Saturday, December 29, 2007

Happiness is...

... being on vacation.

Baby Chucks!!

i don't know why i'm on a photo-posting kick right now, but these shoes, belonging to my nephew, are ridiculously adorable.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Man Behind the Noodle

I get a certain thrill when I meet a person who's solidly interesting. It's always fun to hear a new set of stories, especially when they take you to exotic lands and out-of-city experiences. I had just this kind of experience the other night, chatting with Viet, the owner of Viet Soy Cafe in Silver Lake and the new Viet Noodle Bar in Atwater Village, my personal Tuesday night dinner table.

My cousin Mikey, a USC film student, lives upstairs from Kaldi Coffee House on Glendale Boulevard. His roommate is the son of a man named Avo. Avo owns Kaldi, the apartment upstairs, and a good chunk of the block, including the space now filled with Viet Noodle Bar. Thanks to his associations with Avo and his son, Mikey is very much part of the boulevard's community. So, as we finished up dinner, Viet came over, and a compliment from Mikey on the tastebud-singing C-shot rolled into a conversation that had us lingering at the table long after the last diners had left.

So what did we learn? Well, Viet came to the United States around 20 years ago, but took a seven year break a few years back. Two of those years he walked the earth, then planted himself in a small fishing village in northern Vietnam for the remaining five. From the locals, he picked up techniques: working with just-caught fish and rice straight from the local fields, they had to plan meals carefully, as there was no refrigeration. It was here that he learned the fundamentals that inform his menus today -- 'peasant' food in sharp contrast to the French-influenced bahn mi so beloved around here: rice noodles, soy milk and other soy products, fish cookery, and rice wine.

When I expressed an interest in the last item, he smiled and offered me a taste. He pulled out a curvy oversized green glass jug, holding a clear dark brown liquid, and poured a small glass. This particular batch, he'd flavored with crab apples, and its fruity flavor barely masked its potency. Nothing like soju or sake, this tangy, slightly sweet rice wine tasted unexpectedly familiar, warming, and thoroughly drinkable.

He's got some interesting ideas for the new space. The eponymous noodles are the focus, and now that winter is upon us, he's added two pho dishes to the menu: a chicken variety ('no hoisin and basil!' the menu warns us firmly; Viet states that hoisin is good with beef but overpowers delicate chicken.), and a vegetarian pho with meaty chunks of rolled soy skin, shiitake mushrooms, and lemongrass. I had the latter, and with its slightly sweet broth, soft noodles of irregular widths, and generous spray of cilantro and green onions, it hit the spot in the blustery night. But get the pho while you can: in the summer, he's planning to go with lighter noodle dishes like vermicelli. The menus at both of his restaurants are all-organic, and he plans to re-open Soy Cafe on Hyperion after the holidays.

Mikey prodded him about rumors of a night market. Nothing is set in stone, but he's talked with another local business owner about the possibility: stands selling produce and street foods in the wee hours on Friday nights. A far cry from the quiet nights in a fishing village, no doubt, but sure sounds interesting, doesn't it?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

For the Man Who Loves Popcorn


I never know what to get for my brother-in-law. Clothes are sort of daunting -- the man is six-foot-five, a towering height that barely-five-foot me can't really comprehend. Books and the like I'm similarly unlikely to touch: he tends to read about politics and policymakers, whereas I tend to stay naively oblivious. Then there's the fantasy football... need I say more about that?

But fortunately, we do see eye to eye on one topic: food. He likes food, I like food. I can work with that. Last year, I made him a variety of sweets, including raspberry truffles and these gorgeous chocolate-mint tiddlywinks. I packed them in cute little boxes that looked like miniature hat boxes, stacked the boxes into a tower, and tied it all with a pretty ribbon. The presentation was impressive, and I think there's some childlike fun to opening one box after another. And your own stash of chocolates that you don't have to share with anyone is a pretty nice prize.

This year, I was at a loss. Then, from somewhere in the December barrage of products vying for my attention and paycheck came inspiration. I happened upon a company selling 'gourmet' popcorn. Popped in olive oil, fancy flavors. Intriguing. After all, my brother-in-law loves popcorn. A lot. He lurves the stuff. It's great. I tasted the stuff these people were selling. It was... meh.

