October 16, 2015

Ferrari Rome AirportOn the way to Positano
On the way to Positano
I admit it. I have delayed writing about Italy. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to relive those memories, or because I didn’t want to edit the photos, or because I had a bad experience. It was because writing about it here meant that it was over. Not that every trip I ever take to Italy is over. Just that the particular experience I had is complete. With this post, the circle is made complete. And, it took me a few weeks for me to be ready for that. Not that I can say I’m entirely ready now. But, there seems to be a time frame in which it is reasonable to write about a place you just visited and I felt like I was rapidly approaching that marker. Unless, of course you’re Hemingway. In which case you can write about living in Paris forty some odd years after doing so. In case it hadn’t yet dawned on you, dear reader, I am not Hemingway. So, there are deadlines.

Over the past 7 years I have had the fortune of getting to travel the world. There are still many places I desire to go, but there are a few places that stand out. Italy was one of them. I’m part Italian and I think, like many Americans who could define themselves as a “European mutt, I built my cultural identity around the one that comprised the largest percentage. Every year, around the holidays, my parents and I make ravioli from an family recipe that dates back when they lived in Perugia. The recipe has no ingredient amounts and very little in the way of instructions. You just know when you get it right. When I was little, the entire Italian side of my family used to spend the day rolling dough, filling it, arguing, and laughing. There was wine and gossip and eventually us kids would tire out and I’d make cushion forts with my cousins. We don’t live near them anymore, but we’ve kept up the tradition.

In college, I studied Italian for two years with the plan to eventually travel to Italy. But, every time I attempted to take a trip something got in the way. For some reason, I had my heart set on going in September and every year, without fail, something got in the way. Finances, a conflicting event, or larger issues beyond my control. I kept waiting for the right time, finally realizing that there was never going to be a “perfect” time and that I really should just go. So, at the beginning of this year, I made up my mind to do so. And, then, suddenly, in June or so, things aligned and my friend Anthony invited me to join him on a wedding in Italy on the way to Malta. In September. Within weeks, our tickets were booked on Altalia.

Italy was everything I expected…and more. I know that’s cliche to say, but it’s true. We ate gelato every day. Sat at whitewashed cafes sipping lattes in the late morning. Climbed a million steps (I counted). Sunbathed on black sand beaches and stared in awe at the paintings inside duomo after duomo – each more magnificent it seemed than the last. I also think I ate my weight in buffalo mozzarella. I doubt there is anywhere in the world where you could drink better coffee or eat better pizza. And the backdrop to all of this was Positano and other small towns on the winding Amalfi Coast, all overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.

Tomatoes at the cafe
Mozzarella panini from the cafe
Dinner at La Lione

Before the wedding
Anthony and the Groom Anthony and the brother in law Mother of the bride The Bride Italy-14a Italy-14b Italy-15 Italy-16 Italy-17 Italy-18 Italy-18b Italy-18c Italy-20 Italy-22 Italy-23 Italy-24 Italy-25 Italy-26 Italy-27 Italy-28

Recipes Travel

Chocolate Matcha Balls

July 12, 2015


Growing up, I hated coffee. It was so tannic, so bitter, so…ugh. In fact, it wasn’t until I turned 30 that I liked coffee (and I still prefer it with milk and sugar). So, instead, I drank tea. A lot of tea. British-style, with a splash of milk.

Along the way, I started drinking green tea. Probably because I had read about its “health benefits.” I don’t know. It was more bitter than the teas I was used to, but not as bitter as god-awful coffee. But, my preference was still for black tea, usually Earl Grey or English Breakfast (even if it was 10pm at night). And then I had matcha.

I don’t think the first time I had matcha was in Japan, but that’s the first time I remember drinking it. Zac and I were staying at the guest house of a temple inside a larger temple complex in Kyoto. On the nights we stayed there, I’d wake up around 5am and tuck into a corner near the temple and write or go for a stroll around the grounds, nodding and saying “Ohayou Gozaimasu” in return to those I passed during my walk.Matcha-6
One morning, we had the pleasure of meditating with temple’s Zen monk. We sat in the meditation room with him and meditated, focusing only on our breath for 40-minutes, while the leaves of the trees whispered outside. Afterwards, we were treated to an intimate tour of the temple’s rooms and a tea ceremony.

