Cookies for a Cause: Bakesale for Japan

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The first time I attempted to bake cookies from scratch was when I was 10 years old. My two girlfriends (pictured above on the header) were my guinea pigs. They were really nice to me, but honestly the cookies were more like bricks. Since then, Rajita and Nafisah have endured many of my failed cookie attempts until I got it just right. Though, by the time I got it just right, I didn’t care about baking anymore. I found more satisfaction and restraint in just buying one serving size at a cafe and not worrying about over indulging.

Then, during this past holiday season, I got the baking itch. That may be because I have been hanging out (online and offline) with more food bloggers and bakers. Social influence. So at the 18 Reason’s DIY Desserts: Holiday Cookie Swap I baked cookies for the first time in over a decade. I was nervous and intimidated. I also didn’t have any of the fancy baking equipment, like a Kitchen Aid mixer. There were a ton of cookie recipes out there, too, which was overwhelming. I also wanted to make something healthy-ish and couldn’t find anything uncomplicated. So after anxiously debating if I really wanted to bake (the strong Vata in me), I remembered baking a cake using only almond flour years ago and it turned out fantastic. So I applied the same methodology and attempted to make cookies out of the pistachio flour I already had on hand. I was  pleasantly surprised that the cookies turned out pretty good. I took them to the cookie swap, and everyone seemed to really like them too. Also, my husband, who thinks he is an Iron Chef judge, told me he really liked them. So, I did the natural thing, and baked these cookies for every holiday party we had to go to for rest of the season.

Last Saturday I participated in Bakesale for Japan, which meant I spent Friday night baking. I had overambitious plans to make a multitude of desserts, but then when it came down to the wire, I only had the bandwidth and courage to make two types of cookies. My baked goods were going to be placed right next to professionals and pro-bakers like Tartine Bakery, Eat The Love, and Desserts First. So I baked my now infamous pistachio cookies and adapted a recipe from 101 Cookbooks. I accidentally came across the recipe and it looked so simple to make. Plus, I love and trust everything on 101 Cookbooks. I hope to post my adaptation of the recipe here soon enough.

It was really fun spending the evening baking. I opened a bottle of wine, that I randomly picked up from Whole Foods for $10, which turned out to be excellent. So with a glass of vino rojo in one hand and whisk in the other, I was baking away. Also, I would intermittently go on Twitter and follow the hashtag #bakesale4japan to chat with other bloggers who were doing the same thing I was (but probably without the bottle of wine). I  felt like I was apart of something really BIG. A few weeks ago, I felt so small and helpless when I was following the Twitter stream during the earthquakes and Fukushima meltdown.  Though, after seven dozen cookies had cooled and seeing a tweet about someone’s cute packaging, I went into panic mode. I hadn’t even thought about the packaging! Normally, I am on top of these things and have been coined the name Martha Stewart amongst my friends, but with all that has been going on, I just forgot about cute labels and packaging. And, I hate a missing an opportunity for DIY creative packaging. Then, the creative side kicked in, and managed to come up with something really unique and chic. I used leftover silk favor bags from my wedding to put the cookies in and used my adorable Moo business cards for the labeling. I didn’t even make the connection until I saw a few Japanese people really enamored by my cookies (err packaging). The silk bags were red and had gold flowers on them that looked like cherry blossoms. In the end, it always works out.

The turnout at the bakesale was incredible! I got to the Bi-Rite  Market location right at starting time, and managed to squeeze in my cookies on the very crowded table. That table was a sweet-lovers dream come true. I was tempted to buy everything. There were so many baked goods, graciously made by the blogging community, home-bakers, and professionals, that boxes had to be dispersed to a multitude of locations. At last count, together, we raised $120,254.38. The money will benefit Peace Winds Japan.

Since the community really came through at the Bi-Rite location of the bakesale, a lot of the baked goods had to be dispersed to other locations in San Francisco, Oakland, Marin, and San Jose.

Around the corner, 18 Reasons hosted an art sale where people made origami cranes.

Irvin (Eat the Love) and Anita (Desserts First) at 18 Reasons.

Someone bought my cookies!

I also stopped by the SPQR location in Pacific Heights to say hello to a few friends.

SPQR closed down the restaurant to host the bake sale. They also made paninis and crostini for the bakesale. Blue Bottle and Blue Bottle Sweets were also on site, serving their delicious coffee drinks and pastries. Nearby restaurants, Citizen Cake, Jane, and Out the Door, also pitched in with delicious desserts.

