Sunday, April 13, 2014

Matzoh Brei, Liberated

When I think of matzoh brei, I imagine Rob Reiner and Nora Ephron sitting at a table, arguing about the "right" way to do it. One argues vehemently for jam, the other is resolute about salt.  One knows for sure soggy is the only way, the other stands firmly behind crunchy.

How to prepare matzoh brei is one of those food questions that brings out strong opinions, like who makes the best pastrami in the city (though we know they're looking in the wrong city), or whose grandma makes the best babka.  These inarguable opinions are rooted in childhood nostalgia.  And when it comes to childhood nostalgia for matzoh brei, I have none.

Matzoh brei is a breakfast food that's a cross between scrambled eggs, French toast, and something unlike both of those, because neither has hard wheat crackers mixed in.  I was first introduced to it by the same grade school friend who taught me about lox and Thanksgiving candied yams.  And like those two, I thought it was super weird, and also delicious.

Because I don't come from a heritage of matzoh brei, I don't have to decide between sweet or salty:  I choose both.  Unfettered by tradition, I go with simple flavors and quality ingredients: lots of butter, farmer’s market eggs if i have them, real maple syrup, Maldon salt.  Something hoydel-doydel humble maintains its comfort, but picks up grown-up flavor.

I'm curious how others make it.  How do you like your matzoh brei?

Matzoh Brei

This is a super simple recipe, so you can go crazy with variations.  A friend adds lox and dill with delicious results.  I can imagine it'd be great with some of that Hebrew National beef salami that was a Passover staple in my childhood home, or, well, sausage.  Sometimes I fry it in olive oil instead of butter, mirroring the amazing olive oil/maple syrup flavor combo of the best granola in the world.  But most times, simple is best.

Per serving:
1 egg
1 Tbs milk
1 matzah
3 thin slivers of butter
Flaky salt
Maple syrup

Beat the egg with the milk in a small bowl.  Run the matzah under water to moisten on both sides.  Break into bite-sized pieces, and mix into egg mixture.  Let sit for a few minutes.

Heat a sliver of butter in a small non-stick pan over medium-high heat.  Add the matzah mixture to the pan, and stir over heat to make sure all bits are cooked through.  After a couple minutes, add the second sliver of butter and mix through.

Serve on a plate, with a third sliver of butter, drizzled with maple syrup and sprinkled with salt.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Spicy Chocolate Tart with Ginger Almonds

I promised a spicy chocolate tart recipe, and have ever gone back on a blog promise (don't answer that)?  This tart is ridiculously good.  The texture is velvety, and its chocolatiness deep and rich, but it's cut with heat from cayenne pepper and crystallized ginger.

A simple gingersnap crust echoes the filling's spice, and topping it with ginger-cayenne almonds (I used Fat Uncle Farms' Ass-Kickin' Ginger Almonds) brings the whole thing home.  The filling recipe is based on a Mast Brothers chocolate-on-chocolate tart that appeared in Bon Appetit a few months back.  They topped theirs with maple almonds, but ours is better.

Seriously.  Make this.  You'll swoon.

Spicy Chocolate Tart with Ginger Almonds

The original recipe called for a 9-inch tart dish, but I did great with a 9-inch springform pan.

The crust:
40 ginger snaps
1/2 stick butter (1/4 cup), melted
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 300F.

Grind snaps in the food processor.  Add butter, process to combine.  Press into 9 inch tart dish or springform pan.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Allow to cool.

The filling:
1/2 stick butter, cut into pieces
10 oz chocolate (70% cacao or more), broken into pieces
1 1/2 C heavy cream
3 Tbs honey
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/3 C chopped crystallized ginger

Place chocolate and butter in a large bowl.  In a small saucepan, bring cream, honey, salt, and cayenne to a boil over medium heat, whisking to dissolve honey.  Pour cream mixture over chocolate mixture; allow cream to melt chocolate for about a minute, then whisk until smooth.  Stir in crystallized ginger.

Pour chocolate mixture into crust; chill for at least 4 hours.

The almonds:
1/4 cup Fat Uncle Farms Ass Kickin' Ginger Almonds

Coarsely chop almonds.

