National Chili Month at the Café: The Art of Chili, a Collaboration

Welcome to National Chili Month at the cafe, one of our traditional autumn celebrations. This year I’m pleased to report another Eclectic Cafe collaboration with blogger and chili lover, Under Western Skies, an avid, and excellent, chili cook.

Our last collaboration was in 2019, when we created a Halloween chili menu and recipe.

Coordinating blog posts again was all great fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed my role as food stylist, photographer and recipe consultant for the 2021 UWS chili recipe –– with the tasting and eating part a highlight of the proceedings.

Another highlight was creating photos inspired by one of my favorite artists: Wayne Thiebaud, modern American master, innovator and teacher turns 101 on November 15. As he approaches this milestone, he’s still thriving, painting every day, and continuing to delight viewers and inspire new generations of artists.

Thiebaud is best known for his colorful paintings of pies, pastries and cakes, though his prodigious body of work includes other objects, people, and city and river landscapes. I’ve always loved his imaginative food paintings like the iconic cake slices below.

Wayne Thiebaud, Cake Slices, oil on canvas, copyright Wayne Thiebaud 1995.

Somehow in the midst of Covid world, I missed Mr. Thiebaud’s 100th birthday. It was a joy to see news of his 101st and take time to revisit his work. It also provided immediate inspiration: For the Under Western Skies chili shoot I decided to incorporate elements of his style into my food photography. In this case, composition and his distinctive bold shadows.  

Here is Under Western Skies’ flavorful, textural chili, garnished with fresh cilantro and radishes:

To go with the chili, I made a batch of corn muffins. These Thiebaud cupcakes provided a perfect model for working out my muffin photo below.

Wayne Thiebaud, Four Cupcakes, oil on paper, copyright Wayne Thiebaud 1971.

There wasn’t time to experiment for this shoot, but next I want to add to my food photography that thick, luxurious, icing-like texture characteristic of Thiebaud paintings.  

This ends the art of portraying chili. Now, head to Under Western Skies for the art of creating and cooking a spicy New Mexico-inspired chili.

We both hope you enjoy this confluence of food, photography and art.

Copyright M. Vincent 2021. All photos copyright M. Vincent 2021.

All Wayne Thibaud art copyright Wayne Thiebaud.

Hurry Up Please, It’s Time! For a Rich Chocolaty Quick Bread, That Is.

During the pandemic, we’ve been honing our yeast bread skills at the café –– from sandwich loaves to braided challah. It’s all been fascinating, but last weekend I was craving a fast, simple quick bread that could double as breakfast and dessert.

With some large, very ripe bananas at hand, I decided to go with banana bread and kick up the flavor and texture with dark cocoa and chopped pecans. The recipe turned out so well, I had to share it.

This bread is ultra chocolaty, moist and decadent. It’s also “healthyish,” as Bon Appetit magazine might say, with its attention to healthy ingredients.

Chocolate Pecan Banana Bread


¾ cup white whole wheat flour

½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour

½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

¾ – 1 cup mashed, very ripe banana (about 2 medium-size bananas)

½ cup sugar

¼ cup olive oil

2 eggs

¼ cup reduced-fat coconut milk

½ tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon almond extract

1/3 cup raw pecans, coarsely chopped


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil or butter a 5 x 9-inch loaf pan. Add lemon juice to coconut milk and set aside.

2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon. Set aside.

3. In a small mixing bowl, combine the mashed banana, eggs, olive oil, sugar, coconut milk, and the vanilla and almond extracts. Beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth.

4. Pour the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients and stir just until all the ingredients are blended. Add a bit more milk, if needed, to moisten flour mixture completely.

5. Fold the chopped pecans into the batter, and spoon batter into the prepared pan.

6. Bake until a pastry tester inserted in center of the bread comes out clean: 45 to 50 minutes. Note: This bread takes longer to bake than other quick breads I make – it took about 47 minutes in my oven. After 25 minutes, the tester came out gooey, and I tented the bread with foil to keep the top from browning too much as it continued baking.

7. Run a knife gently around the sides to loosen bread from pan, transfer it to a wire rack, and let it cool for an hour before slicing.  

Serve and savor!

