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Baby Jesus pee (milk liqueur)

Baby-Jesus-pee-2

Remember when I told you about the awesome Azorean cookbook we got from our neighbors? Well, I've dabbled in a thing or two beyond the molha. One of the recipes that intrigued me from the beginning was one for a milk liqueur. The name alone is enough to pique one's interest. But lest you think this is a creamy drink like Irish cream, let me disabuse you of that notion. 

Rather, the idea here is that milk is combined with liquor and other ingredients, most importantly citrus. The acid from the citrus causes the milk solids to coagulate, and the milk liquids that are left behind give the liqueur a viscosity and weight that you cannot get from alcohol and sugar alone.

Best of all, as with nearly all the recipes in the book, is the grace note: 

Around Christmas, it was traditional to make, quite in advance, various homemade liqueurs, destined for the friends who were to come round. These liqueurs, characteristic of the Christmassy period, were tenderly named the "wee of little Jesus" or "o xixi do menino Jesus." This tradition, with the passing of time and  the running around for time, is now starting to disappear, although it is continued by inviting friends over for the so-called "xixi" that now, at the best of times, is no more than a gin, a whisky or any other purchased drink.

So, if you, like I, are interested in keeping this treasured tradition alive, read on. 

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Noggin’

Eggnog tasting

I can't think of the last time I bought commercial egg nog. The very thought of it was sort of gag-inducing for a long time. As a child I loved the stuff, but at some point my tastes changed, and the last grocery store nog I remember drinking was sickly sweet with a thick, gloopy texture that evoked a mixture of molasses and Elmer's glue. 

In the intervening years, we've made our own nogs, including a recipe that involves separating the eggs and beating the whites to soft peaks, which are then integrated back into the custard. The resulting egg nog is light and fluffy, and somehow tricks you into believing that you're not drinking a dozen eggs and a pint of whipping cream. This year, I've taken on aged egg nog, which should be just good enough by Christmas Eve, though part of me is tempted to start next year's batch now. 

But when Amy reached out with an invitiation, collaborating with Beth from Whole Foods Northern California, offering a tasting of different egg nogs, my curiosity was piqued.  Surely there must be good egg nogs on the market, and I intended to find out. 

So a few of us filtered in to Steep Brew, the cafe at Whole Foods Potrero Hill

Eggnog tasting

I figured it would be all, drop in, taste some nogs, and blow. Yeah, not so much. Beth had laid out an entire table with not just the nogs, but some other goods she wanted us to try. From the bakery, we had a chocolate turtle cake and an orange upside down cake, the latter of which was good by any metric, even though it had oranges all over it. 

Eggnog tasting

And there were cheeses, most notably a nice gouda with holiday spices (nutmeg and cumin prevailed) that immediately evoked egg noggy goodness, and a manchego paired with a curiously good cranberry nut cake. 

Eggnog tasting

And then Beth whisked away for a moment to retrieve the ham. Because, of course, you need ham to taste egg nog. 

Positioned as we were smack in the middle of a very public space, seated around a table positively laden with cartons of egg nog, plates of nibbles, bottles of wine (yes, there was wine) and a big old ham, we of course got a lot of attention. One lady passed by our table no fewer than three times, ogling us with crazy eyes while dragging a granny cart behind her, before she stopped to say, "You've got a picture perfect party going on. But I guess you knew that. Ha ha ha ha. But it could be better, if you had rattlesnake handlers." Riiiight. 

On to the nog! 

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Favorite food books from 2013

We get a lot of food-related books, in large part because I know many of the authors. This has been a rather spectacular year for them, and here's a few of the ones that we allow to occupy precious space in our pantry shelf. If you're here in San Francisco, please trek down to Omnivore Books and pick a few up, won't you? 

Cookbooks:

Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese
When I heard Stephanie and Garrett were working on a mac and cheese cookbook, I did not imagine that they would literally redefine the concept. Forget elbow macaroni and day-glow orange cheese sauce. With erudite information on artisan cheese and pasta, this book will make you think about the combinations of noodles and cheese in entirely new ways. I'll be cooking from this for a long time to come. 

Duck, Duck, Goose
Another blog friend, Hank Shaw returns with his second book (the first being the very useful Hunt, Gather, Cook), a compendium of recipes for duck and goose. Even if you're not a hunter, it's a great resource with tips on butchery and approachable recipes with a global influence. We haven't cooked much duck at home, and goose just twice, but we'll probably do more now. 