Before serving, top tart with almonds.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Fat Uncle Farms: Finding Joy in Almonds

Regarding almonds: they're the best.  I have a giant bag of roasted almonds at my desk at work and eat them pretty much every day.  Almonds are my constant companion and I love them.  So, you can imagine my excitement when my old friend Lisa connected with her old friend Nate, a man who spends his days dealing in almonds. Lovely reader, I'd like to introduce you to Fat Uncle Farms.

[Full disclosure:  Fat Uncle Farms gave me lots of delicious free almond products.  But, even if they hadn't, I'd still think they're awesome.]

I met Nate at Fat Uncle's stand at the Atwater Village farmer's market one sunny Sunday not too long ago, and he told me a bit of the Farm's story.  Both he and his wife come from almond farming families, and both were in more traditional day jobs before they decided to take on the family business.  For the past five years, they've been growing almonds in a lush orchard in the San Joaquin Valley and turning them into delicious specialty items, which they sell at farmer's markets around town.  They also have some impressive commercial customers:  Proof Bakery uses their almond flour in its sweets, and SQIRL Cafe uses their almonds for the almond butter they slather on morning toast with jam.

Back at the farmers market, Fat Uncle has a variety of products, all made simply and with wholesome, familiar ingredients.  I'm really enjoying my personal bounty.  I've been piling up rosemary blistered almonds (just three ingredients: almonds, rosemary, salt) on cheese boards and adding almond butter (one ingredient: almonds) to banana and date smoothies.  But my favorite has been to spread chocolate almond butter (two ingredients: chocolate and almonds) on a piece of wheat toast and topping it with a sprinkle of coarse sea salt -- a decadent little snack.  And this weekend, I made an insanely delicious spicy chocolate tart, topped with the aptly named Ass Kickin' Ginger almonds (five ingredients:  almonds, salt, sugar, ginger, cayenne.  Addictive combo of sweet, salty, and devilishly spicy).  The tart is so good, it's going to get its own post.

For the short few weeks when they're in season, Fat Uncle even offers fresh young almonds:  mouth-puckeringly tart, fuzzy green on the outside, with a bright crunchy texture.  They've even been known to feature house-made marzipan.

Fat Uncle Farms are strong believers in community outreach and sustainable farming practices.  In fact, Nate and his wife Bekki live on a working farm in Lompoc. They've recently renovated the the ranch-hand's quarters and are offering it as a getaway destination on airnbnb.  Guests can help out on the farm and enjoy its bounty at meals, explore nearby wineries and beaches, and take quiet hikes through the surrounding rolling hills to views of the Pacific Ocean.  Honestly, the place sounds like an absolute dream.

You guys know that I'm driven by a sense of community.  I love sharing stories of food connecting people, and when the blog itself makes that happen, well, it makes me beam.  I'm so glad to have met Nate.  The story of Fat Uncle Farms, the way they treat their staff like family, their choices in living close to the land, are all so inspiring.  And even better, now I know that their chocolate almond butter is always just a Sunday farmers market away.

Fat Uncle Farms can be found at several farmers markets around LA.  Check out their website to find the nearest one or order online, or find them on goodeggs.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Real Talk 2: Mindfulness

Part 2 in a series.  I've employed some practices, and have had some things on my mind, that I'm really excited about, and I'd like to share them here.  Not all directly food- nor LA-related, though food certainly weaves through these stories.  I'm calling it Real Talk, though in a less lofty moment, I could just as well have called it Better Living Through Google Docs.

Real Talk 1: Gratitude

I have a system.  Some might think of it as a burden, others as having 'an unhealthy relationship with food', others as a compromise to spontaneity.  It may seem insane to you, but I'm sticking to it.

I'm talking about meal tracking.  I've done it on and off over the last couple years, and I finally decided earlier this year that I'm going to do it forever.  Every Sunday night, I create a list for the week -- every breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack is planned out in a Google doc.  Every Friday night, I do the same for the weekend.  Then after every meal, I stop back in to the doc, check off each thing I ate and add any items I hadn't planned.

