Monday, December 18, 2006

Ginger and Spice, and Everything Nice

Last week was all about cooking. My sister was in London, which meant I was able to work on the Dalat Pork Ragu recipe for Communion. (Julie doesn't eat pork or beef.) And because I was invited to Ann Le's holiday party—cookies required for entry—I took the excuse and baked not only two batches of cookies, but two batches of crackers (cracker recipes to come in the next post), as well.

For the cookies, I went for an old favorite, Ginger Cookies from my mom’s hand-me-down Betty Crocker’s Cookbook, and tried a new recipe: Tea and Honey Crisps from this month’s Gourmet. I love the Ginger Cookie recipe. It calls for shortening, like all traditional Betty Crocker recipes do, and when you mix it, the texture is satisfyingly creamy, resulting in a finished product that is just the right degree of chewy. As for the Tea and Honey Crisps, I wouldn’t make them every day (they’re very sweet and their flavor is strong), but they are definitely a good choice for a special occasion, such as a Sunday brunch or afternoon tea.

Ginger Cookies
from Betty Crocker’s Cookbook


- 1 cup brown sugar (packed)
- 1 egg
- ¼ cup molasses
- ¾ cup shortening
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp ginger
- ½ tsp cloves
- ¼ tsp salt (I use sea salt, because I like the contrast of salt with the sweet of the molasses)
- 2 ¼ cups flour (if self-rising, decrease baking soda to 1 tsp)
- 2 tsp soda
- Granulated sugar


1. Mix brown sugar, egg, and molasses in a large mixing bowl.

2. Blend in the shortening and stir until mixture is creamy.

3. Stir in the rest of the ingredients, except granulated sugar.

4. Cover and chill for one hour.

5. Spoon into rounded balls about one inch in diameter. Dip balls in sugar.

6. Bake at 375 degrees on a lightly greased cookie sheet for 10-12 minutes. Beware of overcooking. You don’t want little ginger rocks.

Note: I use parchment paper so I don’t have to grease the cookie sheet.

Makes approximately 40 cookies.


Tea-and-Honey Crisps
adapted from Gourmet, December 2006


- 1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup confectioners sugar
- ¼ cup honey
- 2 tsp decaffeinated Earl Grey tea leaves (2 tea bags)
- 2 large egg whites
- 1 cup all-purpose flour


1. Beat together butter, powdered sugar, honey, and tea leaves in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until combined well.

2. Add egg whites 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.

3. Reduce speed to low, then mix in flour until just combined.

4. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Spread dough in a 1 ½-inch circle, 1/8-inch thick. Keep at least half an inch between cookies.

5. Bake until edges are deep golden brown, approximately 15 minutes. (Start checking on the cookies after 10 minutes.)

6. Let cookies cool on the sheet, then transfer with spatula to a rack to cool completely.

Tea note: I used regular Earl Grey, and it seemed to work fine. Also, if you’re using loose tea, make sure to crush it fine.

Stencil note: The Gourmet recipe calls for making your own stencils out of Styrofoam plates. I just spread the dough on the parchment paper in rounds as described above. This worked fine.

Baking time note: The Gourmet recipe also calls for a cooking time of 6-9 minutes. I had to cook mine for about 15 minutes. Otherwise, they were mushy.

Makes about 80 cookies.

Guess what time of year it is? I just peeled 30 lemons, and the rinds are soaking in Everclear. If you have access to ripening lemons, it’s time to get started on your limoncello for spring gift giving. Friends are already asking when mine is going to be ready … they wiped out last year’s batch, and are rapidly making their way through my winter store of nocino.


Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Year in Cookbooks: 2006

I like reading cookbooks as if they are novels. Even as a kid, I found drama in my mother’s Betty Crocker’s Cookbook, a 1972 edition compliments of Sears. It featured a pie chart of photographs on the cover: a pot of fondue, a space age-looking cheese ball with green olives and pimentos pressed into it, that sort of thing. The book's goal, or so the introduction claimed, was to make such exotic dishes as Quiche Lorraine de rigueur on the American table.

Despite this longstanding passion, I don’t have a zillion cookbooks, but I have my fair share. When I worked at the Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, back in the independent bookshop heyday before the arrival of the chains, the big publishers would let all of us peon booksellers order three books per season (twice a year) from their catalogs. Occasionally, I’d choose a novel, if one of my favorite authors such as Penelope Lively or Anita Brookner was coming out with something new, but mostly I picked cookbooks. Now, more than ten years after leaving the store, I get my fix at Cook’s Library on Third Street in Los Angeles. The staff is terrifically knowledgeable, beginning with the manager, Tim, who I got to know when I worked next door at the Traveler’s Bookcase—we both worked Saturdays, and he always brought in treats from the latest book he was testing. A pine nut and rosemary tart still stands out.

Because I now have to pay for my cookbooks, I don’t accumulate them as rapidly as I used to … with the exception of this year. Perhaps it’s because I’m currently writing my own food book, or because I’ve been reading all these food blogs, which have gotten me even more excited than usual about cooking. Whatever the reason, I acquired some great books over the course of the past twelve months. A few were published this year, a few have been around for ages, but they’re all new and exciting to me. If you’re looking for a gift idea, I would suggest any one of these books.

San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market Cookbook
by Christopher Hirsheimer

This is my favorite for 2006. It isn’t hefty and sleek, like so many cookbooks coming out these days. Rather, it’s tasteful and elegant, the Audrey Hepburn of cookbooks, with recipes you want to make and writing you want to read, even if you don’t plan on going into the kitchen for a while. In fact, I think this is one of the best-written cookbooks I’ve read in a while. Love the Peach Bruschetta and Blue Cheese.

Aperitif: Recipes for Simple Pleasures in the French Style
by Georgeanne Brennan and Kathryn Kleinman

This book was given to me by a friend in Paso Robles when I told him about my interest in making nocino. The recipe for Vin de Noix II (In the Style of Mme Marcelle Fine of Sisteron in Haute-Provence) is similar, and I used it to influence my nocino. The book is also a lovely reminder of how civilized sipping an aperitif with a few close friends can be. Next on my Aperitif to do list: Simple Vin De Peche.

Mes Confitures
by Christine Ferber

I came to this book by way of Chocolate & Zucchini. It’s not as instructional as a jam novice would like, but it is inspirational. And the first recipe I tried, Pear with Jasmine Mandarin Tea, turned out fabulously. Once the holidays settle down, I can’t wait to try another recipe. The lemons on my tree are just beginning to ripen, and by January they will be perfect for Lemon Jam with Mountain Honey and Cinnamon.

