I bought some Popsicle molds earlier this summer and have found some really delicious, and lowfat treats to make with them. The cherry yogurt pops are a great way to use up less than perfect fruit and could be made with other berries or stone fruit just as easily. And the addition of cocoa to the Vietnamese Coffee popsicles turn them into a delicious grown up fudgecicle. I made mine decaf so I could enjoy them anytime.

Cherry Yogurt Popsicles
Makes about 4

2 cup pitted sweet cherries, fresh or frozen
1/4 cup sugar
splash of lemon juice
1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt
1-2 tbsp honey

In a medium saucepan, combine cherries, sugar, and lemon juice. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and allow to cook for about 5 minutes until fruit is softened slightly and exuding juice. Allow to cool. Puree fruit mixture in a blender until smooth. In a small bowl, combine yogurt and honey. Pour cherry puree into Popsicle molds filling the first 1/3 of the mold. Then spoon some of the yogurt mixture and continue alternating until the molds are filled. (If you have extra puree, it makes a good smoothie). Use a wooden skewer to swirl layers together. Freeze atleast 3 hours.

Vietnamese Coffee Popsicles
Adapted from David Lebovitz
Makes about 4

1 cup espresso or strong coffee
1/3 cup sweetened condensed nonfat milk
1 tbsp cocoa powder, optional
Water to taste

In a small saucepan, combine cocoa powder and brewed coffee and simmer over low heat whisking to dissolve cocoa. Add condensed milk and stir to combine. Thin mixture with water if desired. Pour into Popsicle molds and freeze atleast 3 hours.


California Road Trip

When I moved out west 3 years ago and bought my first car in nearly 6 years, I had this fantasy of driving down the coast to California wine country where I'd meet up with my other west coast friends for a long weekend of wine tasting in the pastoral countryside. Unfortunately I'd imagined it to be a much shorter drive than it is. And well, I kinda gave up on my dream road trip. It turns out, there are plenty of fun places to drive to that are much closer to Seattle and we've taken advantage of many of them - from wine tasting in the Willamette Valley for delicate Pinots and Chardonnay, the Columbia Valley for bolder reds and sweeter whites, Portland for great food, design, and an adorably walkable downtown, Vancouver for international cuisine and great shopping, and of course all the National parks just a few hours away.

But when the opportunity came up for a trip to Berkeley and Santa Monica, Jon decided it was time for a California road trip and some wine tasting along the Central Coast. After consulting with friends, we decided on our route - fly into Oakland, then spend the weekend in Berkeley, head straight down on I-5 spending most of the week in Santa Monica and then head up along the coast on 1 and 101 stopping in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles, and Carmel before flying back home again. The drive from San Luis Obispo to Carmel was particularly beautiful - Jon and I were both saying 'oh wow' around every bend.

But what I didn't expect to enjoy so much was the drive down on I-5. I'd never seen the San Joaquin Valley before and, to be honest, I'd imagined it to be much more like East Coast farmland - lush and green with agriculture replacing native plants. And, granted, it is the height of the dry season on the West Coast, and we've had an especially hot and dry summer but it was amazing to see the orchards that were no longer irrigated with row after row of sun-fried trees (and the billboards announcing the "congress created dustbowl"). It was also a lot of fun to identify the various crops. My favorite hard to identify crop actually came at the tail end of our trip near Santa Cruz - neither Jon nor I could figure it out - Jon guessed they were a cross between onions and pineapples . . . they turned out to be artichokes and we were very excited when we finally saw he fields filled with ready to pick artichoke heads.

Our other great discovery was burrata cheese, which appeared on the menu at nearly every restaurant we tried. I've since discovered it's a highly perishable cheese - a mixture of fresh mozzarella 'rags' and cream stuffed into a mozzarella balloon. And it is only produced in Southern California and in Italy - although apparently it can be flown in to other cities within it's 2-3 day lifespan. It's delicious - mild and creamy with a consistency similar to a soft goat cheese. And apparently, it's best served simply, and usually during the summer along with some ripe heirloom tomatoes and basil.

We had some amazing food during our travels - perhaps proving Jon's assertion that "food is better in California". I've included a few of our favorites below -

1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, CA
This was probably my favorite in LA - it's very noisy and dark, but the food is amazing. My friend Colin and I both had wood fired pizzas, their specialty, and I had the roasted asparagus with a very spicy and very good romesco sauce.

8022 W 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA
Small and delightful plates and great wine to match. Jon loved this place, I thought it was lovely but was just a little bit jealous as he was raving about his trout and pork dishes. The beet salad and fried cheese were both delicate, beautiful, and scrumptious - so I can't complain.

