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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.

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.

Socialverse is Here!

Thursday, June 21st, 2007

Please enjoy this shameless plug for my boyfriend’s new website, Socialverse!

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You may already know that Chad’s good at thinking up dreamy birthday cake ideas, but you should also know that his true area of expertise is software engineering. With Socialverse, I like to think that his company has developed a way for people to walk the world from the comfort of their computers.**

When you sign up, you get your own little doppelganger who can stroll around a map of the US. While you can explore cities and states that you dream of visiting, the site is mostly geared towards local search and social networking. So, you can chat up locals and friends near and far as well as browse businesses. Of course, people like us would probably first think to check out and add our thoughts to the restaurants and markets, but even I sometimes need to go to the hardware store or see a dentist. Socialverse lets you put your favorites on the map and find new places to go.

I suppose that it’s like citysearch and yelp, but Socialverse is cooler because it’s in real time (using Web 2.0 in clever ways) and you can actually see where these places in the country are b/c “you” are there, too.

In a typical move, Chad has thoughtfully provided lots of goodies that go above and beyond basics. So, here’s a cheat sheet to my favorite things that you can do that might not be obvious right away:

  • Click on the “online” line on the upper right of the screen to see who else is online. Click on someone’s name to move closer to them.
  • Place your blog (as an object) in an area where people will find it useful. You’ll find Sweet Napa already on the map somewhere in LA.
  • Find the nearest ATM.
  • If a location isn’t on the map yet, add it and talk about it.
  • Use additional motions — such as sleeping, meditating, dancing, and acting scared.
  • Adjust your appearance — clothing, size, hairstyle.
  • If you are a business owner, you can promote your business online.
  • Check the weather.
  • You can’t zoom in or out on the main map, but if you click on “Self” then “Mini Map” in the “Navigate” menu, you can see where you on a zoomable mini map.
  • Share photos.
  • Search local classifieds and post your own.

Please keep in mind that this is, as Chad says, “the early public beta.” There are still bugs, but he’ll happily be the victim of anyone’s criticism… or suggestions… or insouciant banter. When the basics are ironed out, the long-term goals are to make it a nexus of local search for any type of person, business, or organization you may be interested in, and in turn, a way to build relationships and become closer with your community. More features will be added — such as perhaps coupons and ads for shops around the corner being implemented, trees being planted, menus being posted, icons being customizable, and whatever people want that the world can support.

So, feel free to sign up, check it out, and tell everyone you know about it. The world is wide open.**

**Right now, the map only functions in the US, but there are plans to make it international down the line. Also, the faster your internet connection is, the faster you’ll be able to do things. Broadband is recommended. It is also only compatible with Firefox and IE for now.

One Day in Napa on May 5

Tuesday, May 8th, 2007
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Thanks to special deals from Southwest, Chad and I were able to indulge my wily scheme to visit Napa (and Sonoma!) for one day. No hotel… mostly movement. We flew out of Los Angeles at 8am, and we flew out of Oakland at 8pm. It was a tight schedule, but everything went like clock-work — the 4 shuttles, 2 planes, and 1 rental car. There was the issue of the collapsed freeway, but that only added a tolerable amount of traffic.

It’s been 3 months since I moved away, and I was so eager to remember the day that I took pictures of everything that I could. I’ve compiled them into an album on Snapfish of 136 photos with some captions (sorry, registration required). They are snapshots, not composed photographs. The majority of them were taken from the passenger seat of our rental car, going as fast as Chad deemed fit. It’s amazing how many of them are in focus, and even contain pieces of what I was aiming at. I like to think they fit well on the web, which reveals and preserves so much of day-to-day life around the world. I recommend slideshow mode. This was what it looked like to drive around Wine Country on May 5.

I did miss some things, though, like the two girls in Sonoma walking around with a youtube-inspired sign that said “free hugs” on one side.

Since this is a food blog, I don’t want to bury all my leads, so these were the food and drink goings on…

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The top sirloin burger at the girl & the fig in Sonoma (here are previous posts). The cambozola option is the way to go with this burger, but bacon’s optional. I love the way this burger tastes, but as always, the subtle genius is in the Dutch crunch roll. It gives a satisfying crunch, but its inner softness marries it well with the other elements in the burger. I’ve read that a burger bun is ideally as soft as the burger meat, and I agree… and I can admire this bun because it bends the rule for a greater good. I suspect that the bit of salt from the cheese and the bit of butter from the bun are also secret weapons in this burger.

Unfortunately, Chad and I ordered our burgers medium-rare, but mine turned up rare and his medium. His was also missing cheese, which is, as I mentioned, mandatory. When informed, the restaurant took the plate back, put a piece of cheese on it in the kitchen, and brought it back out. I’m kind of conflicted about that. While I hate to see food go to waste, a cooled off burger isn’t as much fun to eat and doesn’t melt cheese well. It’s like a permanently defective burger.