During the tea ceremony, they taught us how to prepare matcha. It’s not like standard tea. Matcha (from the Japanese “ma” meaning powder and “cha” meaning tea) is a powdered version of green tea. With matcha, instead of steeping the leaves and drinking the liquid, you’re drinking the whole leaf. To make it well, it helps to have a strainer, a whisk, and a ceramic bowl to drink it from, as the Zen Chinese Monk Eisai did when he brought the tea, the tea ceremony, and the Rinzai school of Zen philosophy to Japan in 1191.

It’s not quite what you’d expect. It’s a little sweet and a little bitter. And tastes a little bit like seaweed. Trust me, it’s better than it sounds. After drinking it, I felt focused, but not “on” like I do if I have too much coffee. The monk warned us, however, not to drink more caffeine for four to six hours (that’s how long the effect lasts). Someone…ahem…did not listen to the monk. What do monks know anyway? Apparently, a lot. I am not going to show you the photo Zac took to capture what I looked like after having a latte and another cup of matcha within that six hour period because it’s rather terrifying.


But, after that one cup, my interest was piqued. We visited the 300-year-old shop in Kyoto (Kyoto is the region where matcha thrives) called Ippodo and I purchased all the implements needed to enjoy a tea ceremony at home and some matcha exclusive to Kyoto. I know. Fancy. During my trip, I drank a lot more matcha. Everywhere it was available, I had a cup. I loved the process, the way of holding the bowl, and the complex flavor.

And, then, when I visited New York last fall, I found myself in the Palais des Thés and purchased some baking matcha. Which I used today to concoct this little recipe.

Matcha-5  Matcha-9a Matcha-9b


Matcha-7aChocolate Matcha Balls Chocolate-Matcha-Balls-Recipe

Chocolate Matcha Balls

½ cup dates, pitted
½ cup whole raw almonds
¼ cup cocoa powder
1 Tbsp. matcha powder, plus more for rolling
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. 100% maple syrup

1. Add dates, almonds, cocoa, matcha to food processor. Blend until fully mixed.
2. Add extract and maple syrup.
3. Roll into 14 balls.
4. Roll balls in matcha powder.
5. Enjoy or store in refrigerator until ready to eat.


Rainbow Cupcakes

June 28, 2015

Rainbow Cupcakes Recipe

This post isn’t really about rainbow cupcakes. There is a recipe at the end, of course. But, first.

On Friday, the Supreme Court of the United States granted same sex couples the right to marry. Instead of paraphrasing Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy’s written opinion on the matter, here it is:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the sixth Circuit is reversed.

It is so ordered.

Rainbow-Cupcakes-3 Rainbow-Cupcakes-4

And with that, near the end of Pride Month, decades of work towards this goal finally came to fruition. Social media exploded with rainbows and exuberance. The #LoveWins dominated Instagram. And, personally, I started wearing this pride heart I’ve had since I was a teenager and haven’t taken it off yet.

In honor of Friday’s SCOTUS ruling, I made rainbow cupcakes for a friend’s rooftop barbecue in downtown Los Angeles. At the barbecue, I caught up with people I hadn’t seen in years, learned the names of some French New Wave filmmakers I really should check out, admired an ominous grey sky, and enjoyed the bacon explosion. Everything was great…except for when Drew wasn’t sure if he was going to give us trichinosis because the explosion wasn’t cooked enough. So it went on for another 30. If you haven’t had a bacon explosion, you really must at some point and you don’t need the sauces the recipe calls for. I mean, it’s it’s bacon wrapped in sausage wrapped in bacon. It’s plenty good on its own.

Getting back to the cupcakes…the trick to making rainbow cupcakes that have defined layers is to only add a little bit of batter of each color. After you add a color, use a spoon to spread it until it completely covers the previous color. For instance, when you add the blue on top of the purple, spread the blue so it touches the edges of the liner and you can’t see the purple. Then move on to the next color. The process is quite time consuming, but worth it. If you look at the tops, you’ll notice I got a little lazy at the end.

