Sunday, May 25, 2008

Salt + Caramel = ice cream nirvana

I've been off ice cream for awhile. With all the other fattiness I ingest, something had to go. My go-to favorite had been vanilla or blackberry from Snoqualmie Gourmet ice cream. They make a pretty tasty frozen custard too. Over the years though, a new flavor comes out that draws me away from these standards. Godiva had a vanilla ice cream with chocolate caramel hearts a few years back that was amazing. The caramel in the hearts remained soft, even while suspended in frozen, creamy goodness. Haagen Dazs came out with Dulce de Leche a couple years ago which got me hooked. Now, they have a new "reserve" line of ice cream and have a released a Fleur de Sel flavor.

I've always been a fan of the salty/sweet combo (Kettle Corn, popcorn with Junior Mints for example). Probably the best version of salty/sweet I know are Salt Caramels from Fran's Chocolates here in Seattle. They are squares of light, soft caramel covered in dark chocolate and topped with a little sprinkle of sea salt. They cost about a $1 each, so when I buy them I squirrel them away in hopes Gavin won't find them.

Salted Caramel ice cream has been piquing my interest for many months. I've come across interesting articles and recipes in the blogosphere, but haven't had a chance to make it or for that matter taste it. The one that really made me drool was "The Sweet Life in Paris" by David Lebowitz's. His recipe was inspired by an ice cream from Berthillons. I really need to make it back to Paris. It is on our list, especially since our friends Mary & Greg moved there.

The Haagen Dazs Fleur de Sel is kind of a revelation. They took super creamy caramel ice cream in mixed in mini caramel-filled chocolates. The caramel remains soft and has a slightly salty tinge to it. It is one of the most fattening ice creams I've seen (280 calories and 17 grams of fat per 1/2 cup). Ounce for ounce though, it is the most flavorful and satisfying ice creams I've ever had. Hopefully I can stop at just 1/2 a cup...per day.

Girls' Weekend

My friend Jens married the perfect girl for him. Jami is a little wild - but also a great mom. She is responsible but also likes to party like no one else I know. For Jami's bachelorette party in 2004, she invited me to a girls' weekend over at Crescent Bar.

Ever since that first "Girl's Weekend," we've returned to CB nearly every year. We go the weekend before Memorial Day weekend and spend 2-3 nights. This is the same weekend a big men's golf tournament takes place. If you don't know Crescent Bar, it is a total party scene. It is basically an oasis along the Columbia River where it is super hot & dry in the summer. There are a few condo developments, a trailer park, boat launch and campground. It is the land of jacked up trucks, cut-offs and Busch Light.

For us (there are 7-8 women that go each year), it is a chance to party like we're still in our twenties, flirt with middle-aged men and lay by the pool all day drinking mimosas. It is kind of ridiculous actually. We talk dirty and swear tons. All too much alcohol is consumed in addition to loads of junk food.

It's a blast though and these women - most of which are wives and/or mothers - party like no other friends I have. They shock me, embarrass me but overall they make me laugh my ass off.

On our second day there, most spent all day by the pool. I went out for a bit in the morning, but then retreated away from the sun inside for a much needed nap. By evening, we made cocktails and all gathered around the pool. A bunch of the golfers - the middle-aged ones we see every year that we've actually become friends with - hung out with us too. I don't think they've ever seen or heard the likes of us! The golf tournament was having it's awards ceremony that night and they were cooking up dozens of steaks. I asked one guy what kind of steaks they were cooking. He said sirloin. I guffawed and gave him a bunch of shit that if they wanted to impress women they shouldn't cook sirloin. CB really brings out a particularly snarky part of my personality I must admit.

We were all pretty hungry but too buzzed and lazy to actually make dinner. We talked one of the guys into bringing us some steaks. He did, but they were kind of dreadful. The meat was actually OK (I don't mind sirloin to be honest), but it was obviously not salted. Finally we talked another guy into bringing us brats. These were the bomb - especially since we were in need of salt given how hot is was over there (over 100!).

