Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Raw Fish, Two For One

A while back I discovered a Japanese market in Little Tokyo. As happens every time I visit a Japanese market, I came out with a ton of impulse buys -- sugary sweets and snacks, chewy mochi, or some mysterious delight in super-cool packaging. This time, among other things, I came out of the store with a pack of thin shreds of seasoned roasted seaweed. Not exactly sure why. Anyway, this was ingredient #1 to get rid of.

Also, for some reason, I had a glut of cucumbers in my fridge. Ingredient #2.

And finally, jicama is the largest vegetable in the world. You hack at it for days and you still have a giant hunk leftover. I think it actually grows overnight in my fridge while I'm sleeping. #3.

I decided to make a sushi salad. So yesterday on my lunch break, I went to Mitsuwa to get some fish. First, Brian and I got a chance to pretend we were back in Tokyo while taking in some soba and katsu, then on to the shopping. The fresh seafood section was impressive -- bright orange salmon, tiny single-serving pompano, shimmery mackerel, and much more. There was even miso-marinaded salmon ready to be cooked -- ah, the perfect solution for the modern housewife.

From within that fishy crowd, the ahi was calling my name -- all firm and bright pink, it looked very fresh. And, I managed to find quite a deal. A large chunk of sushi-grade ahi goes for about twenty-six dollars a pound. But, to buy it pre-diced, it's half the price. Bring on the dice; I was going to dice it for the salad anyway. And it came with a little package of wasabi too. Boundless generosity!

So, I got home, started putting everything together, and realized I got too much fish. This was a problem because, once it's even a day old, I'm pretty sure I don't want to eat it raw. And ahi tuna cooked through just isn't that good. What to do? I wrapped it back up and stuck it in the fridge, putting off dealing with this conundrum until after dinner.

As I was eating my completed (and might I say, delicious) salad, inspiration struck: ceviche! The stars aligned to make this work. I had a single lime in my vegetable drawer. I had no onions, but had bought a bunch of scallions for the sushi salad. The white ends would be a fine substitute. And, magically, there was some cilantro on the verge of turning into sludge in the fridge -- I don't even recall why I had purchased cilantro (surely it was meant to be, though). I even had black bean chips to scoop it all up -- not quite the same as the crispy corn tostadas I'm used to with ceviche, but, a bird in the hand, right? I don't know if tuna is standard for ceviche, but with all the latin American countries that riff off the basic idea, one of them must use it. And if they don't, well they should!

So, after dinner, I quickly put it all together, and chucked it in the fridge. I had dinner waiting for me when I got home tonight. The lime juice had 'cooked' the outsides of the tuna, and the insides were still rosy pink. It was refreshing, super healthy, and saved me from the horror of -- shudder to think -- throwing away perfectly good ahi tuna.

Ahi Sashimi Salad
for dressing:
1/2 tsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
prepared wasabi to taste
1/4 tsp pickled ginger, finely minced (optional)

for salad:
4 oz sushi-grade ahi tuna, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 - 3/4 cup cucumber, peeled and sliced
1/4 - 1/2 cup jicama, peeled and thinly julienned
1 Tbs green onion, the green parts only, thinly sliced
small handful toasted seasoned seawead, shredded
a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds

To make dressing, combine all ingredients. Mix thoroughly to dissolve wasabi. Place tuna, cucumber, jicama, and green onions in a bowl. Add dressing, toss gently to combine. Sprinkle with seaweed and sesame seeds.

Notes: I used a combination of Persian cucumbers and hothouse. I scooped out the seeds from the hothouse. I didn't have pickled ginger on hand, but I think it would have added great pungence and sweetness -- not to mention its pretty coral color. If your seaweed has abosrbed moisture and gone soggy in the cupboard, just toss it around in a nonstick pan over high heat for about a minute.

Tuna Ceviche
4 oz sushi-grade ahi tuna, cut into 1/2-inch dice
Juice of 1 lime (2 if they're small)
A few splashes Tapatío or other hot sauce, to taste
2 Tbs green onion, the white parts only, thinly sliced
1/4 cup jicama, cut into 1/4 inch dice
1 Tbs cilantro, chopped
a generous pinch of salt

Mix all ingredients together. Stir thoroughly. Refrigerate overnight. Serve with tostadas or tortilla chips.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Comfort, Party of 1

It's been a long day and a long week. My head's kind of spinning out of control lately, so much so that I eschewed any plans to go out Friday night. I just wanted to go home, be cozy, and crawl in bed. But first I had to eat dinner. I had had a meaty lunch (Fridays are barbecue days), so I was leaning towards going vegetarian for the night. But I wanted something substantial, something in the comfort food vein.

I ended up going with polenta, which is basically a gastronomical bear hug, with a red wine mushroom ragout. It hit the spot precisely -- it was soft and smooshy, with strong flavors, and deceptively hearty for a meal with no meat. Poured myself a glass of wine, threw The Last Kiss into the DVD player (the original Italian one, not the upcoming Zack Braff remake), and enjoyed a cozy night in.

Polenta with Red Wine Mushroom Ragout

1 cup corn grits/polenta
1/2 Tbs salt

1 Tbs olive oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed and finely minced
1 cup of your favorite mushrooms, roughly chopped (I used cremini and oyster)
1/2 cup tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp dried thyme
splash red wine
2 pats butter
salt and pepper, to taste

Get the polenta started: bring 2 cups water to a boil with the salt in a medium pot. Slowly add corn grits, stirring as you add. Lower heat, simmer uncovered at least 20 minutes, stirring frequently. If, as the polenta is cooking, it gets too dry, just add a bit more water. Once it's done cooking, stir in a pat of butter.

Meanwhile, make the ragout. To a medium saucepan over medium heat, add olive oil and shallot. Stir to spread the oil across the pan. After about 2 minutes, add the garlic. After another minute or two, add the mushrooms. Once they have browned slightly (about 5-8 minutes), add the tomatoes and thyme. If necessary, add more olive oil. Stir. Once the tomatoes have softened slightly, pour in some red wine and the remaining butter. Stir, and leave on heat until liquid has thickened slightly to a thin saucy consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve ragout over polenta.

