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today’s special


I always break for foodie films when surfing Netflix, but initially I zoomed right by Today’s Special, maybe I was too busy with the popcorn bin. But after another go around, when I paused it was Madhur Jaffrey’s name that jumped out at me, then the chef garb on Aasif Mandvi made me smile and the spice bowls next to him hit me. It was food starring in film at my fingertips!

During a visit to Omnivore Books on Food in San Francisco, somehow (and not so far fetched really being it is a bookstore) Jhumpa Lahiri, an author who’s work I deeply appreciate, came into conversation. That soon lead to a recommendation to read Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India by Madhur Jaffrey. Jaffrey’s name vaguely tickled my memory, but regardless, fascinated with Indian cuisine and culture, I couldn’t let go. Climbing the Mango Trees ventured home with me. Not long after that, I stumbled upon one of Jaffrey’s cookbooks and that too made it’s way to my overstuffed bookshelf. With Jaffrey’s memoir and cookbook on my mind, discovering the movie all within a short time span was a little bit like serendipity.


The Movie: Today’s Special

While the art of crafting authentic Indian food takes a bit of serious persistence, there’s plenty of laughs coming out of the Today’s Special kitchen. The film shares the story of Samir (played by actor and comedian Aasif Mandvi) a sous chef at a fancy New York restaurant. Rather content with his work, it wasn’t until he was passed over for a promotion that he impulsively decides to quit his job. Samir whips up a plan of apprenticing in Paris, and then attempts to pursue his dream. Fate has other plans though. Samir’s father Hakim (Harish Patel), turns ill and is unable to manage the family business. Samir’s mother Farrida, (played by legendary cookbook writer and actor, Madhur Jaffrey) reaches out to persuade her son, despite his rocky relationship with his father, to help manage Tandoori Palace. The restaurant is nearly bankrupt, has a disorderly kitchen and practically no customers to serve, a sharp change from what Samir is accustomed to. Despite his own heritage, Samir is not at all familiar with preparing Indian dishes. Luckily, he crosses paths with a cab driver named Akbar (Naseeruddin Shah, an icon of Indian cinema) who happens to be a passionate cook. Samir finds himself doing a little persuading of his own and entices Akbar to head back into the kitchen along with him. Both Samir and Tandoori Palace are eventually inspired and transformed.

Akbar and Samir shopping for Indian spices.

Akbar and Samir shopping together for Indian spices.

The film was thoroughly entertaining, and had me craving Indian food by the end of it. Luckily there’s an abundance of Indian restaurants and markets within reach here in Silicon Valley. Even our farmer’s markets on the weekend host stalls with fresh made Indian curries and hot naan bread. Here’s my recipe for a fun evening and great way to enjoy the film.

Cook Together
There’s nothing more fun than cooking in a group. Celebrate Indian cuisine with one of Madhur Jaffrey’s recipes. There’s a recipe on Yumivore from an Indian friend for a dish called Chayote Squash Subzi, it’s delightful. Or visit Deb at Kahakai Kitchen who’s hosting a Food’n Flix evening with lots of special dishes on the menu.

Make It Movie and Moves Night: Go Bollywood
Invite friends over to dress up in traditional Indian garb before coming over to watch the movie together. Afterward, play the soundtrack from Today’s Special or your other favorite Bollywood-esque movies such as Slum Dog Millionaire or Monsoon Wedding and you’ve got a party going.

Dish Up Something Delicious
Whether you cook together and or dress up for the occasion, you’ll want food at this affair, otherwise the movie will leave you famished. It’s customary in Indian to eat with your hands, so finger foods is a great option. Small size potato and pea samosas is a tasty way to start. Consider using a cookie cutter to cut small rounds out of the naan bread and place your favorite curries on top for small appetizers. Or serve a medley of Indian dishes on a silver (okay metal) platter for each guest. Mango lassi is a wonderful drink along with the meal, and festive when poured into a shot glass. End the meal with Indian sweets and you’ve just hosted a perfect food and film date.

