Arriving to San Salvador, El Salvador

The arrivals terminal was outside. This is Central America after all and it’s humid. I walked out of the sliding glass doors, past the young guy and girl security guard testing the metal detector over and over again. I scanned the crowd for my name on a placard. I couldn’t look at the faces of any of the people because searching, anticipatory looks—those looks of anxiously waiting for your loved one to arrive from travel—always make me cry. I found my name written in black dry erase on a small white board carried by a not so small Salvadoran man. We made eye contact and I nodded my head up acknowledging him. He smiled and unhooked the canvas belt that corralled people. Without thinking I handed him my luggage and he said bienvenida (welcome).

When I was a kid I was fascinated by those signs. I was always greeted by family when I went to visit so being greeted by a stranger who doesn’t even know what you look like, that you have to identify yourself to, always struck me as odd but I’ve come to enjoy the anonymity of it. 

We walked along and I asked his name. Emilio, he told me. Nice to meet you, I replied. 

Your flight was delayed, he told me. As if I didn’t already know. I laughed politely and we walked on in tired, reverent silence. 

He asked me to wait while he went to get the car. Latin music softly played from a car parked in front of me and two young cops stood lazily at the entry of the VIP parking structure. 

I don’t like arriving to new places at night. Come to think of it, I don’t like arriving to old places at night, either, but that’s neither here nor there. We drove from the airport to the center of the city in the pitch dark but I could tell that San Salvador is lush and green. 

We passed fluorescent-lit–what I assumed to be–food stands. Lime and magenta colored and I couldn’t help but smile. I love the colors of Latin America. I will get y’all photos at some point but I couldn’t at night. I asked Emilio what typical Salvadoran food was and he said pupusas. I made a mental note to find a similar brightly-colored stand for pupusas while I’m here, I thought. There will be a future post dedicated entirely to pupusas but they are Salvadoran thick cornmeal flatbreads filled with cheese and sometimes also beans, pork rinds, squash, etc.

We made small talk as we approached the capital. I could tell because there were increasing lights shining in the horizon. I was tired from a long day of delayed flights and lack of sleep having attended so I took a sigh of relief when we pulled up to the hotel. I thanked Emilio and beelined straight to my bed to rest after checking in.

Invitations and apple donuts

Sometimes I think, “Gosh, I haven’t seen so-and-so in a long time.”  And I catch myself wondering, when was the last time we saw each other?  I wonder how she’s doing.  And then I remember that everyone—myself included—is busy and if I want to see someone, maybe I just ought to invite them out or over. More often than not, the invitation—or even just reaching out with a “hey, I haven’t seen you in some time,”— is met with a, “you’ve been on my mind! Let’s get together.”

Most of us think about our friends often. Well, except those with narcissistic or sociopathic tendencies but I’ll leave that for the professionals.

Similar to not seeing friends is not going to restaurants/cafés/bars that we love. I was in PG the other day and realized I hadn’t been to Pavel’s in a while, although it might not seem that way to you, dear reader, since my last column was Ode to a Chocolate Croissant, from there. I digress, anyways. I popped into Pavel’s for lunch and Paul, the owner, saw me. He came out from the back and said, “Remember that story you wrote about the apple donuts? You had gone somewhere.”

“Yes yes!” I said. “Apple Hill. Apple Cider donuts.” I was touched that he had remembered something I’d written. And from October!

“I’m going to be making something similar on Saturday for the celebration across the street at Grove Market. You should come try them,” he said.

Well, I don’t need to be told twice to try apple donuts so I added the event to my calendar and on Saturday made my way over to Grove Market for apple donuts. And…they were out. I asked the cashier about them and she said, “Oh…those were apple? They were so good! I thought they tasted fruity!”

Drat. I thought.

I ran across the street to Pavel’s. There were only 5 loaves of bread left and nothing else. It was 2pm on a Saturday, after all.  I saw Paul and waved with a huge smile on my face.

“They’re all out of the apple donuts you were telling me about across the street,” I explained.

“Oh. Hang on just a minute.” He turned around and went to the back.

I waited patiently. OK…not so patiently.  He came back with a small box of four donuts.

“Oh my God,” I said, “thank you!”

“They’re still warm,” he told me as he folded the box over itself to seal it.

“No, no. I’m having one now.” I told him. How could I not have a still-warm apple donut that I drove all the way over there for?