Notes: It's a good idea to pour yourself a glass of wine to drink while preparing this meal. Really, why wait? The amount of polenta here gives enough to have leftovers to fry in butter for the next morning's breakfast. The ragout gives no leftovers. I used cherry tomatoes, because I had them on hand, but better tomatoes make a better tasting ragout. If you're making this for the queen, I would peel the tomatoes. If the tomatoes leave a little to be desired, sprinkle them with a pinch of sugar. Note that I am pretty stingy with olive oil and butter here. For a richer dish, feel free to add more of each or both.


A friend of a friend brought these back for the friend from Canada: Lay's Dill Pickle Flavored Potato Chips. Look closely -- apparently the new and improved Lay's Dill Pickle potato chips are now even more pickle-licious (but only if you're speaking English)! (By the way, these were delicious -- similar to salt and vinegar, but with a pronounced dill flavor.)

Saturday, August 26, 2006

am i the gentry?

So, due to the fact that my absent neighbor's clock radio started blasting non-stop KOST 103 at 6 o'clock this morning, I got an early start (argh). Nothing like waking up to Taylor Dayne screaming "Love Will Lead You Back" at you. On the bright side, this meant a long walk before it got too hot, and a lazy morning with coffee, the Onion, and the LA Weekly. It also means a long, rambling, disjointed rant. Don't say I didn't warn you.

An interesting parallel occurred. There was an editorial in the Onion entitled "Sometimes I feel Like I'm The Only One Trying To Gentrify This Neighborhood". The guy was flustered because no one was on board with his ideas to turn his hood's yards filled with Virgin Mary statues into a bocce courts, and because the place where he gets his 50-cent coffee refuses to start serving lattes -- he'd gladly "pay the extra three bucks", and is "sure everyone else around here would, too". Nice.

Then, the LA Weekly's cover story was "Welcome to Gentrification City" -- about how the crazy real estate market is changing the face of all kinds of areas in Los Angeles, better for some, worse for others. Gentrification is always seen as a dirty word -- they made over the seedy character of 42nd Street; they plopped a soulless open-air mall on the corner of Hollywood Blvd. and Highland (not to mention a Hooters and yet another American Apparel across the street) and a Target butted against the historic Formosa Cafe; they tore down such-and-such charming Spanish-style duplex to build a high-rise condo yuppie-plex.

But I'm of two minds about it. I live in the Fairfax district, in a sweet old rent-controlled building. I love my neighborhood, and I know that my rent is a steal. I associate with the east side and its street-wise ethnically-diverse character, but I can't deny the fact that I'm just a short walk away from the Beverly Center. But I feel it around me too -- when I moved here, the Farmer's Market was the old famous Farmer's Market, not the food court to the Grove. The resort community of Palazzo hadn't yet shoved its way onto Third street with Gestapo-like security checkpoints and overbearing off-orange architecture. Whole Foods was Albertsons.

But I can't deny it -- I spend a few minutes in Whole Foods nearly every day. The Grove sucks me in as hard as I try to fight it. And Palazzo -- well, actually I have nothing good to say about Palazzo.

I talk often about my love for hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and I really do enjoy a good find. But, lately my outings have gotten quite fancy -- even a weekend breakfast for one can take me to Beverly Hills. I love frolicking through Koreatown -- cheap food, adventures in ordering in Spanish, lots of people out on the streets. But could I actually live there? I mean, the rent is pocket change, lots of great buildings. So what's holding me back?

Guess what, I'm the gentry. I mean, obviously I am. I come from an affluent family, I grew up in a predominantly Jewish suburb in the hills surrounding the San Fernando Valley, and even now, I drive a nice car, do alright for myself financially (constant grumbling about my paltry wages notwithstanding), and as soon as I hit publish will stifle my own protests and embark on a Beverly Center shopping spree, despite the fact that shopping at that place sucks the life out of me.

So what? What do I want? What's my stance? As usual, in the middle. There is a bit in the article where an LA city councilman is touting all the improvements he's made to MacArthur Park - decimated the crime rate and added a library to the area. Well, I hate crime and love libraries, so this all sounds great. Then came the rebuttal, a local mom concerned that she won't be around to see the improvements. Um, yeah.

The problem with gentrification is that it drives the community out of the community. That whole money thing always wins. I know it would cost me hundreds more a month if I were to move into my neighborhood today instead of 4 years ago.

I have a positive thought. There are times where neighborhood revitalization comes from within. I like it when that happens. We've talked about the ray of sunshine that is Scoops, shining bright in borderline-shady Melrose Hill (ironically, the LA Weekly article talks about gelato shops, like the new Pazzo's in Silver Lake, as a sure sign of the coming gentry). And about Wilshire Vista, experiencing a slow steady gentrification as members of the community build up their neighborhood with shiny new businesses. There's also Mama's Hot Tamales, a cafe overlooking MacArthur Park that does more than just serve food. It's a restaurant that offers an array of savory and sweet tamales from countries across South America, along with smooth gourmet coffee. However it also serves as a classroom -- it's a non-profit urban development project wherein locals are trained in food management and business development. From there, the program leads them to their own business -- the idea is to turn MacArthur park into a destination where people can enjoy the diverse culture of the area's residents, through colorful carts vending food, jewelry, and crafts. I like this idea. Can we (er, I guess they) do more of this?

So, that's it. I gotta go shell out $150 on a pair of shoes then stop for some tacos and maybe wash the whole thing down with a venti soy latte, get ready for Alon's book signing in Beverly Hills, but first scope out the latest restaurants that got a C so I can get something authentic for dinner. Yeah.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Italy thing... a plea

There was something that was left unsaid on the subject of Italy.

I want to go there. For a long time.

I have a steady job. I work in a great industry (although outsourcing/global economy are making that greatness a little shaky stateside). The company I work for offers stability, superior benefits, and more time off than most. I get to do technical work while surrounded by artists. These are all the things I tell myself.

But at the same time, I spend well over 8 hours a day in a dark office with no windows. It's quite common for me to stay indoors until the sun has already set. I make it work -- I make the best of weekends, make an effort to cook and read and write and walk and all those things I like to do. But it's hard to deny that it's not ideal.

I want an adventure, and I would love to be somewhere new that I'm really excited about. The prospect of finally learning Italian, the language, but also learning the culture, is almost too much to imagine. So, I want to go.

But how?

Has anyone made the leap (not necessarily to Italy)? How do you make it work?

