Tipping Point…

Had a really great time doing a cooking class for 25 or so folks over at CookHouse SF. It was a really great day filled with nerves and anticipation, but it helped that good friends and colleagues Irene and Joe were there to help out.

A big thank you to those two as well as Maggie from WhiskSF for coordinating and planning the class with local non-profit Tipping Point. Delicious locally caught Halibut, provided by Water2Table and Chocolate from Guittard Chocolates.




Out With the Old

Hey look below…it’s a mermaid staring into the sun…59f5aef0cd6911e2bdcf22000a1fbe62_7

Sometimes a break if given to you. When you don’t want it. When you don’t think you need it.

Sometimes I wonder, what did I do wrong? Not much sense in trying to make sense of the wrongs. I’d rather move on to find the right.

Starting about 2 weeks ago, I no longer work at this establishment mentioned in a previous post: Read All About It… It looks like I am off again to another chapter.

I don’t visit many blogs, but one I often go to for inspiration is Heidi Swanson’s. This recent recipe by Heidi is a stupidly delicious mung bean hummus. I mean…really really addictive. It is heavily reminiscent of my Vietnamese flavors found in soups and other savouries that remind me of my childhood.

 101CookBooks – Visit here for a medley of inspiring and outrageously clean and delicious recipes. Thank you Heidi for the hello! HELLO!!

I must say,

If you like that then you will also love…

QuitoKeeto – Visit here for some really beautiful items and recipes.



LInk to the story of the song, the singers and the writer. love, love, love love lovvvveeee Read here : LINK.

Tina Loves Italy

I’m back.  My first time traveling alone unraveled lots of insecurities and falsities that stresses in life have given me.   I fell in love with Italy when it opened up to me, or was it when I opened up to it.

Unorganized, unplanned and it was just what I wanted.  I encountered the traveler with just a ticket, the organized boutique traveler, the backpacker, the traveler to whom just wanted that passport littered with stamps, the lusty traveler, the party traveler, the farmer traveler, the other persona traveler…

Traveling is part relaxation, part adventure, and part learning about the people the places and the culture.  Of course that always includes the food.

What traveler was I?  I was the naïve traveler, the unorganized traveler, the lonely traveler, the one to be ignored, the voyeur.  The one who really wanted to sit down in someones home and eat a home cooked meal.

Traveling unraveled itself in my 20’s when I worked as a waitress at a local Irish bar, I met countless people who backpacked, or traveled through Europe, Asia, South America.  I vicariously lived through their stories and as my glazed eyes stared into space, I placed myself in a time when I could finally do this myself.

I flew into Heathrow and found out that my room in Rome was already rented, and that my money was refunded.  There was no time to assess my surroundings, I had landed and planted myself at Roma Termini, and I quickly had a love hate affair with Rome.   The train station slapped me in the face.  My body felt weightless, like being suspended on a bed of clouds, still trying to take in the fact that I had no bed secured for the night…

I highly romanticized Rome, and thus far the act of the lonesome traveler…I had no idea what I would be expecting.

Freshly jet lagged and tired from carrying a heavy backpack through terminal after terminal, I was ready to tear up.  Frustration peaked through and made me weak.

In my first Roman taxi, the driver questioned why I did not know the language and it was only then that I opened myself up tospeaking the language.  My voice trembled and my adrenaline rushed when I told him “Io non capisco l’Italiano”,  I felt like jumping out of the taxi and not paying him after that comment, but I understand.  After coming across so many tourist that just speak English and don’t even make an effort, flocks of disrespectful tourist is a recipe for the angry taxi driver.  To him I was just a number, until I made that effort.

In Italy… I met a stranger and together we ventured off to Cinque Terre and Venice, stayed at an all women’s hostel formerly ran by nuns sleeping in a room with 13 other women, then there were magical times like waking up to the sounds of church bells, hearing Italian children whining for their mothers in the early morning, beautiful seaside towns, Venetian alleys, seeing an a little old woman canning tomato sauce, but of course I also had encounters with aggressive men, sleeping at an airport, holding the frail hand of an Italian nonna, went to the hospital and got treated for dehydration in Milan, drinking prosecco and valpolicella while eating lunch with an Italian family, drinking lots of wine, trying horse meat, and donkey meat in one sitting,   walking…walking…walking…pizza pizza …pasta… pasta…

It was in Milan and Verona that I felt the safest and the most at home.  I can’t give thanks to Mateo and Valentina enough, I can’t tell you how much I fell in love with Dido, Antoinetta, Domenico, Anna, Nico, and their whole community of friends and family.