I know it sounds like such a mundane and unsexy thing, but the effect of this practice on my life has been so profound that I don't ever want to stop.  Now, this isn't about weight management, but something more.  For one thing, what you eat is what makes you:  it's absolutely true that we are what we eat.  And there's nothing unsexy about taking great care of your body.  But beyond that, it's about keeping my wits about me.  There are so many messages surrounding us to eat all the time.  Every billboard, every coworker's birthday cake, every networking date, and dating date, every note of that movie theater popcorn jingle.  At five feet tall, I happen to be especially little, so the portions being pushed on me just do not fit my life at all.  There's pressure to feed -- a lot, but rarely to nourish.

When I track, I cook.  And when I have a moment to plan ahead this way, I end up cooking healthy, balanced meals.  This adds value (and order) to my time at home, makes it a moment to recharge, and provides that elusive nourishment, in more ways than one.

Here's the thing: as much as I love food (and we all know, I lerrve food), I've realized that I can't really enjoy it without occasionally being hungry.  And yet, I go through stages where I just eat whatever's in front of me, non-stop, without too much regard for nutrition, balance, or even taste.  Lunchtime comes around, and I don't even have appetite, but I shovel it in anyway.  I hate those times.

And I mean, do I still eat crap?  Sometimes.  And then I end up feeling gross for having done it.  This is why I do the slow stuff.  This is why I meal track.   I love food -- and eating mindlessly makes me love it less.  So, if I can prevent that, in about 3 minutes a day, why not?

Now, you don't have to be a meticulous crazypants about it like I am.  But if you do want to be a meticulous crazypants, which in this case I encourage, I've laid out the details of my system below.  It looks complicated, but I use 2 templates -- one for the week, and one for weekends -- in Google Docs, and employ the 'Make a Copy' function, so much of it's already filled in.  The planning may take about ten minutes, because I have to figure out what I'm eating for the whole week, but then for the rest of the week, tracking (with my own little language of markings) literally does takes less than 3 minutes a day.

Tracking what I eat prevents that hungerless zombie state, and gives me a fighting chance against the constant eat-eat-eat pressure.  All these things vying for our attention (and our appetite) rob us of the opportunity to do what we really want to do.  And so, these little practices that shake us out of the drone state may slow us down a bit, but they help us fight those forces.  These habits and wake-up calls add up to mindfulness, and they help us win.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

chicken soup for the working girl's soul

A need took over me to make chicken soup.  I have never made chicken soup.  I don't even like chicken soup all that much.  But, I had to heed the need.

I went to some respected sources.  Claudia Roden gave me the Platonic ideal of Ashkenazi Jewish chicken soup.  I read a delicious-sounding French-Jewish recipe with fennel and leeks from Joan Nathan.  And from Tamar Adler came inspiration to keep it simple and elegant.  But the two recipes that most directly drove my own came from the web:  Smitten Kitchen's deeply chickeny broth, and Chez Pim's whole-chicken-in-a-pot incarnation.

I picked and chose some ideas from each.  I wanted to get as much chickeny flavor into my broth as possible without using a crockpot or discarding meat (Smitten Chicken's recipe cooks 3 pounds of wings in a crockpot for 8 hours, then throws them away).  And I didn't want to spend 3 hours making broth and soup on the night I was going to eat it.  That just won't work.

So I came up with a chicken soup recipe that's compatible with a 9-to-5, but doesn't compromise on deep, rich chicken broth.  To do so, I broke the recipe up into 3 stages.  I limited my broth to chicken and onions, like the Smitten Kitchen recipe, but boiled only for an hour, not to overcook the meat, like Pim.  I chopped vegetables one night, simmered broth while I got ready for work the next morning, and put it all together that night in about 45 minutes.  That final step involves steeping the bones in the broth to get maximum flavor out of them -- a tip I picked up from Pim -- then adding vegetables, chicken meat, and noodles to your broth to make the finished product.  You can split up the stages however you want -- just make sure there is time for the broth to chill thoroughly, so that the fat hardens on top and you can remove it easily (if you choose).

