Food Archive

Fine Dining Drawings in 30 Seconds or Less

hours to prepare, minutes to eat, and seconds to sketch

I turned 30 two weeks ago and we celebrated with a surprise dinner at The French Laundry, Thomas Keller’s legendary restaurant located in Yountville, CA.

My birthday dress had pockets, so I impulsively stashed my sketchbook and a pen (just in case). The amuse bouche and first course passed, and it felt wrong not to take home a souvenir, so I sent for my sketchpad (which was stowed at that moment in my jacket, hanging heavenknowswhere.) I’m so glad that I drew at dinner.

Sketching each dish meant that it lasted longer, that I had more time to observe, and soak in all the expertly prepared details. My memory of the evening is better because of it, and I have a fun keepsake from what was undoubtedly one of the finest meals I’ve had.

Are you curious? Would you like to see what 12+ courses looks like? Well then, let’s start with the menu.

amuse bouche

The meal began with an amuse bouche. The first bite looked like a miniature ice cream cone. I can’t remember what it was now, but the center was salty, crunchy, and meaty.


After we ordered, picking between the Chef’s Menu or the Vegetable tasting, the staff offered bread service. The sourdough, pretzel, or other bread options were presented to us alongside a sweet butter and a salty butter. This butter was the jam. (pun intended)

oysters and pearls

The first course included tapioca, oysters, and caviar.


I knew immediately that I wanted some M*F truffle during dinner, so I opted for the “Polenta” for the second course. It included poulard (aka chicken) rillette, shallots, “Sauce Perigourdine”, and generous shavings of preserved black winter truffle.


Next was the the applewood-smoked sturgeon with tomato confit, celery, pickles, watercress, and mustard.


The most identifiable food in sketch might be the lobster. It came with eggplant, fennel, satsuma mandarin, a black olive purée, and basil.


Then I ate Peking duck, with spinach, beets, and hazelnuts, and red wine-shallot purée.


Prettier than a picture, the next plate included veal tenderloin, asparagus, ramps, lettuce, corn, and a “Bearnaise Mousseline” sauce.


This cheese course was rather unexpected. It had more in common with a cheesecake than a slice of cheddar, but I ate it up anyways. The dish was “Tomme de Brebis Gâteau” along with rhubarb, pistachios, mint, and pea blossoms.


Simply lumped together under the “Assortment of Desserts” title came another 4 or 5 (or 6?) courses, each more decadent than the last. My favorite thing of the whole night came in the form of their take on a Silverado strawberry. What the drawing doesn’t capture is the cream exterior of the dessert, and the bright pink center that oozed after I attacked it with my spoon.


Like I said, I ate it up.


The next delight was their take on a Rice Crispy treat—toasted rice ice cream and a dollop of marshmallow fluff.

rice crispy

My enjoyed the smallest slice of birthday cake ever, chocolaty and rich.


They offered us a treasure chest of chocolates with flavors like s’mores, passion fruit, and salted caramel. I ate two.


We would’ve enjoyed at least one more course, but collectively couldn’t eat another bite. The French Laundry graciously boxed it up for us. In our stash, we got to nibble the next morning on a tin of shortbread cookies, cocoa-dusted and candy-coated macadamia nuts (omg wow), passion fruit macarons, and banana macarons.

C’est magnifique!

Make Your Own Rock Candy (Or Not)

I attended Girl Scout day camp as a kid. The entirety of my excitement and joy for that week traveled home with me in the form of a carefully held final project: rock candy. It was not a triumphant declaration of my DIY candy-making skills.

I had a friend who went to the same day camp, but she was in a different group. I visited her house a few weeks later, and as you might guess, she did it. She made perfect, fat, sweet, Cracker Barrel-quality crystals.

Things did not look so good in my own kitchen. One day passed, and another. I wondered, “When does something happen? Is it working?” I held hope it would show up in a few days, then weeks. Accepting failure, I licked the soggy string a few times just to taste defeat.

In the spirit of pre-pubescence, my feelings flickered between The World Is Out to Get Me, and My Friend Is Awesome, I Am A Total Failure.

I’m-smarter-now candy making

I still think about a two-decade-old failed experiment. But it’s time to let that beautiful, little sad story go and try making rock candy now. And adult-like, I’d make it fancy—artisan, even. How about organic sugar and orange essential oil and lemon extract flavors? Bingo.

Rock Candy Basics

  • Dissolve sugar in hot/boiling water.
  • Add your food coloring and extracts, swirl and dissolve.
  • Pour the mixture into a clean jar.
  • Use something to hold your string (ew) or bamboo stick (yes) in place, like a skewer, pencil, or clothespin (yes, genius.)
  • If you use a stick, prepare it by giving the crystals something to cling to, like pre-rolling the stick in sugar or cutting into it slightly with scissors. (I tried the first one and found that when I dipped the stick into hot liquid, the sugar melted off. Duh. So when I added more sugar to the mixture the next day, I notched the stick. This works… mostly.
  • If nothing happens in a couple days, the sugar water needs a higher sugar concentration. Pour out the liquid, heat it, and dissolve more sugar. (I did this last step twice since I had two different flavors. Lemon started to form while orange did not so I did it again.)