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Be sure to visit Kahakai Kitchen for delicious Today’s Special inspired recipes and dishes, along with Food’n Flix for more wonderful food and film evenings.

What would you serve with Today’s Special? And your favorite Indian dish?

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good reads and great finds

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I love lists. Best wines to buy, book reviews, places to visit, photography tips- lists are often useful and enjoyable details consolidated into one convenient place. I have a tendency to save links from various endless sources, stored in the oddest of ways on my computer. Together these reads create a hodgepodge of delightful randomness. Pulling together articles, blog posts and interesting topics, it’s a smorgasbord- a list of links for you to sit back and sift through or dive into each one. Here’s the latest round-up of good reads and great finds:

9 Nasty Truths About The Meals You Eat
Humans Changing Saltiness of the Seas
Sustainable Seafood Labeling … NPR Report

“Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe.” -Anatole France
the taste of two years
Bravissimo! Eat the Italian way
Israel Restores the Ancient City of Avdat
Day Trekking in Beautiful, Wild Torres Del Paine
The perfect romantic riverside walk in Paris
Top 10 Open Air Food Market Experiences In Paris

Bonnes Nuits
interesting facts about wine
Wine reflects culture, place and time

“Taking pictures is savoring life intensely, every hundredth of a second.” ―Marc Riboud
5 Tips for Minimalist Photography
Beautiful Photographs of Jerusalem
Food photography hints and tips for bloggers
How to take a photo in a rainforest (and other tricky conditions)
Travel photography tip: Beginner’s guide to shooting in Manual

Delicious edible housewares
Famous Meals from Literature Captured on Film
Recipes and Household Tips from Great Writers

Colour photographs of US Supermarkets, 1950s/1960s
A Historic Photo Archive Re-emerges at the New York Public Library
Purgatory Station: Inside San Francisco’s Vintage Streetcar Boneyard

For more good reading, look for past good reads and great finds in the archives.

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a sweet sip: hot chocolate and whipped cream


Hot chocolate made headlines recently. The mere mention of this hot beverage seems to strike up memories and spark an occasional craving. There’s nothing better after a day on the ski slopes than to enjoy a cup of hot cocoa. Staying overnight in a cabin or lodge, hot chocolate tends to be a favorite after dinner drink, and no doubt a soothing way to warm up alongside a fire.

Though I often interchange the term hot cocoa with hot chocolate, hot cocoa refers to the concoction made with Dutch-processed powder, while hot chocolate refers to the beverage made with a chocolate paste and in more modern times includes milk mixed in. Cocoa was discovered and put into use by the ancient Mesoamerican civilizations and it has been enjoyed ever since. As the Kakawa Chocolate House shares, the Olmecs, Toltecs, and later the Mayans & Aztecs ground together the cacao beans from the cacao (kah KOW) tree along with spices, chilies, and herbs and created a paste. The process of creating chocolate is a little more complex, and you can find more on the subject below, but with added water these elixirs became highly coveted. Thick, rich, and frothy, chocolate was thus first enjoyed as a drink. Lucky for us, creamy style drinking chocolates have become popular once again.

Every now and then I enjoy a demitasse size cup of drinking chocolate. I find that hot chocolate tends to be a little too sweet for my taste, but if I am going to enjoy a cup, I love it with spicy chipotle or cayenne added in. Making hot cocoa at home from scratch, instead of ripping open a packet of powder, is a good way to control the sweetness in the drink. It also ensures that I’m drinking actual chocolate instead of something that is chocolate flavored and loaded with additives. The same is true for whipped cream. Next time you’re at the market, bypass the can and get a carton of heavy whipping cream instead. If you haven’t had homemade whipped cream recently, it’s ridiculously easy to make and something to try all over again. Creamy, luscious and pampering, it’s a little something sweet to indulge in.