I'll show you what has been my inspiration lately: an article in the New York Times last month about the varied culinary choices in the city of Genoa. The article is secondary though, to the slideshow. Every single image fills me with such swoony yearning. I can't believe the charm, the coziness, the juxtaposition of rustic and high style in every photo, and the tiny red mini parked on the cobblestone street.

So you see, the desire is there. The question now is just the means. Any suggestions, recommendations, job offers, would be greatly appreciated. I can provide the following skills: lightning-fast typing, perl programming, a deep grasp of the visual effects pipeline, technical writing, tap dancing at an elementary level, vocal performance at the advanced karaoke level, piano playing at the level of one who was once classically trained but is now just rusty, and napping. I thank you in advance.

The Italy Thing

I have a minor obsession with Italy. I don't recall when it started, but there's always been something about the language, the culture, the people, and the food -- of course the food -- that has captivated me. Long before I ever visited the country, I just had a sense that Italians were a warm convivial people who enjoyed life and had impeccable style. Egged on by movies like Stealing Beauty, I fell in love with the picturesque countryside, the simple fresh meals eaten outside, the idea of these intrinsic artists with a twinkle of mischief in their eyes.

A few summers ago, I finally had the chance to visit the country and put an end to the yearning. But I still feel like my love is unrequited. Oh, of course, I had uncountable affirming experiences -- discovering that every shop in Florence has incredible design and architecture, finally understanding the hype that surrounds balsamic vinegar at an olive mill in the hills of Tuscany, buying fruit from the produce stand in dreamy Lucca's main market and having the lady drop 2 unsolicited black plums in my bag, drinking wine with nearly every meal, never disappointed by a single sip, going into raptures over so many tiny adorable cars (small cute cars is another minor obsession) scooting through cobblestone streets, and of course having the freshest most perfect pizza I've ever tasted.

Yet, I feel like I only scratched the surface. I visited Italy with a tour group. Which is to say, I saw this country from within the confines of a giant bus, speeding from stop to stop. We'd alight on our destination in a giant drove, walk around a bit, then move to the next. Other than our base city, Montecatini Terme, we really only spent a day or less in most of the cities we traveled to. And often our meals were designed for large elderly midwestern men who would take America with them in their suitcase if they could. Not exactly how I would choose to experience any country.

So, I still need quite a bit more getting-to-know-you time with Italy. I have yet to learn the language, although my phrase-a-day calendar has taught me important ones like "there is no more hot water", and "every woman needs a little black dress". And I'd be ready to go back for a long long time in a heartbeat.

So it's a given that, when I decided to make a French-style yogurt cake, I replaced the vegetable oil with fruity extra virgin olive oil, and the ground almonds with ground pine nuts: I made an Italian-style French-style yogurt cake.

Yogurt Cake with Olive Oil and Pine Nuts

Based on the recipe listed in this adorable post, but with the replacements mentioned above.

The result was a dense, short cake with a rich flavor and overtones of olive oil and pine nuts. It filled the kitchen with an amazing scent. I should really try the base yogurt cake at some point, so I can get a feel for the real thing, but my head is already filling with variations: berries soaked in balsamic vinegar; vanilla and saffron... mmmmm.

1/2 C plain yogurt (I used Fage 2%)
1 C sugar (I used a mellow cane sugar,
so as not to steal the spotlight from
the other flavors)
3 eggs
1 C unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 C finely ground toasted pine nuts
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 C fruity extra virgin olive oil
zest from 2 lemons
juice from 1-2 lemons
1/4 C powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, sugar, and eggs, stirring until well blended. Add the flour, ground ground pine nuts, and baking powder, mixing just to combine. Add the oil, stirring to incorporate, and then add the zest. Pour the batter into a buttered 9-inch round cake pan (I used a springform, which worked great).

Bake for 45-55 minutes, until the cake feels springy to the touch and a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. If, after forty or so minutes, the cake is browning too quickly, you may need to tent it with foil.

Cool cake on a rack for about 20 minutes; then turn it out of the pan to cool completely. When the cake is thoroughly cooled, combine the lemon juice and powdered sugar in a small bowl and spoon it over the cake. The glaze will be thin and will soak in like a syrup. If necessary, prick the cake in a few places with a fork to help the glaze soak through.

Friday, August 18, 2006

the whole enfrijolada

my head's kind of exploding right now. so... I was reading about an oaxacan restaurant in eastern ktown here, which linked to this page here. the second link is a disambiguation between 3 oaxacan menu items (none of which i've ever heard of, sadly .. i've gotta work on this oaxacan thing): enmolada, entomatada, and enfrijolada.

the response from snackish is genius! the idea is, they're all tortillas dipped in (or surrounded by) stuff. an en-frijol-ada, for example, is dipped in beans (frijoles), the en-mol-ada, in mole.

so... snackish then relates it to one we all know really well.... enchilada. which is, of course, surrounded by chile sauce. it's like a tortilla that's been enchilied.


this got me thinking, are there others? the only one I can think of that sounds related is empanada (i know it's 'em', not 'en', but they are often interchangeable). but it totally works.. pan is bread, and what is an empanada but stuff surrounded by bread (and then deep fried to greasy crispy flakey goodness mmmmm...).

it boggles the mind. really.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

best weekend ever roundup

What makes this weekend so great that it merited a ridiculously detailed play-by-play, the most self-serving, narcissistic bloggery I can muster up? I can't imagine anyone would find all these details that captivating, but the weeked just left me with such giddiness at every turn that I had to share. I think it's a combination of things. For one, it encapsulated so much of the summer stuff I love: poolside drinks, backyard entertaining, shave ice, and a mini-barbecue. Music, and talk of music played a big role: going through the eclectic playlist at the Bodega, hearing friends talk seriously about artists I love, but hadn't thought about in years, singing along to song after song, as I drove to Fontana, and getting a chance to dance to some solid hip-hop and reggae -- using that music for just what it was designed for. And I got to dance -- a rare treat -- whether it was getting hot and sweaty in the club, or rocking out in the family room with my niece and Justin Timberlake. I also got to eat, and quite well -- between the Chinese feast, the bread feast, and the feast I got to prepare, food played a large role in the weekend's festivities.

But I think what it really came down to was connecting with people, and in different ways: there were fleeting connections with strangers, immediate rapport with new friends, opportunities to learn more about some people I'd known for a while but never really sat down with, and of course, good times with old friends. I've said it many times before, but it keeps coming back to me: I'm beginning to believe the entire purpose of this summer has been to bring back my sense of gratitude. And for that, I am very grateful.

