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BonBonBar 2010 Holiday Newsletter… Blogged

Saturday, February 6th, 2010
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Hello,

Happy Holidays!  Even though I have been quiet on the newsletter front, it has been busy at BonBonBar.

The most exciting news is that I have been hard at work writing a cookbook! It is called Beautiful Candymaking, and it is due out in the Fall of 2011 through Sterling Publishing.  The book will feature my take on a wide range of candy recipes — from toffee to fudge to caramel corn — along with candymaking tips/techniques and gorgeous photography courtesy of The White on Rice Couple.

After developing so many recipes for the book, I thought that it would be a good idea to recharge and seek new inspiration for the company’s confections.  So, BonBonBar will be closed from December 23 to February 1 as I eat my way around France, Italy, Brazil, and California.  I am looking forward to returning with refreshed ideas for new products, but it most likely also means that, unfortunately, some candies will be rotated out in the new year.

As always, thank you so much for your support and enthusiasm.  Happy customers have always been my favorite part of this BonBonBar adventure, and you have given me the amazing opportunity to run a truly artisan food company that will be going into its fourth year. I am grateful, and lucky.

All the best for a happy and sweet holiday season, and I hope that BonBonBar treats will be a part of it!

Thank  you!

Nina

Founder & Chief Chocolatier,BonBonBar

MORE BONBONBAR NEWS

So far, our candy bars are being featured in Fine Cooking, DailyCandy, and The Huffington Post’s 2010 holiday gift guides.

If you would like to place your holiday orders in advance of when you would like them to ship, please let us know in the comments of the order.

All orders placed during the break will ship after February 1.

Camp San Francisco

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

A trailhead across from the front door was too much for me to resist when I was looking at the Presidio apartment that I now live in.  Where does it go, I wondered?   Where doesn’t it go? Every time I go for a walk in the Presidio, I discover something new and surprising in this unique corner of San Francisco.  For the first week, it felt like camp, or a college campus without the college.  It’s a place that I would normally think about driving to, so it feels a little peculiar to step right into it from my home.  Even my backyard is bordered by forest, but then, the city is right around the corner, too.

The Presidio used to be a military base until it was developed for civilian use.  Throughout the park, there are clusters of residences in addition to some businesses, from George Lucas’s companies to a bowling center.  And it’s federal land, which means that crime is in federal jurisdiction… which means that there is no crime, as far as I can tell.

Most of it is pretty open, with windy paths and roads and buildings….

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But there are trails to hike with varied foliage and views.  There’s the occasional coyote, too, though I have yet to see one.

What gets me every time is that when you follow the natural descent of the land through the park, you find yourself on the waterfront with a wide open sky.  I never thought that the Golden Gate Bridge would be such a looming part of my life… in all its states of fog.

I walked across the bridge one morning, but it was so loud from all the cars that I’m not sure if I’ll do it again.  But Crissy Field is lovely, and the walk on the path along the water to the bridge, or in the other direction, towards the Marina, is very nice, with a healthy traffic of bicyclists, runners, dogs, and baby carriages.

And the beach along the water…

And green art…

If you walk towards Fisherman’s Wharf (or better, the Ferry Building), you come across the Palace of Fine Arts, a monument that I’d managed to not know about before, but one whose idiosyncratic existence strikes me as wonderful.

I also think that it’s wonderful that a family of 4 figured out how to have a thoroughly civilized lunch at a table in the middle of the dome.  Too bad they’re all but hidden in the shadow in my picture, but I’m posting it anyway, because as I have a feeling they would say, well, why not?

I’m still figuring out my food options around here– the Presidio has little, but the Marina and Cow Hollow and beyond are full of places to eat and buy food — but I think that my most satisfying prepared find so far is Bakesale Betty, which is in Oakland.  I went to try a dessert, but when I saw what looked like foot-high Fried Chicken Sandwiches being assembled, I had to get one.  Juicy and crunchy and little spicy… and I’d recommend doing away with the bread (although it’s perfectly fine in its soft, voluminous way) and eating each of the two chicken breast pieces cut side up/batter side down with some coleslaw balanced on top for a fried chicken experience to remember.

Sweet San Francisco

Friday, August 28th, 2009

In a few days, I’ll be driving up to take up my new residence in San Francisco, and relocating Sweet Napa for the second time.

So… why am I moving?   I think that the short answer is:  as much as I’ve tried, I can’t conceive of a future for myself in LA.  I think that BonBonBar as it is would best flourish as a storefront supplemented with web orders, but the thought of anchoring myself to a storefront in LA and driving through LA traffic to get there every day depressed me more than it excited me.  I was able to work practically non-stop on BonBonBar because there was little else I wanted to do in LA — or at least, little else I wanted to do that would justify so much time in traffic and smog.  And after Chad and I broke up in June, it seemed like a good time to call a hiatus and choose a new place to live.  It was tempting to stay through the holidays given that this year has been so busy so far, but then Valentine’s Day would be right around the corner, and then Easter, and then… and then… another year would go by in limbo.  Once I started to think about how nice — how pretty normal — it would be to reside in a place where I would think about living rather than leaving, it was hard to stop.

