A day at the fair

It’s a San Diego tradition to spend at least one day in the sweltering heat at the Del Mar Fair in June.

Swathes of people, food stalls all seeking to answer the question WHAT CAN’T BE FRIED, endless halls of merchants selling things no one needs, despondent farm animals, and rides that make you wonder if you’ll get off alive.

del mar fair

del mar fair

del mar fair

del mar fair

del mar fair

Making matcha in a Vitamix blender

I had my first matcha tea many years ago and it’s always something that I order when we go to Japantown or other tea shops that serve it, but I never tried making it at home because it seemed to require a lot of technique and equipment.

Last year I got a Vitamix for my birthday and started experimenting with a lot of smoothie recipes. One of my favorites became a green smoothie with spinach (or kale), mango, pineapple, and a teaspoon of matcha powder.

matcha smoothie

Those matcha smoothies led me to wonder if I could make traditional matcha in my Vitamix, eliminating the need for specialized equipment — a sifter, a whisk, and a matcha bowl — and cutting down on the time it would take to whisk matcha to the perfect consistency.

One of the nice things about a Vitamix is that it can handle hot liquids because there are vents in the lid. This is not true of all blenders, so you may not want to mix hot matcha in a standard blender.

Making matcha is as simple as heating up a cup of water (I heat eight ounces in an electric kettle and I like it best at 175°F), pouring it into the Vitamix container, adding the matcha (I do a teaspoonful because I prefer my matcha thinner), putting the lid on, and turning it on. Start out at the lowest setting and crank it up from there — it doesn’t need to blend for more than a few minutes. You don’t need to sift it because the Vitamix isn’t going to leave any clumps.

This method results in a cup of matcha that tastes similarly to whisked matcha. The powder dissolves completely and blends in (there’s no separation) and it produces a lot of matcha foam, which is what you want. Make sure to open the Vitamix up carefully, because this does create a lot of steam. You’re also going to want to make sure you’re only blending a few cups. Don’t fill your Vitamix container all the way up with hot liquid.

With a whisk you can make thicker or thinner matcha depending on the powder to water ratio and the type of matcha being used, and the same is true with the Vitamix. You’re going to get more froth with koicha (thick matcha) than you would with a whisk in the Vitamix, so it may not be the best way to make this type of matcha if you want a traditional texture.

You can also use the Vitamix to do matcha lattes with almond or soy milk. You can make lattes in one of two ways — heat the milk before you put it in the Vitamix, or use the Vitamix to heat the latte. With the former method, add milk, matcha, and sweetener if desired and mix for a minute or two on the highest setting to get lots of foam.

matcha latte

Heating the latte in the Vitamix itself will take a bit longer. Use the highest setting on the Vitamix and leave it on for approximately six minutes or until you get the desired temperature. If you’re not familiar with the Vitamix, the speed at which the blades rotate allow it to heat up liquids.

Matcha lattes mixed in the Vitamix come out smooth and creamy, with lots of airy matcha-flavored foam. You can also make a Starbucks-style matcha frappaccino by using a chilled cup of milk, a small bit of honey or agave syrup (if you want it sweetened), a scoop of matcha, and a handful of ice.

I don’t care for regular tea with milk, but matcha and almond milk taste like a pairing akin to peanut butter and jelly. The almond milk cuts down on the bitterness of the matcha and gives it a rich, soft texture.

One last thing to keep in mind: make sure you’re using a high-quality matcha that’s very bright green in color for the best taste. For straight matcha and matcha lattes, you don’t want culinary grade stuff — it’s not going to taste very good. Culinary grade matcha is perfect for smoothies though, because you’re blending multiple flavors and not relying on the taste of the matcha alone.

Adventures in Baking

I rarely bake, but on Sunday I had the bright idea of making some pretty holiday-themed sugar cookies. Using Pinterest for inspiration, I settled on snowflakes with an intricately iced design, which looked easy enough because everything always manages to look deceptively easy on Pinterest.

While perusing the Internet, I found some promising recipes (that I tweaked a bit) and made the cookies and the icing from scratch after buying a slew of tools including a mixer, because I didn’t have one. With a bit of experimentation, I ended up with perfectly baked cookies and some suitably tasty icing. So far so good.

As it turns out, icing cookies is incredibly difficult. You have to have icing that’s the right consistency (I made a lot of icing) and you have to have the right tools. My cookies took two nights to make and ended up looking like they were made by a 5-year-old because I didn’t have a small enough pastry tip for detailed work (my flood icing worked out though, so minor victory!)

Icing is hard.

If I ever take on the arduous task of icing sugar cookies in the future (unlikely), I’ve at least learned that I’ll need a better set of icing tips and some corn syrup in my icing to get it to flow better. On the plus side, I do think my cookies ended up tasting quite nice.

Berry Picking

John and I are always looking for fun things to do on the weekends since I’m cooped up at home for work during the week, so I was super excited when one of his friends gave us the fantastic idea to go berry picking.

There are a few pick-your-own fruit places in the bay area, but we decided on one that’s somewhere in between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay. It advertised ollalieberries, which are a complicated cross between various combinations of raspberries and blackberries. I managed to get carsick on top of already being sick (forgot the ginger and it’s 1.5 hours along a windy road) but berry picking was a unique (hot, sweaty, dusty, fun) experience.

Berry picking near Santa Cruz

Berry picking near Santa Cruz

We picked $3.00 worth of ollalieberries and blackberries, which ended up being maybe 1.5 pints worth? Plenty for us. I wanted some tayberries too, but we didn’t end up finding them. I’m not sure why, but there were hardly any signs to direct people where to go, which thoroughly irritated my inner organizational freak.

We also stopped by to pick strawberries, but since they aren’t quite in season we just checked out the field and then bought some.

Berry picking near Santa Cruz

Afterwards we went to downtown Santa Cruz, and I’m not going to lie, that was easily my favorite part of the day. Shade! Shops! Food! Ice cream! We drove by an amazing beach filled with kite surfers along the way, which made me homesick for San Diego. Visiting the beach doesn’t seem like much of a thing in the bay area, so I’m a huge fan of Santa Cruz.

Kite surfers in Santa Cruz

Sometimes the pictures that the iPhone takes amaze me. I didn’t have my big camera so I only had my phone, and while I got some decent pictures, I’m definitely taking a better camera next time. It really was that blue.

Kite surfers in Santa Cruz

Kite surfers in Santa Cruz

a day at the fair

I went to the Del Mar Fair tonight with Mom and Jonny. Same stuff, different year, as always. It’s always fun to walk around for a couple of hours, eat some fair food, and come home with an inevitable tummy ache.

I had some tasti chips (fresh fried potato chips), some hot sweet tasty nuts (cinnamon almonds), and a roasted corn on the way out. We didn’t go on any rides, but I did insist on walking through the arcade area for some photos. I got away without buying anything, but I was mighty tempted by the Vitamix blender and that super sticky thing that’s for picking up kitty fur.