We loved this bread with whipped cream cheese and orange marmalade for breakfast, and with fresh strawberries and tangerines for dessert. Let me know if you give it a try.

© Copyright M. Vincent 2021. Recipe and photos copyright M. Vincent 2021.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Let’s Bake.

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St. Patrick’s Day greetings from the cafe kitchen. Like people all over the world, Irish or not, we always join this annual celebration of Ireland and its rich culture. Part of which, of course, is the food.  

Ages ago I found a quick, simple and delish recipe for classic Irish Soda Bread in The Joy of Cooking. I made some tweaks, loved the results, and it became a St. Patrick’s Day tradition. I’ll be making it again tonight and wanted to share it with you.

But what about those muffins in the banner? Irish muffins? Well, sometimes you just want to change things up, try a new spin on a traditional treat. Enter Irish Soda Bread Muffins, a happy find from the King Arthur Flour website: 

That green Irish fairy dust on my muffins above is matcha powered sugar. To make it, simply mix matcha tea with powdered sugar.

Here is my Irish Soda Bread recipe. It makes one small loaf as in the photo.

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My Eclectic Cafe Quick Irish Soda Bread

Adapted from recipe in The Joy of Cooking


  • 2 cups (125 grams) flour: 1 cup white whole wheat, 1 cup unbleached all-purpose
  • ¾  teaspoon baking soda
  • ½  teaspoon kosher salt (I use Diamond)
  • 1 tablespoon cane sugar
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil (or 3 tbsp olive oil + 3 tbsp chilled unsalted butter)
  • ½ to 2/3 cup nondairy buttermilk (See Preparation below)
  • 1/3 to ½ cup golden raisins – or other raisins you prefer (optional) 
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
  • Turbinado sugar (large, coarse-textured cane sugar crystals) for sprinkling 


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. I bake this bread on a pizza stone. If you choose that method, be sure to preheat the stone along with the oven. You can also use a greased bread pan or 8-inch cake pan.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt and sugar.
  3. Make the buttermilk by mixing nondairy milk (such as almond, cashew, coconut) with ½ tablespoon lemon juice or apple cider vinegar. Give mixture about 15 minutes to curdle and be ready to use.
  4. Using a pastry cutter, a fork, or your fingers, cut the olive oil (or olive oil and butter) into the flour mixture until the texture is crumbly. (Kerry Gold unsalted Irish butter is my favorite for baking.)
  5. Stir the raisins (if using) and caraway seeds into the flour mixture.
  6. Gradually mix in the buttermilk. Use enough so that the mixture is moist, not dry. Use your hands to fold over a few times to make sure all ingredients are well-combined. No yeast-bread-type kneading required. (Lightly oiling your hands to fold and form the dough works better than flouring them.)
  7. On a floured board or piece of parchment paper, form the dough into a round loaf. Cut a cross on top, letting it go over the sides so the dough won’t crack during baking. Brush the top with water or nondairy milk, and sprinkle with turbinado sugar for a nice crunchy crust.
  8. Bake on middle rack of oven for approximately 40–50 minutes, or until the top is a rich golden brown. Be sure to check during baking, as time will vary with your oven.
  9. This recipe makes a small loaf just right for our household of two. It’s most delish served warm. Cool briefly on a wire rack before cutting. Great with orange marmalade or that Kerry Gold butter.

Note: I didn’t find the precise recipe I adapted online, but this one with shortened directions comes closest to it:

The original is from The Joy of Cooking, 1964 edition, © The Bobbs-Merrill Company Inc., Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker authors.

For those like me who didn’t get to bake earlier, these recipes –– especially the bread –– come together quickly, so you may still have time to get them in the oven.

If not, don’t wait until next St. Patrick’s day: The bread and muffins are great any time you crave the wonderful caraway flavor that distinguishes Irish soda bread.

Copyright M. Vincent 2021. All photos copyright M. Vincent.

Still Cooking at the Cafe

Happy New Year to all. We’re still cooking here at the café, happy to leave behind a year that has been so devastating around the world.

Political turmoil, natural disasters, the struggle for justice –– and through it all, a pandemic disrupting our lives in numerous personal ways and making even simple things challenging.