Cupcake Rebecca Swanner Holding Cupcake

Rainbow Cupcakes (Vanilla)

1 vanilla bean
1 cup whole milk
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
6 ounces sour cream
7.5 ounces cake flour, sifted
1 tsp. baking soda
1.5 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1. Pour milk into small nonstick saucepan. Scrape in seeds of 1 vanilla bean and place bean in the pan as well.
2. Bring to boil over medium heat. Remove from heat, place airtight lid on top, and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
3. Preheat oven to 350° F.
4. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
4. In a stand mixer, blend together sugar and butter on medium speed until soft and fluffy (about 3 minutes).
5. Add eggs, one at a time, while mixer is on medium. Allow 30 seconds in between each addition.
6. Add vanilla and, once the vanilla is combined, stop the mixer.
7. In a medium bowl, mix together milk (remove vanilla bean first), and sour cream.
8. Turn the mixer speed to low and add 1/3 of the flour mixture. Add 1/2 of the milk mixture. Repeat until all ingredients are in the mixing bowl. Scrape down the sides and make sure all is evenly mixed.
9. Separate the batter evenly into 6 small bowls. Using a disher/ice cream scooper makes this much easier.
10. Add dye to each bowl and use a spoon to stir gently until the color is evenly distributed. Use this same spoon to fill the cupcakes liners with that color.
11. Layer the colors, starting with purple, then blue, then green, then yellow, then orange, then red so you end up with ROYGBIV (minus indigo).
12. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until cupcake top springs back when gently pushed.
13. Let cool for 10-15 minutes on wire rack, then remove from pan. Let cool completely before frosting.

The dyes I used were Americolor’s Super Red, Orange, Lemon Yellow, Leaf Green, Sky Blue, and Regal Purple.


Vanilla Buttercream
I can’t really add the frosting measurements. I just sort of wing it almost every time. I know what I want it to taste like – soft but not runny, not too sweet, and full of vanilla flavor. But, I don’t measure. The ingredients include:
1/2 cup Butter, room temperature
Confectioners sugar
Vanilla extract
Vanilla bean seeds
Whole Milk

1. Blend butter and 2 cups of sugar on high until it is has a doughlike consistency.
2. Add milk, 1 tbsp at a time.
3. Add sugar, 1/2 cup at a time to increase the mass of the frosting. Add milk to make it smooth again. Go back and forth until you obtain the proper consistency.
4. When the proper consistency is reached, add extract to taste and scrape in vanilla bean seeds. Blend until fully combined.

Have questions? Ask me in the comments! And use the #SecretMarmalade so I can see your creations!

Rainbow Cupcake Bite


And here are a few of the incredible bacon explosion. Recipe here.
Bacon Explosion Investigation Bacon Explosion Contemplating Bacon Explosion Rooftop Downtown Los Angeles Summer



June 14, 2015

Alien, treeless landscapes. Eerie, fog-covered swaths of land stretching for miles. Waterfalls that seemed to emerge from nowhere. Iceland had intrigued me since I was twenty. The photos I saw captured a world that existed only in fairy tales. There were other places on my list that I wanted to explore, but no where else captured my curiosity quite as much the aisle purposely misnamed by the Vikings.

Legend has it the Vikings realized Iceland’s existence in search of what would later become America. Led by three ravens, Floki Vilgerdarson sailed from Norway, following their path. One flew back to the homeland, one circled, and landed on the ship, and the third, brought Vilgerdarson to Iceland. He wasn’t the first one to actually find the country—Irish monks lived there previously. But, that’s seriously one badass origin story.

I’ve always been a bit obsessed with fairy tales and folklore. Almost as soon as I could read, I devoured the Greek myths. I’ve read the Inferno more times than I can remember. I got really mad as a kid when I first saw the Little Mermaid and saw that Ursula didn’t cut off her tongue and that each step Ariel took on land didn’t feel like she was walking on sharp knives. And that she married the prince at all (in the original, she dies brokenhearted). I guess all of that doesn’t go with the whole “Disney” approach. And, my cat is named Loki. (And, yes, I also watch Grimm.) And everything I read about Iceland made it feel like a magical land.

And it was.

This past March, I flew into Reykjavik with my good friend Zac and we spent a cold, incredible week there. One morning we were lucky enough to capture the solar eclipse and we were treated to two appearances of the aurora borealis. I have yet to find words to describe what the experience was like. I can talk about moments—moments where we were standing at the foot of the mountains and felt so so small. Moments where the beauty of the blue fairy cave left me completely awestruck as it reminded me of places I’d only seen in my dreams. Moments where we pulled over on the side of the road to watch as the aurora danced across the crescent moon and the night sky. But, there are no words to describe the place. It’s just somewhere you have to go.

If you have questions about where we went, where we stayed, or what we ate, just ask!