I took a bite and as you can imagine it was pure bliss. Yes, it was still warm and it tasted like it had macerated apples in it and the most delicate—still soft—glaze. My eyes rolled to the back of my head and I crouched down ever so slightly into my knees. “This is amazing!” I told Paul, shamelessly speaking with food in my mouth.

His smile beamed. As someone who cooks myself, I know how special it is when someone likes one of your creations. I thanked him 800 more times and walked out eating the still-warm donut.

On the drive home, I called a friend and told him I had fresh donuts for him and he might want to put a pot of coffee on. He—a fellow food lover—was thrilled and I could hear him pouring water into the kettle. By the time I got over to his apartment there was piping hot coffee to go along with our still-warm donuts.

The moral of my story is, if someone invites you for freshly made apple donuts, always oblige. But really, invite your friends over and connect with people you haven’t seen in some time, this is why we live. We’re on this earth for an indeterminate amount of time so make everyday worthwhile. Share what you have and check up on your friends.

Look at the glaze on that donut!

Ode to a chocolate croissant

Sometimes you just need a chocolate croissant from Pavel’s. When the world feels so ephemeral—I’m thinking of the fire of Notre Dame in Paris, not to make light of the situation—you need to devour a croissant in its lovely entirety. Or when someone lets you down or acts without integrity you have none other but to turn to Pavel’s for a buttery, dark chocolaty croissant. 

It was Tuesday and I was hungry for lunch. I was in PG running errands and popped into Pavel’s to get a sandwich. Side note, have you ever had their sandwiches? They are amazing. But they were out of sandwiches so I thought, this is God’s way of telling me I should have a chocolate croissant for lunch. To remind me of the beauty of each moment and reinstill my faith in humanity.

I got the chocolate croissant and suddenly there was a skip in my step. I didn’t eat it, of course, the consumption of a Pavel’s chocolate croissant is ritualistic in my book and must be done seated and without distraction. So I carried it, as if I were carrying a treasure, as I ran around PG taking care of my to do list. I smiled when I delicately deposited it on the backseat of the car to drive back to work, knowing the time was getting closer to enjoy my treat. And as I drove down Lighthouse, the fragrance of the chocolate croissant, a sweet, buttery smell permeated the warm car. I sang along with the radio in glee.

I got to work and parked. With great care I took the white paper bag that housed the chocolate croissant from the backseat and carried it as if it were on a platter. The bag was now grease-stained and wonderful. I usually walk with purpose but this time I was on a mission and I pounded the pavement to my office. Every step was bringing me closer to my indulgence. Once in my office I closed the door and smelled the chocolate croissant. It smelled so sweet. Its weight bent it in my fingers as I photographed it for you, my faithful readers. I set it on my desk and sat down in front of it. As always, I ripped the small nub off of one end and peered inside. This one was particularly chocolatey. Because of the imperfect nature of artisan baking sometimes some croissants have more chocolate than others. The ganache was beautiful and dark next to the white and fluffy internal dough of the croissant. The outside is brown and crunchy. I took the first bite and time stopped. My mouth watered and I closed my eyes to be present with my not-so-petit croissant.

I sat back in my chair and chewed slowly before contemplating the croissant and the beauty of life and slowly eating the whole thing.

perfection

Laguna San Ignacio, Baja, Mexico

The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Hola de Laguna San Ignacio, Baja California, Mexico. I am fortunate enough to have fun-loving, adventurous friends. I guess it’s true what they say, birds of a feather flock together. But anyhow, some friends of mine asked if I would be interested and available to join them in flying down to Baja California in their little Cessnas. I checked my work calendar and managed my schedule such that I could take some time off to fly to Mexico and camp on the beach.

The friend of my friends—Dave—has been flying down to this one little beach in Baja for about 30 years. He has a deal worked out with the guys who run the fishing and camping village on the Sea of Cortez where he leaves his RV and flies back a couple times a year to camp, fish, and enjoy the great outdoors. He often invites anyone who is willing and able to fly down because it’s pretty remote but does have a landing strip. I was fortunate enough to get invited down and…you know me…I’ll seize any opportunity for adventure.