All in all it was a fun weekend. The alcohol and sun exposure probably took a few years off my life, but at the time it seemed worth it...

Amuse Bouche

One of my favorite touches at a resaurant is the "amuse bouche." It is a bite-sized morsel sent out by the chef before you order. It means something like "mouth amuser" and it supposed to give you a taste of what the chef has in store for you. The amuse bouche is often a little crostini or shot of soup and is not something you order. It just arrives...magically.

I've only been served an amuse bouche a handful of times - sometimes at fancy restaurants like Canlis and Restaurant Zoë and other times at more casual places like Le Pichet and Tilth. It never fails to make me smile though.

One evening out with my supper club (myself and 3 girlfriends), we decided our "supper club" needed a better name, so we decided to refer to it as Amuse Bouche. Well, we came to this decision after a bit of wine so when our repsective partners heard about it we got no end of shit. Gavin referred to it as "Amish Bush." Brooke called it "Dirty Bush!" and Gabe said..."what is your supper thingy called...Fermez la Bouche? We'd never live it down.

"Fermez la Bouche" stuck with me and it's now what I use to refer to the little dessert bite some restaurants serve (Le Pichet, Crave, Tilth, the Herbfarm, Restaurant Zoë).

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Birthday Treats

So I survived Sonja-palooza. Just barely. My birthday week was kind of exhausting but I feel really fortunate to have such great friends and family, not to mention a totally sweet hubby. I ate and drank like I was still 29 though, so it took me a bit to recover.

The festivities began on Sunday when my friend Kathy & I took a shopping trip up to the outlet mall followed by dinner out. We thought we'd go to the Tulalip Casino next to the mall for dinner, until we walked in and realized that smoking is still allowed there! Yuck. We checked out our other SnoCo options and ended up at Anthony's in Everett. We went to the Fireside Grill - a more casual offshoot of Anthonys and scored a "surf and turf" special. It was delish ad we were on a post-shopping high.

My mother-in -law secretly left birthday cards on the front porch for me to find Wednesday morning. I ended up finding them Tuesday night because I was taking out the trash. I waited until Wednesday morning to open them though and there was some cash - woot! That came in handy for my mani/pedi.

Arriving at work - my awesome co-workers hooked me up with breakfast treats, homemade pancetta/balsamic vinaigrette (total heaven, btw), a 12-pack of my favorite beer and lots of cards. Robyn even made a mixed berry crisp - even though she is not a "hot fruit" fan.

My friend Shae in Arizona sent me on a scavenger hunt in the afternoon. This is the second birthday scavenger hunt she has sent me on - all of which she set up from AZ. I received an email sending me to the flower shop where they had a bouquet of tulips for me. Attached to the bouquet was a note to go see "Frank" up the street. Frank is at the running store and he had a gift certificate for me! Shae is so clever and thoughtful, it made for a really fun afternoon.

I got an adorable voicemail from my friend Angie's kids. Hazel is 4 and Drew is 3 and they sang me "happy birthday" on the message. It is about the most adorable thing I have ever heard. They were a little out of tune, but still it was really sweet.

Wednesday night, Gavin took me for dinner at Restaurant Zoë in Belltown. It was so tasty - we shared the gnudi and pork belly for appetizers. I had golden beet risotto for my main and Gavin had pappardelle with wild boar bolognese. It was kind of pricey, but the service was great and the food was awesome. They also serve an amuse bouche at Zoë when you sit down. I have to say this is one of my favorite touches at a restaurant...but more on that later.

Gavin is working on designing our front yard, which my dad has been completely tearing out, leveling and bringing in dirt for. So that was part of my present as well as some Apple bucks for me to use tricking out my iPhone.

My folks and sister-in-law took me out on Thursday for happy hour. They are hooking me up with plants for my birthday gift...but it will be awhile until we start planting our front yard.