We’ve all been through so much, and still the pandemic continues and surges, with many months predicted to go. We’ll still have to persevere, practice patience and resilience, and be vigilant in taking the precautions that stop the virus from spreading.

Yet arriving at this new year is still a celebration. A fresh start always brings inspiration and energy, and we can take hope in the progress we’ve made in the midst of crisis.

On today’s cafe menu: lentils, a food eaten in several countries on New Year’s Day, or the eve before, to bring good luck in the new year.

As we head into 2021, who couldn’t use a bit of luck in their efforts? Wherever you are, I imagine some lucky New Year’s food was on your table too. Our red lentils above are flavored with curry, lime juice and coconut milk, served over brown rice, and topped with a chopped fresh spinach salad. What was on your menu?

Fight on, Covid warriors. With perseverance and a little luck, we’ll get through this together. Wishing you good health, good food, and good fortune this year.

Copyright M. Vincent 2021. All photos copyright M. Vincent.

The Sweet Fruits of Summer

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The glorious summer fruit season is well underway in California, and here at the café we’re celebrating the abundance of sweet, juicy and colorful stone fruits arriving in our markets. Fresh local berries too.

As you know if you’ve visited my blog before, beautiful seasonal fruit is one of my favorite things to photograph (and eat!) — like these autumn-winter persimmons and fall farmers market finds

Paired with a complementary container, it also makes a simple centerpiece to add a special touch to your table. My photos in this post pair summer fruit with mid-century modern and other ceramics my partner and I have collected.  

Rainier Cherries

Washington state is the premier growing region for the lovely-to-look-at Rainier cherries above, their shiny yellow faces blushing with hues of rosy red and pink.

Given its pale color, I was surprised to learn that this cherry is a hybrid of two sweet, red varieties — the familiar Oregon Bing and the Canadian Van. Developed at Washington State University in 1952, it’s named, as you might have guessed, for Mount Rainier, the state’s iconic volcanic peak.

While the sturdier, more plentiful Bings with their sweet, rich crunch are one of summer’s great treats, I always look forward to the arrival of the delicate, creamy Washington Rainiers. Both have been delicious this year. Get the Rainiers while you can: the growing season lasts from June through August.


According to University of California–Davis agriculture researchers, the apricot originated in China and was extensively cultivated in the Mediterranean before it was brought to North America.

Its initial introduction in Virginia was unsuccessful, but when Spanish missionaries brought the apricot to California in the late 1700s, its cultivation in North America took off.  California now leads the U.S. in apricot production, growing about 95 percent of the fruit. 

I found the delectable ripe apricots below in late June at our local Sprout’s market. I loved the rich orange tones on their velvety skin and couldn’t wait to photograph them in this Italian pottery bowl with its complementary blues and corresponding oranges and ambers.

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The bowl is one of my favorite pieces, for its design and its association. It comes from Deruta, a medieval hill town and historic majolica pottery center in Italy’s Umbria region, and always reminds me of the day my partner and I spent exploring the town and its famed ceramics.

We loved talking to people, learning about the antique and modern hand-painted pottery, and — smitten by what we saw — searching for a piece to take home. We came away with a set of these bowls, modern with a traditional design, which we use constantly.


Because nectarines are similar to peaches, but noticeably different in taste and texture, I always thought they were a separate fruit, perhaps a hybrid. Writing this post I discovered that a nectarine is actually a peach without the fuzz.

The two fruits are genetically the same, with just one recessive gene responsible for the nectarine’s smooth, fuzz-free skin. 

Our local stores have had a bounty of both types of nectarine, the tart-and-sweet yellow variety and the sweeter, low-acid white, pictured in the photos below. 

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The ultra-bright reds of these beautiful fruits really popped against streamlined black and white and black-on-black backgrounds. I think the mid-century modern designers of the ceramics in the photos would approve. 

Russel Wright (1904-1976) designed the white ceramics. The long, black, oval bowl is by Ben Seibel (1918-1985). For several years, my partner and I enjoyed collecting their vintage dinnerware, and it’s always in service here at the cafe.  I love using these stylish retro pieces in my food photography.

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In the final photo is the Russel Wright sake bottle. The cherry bowl in the photo at the top is a creamer from his Paden City pottery line.