Fig Heaven
by Marie Simmons

I just got this book for my birthday, so I haven’t tried any of the recipes yet. Also, figs have gone out of season in my corner of the world. But once the tree in the back yard of my friend Ann Le is laden with fruit again, I’m going to work my way through this book page by page. Fresh Fig Galette, Chicken Braised with Fennel and Dried Figs, Apricots and Dried Figs in Vanilla Wine Syrup … I can’t wait.

The Cheese Course
by Janet Fletcher

Really, any book with cheese in the title has to be good. This one is excellent, because it focuses on all the wonderful foods besides crackers that you can pair with cheese. Stilton with Port-Glazed Pears. Farmhouse Cheddar with Glazed Cipolline Onions. Cabecou with Honey and Walnuts. I’ve asked for a cheese making kit for Christmas, so this book will come in double handy a couple years from now when my first wheel is done!

On Food & Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen
by Harold McGee

This is the first of what I consider my three reference book acquisitions this year. I have wanted this book for ages, and then was reminded how much when Bill Bryson talked it up on NPR. Fortunately, my friend Natalie heard the same broadcast, thought of me, and bought this for my birthday. I use it nearly every time I make something, to find out just exactly how pectin and sugar work in jam, how yeast works in bread dough, and so on. This is a kitchen must.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking
by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck

Whenever a recipe calls for a technique I’m unsure of, I reach for this book, look up recipes that might use that technique, and read. I have yet to make an actual recipe from it, but it has walked me through many shaky moments with recipes from other sources. Recently, I’ve been working with a very tricky recipe for Vietnamese ragu (a variation on French ragout), and this book has been invaluable.

Essentials of Classic Italian Cook
by Marcella Hazen

This is my Italian cooking resource. Sometimes, when I have a few minutes to spare, I pick it up and just browse through it, reading about ingredients, techniques, etc. The fundamentals section is particularly helpful, providing an excellent foundation for the recipes in the book, as well as providing nice cultural tidbits, such as the history of sage and the Italian attitude toward truffles.

Jamie’s Italy
Jamie Oliver

I love Jamie Oliver. I’ve only seen him on TV, once, for about five minutes, so this isn’t a case of a schoolgirl crush. I love him because he taught me how to make pizza dough, bread, and pasta. He’s not exaggerating when he says his recipes are simple, and he gives you the confidence to literally just throw a bit of this and that into a bowl and see what happens. Plus, his cheeky tone feels natural rather than pretentious.

Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon
by Claudia Roden

I have yet to try this one, but Tim at Cook’s Library insists I’m going to love it. I have already stuck Post-It notes on half a dozen recipes, and I plan on suggesting Lebanon or the Middle East in general for the next big theme dinner party that my cousin Jeanne, my sister Julie, and I host about three times a years. What better excuse to try Samak Bil Tarator Bi Senobar—Fish with Pine Nut Sauce?

The Little Saigon Cookbook
by Ann Le

Yes, Ann Le is my friend. And yes, Julie Fay, the photographer, is my sister. But that’s not why I’m recommending this book. Ann has done a great job of weaving the history and culture of Little Saigon (the largest Vietnamese population outside Vietnam, located an hour south of L.A.) with a comprehensive selection of recipes. Ann is a terrific cook; I know from personal experience. BUY THIS BOOK!

Where to Shop:

Whenever you can, support your local independent bookstore. For a list of shops in your area, go to BookSense and search by zip code. If you must shop at Amazon, I understand, but when you can, try to remember the little guy first.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Warm Camembert with Wild Mushroom Fricassee

In my family, dishes belong to individuals. There are my Aunt Norma’s melt-in-your-mouth cinnamon rolls, and my Grandpa Clarence’s buttermilk pancakes, which became my dad’s when my grandpa passed away. No one makes pinoche like my Aunt Janice, and my Grammy guarded her “secret” pickle recipe long after my grandpa, with even greater secrecy, leaked it to my Aunt Wilma and half a dozen other relatives when Grammy was sick and had to let him do that season's canning for her.

As for my sister and me, we definitely have dishes we feel territorial about. When it comes to everyday eating, Julie always makes the tacos, and I always make the turkey meatloaf. In the party food category, timbales belong to her, and prosciutto involtini is mine. Even working on the cookbook, we have each staked our claims. She is perfecting banana flower salad, while I’m refining clay pot fish and Miss Vy’s Eggplant.

Naturally, a few weeks ago when we were deciding what to make for our friend, Michelle’s, birthday party, I was reluctant to hand over a recipe I’d been hoarding from Food & Wine: Warm Camembert with Wild Mushroom Fricassee. Making a recipe in our home is like planting a flag in a foreign land. If you plant the flag first, the land is yours. My reluctance was justified. The dish was such a hit at Michelle’s party that Julie made it for Thanksgiving, and with that, the dish belonged to her.

Warm, earthy, and gooey, this is a perfect cold weather appetizer. If you want to take it to a party, you can make the fricassee in advance and just heat it up once you arrive.

Warm Camembert with Wild Mushroom Fricassee, adapted from Food & Wine


- ½ cup walnut pieces
- 1 8-ounce wheel of ripe Camembert in its wooden box, at room temperature
- 1 Tbsp walnut oil
- ¾ pound wild mushrooms, trimmed, caps thinly sliced (crimini, shitake & Portobello)
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 shallot, minced
- 2 large sage leaves, minced
- crackers or bread, for serving


1) Preheat oven to 350.

2) Spread the walnut pieces on a baking sheet and toast in the over for about 7 minutes, until lightly browned.

3) Lower the oven temperature to 300.

4) Remove the Camembert from the box and unwrap it. Put the cheese back in the bottom half of the box and set it on a baking sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes, until soft. Keep an eye on it, to make sure it doesn’t get too runny.

5) Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the walnut oil.

6) Add the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.

7) Uncover and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 3 minutes longer.

8) Add the shallot and cook until softened, about 2 minutes.

9) Stir in the sage; season with salt and pepper.

10) Invert the Camembert onto a platter.

11) Stir the walnuts into the mushrooms and spoon over the cheese.

12) Serve with bread or crackers.

Note on Making Walnut Nibbles:

When making this recipe for Thanksgiving, Julie mixed in the some extra minced sage with some extra toasted walnuts and left them in a container for a few days. The result was a divine cocktail nibble.

(photo by Julie Fay)

Friday, November 10, 2006

Not So Still Life With Pears

Tis the season for pears. I’ve been eating them au naturel. I’ve been cooking with them Sandra-Lee-Semi-Homemade-Cooking-Cheater-Style—I chopped a few up and simmered them with a bag of frozen raspberries, lemon juice, and a tablespoon of brown sugar, and plopped the mix into a quartered frozen Pillsbury pie crust, to make cute mini pies. I even made a Pear Ambrosia Facial, combining the pulp from one pear with a tablespoon each of cream and of honey, recipe courtesy of Janice Cox’s Natural Beauty for All Seasons. But the achievement I’m happiest about is … jam.

