Monday, September 28, 2009

The SFMOMA's Rooftop Garden Coffeebar

The rooftop garden cafe at SF MOMA

So, San Francisco is still there, I'm happy to report. As difficult and delightful as ever. Over the next few days I'll be sharing some highlights from my trip to the City to attend the 1st annual BlogHer Food - a gathering of food bloggers that took place on Saturday.

You may remember that a few weeks ago, I posted a bit about pastry power couple Caitlin Williams and James Freeman in San Francisco - she is a former Miette Patisserie owner, and he is the CEO of Blue Bottle Coffee. As the Design Sponge piece that inspired the post mentioned, she left Miette to create art-inspired pastries for the newly opened rooftop garden Blue Bottle Coffee Bar at the SF MOMA. It just so happened that I was at the museum on Friday to see the Avedon exhibit while in town, so I was lucky enough to see it for myself in person.

SF MOMA Rooftop Coffeebar Sweets

It was even cooler than I expected - with a chic display of the whimsical desserts, and a full Blue Bottle Coffee bar. I ordered a cappuccino and asked for it "dry." They told me they don't really make their drinks dry, but I could order a different drink that had very little milk - so I did. It was just right, but I can't remember what they called it.
Blue Bottle Espresso at the Cafe at SF MOMA
The rooftop sculpture garden itself is a lovely space with a large open breezeway, and two outdoor areas on either side. It's a perfect spot on a sunny day, which was exactly what we had on Friday.
SF MOMA rooftop garden

Inspired by the weather I ordered an "Ellsworth Kelly" fudgsicle, which was cold, wonderfully dark and rich, and molded into the perfect shape.
The Best Fudgsicle Ever

We also sampled the lovely bee box - made of cardamom and white chocolate and filled with a dense honey and pistachio mousse.
Bee Box dessert at SF MOMA coffeebar

The Thiebaud cake was also tempting....
Thiebaud Cake

As was the ice cream sundae - made with Humphry Slocombe "Secret Breakfast" ice cream, chocolate sauce and vanilla saffron cookies. What is "Secret Breakfast" you ask? Why bourbon and cornflakes, as it turns out.
Ice Cream Sundae

The desserts are not only pretty to look at, but affordable, delightful and thoughtful as well.

The only catch - if you view it as such - is that you have to buy admission to the museum to visit. It's $15. for regular admission, and $20. including the Avedon exhibit (which I highly recommend.) If I lived in the area, I'd probably have to go ahead and become a member. Otherwise, I could definitely see some $20. fudgsicles in my future!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

BlogHer Food Weekend Itinerary

Coit TowerI'm going to San Francisco this weekend for BlogHer Food, and I am VERY excited. My schedule is jam-packed with lots of new places and things to see, and new people to meet. So much so that it's a little overwhelming, but with fortitude and perseverence, I think I can make it through. ;-)

Here's a little peek at what I have planned:
Inside Boulette's

Thursday: fly up in the afternoon, stay with Tommy. Dinner in the lounge at Coi.

Friday: Breakfast at Salt House with Moira, then check out the Avedon exhibit at SF MOMA. Lunch at Bar Jules with Caron and Amy. Then visit Paulette Macarons and whatever other delights we can find in Hayes Valley. Dinner at Contigo with Cindy.

Saturday: Sam's pre-BlogHer Food hike, then the BlogHer Food convention at the St. Regis Hotel with three tracks of sessions to choose from: "Values," "Vocation" and "Visual." I think I'll be spending a lot of time in visual - not only are some of my favorite bloggers teaching the classes (e.g. Heidi from 101 Cookbooks, Matt from MattBites) but I really want to improve my photography skills. The event includes breakfast, lunch, cocktail party and after party - so I haven't made any other plans that day!

Sunday: Brunch at Boulette's with a lovely group of SF girls, many of whom I have not yet met. Then I'll stock up on Acme Bread, Recchiuti chocolates and the like, and fly home in the afternoon.


I can't wait.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Into the Back Country Part II - Sequoia National Park and Bearpaw High Sierra Camp (and a recipe!)