So why did hot chocolate make recent headlines? Chocolate in the news is nothing unusual, it has been throughout history. In an interesting update though, a report found that drinking hot chocolate “may taste more flavorful in an orange cup” so in an orange mug, it’s apparently yummier. I’m too biased to conduct the experiment myself though it did influence the purchase of this rather cute mug. If you find an orange cup, go ahead and invite someone over for two cups of hot cocoa, have them try both and see which one they prefer.

If you are by now craving a warm cup of cocoa and have plans to head to the store to buy some, I recommend reading the list of ingredients on the box or can and look for ones that have chocolate listed first. Often I buy Guittard or Ghirardelli Dutch-processed cocoa and whip it up myself, it’s a good way to ensure that it won’t be too sweet. Brands and chocolatiers such as Theo, Askinosie, TCHO or Jacques Torres as an example craft drinking chocolate mixes, and all that’s needed is your favorite milk such as soy or almond to be added in. Nothing like homemade, here are a few recipes to try:

Alton Brown’s Hot Cocoa Recipe -with a pinch of cayenne or try chipotle
Thick Hot Chocolate – from Food52
Copia Hot Chocolate – with orange zest from Guittard
Champurrado Atole de Chocolate Masa-Thickened Mexican Hot Chocolate

To make it decadent, top your cup of cocoa with homemade whipped cream. While mixing the cream, add in a hint of vanilla, try it with a sprinkle of orange zest or even fold in peppermint candy pieces, there a lot of creative ways to enjoy it, and it’s worth it.

How to Make Whipped Cream

2 tablespoons powdered or confectioners sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream

Directions: place a metal mixing bowl into the freezer until cold, for 10 to 15 minutes. Place the cream into the mixing bowl. Using a metal whisk or hand blender, beat or mix until soft peaks form. Add the sugar and continue to mix until stiff peaks form but don’t overbeat. Makes about 2 cups.

Now that you have a cup of hot chocolate to hold (or on your mind) snuggle up with a cozy blanket, curl up in your favorite comfortable chair or by a fire, and sit back for a few worthwhile reads dedicated to this drink:

The Art of Manliness The Surprisingly Manly History of Hot Cocoa
Jane Austen’s World Hot Chocolate, 18th-19th Century Style
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation A Cup of Hot Chocolate, S’good for What Ails Ya
NPR How Hot Chocolate Became More American Than Apple Pie
Understanding Chocolate: From Tree to Factory
David Lebovitz Living The Sweet Life in Paris Cocoa Powder FAQ: Dutch-process & natural cocoa powder
theKitchn Food News and more on whipped cream
Live Science Like Hot Chocolate? Drink it in an Orange Cup

Have a favorite hot cocoa recipe or story to share?

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good reads and great finds

January, and a new year gets underway. For some, it may mean new routines to look forward to or perhaps new passions to explore. Cold weather even snow in many parts has us cooped up inside. Whether books or online articles, I find myself reading more, wishing I was doing so in an outdoor café. Despite my inner desire to hibernate until spring, in between cold drops of rain, and under California’s winter of intermittent overcast skies, I nudge myself outside for a walk along the trails. Sometimes my camera accompanies me to capture the landscape, I often take along food for thought, sometimes gleaned from the pages I’ve enjoyed. Hope you can enjoy these links in a warm corner filled with sun or by a warm fire. Here’s the latest round-up of good reads and great finds:

Food for Thought
The Unprocessed Kitchen
Finding your path: a few good e-courses
Why You Should Ditch Sugar In Favor of Honey
What You Think You Know..About Wise Eating
After Crispy Pig Ears, 10 Trends for 2013
Top Chefs’ Totalitarian Restaurants
Half of world’s food is thrown out, wasted
A Month’s Worth of Food Links for the New Year

Kitchen Resources
Bouquet Garni Basics
Spices: When to Grind, When to Toast
Handy Guide: Water-to-Grain Ratios
Chef Jack Bishop on ‘The Science of Good Cooking’

Which wine type are you?
Is It Worth It to Age Wines Anymore?
Just how concentrated is the wine industry? [graphics]
3 Wine Marketing Trends to Watch
10 best wine destinations for 2013
As 2013 rolls in, 5 themes for change in wine

Slow Travel
The 20 best travel books of all time
Is Belgium still the capital of chocolate?