Even with a plan, I was nervous.  I don't come from chicken soup heritage.  This is all new to me.  Would it actually work?  But I went with it.  Dare I say that boiling chicken is an exciting endeavor?

You can stand and watch as the broth comes alive: chicken pieces bobbing around under the surface, little lakes of oil animating and changing shape in response to steamy bubbles.  But really, chicken broth is an exercise in stepping away and letting go.  You trust chicken and water to mediate their own relationship, and sure enough, at around the fifteen minute mark, you catch a whiff of what generations of grannies have associated with nourishing their families and warming them to the bone.  Just like that, the broth gradually takes on that pale yellow hue.  Chicken broth is happening.

And soon, so will chicken noodle soup, the real deal.  Turns out you don't have to be a grannie to feed the need.

Chicken Noodle Soup
Makes 6-8 servings

I should mention the turmeric.  It's not at all traditional, but it's a tip from my mom that I chose to adhere to:  it adds subtle flavor and bright yellow color, and is very good for you.  Omit it if you want, but it's not a bad addition.

1 onion chopped
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup diced carrots
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 cups water **
1/2 tsp ground turmeric, optional
1 3-pound chicken, cut into parts *
1 package dry egg (or other) noodles
2 tbs rough-chopped flat leaf parsley
salt and pepper to taste

* notes on chicken: I used an Empire kosher chicken, cut into 8 pieces, figuring that if I'm going to make an age-old recipe, I should stick with the grannies on this.  This affects seasoning:  kosher meats are salted.  As it stands, fluctuations in water level as the broth boils down mess with the broth's saltiness.  So, season to taste, and season at the end, remembering that you can always add more salt, but you can't take it away if there's too much.

** notes on water: My pot is not so big, so in the initial broth stage, I only had about 4-6 cups water.  After I removed the large chicken pieces, I was able to pour in more water with the bones.  The amount of water is not hard and fast:  your soup will be good, even if you fudge that number a bit in either direction.

Stage 1: Prep 
10 minutes, active

Chop onion, carrots, and celery.  Chill until Stage 2.  Store onions separate from carrots and celery.

Stage 2:  Broth
2 hours total
20 minutes active
1:20 inactive
20 minutes active

Add onion, garlic, and oil to large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent.  Increase heat to medium-high an add chicken pieces to pot, tucking them into the onions so they have some contact with the bottom of the pot.  After a few minutes, add water, enough to cover chicken.

Increase heat to high, cover pot and bring to a boil. (Remember, this is a big pot with a lot of stuff in it.  This can take around fifteen minutes.)  After the boil, reduce heat to low, place lid askew on pot so that there's an open sliver where steam can escape, and simmer for 1 hour.  Occasionally skim off foam from surface of broth.

Turn off heat.  Remove chicken pieces from broth.  Working carefully so as not to burn your fingers, separate bones from meat.  Wrap bones in a piece of cheesecloth and tie off with string or twine, or place them in a strainer (the idea is to be able to easily remove them from broth later).   If you like, remove skin (I removed it -- the broth was so fatty already that I didn't need more fat) and discard.  Store chicken in fridge until you're ready for Stage 3.

Chill broth, still in pot, thoroughly.

Stage 3: Soup
45 minutes total
20 minutes active

[Note: you can divide this stage further, doing the thirty minutes with bones in one step, then just cook the pasta and heat the chicken through before serving.]

Defat broth:  Now that the broth is thoroughly chilled, you can easily remove the fat, which has solidified in little pools on the surface of the broth, with a large spoon.  Remove as much or as little as you like (I removed most, left a bit).  Discard fat, or not.

Place carrots, celery, and bone bundle in pot, bring to a boil.  Lower heat to simmer, and cook for about 30 minutes.  In the meantime, cut or shred chicken into bite-sized pieces.  In the last 10 minutes of simmering, add chicken and pasta to pot.