Bearpaw Meadow
On our second day at Bearpaw, James and I decided to something very exciting and unusual for us.
The front deck
Absolutely nothing.
In the lodge in the afternoon
Well, almost nothing anyway. It was a very un-strenuous day...
Bearpaw Campground
After breakfast, we walked over to Bearpaw Meadow and the Bearpaw Campground, just behind our camp. They have some neat little sites there - for every three or four tent pads there is a fire pit with a makeshift table made of stumps and a large stone, and a water spigot. There are composting toilets nearby as well.
Tables in the lodge
When we came back from our walk, we read books on the porch for an hour or two. After lunch, we hung out in the lodge and played a game of Scrabble, filling almost the entire board (and amusing the cowboys who brought the mules in with our arguments over potential words.) Chris was in the kitchen working on dinner and we could hear the sounds and smell the smells of bread being baked and carrots being grated for a cake. I asked him if I could take some photos in the kitchen and he kindly obliged.
Kitchen at Bearpaw
The kitchen runs on propane so there are no electrical outlets - thus no electric mixers, food processors, bread machines or other accoutrement - everything is done the old fashioned way, by hand. All the kitchen tools and pots and pans have their place - on the ceiling.
Kitchen at Bearpaw
It's hard to believe, but this entire structure is dismantled every year (in fact by now it probably already has been) and all of the appliances and supplies are moved into the storage shed for the winter. It takes them only four or five days to break everything down after they close on September 15, but two to three weeks to set it up again when they reopen in May.
In the kitchen...
The mules had just come in, so they were stocked up with fresh ingredients like these vegetables - which appeared at dinner in a ragout. There is a large flat top grill and a Wolf range, and a large stainless steel work table in the center. The carrot cake was baking in the oven below. It smelled insanely good.
Kitchen at Bearpaw
Before we knew it, people started returning from their day hikes. We hit the showers so everyone else could get theirs in before dinner, and pretty soon everyone started congregating on the porch.
from the front porch...
When the dinner bell rang, there was grilled chicken in a sweet and spicy marinade (cooked on a charcoal grill just a few minutes earlier,) rice pilaf, those vegetables diced and sauteed, and a delicious salad topped with carrot curls, but best of all....
Dinner on Night 3
was the fresh-baked herb bread that I heard Chris slapping around in the kitchen earlier - braided and topped with salt.
Fresh Baked Bearpaw Bread
Of course, the carrot cake was not far behind...
For Dessert - Carrot Cake from the Moosewood Cookbook
It was just right - moist but not too dense, studded with nuts, carrots and coconut. Chris said he used the recipe from the New Moosewood Cookbook. I'd share it but I can't seem to find it online - I may just have to buy a copy. It's kind of a classic anyway.
Sunset on the Great Western Divide
After supper, we decided to build a campfire in the pit down on the rocks. We gathered up some fallen wood and got it going.
Setting up a campfire
A campfire in the foreground, and the full moon rise over the Great Western Divide in the background? Does it get any better than that? Why yes, as a matter of fact it does - when you add campfire music from a mandolin and guitar.
Full moonrise over the Great Western Divide
The next day, it was time to hike back. We were feeling stronger, having had a chance to recuperate and acclimate to the altitude (7800 feet at the camp, and about 6800 at the park) and it helped that we knew we could do it since we'd done it before. We'd also already seen the view, so I didn't have to stop to take photos every few minutes, though I couldn't resist snapping a few.
The High Sierra Trail
We plowed on through, first to Mehrten Creek, then to 3 Mile Creek, where I soaked my throbbing feet, and on to the trailhead.
Almost there...
All the way back, I'd been grousing that I couldn't believe we'd spent four nights in the backcountry and hadn't seen a SINGLE bear. I was actually disappointed when we reached the camp and they told us we didn't need to worry about keeping food or toiletries in bear boxes, because bears wouldn't come near the camp.
Bear at the Crescent Meadow Parking Area
When we got back to the parking lot at Crescent Meadow - what did we see? Actually, what we saw first was a bunch of people holding up cameras and pointing them in the same direction. Then yes indeed, we spotted a small black bear wandering around in the picnic area nearby. He caused quite a traffic jam, but he was entirely nonplussed by all the photo-seekers.