I checked-in on my burgeoning sugar crystals a few times a week until at last—I successfully made rock candy. Boom.

Except… the victory tasted like ambivalence. It was so much work, for what? Two sticks I didn’t want to eat. And rock candy doesn’t emerge from the sugar ooze dry and ready to eat. Dealing with the aftermath wasn’t too far off from my original failure.

So, it’s time to own up. Making rock candy is a lot like life. If it doesn’t work the first time, try again. And then maybe you’ll have to try again, a little harder. And then you’ll get there and realize that maybe the things you carry with you aren’t really the things you want anymore. Like rock candy.

I’m just glad to make April of Yesterday proud. She’d eat it up.

Because I’m a curious being who doesn’t want to feel alone, I’m curious. Has this happened to you? Did you try to make something as a kid and it totally failed? What was it?! Did you try again?)

Why I Love Chopsticks

Me + Chopsticks = Unstoppable Force

i love Chopsticks

God damn, I love chopsticks.

Have you ever picked up a single, unshelled peanut with chopsticks? Like, plucked it up and deposited it in your mouth? After doing that once or thrice, I feel like I could lift a collapsed carnival off a trapped beaver family.

I’m pretty certain that chopsticks give me superpowers.

Maybe you too, but definitely me.

I even feel like I’m bragging a bit when I use chopsticks. “Well, I don’t want to make everyone else look bad here, but hey, we all have to eat. Right?”

It’s fuckin’ majestic. I’m graceful. With chopsticks, I can eat ANYTHING. My hand-eye coordination knows no bounds.

My chopsticks capabilities grew, were retaught then blossomed again over the years. When left on my own for dinner, Kid April cooked up Amy’s Cheddar Shells and consumed that meal one awkward bite at a time. I have no idea why—I felt compelled. Maybe because there was no other reason to eat with chopsticks in my family, and yet, we had chopsticks. That’s why I learned the Wrong Way—I taught myself.

California really kicked things off for me chopsticks-wise. Now I can dim sum chicken feet with the best of them.

Now do you see why I’m bragging? Because I’m really fucking good at chopsticks.

A co-worker once gave me a portable set of chopsticks for my birthday. I think he liked me. Also: what an insightful gift. I still have them and yes, use them.

I’m even a pro at observing and categorize my material preference.

Cheap wood—beware splinters in your noodle. High-quality wood—luuuuuxury. Plastic—well, this one depends on what’s moving into my mouth. If it’s long and unwieldy, then good lord, pack a napkin. But if it’s rice, this is where I show off. One grain of rice at a time. Or just give me a pile of rice over soaked with sauce. You know the kind. It’s a chopsticks disaster. Not for me.

I would totally beat you at chopsticks.

The first time I went on a proper date with my husband was also the first time I went to get Vietnamese. Ever. Even at 24. (Have I mentioned I’m from Florida. And you know what they say about people from Florida.)

On this particular date, I had no mother-loving clue what to do with myself. As any totally mature, wise-beyond-her-years mid-twenties woman would do, I mimicked him. This too involved chopsticks. And from there, I learned the right way to hold the chopsticks. Thank you, husband.

In the years since, I learned that while proficient, he doesn’t mind the chopsticks etiquette. He does what he wants! Rascal.

So I’m still learning what’s polite and what isn’t. Still observing and (dare I admit?) mimicking the ritual and habits I see around me.

Now I’m curious about you—how are you with chopsticks? Is a meal with chopsticks ectacy or do you request a spork? Am I alone in the high I get while operating my hands and two sticks?

An Inappropriately Happy Game of Thrones Cake

GoT Cake Final

Do you watch Game of Thrones? I do.

Given the trauma of last week’s whimdinger episode, I needed a little pick-me-up for last night’s finale. And so I made this. Thank you, Nicola, for your help! If winter is coming, we might as well get a little cakefat. And obviously we served it with a some extra-creepy blackberry puree.

P.S. I used the sheet cake and berry buttercream recipe from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. It was really, really good. Lots of butter. Recommended!

National Donut Day is for Lovers.

When my thoughtful buddy Fiona emailed, “Hey, did you know tomorrow is National Donut Day?” my brain immediately went a little haywire. Big day. Very, very exciting. Why? Because I get to have a little fun! Ok, a lot of fun.

An idea popped into my head. So I started in on it. That idea was a self-portrait with donut halo. Success! But oh, no. That wasn’t enough. More, more, more!

Donut halo

That humble, simple self-portait turned into this next one. I’m calling her St. Donut.

Saint Donut realization

And then, in turn. This series.

Saint Sneezy Donut

Happy National Donut Day, ya’ll. Go, get a little fried god and stuff it in your mouth. I’m out here cheers-ing you with my own dozen.

Shameless plug: this donut day is big for me because I watercolor donuts. This is part of an effort to start supporting myself using creative abilities. I was really dang unhappy in office jobs and decided it was time to do something different. So, here we are. Donuts are not only delicious but really important to me. I’ve sold 6 commissions with one on the way. Huge.

Do you like, really, really love donuts? Or know someone who does? I added a bunch of early, original watercolor donuts to my newly named Etsy store: April’s Magical Donut Galleria. Take a look and bring one home.

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