berkeley birthday

In contrast to the chilly October weekend that just passed, my twin brother and I celebrated our birthday last year in sunny California. Between hiking along the coastal beaches and under sequoia canopies, and roaming the hilly street of San Francisco, we spent a night and a day with most of our family in Berkeley.On our birthday-eve (not something we typically celebrate!), we wandered through town in time to hear the tower bells on campus, and back too late for the farmer’s market. Upon having our ID checked at Jupiter, we were challenged to a birthday beer race by our server (we lost, obviously). There were birthday candles floating in our stout which was a big enough win for me. We ate pizza and then my brothers and I fell asleep while watching Harry Potter in the motel room; a great way to ring in another trip around the sun.

Before driving across the bridge to San Francisco the next day, we had a late lunch at Chez Panisse Cafe. I will attribute the same-day reservation that my parents made to being a birthday miracle.

My mum had introduced me to the name Alice Waters and her restaurant Chez Panisse many years ago. When the assigned reading for my high school French class was Marcel Pagnol’s Marius & Fanny, the connection to the character named Panisse, in my mind, was the Californian restaurant. I thought it was an exciting coincidence at the time. (It’s not a coincidence, of course.)

The significance of Alice Waters’ influence on American cuisine is expansive – extending far outside of Californian kitchens, into farms, schools, and global communities. Many more skilled writers and cooks than I have described her impact in the industry and beyond. I’ll just add that it was a real treat to sit in the sunlit café on my birthday, with some wonderful people, eating delicious, simple food that was a testament to all the good things I had heard before getting there. Another birthday candle, this time in my persimmon pudding, was icing on the (birthday) cake. I can’t wait to go back.cali bday (1)
We left with one of Alice Waters’ cookbooks, with recipes ordered by season and ingredients. It’s almost encyclopedic, and wonderful to flip through for inspiration. The recipe I’m sharing is certainly not seasonal up in Ottawa, so this might just be one to bookmark for the warmer months, but if you happen to live in place where stone fruit is still in season (southern hemisphere?), it’s a cool and lovely way to enjoy the fruit.

I just discovered apriums and pluots this summer (both part plum, part apricot) and ate them as often as I could. They taste just like you would imagine a plum-apricot hybrid would. This recipe for Royal Blenheim Apricot Sorbet works well with whatever stone fruit you want to enjoy.

Royal Blenheim Apricot Sorbet
Makes 1 generous quart (approx. 1 litre)
2 ¼ pounds ripe Royal Blenheim apricots, or other stone fruit
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 to 2 tsp lemon juice

Optional variations: 1 tsp of kirsch or ¼ tsp of vanilla extract
Cut in half and reserve the pits of the fruit.

Roughly chop the apricot halves and place fruit in a medium-sized sauce pan. Crack one or two of the pits to add the noyau kernels to the chopped fruit. Freeze the remaining pits for another noyau project (of course, Alice Waters has a recipes for the pits!). Bring the fruit to a simmer and cover the pan, stirring the fruit once or twice. Cook until very tender, about 10 minutes.

Remove the fruit from the heat, and let cool briefly. Remove the noyau and purée the fruit in with a hand blender or in a food processor. Pass the purée through a fine strain if it seems fibrous. You should have about 3 cups. Cool the purée to room temperature.

Meanwhile, make a syrup by heating the water and the sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Let it cool, and add to the fruit purée until it tastes just slightly-too sweet. The sorbet will taste less sweet once it is frozen, but you may not want to add all of the syrup depending on the sweetness of the fruit. Add 1 to 2 tsp of lemon juice, and any optional variants such as the kirsch or vanilla.

Chill the mixture in the refrigerator then freeze in an ice-cream maker, as per the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer the frozen sorbet into a clean dry container, cover and store in the freezer for several hours to firm up before serving. AW says, if you have extra sorbet mixture that doesn’t fit in your ice cream maker, you can use it as a sauce for other fruits or with vanilla ice cream.

If you don’t have an ice cream maker, you can put the mixture directly in to the freezer, but make sure to ‘stir’ it up with a fork every couple of hours so that it does not just freeze in to a solid block.

Enjoy plain or with fresh fruit and pretend you’re in the Califronia sun.

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