To serve, add a balanced amount of solids and broth to each bowl, and garnish with chopped fresh parsley.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Norouz is Near! A Sabzi Polo Public Service

March has crept up on us like it always does.  Norouz, the Persian New Year, is but 19 days away.  And what happens every year around this time is that start getting tons of visits here, from people around the world, borne of google searches for sabzi polo, a Persian dish of basmati rice steamed with 4 types of fresh herbs and one half of the traditional norouz meal (the other half is mahi, or fish).

So, let me make this easy for you, dear sabzi-polo-loving readers:

Here is my recipe for sabzi polo.
Here are some photos of sabzi polo.
And here are some thoughts on jumping over fire (it's relevant).

Spring is coming!

Gorgeous photo by Sam Javanrouh.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Epicure Imports: A Secret French Wonderland

A couple weeks ago, while at work, I came across an article about the salted caramels of Brittany, France.  Though the flavor combination is ubiquitous in the states now, the sweets originated in Brittany, as did Julien, one of our animators.

I heyed him to send him the link ('hey' is our IM program at work), and a lively conversation ensued.  He waxed nostalgic about the those caramels, and had a very specific longing for the butter he grew up with.  Soon an image of Breton butter popped up on my screen, a big tapered brick wrapped in cheery blue packaging like a favorite present, with a yellow banner in the center proudly declaring its contents.  By this point, I was feeling nostalgic myself for something I'd never experienced!

And then came the secret.  Apparently all homesick French expats and those in know are privy to a very special place called Epicure Imports.  It's a giant warehouse of specialty import foods in North Hollywood that works in wholesale, but only seven times a year is open to the public for a blowout sale of cheese, chocolates, and pretty much anything else wonderful and luxe and French that you can imagine.

As it turned out, their last sale was a couple weeks after our conversation, and so I went.  It was amazing.  In every row, exciting things:  bottles of pomegranate soda, fine olive oils infused with chili, or bottles of pale pink vinegar with a few stems of lavender floating inside.  Ornately packaged chocolate bars in flavors like yuzu and ginger, jams and preserves (I got a jar of "Figue Violette" jam for my mother Violet), alongside jars of pureed chestnut (I picked up a jar of that too, flavored with espresso.  Can not wait to taste it).  Even cheap sugar cookies are made exclusively from recognizable ingredients and offer a salted butter caramel variation.  And tables of samples everywhere.  Heaven.

I saved the walk-in refrigerated room for last.  My goodness.

Crates and crates of cheese, charcuterie, an entire rack of sausages, pâtés and mousses of all varieties. (I picked up a package of truffled chicken liver mousse.  Ridic.)  And, of course, bright blue packages of salted butter imported from Brittany.
so much sausage

So, you should go to one of these sales.  Really.  But, know that it's an exercise in indulgence.  You will buy a lot of things.  You will spend more than you intended to. (Although their prices are far better than retail, these are still high-end ingredients.)

But you will make your kitchen a welcoming, abundant, wonderful place.  Your kitchen will thank you.  It'll say, "merci!"  And you'll say, "de rien!"  And then, you'll eat cheese.

Epicure Imports is located 6900 Beck Avenue in Van Nuys.
Sign up for their mailing list to be notified of future public sales.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Real Talk 1: Gratitude

This post is the first in a small series.  I've employed some practices, and have had some things on my mind, that I'm really excited about, and I'd like to share them here.  Not all directly food- nor LA-related, though food certainly weaves through these stories.  I'm calling it Real Talk, though in a less lofty moment, I could just as well have called it Better Living Through Google Docs.   Here we go.

I've been hearing people talk about gratitude a lot lately.  I think this bodes well for society (or whatever overeducated, overprivileged, over-yoga'ed, over-TED-talked corner of society I happen to run in).  We're rising above the mundane.  We're working on big ideas.

Gratitude has been a theme on this blog since the early days.  Some moments I had it, and with good reason.  Some days I struggled to get it back, remembering how overflowingly amazing those moments felt.

As we moved into 2014, I kept catching wind of people intentionally taking time to write down things they were grateful for.  Diana talked often about how jotting down a few things she was grateful at the end of each day helped her keep perspective in the rocky year that followed a pretty brutal breakup.  Chris shared lists on Facebook throughout Thanksgiving day -- of writers, food people, community leaders -- closing each with the simple hashtag "thankful".  His lists resonated and made me thankful, too.  Gabe felt the power of practicing gratitude as he navigated the shaky waters of moving across the country, quitting his job, and finding his own way.