Here's the weekend:

Friday day: Getting sexy with the kindergarten set
Friday night: To be a regular
Saturday morning: Breaded bliss
Saturday day: Fontana... meh
Saturday night: Summer in the city
Sunday day: Book club
Sunday night: Friends al fresco

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Sunday night: Friends al fresco

I've been talking about having friends over since before summer. My building has a nice backyard, but there was no patio furniture. I finally took care of that, and still, general busy life was preventing it. I finally pushed through, and boy was it worth it. It comes down to: I love my friends. I love summer. I love entertaining. Such a great night.

There's something magical about being outside on a summer evening, and the magic is intensified by candlelight. I had about 10 of my closest friends over for drinks and appetizers. I made a couple things: pita triangles with labneh and mashed garbanzo beans, a slaw of jicama, cucumber, and nectarines, and a pitcher of drinks that, as the night progressed, was christened the 'spa tonic'. Well... if vodka is your idea of a spa treatment, then yes, this fits the bill. the guests helped fill the table -- several bottles of wine, 2 dozen Diddy Riese cookies (Diddy Riese is a beloved cookie place in Westwood with a steady line out the door because they sell decadent cookies for 35 cents each), some totally smooshy pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, hummus, and more.

Aside from the setting and the food though, the people were the thing. As I moved from conversation to conversation, I was never disappointed. Alon had brought an advance copy of his book (!!), so race and culture were hot topics. In another corner, Dave and Jason waxed intellectual about music ranging from John Coltrane to Fiona Apple, from Tori Amos to Dr. Dre. In yet another, Rachel had turned a sock into a hand puppet, and Alan was trying to eat its head. I love my friends.

It was a school night, so we wound down pretty early, but everyone helped clean up, and a small crew stayed to kept me company in the kitchen with our own variety of amateur psychoanalysis and master dishwashing stylings. What a way to cap off summer's most perfect weekend.

Pita Triangles with Labneh and Mashed Garbanzo Beans

For the garbanzos:
1 15-oz. can garbanzo beans
1 clove garlic
juice of 1 lemon
3 Tbs olive oil
1 1/2 Tbs ground cumin
salt and pepper

4 pitas (I use whole wheat)
1/2 C labneh
1 1/2 Tbs paprika
1 1/2 Tbs zaatar
16-24 cherry tomatoes

Prepare the garbanzo beans: mix all ingredients together with a food processor. Add more olive oil to smooth out the mixture if necessary.

Cut each pita evenly into 4-6 triangles. Toast triangles in toaster oven until dry and slightly browned. Allow to cool. Meanwhile, cut each cherry tomato in half.

Spread half of each pita with labneh, and the other half with the garbanzo mixture. Sprinkle labneh with zaatar; sprinkle garbanzo with paprika. Top each triangle with 2 tomato halves, flat face down.

Makes 16-24 appetizers.

Ingredient notes:

- Labneh is middle eastern yogurt cheese. Except it's not really cheese. It's yogurt, strained of much of its water, until its consistency is like a creamy spreadable cheese. It's available in middle eastern stores, and here in LA, they have it at Trader Joe's, packaged as Mediterranean Cheese-style Yogurt. In a pinch, you could drain the water from plain yogurt by hanging it in a cheesecloth or sticking an end of a folded paper towel into the yogurt, and letting it sit for several hours with the other end in a bowl to catch the drained liquid.

- Zaatar is a middle eastern spice blend consisting of sesame seeds and various herbs. You can find it in middle eastern stores. In a pinch, quickly toast some sesame seeds and dried thyme and/or oregano in a pan, and use that mix instead.

Jicama, Nectarine, and Cucumber Slaw

2 large firm white nectarines
4 persian cucumbers
~1/2 jicama (2 cups julienned)
1 lemon (for juice and zest)
1 Tbs fruity olive oil
1/2 C minced cilantro
1 Tbs pepitas
pinch chili powder
salt and pepper to taste

Peel jicama. Cut nectarines, cucumbers, and jicama into matchsticks. Mix in a large bowl with lemon juice, lemon zest, and the rest of the ingredients. Serve chilled.

Cucumber Spa Tonic with Minty Sugar-Salt

This was going to be a blended drink, but my roommate's blender has never been used in the 4 years I've lived with her, and as I found out on Sunday, will never be used again. No matter, it's super-summery, and very cool and refreshing. It's based on this recipe. Pitcher after pitcher were a huge hit on Sunday night.

for the Minty Sugar-Salt:
4 Tbs coarse salt
5 Tbs sugar
2 Tbs finely minced fresh mint

2 Tbs sugar
a handful of fresh mint
1 lemon, thinly sliced
2 C ice
1 inch of hothouse cucumber, sliced
1 C vodka
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 C water

To make sugar-salt, mix all ingredients together in a small plate.

Muddle mint, sugar, and lemon slices in the bottom of a pitcher with a wooden spoon. If you have a minute, let it sit a while. Add ice, then cucumbers, vodka, lemon juice, and water.

To serve, wet the rim of a glass with lemon, dip in sugar-salt to cover, and fill glass with tonic, making sure to get a couple slices of cucumber into the glass.

A final note: This post marks a milestone for this little blog, as I'm entering it to be a part of not one, but two food blog events. I'm new to all this, but from what I understand, you make some stuff that fits the theme, you write it up, you post it with some pictures, and some gracious food blogger acts as 'host', posting a round-up on his or her site. The first is called Blog Party, and requires an appetizer and a cocktail. The theme for this round was Cool as a..., and the idea was to minimize cooking as much as possible. The only cooking on the pita thingies is toasting the bread, and the spa tonic is certainly cool as a cucumber. The second is Summer Salad Days, and the jicama slaw is both summer and salad. So the guest list for my little backyard party has grown a bit. Welcome to the party, blogosphere!

Sunday day: Book Club

I mean, it was fun. It always is. Of course I was tired, but still. We met at a newish member's bright spacious apartment in Hollywood, we barbecued, and we talked about the book. This month was A Dirty Job, by Christopher Moore, and despite the fact that it was about a guy who collects souls after their owners die, it was pretty light reading. And there was cornbread. Fun, right?

I'm hosting the next round. Is it wrong that I'm more concerned about the menu than about the next book (mind you it's not until October)? (Actually, that's not true. We're reading The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen, it was my pick, and I'm really excited to read it.)