The desire to make jam was inspired by Chocolate & Zucchini. On her recommendation, I bought Mes Confitures and instantly started drooling over all the unique artisanal jam recipes in it. I’d never made jam before and was intimidated. But I figured if I started with a small batch, I couldn’t do that much damage. So for my first attempt, I made the Pear with Jasmine Mandarin Tea.

Pear With Jasmine Mandarin Tea
modified from Mes Confitures, by Christine Ferber


- Two cups pears. Approximately 3 pears. I used Bosch.
- ½ cup sugar
- Juice of one lemon
- 2 tsp calcium water (see note below)
- 1 tsp pectin (see note below)
- ½ cup jasmine tea. I used the ridiculously expensive but worth it Grand Jasmin Mao Feng from my favorite tea shop, Le Palais des Thés.


Day One:

- Peel the pears, remove their stems, cut them in two, core them, and cut them into small dice.
- In a preserving pan (I used a regular saucepan), combine the pears, sugar, calcium water and lemon juice.
- Bring to a simmer and then pour into a bowl.
- Cover with a piece of parchment paper and refrigerate overnight.

Day Two:

- Bring the mixture to a boil in a preserving pan. Skim, if necessary.
- Add pectin and continue cooking on high heat for about ten minutes, stirring gently. Skim carefully, if necessary.
- While mixture is cooking, make an infusion by pouring hot water over the tea and letting it steep for about three minutes.
- When ten minutes is up, add steeped tea to the jam and return to a boil.
- Check the set. I did this by putting a plate in the fridge. I dribbled a little of the mixture on the cold plate. When it quickly gelled, it was ready.
- Put jam into jars immediately and seal.

My jam has the texture of chutney. The jasmine flavor is subtle, and gives a nice aftertaste. To serve, I smeared cracked pepper water crackers with stinky Camembert and topped it with jam. My friend Michelle also came up with the superb idea of pairing the jam with Trader Joe's pot stickers.

Note on Pectin & Calcium Water:

I used Pomona’s Universal Pectin, which allows you to use less sugar—I don’t have a sweet tooth, and I try to avoid sugar when possible. I made the calcium water according to the directions that come with the packet. Pomona’s Universal Pectin can be bought at Whole Foods.

Note on Canning:

I did not use proper canning methods. My goal with this first attempt was to simply see if I could make jam. My recipe yielded 2 small jars, which I plan on eating faster than any fatal bacteria can grow. For complete canning & safety information, go to Home Canning or the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

(photos by Julie Fay)

Serve It Forth: Index of Recipes

Homemade Wines & Liqueurs:
- Apricot Wine
- Limoncello
- Nocino
- Strawberry Wine

- Almond & Cinnamon Shrimp with Avocado Mousse
- Butternut Squash Bruschetta
- Caramelized Onion Tart with Apples
- Honey-centric Appetizers
- Honey-Roasted Onion Tart
- Mexican Clam Dip
- Peach Bruschetta with Blue Cheese
- Prosciutto Involtini
- Smoked Paprika, Chive and Walnut Cheesy Dip
- Warm Camembert with Wild Mushroom Fricassee
- Whirled Peas Dip
- Zucchini and Tomato Salsa

Side Dishes:
- Bourbon-Walnut Sweet Potato Mash
- Mediterranean Salad with Prosciutto and Pomegranate
- Orange, Olive and Onion Salad
- Roast Pepper, Tomato and Apple Salad
- Roasted Fall Vegetable Hash
- Sweet Potato Salad
- Tom Kha Gai

Main Dishes:
- Beef and Onions Braised in Beer
- Beer & Barbecue Sauce Crock Pot Turkey Meatballs
- Butternut Squash and Hazelnut Lasagna
- Butternut Squash Soup with Apple and Smoked Cheddar
- Cheesy Chicken and Mushroom Lasagna
- Chicken & Artichoke Soup
- Crock Pot Beef Burgundy
- Egg Casserole with Leeks and Feta
- Fettuccine with Tuna, Lemon & Fried Capers
-  Frittata with Potatoes, Caramelized Shallots & White Beans
Kitchen Sink Chili-Soup-Stew
- Pecan Coated Catfish
- Pulled Pork
- Quinoa, Roasted Fennel & Pomegranate Salad
- Roasted Portobello Mushroom and Prosciutto Lasagna
- Rolled Fillets of Breast of Chicken with Pork and Rosemary Filling
- Tagine of Chicken with Preserved Lemon and Olives
- Tomato Pie
- Turkey Meatloaf
- Turkey Soup with Mustard and Balsamic Vinegar
- Whiskey Smoked Salmon Chowder
- Zucchini Latkes & Rosemary and Brown Butter Applesauce

- Betty Crocker's Thumbprint Cookies
- Butterscotch Chip-Oatmeal-Coconut Cookies
- Date and Walnut Phyllo Rolls with Greek Yogurt and Honey
- Ginger Cookies (Betty Crocker)
- Limoncello Biscotti
- Peanut Butter Cookies
- Pumpkin Walnut Bread
- Rum Ice Cream Pie
- Shortbread
- Tea & Honey Crisps

Vietnamese Dishes:
- Bac Gai's Vegetarian Spring Rolls
- Banana Flower Salad
- Clay Pot Fish
- Clay Pot Fish -- Instructional Video
- Shredded Chicken and Cabbage Salad/Goi Ga
- Shrimp with Lime
- Strawberry Wine

- Blue Cheese & Wild Mushroom Crackers
- Brown Butter Applesauce
- Cocktail Party Menu: Appetizers
- Dog Biscuits
- Food for Giving
- Honey Oat Muffins
- The Little Saigon Cookbook
- Moroccan Feast for Eight
- Ode to MFK Fisher
- Pear and Raspberry Jam
- Pear Jam with Jasmine Mandarin Tea
- Power Bars
- Red Onion Marmalade
- Southern California's Little Saigon
- White Onion Marmalade
- A Year in Cookbooks: 2006

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Gastronomical MFK Fisher

Each morning, before I begin working on Communion, I read a page or two (or ten, if I'm low on self control) of MFK Fisher. I don’t do this in the hope that her talent will rub off and I will write like her; I am aware of my own limitations, and of her unique talent. I do this to be inspired, and to be reminded how filled with truth and beauty food writing can be. And yes, it does give me a goal to aspire to.

My favorite MFK essay is Borderlands, from Serve it Forth. I think the part about the tangerine is the most seductive piece of writing I have read. But right now I am enamored with The Gastronomical Me. When I first read this book in my early 20s, I was captivated by the romance of the settings and the food. Nearly twenty years later, I am impressed with the complexity. MFK turns a simple description of a meal into an exploration of human nature in all its many forms, both lovely and ugly. The essay Measure of My Powers, 1936-1939 devastates when MFK’s brother’s girlfriend describes vacationing on the beach at France and watching the guards shoot refugees trying to swim to shore: “It was all right, though … the tide always carried the bodies farther along toward Bordeaux, where they’d wanted to go anyway.”