The clever ladies, Annelies and Laiko, dished out deals throughout the bakesale. I got there just in time for the 2-for-1 deal, and snatched up cupcakes to share with friends that afternoon. Let’s just say, I didn’t pay attention to my sugar intake that day.

I promise to post the recipe for the cardamon-rose pistachio cookies soon!

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Real Bread and a Recipe

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Tartine is simply a French word for an open faced sandwich, usually with jam or a spread on top. And I LOVE tartines. They can be casual, easy, fancy, complicated, but always scrumptious. The key in making a tartine is using fresh, unprocessed bread. The bread should be simple, like an old-fashion country loaf, made with as little as four real ingredients.  Skip the loaves that contain sugars, preservatives, additives, hydrogenated oils, high-fructose corn syrup, and corn syrup. There is a distinct difference in taste and texture with breads made fresh at home or a small bakery compared to the bread found in supermarkets. Most breads sold in supermarkets are made on an industrial scale (mass-produced) and meant to have a long shelf-life (not grow old). Also, bread found in the supermarket is usually pre-sliced for your convenience, which would normally become stale a lot faster than an unsliced loaf of bread. To extend the shelf-life of the bread, the breadmakers (chemists) add a ton of  preservatives and possibly other additives to make the bread look attractive (dyes, bleach). The goal of industrial bread makers is to make the bread as cheaply as possible by using low quality ingredients, extending the shelf-life, and charging consumers the pre-sliced convenience fee. Taste and nutrition are really not important factors in the bread making process. However, a true bread maker puts in a lot of dedication and passion into making each loaf. Let’s compare the ingredient lists between typical store-bought bread and one that would be made at home:

Store Bought Bread

Enriched Bleached Flour [Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Folic Acid], Water, Whey, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Yeast, Contains 2% or Less of Each of the Following: Sugar, Wheat Gluten, Calcium Sulfate, Soybean Oil, Salt, Dough Conditioners (May Contain One or More of the Following: Mono- and Diglycerides, Ethoxylated Mono- and Diglycerides, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Calcium Peroxide, DATEM, Ascorbic Acid, Azodicarbonamide, Enzymes), Guar Gum, Calcium Propionate (Preservative), Distilled Vinegar, Yeast Nutrients (Monocalcium Phosphate, Calcium Sulfate, Ammonium Sulfate and/or Calcium Carbonate), Corn Starch, Vitamin D3, Soy Lecithin, Soy Flour.

Homemade/ Artisan Bread

Flour, Water, Yeast, Salt.

Slice your own bread, it’s worth it!

I  like to get my loaf from Tartine Bakery, Acme Bread, and La Boulangerie. Though I try not get it too often, as I cannot practice any restraint around a fresh, aromatic loaf. I like to eat tartines with warmed jams and nut butters, pure butter, fresh fruits, or heirloom tomatoes, cheeses,  grilled chicken breast, arugula, or farm fresh eggs.

Which loaf of bread would you feel comfortable eating and digesting? Which do you think is better for your kids and family?

Early Autumn Savory Tartine

1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
1 tsp garlic, chopped
2 tsp olive oil, plus more for coating pan
1/2 cup zebra zucchini, sliced
1/3 cup onions, sliced
1 small ripe heirloom tomato
2 slices of a country loaf bread
2 tbs sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 tbs goat cheese, crumbles
2 tbs Parmesan cheese, grated
1 tsp dried basil
sea salt and freshly ground pepper


1. In a mixing bowl, toss 1 tsp olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and cherry tomatoes to mix well. Meanwhile, heat a cast iron pan (or nonstick skillet) on medium heat. Gently toss the cherry tomatoes in the pan and let cook until the skins are wrinkly and juice starts to burst out, about 7-10 minutes. Stir frequently.

2. In the same skillet or another, cook the onions until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Cook the zucchini until tender, about 5 minutes. You may need to drizzle a little olive oil over the pan so the onions or zucchini does not stick. Meanwhile, slice the heirloom tomatoes and reserve the juice.

3. Toast the slices of bread in a toaster or on the skillet (my preference, so it picks up flavor and oil from the vegetables). Sprinkle the cheeses over the bread immediately after it’s done toasting. Pour the reserved juice of the heirloom tomato over the bread. Layer the zucchini, onion and tomatoes over the bread. Sprinkle salt, pepper, and dried basil over the tartine. Enjoy warm with a side salad.

Makes two tartines.