I am hunched over in the back corner of Peet’s Coffee here in Berkeley, sipping an almond milk cappuccino (whaaaat?) and I am overwhelmed with emotion. Perhaps I am excited about the holiday weekend – a chance to escape with my wife and Grizzly up to the tranquility of the Sierras. Or maybe it’s simply the gin martini I had for lunch. Probably both. Regardless, it’s sure to be a fabulous Fourth of July – full of food, drinks and family.
So I went a little bonkers. Perhaps I should have passed on the midnight iced coffee. But given the fact that lately the temperature of my bedroom has me sleeping on the hardwood floor with Grizzly, something had to be done. And then it hit me, like an oversized dodgeball to the face . . . snow cones!! And not just any snow cones, but cocktail snow cones (come on, you know me). My last snow cone was likely consumed at the circus some time in the early ’90s, so I knew I had some work to do. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve given them a chance – a taste here and a slurp there. After all, I am married to a sugarholic. It’s just that they’re just always so sweet – and it’s that fake-syrupy sweet! It’s almost as if there’s some obscure law that states that all snow cones must be doused in rainwbow cough syrup. Not in my house, and certainly not in my bedroom! So I got fresh with it. Fresh strawberries, blackberries, limes, mango, and everyone’s favorite . . . pineapple. And of course they had to be spiked. However, feel free to keep them unleaded if you prefer. Ice, sugar, fruit and booze – what’s not to love? In your face, summer!
A note about ice: if you have a snow cone or shaved-ice machine, use it. There are actually some pretty affordable options out there, and if you plan on making these for a Fourth of July get together, it might be worth it. A good machine will give you a finely shaved ice that is perfect for snow cones. If you don’t use a snow cone machine, you can use a food processor or blender with ice-crushing capabilities to crush your ice as fine as possible.
I’ll be honest, I love the Fourth of July mostly because I allow myself to eat an inappropriate amount of hot dogs. But you can get fancy with that tube of processed meat. No, I’m not talking about making your own hot dogs (I’m not that insane), but making your own hot dog buns is easy– it really makes that dog shine! I’ve made a yeasted cornbread hot dog bun with hunks of grilled corn and jalapenos. It really adds a special flavor and texture to your ordinary American hot dog! Because this is made with cornmeal and corn, use regular hot dogs as the buns won’t be as forgiving on those jumbo dogs.
Start by grilling the corn and jalapenos until the kernels and jalapenos are slightly charred. Remove the corn and deseed the jalapenos and finely dice the corn and jalapenos.
Vietnamese food is something that I crave on a consistent basis. It’s up there with Mexican and Japanese. When I’m sick, I love a piping hot bowl of pho. When I’m hungry, it’s all about bun cha. When I’m hot and tired, spring rolls and a potent cup of Vietnamese iced coffee saves the day. The depths of flavors, temperatures and textures is what makes this food so delicious – and to pair almost every dish with raw greens and herbs makes it so wonderfully unique to the culture. And the best part is, you don’t have to go to Vietnam to have some of the best Vietnamese food. For example, check out À La Mode‘s exploration of restaurants representing regional fare from Northern, Central, and Southern Vietnam in Orange County’s Little Saigon!
There’s nothing more enjoyable on a hot summer day than a plateful of Vietnamese inspired spring rolls, filled with raw veggies and fragrant herbs. Not only are they fresh, crunchy and herbaceous, they are surprising filling. Assembling them is half of the fun – especially when you get your friends involved with DIYing their own spring rolls! I especially love my spring rolls with grilled prawns and mango but grilled tofu or pork is just as delicious. And dipping them with a spicy peanut sauce is just . . . well, YUM.
When making spring rolls, separating all the ingredients before rolling makes the entire process that much easier. Keep your mis en place in order by keeping the julienned vegetables, soaked rice vermicelli noodles, grilled shrimp and herbs separate in small, individual bowls.
I drink five cups of coffee a day. Three cups in my Chemex when I wake up, and then a least two more cups in the afternoon, as I sit jittering away in the corner of a cafe. Growing up in Berkeley, home of the original Peet’s coffee and now Philz, it feels like less of a choice and more of a caffeinated birthright. Oh, and I take it black – always black. That is until Erica and Karen brought me back a pound of coffee from Vietnam last year. If you’re not familiar with Vietnamese coffee, it’s a dark (and I mean DARK) roast that is brewed using a special filter called a phin. The result is a thick, robust coffee that is subsequently mixed with sweetened condensed milk. While it’s definitely sweeter than your average cup of joe, this coffee has a certain lusciousness that makes it hard to put down – especially when poured over a tall glass of crushed ice. If you consider yourself a coffee person, you owe it to your caffeinated self to give it a try.