Saturday night: Summer in the city

We had an action-packed ladies' night on Saturday. I was reeling from all the driving during the day, but was excited about all the fun we had planned. Four girls, three destinations, all in and around Downtown, culminating with dancing. Unbeatable.

First, dinner. We went to Ocean Seafood in Chinatown. I had been here before, for dim sum -- at table after round table, diners pointed at delicious little bites from the many carts that zipped across the huge bustling dining room. Dinner is a lot mellower, but still fun. We walked through the door to the wide curving staircase that leads to the restaurant. Mirrors on all sides, lush carpet under our feet, sparkling chandeliers over our heads. It's ethnic-restaurant fake-fancy taken to an extreme degree. Upstairs, one wall of the lobby area consists of tanks of live dinner - lobsters, crabs, all sorts of squirmy things.

We ordered a few things for the table -- a dim sum sampler, a tofu dish, honey walnut shrimp (that seemed a bit too mayonnaisey for our taste), but the performance highlight was the peking duck. Two waiters roll the shiny lacquered duck out on a cart. There were also a plate of green onions, a dish of sauce, crispy puffed rice chips in pastel colors, and small plates, each of which had a small fluffy rice flour disk on it. One of the servers carved the skin off the duck, and the other made individual bite-size sandwiches -- a bit of sauce on the rice flour 'bun', a chunk of scallion, and a slice of the roasted duck skin, garnished with a pretty rice crisp. I love tableside service! It's like a meal and a little show all in one. So we ate. A lot. And engaged in some serious girl talk, each of dishing about our weekends so far, reliving some drama, seeking boy advice. Good times.

Next stop -- the Hotel Figueroa. This place may be the dreamiest place in all Los Angeles. The best place to spend a summer night. I stumbled on it a couple years back when I decided to give myself the now-famous Self-guided Walking Tour of Downtown Los Angeles (which is to say, I drove downtown and walked around some). It doesn't look like much from the outside, but pass through the front door of the hotel and you walk into some sort of gorgeous den of Moroccan splendor. The decor keeps to the theme, and every detail is beautiful, from the tiles that decked the lobby walls, to the lanterns hanging throughout the veranda. The bar is on said veranda, and people spill out to the tables surrounding the pool. There was a packed crowd on Saturday, and the peoplewatching was exemplary. This place just attracts an interesting clientele -- artsy, stylish, hip, but not too hip. So we had a drink, felt the breeze against our shoulders by the pool, made an appearance at a goodbye party, and swooned over the perfect perfect perfection of the night, the place, and at that moment, the city. And then we left -- we had places to be.

Finally. Dancing! It happens more rarely than I'd like, but it's such a treat to go dancing. The four of us were all on the same page. We didn't want anything too high-brow, just good fun music and no Hollywood scene. So we decided on Gabah. There is no scene here. It's in a borderline-shady bit of East Hollywood, it smells, as Jessica aptly put it, of 'patchouli and pee', and the decor is tacky-tiki -- fake hanging plants and all. But the music was great. Solid hip-hop, lots of old stuff, fun poppy reggae. Serious dance party, nothing pretentious, sweaty and loud.

Spent but giddy, we finally made our way home. Such a successful outing. Good people, great venues, and dancing. Makes me really love this city and all it has to offer, especially on a summer night.

Ocean Seafood is at 750 N Hill St., between Alpine and Ord.
The Hotel Figueroa is at 939 S. Figueroa St., between Olympic and 9th.
Gabah is at 4658 Melrose Ave., a block west of Normandie. Saturday nights is 'Chocolate Bar'.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Saturday day: Fontana... meh

This was the only low point of the weekend. But riding on the amazing goodness of the morning's bread blowout, I powered through. I found out on Friday night that I needed to pick up my dad in Fontana, drop him off in Tarzana, then drive back home -- 146 miles overall. I was in my car for 3 hours straight. It was hot. At times I was going zero miles for minutes at a time.

But I was in my sweet little mini and had the sunroof open. I had just made myself a CD of 100 of my favorite singing songs. So I belted through Mary J. Blige and Fiona Apple, Bruce Springsteen and Bill Withers as I scooted up the 10. On the return trip, Saeed fell asleep in the passenger seat. I turned to the softer songs on the CD and hummed quietly -- I so love the feeling of driving with a sleeping passenger and good songs on the stereo. When I dropped him off, we shared lunch at home -- my mom is out of town, but left him tupperware after tupperware of prepared meals (because if she didn't, He Would Starve. undoubtedly) -- and a cup of tea.

It was not the ideal way to spend a Saturday afternoon. I missed the tofu festival in Little Tokyo (as I somehow manage to do every year), which was a bummer, and I lost a significant chunk of my day. But there was still some goodness to it. And it gave me some calm before my action-packed Saturday night.

Saturday morning: Breaded bliss

Saturday was going to be a busy day, and I wanted to get an early start. After Friday night's after-hours vino-fest though, my body was not so excited about this prospect. I had to run an errand in Beverly Hills, and I had to have a coffee (the tea thing goes well, by the way. This was a rare treat). There's a place about a block from said errand called Breadbar, that I've been wanting to go to forever.

In spite of my rushed schedule, I managed to rationalize a trip. The place's focus is their bakery -- artisanal breads -- but they also have omelets and sandwiches and a few entrees. All I wanted was a piece of dense wheaty bread with butter and a cup of coffee. Quick and simple and wholesome, and it'll give me some time to finish up the bookclub book before tomorrow's meeting. I wasn't sure how this would go over, but after all, it's a bread bar, right?

It's a very modern, bustling space: lots of windows, utilitarian tables and benches inside, sidewalk tables with very cool chairs outside. I sat down at one outside and was duly ignored for a good long time. On one hand, I was quite enjoying this bright spot, with fun peoplewatching opportunities. At the table behind mine, a woman was chatting in Russian to her breakfast companion, in English to their waitress, and in Hebrew to her cellphone. A fashionable dad gave his fashionable son a piggyback ride outside the shop. On the other, I really had things to do. Edging on annoyed.

After I had flagged down a couple busboys, my waiter finally appeared at my table. He made up for lost time -- he was a fast talker. "You want the special? You just gonna have coffee? What's up? What can I get you?" I asked him if it was possible to just have bread and butter, and he smiled. "We have 15 types of bread," he said, and started rattling off the list. Olive, fig, turmeric hazelnut (!), cheese bread. Wow. Overwhelmed with choices, I asked for something on the wheaty side.