I kept telling people that “I just don’t want to live in a big city anymore.”  I went to Google Maps quite a few times just to zoom out on a map of the US.  I could live anywhere I wanted.  Anywhere!  I tried to imagine what life would be like here or there.  I considered new places and familiar places.  I thought a lot about Montana (Bozeman!).  And Wyoming. And giving in to my perpetual whim to live in a cabin in Maine. I thought about flying back up to Seattle for the second time ever to check it out more in depth.  Or maybe New York or New Jersey, to be closer to my family.

I actually flew to the Rockies to scout out Utah and Colorado ski areas.  I particularly loved the beauty of Aspen, but I thought that my wintertime ski antics would be cramped by the very real, very snowy winter… which would mean limited local, fresh food that I could work with.

That sunk in.  It’s somewhat arbitrary that California happens to be an enormous state with so many different climates so it’s easy for us claim such an awe-inspiring variety of “local” food year-round, but still… there’s a lot of good food grown around here that is best fresh — and can be used to great effect in sweets.

So, yes. Seriously.  I came to California for the film industry in 2002, and I stayed for the citrus in 2009.

I thought about Berkeley.  I drove up to check it out more, but the possibility of something happening in SF and having to commute made me start to think about SF more.  When I saw that there are apartments to rent in the Presidio in San Francisco, I felt like I’d found the perfect compromise between rural and urban life — I would get to live in national park while living in a city.  So… here goes!

Though don’t get me wrong — I know that that there’s so much great food across the country.  But the thought of turning 30 soon and moving to an entirely new — and possibly remote — place alone with a business based on fresh ingredients to think of was a slightly scary one.   So it made a difference that I already know Northern California and its people a bit.   SF seems so full of energy and fun, and it just thrills me to drive around Marin, Sonoma, and Napa.  And there’s also still so much that I don’t know about the area, and I get exciting just thinking about having the opportunity to explore more.  Of course, I am very familiar with the sometimes harsh realities of Bay Area traffic, but I don’t think that it’s as bad.

I really do hate to turn my back in LA because I think it’s often unfairly criticized.   When I moved back to LA in 2007 from Napa, I was ambivalent about the city.  I spent the better part of my first year in our apartment researching and testing recipes for BonBonBar, partially as a way to avoid the people and congestion that I’d left in 2005 after working in the film industry.  But as I experimented with different ingredients, I realized that the food and farmers markets here are fantastic.  I learned so much from the Santa Monica Farmers Market; it was like a second culinary school.  And when I launched the business and when I started selling at farmers markets myself, I met so many amazing people who have influenced me for the better and who I’ll never forget.  So, in a sad-but-happy way, I can say that when I leave LA this time, I’ll miss the people.

I honestly am not sure what will happen with BonBonBar yet.  I’ve been so touched by how many people have taken the company to heart and have gone so far out of their way to help it/me that I feel awful about putting it on hold; I can’t help feeling like I’ve let them down.  But I think I need to know more about conditions in SF before I make any decisions about restarting, and since I can’t know more until I move up there, I’ll have to wait and see.  I know I’m curious…

Annie the Baker – Napa

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

If you find yourself in the Napa Valley this season, you may find Annie Baker selling her Annie the Baker cookies at area farmers markets.  And then… you will find yourself addicted to these cookies that are “for those who love cookie dough more than the cookie.”

I met Annie in 2006 when she was the enthusiastic pastry chef of Mustards Grill, and I’m very excited that she’s moved on to start her own company that she’s passionate about and whose products are so delicious.  These cookies combine the puffy moistness of cookie dough and the depth of balanced flavor of a baked cookie.  You can get: Semi Sweet Chocolate Chunk, Toffee Milk Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter with Mini Peanut Butter Cups, and Oatmeal Double Chocolate Chip.

Annie adjusted the ratio of ingredients in her cookie recipes so that they spread and crisp less — and  so retain their doughy goodness.  I’d recommend them all, based on your personal tastes.  I almost want to say that the Toffee Milk Chocolate Chip is my favorite, but then, when lingering over the cookie jar, I proceed to break off a piece of the peanut butter, and then the choc chip, and then the oatmeal…. I feel like it’s a bit extreme to cast my lot with only one.  I don’t usually eat entire sweets at once, but I think I’m averaging more than one cookie at a time with these.

Look for her under the yellow and black Steelers tent at the St Helena and Napa farmers markets!

And check out Oxbow Market while you’re in Napa, which houses vendors such as The Fatted Calf (zomg!!!!!!!!!!), Hog Island Oyster Company, Kara’s Cupcakes, Three Twins Organic Ice Cream, Model Bakery, and Taylor’s Refresher, and wine, cheese, fish, and meat.  Sitting outside by the river with lunch, a glass of wine, and a bag of cookies is pretty fabulous…  For a valley with such a lovely landscape, it can be surprisingly hard to find a cozy place to relax and enjoy it outside.

The Chronicles of Napa, Part 1

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

So, last weekend, Chad and I journeyed up to Napa for a wedding… and well, to eat.