MFK can also sum up a person in a single sentence. “A tall, beautiful girl dressed like a Paris mannequin,” or, “The lame pharmacist, who had widowed himself four times by his own vitality.” Every morning, after I’ve read her and as I start writing, I am filled with hope, and with awe at the power of words.

Although I am working on a few recipes right now, I’m not going to include one with this post. Instead, I’m going to encourage you to pick up your favorite volume of MFK Fisher's writing and re-read it, or, if you haven’t read her yet, I’m going to encourage you to make one of the most important discoveries of your reading life.

For used copies, go to ABE Books. This is a good place to hunt for early editions. I got a wonderful first edition of Elizabeth David’s Italian Cooking from here.

For new copies, support an independent bookstore by ordering The Gastronomical Me and Serve it Forth from the Cook’s Library in Los Angeles or the Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle. I’m partial to the latter, since this is where I first discovered MFK, when I was a bookseller. It is also where I was when I heard of her death. I spent that afternoon crying in the receiving department, and I don’t think I’ve fully recovered. The only consolation is that her work is more beautiful and satisfying with each reading.


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A Month of Birthdays, & Roasted Fall-Vegetable Hash

Contrary to the three-week-long midlife crisis I had a few months ago, I was happy to turn 40. The 40s seem like such an interesting decade, and it’s always fun to start fresh—my 30s were fabulous, but they had some moments I would definitely call “do-overs” on if only I could! I’m sure I’ll say the same thing about my 40s when I hit 50. In any case, because 40 is such a big deal, I don’t feel terrible about hogging the entire month of September for my celebration.

The festivities began with 5 days in New York City with Bette (who flew in from Seattle), Julie, Vickie, Sarah, Michelle, and Hillary (who flew in from L.A.), Jen (who drove over from Long Island), and Blair & Scott (who made us come to them in Brooklyn). Our Big Apple fest included a grand dinner at Buddakan, and a wine drenched 10 p.m. dinner at Arturos, among the many memorable meals. Four weeks of celebrating finally reached its peak on the 30th (I milked the month for all it was worth) with a bash at my cousin Jeanne’s house here in L.A. Given the momentous occasion, I would have been justified in hiring a fancy caterer, but it wouldn’t have been a true Fay fête if it wasn’t a potluck. From the summer weekend getaway potlucks at my Gram’s cabin in Pine Glen when I was a kid, to the themed gourmet potluck parties we’ve been throwing at Jeanne’s for the past three years, there is no better way to get your family and friends to go all out in the kitchen. It was incredible how much food showed up for my birthday party, and how good all of it was.

For my own part, I made the ever popular Prosciutto Involtini; Edamame with Smoky Salt (Le Palais des Thés’ Thé du Tigre ground in my mortar & pestle with good sea salt); and a Roasted Fall-Vegetable Hash modified from a recent issue of Food & Wine. I made the hash because I’m in that moody, sentimental, in-need-of-comfort-food autumn head space, despite living in L.A. where it’s still stinking hot in the middle of the day. I blame all those years in Seattle for instilling a seasonal clock in me. And fall has always been my favorite season, with its last hints of summer and crisp evenings that promise winter to come. I also made the hash because I’ve been wanting an excuse to use the fall produce in the markets. This easy dish met all my requirements. I recommend it for Sunday brunch or a Thanksgiving side.

Roasted Fall-Vegetable Hash


- 1 lb. butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice (the original recipe calls for a half lb. squash and half lb. brussel sprouts, quartered, but I don’t like brussel sprouts)
- 3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 lb. thickly sliced bacon, cut into 1/4-inch dice (I used turkey bacon, which was fine, but doesn’t crisp the way real bacon does)
- 1/2 lb. sweet onions such as Vidalia or Texas sweets, finely chopped
- 1 small Granny Smith apple—peeled, cored and cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 10 sage leaves, thinly sliced crosswise
- 1 cup apple cider (I had a cider fiasco—I couldn’t find any—so used Trader Joe’s sparkling apple cider, which worked)


- Preheat the oven to 400°

- On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss the squash with 2 Tbsp. of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast the vegetables for about 20 minutes, or until tender.

- In a large, deep skillet, heat the remaining 1 Tbsp. of olive oil. Add the bacon and cook over moderate heat until crisp, about 5 minutes.

- Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 10 minutes.

- Stir in the apple and cook until it starts to soften, about 2 minutes.

- Gently stir in the roasted squash and sage, then pour in the cider.

- Simmer over moderately high heat until the cider has almost evaporated, about 10 minutes.

- Season with salt and pepper.

- Transfer the vegetables to a bowl and serve.

Recommended Fall Reading:

On the subject of autumn, check out this lovely essay by Orangette: Late September Sung in the Key of Salad

Last but not Least:

Because I was feeling so sentimental at my party, I couldn’t make it through my birthday speech, so the next day I sent an email out to everyone who came. I want to print it here, because it was such a special night for me.

Dear Family & Friends,

Thank you so much for celebrating my birthday on Saturday night. For those of you who feel cheated out of a sob-filled birthday speech, read on, and feel free to imagine me weeping at my keyboard, to get the full effect.

I can’t tell you how happy it made me to see people from so many different parts of my life together in one place. Friends from my first days in L.A., the gals who did double birthday duty by spending 5 exhausting days with me in New York a few weeks ago, cousin friends, Paso Robles friends, an Alexandria House friend, friend from my time in Vietnam, cookbook collaborating friend, writing friends, oh so precious pregnant friend, brand new friends, even a jury duty friend, and of course my family. The party wouldn’t have been complete without two of my very best friends, my mom and dad, who flew in from Tucson.

Due to potential tear spillage, I didn’t have a chance to thank my sister, Julie, who went all out to find every unattractive picture of me ever taken and painstakingly glue it to a board. It was fun to see so many wonderful memories compiled in a single space … it’s certainly been a fantastic life so far, despite the many many many hair faux pas! As you know, my sis is my best of best friends, and I can’t thank her enough for putting so much time and thought into making my Getting Old Party special.

I also want to thank my cousin Jeanne for offering her house, not only for this party, but all the time. We Fays are far from our damp and moldy homeland of Washington State, and Jeanne’s house (although not damp and moldy) serves as my hearth in L.A. I couldn’t survive here without her friendship and hospitality—knowing the door is always open, whether I need a place to hide from the world or to throw a big messy birthday party that ends with singing to my cousin Bill’s guitar playing at 2 a.m.