But the idea was sound. So, this year, I made him popcorn. Four different crazy wonderful flavors. I know he's not the only one with this particular hankering, so for any popcorn lover, it's a fun homemade gift, doesn't take too much time, and allows you to get creative. I started my flavor research with the trusty Improvisational Cook, who suggests amazing things like sprinkling popcorn with truffle oil, or with the godly liquid gold that is brown butter, or popping it in bacon fat.

I went with four flavors:
  • riffing on her brown butter, I added sea salt and sugar;
  • an orange spice flavor with chopped walnuts, cinnamon, and orange zest;
  • Italian herb: drizzled with good olive oil that had been infused with rosemary, basil, garlic, and crushed pepper, then tossed with grated parmesan cheese;
  • and breakfast-flavored popcorn, the funkiest of all: tossed with melted butter, real maple syrup, and that magical kosher, vegan wonder, Bacon Salt. Yes, a little crazy, but quite a satisfying salty-sweet treat!
Each one was a hit, although the brown butter seemed to be the frontrunner, and not surprisingly: brown butter could make a shoe taste like like heaven. I think that next year, the time will have come to buy dear brother-in-law a 'real' gift, but for now, I'm happy to help him revel in bag after bag of popcorny bliss.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Fact:

Going to the Hollywood Farmers' Market on a Sunday morning guarantees a sunny day.

Scientific testing proves it. I have a 100% success rate.

Ahh, fall in Los Angeles...

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Viet Love

Guys, I'm really excited about this one: I've found more to love in already-beloved Atwater Village. You know how the neighborhood where you work sort of becomes your second home? Well, I now work in Glendale, but I've found close-by Atwater to be more my speed. It has a hip, somewhat big-city sensibility, but there's a sense of community that you don't often find around these parts. People strike up conversations and introduce themselves by name -- everyone seems to be glad to be there, and glad that I'm there too. Since I started taking an awesome belly dance class at Heart Beat House, and discovering Kaldi coffee house and Tacos Villa Corona, not only do I discover more great spots in that bit of town each week, it actually gets better itself. The latest addition to Atwater's stretch of Glendale Blvd., Viet Noodle Bar, has taken the goodness to new levels.

I have so much good to say about this place. Every detail seems so thoughtfully handled, from the clean minimal decor warmed up with brown leather chairs and beautiful flowers, to the soft classical music playing in the background, to the rows of books piled down one long white wall of the restaurant. The menu is small, but every item on it is interesting. Viet Noodle doesn't try to take on a lot, but it takes its small charge seriously, and elevates casual dining. As you take it in, you get a sense of the place's unpretentious sophistication (I mean, I got to browse Hip Hotels Italy while dining on my summer rolls. Doesn't suck, right?).

I stepped in to the long white room and seated myself at one of the two communal tables stretching the length of the cafe. Sparse crowd, but then it was only 6ish, and it is a new restaurant after all. The lone waitress affably engaged me immediately -- describing every item on the menu (not that huge of a feat: there are about eight right now), asking about the studio up the street where I dance, offering her name (Melissa. Go say hi to her.) and a friendly handshake. Then she moved to the next party, where one guy gave her a copy of his book. Yep, this place fits into the neighborhood just fine.

So, what's on that little menu? Three small plates: Vietnamese 'tamales' of banana leaves filled with shrimp and a soft rice pancake; summer rolls with jicama, carrots, fried shallots, tofu, and basil; and some sort of salad involving jackfruit and I-don't-know-what. Two noodle dishes: one with whitefish, one with soy skin. Ginger soy curd for dessert. Pho coming soon.

The beverages are not an afterthought: Offerings include homemade soy milk, plain or with various flavorings. The roasted sesame soy milk is delicious -- just be sure to stir up the specks of black sesame seeds before each sip or risk gentle admonishment from the owner. The prize is a swirly combination of the most fresh, clean-tasting soy milk and a grown-up recall of the taste-memory of childhood sesame candy. Delicious, but I can't want to try the mint flavor next time. There is also a black bean 'tea', and one made with lo han fruit (not familiar with the fruit? Ask the owner -- he'll bring one out to show you).