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In difficult times it’s more important than ever to appreciate the beauty in our world and elemental human pleasures, like the delightful fruits of summer. Enjoy the season and make it special for yourself and those you love. ♥

Fruit information in this post was sourced from:

University of California–Davis, Fruit and Nut Research and Information Center,

Specialty Produce,

Licensable, high-resolution versions of photographs in this post, and select images from other My Eclectic Café posts are available on Click here to view my Vince360 Shutterstock photo portfolio. You can also find my photos on Adobe and Dreamstime.

Copyright M. Vincent 2020. All photos copyright M. Vincent 2020.


What’s Cooking at the Cafe?

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Cooking in the time of the coronavirus is about the spirit as much as the body. In the best of times, making and enjoying good food is one of the joys and comforts of life. In the worst of times, the pleasure, diversion, and comfort it brings are more important than ever.

It’s not surprising then, that people everywhere are spending more time in the kitchen since Covid-19 has transformed our world and “stay at home, save lives” measures have gone into effect.

In this post, I’ll share some of the food we’ve been making at My Eclectic Café.

A Baking Renaissance?

Let’s start with that loaf of whole wheat bread above, which I baked earlier this week.

It appears that Covid-19 may have given rise to a home-bread-baking renaissance. Flour has disappeared from market shelves in many places, per reports we’ve heard, and we’ve seen scant supplies in our own area. When we decided to bake bread a week ago, all of our local stores were out of yeast.

Fortunately, the cafe always has a stash of flour, and kind friends in Washington state mailed us yeast from their own pantry and local market to keep bread in our oven as the pandemic continues.

I made the bread above from a simple King Arthur Flour (KAF) recipe, easy to follow for even novice bakers. You can find it on the KAF website here.

While I’ve baked bread before, I was trying this recipe for the first time and would use it again. I had the KAF white whole wheat flour specified, chose the molasses option for a darker loaf, and left out the dried milk.

The bread was moist and flavorful, with a chewy, well-browned crust, made great toast, and stayed fresh for days. It was great with the vegetable soup below.

I’ve baked with several types of KAF flour for years and recommend it. Their website is a valuable source of tips, recipes, and informative articles and reviews for beginning to experienced bakers.

Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Central

Healthy eating is always a priority at My Eclectic Café, with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables at the center of our cooking. Since the Covid-19 crisis, we’ve been amplifying that focus. It’s a good time to be vegetarian: When other foods have been swept off the shelves, we’ve found the produce section of our stores well-stocked.

Before our Southern California weather hit 90 degrees this week, we enjoyed this spicy, colorful mixed vegetable soup: cauliflower, carrots, zucchini, Napa cabbage and corn with brown rice and Penzey’s southwest seasoning (a mix of spices and herbs with the heat of ancho, cayenne and chipotle peppers).

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Such fresh, homemade soups have been a lunchtime staple — comfort food with the benefit of numerous vitamins and nutrients for staying well and keeping the immune system strong.

Salads, made with diverse vegetables or fruits, nuts, and selected proteins, have also been on our daily menu.

If you’re shopping much less often, as we are, to limit potential exposure to the virus, heads of radicchio and Napa (Chinese) cabbage are both versatile, long-lasting salad ingredients. They also go well together in a salad. Napa cabbage leaves are much more tender than those of red or green cabbage. They also have a mild, slightly sweet flavor that contrasts nicely with the bitey radicchio.

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Open the cafe refrigerator, and you’ll find it brimming with citrus fruit. We’ve eaten tons of it in the past few months, as I fought to get over a mean bout of bronchitis and the Covid-19 pandemic burgeoned.

Grapefruit, tangerines, oranges, lemons. Rich in Vitamin C and other nutrients, they’re a constant ingredient in our fruit bowls, salads and other dishes, as well as a favorite refreshing snack. I use the juice and zest to add “oomph” to my cooking and baking, especially lemon juice, which brightens any dish. The cafe is blessed to have a prolific and treasured Meyer lemon tree in the backyard.

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What’s for Dessert?

While we love dessert at the cafe, we usually keep it light and simple: fresh fruit and a piece of very dark chocolate, or that chocolate with a cup of green tea or breakfast coffee. (Yes, it’s perfectly acceptable to have dessert at breakfast — especially now, when we all need some uplifting treats to sweeten the day.)