Real Food Daily
514 Santa Monica Blvd, Santa Monica, CA
Since I was dining alone for most lunches, I decided to go for vegan food! I was not disappointed with my huge chopped salad and berry tea, although it was a bit spendy for lunch.

Sebastian's Store
442 Slo San Simeon Rd, San Simeon, CA
This was written up in one of Central Coast magazine as one of the best sandwich shops around. And after the 40 minute wait for a cold sandwich I was beginning to regret my decision. But once we finally sat down to eat, I didn't mind so much - the sandwiches were huge and well composed with really fresh ingredients, and very California with plenty of avocado and sprouts.

Big Sur Bakery
47540 Highway 1, Big Sur, CA
I'd seen this mentioned on 101 Cookbooks, as they have a newly released cookbook that I'll have to check out. Unfortunately we made it up there a few hours after devouring our gigantic sandwiches, so we weren't all the hungry. I did get some coffees and a large blondie which was a yummy snack for the road. If you're up this way, it's a nice pit stop, especially considering the convenience store nearby charges airport prices for soft drinks, and they do serve meals too.

Little Napoli Bistro
Dolores & 7th, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA
Jon and I both loved our pastas - I had the Rosso e Bianco, with a light alfredo sauce and stewed cherry tomatoes ontop, and Jon had the Bolognese. And our dessert - some sort of chocolate hazelnut ice cream ball, was a perfect ending to our meal.

San Carlos St, Carmel-By-the-Sea, CA
We had almost given up on lunch in Carmel when I spied this place in the back of a courtyard. It was surprisingly well priced for Carmel and had really delicious sandwiches and salads with very fresh ingredients. I had the grilled peach salad with candied walnuts and feta cheese, and Jon had a perfectly seared ahi tuna sandwich on french bread.

And as for wineries, we liked all that we tried - Peachy Canyon, Wild Coyote, Tolo, Carmody-McKnight, Eberle, and JanKris.


Farmer's Market Tour

Jon and I visited with Jon's dad in Berkeley the weekend before last and when asked what I wanted to do while we were in town, I immediately suggested a visit to the farmers market. To be honest, since moving to Seattle I've become less and less enchanted with farmers markets. But I suspect it has more to do with Seattle than with farmers markets in general. And the Berkeley Market is supposed to be one of the best.

Growing up outside of Philadelphia we would frequent farm stands and occasionally farmers markets for sweet corn and tomatoes in the summer, and apples and pumpkins in the fall. Fresh and simple, they were just a good place to pick up better quality and locally grown produce. Later in Ithaca, NY where I attended college, the farmers market was a mecca for hippies and Moosewood types with plenty of vegan food, folk music, and edible flowers. It was fun, but not the most convenient place to pick up groceries. Plus, you can't exactly expect farmers to grow much in a climate where it snows for 9 months straight. Later when I lived in New York, the Union Square market was such a perfect contrast to city life - with wildflowers and country pies, and it was located within walking distance of Whole Foods and Traders Joes which made getting everything I needed, or more accurately everything I could lug home, so much easier.

And then I moved out to Seattle, just in time for summer. I started frequenting my neighborhood farmers market. I had a whole Saturday routine down - brew some locally roasted coffee, go for a walk in one of the cities many parks, and end with a trip to the market - for fresh flowers, cherry tomatoes, and artisan breads. But as I grew more accustomed to life in my new city, I started realizing that everything I liked at the market could be purchased elsewhere and without all the hassle. And I started to grow resentful of farmers markets for high prices, short hours, long lines, and sub par produce sold as if it's the most precious thing around.

But when I went to the Berkeley market, all the resentment melted away. They had beautiful displays of heirloom tomatoes and every kind of summer squash imaginable, and a militant no bag policy - that while inconvenient when traveling without ones green bags, seemed to fit perfectly with their purpose. And unlike Seattle, everything seemed fresh, relatively bug free, and reasonably priced. The allure of farmers markets was back! (With our bounty, Jon's dad made a lovely pasta dish with tomatoes and zucchini and I made a variation on my quinoa salad with grilled peppers, summer squash, and red onions, fresh tomatoes and avocado.)

Later in the week, we drove down to LA where and I was able to check out the Wednesday Santa Monica market. And it kinda blew the Berkley market out of the water. Maybe it's just the novelty of having several kinds of locally grown avocados available or the bundles of fresh Japanese and Vietnamese shiso leaf. Or the fact that right in the middle of an uber commercial urban mall, they closed down the streets for stand after stand of fresh and locally produced food. But it made me want to move right then and there. Unfortunately since we were staying in a hotel at that point, I couldn't really cook anything. So, I limited my purchases to freshly squeezed pink grapefruit and Valencia orange juices, a pint of California strawberries, and a muffin. But it was all delicious!