So, yeah, Viet Noodle satisfied on many levels. And after class, as I walked out to my car around 8:45, I passed by again, and every seat was filled. It looked like a cozy, vibrant dinner party in there. See, I told you Atwater Village was friendly -- news travels fast around here.



Viet Noodle Bar is at 3133 Glendale Blvd., between Glenfeliz and Edenhurst. And at the moment, it's cash-only.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

It's Hard Out There for a Turkey

Two fascinating/disturbing takes on how turkeys come to make baby turkeys in America today. Glad you asked?

[The backstory here is that turkeys are bred for obesity, so they get fat really quickly, so they can turn them around faster.]

Turkeys today grow so fast they they find it impossible to mate naturally. They simply cannot get close enough to physically manage. As a result, all 300 million turkeys born annually in the US are the result of an act of artificial insemination.

(How, you may wonder, is this done? Suffice it to say that there are people, some of whom have Ph.D.s, who have become adept at handling male turkeys in just the right way. The procedure is called--with delicacy but without anatomical accuracy--"abdominal massage." After the semen is thus collected, and then mixed with a myriad of chemicals, there are other "experts" whose job it is to inject the material into the females, using an implement that looks, rather ironically, remarkably like a turkey baster.)
- From John Robbins' The Food Revolution

If there’s anything more American than a nice glass of milk, it’s a turkey dinner. It’s the centerpiece of Thanksgiving and the cornerstone of festive dinners and lunchbox sandwiches everywhere. As a matter of fact, the turkey is such a part of American culture that Benjamin Franklin lobbied for it to be the national bird! Happily, cooler heads prevailed.

Just as dairy farmers wanted more milk, turkey farmers wanted more meat. Specifically white breast meat, which Americans favor over dark meat. Enter selective breeding. In a feat that would impress even a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, farmers have been able to significantly increase the size of the average turkey breast. Not with silicone or saline, but just by breeding the turkeys with the most breast meat. In this case the plan worked almost too well. Male turkeys now have such large breasts that they cannot successfully mount females. Their giant chests get in the way! This renders them completely unable to mate and, as a result, farmers have had to step in. Every Thanksgiving drumstick, turkey sandwich, or turkey pot pie that you eat comes from a turkey that was created with artificial insemination. Selective breeding has given us the big-breasted turkeys we need to satisfy our national hunger for white meat and, in the process, completely eliminated turkey sex.
- From Alon Ziv's Breeding Between the Lines

Happy turkey day everyone!

[thanks to CraftyGoat for the photo]

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Happy Turkey Gruel Day

[This is a repost from last year -- it's one of my favorite posts here. Happy and delicious Thanksgiving to you all!]

Turkey and kuku sabzi: we've come a long way

Many years ago, I recall reading an article about a man whose parlor trick was this: tell me your Thanksgiving menu, and I will tell you where you are from. It's true, in our melting pot of a nation, there are as many variations on the most traditional American meal as there are families to share them. From sticky rice and Korean barbecue to tamales and tequila (a tradition I'm particularly enamored with), plenty of families have some serious multicultural flavor sitting alongside their turkeys.

For my family, it's been a gradual process. We've always rounded up the relatives for a meal, but at first it had very little resemblance to what most Americans are used to. Of course we had turkey, but not the gloriously bronzed bird sitting proudly in the center of the table. For our earliest Thanksgiving holidays in this country, our turkey came in the form of halim, a gruely porridge of turkey meat and barley. It's traditionally served for breakfast on a cold day, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, but hey, it's Thanksgiving, so we're supposed to have turkey. And so we had turkey. Out of a bowl, with a spoon.

We eventually got hip to actually roasting the turkey, but our Thanksgiving table held many other things too: huge mounds of herbed rice, perhaps a smoked fish, sometimes even a khoresht, an elaborately spiced stew of vegetables and meat. But one year, some cousin discovered mashed potatoes. Then another integrated a bizarre, sweet, egg-based beverage: egg nog. Not tied to any traditions, we went by taste alone, and spiked our nog with Kahlua -- a tradition that persists to this day.

Adopting a new heritage didn't come without missteps. We had heard about these yam things, and finally got a recipe from the mom of one of my classmates (the same mom who had earlier introduced me to another tropical delicacy: bagel and lox). This bizarre concoction looked like something out of outer space: some deep orange, pre-cut vegetable out of can, mixed with apples, butter, and spices, and covered with a layer of marshmallows, which, upon baking, turned into a charred dimply cloud covering the whole thing. It was weird, but we ate it, and marveled at how normal and American we were.

