Fish Out of Water

Musings and observations about life from an East Coast native now living on the Left Coast in the California State Capitol since 2004. This fish has made her home in Madison, WI (7 years); Portland, OR (2 years); Las Vegas, NV (7 months); Middlebury, VT (3 summers); Marne-la-Vallee, a small town east of Paris, France (6 months); Middletown, CT (3 years); and Marshfield, MA, the fish's coastal hometown 40 miles south of Boston (17 years).

Location: Sacramento, California, United States


2011 Themes - Food & Wine

As I was composing my Year in Review, I noticed several themes emerging from 2011, so I'll be adding some theme-based posts to the blog over the next couple of weeks. Let's start with Food & Wine...

For the past couple of years, I've had a monthly brunch outing with S, M, Ir & S. This group started as a way of staying in touch with M when she was no longer a volunteer at PP and then evolved to also include Ir & S when Ir left PP as well. I take responsibility for organizing the monthly date and trying to find a convenient time/location for everyone, usually in Midtown or Downtown Sac, since M doesn't mind driving from the Arden area and the rest of us live close to the grid. We've tried several different spots over the years, including Fox & Goose, Waffle Square, Bernardo's on 15th, Orphan, Crepeville (both Sac locations), Sweetwater, and Danielle's Creperie. The criteria for selecting a good spot include value/cost, menu variety, good coffee, and an option for pancakes (for M). Based on these criteria, I'd rate the above locations as follows, from best to worst:

  1. Orphan (meets all criteria)

  2. Crepeville (no pancakes)

  3. Fox & Goose (can get crowded)

  4. Bernardo's (minimal menu variety)

  5. Waffle Square (falls down on coffee)

  6. Danielle's (bad coffee, canned fruit)

  7. Sweetwater (minimal variety, higher cost)
Mr. E and I also enjoy weekend brunch, and although we've tried a couple of other locations (Kupros Bistro most recently), we do tend to favor Orphan, with Fox & Goose in second place.

I decided to count our total brunch trips in 2011, based on my datebook and my Outlook calendar, and for the meals that were noted specifically, the frequency definitely leans heavily towards Orphan!

Orphan - 9
Bernardo's - 4 (partly b/c Mr. E watches the Bears during footbal season, so I occasionally join him for part of a game)
Fox & Goose - 3
Crepeville - 2
Waffle Square - 1
Kupros - 1
Elixir - 1
Danielle's - 1

Home Cooking
Mr. E is always very supportive of any home-cooking efforts, and I continued my baking trend with a focus on breads. The recipe for "French bread" that comes with the Kitchenaid mixer has definitely become a favorite, although it doesn't at all produce a typical French baguette, which is what we expected. Instead, the consistency is more similar to an Italian bread, with a soft middle and crusty outside. I learned that it's best to split the recipe into 6-8 demi-loaves rather than having 3-4 large loaves, so we can have a couple in the fridge and the rest in the freezer. The most recent batch was perfect, as I made 1/2 the recipe, which resulted in 4 demi-loaves, one of which was the perfect accompaniment to our Christmas crab dinner.

When we visit France, we love to have the multi-grain baguette, so I was on a quest to find a similar recipe to mimic that flavor and consistency. I found a recipe for multi-grain, seeded, crusty bread, but in my two attempts thus far, the dough simply doesn't rise much, so the loaves are rather small and VERY dense. The flavor is excellent, but I'm going to experiment with future batches by reducing the amount of seeds and using some white flour instead of all wheat flour. I'm hoping that substitution might help make the dough less solid, so this quest continues into 2012.

We did manage to find a tasty recipe for fish tacos with an Asian-style slaw, the latter of which we also made as a side for another meal. New baking experiments included Cranberry Pecan Pumpkin Cookies from the J Vineyards cookbook (outstanding!), Figgy Pudding (very, very dense, but extremely tasty once I transformed it into bread pudding), and Carrot Pumpkin Muffins (tasty but also quite dense and hard to cook all the way through). Other ongoing favorites include Cranberry Chocolate Chip Macaroons (dark chocolate, of course), Cranberry Orange Scones and/or Apricot Scones, and Whole Wheat Pizza Dough.

Date Nights
Mr. E and I have decided that January will be our month of weekly date nights to try out some of the Sac restaurants we've talked about but have never visited. We tend to return to our favorites - Ma Jong, Orphan, Sapporo, Burgers & Brew. So on the list for new spots are Tuli Bistro, The Golden Bear, and Kru (I've been with L but Mr. E hasn't been at all). However, we've learned from past experience not to experiment with a new spot for our anniversary celebration, so for that week, we'll return to our much-loved but not recently visited Michelangelo's. Let's hope that some of the new places live up to their reputations!


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