Next thing I know, he comes back with a basket with about 8 different types of bread. Whole grain and buckwheat, yes, but also all the others listed above, and a piece of gorgeous baguette -- thin and pointy with a floury stripe spiraling around its length. Two wee ramekins of marmalade, lots of butter, and a bottle of olive oil. A bread feast! What a treat.

I really need to have my camera at all times. This dinky Palm camera ain't cutting it.

I read, I peoplewatched (the table next to me filled with a French family, and my waiter greeted them warmly, kissing the patriarch on the cheek and immediately bringing them their usuals), and I tasted. I managed to just take small bits, but there was so much deliciousness. The turmeric hazelnut was soft and cakey and bright yellow. The baguette was perfect -- thick crust on the outside, soft and holey crumb on the inside. The buckwheat was nutty and dense, and absorbed the fruity olive oil deliciously. My favorite was the olive bread -- strong brine flavor, lots of rosemary. I felt so pampered -- all this for me!

As I was winding down, I asked for a bag to take the bounty home, and started wondering how much this was going to set me back. This was seriously several days' worth of bread, and I'm in Beverly Hills after all. He brought over the check, again with that toothy smile. Two seventy-one. Two seventy-one? He just charged me for the coffee. Amazing! Really amazing. You see? This weekend is charmed.

Breadbar is at 8718 West Third St, just east of Robertson.

Friday night: To be a regular

I've gushed on about Bodega de Cordova before. There's a lot to love about an ultra-local wine bar where they really do know your name (and let you park your car behind their shop when there are no spaces left on your block). Friday night, the love reached new heights.

After coming home from spending the day with my sister et al., I was ready to go out. The plan was to meet my friend Talal for a drink at the Bodega, then the two of us would part and meet up with other friends. I got there a minute before he did, and Kenny, the owner, was sitting outside with a couple friends. Said hello, ended up sitting at the table next to theirs. We had some good wine, and a good conversation. A lot of interesting points were demonstrated about politics, and family, and civility and respect, but I'm not going to go into it here. Suffice it to say, some people are just a clear reflection of good parenting.

Eventually it was time for Talal to leave. I hadn't heard definitively from my friends yet, so my next move was still up in the air. I figured I'd go home and wait for the call, and turned towards my street. As I passed Kenny's table, though, he waved me over. He and his friends started asking about my companion, I took a moment to quel any gossip, and before I knew it, Kenny had run in and gotten me another glass of wine.

Long story short, I ended up spending the rest of the night hanging out with this crew at the bar until past closing. We were all well-sauced and they were all very interesting. Cynthia is about to embark on a trip to Argentina, and Arturo, a native of Peru, was giving her his list of must-dos. He followed this with another list: must-eats at Los Angeles' best Peruvian restaurant (in his qualified opinion), Los Balcones del Peru. What a treat! Now I have to go (I'm excited to check this place out. I love Mario's a lot, and if this place is better, it must be really really good)!

Eventually the dusk chill pushed us inside. We chatted some more, checked out the tunes on the bar's extensive playlist, and as the bar began to clear out, Cynthia and Arturo began salsa dancing. I've never danced salsa before, but Kenny graciously showed me the basics, and a mini-dance party ensued. This was great. So unexpected, and great great fun.

I've always been impressed with regulars. I love the idea of going somewhere so frequently that you eventually have a set of people who greet you, warmly and knowingly, each time you go in. They know your story, and ask earnestly how you're doing. I've never really made it happen before though -- I'm pretty shy in that sort of situation, and my conversation with strangers is generally limited to the requisite pleases and thank-yous. But Friday, I was so warmly welcomed to this group, and had such a great time with them. I'm so thrilled this exists literally around the corner from me, and I'm so thrilled to be included.

Arturo's must-eat list for Balcones del Peru
as jotted in my hardly-legible script

  • chorito a la chalaca [mussels]
  • papa a la huancaina
  • ceviche
  • lomo saltado
  • saltado de mariscos
  • aguadito de pollo
  • chupe de camarones
  • Inka Kola [Peruvian soda that tastes (to me) like bubblegum]
  • chicha morada [cold drink made from purple corn]
  • Cristal [Peruvian beer]
  • pisco sour [per Arturo, not available at Balcones, but the quintessential Peruvian cocktail and worth seeking out]
  • alfajores [dulce de leche sandwiched between fluffy cookies]
  • leche asada
Los Balcones del Peru is in Hollywood, at 1360 N. Vine St., at de Longpre.

Friday day: Getting sexy with the kindergarten set

It always bodes well for a weekend when it starts a day early. My sister's finger decided to grow a nipple the other day, so I had to take Friday off work to tend to her son while she went to get that thing taken care of. We played trains and read books and watched Spongebob and ate Krabby Patties that were really bagels and cream cheese. Not bad.

Then Torreh came home and we picked up her daughter Julia from camp. We had been very good, so we got a treat. Torreh took us to what may currently be her favorite place in the whole world. It's called Shave It, and it's a Hawaiian-style shave ice shop in Thousand Oaks (that inexplicably has no web representation, making me think that it doesn't actually exist and the whole thing was a dream). It was all blue and bright and clean, and filled with adorable surfery suntanned teenagers. Violet would complain that it's just sugar water, and my grown-up side is inclined to agree, but my huge cup of snowy ice flavored with guava and passionfruit was a cool refreshment from Friday's heat.

The real highlight occurred when we came home though. We three girls sat down to watch the latest episode of So You Think You Can Dance. This was a rare indulgence for me -- I don't have TV at home. So, I've never watched this show before, but Torreh and Julia are experts. There were 4 contestants left, and for the finale, they all did a dance together, to Justin Timberlake's latest hit, "Sexy Back". Ok. I'm a little obsessed with this song. It sounds to me like a really soulful 80s punk-pop woman with white-blonde hair and scary makeup. But it's our guy Justin. So, what proceeded was a hot dance party. Julia and I looped over this performance (this Tivo thing is not bad!) over and over and over again as we did our own little dance in the family room. About six times through, Julia to her room to change into a pink sequined flapper dress from her dress-up box. Hott!

So this was a good start.

best weekend EVER

We have so much to discuss. There were, like, multiple moments of serious giddiness in the last 3 days. God, I love summer. Soon, I promise!