Endangered Species’ wonderfully smooth bittersweet chocolate (low sugar, 88% percent cocoa) is a favorite, always on our menu. In addition to making excellent chocolate, the company supports conservation efforts for endangered species and habitats.

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I’ve been baking mostly breakfast muffins lately and dreaming of making other pastry, but I did try a new cookie recipe that’s definitely a keeper: cardamom-walnut crescents from The New York Times.  My co-confiné agrees.

I love nut cookies, and these are delicious: light and not too sweet, with a great texture. The recipe is adaptable and doesn’t take long to make. My adaptations: raw pecans in the absence of walnuts, olive oil in place of some of the butter, cinnamon instead of cardamom, and a light dusting of powdered sugar when completely cooled. I look forward to trying them with walnuts and cardamom too.

More baking to come at the cafe. I’m craving those anise-almond biscotti above, remembering happy pan meino and coffee breakfasts in Milan, pondering a fruit galette …

Your  Turn

It’s a good time to try new recipes, enjoy comforting old favorites, and set a cheering table. What have you been making?

Copyright M. Vincent 2020. All photos copyright M. Vincent 2020.

Licensable, high-resolution versions of some photographs in this post, and select images from other My Eclectic Café posts are available on Click here to view my Vince360 Shutterstock photo portfolio.

LA’s Landmark Phoenix Bakery, Chinatown

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Famous for its fresh strawberry whipped-cream cake, the Phoenix Bakery has been serving traditional Chinese pastries and an increasing variety of other sweets since 1938. We visited this venerable Los Angeles institution during last year’s Lunar New Year festivities and found that it has a fascinating history.

Earlier, I wrote about the Firecracker 5K/10K Run, an annual Chinatown New Year’s event. In 2019, we were spectators, not runners, cheering the participants, enjoying the entertainment and exploring the area at walking pace. That’s how we finally made it into the bakery.

We spotted the distinctive sign (above), a horde of customers headed for the door, and a crowd already inside. It was obviously the place to be, and we joined the happy throng.

An Abundance of Cakes and Pastries

When we got inside, the small storefront was bustling, with virtually every table taken and a steady line at the counter. The cases were filled with a variety of sweets as diverse as the Los Angeles community — from Chinese almond cookies and winter melon cakes to French croissants, eclairs, tres leches cake and other international selections.

In his pastry painting phase, Wayne Thiebaud would have loved this place. Regrettably, there was too much hustle and bustle for my food photography that day, but I did manage to snap these clever Year of the Pig cupcakes:

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The counter staff were friendly and patiently answered our questions as we investigated the offerings on display. Our mission was to try some traditional Chinese pastries, so we left the other sweets for another time.  The pretty winter melon cake (on the left below) had a pleasing filling and inspired this “home studio” photo composition.

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A Longstanding Family Enterprise

One of Chinatown’s few remaining original shops, the Phoenix Bakery celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2018. Chinese immigrants F.C. Chan and his wife, Wai Hing, founded the business in 1938 when the Central Plaza was just opening.

The Chan’s original idea was to create a community gathering place, producing traditional Chinese pastries and cookies not locally available at the time. Beginning with Chinese almond cookies, winter melon pastries and seasonal moon cakes, they branched into a variety of other, culture-spanning sweets.

In the 1940s, Mr. Chan’s brother joined the business and created its signature fresh strawberry whipped-cream cake.  The cake gained a reputation, and in the 1970s, the company website notes, the bakery became famous throughout LA for making this “not so Chinese” cake.

After more than 80 years, the bakery is still owned and operated by the Chan family, with second and third generation family members in various roles.  It continues to enjoy a loyal following,  from generation to generation,  and to be the traditional “go-to” place for that special cake for birthdays, weddings and other celebrations.

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That Timeless Logo

There’s a story behind the Phoenix Bakery logo and mascot as well. Celebrated Chinese-American artist, Tyrus Wong,  designed the charming, shyly smiling boy with the red-ribboned package behind his back.

A highly skilled and versatile artist Wong had a long and varied career. Perhaps best known for his role as lead production illustrator for Disney’s 1942 film, Bambi, he continued to work in a variety of media well into his 90s.

