While I usually focus on the intake of calories, it’s a sad and inevitable truth that taking them on board also requires contemplating how to burn them. Unless, of course, you’re a method actress like say, Renee Zellweger. who dutifully got doughy for the Bridget Jones’s Diary series of movies.
I digress, I am sadly not paid to gain weight and as gaining weight doesn’t pay, I regularly engage in a number of activities to try and burn those pesky calories at a faster rate than I consume them. Yoga, pilates, weight-training, horse-riding. Happy to do any and all of them. But running? No thank you. Just wasn’t built for it. So it came as quite a surprise to everyone, not least of all me, when I heard myself agreeing to train for a duathlon (run, bike, run) with a friend, Catherine, at the end of last year.
Now when I say “train”, don’t get some fancy notion of us working with a coach, joining a running group, or even aiming to run non-stop for 30 minutes at a time. What I mean is I bought a pair of “proper” sneakers, and started getting out there at a brisk walk, breaking into the occasional jog, a few times a week. Having a partner really helped. I mean, running is so boring! The biking part wasn’t too hard, although I was sad to take the shopping basket off the front of my bike.
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Since my last trip to Hong Kong nearly four years ago, there’s been an explosion of European-style bakeries with a Brooklyn vibe. Think rustic, artisanal breads and pastries served out of chic, subway-tiled stores. One such place is Po’s Atelier on Po Hing Fong in Sheung Wan.
In a quiet, but up and coming trendy part of town, just past Central in Sheung Wan, and standing proudly on a corner, this bakery smells like France the minute you step through its sleek, sliding glass door.
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Dim sum has long been my favorite meal. The food of course is key: who can argue with any meal that delivers endless bite-sized parcels of amazing flavors? But it’s more than that. There’s the sharing; the tasting of many, many, things without being restricted to choosing just one dish; and, the fact that for me, dim sum often means eating with family.
Literally translated, dim sum means ‘touch the heart’ – so perfectly named. It originated as a snack, not a meal, and is most clearly associated with Cantonese cooking, particularly in Hong Kong. So, being in Hong Kong, surrounded by family and eager to do my duty as a food writer, I asked a couple of cousins, their other halves and a crew of kids aged 5-11, to meet us for Sunday dim sum.
We debated whether to go the traditional route and head to Maxim’s at City Hall, where you have to stand in line for a table and they bring you cartloads of different food that you get three seconds to peruse and choose, or to eat at a restaurant with a great view of Victoria Harbor and the ability to make a reservation. We opted for the latter: Victoria City Seafood in Citic Tower, with its glorious view (construction and all) made even better by the sunny spring day.
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Every now and then you meet a woman who just captivates you with her drive, creativity, kindness and beaming aura. Cortney Burns, co-chef at the wildly successful, Bar Tartine, is one of these (rare) women and I recently got to catch up with her about her latest projects, life in the kitchen and what’s fueling her imagination these days.
I first met Cortney a few years ago, before she joined boyfriend, Nick Balla, in the kitchen at Bar Tartine. Incidentally, they met at a Japanese food conference, more on that later. Back then Cortney was cooking like mad, anywhere she could. From people’s homes and catering corporate parties to “every restaurant kitchen in San Francisco“. I met her in a friend’s kitchen where she was turning out one amazing dish after another for a party. Rather than mingle with the guests, I found that I couldn’t stop pestering her with questions, quizzing her about the flavors and being introduced to cultured butter for the first time.
It turns out that culturing and fermenting are two fundamental principles she uses to “layer in flavor” - an expression she uses many times during our conversation. She grew up following her dad in and out of professional kitchens (he sold high-end salad dressings to restaurants and hotels) and fast became comfortable in this environment. High school summers were spent at culinary camps outside Chicago, and although she decided not to go to culinary school, and instead did an undergraduate degree in cultural anthropology and Tibetan studies, she never strayed far from cooking. She tells me that she earned money in college doing front of house jobs at restaurants “because they paid more, although I’d always end up working in the kitchen for free so I could learn.”
It was no surprise then, that after she left college she followed her passion for cooking. After stints working in restaurants in Australia and Chicago, she arrived in the Bay Area in 2001, first working at Cafe Rouge in Oakland and later helping to open the original Quince in San Francisco.
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I last left you on the gorgeously fertile island of Waiheke in New Zealand. Having taken in the highlights of Oneroa in just under 19.5 minutes, you’ll recall that my friend, Josh, and I, zoomed out of town in our little red beater rental car, anxious not to be late for our noon lunch appointment at Te Whau Vineyard. In our hurry, we headed in exactly the opposite direction of the winery. No matter, with the entire island only 12 miles long, the detour didn’t delay us much.
We drive back through town, across a flat marshland, past a typically pastoral New Zealand scene of sheep grazing on a grassy hill, and eventually take a right turn up a road full of twists and turns that brought us to higher ground and stunning views of the bay. We all know that New Zealanders are keen sailors and judging from the number of sailing boats moored in the water, it seems that everyone owns a boat. Suddenly we are in an olive grove, and then just as quickly the vista turns to vines growing up and down hillsides with unspeakably amazing views. There are no words to describe this beauty. And here, right atop of what is surely God’s country, is Te Whau Vineyard.
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