When Vickie gave her toast, she said a very true thing—I do love my life. And it is because I am surrounded by intelligence, humor, beauty and love in the form of my wonderful friends.

Thank you!



(photo by Julie Fay)

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Homemade Cheer: Nocino & Apricot Wine

Another busy month: my 40th birthday in New York with 10 terrific friends, the after school program started up for the year, my friend Natalie’s baby shower, trying out some yoga classes (I can almost touch my knees), working like mad, and writing tons. But yesterday—a beautiful warm Saturday with just a touch of autumn in the air—I finally managed to get into the kitchen and do something about the muck of Everclear and green walnuts I’ve had on my counter for the past two months.

It doesn't take long for the walnuts to start turning black

Following is my adaptation/merger of the Mount Lassen nocino recipe and the recipe for Vin de Noix II in the Style of Mme Marcelle Fine of Sisteron in Haute-Provence from Aperitif, by Georgeanne Brennan.


- 1 750 ml 151 proof Everclear + 1 cup
- 30 green walnuts Mount Lassen Farms
- 4 cinnamon sticks
- 1 tsp vanilla (use a vanilla bean if you have one)
- 2 nutmegs, crushed
- 1 bottle Bordeaux
- 2 ½ cup sugar


Day 1:

- Pour the Everclear into a jar.

- Quarter the walnuts and add to the Everclear. Be careful! The walnuts stain everything they touch. I wrapped my cutting board in saran wrap and wore plastic gloves.

- Put the lid on and leave the mixture for 1 months

- During this time, the clear liquid containing gem-like green walnuts will turn to motor oil black.

Day 30:

- After 1 month, add the cinnamon sticks, vanilla and nutmeg.
- Put the lid back on and leave for another month.

Day 60:

- After the second month has passed, strain the walnuts and spices out of the liquid.

- Add 1 more cup Everclear to the walnut-infused Everclear.

- Boil the wine and sugar, until the sugar has completely dissolved.

- Wait until the wine/sugar mixture has cooled, and then add to the walnut-infused Everclear.

- Bottle.

- Serve during the holidays.

The liquid will look like motor oil for most of time.

Apricot Wine:

While in the kitchen, I also bottled my Apricot Wine. I made it exactly the same way I made my Strawberry Wine, although straining this time was more difficult. The sediment in the apricot liquid wasn’t as heavy as that in the strawberry liquid, so it shifted around when I was trying to strain it. Also, some of it made it through the coffee filters. Still, it’s pretty yummy. I recommend this recipe with any favorite fruit.

So beautiful during the first days ...

Then oxidization sets in

The joys of straining ...

After the first strain, I let the sediment settle to the bottom,
then strain it out through a coffee filter.
Straining is definitely the most complicated part.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Blasts from the Past: PB Cookies & Rum Ice Cream Pie

I’m a bad blogger.

I thought that committing myself to twice a month (I know, I know, good bloggers blog every chance they get) wouldn’t be too ambitious. Turns out: I was wrong. But I have a good excuse. I write for a living. This past month, along with setting up 8 new volumes for the To Asia With Love guidebook series, I (finally!) finished my novel, wrote a feature article on Little Saigon, and worked diligently on Communion. At the end of the days, I was out of words. I was also distracted, because I was immersed in a project for my mom’s 60th birthday—what started out as making a simple memory book became hours spent poring over old photographs, reading old letters, and sorting through memorabilia. It also resulted in countless nostalgic reveries, so many having to do with food. Not the pancakes and pies that my family is famous for, but those quintessentially ‘70s dishes that my mom taught my sis and me to make in our kitchens in Wenatchee, Spokane, Moses Lake, and Vancouver.

Just 20 years old when she had me, my mom was still young when she and I started cooking together. She was an avid horsewoman raised by a sailor, my gramps who adored the efficient concept of TV dinners. We made Chef Boyardee pizza out of box kits on Friday nights, and ate metallic Kraft macaroni and cheese as a treat. Needless to say, gourmet cooking came to my family later in life. But when it did, it had a strong foundation, not necessarily in actual ingredients and dishes, but in the love of being in the kitchen. In those early days, we may have cooked casseroles topped with corn flakes sautéed in butter, but we cooked, with the emphasis on we. We—my mom and me, and often my mom, dad, sister, and me—had a lot of fun in the kitchen, and the following two recipes remind me of those times.

Peanut Butter Cookies

This was the first thing my mom let me make on my own, when I was in the third grade. But when it came time to form the cookies, my batter was unusually runny. After examining the recipe, she said, “Sweetheart, it’s one tablespoon of water, not one cup.” And then, smiling, without missing a beat, she added, “Oh well, we’ll make it a cake instead.” In that single instant taught me that mistakes are not fatal, and that flexibility is the hallmark of any good cook. As for these cookies, they are awesome.


- 1 package yellow cake mix (extra moist)
- 1 cup peanut butter (Skippy is best—honestly, don’t use a good, fresh variety)
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 1 Tbsp water
- 2 eggs


Combine ingredients. Drop round tablespoon sized balls of dough on an ungreased cookie sheet, about 2 inches apart. Press cookies flat, making a criss-cross pattern with a fork. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes.

Mom’s Infamous Ginger-Rum Ice Cream Pie

I made this for aforementioned 60th birthday, and when my mom tasted it, she asked if I used a quarter cup of light rum. I told her that the recipe my sister gave me didn’t call for real rum, but artificial rum flavoring. She laughed and said that must have been the recipe she gave Julie before Julie was 21. Apparently, when we were kids, Julie took a serious liking to this pie, and so my mom modified the recipe to keep from turning her daughter into an alcoholic. While the version with artificial flavoring is good, she insists the one with real rum is best. Either way, this is a great dessert, especially during these relentlessly hot summer months.


- 1 ½ cup crushed chocolate wafers (about 25); I couldn’t find these, so used chocolate graham cracker sticks
- ¼ cup butter, melted
- 1 tsp. rum flavoring OR ¼ cup light rum
- 1/3 tsp. ginger, ground
- 2 tsp. instant coffee
- 1 quart vanilla ice cream, slightly softened


Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix crumbs and butter. Reserve 2 Tbl. crumb mixture for topping. Press remaining mixture firmly on bottom and sides of 9” pie plate. Bake 8-10 minutes, until set. Cool.

Stir rum, ginger and instant coffee into softened ice cream. Pour into pie shell. Sprinkle with remaining crumb mixture. Freeze uncovered until firm, about 4 hours. Wrap and keep frozen until 15 minutes before serving.