It was my first time in a small plane and let me tell you, I could get used to this! We flew from Monterey to San Diego where we fueled up and had lunch and continued on to San Felipe, an official port of entry for us to clear Mexican customs. But no true adventure is complete without a hiccup or two and we were told we couldn’t make it where we were going before dark. The FAA gentleman told us to relax, we would have to spend the night in San Felipe. He called a cab—his dad—who picked us all up and took us to a hotel in town and the next morning he picked us up again, brought us to the airport and we were able to fly to our destination of Punta San Francisquito where we buzzed the beach and found Dave and his 88-year-old mother and some of his friends waiting for us. I just learned that “buzzing” in airplane speak is flying low to get someone to see you. So fun!

One day of this whirlwind adventure was slotted for whale watching. So we loaded up the three little planes with the twelve of us and flew to San Ignacio so we could get into boats and head out on the lagoon towards the Pacific Ocean to see the grey whales before they migrate north. It was such a magical experience, being in a small boat close to so many whales. And the calves are so curious, they would come up to the boat and nudge it and let us touch them.

After a lovely and turbulent boat ride we stepped into the restaurant for lunch and based on all the shells we passed on the drive in, I knew I was to order scallops, grilled and served with garlic. With of course, piping hot, paper thin tortillas and a killer margarita. It was just the perfect thing, making my own little tacos with the scallops on the hot tortillas and drinking the cold margarita in good company.

I have to say, this is a beautiful life we live and I urge you to seize any opportunity that comes your way. Or make adventure right here in PG…grab a friend—or take yourself!—and head to Peppers for Mexican food if this article has got you craving Mexican food. Or, did you know the new Poppy Hall on Lighthouse offers $1 oysters on Monday evenings? Along with a cava (Spanish sparkling wine) special. Regardless, there is no shortage for adventure opportunities in our little PG. It’s a matter of making magic.

scallops and garlic, rice, and my margarita

San Diego

Carpe diem. Seize the day. 

Greetings from sunny San Diego! I’m on another work trip to San Diego and back in my old stomping grounds. (I went to university at UCSD.) Being so close to the border means San Diego has amazing Mexican food so naturally, my colleague and I found a new Mexican place to try every day.

The first day we were on our way to work in Coronado and my colleague had her GPS navigating us. I know they are supposed to be helpful but the automated voice drives me crazy. We missed an exit on the freeway and Gidget—as my colleague calls her—was attempting to re-route us. Well in doing so, we drove by a hole in the wall joint with a line out the door and down the street. “Lyla…what’s that? We need to go there.” We took note of the place but didn’t catch the name and kept driving. We did, after all, have work to get to. After we had finished our meetings for the day, we asked one of the people we were meeting with where we should go for Mexican food. We were hoping he would direct us back to this really popular place. He did not. So, the next day, we decided to find it ourselves, googling “hole in the wall Mexican place” plus the street it was on.

Lyla turned the phone around to show me, “this is it!” she said. “Petra & Nati Las Cuatro Milpas” read the sign on the photo in Google with the same green awning and line out the door we had seen the day prior. On our one-hour lunch break, we drove straight to Petra & Nati Las Cuatro Milpas and couldn’t find parking on the first go around. So, we drove around the block the other way and wouldn’t you know, someone pulled out immediately in front of the restaurant just as we drove up.

A woman sat on a blue checkered blanked and made beaded bracelets and sold colorful things: wallets, headbands, etc. And the line was—as we anticipated—out the door and down the street. When it got to be our turn we decided to split a bunch of things so that we could each try more things. This is my favorite route when eating at someplace new. The menu was on one of those marquee boards where you can replace the black lettering in the white lined board. The whole menu fit on one of those boards. We ordered a pork tamal, the burrito—“you choose whatever you think is best,” and two chicken tacos. They were frying the rolled tacos right there and were just barely keeping up with making the tortillas. A huge caldron of soup simmered on a stove. The food smelled amazing and the seating area was all family style, the tables donning light blue checkered tablecloths.

Our food—plus two bottles of water—came to $12 and some change and we found seats at a long table with a couple who looked like they came here often. We split up everything evenly and went to town, generously heaping the deep and oily red salsa they had given us on top of everything. The food was fantastic and greasy. The tortilla that the burrito was wrapped in was unlike any tortilla I have ever had before. Normally tortillas—to my knowledge—are made with flour and water (or corn flour and water). No, this one was different. It tasted to me like the flour had been kneaded with lard. It was soft in a way that only grease gets soft. Buttery.