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At least our Roederer and Fig Royale (w/ black mission fig syrup) were refreshing. And the bread was freshly soft on the inside and delicious.

And for fellow devotees, the rabbit pappardelle pasta is on the menu again. When I had it last year, it was phenomenal.

Then to Bouchon Bakery in Yountville (previous posts here). Disappointed that their once heavenly Cheese Danishes were still sporting a coarse sugar crystal dusting and looked over-baked, I got a pistachio macaron, and Chad got a caramel.

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The caramel flavor was good — caramel-y, butter-y, salty, but the cookies a bit too dense… and the filling a bit too light and buttery. Instead of a lighter than air wonder, the whole thing felt more like a standard sandwich cookie.

On the other hand, my first bite of the pistachio macaron was spoiled by my need to exclaim that “this is the worst macaron I’ve ever had!” The top crust shattered above the empty pocket of air in the cookie to lead to the way to the hard and chewy remainder of the cookie.

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I went back into the store with it, and told them that it was really tough, like it was stale, and asked for a caramel instead. I would have loved a good pistachio one, but I didn’t want to take another chance with it. I was promptly given a caramel one by a courteous staff member, and was told that it was odd that they were stale b/c they were baked in the last day or two… but in my opinion, that’s a day or two too much for macarons. They don’t age gracefully.

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I wish that the pain au chocolat could have made up for it, but that was off, too…

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It shattered more like a folded cracker than a laminated dough. Perhaps it was old, but it seemed more like a prep issue to me. Either not enough butter was used or it was rolled while too warm to prevent it from laminating properly. At least the chocolate inside it was unaffected, and quite edible.

That was all the food we ate there. You might say that it was a little disappointing, but we’ll probably go back to both the next time we’re up there. This is one reason why I’ve never been comfortable with “reviewing” eateries, and recommending them to other people. None of them will ever have perfectly consistent food. Every dish that leaves the kitchen is different. Every dish is practice to improve.

I can reconcile these facts two ways. The first way reminds me of something that a film professor once told me – the skill of a director is measured by what she edits out of her movie. What’s shown is truly the best and most pertinent. This applies to restaurants in so far as what they choose to put into customer’s hands. It’s quality control. There will always be some rejects in food preparations, but standards vary about what will go out, from restaurant to restaurant, employee to employee, and day to day. There are waste and cost issues with this, so that’s where the “every dish is practice to improve” idea is handy.

Also, there are the emotional ties to restaurants. I happened to like the girl & the fig and Bouchon Bakery as local hangouts and will always have good memories at both, food-wise and personal-wise. Very subjective. Only an offensively bad experience would keep me away from them in the future, and going back to them is nostalgic excitement. Like most of this trip, it was just pleasing to know that they’re still out there.

Anyway, I also bought a couple spices from The Spice House in Chicago while in the campus store at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena. According to their labels… Ground Mahleb, which is the pit of sour cherries, is used in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern breads, cakes, and pastries… China Tunghing Cassia Cinnamon has a very high 4% natural oil content, which lends it a smoother, sweeter flavor while maintaining a strong spiciness. I’ll report back when I use them. I also bought a fancy cherry pitter at the Sign of the Bear in Sonoma, because I have high hopes for lots of cherries this summer, along with every other fruit I can manage.

I wanted to go to Duckhorn Winery, but it was closed for a special event. I have a good knack for choosing wineries on days that their closed, but luckily, Plumpjack was open.

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The lively rock ‘n roll and conversations that surrounded us mirrored the boldness of the wines, which were a bit tannic and strong for me. Chad was more of a fan.

We also went to Paraduxx, which is is affiliated with Duckhorn. Again, the mood fit the wines. A relaxed, chic tasting room (and patio) matched the smooth and luscious wines.

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Their wines are all fusions of zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon.

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Be aware that tastings are $15, though it does include table service, spiced almonds, cheese straws, and bottled water.

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Frankly, though, if you’re going to Wine Country with someone else, sharing tastings is the best option. Once you become accustomed to the fact that all wines taste and feel differently, you become eager to see what else is out there — what else wine can do. If you have to drink all the tastings by yourself, you’re more apt to become tipsy and unable to sample more, at least thoughtfully. After a while, the tasting size seems like so much. If you like it, you know you want to buy some or look out for it on the future, and if you don’t, you want it out of your way. For better or for worse, wine tasting is rarely a time to savor, per se. It’s a time to evaluate, and you may as well try as much as you can without getting overloaded. On the other hand, I prefer wineries like this one — with tables and chairs, a mellow ambiance, and pre-filled up glasses — so if you want to savor… well, just go right ahead.

I’m Looking for a Full-Time Job…

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

… in pastry around the Napa area, preferably at an establishment that leans towards innovative desserts made of fresh, seasonal ingredients… but I’m open to consider anything that comes up. I simply want to continue to learn as much as I can about desserts… and make delicious ones.  I’ve posted my resume on the sidebar and would be grateful for any leads emailed to me.
Thank you!