Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Vacation in California (Yosemite)

We just returned a hiking/food fest in California. After spending a few days hiking the breathtakingly vertical trails in Yosemite, we headed west for four days of diverse, delicious food in SF. Unfortunately, we lost our camera on our arrival in SF, so we have no pictures of our vacation! Too bad too since there was some spectacular scenery in Yosemite and equally gorgeous weather in San Francisco. Nevertheless, we have some great visual and sensory memories imprinted in our minds to carry with us (although it would be more interesting for you).

Our Yosemite visit was nothing less than fantastic! We had two full days in the park; on the first, we hiked short trails to Lower Yosemite Falls (a trickle at this time of year) and through the Mariposa Grove (of giant sequoias) and drove up to Glacier Point where we were to begin a more rigorous hike the next day. From that point overlooking the entire Yosemite Valley, the familiar glacial rocks, El Capitan and Half Dome, as well as the Nevada and Illiouette Falls, on day two, we hiked the 8.7 mile Panorama Trail. Half Dome is its signiture landmark, and it was majestic and beautiful. Shaped like a slice of watermelon, it is smooth and rounded on one side and sheer vertical cliff on the other. All along the winding Panorama Trail, we kept seeing the Half Dome at different levels (altitudes) and from new angles as we decended from 7200 ft. to 4000 ft. The final two mile segment of the Panorama, called the Mist Trail, runs along the waterfalls, and was by no means easy going. Following the near vertical drop of the falls is an unending trail of rock "steps" (and that is a VERY loose use of the term). In reality they weren't much more than what looked like a jumble of rocks and more rocks left by the last glacier of 3 million years ago. Given the strenuous demands and mental exhaustion (from having to focus on not twisting and ankle or falling) that we experienced we found it difficult to conceive of climbing the trail that we had descended. Hiroko became dizzy looking down and walking down the steps and the front thigh and shin muscles in my legs ached for the ensuing two days as if I had just made my first visit to the gym. In the end, it took us about 6 hours to finish the trail, we began the trail around 10:00 am and finished around 4 pm. Needless to say, we slept VERY well that night!

Sandwiches in San Francisco

We walked around San Francisco looking for great eats. After reading blogs and reviews, we realized that we had to try the subs at Marina Sub.

Marina Sub, a non-descript sandwich shop owned by the same Asian man who makes an array of overstuffed submarine sandwiches (hero, grinder, hoagie...call it what you will) is located at the corner of Union and Steiner Streets in the Marina section of San Francisco. When we arrived at about 1PM, there were only a few customers waiting on line with a handful seated at one of the sparse tables, eating their sandwiches. What we discovered was...the man sure knows how to make sandwich! Of particular note, is the impressive way in which he peels and slices an avocado. The man was a finely tuned machine; taking orders, making and toasting sandwiches, and then wrapping them with no wasted effort. It was the fusion of art and efficiency!

There are 3 sizes to choose from: small (5 inches), medium (7 inches), and large (10 inches). After having some time to observe while waiting, we opted for sharing a large "Italian" on which he first put mustard on one side the large Italian style baguette (we almost stopped him but are glad that we didn't), to which he then added cappicola, salami, mortadella, and provolone. He then put them in the oven to toast. While he was building our sandwich, he also prepared several phone ordered sandwiches and took orders from the next customers in line. When the sandwich was toasted, he added mayonnaise, shredded lettuce, tomato, and Italian dressing, then using his long knife closed the bread tightly and neatly wrapped it.

The sandwich was as tasty as we had anticipated from observing its construction. The bread was soft and lightly toasted, and the contents blended perfectly with the flavors of the mustard, mayonnaise and Italian dressing. It was well worth the walk there and we enjoyed the rare good fortune of a relatively short wait. Because, by the time we left, the line was out the door and around the corner!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Banh Mi in San Francisco

Our passion for banh mi is no secret. As our blog profile proclaims we look for this delicious Vietnamese sandwich everywhere we go. Aside from our favorite local shops in NYC (Saigon Banh Mi, and Hanco's), our global search has led us to sample them in Seattle and Portland as well as in Hanoi and Vientianne (Laos). Most recently on a trip to Yosemite and San Francisco, we had the opportunity to add a new favorite to our list. Hiroko's usual exhaustive research led us to the consensus choice for best banh mi among San Francisco's eating enthusiasts...Saigon Sandwich. So, of course, we had to try it.

The shop, located on Larkin street in Mission, is small and simple. When we got there, no line was formed and only one man was eating his banh mi at a, make that THE small counter, in the front window. The proprietor, sweeping the floor, without missing a broomstroke, took our order for the special banh mi, i.e. doc viet.

Without a doubt this is the best we have eaten so far. Yes, even better than the hallowed Saigon Banh Mi on Mott Street, we thought. With a generous amount of the tasty mix of pate, grilled seasoned pork, pickled carrot and daikon, cilantro, and price was $2.75! While we were savoring the sandwich, the line grew longer and longer. We seemed to got there just in time!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Chocolate cake

A cake is not Hiroko's favorite dessert to make. She is scared to make sponge cake because she doesn't own an electric mixer (which is a most useful gadget to have when whipping and mixing butter, egg, and sugar). That's her excuse not to attempt baking cakes. However, she realized that if she never tries, then she will never improve her skill, either.

After avoiding her loan baking fear for many years, she was moved to face it when Rick requested a chocolate cake for his birthday. At first, she didn't really want to make it, but then she decided it was time to take on the challenge.

Instead of the plain and typical chocolate sponge cake, which required her to whip egg and whites, Hiroko discovered a recipe for the cake using buttermilk, which didn't require whipping the eggs.

This recipe from December 2005 issue of Food & Wine uses coffee and butter milk to create a moist, rich and fudgy cake. She used Scharffenberger's bittersweet chocolate for her frosting and it was very dense and VERY chocolatey. As you can see in the photograph above, it wasn't the most professional looking, but it was delicious and it completely satisfied our chocolate craving. It was Hiroko's first try and she was happy with the results for a first effort. And now that she has overcome her fear of baking chocolate cakes, her only remaining fear is maintaining her waistline...


As Rick's birthday approached, Hiroko wanted to create something she had never prepared before. She went through cookbook after cookbook and found a relatively simple recipe for DUCK. It can be prepared in advance, which is allowed more time for the preparation of the other dinner dishes and dessert.

The aforementioned recipe is for Chilled Duck with Zinfandel Sauce from Food & Wine's 2004 Cookbook. After browning the duck breast in a cast iron pan, she placed it in a ziploc bag containing a Zinfandel, mirin, and soy sauce mixture. The following day, she cooked it in what trendy chefs are currently calling the "sous vide" method by placing the bag in a pot of boiling water for 10 minutes. Once cooked, the bag with the duck and marinade is plunged into a bowl of ice water and chilled for 45 mintues, and then popped it in the refrigerator to marnate overnight.

Just before the dinner, Hiroko warmed up the duck and sauce, and served it by placing the sliced duck breast on each plate and drizzling it with the warmed zinfandel sauce.

It was most and delicious...in a word, fantastic! Somehow, the picture we took does do it justice. You will just have to trust us and try it yourself with a few glasses of Martinelli Jackass Vineyard Zinfandel to simulate Rick's best birthday meal in memory!