The tacos were perfect, the chicken was boiled and it was reminiscent of chicken soup…so naturally comforting. And the tamale. Again, it felt like the pork grease had been used to make the masa (the dough of the outside of the tamal). Everything was flavorful and sitting in the warm, small place with the food cooking so close to us made the experience all the better. They say it’s a good sign if there are a lot of people in a restaurant. Who wants to eat at an empty place…that must mean the food isn’t good, right? Well following that logic, this place exceeded our expectations and all those people standing in line…both days…knew what they were doing. And I guess something good came from the annoying-voiced GPS.

Burrito with cilantro, tacos, a tamal, and the hot sauce in the background

Lumpia in Lemoore

Greetings from Lemoore, CA! What I call the armpit of California, with all due respect to Lemorons—someone who lives here told me it’s what they’re called—it’s because of the farmland, the location, and the weather. Anyhow, in case you didn’t know there’s a Naval Air Station there so I’m down here for a work trip.

The Navy has a large population—and a long history—of Filipinos serving. In 1901 President William McKinley signed an executive order allowing the Navy to enlist 500 Filipinos as part of its insular force. Later in 1952, on account of the Korean War more personnel were required in the Navy so an agreement was negotiated that up to 1,000 Filipino citizens could enlist in the U.S. Navy annually. In 1954, this was increased to 2,000 people. Also, with the Nationality Act of 1940, aliens who served honorably in the armed forces for three or more years could be naturalized as U.S. citizens without having to meet certain normal requirements of naturalization. This law was repealed in 1952 and replaced by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 which was essentially the same thing although it stated that they shall have been lawfully admitted for permanent residence.

Enough with the history lesson, this is after all a food column. I called a friend who lives in Hanford—just outside of Lemoore where another dear friend says the only thing there is to do in Hanford is die—and we decided to meet for beers at Plan B Taphouse. I guess there are things to do in Hanford besides die, like drink beer. He told me they didn’t serve food and asked if I could pick up lumpia at Zeny’s, a Filipino restaurant in Lemoore on my way. Lumpia is a Filipino spring roll made of thin crepe pastry skin and filled with chopped vegetables and meat. It is served with a sweet chili sauce. These particular ones were made with ground beef and shredded carrots.

So after work, I drove to the gym. From the car I called Zeny’s and placed an order for 25 lumpia, per my friend’s instruction but the nice Filipino man on the other end told me they only do orders by the dozen so I ordered two dozen. I went for a swim in the outdoor pool because the armpit of California is warm already. Feeling refreshed—and starving—from my swim, I went to Zeny’s and bought snacks for my eight-minute drive to Hanford. It’s one of those times when “my eyes are bigger than my stomach.” I bought garlic flavored crunch-covered peanuts, Thai iced tea (super sweet, unnaturally orange iced tea), the lumpia, and dessert.

Blasting country music on the radio I drove the flat highway to Hanford, drank Thai iced tea, and munched on crunchy peanuts. Life is good, I thought. I’m glad I had the peanuts because the smell of the piping hot lumpia was terribly tempting.

I arrived at Zeny’s and parked in the parking lot just to notice two big German Shepherds in the huge truck next to me. In case you don’t know, I have an irrational fear of German Shepherds. Maybe it’s rational because I’ve been attacked by dogs—on multiple occasions—but I’ll save that for another time. I took a deep breath and opened the door, the dogs both stood and started sniffing, the crack I had opened in the door had wafted out the delicious smell of lumpia…meat. Just then I saw my friend walk into the bar so I slammed the door closed and called him. He answered and I asked if he could come to the parking lot to help me. Within seconds he was there and per my pantomiming he opened the passenger door. I told him I was afraid of dogs and could he grab the lumpia. He laughed—or maybe he rolled his eyes, or both—and grabbed the lumpia and we went in for beers.

The lumpia were amazing. The outside crust is crunchy and the inside is warm, meaty, and salty. Dipping it in the sweet cold chili sauce is just perfect as the flavors go together really well. And of course, they went great with a cold beer and good company. If you ever find a Filipino restaurant serving lumpia order a dozen or two and enjoy with a friend. I don’t know for certain of any Filipino restaurants in the area but I believe there is a Filipino market in Seaside and a Filipino restaurant in Salinas.

piping hot lumpia

Soto Ayam

Greetings from Singapore! I am en route home from Brunei—a tiny country on the island of Borneo in the South China Sea. I was in Brunei for work and decided to have an extended layover in Singapore on the way home to visit a friend who lives here. My friend’s parents are also visiting and it’s always nice to see familiar faces.

