run a restaurant successfully.

I helped Heidi write her second book, Insalata’s and Marinita’s: A Tale of Two Restaurants, released this past November. In the book, she provides the backstory of her restaurant through recipes divided among kitchen workstations.  In 1996, she and her husband, Mark Krahling, opened Insalata’s in a vacant space off of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in San Anselmo. She wanted to have a large takeout counter with a little restaurant and a coffee bar, but the restaurant became super popular, encroaching on the coffee bar and takeout counter. Within a year, she had a big restaurant, a little takeout counter, and no coffee bar.

Every six months or so, Heidi would get a call from San Francisco restaurant veteran Pat Coll. He wanted to partner with her on another restaurant, but Heidi always said no. Insalata’s was definitely enough. When a space opened up down the street from Insalata’s in 2008, however, she changed her tune. In 2009, Heidi and Pat opened Marinita’s, a restaurant serving Latin American (mostly Mexican) fare.

Heidi’s restaurants embody her two food loves—Mediterranean and Mexican. What I didn’t expect to find when working with Heidi was discovering the common ground between the two different regions. For instance, Sikil pak, a Mayan dip of crushed pepitas and seasonings, is similar to Turkish tarator, and both work as a dip or as a topping for fish.

While Insalata’s certainly became more than a big takeout counter with a little restaurant, its takeout counter is still a key part of the restaurant—and it sells buckets of soup. Butternut is a perennial favorite, and through the years, Heidi has made countless variations. Most winter squash soup is creamy and slightly on the sweet side, but it doesn’t have to be. In her new book, Heidi offers a recipe with yellow split peas for a savory depth of flavor.

To free myself from a post-Thanksgiving stupor with some wholesome cooking, I made her soup. I cut back a bit on the original quantity of split peas to reduce the yield, but I could have bumped up the quantity of ginger to counter the sweetness of the squash. [click to continue…]