Iceland2 Iceland3 Iceland4 Iceland5 Iceland6 Iceland7 Iceland8 Iceland9 Iceland10 Iceland11 Iceland12 Iceland13 Iceland14 Iceland15 Iceland16 Iceland17 Iceland18 Iceland19 Iceland20 Iceland21 Iceland22 Iceland23

Iceland27Iceland28  Iceland34


Nutella Cheesecake Bars

June 1, 2015

To be honest, I’m more of a peanut butter girl. Give me peanut butter on a spoon, on toast, with chocolate, with honey, with salt, in ice cream…or some combination of all of the above, and…swoon.

However…in a pinch, Nutella will do. So, Sunday evening, I whipped up these cheesecake bars. They’re not too sweet (there’s less than a cup of sugar in the recipe) so the hazelnutty goodness of the Nutella is very front and center. The shortbread base is simple – just a quick whisk of flour, sugar, salt, and butter.



It’s when you add the butter that things get interesting. At first, when you drop in the tablespoons and begin to mix it together, it’s like running your hands through snow. The butter lumps get coated in the white, powdery stuff, but nothing seems to be happening. You keep mixing and kneading, still nothing. More kneading. More mixing. Finally, something starts to happen. You can feel it underneath your fingertips. The texture is changing. The physicality of the mass in your hands is becoming something different. If you had given up in the first few moments or minutes, and just dumped the primordial crust into the pan and hoped for the best, it wouldn’t have magically formed into a crust in the oven. It only works if you’re patient and keep working with the ingredients. Then, eventually, it comes together. Simple ingredients bind together and become the foundation you can build the rest of the dessert upon. Which, in this case, happen to be Nutella Cheesecake Bars.




Nutella Cheesecake Bars

Adapted from Savory Simple
(Makes 16-32 bars, depending on how judicious you are with the slicing)

⅓ cup granulated sugar
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
¼ tsp. kosher salt
½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into tablespoons
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
⅓ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
4 Tbsp. Nutella, divided

1. Preheat the oven to 350. Line a 9×9-inch pan with parchment paper.
2. Whisk together sugar, flour, and salt in medium bowl. Add the butter and mix until it shifts form and turns into something instantly recognizable as dough.
3. Press the dough evenly into the pan and bake for 15 minutes or until edges are just golden brown.
4. While the crust is baking, use a stand mixer and paddle attachment to blend the cream cheese, vanilla, sugar, egg, and 1 Tbsp. Nutella on medium speed until the mixture is uniform.
4. Heat up the remaining 3 Tbsp. Nutella in a double broiler or in the microwave in 15-second intervals (stirring between each) until it’s a consistency that is easy to stir.
5. When the crust is done, remove it from the oven, pour the filling over top, and use a spatula to spread it evenly. Using a spoon, draw lines of Nutella on top of the mixture and use the tip of the spoon (or a butter knife) to create swirls. Mind the crust.
6. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until filling is set. Cool for 30 minutes on a wire rack and then refrigerate for 30 minutes or until ready to eat. Cut into 16-32 bars and store in the refrigerator.


Memorial Day

May 28, 2015

It was a lovely Memorial Day. We drank and reveled and ate—my god we ate—at Liz’s house. I arrived in the afternoon, about an hour after the party started, to a mostly finished cheese plate, a group of 15 or so cheery folks pontificating over music and the rise and fall and rebirth of pinball, and a managed chaos happening in the kitchen.

These days, I find the best dinner parties (or afternoon parties, for that matter), are fluid affairs where not everything is in Martha Stewart’s concept perfection. Where there are still strawberries to be chopped, corn to be cooked, cocktail mixes to be prepared from scratch. We don’t go to parties with our friends to be served flawless course after course. We go to catch up with old friends and connect with new ones. Often over a glass of sangria. Or three. (To be honest, I went for the Cabernet by Hahn Winery.) But, the food. Juicy steak and grilled salmon were served with a butter and garlic sauce that was so thick it resembled horseradish. I could have eaten it with a spoon and though the steak was delicious enough on its own to warrant second helpings, I got a second piece because I wanted a socially acceptable delivery device for the sauce.

Rounding out the meal was buttery corn, a red potato salad (perhaps only the second I’ve ever liked as I find most suffer from too much/any mayo or an overabundance of mustard), and a simple salad made from said strawberries, avocado, goat cheese, and avocado. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure we all went back for seconds.

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