Singapore is the city of the future, they say. High rise buildings, Wi-Fi on the busses, a financial hub…it’s incredible. The city-state, formally The Republic of Singapore, is teeming with people and you can hear every language imaginable—and even some you can’t recognize—on the street. It is cosmopolitan, people come from all over the world to work and create a life for themselves. As you walk on the streets you see a wide range of people dressed in a variety of outfits: stilettos and chic dresses, cargo shorts and Birkenstocks, hijabs, saris, you name it.

Despite being a heavily populated metropole, it is impeccably clean and crime rates are very low. Singapore has strict laws that are seriously enforced against littering, spitting on the street, vandalism, etc. You may recall the American teenager, Michael Fay, who in 1994 was sentenced to four months in prison, a S$3,5000 fine, and six strokes of the cane for vandalism. Chewing gum is forbidden. You won’t find street food, either, as they are banned. Instead you will find hawker centers—open-air markets with many stalls selling inexpensive food. It is fascinating.

While I have been indulging in my fair share of food from the hawkers, my favorite dish by far has been soto ayam made by Yati, my friend Emilie’s Indonesian housekeeper. Soto ayam is an Indonesian spicy chicken noodle soup. I was drawn to the kitchen by the smell of sautéed coriander only to find a huge tray with all of the ingredients neatly spread out and Yati hard at work behind a mortar and pestle. I asked her what the yellow paste was that she was pounding and she told me it was the marinade for the chicken: garlic, ginger, shallot, and turmeric. There may have been other ingredients, too. I watched fascinated; I have no experience with Indonesian cuisine. When it was dinner time, we were each served a soup bowl and on the surface there was sautéed celery and celery greens; a hard-boiled egg, cut in half; chicken sausage; fried chicken; fried tofu; a quarter of a tomato; and fried onions. Underneath this was fresh noodles, bean sprouts, and fried peanuts swimming in chicken broth. I watched Yati mix the contents of her bowl, add lime and chili sauce, and start eating with chopsticks in one hand and a Chinese spoon in the other. I followed suit.

The first bite was overwhelming. Overwhelming in the best possible way, it is incredibly rich and fragrant. Although I had never had this or anything like it before it was comforting. It was warm, sour, spicy, and flavorful. The crunch of the cool bean sprouts in the warm broth was delightful. The fried peanuts were so unusual to me in a soup and I loved it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t bring Yati back with me although I asked her if she would come and she loved the idea. And there are no Indonesian restaurants in the area but I found a few online in the Bay Area. I haven’t been so I can’t vouch for their tastiness but I do plan to try one the next time I find myself up north. 

They say when in Rome, do as the Romans, so if you go to Singapore, be sure to eat the hawkers’ food, find soto ayam—although it’s Indonesian, and look up the laws and be sure to abide by them.

Stammtisch German Restaurant

“The true enjoyments must be spontaneous and compulsive and look to no remoter end.”

–C.S. Lewis

We are incredibly lucky to live where we live. For many reasons but one because we don’t have to travel far to find good food. One such gem in our area is Stammtisch German Restaurant in Seaside.

I picked up my friend Maryann who lives in Seaside the other day in search of Mexican food for lunch. As we drove down Fremont, yacking away, she asked if I felt like having German food. I know German cuisine is not anywhere near Mexican cuisine but I am always open to spontaneity. “I’ve always wanted to go there!” I said. So, we wove our way back from the end of Fremont to Echo Ave. and found Stammtisch.

We walked in and were greeted by Erwin, dressed in traditional Austrian embroidered white shirt and a vest. He seated us and asked if we would like to have a beer. We both said no thank you but looked at one another. “Come on,” he said with a smile in his charming Austrian accent. “OK, fine,” we both said. The table where we were seated was in the middle of the main dining room, next to the pot of the umbrella plant that is growing perfectly out of control around the room with one branch supported by yellow yarn on the ceiling. I commented on the beautiful plant and Erwin told me about once a month he wipes the leaves down with a mixture of water and beer, just like his mother taught him. “That way it’s always drunk!” he proclaimed.