Seven Ideas For Photographers
Boost Your Landscape Photography

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time for downton abbey

Downton Abbey fans in the United States finally have season three premiering on PBS to look forward to. Subtitles not required, if you’re wondering like so many Why Downton Abbey Airs So Much Later in the U.S. Slate tackles the question. Whether you’re enthralled with the aristocratic Crawley family, intrigued by their servants or fascinated by the pre and post-Edwardian era in history, Downton Abbey never ceases to captivate and thoroughly entertain viewers. From the upstairs gentry to the downstairs serviture, no doubt you’ll find something delectable being dished up at Downton.

Enjoy a round-up of some of the the tastiest finds on Downton Abbey:

Downton Abbey, Season Three: Are You Ready to (Tea) Party?

Downton Abbey Cooks
KQED’s Downtown Abbey page

Menu and Party Planning
Food52 | A Downton Abbey Premiere Menu
The Washington Post | Downton Abbey: What to eat while you’re watching
Epicurious | Food in Downton Abbey
Epicurious | Downton Abbey Menu and Party Plan
The Kitchn | Downton Abbey Cocktail Recipe: The Bittersweet Mr. Bates

Food and History
NPR | Dining After ‘Downton Abbey’: Why British Food Was So Bad For So Long

Download Abbey Cooks Entertain
The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook: A Delicious Time Machine to Post-Edwardian England
Edwardian Glamour Cooking Without Tears

If you’re feeling late to the party, there’s no need, you’re more than encouraged to stay and catch up. Find past episodes on a local PBS affiliate (KQED in the Bay Area) or on Netflix or Amazon. And do share more delights that may have been missed!

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duarte’s historic tavern

One of my favorite Bay Area back road destinations in California is the small town of Pescadero. Located off scenic Highway One and a few miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, this quaint town is situated midway between Santa Cruz in the south, and Half Moon Bay in the north. It’s close to both San Francisco and the heart of Silicon Valley, and yet it is worlds away. Arriving in Pescadero after enjoying scenic views along the coast, I often stop by Harley Farms to take pictures of their goats, and visit Phipps Farms to pick berries when the fruit is in season. I also enjoy leisurely strolling down Pescadero’s main street to search for hand-made treasures or antiques at the local shops, and eventually stop at Duarte’s for a bite.

Established back in 1894, Duarte’s Tavern has been lauded with local and national recognition and is a James Beard American Classic award recipient. Being close to the ocean, the menu offers fish and seafood options along with garden grown dishes and American classic pies for dessert. Pescadero means fish monger in Spanish, and Duarte’s Crab Cioppino tastes as though the ingredients were hauled off a boat the same day by fish merchants. Cioppino is an Italian fish stew, but being the Duarte family is of Portuguese decent, they added a bit of Portuguese inspiration to their soup recipe. Soup is perfect for the often cold fog-covered central coast, and whether it’s stew or their artichoke heart soup, both are filling and a perfect way to warm up. Served with hearty artisan bread, the soups, stews or even mussels steamed in a broth are popular.

Dessert at Duarte’s means pie. Flaky, crispy and buttery crusts packed with fruit that spill all over the plate, the pies are delicious. My favorites are classic apple and local favorite ollaliberry. The pies are served with fresh whip cream though I tend to like just pure pie.