Happy Lunar New Year to all! May 4718 be a sweet year for you.

Copyright M. Vincent 2020. Photos copyright M. Vincent 2019–2020.

Bakery history sources: and 2018 LAist article by Liz Ohanesian on the 80th anniversary of the business.

The Phoenix Bakery is located at 969 N. Broadway, Los Angeles 90012, adjacent to Chinatown’s Central Plaza.

Food/Photography Friday: Cookie Predator Invades California Cafe

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Welcome to Food/Photography Friday 2020. If you’re new to the series, you’ll find the kickoff post here.

By the look of today’s international news, we could all use some whimsicality and humor to start the weekend, so I’m doing my part with some fanciful food photography. I hope you’ll enjoy this harmless predatory visitor to the café.

No holiday gift is safe from an avid photographer, and the toppings on these cookies were so — well, over the top — I had to put them into a photo shoot. I took a few serious shots, the cookie plate on a festive holiday table sort of thing, then hastened to have some fun with the lion ornament among my props.


He and this wild version of Italian biscotti — their icing chunky with nuts, chocolate or caramel chips, and sprinkles — seemed made for each other. I imagined him prowling down a rocky road of these textured confections, investigating, and taking bites here and there.  Hence, the cookie predator.

Enjoy the weekend, maybe take a news fast, and create something for fun yourself.

Copyright M. Vincent 2020.  Photo copyright M. Vincent 2019-2020.


Food/Photography Friday: Fuyu Persimmon Photo Shoot

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I love creating still-life photos with beautiful seasonal fruit, so when I saw this perfect Fuyu persimmon in my local market, I grabbed it and got to work.

Fuyus are a bright symbol of autumn, arriving in mid-fall and lasting through the winter months. Their shiny skin ranges from golden amber to a deep, pumpkin-like orange.

This one stood out for its rich color and exceptional smoothness and gloss. Firm and unblemished, with its leafy green cap intact, it was camera-ready.  To create a distinct autumn vibe, I looked for props with complementary textures, patterns and hues.

About the Fruit

Two types of persimmons are commercially grown in the U.S. and sold in markets across the country: the Fuyu, which is the focus of this post, and the Hachiya. Both came to us via Japan, where persimmons are the national fruit.  Both are in season now.

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From first bite, I found the Fuyu delicious, as well as visually appealing. If you’ve seen them in your area and wondered about them, I encourage you to give them a try.

Called fuyu gaki in Japan, Fuyus are mildly sweet and taste rather like an apricot or pear, with a slight hint of cinnamon. They can be eaten at any stage of ripeness. In the early stage, they’re firm and crisp, great for slicing and eating like an apple (peeling optional) or added to salads –– their subtle sweetness pairs well with peppery arugula, for example. As the fruit grows riper, it becomes sweeter and softer.

In their varying stages of ripeness, Fuyus are used in chutneys and salsas, salads, desserts and baking.

Beware: If you’re unfamiliar with persimmons, don’t confuse the Fuyu in this post with the Hachiya, that other Japanese variety in season, or you may have a very unpleasant experience.

While Fuyus can be eaten crisp, Hachiyas cannot be eaten until they’re extremely soft. Bite into one before it’s ready and you’ll encounter a bitter taste and an astringent effect that can make it difficult to swallow. It made me avoid Hachiyas for years.  You can distinguish the two by their shape: Compared to the round, tomato-shaped Fuyus in my photos, Hachiyas are elongated and acorn-shaped.

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U.S. readers, Thanksgiving is around the corner. Maybe go a bit rogue this year and add Fuyu persimmons to your feast? You’ll find many appealing recipes online, from salads and chutneys to apple-persimmon pie.

If you enjoy Fuyu persimmons, what’s your favorite way to eat them?

Copyright M. Vincent 2019

Persimmon photos copyright M. Vincent 2019

Food/Photography Friday: Breakfast on the Road in Bishop, California

Bristlecone Pine Forest MV Hiking-2018

One of the joys of travel is finding fun local places to have breakfast. That’s a road trip focus my partner and I share — and when we’re starting out early for a day of trekking in the outdoors, robust morning coffee and a healthy, fortifying meal are a must. We found two gems for both in Bishop, when we made the town our base for exploring the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest and Old West ghost town, Bodie, last fall.

