here's where @marycray talks about food in fits & starts

Six experimental pies and one month since we started prepping for SF Food Wars, Team Peace o’ Pie has taken home the Judges’ 1st place and the People’s Honorable mention.

A Twist on Shaker Lemon Pie

A Twist on Shaker Lemon Pie -- Team Peace o' Pie

What makes this sweeter than ever is that we bested our last year’s place (Judges’ 2nd).

I mentioned before what participating in an SF Food Wars is like for me (“”To me, SF Food Wars is much like Fernet: at first, a little voice in my head says, “Hell yes, let’s do this,” both make me giddy and willing to talk to strangers, and finally, both leave me feeling hung-over, wondering, “What was I thinking?””).

This year was different for several reasons:

  1. Experimentation: We baked 6 pies and experimented every which way with filling, toppings, levels of sugar in the crust, number of pies in oven, number of slits in the top crust, etc.
  2. Mindful spending: We tried to calculate costs carefully so that we could at least break-even provided we placed. We also were mindful of how we spent our time. Do we bother with little design details like adding “vote for us” tags on each slice? We considered it, but really it wasn’t worth the time to us. We knew up front how much energy we were willing to exert in order to maintain a sense of fun (even if we ‘lost’).
  3. Planning: We budgeted our time, measurements and baking cycles so we had enough time to drop-off items at the event, park, set-up and serve.
  4. Prep-work: We did as much in stages as possible, setting aside about eight hours the day before to prep and bake.
  5. Location: This we had no control over. But happily, it was a sunny day in front of the Ferry Building. This added to the cheery attitude of everyone, really. Even better, we were able to wear short-sleeved dresses without a goose bump in sight.
Things that stay the same at SF Food Wars: meeting new people, like the delightful @thetomatotart and her crew of gals (
I was asked by friends if we’ll compete the next time around. My answer: not sure. Feels kind of good to end on a high note.

Mary (left) and Molly (right)

[P.S. The lovely Angela Rosoff from SF Baking Examiner was the first to report back about this about the competition.  ] Here are her photos.


SF Food Wars

To me, SF Food Wars is much like Fernet: at first, a little voice in my head says, “Hell yes, let’s do this,” both make me giddy and willing to talk to strangers, and finally, both leave me feeling hung-over, wondering, “What was I thinking?” Still for the past two years, I’ve gone back for more.

A brief history with SF Food Wars.

My first: SF Food Wars Mini Cupcake Clash 2009, with Team Baby Bites. I learned the most from this first one: Be organized. Be early. Be calm. Get sleep. Have fun.

We baked bacon chive poppers

with sour cream icing . We didn’t place, but received the biggest compliment of from Brandon of Mission Minis (who btw, was on Food Network’s Cupcake Wars) wanted the recipe for his shop. I was going to trade him the recipe for 100 mini cupcakes/month. Seriously. I didn’t close the deal though…the sheer logistics seemed silly. He’s not silly. The logistics were.

My second: SF Food Wars Pie or Die 2010, with Team Peace o’ Pie. We placed 2nd (Judges’ Choice) with Sour Cherry Sweet Berry Pie. Got some free stuff and a cool medal with just the right amount of weight.

This year is my third (June 12, 2011): SF Food Wars’ Pie or Die Part Deux with Team Peace o’ Pie once again! We might have a better chance of actually taking first this year. We have a new recipe (though will have the same buttery, flaky crust). Stay tuned to see what we’re baking for the event.

A nod to the Battle of Diem Bien Phu May 1954.

The Damn Bien, my duck confit bánh mì, is a nod to the famous Battle of Diem Bien Phu when French colonialists fell to the Vietnamese. The battle raged from March to May 1954.

My own mother and her family left Saigon for Paris between 1967 and 1968. Shortly after the move to Paris, my mother moved to Washington, DC for a job with the Vietnamese Embassy. While I was born in the States, I did grow up romanticizing what it would be to live like an expat in Paris. Of the many things learned about my mother’s country is this gem: the general sentiment of the Vietnamese is that French is the language of power and love, English is the language of commerce and Russian is the language of quarrels.

To me, nostalgia is the language of inspiration for the different types of bánh mì I’m making and writing about here. The Damn Bien (aspiring to be ‘damn good’) bánh mì contains the specially dressed fresh carrots, jicama, cucumber and cilantro surrounding the French comfort food of sumptuous and crispy duck confit hash I fried.

I experimented with my dressing today and added a few teaspoons of soy sauce to round out the bite of the vinegar and jalapeño.

As always, I made my own aioli. Instead of a fresh garlic clove, I sprinkled 1/8-teaspoon of granulated garlic. I like this solution because fresh garlic can dominate and taste too bitter in the subtle aioli.

I’m still trying source great bread that fits the tiny banh mi criteria, but it’s a little tricky. I may resort to making it.

[When I heard about Delicious Vietnam #14 (hosted this month by Rau Om), I submitted the post I wrote above.  Delicious Vietnam is a monthly blogging event celebrating Vietnamese cuisine which was started by Anh of A Food Lover’s Journey and Hong & Kim of  Ravenous Couple].

Last summer I concocted a drink that tasted exactly like southern sweet tea — without a single drop of tea.

If you’ve never had southern sweet tea, imagine freshly brewed black tea pour over an glass of ice, then mixed with 4 tablespoons of sugar (yes, that much sugar). That’s Southern sweet tea.

I call this drink, Debutan-tea. Arguable a Southern version of Long Island Iced, Debutant-tea has only one liquor: bourbon.


1 cup of bourbon
3/4 cup Mint-infused simple syrup (see recipe below)
2 cups of ice

The following recipe serves 6-8 people a powerful libation perfect for picnics and outdoor parties. Makes 1-quart.


1 cup water
1-1/2 cups of sugar
1 bunch of chiffoned mint

Over medium heat in a pot the sugar and water. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the chiffoned (de-stemmed) mint to the mixture and bring to a boil for 2 minutes. Then take simple syrup off heat.

In a 1-quart container (I usually glass quart bottles) pour 1 cup of bourbon (Jim Bean or Maker’s), 2 cups of ice, and 3/4 cup of the mint simple syrup. More ice/bourbon/syrup can be added to taste.

The hunt for quality bread in SF is on. At the same time, I’m narrowing down which recipes I want to deliver up for my private tasting next week. Will be experimenting  a ginger aioli. More to come.