When asked what I would do differently, my response would be absolutely nothing…but it would have been nice to just have more money on the trip.  Especially when I saw that hefty green wool Dries Van Noten coat that was heavily discounted at a little boutique in Verona. Most importantly after feeling so weak, I was able to gain back the strength that laid dormant after my father passed away.

While laying in bed I found myself planning my day…should I walk to the Duomo and head to the Pinacoteca today?  Should I go walk to the park? What else can I do?  Still in a bit of a dream state…still waking up.  I miss most, the sounds of Italian conversations, and the hand gestures, and the cheeky kisses

I’ve gotten the bug.




I finally have some time, rest and a computer to write on.  So far it has been 19 days since I last stepped foot on American soil, the delays, the waits, the confusion with my first time traveling were at a point unbearable.    My trip has been nothing less than an amazing experience.  Seems like all emotions have been put forth on a platter, and i’ve given myself the opportunity to take it all in, and leave some excess behind.

I won’t be posting much until I get back to the states, then I can sit down and write stories that accompany the pictures that I have taken.  Even though I am a cook, I did not come to Italy to only seek out food, I came to seek out the culture, the people, the language and to fulfill my fascination with this country.  The food…uhhhh the food, I think I have to do a total detox when I get back to the states.  There was one night when I ate so much charcuterie, that I felt really sick.  Forget about EAT PRAY LOVE…that was NOT the reason why I wanted to spend 35 days in this beautiful country.

Milano is my base right now, and I have the greatest host.  Matteo Musci  who has given me an Italy that I would have not been able to experience, if I were to be alone.  His community of childhood friends, family, and everyone in between has been warm, gracious, caring and open.  This trip has really made me want to study the Italian language.

My backpack can tell stories, and so can my Iphone camera, but all those just do not give the moments spent alone justice.  When my Lonely Planet guide could not help me, and when Io no capisco Italiano was all I knew.

I worked in a small bites bar called a cichetteria in Venice, I got yelled at by a lady in Corniglia for petting a sleeping cat, I met a solo traveler named Aaza and followed her to Cinque Terre and it was in Venice where we got ourselves into a little bit of a mess.

Ah yes, traveling alone also consisted of me crying to complete strangers.  When my frustrations built up, when my knowledge of the Italian language was just shitty, when even walking into a pastry shop seemed like an ordeal.   When nothing seemed to work out, but then when it started to work out…

All moments on this trip so far have been eye opening and amazing, and as I continue on the days, time, and everything becomes even more surreal and it becomes segmented by experiences and towns as opposed to days and time.  Oh yes, I am only a little over halfway into my journey.

I have been losing sight of reality, as everything seems to be totally dreamy...sognante.  In a dream, in a daze, and all I want to do is cook…for anyone and everyone that I come across.

When I open up a conversation with, food here, the locals go on a bit of a tangent.  Where is your favorite place to eat, what region, where did you grow up…FOOD becomes the language that I speak.  Hand gestures, and words that I have learned from cooking has really helped me to get in touch with strangers.  We all love food, and everyone in Italy seems to want to show me their favorite food, favorite place to eat, secrets that the Lonely Planet guides could never tell me about.

Every city I come across has been my favorite…but it was in Verona that my hosts Anna and Nico were so inviting that I contemplated a move.   They have the cutest shop called FOLKS where the most outrageous collections of Vans Shoes can be found.  I wish I had the time to tell you more…

Ciao!! Off to Torino tomorrow then to Florence then???? Until next time…

Music choice by Matteo.


Everything is going to be…

If it doesn’t then I just have to throw my arms up at the moon…

I would say, I am at my infancy still…

That I couldn’t mask… to make  it through the next couple of years without some type of humility ….the years where I haven’t sacrificed enough…because I love it.

The years where my growth as a chef would have been far greater…or would it have.

When asked what I do now I reply with a multitude of explanations.   I shy away, and in an attempt to sound like I havent given up…I explain…and in a dull attempt I explain…

But it isn’t that bad.  It’s actually relaxing, to do and bask in nothing…that doesn’t mean that I don’t work.   Metaphorically speaking, the past couple of years I waded in a pool, in a half state of consciousness.  Bobbing up and down, floating… getting by…I could do it… a real ego driven state of mind.  Thinking that I must become a chef…a something….the later robbing me of my quality of life and I began to sink…I said hey let’s stop and take a break, and donde esta my life vest.  Why was it that bad?  I’ve always dreamed of it…this was what I always wanted to do!!