Two slices of rye bread along with butter appeared in a gold-rimmed black basket lined with a napkin and then two steins of German pilsner beer from the tap. Next, we were each brought a bowl of the daily soup, cream of asparagus. We chatted with Erwin, who was very hospitable and charming, and we found out is married to the chef and owner, Claudia who is from Berlin. We ordered our lunch, Maryann, the special of the day—the cabbage stew with slow-cooked pork on top—and me, the currywurst.

The décor and vibe felt so German. The wooden tables and chairs, the wall clocks, and the Underberg: the iconic German herbal digestif. Traditional German music played in the background and it was raining outside. When our main dish was served, Claudia came out and we introduced ourselves. She gave me a stiff handshake and welcomed us. The food was presented so beautifully and we immediately dug in. Claudia’s goal is to serve traditional German food, old-fashioned home cooking. “I have achieved my goal if someone says this is how my mom or grandma cooked,” she told me. Now I don’t have a German mother or grandmother whose cooking I can compare to but I do know that even for me, a non-German, it was comfort food and I certainly felt comfortable.

After the meal—which we each took half home for the next day—we ordered two desserts to share, the lemon dessert and the apple crumble along with two cups of strong German coffee. The desserts were delicious and with the rain pitter-pattering on the roof, I sat back drinking my coffee contemplating my happy, full belly and how content I was with our spontaneous decision. I encourage you to check out Stammtisch, spontaneously—if you find yourself in Seaside, or if not…plan a trip. 

Cream of asparagus soup
Currywurst, potatoes, and sauerkraut
Apple crisp and coffee

Porta Bella, Carmel

This past Friday night I went out to dinner at Porta Bella in Carmel with my friend Father Dominic and our deacon friend John. We sat in their quaint, heated back patio that is painted Tuscan clay red and has plants creeping on the walls. One of the co-owners of the restaurant, Faisal, who is also a friend of Father Dominic’s joined us.

One thing I always do when I go out to eat—after looking over the menu and picking one or two things that sound good—is ask the waitress what her favorite item on the menu is. The response is one of two things: without skipping a beat she tells me her favorite item or she says, “that’s a tough one!” and lists a few items she likes or are popular among diners. If what she recommends lines up with what I was looking at, I definitely know what I’m ordering. If not, well it depends on if it was her favorite item in which case I’ll consider ordering it. This time I had the luxury of asking one of the restaurant owners. One of his three favorites, the Lamb Ossobuco, was one of the items I was considering so I knew I’d be having that for dinner.

But of course, it was Friday night and Father Dominic and John, like myself, are epicures so we started with soup and appetizers. I had the roasted corn and crab bisque and it was spectacular: rich, warm, and creamy on a cold rainy night. I appreciate a slow meal and this was just that. We talked and caught up on life and for those of us who were not already friends, we got to know each other a little more. Next, we shared the skewered grilled jumbo prawns served with a lemon aioli, the lobster ravioli, and the beef tenderloin carpaccio. I love beef carpaccio—a raw dish of thinly sliced meat typically served with lemon, olive oil, parmesan cheese, and truffle oil. Porta Bella’s also adds arugula and capers and they’re perfect accompaniments to the raw meat. Interestingly enough, the dish was invented in 1950 by Giuseppe Cipriani of Harry’s Bar in Venice for countess Amalia Nani Mocenigo when he heard that her doctors had recommended she eat raw meat. The name—carpaccio—comes from the Venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio whose work is characterized by red and white tones, reminiscent of raw meat.

The main course, the Lamb Ossobuco, was served with a potato gratin and vegetables while the lamb itself was cooked with red wine and white raisins. The meat was spectacularly tender and the flavors were perfect. We enjoyed a local cabernet with the meal and it was the perfect complement.

As the evening and meal went on, more people joined or replaced others and our table was buzzing with people and lively conversation; as the plates were cleared, a backgammon board appeared and a game was started. You see Faisal comes from a big family and network of restaurateurs in Carmel and as some got off work they would come to check out Porta Bella…seeing the owner seated for a change inspired people to come chat, pull up a chair, and join us. And even more so after learning that we had a priest at the table.