Monday, July 24, 2006

If You Can’t Stand the Heat Wave …

Julie’s 29th (again!) Birthday Party: The Menu

- Anni’s Crostini with Gorgonzola, Caramelized Onions & Fig Jam
- Chocolate & Zucchini’s Zucchini Carpaccio
- Passionate Nonchalance’s Artichoke & Manchego Crostini
- Peach Bruschetta with Blue Cheese, from The San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market Cookbook
- Figs Wrapped in Blue Cheese & Turkey Bacon
- My Famous Prosciutto Involtini
- Plum Tart, adapted from The San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market Cookbook, and served with Crème Fraiche
- The “Can’t Have a Fay Sisters’ Birthday Without It” Brown Sugar Frosting Spice Cake

Waiting for praise ...


One of those divine days. My new job doesn’t start for another week, the little bit of work I have can be pushed aside until Monday, and for some reason the Third & Fairfax Farmer’s Market isn’t a zoo, even though it’s the middle of July and the height of tourist season. The bins are full: zucchini, plums, figs, and peaches … all to be incorporated into appetizers for my sister’s birthday party tomorrow night. I pick up apricots for myself, to start a batch of liqueur tonight.

I make a trip to Ralph’s for the essential turkey bacon, since my sister does not eat food from piggies, and to Trader Joe’s for blue cheese, crème fraiche, and assorted party essentials. It’s searing hot out, and the house is miserable, but I haven’t had consecutive free days just to plan and prepare for a party in I can’t remember how long, and 95 degree weather isn’t going to get me down. It’s the kind of day that begs for the Amalie soundtrack, a bit of reading on the couch, a nap with the dog.

Then, once it begins to cool down, while Julie is out on a date, since tonight is her actual birthday, I bake the cake. My mother made this cake for us nearly every year of our childhoods. A Betty Crocker Spice Cake, which has been discontinued, so now I have to make it with a yellow cake mix and quatre epices (cloves, nutmeg, ginger, and ground pepper) that we picked up in Paris in the little spice shop next door to our hotel in the St-Germain-des-Pres.

While the cake bakes and cools, I finish The Heart is A Lonely Hunter, one of the most admirable books I have in years, not only because McCullers was 23 when she wrote it, but because it gives dignity to even the least dignified of the characters. Then I watch—confession—The Truth About Cats & Dogs on one of those cheesy cable channels on the 200 level. It’s after 11 when I finally frost the cake with the ultimate sugar rush of brown sugar and butter melted over a double boiler, then combined with powdered sugar and milk. It’s lumpy as all hell, but lumpy frosting has long been “my thing.”

It’s finally cooling down, I’m high from eating the leftover frosting, and so I start The Good Life and read until almost 3 a.m.

Getting started: apricot liqueur


Although I spend the morning working on my novel, I am actually thinking about tonight’s menu, which originated when I decided I wanted to use recipes from some of the blogs I have been enjoying. I had to try Anni’s crostini, because she sent me the fig jam that goes with it, and I really wanted something from Chocolate & Zucchini. I also decided to play roulette, and go with the first appetizer on the first blog listed on Food Porn Watch at the time I was searching. The winner: a crostini from Passionate Nonchalance. Of course I had to include my involtini, which was a hit two weeks before at our big Italian party. And then I decided to round things out with a recipe from one of my cookbooks I have yet to use. Since The San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market Cookbook is arranged by season, it seemed like a perfect choice. Right there in the section for summer months were recipes for Peach Bruschetta with Blue Cheese, a Plum Galette, and figs wrapped in blue cheese and prosciutto, which I modify greatly for my sister.

I prep in the morning: the involtini filling, caramelized onions, artichoke filling, and the tarts. Heat fills every corner of the house, and drapes over me like a second skin. Our friend Andrea arrives and immediately head for my sister’s bed to take a nap in front of the fan. The three of us go for pedis, simply to sit somewhere cool for a bit, then return to finish up the food. My sister’s boyfriend calls to tell her it’s the hottest day on record in L.A. As the afternoon wanes, the sky turns a pearly, apocalyptic color, and more than one person will say—at some point in the night, which is filled with lots of laughter and some dramatic heat lightning—that it feels as if something terrible is going to happen. As if the war in Iraq and the crisis in Lebanon isn’t enough! Julie’s O.C. college friends, Robin & Trae, arrive and are put to work, spreading blue cheese, cutting peaches, and tasting my limoncello.

As 7:30 nears, the table is nearly ready, and I wander around it, pretending to be nonchalant, but I’m not. It has been ages since I have done more than provide one or two appetizers for a party, and I’m feeling quite proud of myself. And so, I fuss around the table as the guests begin to arrive and work on a modest demeanor for the “oohs” and “ahs” to come …


The house is a huge mess. This heat is likely to render us unconscious before noon. But everyone LOVED the food. And this makes me very happy.

Simple plum tart

Recipes & Modifications:

Anni’s Crostini with Gorgonzola, Caramelized Onions & Fig Jam: I made this recipe per her instructions, although I sautéed the onions longer to soften them up a bit.

Chocolate & Zucchini’s Zucchini Carpaccio: I could not find poppy vinegar, so I used a very light tarragon vinegar, which was nice and refreshing.

Passionate Nonchalance’s Artichoke & Manchego Crostini: When I made this, I thought, “This is too simple.” Little did I know, that would be its appeal.

Figs Wrapped in Blue Cheese & Turkey Bacon: Just like it sounds.

My Famous Prosciutto Involtini

Plum Tart, served with Crème Fraiche: I cheated and used a Pillsbury piecrust to make this. I’d give excuses, but I don’t have any. I come from an extended family of superb pie makers, and if I ever learned how to make a crust, my mom and aunts would have stopped making pies for me. Also, I couldn’t get my hands on a vanilla bean, so I used a little pure vanilla extract. And in one of the tarts, I chopped up some mint, which turned out to be delish!

The “Can’t Have a Fay Sisters’ Birthday Without It” Brown Sugar Frosting Spice Cake: If you really want this recipe, email me!

Peach Bruschetta with Blue Cheese, from The San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market Cookbook

This is an exceptional summer appetizer. I adapted it with smaller slices of bread, so that I would get more appetizers out of it. The original recipe is as follows:


4 slices country bread
2 peaches
extra-virgin olive oil for brushing
½ pound Point Reyes Blue, gorgonzola, or Blue Castello cheese


1. Preheat the broiler.

2. Arrange the bread sliced on a rimmed baking sheet, slip under the broiler, and toast, turning once, until golden brown on both sides. This should take only a few minutes.

3. While the bread is toasting, halve the peaches lengthwise, pit them, and then peel each half. Cut each half lengthwise into ¼-inch-thick slices, keeping the shape of each intact. (I didn’t peel them, and just sliced them up to fit two per crostini).

4. When the bread is ready, remove from the broiler and brush each slice on both sides with olive oil. Spread one-fourth of the cheese on each slice of warm bread, place a sliced peach half on top, and serve.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Has Anyone Seen this Eggplant?