We woke up early the next morning and decided to pack up and head down to Three Rivers, just outside the park, for breakfast. On the way down the hill we saw another bear, walking up the side of the road. I made James stop so I could take a picture (for a second I think he was worried I might jump out of the car) and got the bear's rear end again. I guess there are worse views of a bear though.
A bear walking up the road
I was surprised by how small they are, not much taller than a large dog - but of course they're much stronger, and they can stand up on their hind legs more easily. We were told not to leave anything that looked like food or had any scent in our cars, including beverages.  Apparently they really like sports drinks and can recognize the packaging - and are capable of ripping your car door off to get to one.
We Three Bakery in Three Rivers
We found a great spot for breakfast - the We Three Bakery on the main highway in Three Rivers. The coffee was strong, the portions were hearty and the cinnamon rolls were amazing.
Cinnamon Roll at We Three Bakery in Three Rivers
Breakfast at We Three Bakery in Three Rivers
Speaking of breakfast delights, on our last morning at Bearpaw, we were treated to a perfect cinnamon streusel coffee cake. I finagled the recipe from Chris so that I could share it with you here. His special trick is to pat the streusel into the bottom of the pan so it forms a crisp crust on the bottom. It gives it a little extra crunch and helps it cut more cleanly too.  They also serve this as muffins - which are convenient because they bake faster.  Either way, it's delicious.
Bearpaw Coffee Cake
Bearpaw Coffee Cake

I'm fairly certain Chris reduced this recipe to fit a square pan, but he didn't say which size. I tried it in an 8 inch pan, but as you can see, it was a little thick. A 9 inch pan would be perfect.

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter - very soft
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup milk

3 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder

(note: this makes two layers of streusel, one for the top and one for the bottom - you can halve the amount if you only want to sprinkle it on the top.)
3 cups brown sugar
1 cup flour
3/4 cup butter, melted
1-2 teaspoons cinnamon, or to taste. (I've edited this because I made it with far less than the original 2 Tablespoons called for and thought it tasted much better but you can suit your own taste by adding it gradually.)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and butter or grease a 9 inch square metal or glass cake pan.

Make the streusel by stirring the ingredients together until well incorporated and clumps start to form.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder. Cream the softened butter with the sugar until light and fluffy, and beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the milk and incorporate. Gradually add the dry ingredients and blend just until incorporated.

Press some of the streusel into the pan, creating a bottom layer just a little thicker than 1/4 inch. Pour the cake batter into the pan, and spread the remaining streusel over. Bake in the center of the oven at 375 degrees for about 35-45 minutes, until the cake springs back to the touch in the center and a skewer or cake tester comes out clean. Set pan on a rack, and allow to cool completely before cutting.

About Bearpaw:Bearpaw is open from May to September, and reservations are taken by phone starting on January 2 at 7:00 AM. It does sell out, but cancellations are available throughout the season. We were lucky enough to get one, and several of the other people there were as well. Bearpaw inspires a lot of repeat visitors. The entire time we were there, we only met one other couple who had not been there before. You can read more about it here. More photos from the trip can be viewed here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Into the Back Country - Sequoia National Park and Bearpaw High Sierra Camp