Homemade with Love
When Jennie's husband died abruptly a couple years ago, it rippled throughout the blog world. One of the ways she was able to put her broken life back together was through cooking, and this book reflects the heart and soul she has  been putting into the food she makes for herself and two young daughters in the wake of the tragedy. Jennie graciously hosted a few of us for a brunch; you truly can taste the love. 

Vegetable Literacy
Deborah Madison, famously of the vegetarian restaurant Greens, turned out this stunner that goes beyond mere cookery and into the realm of botany. By grouping vegetables into families, you understand more about how  their flavors complement each other, enabling you to become a more creative cook. Or, just leave it out as a gorgeous coffee table book. I won't judge. 

Southern Italian Desserts
I love Rosetta Costantino's first book, My Calabria, featuring one of Italy's most intriguing and overlooked cuisines, and moreover from one of the regions my family comes from. With her second, she focuses on the extremey diverse sweets of five southern Italian provinces: Calabria, Campania, Puglia, Basilicata and Sicilia. From the rustic to the extremely fancy, each of these recipes look amazing.

The Ultimate Panini Press Cookbook
Kathy Strahs started her blog Panini Happy only a couple years after I started Hedonia. With her book, she busts out not only creative, crispy sandwiches (hello, Nutella, brie and basil sandwich? Yes, and it totally works) but clever ideas on using the humble panini press as a versatile tool in the kitchen. I got to sample a few 'wiches recently with her and Adam, the associate publisher, and am inspired.

Sodium Girl's Limitless Low-Sodium Cookbook
I met Jessica Goldman Foung by sitting across the table from her in our local coffeeshop. Because of severe health issues, she must maintain an extremely low-sodium diet. What's a foodie to do? She took the bull by the horns and developed a book full of recipes that have little salt but big flavor. It's quite literally a life savor for those who must cut back on salt but don't want to eat cardboard.

The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook We're big fans of the Beekman Boys, and it's not just becase we bear a mild resemblance to them and aspire to a similar existence to what they've undertaken. While the recipes look perfectly delicious, the photography is the star here, with moody overtones and compositions reminiscent of Dutch Masters' still lifes. A real beaut, the kind of cookbook you just want to sit and thumb through.

Non-cookbooks:

San Francisco: A Food Biography
Food is at the core of San Francisco's culture and identity, so what better way to tell its story than through the lens of food. From its earliest days, with windswept dunes and Indian villages, through the Victorian era and right to modern times, Erica Peters serves up plate after plate of the City by the Bay. Since I myself am a tour guide with Edible Excursions, I'll be mining this for relevant information as well as just plain good reading.

Inside the California Food Revolution
Of course California's modern era is what most people know best. Former chef Joyce Goldstein was present in the most influential years from 1970 to 2000, when California drove the culinary scene across the nation. Using material from interviews with some 200 people (!), Goldstein gets a holistic view on how and why California came to rise as a culinary power. I saw her speak on the book, and she really knows her stuff.

Foodist: Using Real Food and Real Science to Lose Weight Without Dieting
I hate dieting, and I'm terrible at it. I can follow a regimen for a while, but I always fail, because I hate denying myself delicious things. As Darya Pino Rose says, "seriously, screw that." A neuroscientist, Rose lays out a framework for a "healthstyle" that allows you to make simple choices that help you lose weight without losing your mind.

See also: Best DIY Food Books of 2013 (Punk Domestics)

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Salad forks are a cruel joke

Salad with chopsticks

Can someone explain salad forks to me? It boggles the mind how something so fraught with design flaws can have survived in our society for so long, unchallenged. 

Let's start with the tines. Foreshortened and squatter than a regular fork, they seem to actually repel foods rather than grab them, most especially lettuce. Often one of the tines on the side sports a jaunty flair, as if made to actively kick food off of it. And in the center, a widened gap between the tines that appears to be designed to grab and hold more food, but in fact does not, since food never, ever makes it that far down the fork. 

I'm calling for the abolition of these pointless, pointed utensils. 

Instead, do as I do, and eat your salad with chopsticks. You have more control, and can pick up as much or as little as you like. With a little practice, you will easily learn how to negotiate even slippery items like supremed citrus and avocado. 

Who's with me? Let's #chopthesaladfork!

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Color, coordinated

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A friend and colleague recently accused me of being very organized. While I'm thrilled that those are the appearances I keep up, it's a bald-faced lie. 

I have always thrived in chaos. My desk habitually resembles the scene of a natural disaster. Over the years, any tendencies I had toward ADD have only been exacerbated by the fast-paced, information-rich world we live in.

But somewhere, deep inside, there is a methodical, organized person screaming to get out. His domain is in the wardrobe. I have a strange compulsion to order my clothes by color and pattern.

In what ways are you organized versus not?

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