I pondered a life , my future and career, the images blanketing my psyche and I was determined…was given and told that this was what I could do…would accomplish, and most importantly am on the road to becoming.   My mentors my peers…the hooplah of it all.

It ain’t so bad…i’m not giving up, it’s more like a renaissance.  I don’t know what will happen next, and I dont mind to, because I’ve spent the past years worrying in woes about it all.

Your not giving up when you are figuring things out, if you can every step is important to OWN ones journey…

When you feel like you’ve given up, the fight the want, the need to be a title, to endure the hours…

To live within the conscious time when you can bask in the fruits of your labor…

Chicken and Clams

Nothing goes together like chicken and clams.  Nevermind…

Surf and turf they call it.  Long associated with stained red lobster claws and tails, a hunk of juicy aged steak butter and potatoes.  Nothing says steak house like good ol’ drawn butter a bib and meat.   I like the flavor that clams and other seafood creatures lend to land critters when thrown together in a pot.  Just when I thought I was cooking for two, I then found out that I would be welcoming a third, so I decided to head down to my local seafood monger and bought some clams.   As I tasted the broth I knew that clams would be a great addition, not only would it stretch my meal but it would also give the braise additional broth when the clams open.

There is a heavy Italian influence here.  The kitchen staples to work, aromatics to start with and creating an inviting and aromatic dish.  This recipe allows the avid home cook to gain access to cooking a basic and delicious nonchalant dinner.  From this simple dish you can add olives, lemons, different meats,  different herbs.  Allow yourself to experiment with other root vegetables, as well as spices,  as well as using canned verses fresh tomatoes.

The marjoram and fresh herbs in this dish as well as the freshness of the tiny plum tomatoes sweeten and freshen the braise.  Instead of a braise it becomes a juicy stew, and thus is lighter than a thick and unctuous sauce.   Served over rice, or over pasta, maybe cous-cous, and even polenta it creates a delicious dinner for a mildly breezy summer night.

My pantry needs, Olive Oil, Salt, Pepper, Lemons, Onions, Garlic, eggs, herbs, and canned tomatoes.  If I have that I can make and create a dinner in no time.  .

Chicken and Clam Stew w/Plum Tomatoes and Herbs over fresh Tagliarini
Serves 2-4
3-4 Chicken Legs
12-16 Manila Clams
1 C. Red Wine
1/4 C. Red Wine Vinegar
1 Medium Yellow Onion
1 C. Carrots
3 Cloves Garlic
1 T Each – Marjoram, Oregano, Thyme
1 1/2 C. Plum or Cherry Tomatoes
Olive Oil 
You will need a pot that could go from stovetop to oven.   Salt and pepper chicken, let sit, pay dry.  Heat pan, add Olive Oil.  Add chicken and brown well.  
Remove chicken when skin side is well seared and browned.  Remove some fat from pan.  Add a bit more olive oil, and add onions and garlic and salt.  After about 4 minutes, add red wine, vinegar scrape pan.  Add herbs, carrots, tomatoes and 1 C. of water-cover and simmer on low for 20 minutes till tomatoes blister and pop.   Assist the popping by puncturing the tomatoes with a fork if needed.  Add Chicken, capers continue to cook for another 20 in a 375° oven. Take out of oven and add clams, place back into oven for another 10 min or so just enough until the clams pop open.  
Place atop fresh pasta and drizzle with some young olive oil. Yum.
[youtube http://youtu.be/AdimD8Z-ppY]

City Hike

I went on a little city hike yesterday.   Tuna sandwich, cherries, and guava juice.  I huffed and heaved hoed my way up the hill and came upon bushes and bushes of thorny branches, filled with ripe and unripe berries galore.  I grabbed a couple,  climbed over some railings and foretold of a bloody fall.   Backing away from the sloping hill I grabbed what I could.

I continued up the hike to see more berries!  Not now…I waited till I finished my hike before I succumbed to my greed.   Berries…berries…berries! Some where not the sweetest nor were they the easiest to pluck.  I put my sandwich bag to use, these downward facing hills wouldn’t detour me from dreams of making a city jam, but maybe the constant pricking of thorns might help.

My jam fantasy came true, my city hike gave me a mini bounty of fragrant dark gems to bring home.  I had just enough time to cook and jar them before I went off into the night.