OK, I've beent trying to figure out how I'm gonna tackle all this, and am a bit overwhelmed. I think we're just going to go chronologically. Here we go...

Monday, August 07, 2006

When in Koreatown...

Whenever you travel to a foreign country, you know you're up against some interesting challenges. It's a loss of control -- you don't speak the language, so you have to depend on the kindness of others, engage in some creative guesswork, and hope for the best. And in most cases, it all turns out great. At first it seems like a setback, but I think this is one of the reasons why we travel. The crazy adventures, the being plopped in a world that is bizarre and completely new, the starting out as a doe-eyed stranger with everything to gain, and gradually gaining it. By giving in to that loss of control, you learn to embrace a whole set of practices, experiences, even personalities you didn't even know existed. It's such euphoria -- laughing like a little kid at what unusual turns your life can take.

I feel like this kind of experience exists for me, a million times over, about four miles from home. Los Angeles has a huge and sprawling Koreatown, and while a lot of it is totally accessible to gringos like myself, there is much that really does require guidance from someone who knows the language. So,when you do get to peek in, it's a privilege. Last night my friend Hannah, who is Korean, introduced us to Dansungsa, a soju pub that requires a local guide. The night was a tiny slice of what traveling through Seoul might be like, a mini-adventure in being the foreigner.

Dansungsa is in a strip mall on 6th, and has no English sign. It is recognizable by an old image of Kim Jung Il (in sweet sweet shades) on the sign. The parking lot: fancy cars, various couples consisting of non-descript guys with decked out ultra-feminine girls teetering around on high heels.

What's up Kim Jong Il?

Inside, the place is not small, but it's intimate -- dim light, lots of wood, and it's walled off into small areas of a few tables each. The walls are densely layered with newspaper clippings, graffiti, and posters of old Korean movie stars. We were completely at Hannah's mercy here -- the waitress handed her the all-Korean menu, printed on a block of wood, and we were on our way.

What I learned about Korean bar food: there's a lot of egg (with ketchup, obviously), there's a lot of red, unexpected items are molded into cakes of varying shapes, and there is a lot of fiery hot. Our eyes were much bigger than our mouths when it came to ordering, but this meant we got to try a lot of different dishes. The minute you sit down, they start bringing you stuff. They start off with a bowl of spicy communal soup with cabbage, and maybe parsnips?, and totally incongruously, sticks of celery with ranch dressing. Whatever. We then ordered a million dishes:
  • kim bap -- tiny perfectly circular sushi-like rolls filled with rice, egg, and meat
  • a rolled omelet with herbs, served with ketchup
  • a pot of (totally) tubular rice cakes, triangular fish cakes, and various other geometric wonders in a very red very spicy sauce, which was delicious
  • a mix of squid, mushrooms, scallions, and other vegetables in a different very red very spicy sauce, which was chewy
  • a giant pancake of eggs and scallions, served with a soy dipping sauce, which was really yummy and really simple and I want to make it myself sometime
  • a skewer of fish balls -- the same pasty mix that is used to make the fish triangles, now in sphere form, grilled in a very red very spicy sauce
  • shrimp wontons -- whole shrimp wrappen in wonton skins with cream cheese and fried. yum, of course.
Along with the food, on the waitress's suggestion, we got lemon soju, which came in a beat-up little kettle that seemed like it had spent its life being pelted with metal bearings. And bottle after of bottle of Hite beer.

The place was really lively, and as the night progressed, it became more so. Adding to the surreal where-am-I feel, our table was visited by a man wearing an inflatable soju bottle. He was accompanied by a pretty Korean lady who talked to us for a very long time. We had absolutely no idea what she was saying but she had a very soothing voice.

What's up, inflatable soju friend?

Just as I thought we were winding down, our night got a second wind. About 12 people squeezed into the table beside ours. They overflowed into our space, and we got to talking. You know how it goes -- someone goes to school with someone, someone used to work with someone, and before you know it, some guy named Hi Ho is eating your on-the-house udon. Very friendly, these kids. Small world, this Koreatown.

This was a really fun experience. How often do you get to hang out with a giant soju bottle? Not very, I bet. There are no international travel plans in my near future, but me and my soju bottle friend, we're gonna have some good times this summer.

Dansungsa is at 3317 W. Sixth St., in a strip mall on the northeast corner of 6th and Berendo.

Friday, August 04, 2006

going warm turkey: the tea post

This is how weekday breakfast used to go when I was a kid: Violet had set the breakfast table and put on a pot of tea. Saeed would come downstairs, she'd pour him and herself a glass, and they would start their breakfast -- pita or lavash with cheese or butter and some sort of preserves, usually sour cherry. My sister would arrive downstairs, ready for school, in a grey button-down, pink sweater over it, black leggings, and pink bow in her permed hair, bubbling over about how Simon Le Bon, the lead singer of Duran Duran, is a Massive Babe! I would come downstairs, disheveled hair, still groggy, in the sweats I wore to sleep (with the elastic at the ankle pulled down over my feet to keep them warm, natch). I'd plop myself down between Saeed and Torreh and start eating my cereal with one hand. I would sit on the other hand. To keep it warm! So, Saeed would cup his hands tightly around his glass of tea, then take each of my hands in his and squeeze them tight to warm me up.

At night, my parents would have another glass of tea with fruit after dinner (now that I know about things like caffeine, this is mystifying to me -- how did they ever fall asleep?). They'd pour me a glass too -- a tiny one, very light, lots of sugar. I guess it's weird that parents would be giving their small children tea, but in our house, it was perfectly normal -- tea was like the air you breathe.

When I moved out of my parents' house to the college dorm, I didn't take any food with me. But I took a small jar of my mom's tea blend. To this day, that old blend is my very favorite, and I have a jar of it sitting with the rest of our kitchen's ridiculously extensive collection. It's nothing fancy -- just a mix of darjeeling and Earl Grey -- but when prepared in the Persian way (more on that below), it's mild and delicate, but sublime.

In case it wasn't clear, I love tea. Not in the way one loves vanilla frosting, or strawberries. It's not just the taste. It's experiential. I have had tea in my life for as long as I can remember, and as I've gotten older, I've learned to appreciate what surrounds tea -- the ritual, the short break from your day with something warm, and in the best case, the person with whom you share a conversation and a cuppa.