This post is a plea for help. I am working on two recipes for my book. One is an eggplant dish created by Miss Vy in Hoi An. The other is a traditional ragu from Dalat. Each recipe calls for ingredients I am having a hard time finding in Los Angeles. Some of you may recognize the ingredients immediately, but I am in the learning process when it comes to the English names of vegetables used in Vietnamese cooking, so please take pity on me.


The first ingredient is a white eggplant. I have uploaded two photos, so that you can see the color, shape, and size. If anyone knows the name of this eggplant, and also where I might find it, I would be so appreciative. (Right now I am experimenting with a more egg-shaped, white and purple eggplant my sister found at Whole Foods.)


Secondly, I need specific beans for the ragu. These beans are grown in Dalat, and I'm sure they are probably common here in the U.S. Does anyone recognize the beans in the photos below? If so, please send along their English names. I promise to keep you on file for a complimentary cookbook in the spring of 2007!

My thanks in advance to anyone who can help me out with these ingredients.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Life (with Radishes & Prosciutto) is Beautiful

A Note, by Wislawa Szymborska

Life is the only way
to get covered in leaves,
catch your breath on the sand,
rise on wings;

to be a dog,
or stroke its warm fur;

to tell pain
from everything it's not;

to squeeze inside events,
dawdle in views,
to seek the least of all possible mistakes.

An extraordinary chance
to remember for a moment
a conversation held
with the lamp switched off;

and if only once
to stumble upon a stone,
end up soaked in one downpour or another,

mislay your keys in the grass;
and to follow a spark on the wind with your eyes;

and to keep on not knowing
something important.

Be careful what you wish for … I disagree. I am now six days into something that I have wished for often over the past two years, and I’m glad that I wasn’t careful.

Last month, I quit my job of four years, and as a fitting farewell for my last day, which was Friday, my coworker-in-crime, Sylvie, took me to a screening of The Devil Wears Prada. I’m grateful to have had that job, for the work itself, which I enjoyed, and for the financially secure footing it put me on, but I’m even gladder that there was a straw that finally broke the camel’s back. Because of that silly straw, I emailed my publisher at Things Asian and said, “I want to quit X-job, where I'm not happy. I want to do something that makes me really, really, really happy. May I work for you?" My publisher, a man of generosity, kindness, creativity, and integrity, said … yes. Sigh! As of August first, (after taking the month of July off), I will be the managing editor of the To Asia With Love guidebook series.

A beautiful life requires proactive efforts, something I had forgotten in recent years and was reminded of, in all places, in the world of food blogging. As I began reading food blogs in April (I know, I’m a Jane-Come-Lately), I discovered people around the world who lovingly, zestfully, exuberantly, and quietly incorporate life’s greatest pleasure into their lives. Reading Chocolate & Zucchini, I think of both MFK Fisher and Laurie Colwin. The words are so light, and by that I do not mean frivolous, but filled with radiance. Reading Orangette, I remember my own twenties, living in Seattle, working at the Elliott Bay Bookstore, teaching myself how to cook and reading Gourmet—I thought I was the height of sophistication when I got my own subscription. I have already made a new blog friend, Anni, who sent me the most amazing fig confiture, and who is inspiring me now by making her own cheese.

Yes, a straw broke the camel’s back and prompted me to quit, but it was all those lovely food blogs out there that pushed me to ask for the job I really desired and reminded me how I want to live my life once again now that I’m free. Just when you think life is too busy dealing you blows—the loss of my beloved Grammy, the loss of a former boyfriend, a mean boss, this really messed up world—it comes up with some crazy way to remind you that it is also a thing of great beauty. Reminds me that I was very lucky to have had Grammy for so long in my life, to have had that former boyfriend who taught me how to appreciate the value of words and faith, to have had a job where I could write all day, to have the privilege of living in this world no matter how messy it is. Free from my old job and inspired by the always positive words of foodies around the world, I spent this weekend celebrating ...

Reading for hours on end the way I used to when I a kid: The History of Love gives me hope in the future of American literature! … Going to the Hollywood Farmer’s market with my sister and friend, Lisa, and buying apricots, artichokes, tamales, bread, grapefruit, and radishes so beautiful they inspired me to spend that night working on an enormous painting for the living room … Sorting through all the recipes I cut out of magazines over the past five years and actually making two of them (the sun-dried tomato tart was nice and the butterscotch biscotti a dud) … Cleaning up the novel I began 10 years ago so I can finally send it to agents … Starting a batch of nocino for Christmas gift-giving … Replanting my balcony garden with herbs and geraniums … Eating and drinking with my sis and our friend, Vickie, who is house-sitting for a friend with a pool—L.A. has never been hotter, and a pool never more enjoyed.

I haven’t cooked anything in the past few weeks that dazzled me, so I’m going to share a favorite recipe. This is a hit every time I take it to a party. And since prosciutto is yet one more thing in life to celebrate—I would nominate it for its own food group, if such a thing was possible—I want to pass it on.

Prosciutto & Artichoke Involtini
(from Food & Wine magazine)


- 1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ cup slivered blanched almonds (2 oz.)
- 1 can artichoke hearts (not marinated), drained and patted dry
- ¼ cup cream cheese, softened
- 2 Tbls freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- ½ tsp finely grated lemon zest
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 18 thin slices of prosciutto


1) Heat the oil in a small skillet.
2) Add the almonds and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until golden, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and let cool.
3) In a mini food processor, pulse the artichoke hearts with the almonds until finely chopped.
4) Add the cream cheese, Parmesan and lemon zest and process to a paste.
5) Season with salt & pepper.
6) Lay 3 prosciutto slices on a work surface, overlapping them slightly along the sides.
7) Spoon 2 tablespoons of the artichoke filling onto the short end and roll into a tight cylinder. Repeat with the remaining prosciutto and filling.
8) Trim the ends, cut into quarters & serve.

A platter of Prosciutto Involtini
People actually speak with reverence about this appetizer ...

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Strawberry Wine Forever

My version and the bottle from
Maison Long Hoa in Vietnam.

I need to make something clear. Despite that two of my first five posts on Serve It Forth are about making alcohol, I am not a boozehound. I kept only a few of the 25 bottles of limoncello that I recently made (and these I saved for sipping with friends), and the strawberry wine I am writing about now is a crucial part of Communion. Most Vietnamese women I know make their own fruit liqueurs to serve after meals as digestifs.