*I never add pectin into my jams.  I add a little more sugar and leach out as much of the juices as I can then I reduce and reduce.  The lemon always adds a nice brightness.  The natural pectin from the pith as well as the acid always helps with thickening.  Jams are not very complicated.   Stir, watch it, and reduce it.  For the home cook, nothing should be very complicated about making a jam.  Just don’t burn it.  A special copper pan would be nice, and a thermometer would be nice and that spoon test…forget about it all and just watch your jam like you would watch over a toddler in a kiddie pool.  

Blackberry City Jam
2 1/2 C. Blackberries
1 1/2 C. Sugar 
1 Lemon
Rinse blackberries of dirt and debris.  Cut whole lemon into thirds or quarters remove seeds.  Place berries & lemon in pot, add sugar.   Cook on medium heat.  Stir to ensure that nothing sticks to the bottom of your pan.  At this point you will see your berries shrivel and the majority of your pot will be taken over by the juices of the berry.   This is a time to really watch your heat!  Gently stir bottom of pan and sides.  Turn heat to med-low, and just let this reduce to thicken.  I recommend 20+min.   Thicken it to about less than 1/2.  If you insist on doing that spoon trick-stick a metal spoon into the freezer.  Put some jam on the spoon and place back into the freezer, from here you can quickly see the gelling as well as desired thickness.  Before placing into jars remove lemons and squeeze excess.  Want it thicker? Cook it more-but be very mindful of not scorching your molten jam by stirring the bottom of the pan. 
Put into a clean sterilized jar eat and enjoy. 

Use your hands.

Use your hands.

In addition to other items at dinner, we have eaten Padron peppers three days in a row. These nibbles of green are actually pretty mild and addictive. My favorite part is being able to eat them when they are still hot, while the juices and the seeds gallop into your mouth like a flavorful injection, dispersing themselves onto your taste buds. I like to eat them whole, stem and all. It’s a satisfying feeling, like being able to to leave no trace of what was left on your plate. YUM.

When these pods of scrumptiousness come around, they come in abundance.

They are clean, with little flesh yet meaty with a thin skin. They do cook up quickly. The sizzle of oil and moisture released onto the pan as it sears the pepper lends a smokey flavor. Sometimes you get that one or two or three that can tingle and burn your mouth. Every cook I know often comments on those being the “lucky” ones. The coveted ones.

Padrons are best when cooked in a very hot pan, quickly and simply tossed with olive oil and finished with sea salt or even flavored salts like citrus salts, or smoked salts. Although accompaniments like zest and cheeses are delicious too. Soft crumbles of cheeses, chopped nuts, and fruits go well with Padrons

The other night I heated up a saute pan, tossed the Padrons and Shitake mushrooms in olive oil and placed them in the hot smoking pan. Being sure not to overcrowd and to toss every minute or so, I looked for the good char on the skin and looked for the mushrooms to soften then quickly placed onto a plate. Drizzled with some Olive oil, some flaked sea salt and a squeeze of lemon. They become a great snack or starter.

Sitting around a table, using your hands and pummeling through them with friends is the best way to eat padronsespecially on a warm summer night.


You’re totally going to change.

In May I wrote a guest blog post on Charlotte Druckman’s Tumblr.   Charlotte is an accomplished writer/journalist living and working out in New York who regularly contributes to the WSJ.Com  and New York Times T Mag Blog.  She is also writing a book on women chef’s called  Skirt Steak: Woman Chefs on Standing the Heat & Staying in the Kitchen due out Fall, 2012 on Chronicle books.  During this time I felt ill with loss and separation from my accomplishments and felt much disappointment, but  there was also rediscovery and rebirth which I continue to do.  In response to that post there were some great chefs that contacted me and told me to keep on looking actually MOVE forward.  I needed that,  I yearned for the voice and participation of other women in my field that have stuck through it.  Here is the link (finally) to those who haven’t read it…

“When I started to cook, my eyes were cloudy with romanticism. Here I was, finally cooking.   I was intent on learning and having a mentor.  I was super-idealistic about the evolution of a chef—what it was going to be like to button up those whites. ..”
(Click To Continue reading the post from Charlottes Blog)

During that time I kept busy and not so busy passing the time by questioning my motives.  It was too hard to try to forget that moment when I looked in the mirror with utter despair, and told myself everything was going to be okay.   The images of other chefs telling me to not give up, and with Charlotte’s help  I was able to speak to different chefs, and some allowed me into their kitchens, because this is what they do.

Happier times ahead… fruitful ones realizing that I have put just too much on my shoulders. Giving myself a bit of time to inhale and exhale.

Calm Waters.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” 

― Ira Glass