On Friday I had a joint celebration out with friends for my birthday and Rachel's birthday (May 10). We went to Cafe Presse on Capitol Hill, which is an offshoot of Le Pichet at the market. Oh man, it was tasty and pretty affordable. I love me a good steak frites and even though I am getting older, thankfully I don't have to worry about my cholesterol & blood pressure just yet...

Thanks everyone!

Monday, May 5, 2008


My birthday is in two days. If you already know this - then you probably also know that I like to celebrate my birthday all week long.

I haven't always been this way about my birthday. About 12 years ago though, both my boyfriend (and future husband) Gavin and a good friend forgot my birthday. FORGOT. Well, I called total BULLSHIT on that and ever since have made a big circus celebration around my birthday.

Hence the name - Sonja-palooza. Gavin started calling it this a few years back since my birthday has become a multi-day festival.

This week is almost totally booked already - Cinco de Mayo tonight (sure it's about Mexico, but it is also about me), spa treatments tomorrow night, dinner out with Gavin on Wednesday, happy hour with the fam on Thursday and dinner out with friends and fellow Taurus Rachel on Friday. I also plan to sneak in some shopping trips and other treats along the way.

Happy Birthday to ME!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

I Got Schooled

Friday night I had dinner plans with my friend Robin. We IMed Friday afternoon however and realized we'd both had a large lunch and weren't actually that hungry. That led us quickly to Plan B - Drinks.

Robin works near Pike Place Market and I had an errand downtown, so we rendezvoused at the Zig Zag Cafe. This is a cocktail bar like no other. Their cocktail list is inventive and unique and the walls behind the bar are lined with rare, imported liqueurs. There pretty much isn't a cocktail around that they can't make here.

We made it there in time for happy hour and the place was packed. We found two stools at the bar however, which turned out to be a very auspicious beginning to our evening. We started off with a Diablo & Satan's Soul Patch. I was in the mood for Tequila and Robin was craving Bourbon. Can you blame her though, I mean how can you resist a name like Satan's Soul Patch?

The bartender came by just before 7pm to tell us it was the last call for happy hour. Surveying the menu, I chose the Prado. This cocktail includes Tequila, Maraschino, lime and egg white. I have always wanted to try a cocktail with whipped egg whites.

The Prado had was almost milky white in color and had a unique cherry flavor to it. Almost nutty. I suspected this wasn't the maraschino of Shirley Temple fame. I caught the eye of our bartender - Murray - and asked him about it. Well, first he corrected my pronunciation - mara-skeeno (dammit - I should have known that. 'Ch' followed by an i or e always has that hard 'kee' sound. Like 'bru-skehta.' Not 'bru-shetta'). Then he poured me a little glass of Maraschino to sample. It was really nutty - almost like orgeat.

So, as Murray and I chatted I also commented on the wall of bitters and the tray holding what I suspected to be little vials of tinctures and gastriques. He said - you really know your stuff. I said, well, I am learning...

Well - being inquisitive has its rewards. Murray saw the opportunity to educate us and gave us tons of samples to try.

First there was the Maraschino, then he had a us try something called the Aviation. The Aviation includes Maraschino along with Gin and lemon juice. This got us asking Murray about Gin, so he poured us a little taste of Dry Fly Gin from Oregon - tasty but kind of mild. Robin loved the Aviation though, so Murray next made a more traditional version of the Aviation - this time with Creme de Violette. Whoa - that was much better. We tried a little Violette straight and it was so tasty - really florally and sweet.

Evidently Creme de Violette is really hard to get. It can't be imported into the US - or at least not Washington state. I told Murray I travel a lot and gave him my card so if he needs anything from Europe I can hook him up. When I told him I travel a lot to Scandinavia, he poured me some Swedish Punsch. Not a high point for Scandinavian spirits, I must admit. It smelled like the inside of a mylar balloon and didn't taste much better.

Back to Gin. One of my favorites of the evening was the Arsenic & Old Lace: Gin, Absinthe, Creme de Violette and Vermouth. By this time I had to take a picture of what we had in front of us.

Thankfully I didn't drink everything. Sampled it all yes - that was all part of the education.