Claire Ptak wants to change the way you bake

Inside Claire Ptak’s white stucco East London bakery, Violet, staff are moving in careful syncopation. From the open doorway to the small kitchen and café, freshly baked feta-sour cream-and-chive scones and herb-laced quiches call to a steady stream of customers who stop to chat with Ptak and admire 5-month-old daughter Frances West, sitting in her lap.

A native Californian, Ptak is a rising star on the culinary scene—hailed by Jamie Oliver as “one of my all-time favorite cake-makers.” But Violet and Ptak are about more than being an of-the-moment patisserie. It is here that she carries out a fairly revolutionary approach to baking—Soft-whipped egg whites! Flour licking!—that sets her apart from the cookie-cutter mold.

Click here (sign up required) to read this story, published by Milk Street Magazine. 

Wardrobe report: Zaragoza

Just got back from a week exploring Zaragoza and the surrounding area in the Spanish region of Aragon and I thought I’d report in on things that worked and didn’t work, wardrobe wise.

I had a challenge going in because I was looking at temperatures from the 40s to high 70s with light rain as well as occasions ranging from tramping through vineyards to city sightseeing to relatively fancy dinners.

I did not entirely meet that challenge.

Continue reading “Wardrobe report: Zaragoza”

Scotch Hop

ABERLOUR, Scotland (AP) — Forget the three Rs. I went to Speyside, Scotland’s “single-malt capital of the world,” to brush up on the three Ws: whisky, wool and walking.

And it was while striding beside the River Spey on a misty afternoon, a warm sweater from a local mill wrapped around my shoulders, an even warmer dram of whisky awaiting me at my hotel ahead, I realized I’d reached peak Speyside status.

Educational mission accomplished. Or, to quote Scottish poet and noted whisky fan Robert Burns, “Gie me ae spark of Nature’s fire/That’s a’ the learning I desire.”

Dreaming of drams and doing a little whisky wandering of your own? Here are a few pointers to the Speyside region’s must-sees.

Click here to read more of this story, published by the Associated Press.

Confessions of a Picky Eater

Chuck Thompson, a producer for CNN, has written a terrific piece on the problems of being a traveler and a picky eater. Go here to read it.

We have different issues. He has a long list of foods he just doesn’t like. I am open to most foods but am thrown into digestive uproar by anything with a lot of fat or tricked up with fancy sauces and other gourmet refinements. Roast potatoes with a side of steamed broccoli? Sign me up! Creme de casserole de potatoes a la Michelin etoile avec le chef’s sauce de secret, no thank you.

One of these days you have to ask me about the time I was served a four-course meal made almost entirely of cheese. Continue reading “Confessions of a Picky Eater”

Harvest & Heritage

The clink of glasses and buzz of conversation blend into the pulsing rhythm of “La Bamba” as the wine tasting in the Robledo Family Winery’s big, wooden barn swings into its second hour. The band is good, the beat near-irresistible, and some of the tasters don’t resist, shimmying gently as they make the rounds of tables featuring wines from the Napa Valley and Sonoma County.

It’s a typical harvest festival, the kind of celebration you see all over wine country as the growing season winds up to its inevitable climax. Except this event isn’t just about the 2016 grape harvest. It’s also the annual get-together of the Napa Sonoma Mexican American Vintners.

Click here to read more of this story, posted on the Nomacorc blog.

Riding that (Caledonian) train …

 

I’ve wanted to book a private sleeper berth on a train ever since I saw North by Northwest , and read The Mystery of the Blue Train, Murder on the Orient Express, etc., etc. So, when I found myself needing to travel from Inverness to London my thoughts immediately turned to the Caledonian Sleeper. A private compartment came to somewhere around $350 which was comparable and probably even a bit cheaper than paying for airfare and a night in a hotel so I booked it. (If you are traveling as a couple the price will be much cheaper than airfare/hotel, so that’s something to think about, too.)

And … it was pretty fun although not quite as glamorous as the website would have you believe. The train runs from Inverness to Euston station in London, and leaves around 8-9 p.m. There’s a lounge across the street from the station where you can wait. It was OK, but not really luxe. I was way early so had a really long afternoon tea at the Royal Highland Hotel next to the station. Lobby was quite stately, and would have been statelier if they’d run a Hoover over the carpet sometime in the last decade; scones were leaden enough to qualify for the periodic table.  Continue reading “Riding that (Caledonian) train …”