I haven't had tea in a long time. Why? Because I'm addicted to caffeine. Doesn't make sense? Allow me to explain. (I'm kind of enjoying this question-statement-question-statement cadence -- I've never been shy about talking to myself -- but alas I've run out of questions!) Every morning at work I have coffee. Except not exactly coffee. Some have referred to the coffee offered by my employer as swill. This is generous. I'm not snobbish about coffee, but this stuff is just bad. Fortunately, we have an espresso machine. I don't have the time for the foaming and steaming every day, but I do pull an espresso, and add some steamy hot water: I make myself an Americano. I require this fix every morning. I could not perform my job without it. I fear that tea does not provide the caffeine kick that the daily Americano does. It appears that bold brash coffee has bullied its way into my routine and shoved tea to the wayside.

Don't get me wrong. I do have a sweet spot for coffee and espresso drinks. In fact, I just love the idea of any caffeine ritual. Whether it's the endlessly refilled mug at brunch or a fancy cappuccino from a sidewalk cafe, it smells delicious, it offers the opportunity to be served or to serve others, and it just sets off a bit of the day for casual hospitality, a quick chat about your day, and a little pick-me-up whenever you need it. (I'm realizing also that I have a million little caffeine ritual stories -- enough to merit at least one more post. Soon.)

But, one day last week, I had a really scary moment. I had finished the day's Americano, sipped the last drop. And I was still extremely groggy. This was a huge wake-up call (ironic considering I was half-asleep). Had my caffeine resistance come this far? What happened to me? I recalled my first job out of college -- I came in at 8 each morning, I did not have any caffeine at all, and I was more productive than I've ever been since. What happened to me?

So, measures are underway. I am not one for extremes; going cold turkey is just not my style. So, I've been taking baby steps towards cutting through the morning caffeine jolt. This week, I've been trying to take it easy at night, not drink alcohol, and go to sleep early, setting myself up for success. I've been drinking tons of water. And I've slowly decreased the amount of ground espresso that I use to make my morning drink. I started with two solid clicks on Monday, and by Friday I had less than one. Next week I plan to rip back into that box of green tea bags that I've neglected way too long.

For consuming on a regular basis, tea is just better (for me anyway). Coffee just seems harsh. Its acidity sometimes does serious damage to my insides, and I can't have it without milk and sugar. Tea on the other hands, is actually good for you -- antioxidants and all, especially in the green variety. And it's basic and simple -- no milk, no sugar needed. I'm looking forward to bringing it back into my routine. I have missed it quite a bit.

As stated, I'm sticking with teabags for work, and green ones at that. But, I will mention the Persian way of steeping tea. I believe it's far superior to what we're used to here, but I may be a bit biased. It's based on the Russian method of teamaking, traditionally done with a samovar. But at home, it can be done with a 'double boiler' type teakettle -- a larger pot on the bottom for hot water, a smaller one on top for tea.

How to Make Tea, the Persian Way

1. In the larger of 2 teapots, bring enough water to a boil to cover the number of cups you need, plus a little more to compensate for evaporation.

2: Meanwhile, place some loose tea of your choice in the smaller teapot, within a strainer or tea ball if you prefer.

3: When the water comes to a boil, lower the heat to its lowest setting. Pour about one-fifth of the hot water over the tea into the small pot. Place the small teapot on top of the large one, and allow it to steep for 5-10 minutes, until the top teapot contains a dark brown, concentrated tea. Take care to ensure that the top pot never comes to a boil -- nobody likes boiled tea.

4: Now, you can pour tea, customizing the strength of each glass (and yes, glass. Persian tea is always served in a clear glass, so you can appreciate the color). Pour a small amount of tea into a glass (If you did not use a strainer in the pot, pour through one now). Dilute with hot water from the the bottom pot. If it's too light, add more tea.

And finally, here is an extensive and really fascinating HOWTO document on samovars. It is written with the Linux geek as its demographic, and it leans towards Russian traditions, but a lot of it is relevant here and there are lots of interesting details.

Coffee is not going away completely -- I love it too much. But the key here is moderation and balance. I'm going to try and restore a bit of mine that had been lost. So far, so good.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

the ladies who breakfast

It's an unfortunate inevitability in this town: bad people happen to good restaurants. After all, Hollywood has to eat! (although you wouldn't guess it looking at some of the very people I'm talking about...). After a while, it's like, I don't care if you have the best ahi steak this side of Tsukiji Fish Market, there are only so many yippy lap dogs and microskirt/ugg-boot combos I can wade through before it's just not worth it.

This is why, on a average weekend morning, you will rarely see me at Toast. The scene wafts around the place so thick you can taste it. Maybe it's me, but it just makes breakfast unpleasant.

Which is kind of sad, because Toast is actually a pretty delicious restaurant, especially for breakfast. Their egg dishes are huge, fresh, and have great flavor combinations, and the fruit bowl that can come with most meals is outstanding. Not a few overripe chunks of canteloupe and 4 red grapes, but a wide variety of fresh fruits, berries, sometimes mango, sometimes fresh coconut, and often prettily garnished with a slice of star fruit. They even carry shakshuka - the middle eastern specialty of eggs simmered over a stew of tomatoes and peppers. The menu definitely has some things going for it.

Fortunately, I was recently schooled on when to go to Toast. The secret: early in the morning, especially on weekdays. This is the way to do it! My friends Rachel and Heather meet once a week for breakfast. Last week, they were meeting at Toast, a few blocks from my apartment, and they kindly invited me to join them. Going to Toast at 8 am on a weekday is a completely different experience than I was used to. There was no 4-people-deep crowd surrounding the place waiting to get called to their table. I simply walked over, found Rachel and Heather sitting at a table on the sidewalk, and sat next to them.

Not wanting to induce grogginess right before work, we went for lighter fare. They each got scrambled egg whites and turkey sausage with the famous fruit, and I tried their granola. It did not disappoint. Restaurant granola is a crapshoot, but this had big nutty chunks and whole almonds, and was toasted to a deep golden brown, bringing out the light sweetness.

Half an hour later, I headed to work, feeling much more accomplished than on your average morning. I had a nice walk through my neighborhood, learned much about the glamorous life of a gallery owner, and discovered a pleasant new breakfast spot just down the street.

Toast is at 8221 W. 3rd street, at Harper. It's open for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and red velvet cupcakes.