First, we rushed off from the Oakland airport to have lunch at Canteen in SF. We paid $3 worth in quarters for the privilege of an hour’s parking, only to arrive at 2:02pm… and be told that they were closed. We’d once had a wonderful lunch there, watching the chef and his assistant cook from our perch at the counter. I remember that teasingly moist skate sandwich well, and still do… b/c my memory remains unclouded by any new dishes there. Sure, I could have mentioned that we’d just flown up from LA, loved the restaurant, and were dying to eat there again (along with their rmg guests)… but the stove was empty and I felt like it was right to accept that their shift was over. I hope someone used up the 53 rmg minutes on the meter, so that I can stop regretting my wasted laundry quarters.

In any case… to Tartine! Where parking was free and there was practically no line at 2:30 in the afternoon!

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Their Croque Monsieur is one of the better consolations you could come across. They’re displayed unassumingly on the counter, but once their heated up and cut into…

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…they’re beacons of comfort and deliciousness. The secret is in the bechamel sauce, which soaks into the bread to provide a silky canvas upon which the Niman ranch ham, gruyere cheese, thyme, and pepper play. The bread is also just soft enough, even though it looks like it’d be hard to cut into.

Unfortunately, Chad’s Ham and Gruyere Sandwich was rather soaked through with mustard, and he only felt fortunate that the nasal passages behind his nose hadn’t caught fire by the end of the sandwich.

And my pickled carrot was shockingly spicy… which I liked.

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The chocolate eclair was also a little funky. The pastry cream was very runny and the glaze very thick. I made a mess of myself trying to eat it, and turning it upside-down helped only until the pastry cream started spurting out the sides. The glaze was also a little too harsh with cocoa flavor for the rest of the eclair.

We also had the Lemon Meringue Cake again, but the chiffon cake was too dry for it to do its magic.

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And then to Emeryville, to catch up with the good people at Charles Chocolates, where I worked with the chocolatiers during the holiday season. They now have a retail store which has a seating area that overlooks the chocolatiers at work, and where tours are given.

I was lucky enough to be lavished with the peanut butterflies and lemon-pistachio clusters that I once daily rationed to myself… 12+ hr days were never so much fun before. I also got a jar of their newly offered Meyer Lemon Marmalade. It’s made with just organic meyer lemons and sugar — no commercial pectin, so it has a slightly more delicate set and the lemon flavor is bright and delicious. It’s nice on bread… or just on a spoon, if you’re me.

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By the time we got to Napa later that night, I was too excited to laze into the hotel room, so Chad and I went to have dessert at Redd, where Nicole Plue is the pastry chef (formerly of Julia’s Kitchen). We shared Sweet Corn Fritters with Cherries and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. I loved how creamy the fritters were inside, and everything was good on its own but I wasn’t totally in love with everything on the plate together — even though the subtle yet brilliant apricot sauce did its best to tie it together. I do like corn as a dessert, but I think it’s hard to match its flavor and intensity with other components. I also really liked the corn pop-like puffed corn kernels. I wonder if they do that themselves… and how.

It was cool to have microgreens on a dessert dish, and actually, they probably fit in best with the corn according to my taste buds. And the texture of the leaves was something novel and nice in a dessert. When we inquired, we were told that they were baby cilantro, which was interesting b/c they neither looked nor tasted like mature cilantro.

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The next day, we set out on an exploratory mission to Wild Flour Bread, committed to basking in the scenery, turning onto mysterious roads, and otherwise finding pleasure in getting lost.

We happened upon the historical Kenwood Depot this way.

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A walk around back brought me under a canopy of what I thought were possibly long-lingering apricots, blushing orange in the sun.

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So, when I reached out to touch them, I was surprised by their smooth texture… and the fact that they were plums. I’m not sure which variety. Rather small and yellow, with a smooth honeyed taste, a bit like greengages. If anyone cares to guess what they were, please let me know.

There were also thorny blackberry bushes rambling here and there around the tree and fence. If only we’d also come across some puff pastry and an oven, I think we would have had the galettes of our lives.

As a city dweller, even this little bit of wild fruit chase was enough to give a glow to the morning. Even when I lived in Napa, I realized that for all the lush landscape, it’s hard to feel truly outdoorsy without some effort. Driving through it or walking past it on the way inside a winery is far more common, unfortunately, if you live in an apartment.

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Once we made it to Wild Flour Bread, we got three loaves for our lunch. All were still hot from the oven, including this gloriously chunk-laden fougasse. We also got a goat flat and the egyptian, with a cinnamon bun-like form flavored with fig, ginger, and pear. All wonderful.

And this was the first time that we wandered into the beautiful garden behind the bakery, and next to the pile of wood used in the oven. It’s full of vegetables, berries, and flowers… and just enough wildness.

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Our little traipse in the garden must have given us time to digest, b/c we went to Patisserie Angelica in Sebastopol for dessert. On the left was the cleverly-designed Peanut Envy, with peanut butter, caramel and nuts in a cylinder of chocolate, and on the right was the key lime tart. Both were flavorful and fresh, and miraculously, completely consumed.