And then there was Danielle, a person whose wise words have seen me through some rocky days of my own.  At the start of 2014, she looked back on a year that included a new husband, a new career, and baby Oliver, born on Thanksgiving day, and she tied these riches to her own gratitude practice, which she started two years back: "I don't mean to suggest that I believe being grateful can get me what I want, but rather that I can see that being grateful deepened my capacity for joy, helping me to allow in people and events that I would have felt undeserving of before."

Compelling.  So I tried it.  Google Doc.  A few items a night.  It's awesome.  And takes like 30 seconds.   I started off 2014 in amazing spirits, mostly because I was so incredibly happy that no-good, very bad, awful 2013 was over (though I could easily talk about the many profound ways in which that terrible year was in fact, great).  My year has been rich so far:  so many wonderful moments.  I do believe that taking a second to remember this every day has kept me on a path of happiness.  I'm excited to see where it leads.

I'm going to leave you with some highlights from the last couple months of gratitude.  After all this lofty talk, you should probably know how inane this list can be.  Don't judge.

  1. naps.  naps.  naps.
  2. there is a werewolf howling outside right now. i am inside.
  3. dates, even bad dates, are funny.
  4. health!  yaaaaayyyy!
  5. the good feeling of actually being in my city. i love walking.
  6. so so so so thankful that mom and dad have each other.  my god.
  7. i took a dive, and it totally paid off.
  8. the fb page and how wonderful it keeps getting.
  9. beyonce.
  10. in a minute i’m going to the trails cafe, where there is free wifi.  in the woods.
  11. my friends are amazing.  they are all so smart, and introspective, and involved, and supportive, and understanding, and interested.  amazing amazing.
  12. avocado on wheat toast with a farmer’s market fried egg, flaky salt, and tapatio.
  13. cousins.
  14. the deliciousness of kogi everything, and the fact that we can have kogi and chego anytime we want.  it’s better than having like, the mona lisa, or the sagrada familia.
  15. my poor sister, who listens to me whine all the time.
  16. the awesome current hair sitch.
  17. time bank.  serendipity.  the glory of LA.  echo park lake.
  18. that carolyn is ok, and that takashi is so cute and squishy.
  19. going out, but then coming home.
Do you have any gratitude practices?  I'd love to hear about them.

Monday, February 10, 2014

8 Things I Love and 1 Thing I Hate About My Vegan Gold Edition

8 Things I Love About My Vegan
  1. The actual name of the restaurant is endearingly unclear.  My Vegan?  Vegan Gold?  My Vegan Gold?  My Vegan, Gold Edition?  The sign says one thing, the website another, Yelp yet another.  Teehee.
  2. The brick-walled space is cheery and bright, casual enough to dine alone, fancy enough to sit with a friend.
  3. They have the grace to offer non-fake-meat options on their Thai-leaning menu.  I've heard the "chicken" is great, but I'll stick with tofu.
  4. The waitstaff is friendly and service is quick.
  5. The portions are so large that I took home more than half of my green curry.

  6. And said green curry was delicious:  fresh and bright, packed with veggies and squeaky fried tofu, served with nutty speckled-brown rice.  Super satisfying.
  7. Tea comes in cylindrical metal infusers, on a brushed metal saucer.  How I imagine tea service would go in Blade Runner.
  8. There's a giant gorgeous espresso machine behind the counter for made-to-order coffee drinks.  Admittedly, a cappuccino with no milk is like a nacho with no cheese to me, but I'd be willing to try the coconut milk version -- sounds delicious, actually.
1 Thing I Hate About My Vegan
  1. This:

I prefer my dinner without a side of evangelism, thanks.

My Vegan (Gold?)  (Edition?) is at 4319 W Sunset blvd. in Silver Lake, between Fountain and Bates.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Finding an Engaged Community At the LA River Cafe Pop-up

Are you even aware of the LA River?  It's strange and wonderful.  And big things are afoot there.