Sitting on the rocks in the morning

Cushy hotels and fine dining have their charms to be sure, but there's nothing like leaving all that all behind and spending some time outdoors to recharge the old batteries and gain some perspective. Not that we were exactly roughing it on this trip...
Number 3
Earlier this month, we drove up to the Sequoia National Park and hiked out to the Bearpaw High Sierra Camp - 11.5 miles into the back country on the High Sierra Trail. Bearpaw is a six tent-cabin back country camp run by the park service concessionaire that has been there since the 1930s. You'd be hard pressed to find out much about it though if you don't know what you're looking for. It's not included in any of the park literature and there's only one mention of it on the park service's website. I accidentally stumbled on a reference to it while researching a different tent camp in the park. Someone recommended it instead, calling it the "real" one, so off I went to check it out. It was quite a bit less expensive than the other privately owned camp, and I liked the idea of staying at the park service run camp - even though I didn't know a whole lot about it. (The park service also runs similar camps in the Yosemite high country, though they're not quite as nice from what I understand.) What I saw, I liked, and they had a cancellation for three nights in early September. We booked it right away, along with a night on the front and back end at the Wuksachi Lodge in the park, to allow us to prepare for and recuperate from the hike and see the Giant Sequoias.
Where the High Sierra trail hits the ridgeline
The hike out to the camp on the High Sierra Trail is utterly spectacular. Built in the late twenties and early thirties, the trail was carved (or rather, blasted) out of the granite hillside in many places. It was the first trail constructed in the US specifically for recreational purposes, and they clearly maximized the landscape, with its sweeping vistas, vertigo-inducing drop-offs, waterfall-fed streams and shaded forest groves. Anyone with a wilderness permit can hike the trail and stay at the campsites along the way. The first one is about six miles in at Mehrten Creek. It goes all the way to the John Muir trail, and many people use it as a route to Mt. Whitney, making the trip to the summit in about one week.
The Great Western Divide starts to come into view
The hike to Bearpaw follows the trail for about 11.5 miles. Over that distance it gains about 1000 vertical feet - mostly in gentle ups and downs until the last mile and a half, which gains half of that alone. It's not technically difficult - it's amazing how far you can go as long as you just keep going - but it is exhausting. They claim the average time is about 7 hours, and the hike in is a bit more difficult than out - probably because of the vertical gain. It took us 9 hours to get there, but only 6 1/2 to come back.
Mehrten Creek
The creeks are good milestones, and good places to rest. 3 Mile Creek was my favorite - a shady glen with a waterfall-fed stream. Mehrten Creek is about halfway along (six miles) and a good spot for lunch. You'll likely encounter other hikers there. There is also a Nine Mile Creek, then soon after that the trail descends via a diabolical granite staircase - sized for mules rather than humans - to Buck Creek, which is the ten mile mark. Thereafter, about six to eight hours in, the trail climbs straight up - switchback after switchback - to carry you up to the ridge. At the crest of the ridge is the camp; the trail literally runs right through it.
First glimpse of the camp - after a 1.3 mile uphill climb from the creek
At the end of the long uphill hike, the camp feels like an oasis. We stumbled in during dinner (around 6 PM) and opted to shower first, so they saved us plates. After showering and changing, the food was cold but it was still delicious (especially the mushroom pot pie) and even in my exhausted state I was able to appreciate the perfect lemon tart. After supper, the guests congregated on the front porch of the lodge to chat and drink coffee or wine. I'm pretty sure we made polite chit chat for a little while, but my exhaustion was so bone deep that I have no recollection of it.
Inside the cabin
We were feeling much better in the morning, after a good night's sleep in a comfortable bed. Breakfast is served at 7:30, and coffee is available starting at about 6:30. The food is plentiful and really, really good. This breakfast happened to include pancakes, sausages, cantaloupe, scrambled eggs, hashbrowns and some leftover apple pie.
After breakfast, they put out snacks, and sandwiches if you ordered one the night before. Meat sandwiches are $10. and peanut butter and jelly or cheese are $5. (They make a mean pb& j.) Along with the sandwiches they offer their famous enormous brownies, fruit, mixed nuts, raisins and NutriGrain bars - available to everyone. They also have coffee available from breakfast until it runs out and again after dinner, and unlimited water and instant lemonade all day long. The brownies and fruit also stay out all day.
Sandwiches and snacks set out for the day hikers
The fruit bowl
In the lodge in the afternoon
Most people leave on day hikes right after breakfast. From the camp, the High Sierra Trail continues along the ridge down to Lone Pine Creek, before ascending up into the Great Western Divide. Hamilton Lake is above the first pass in the Divide and is a popular destination - but we decided to take it easy and just go down to the creek and back. It's a beautiful spot with waterfalls and pools, and the scenery on the way there was even more spectacular than the day before. We packed a picnic lunch and soaked our still-sore feet in the water.
Lone Pine Creek
Returning mid-afternoon, we had time for a little nap and a shower before dinner. That night's meal included pork loin, roasted crookneck squash, fresh baked french bread and an especially delicious salad with chickpeas, tomatoes and carrots tossed with a peanut vinaigrette. For dessert there was poundcake with whipped cream and berries.
Dinner in the Lodge
Delicious Dinner - Night Two
Poundcake with Berries and Whipped Cream
That night after dinner we were far more sociable. James pulled out a little bottle of scotch we'd brought with us, and we sipped it with our fellow campers while we watched the nearly full moon come up behind the Great Western Divide -  the glow in the lower left of this photo.  It was very nearly magical.
The full moon rise
(Continued here.)