If you head to Pescadero and Duarte’s, after enjoying a bite, visit the edible garden behind the tavern where you can find artichokes growing in abundance, along with crops of corn, kale, lettuce, squash and a host of other vegetables. It’s easy to be inspired by this backyard farm and the dishes served at the restaurant. Visit the Country Store down the road or other nearby farm stands in the area, pick-up artichokes, ollaliberries or the herbs and ingredients for the Cioppino and bring a taste of Pescadero home.

Duarte’s Olallieberry Pie Recipe
Duarte’s Crab Cioppino and Artichoke Soup Recipe

Read more about Historic Duarte’s Tavern a family-run restaurant
Step back in time with modern day photos of old Duarte’s Tavern
Venture into Duarte’s Garden

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glorious grapes

Autumn has come to California and grapes of all varieties are in season. From Muscato to Muscatel, Crimson to Concord or these Thomcords, it’s hard not to spot bountiful bunches of these beauties at the farmers markets throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and coming soon to a market near you. Ripe and ready to eat, table grapes are wonderful for snacking, cooking, as additions to drinks and are great for garnishes.

Learn more about grapes along with tips and decorating ideas:
Grapes defined | Epicurious
Garnishing and Decorating with Fresh Grapes | Grapes from California

and great grape recipes:
Endive, Apples and Grapes | Bon Appétit
Roasted Butternut Squash, Red Grapes, and Sage | Bon Appétit
Grapes in Port Wine Sauce | Ellie Krieger
Farro with Balsamic-Rosemary–Roasted Shallots and Grapes over Roasted Portobellos | Fine Cooking
Pickled Grapes | Los Angeles Times
Four Quick Grape Recipes | Real Simple
Roast Chicken with Grapes | Simply Recipes
Grape Focaccia with Rosemary | Smitten Kitchen
Roasted Grapes | Sunset Magazine
Grilled Moroccan Lamb Kebabs | Sunset Magazine
Blue Cheese and Walnut Dusted Grapes | Whole Foods Market
Sonoma Chicken Salad | Whole Foods Market
Roasted Salmon and Grapes | Whole Foods Market

Got Grapes? Share your favorite tips and recipes.

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Take a scrumptious looking pie, put it on a movie poster along with the word Toast, add in Helena Bonham Carter to the starring credits, and voila, you’ve got my attention. Admittedly, I hadn’t heard of Nigel Slater prior to seeing the film, but all those above mentioned factors were tempting enough for me to add the movie to my Netflix streaming queue and then sit back and enjoy the show.

As with most movies that put food in the staring role, it’s hard not to work up or rather passively acquire an appetite while watching this one. A simple slice of toast slathered with butter may very well suffice for the first bite of the film, but sure enough, I was quickly craving home-cooked lavish Sunday suppers, and of course lemon meringue pie for dessert. Toast’s food stylist Katherine Tidy shared her Very Yellow Lemon Meringue Pie recipe for those who just might have the urge to whip one up. Working on movies such as Pride & Prejudice and Gosford Park, Tidy herself has what seems to be a sweet role in the film industry.

After watching Toast: The Story of a Boy’s Hunger I was intrigued to learn more about “Britain’s best-loved cookery writers“. One tidbit I found was an interview with Nigel Slater by local San Francisco food blogger Cooking with Amy. The interview took place around the time the film was being released.

TOAST is the ultimate nostalgia trip through everything edible in 1960’s Britain. Based on the heart-wrenchingly bittersweet story of food writer, Nigel Slater’s childhood, and set to the songs of Dusty Springfield, TOAST is a delicious love letter to the tastes and smells that a young boy associates with his journey into adulthood. Nigel continues to hold on to the belief that making something delicious to eat for yourself or for others can lift the spirits in a way little else can.

Photos and movie details care of the official Toast movie site
For more about the film and Nigel Slater visit:
Nigel Slater
BBC Food Chefs Nigel Slater
Nigel Slater on the film of his life
‘Billy Elliot’ by Way of Kitchen, With a Pinch of ‘Sweeney Todd’

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