I was pretty oblivious for decades, until a couple years back an epic six-mile adventure walk took me from my place in Los Feliz, across the Hyperion bridge into Atwater, down to River from there, across to Village Bakery, then back home, with side trips along the way.  [I should note at this juncture that for this day of River exploration, and all subsequent ones, my intrepid companion was my dear friend Stephanie Alpert of Rummage and Hollow Vintage.  Her hunger for adventure feeds me well.]
What we found was an peculiar mix of nature and urban, a concrete-walled waterway overgrown with reeds and other flora.  On that particular walk, we also discovered beautiful wrought-iron gates off Los Feliz boulevard, a well-groomed park on one side of the river, and in it, a path with signs posting instructions for yoga poses at regular intervals.  This was just the beginning.
Since then, we've discovered much more.  Just behind work, they recently opened the Glendale Narrows Riverwalk -- about a mile of river tidied up with picnic tables, wildflower landscaping, and a path populated by walkers, bicyclers, and even the occasional horseback rider.  For some, it's a vital part of their daily bike commute; for me, it's a place where I can clear my head during the work day, and get some movement in while I do.
But the neighborhood that probably has the most at stake with all the river's fabulous growth is Frogtown, or as it's also known, Elysian Valley.  Tucked away south of Fletcher, this small community of industrial studios and modest houses has had a gritty past, but these days, cycling along the River path, fraternizing at Marsh Park and Rattlesnake Park, birdwatching, fishing, and even kayaking, are part of life for the people who live and work there.

And now, as the secret glory of their riverside hideaway seeps out, the community is keeping a bright eye on Frogtown's future.

My first introduction to Frogtown was back in 2008, when local artists and conversation starters Julia Meltzer and David Thorne held a very special dinner featuring foods locally foraged by Fallen Fruit, a fruit-centered art collaborative that began by mapping fruit trees growing on or over public property in Los Angeles.

Back then, the airy loft space was Julia and David's home.  Now it's known as Elysian, and it houses private events, intimate monthly dinners, and continued discussions of cultural, social, political, and local issues.
RAC Design Build
Recently, I've been back to Frogtown.  Local hero Bruce Chan introduced me to LA River Cafe, a now-and-then popup of coffee, breakfast, and keen conversation steps from the river.  Eastside stalwart (and part of the all kinds of yum community) Cafecito Organico provides the fuel, and from there the program, menu, and venue vary.

The first one we went to took place at RAC Design, an architecture firm at the 24.7 mile marker on the River path.  They'd set up an espresso machine under a wood roof on their ample patio, and next to it, a food truck served up breakfast.  The highlights were the people, and the space:  we all ran into people we knew as Julia and David discussed future plans for the Glendale Hyperion bridge with architects from the firm over excellent cappuccinos in orange mugs.   The sense of community, and a vested interest in the city, were strong.  As we sat, more hungry folks rode in on their bikes, introductions were made, the circle of conversation grew.

Stephanie and I sneaked away to give ourselves a tour of the studio.  It's an awesome space.

The next time the cafe popped up, it was over at Elysian.  This time the community utilized the space's sunny garden as well as the indoor area, as David oversaw the open kitchen, churning out slightly fancier brunch fare like lamb meatballs with eggs, currant scones, and beautiful sauteed snap peas.  And again, conversations at communal tables turned to the future of Frogtown, the outside interests eyeing its unique location, and the efforts of the community to drive the area's evolution in a direction that sits well with its residents.  And of course, the hot topic was Frogtown Futuro, a series of film screenings, talks, art projects, and workshops exploring the past, present, and future of the area from every angle.  And subsequent pop-ups have taken over other Frogtown businesses and included activities like bike rentals and River tours.

striped citrus in the Elysian garden
The LA River is not beautiful in the way you might think of the Danube or the Nile.  It's an apt waterway for our concrete jungle.  But it's ours, it's awesome and getting better every day, and I look forward to seeing where it winds.

There are myriad groups and tons of information out there on the LA River.  Start with coffee: follow the LA River Cafe to find out about the next pop-up.