Waffles and Books at the Pupfish Café

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Named for a tiny, endangered Death Valley fish, this cozy, friendly café is located inside an attractive indie bookstore, a bonus for book lovers. The menu emphasizes locally sourced products, including eggs, bread, baked goods and artisan coffee from Black Sheep Coffee Roasters just down the street.

As you can see from the counter menu above, the coffee options are extensive. The cappuccino and the full-bodied house brew we tried were both excellent.

The cafe’s specialty is the Liège waffle, named for the city in Belgium. It’s made with a brioche dough and studded with chunky pearl sugar that caramelizes as the waffle cooks, producing a crisp exterior.

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When I saw this waffle in my pre-trip restaurant research, I was hooked. At the cafe, I promptly ordered one for us to share with our coffee while perusing the rest of the menu. Intended to be eaten by hand, it arrived warm and fragrant in its paper package –– a sweet, crunchy, dense and chewy delight. Don’t leave the Pupfish without trying one.

After our rich “starter,” we moved on to the Eggs on Avocado, which came with a choice of Kalamata olives, red pepper flakes or fresh basil. The dish came nicely plated, with the scrambled eggs on a perfectly ripe sliced avocado, the basil garden-fresh.

We enjoyed the food and ambience so much, we returned and were again impressed. I had the Paleo Breakfast: two poached eggs cooked to order, topped with a house-made cilantro-caper spread, and served on mixed greens tossed with a zippy vinaigrette. A satisfying choice for vegetarians like me, as well as Paleo diet followers. My partner enjoyed the Egg and Cheese Panini, served on a ciabatta roll.

In sum, for a variety of healthy, flavorful breakfast choices, served in a relaxed modern setting, up with contemporary food trends, but not pretentious and pricey, head to the Pupfish Café.

Pupfish Café Location: 124 S. Main Street (U.S. Hwy 395), Bishop, CA. The entrance to the cafe is from the free parking lot behind Spellbinder Books. To check current hours and menu:

A Passion for Baking at Great Basin Bakery 

Sometimes you just want a great pastry and coffee for breakfast, and wherever we travel, I’m on the lookout for the best local bakeries. In Bishop, Great Basin Bakery caught my attention as a real community place versus the town’s ultra-hyped tourist destination. It’s a small shop with a friendly vibe and a large selection of fresh, high quality breads and pastries.

I love cinnamon rolls, but hate those flavorless bombs drowned in an avalanche of icing. Great Basin’s are bright with cinnamon and not too sweet, with a pleasing texture and just a light glaze on top. I prefer mine served warm, which they’ll gladly do if you ask.

We also tried the buttermilk scone with orange zest and dark chocolate chips, a winner paired with their Black Sheep Coffee Roasters brew.

The morning we visited, the place was bustling with hikers, bikers, locals grabbing their morning coffee …  At peak hours, seating can be challenging with the limited space, but it’s worth the wait –– and ours wasn’t long. Counter staff were welcoming, and patient with our newcomers’ questions, service attentive.

Other things to like about this place: Like the Pupfish Café, Great Basin uses local ingredients and products and highlights fresh, healthy eating. They offer mini cinnamon rolls, scones and muffins, great for sampling or for those who just want a small sweet bite with their coffee. (More bakeries should do this.) Their lunches, snacks and grab-and-go items include vegetarian and vegan options.

Did I mention the varied selection of great-looking bread? We chose the multigrain sandwich loaf for its healthy, all-wholegrain ingredients, including wheat bran, oats and rye flakes. For flavor and texture, you can’t go wrong with this one for sandwiches and toast. Maybe next time, the sourdough rye.

Great Basin was started by two partners who dreamed of pursuing their passion for baking. You can find the inspiring story here. After more than 15 years in business, that passion is still evident.

Great Basin Bakery Location:  275 S. Main Street, Bishop, CA. To check current hours and menu:

What is one of your favorite coffee and breakfast finds on your travels?

Copyright M. Vincent 2019

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest hiking photo copyright Brad Nixon, used with kind permission

Pupfish Café photos copyright M. Vincent 2019

Great Basin Bakery photos copyright Great Basin Bakery, used with kind permission