I first had strawberry wine in the fall of 1995, in the hill town of Dalat, about six hours north of Saigon. It was my first weekend out of the city, and I needed the escape from hot urban living. Cool and quiet, Dalat is home to the Dalat Palace, my favorite hotel in the world, and Maison Long Hoa, a hushed, simple, elegant Vietnamese restaurant where Beethoven rather than ABBA plays over the stereo. As my then boyfriend and I chatted with the ever-gracious owner, Mr. Thai, he suggested we try the restaurant’s strawberry wine, which was made by his wife. It was three years old, and it was syrupy, sweet, and good. We bought two bottles with the intention of saving them for special occasions back in Saigon. Instead, we drank both by the time we got back to the hotel. In our defense, it was a long walk back, with digressions into shuttered market stalls to try on hats, and the Stop & Go during the blackout hour for flamenco music and an impromptu poetry writing session. And yes, we had hellacious headaches the next morning.

When my sister and I traveled back to Vietnam last year to research Communion, we stopped in at Maison Long Hoa, for clay pot fish, beef in la lot leaves and some strawberry wine. Mr. Thai’s wife still makes it, and it is still good. We bought a bottle, and later, when I was talking about it with our local translator, Linh, I was told that every good housewife in Dalat knows how to make it. It’s easy, she assured me. She gave me her recipe to try at home. I started a first batch this January, and a second batch in April. The first batch was in bottles in March. I have to say, when I looked at that jewel-like red liquid in those three bottles, I was very proud of myself. And so I took a bottle to the big Vietnamese feast we cooked for our friends and a small group of winemakers last month in Paso Robles.

We shouldn’t have waited until the end of the night to sample it. Everyone had had a little too much to drink by then, and people were in playful but feisty moods. The winemakers first sampled a Vietnamese made red table wine that Julie and I brought, and they made a big show of sputtering, spitting it out, and wrinkling their noses. Out of the kindness of his heart—when it came time for my strawberry wine—the owner of L’Aventure assured me that he liked its berry notes. My friend Joel smilingly announced, “Well, at least this one’s drinkable.” And then one of Joel’s colleagues, Soren, commented on the slightly brown tint of the liquid and gave me a well-intentioned half-hour lecture on oxidization and bacterial fermentation. I just wanted to put fruit and sugar in a jar and see if I could make booze like all my friend’s moms do in Vietnam. I decided not to bust out Mr. Thai’s wife’s wine for such unforgiving criticism, and instead kept it for a crowd I was sure would appreciate it: my undiscriminating girlfriends.

A few weeks later, Julie and I gathered with Michelle, Hilary and Sarah at our friend Vickie’s house on a Sunday afternoon for a barbecue. Before the festivities got underway, I asked them to do a taste test with the Vietnamese strawberry wine and my wine. I knew I could count on my girls. They liked both, but they liked mine best. They said you could really taste the fresh strawberries in it. I guess that would be the “berry notes” mentioned up in Paso! The Vietnamese version was much darker and richer, perhaps because it had been in the bottle for two years. Michelle decided that it tastes like a white port. She also compared both versions to Manischewitz, which might not be taken as a compliment unless you know how much Michelle likes that saccharine wine. All were impressed by the fact that I’d even made wine—thank you, ladies!—and a long discussion ensued, led by my sister, about the possibilities, had we known as teenagers that it was so easy to make wine in a jar. We also decided that strawberry wine is very nice chilled over ice.

I am the first to admit that my winemaking efforts are uneducated and crude (I know nothing about fermentation, alcohol content, and so on), but at the same time, the result made me happy. I think I’m going to try apricot wine next. In the meantime, here is the end result of how I did it. If anyone has suggestions or recommendations, feel free to send them my way.

Batch 1 & Batch 2 - Both jars are too big ... too much air at the top.

Linh’s Strawberry Wine


- 1-gallon jar with a lid
- 10 lbs strawberries
- 2 lbs sugar

Note on Fermentation: If you live in a cold place, you should add a bit of wine yeast.


- In the jar, put one layer of strawberries, one layer of sugar, one layer of strawberries, one layer of sugar, and so on until all the strawberries are used up.

- If you live in a cold place and don’t get much sun, mix half a 5-gram packet of wine yeast according to the instructions, and dribble this into the jar.

-Put the lid on the jar and keep it in a warm place (75-80F) for two months. I kept mine in a window where it could get direct sunlight in the afternoons.

- Manually filter the liquid using a plastic screen, Vietnamese style—these are Linh’s instructions, and I love them, although I don’t know what they mean. Below I explain how I filtered the wine. I’m sure my method is equally rudimentary. The liquid should be clear and deep ruby pink in color.

- Pour filtered liquid into a jar and let it sit for another week or two, to let the final sediment sink to the bottom.

- Strain this liquid from the sediment.

- Bottle wine and make beautiful labels.

- Let wine sit for at least another month—more if you have patience—before drinking.


The first time I made this I used 5 lbs. strawberries, the second time I doubled the recipe and used 10. Oddly, the first batch yielded more wine than the second. I have no idea why. From the 10 lb. batch, expect approximately two 750ml worth of liquid.

When putting the strawberries into the jar, don’t leave a lot of air at the top. The jar should be full with just an inch or so of space at the top, to keep the liquid from turning brown.

Fermentation begins after about five days. It’s fun to watch the concoction start to fizz and bubble. Mine fizzed and bubbled for about a month before becoming just a weird-looking science project in the kitchen. I have seen jars of wine in the making in my Vietnamese friends’ houses. In every case, the fruit rises to the top of the liquid and stays there. In my case, the fruit rose during the first month, and then sank during the second. The strawberries began to look like mushy little sea anemones, sleeping on a thick bed of sediment, and many a visitor compared them to things that I do not want to write about in an essay on food. My advice: just be patient and see what happens. I honestly thought the whole project was going to be a big waste of time, but I now have a few bottles of yummy wine that prove the Doubting Debbie in me wrong.

Potential Explosions:
Linh’s instructions call for an airtight jar. Apparently, if the jar is truly airtight, it will explode. I did not know this, and since I sealed my jar as best I could, I am going to assume that it wasn’t completely airtight. You may want to do more research on this before blowing up a big jar of strawberries in your kitchen.

My first crude attempts to filter ...

I have no idea how to filter wine, and so, when confronted with the first batch, I used the only filtering system I know: my coffee filter. My one-cup coffee filter, to be precise. I can’t say my approach was the most efficient, because, as you can see from the two small photos above, I attempted to strain out the strawberries first. What I should have done—and what I did with my second batch—was scoop the liquid out first, and then filter that liquid. I filtered the liquid three times to get it as clear as possible.

Then I put that liquid into a jar, let it sit for two weeks, and VERY CAREFULLY scooped out the liquid, leaving behind the small quarter-inch layer of sediment on the bottom of the jar. I know there are better ways to do this, but I approach these activities as a kind of meditation, and I think half the fun is discovering what you can do, without having any idea what you’re doing.

My second more "refined" attempt to filter ...

Right after you have filtered your wine, it will taste a little bitter. It needs to sit in the bottles for a month or so to sweeten up.