The discussion grew philosophical and Father Dominic was questioned on issues of morality which he answered in stride…as a Catholic priest, this is what he does for a living. It became a regular occurrence for someone seated at the table to apologize to him after saying something off-colored. Which brings me back to my initial point, “how you do anything is how you do everything.” I don’t believe that we ought to alter our behavior or our self in the presence of a Catholic priest or anyone for that matter. Sure, there is discretion and professional behavior but who we are ought to be who we are always. I find the idea of behavior-altering more troublesome than the off-colored comment, in other words, I appreciate integrity of the self. If I say something and feel I must apologize for it, maybe I oughtn’t have said it. Don’t get me wrong, I have said my fair share of things that I shouldn’t have said and will probably do so many times over in my life but, in an effort to grow and constantly improve myself I like to remind myself that how I do anything is how I do everything, to be intentional with each little thing because the culmination of all of those little things is me and my character. So here’s to being true to oneself when nobody is looking or even in the highest profile of company.

roasted corn and crab bisque
skewered grilled jumbo prawns with lemon aioli

Chocolate Stout Cake for a friend’s birthday

This past weekend was my dear friend Shandy’s birthday. The week prior she had asked me if I would make her birthday cake. It has become a tradition that I make this chocolate stout cake for a couple friends’ birthdays, including Shandy, and she swears it’s her favorite cake in the world. A week later her husband also sent me a text asking if I would make her favorite cake. What an honor because I simply have to follow a recipe and it can mean so much to a friend.

I first discovered this recipe in Gourmet magazine when I was in college. I was captivated by the photo of the big slice of chocolate cake sitting alongside a chilly glass of stout. Being in college and just beginning my relationship with beer—my relationship with chocolate has been lifelong—my curiosity was piqued. I was living in Del Mar at the time and working at a gourmet chocolate shop where we carried—and paired to chocolate—several beers by the local Stone Brewery. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to explore and expand my understand of chocolate and beer pairings. I lived in what my roommate and I called the beach shack, it was one block from the beach, we never locked the door and the house always seemed to be buzzing with people, the only two constants being my roommate Diana and myself. Our other semi-permanent roommate Kate was a Biochemistry post-doc at UCSD and we transformed the back of the house into a crash pad for post-docs, surfers, friends, etc. I often cooked big pots of curry or baked something and left it out for whoever was around to eat. I made this cake regularly and we always had beer in the fridge to go along. It seemed to be the perfect post-surf or post-run snack for us twenty-somethings who could never get enough to eat and always had room for a cold beer.

A word of warning, this cake is heavy so it is not for the faint of eater or heart. Also, the original recipe suggested you eat it alongside a stout beer. I hope you enjoy and maybe it will become the favorite of someone in your life’s.

Chocolate Stout Cake

  • 3 oz unsweetened chocolate
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1 1/4 cup + 3 tbsp. sugar (for 2 separate things)
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 14 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup stout, I use Boatswain chocolate stout from Trader Joes
  • 2/3 cup freshly brewed strong coffee, cooled to room temperature

Frosting

  • 1 lb bittersweet chocolate, I use Trader Joe’s 70% pound plus chocolate
  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tsp instant espresso powder, optional

Heat oven to 350˚F. In a double boiler, melt the chocolate.

Butter two round nine-inch cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment paper, butter and flour the parchment paper. Set aside. In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a standup mixer beat the butter and 1 1/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy and pale yellow, about two minutes. Add yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add lukewarm chocolate and mix until well-incorporated. Next add the coffee and stout and mix until incorporated. Beat in flour mixture in two additions until it is just incorporated.

Using clean, dry beaters, in a separate bowl beat the egg whites and remaining three tablespoons of sugar until they form stiff peaks. Fold one-third of the whites into the cake to lighten it. Then fold the remaining egg whites in in two additions. Pour batter distributing evenly in the two cake pans and bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool in pans for 20 minutes, then invert on a cooling rack, remove the parchment paper and cool completely before frosting.

For frosting:

Chop the chocolate and place in a medium, heatproof bowl. Set aside. In a saucepan over low heat, heat the whipping cream with the instant espresso, if you so choose. Bring the cream to a simmer stirring occasionally. Once it’s reached a simmer, pour it over the chocolate and let it sit for two minutes then whisk until all of the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Chill until slightly thickened and spreadable, stirring occasionally, about two hours. But not much longer because otherwise you can’t spread it.

I use all of the frosting to stuff and frost the cake. Serve with coffee or stout or a coffee stout and enjoy!