Eventually some of our family's cousins fell in love, and brought a couple American men into the mix. They charmed every woman in the family by helping out with the dishes -- a task our own uncles would never touch. But they also brought with them American appetites. And so, we got cranberry sauce, cylindrical and gelatinous. The advent of my brother-in-law also brought in the most crucial addition of all, stuffing (this particular dish having pretty much changed the landscape of Thanksgiving, and my life, forever).

In recent years, we'd all go to a cousin's house where, with the help of her in-laws, she'd provide the rice and other Persian dishes, while putting my sister in charge of all those "exotic American" dishes like stuffing and mashed potatoes. We've come a long way since the gruel days, and outer-space yams have made way for my sister's delicious sweet potatoes with streusel topping. Fresh cranberry orange relish has replaced the jelly canned cranberry sauce. We've even gotten experimental -- instead of a plain old pumpkin pie, I make a two-layer pumpkin pecan pie with maple syrup instead of corn syrup.

This year, we've stuck with some of the old traditions: there was a big mound of barberry rice on the table, as well as kuku sabzi, a frittata of herbs and greens. But we also had a first: gravy. Turns out it's really good with mashed potatoes. Who knew?



Pumpkin Pecan Pie with Cinnamon Whipped Cream
Adapted from this recipe

The original recipe includes instructions for home-made pie crust, which I tried one year, then decided it's not worth the mess. Maybe I'll revisit it one day when I have a bigger kitchen and a KitchenAid. This year, I made it with canned pumpkin puree, but 2 cups of homemade puree can be substituted, and any sweet winter squash would work great. These portions are for a 10-inch springform.

2 prepared store-bought pie crusts for a 9-inch pie (you'll use about 1 1/2 pie crusts; reserve the rest for another use)

Pumpkin Filling
1 - 15 ounce can pumpkin puree
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs, beaten until frothy
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 pinch ground nutmeg

Pecan Filling
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup maple syrup
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 generous teaspoons vanilla extract
1 pinch salt
1 pinch cinnamon
1 cup pecan halves

Cinnamon Whipped Cream
1 cup whipping cream, chilled
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pumpkin Filling: In a medium bowl, thoroughly combine all ingredients.

Pecan Syrup: In a medium bowl, thoroughly combine all ingredients.

Preheat oven to 325°F. Grease a 10-inch springform cake pan. Take pie crust out of packaging; allow to come to room temperature, then unfold.

Carefully place the dough in the greased cake pan. (If this isn't happening: Cut away pieces of the dough a bit at a time, and press them together against the bottom and sides of the pan to assemble the crust. Make sure there are no openings). Press firmly in place and trim the edges. Chill for 15 minutes.

Pour pumpkin filling into crust; spread evenly. Gently pour pecan filling over pumpkin filling. Bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare cinnamon whipped cream. Using electric mixer, beat in a medium bowl until soft peaks form.

Remove pie from oven, allow to cool. Run a knife around the edges of the pie, between crust and pan, to separate it from the pan before releasing the clasp. Slice and serve with cinnamon whipped cream.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Izayoi: Come for the Food


Ok, now that we have pinned down the very nature of what izakaya -- Japanese pubs serving beer, sake, and small bites -- are all about in this post, we can talk about Izayoi in Little Tokyo. For me, the izakaya experience is usually as much about vibe as it is about food and drink. Izayoi, with its cool 80s-modern interior, doesn't offer quite the besotted, festive atmosphere I associate with izakaya, but the food is exemplary. So round up a couple fun friends, order a pitcher of Kirin, and make your own party.

First the homemade tofu. This is the dish to offer to those who say tofu doesn't taste like anything*. I feel a little bit like a commercial using the word luscious, but this cup of custardy tofu, dressed with a thin layer of light soy sauce really was luscious. And it was certainly flavorful: it tasted deeply tofu-y.
Other highlights included black cod with a miso and soy marinade -- buttery and perfectly cooked; garlic butter scallops, which came to the table sizzling and tasted more Euro than Asian (in a good way); sweet glazed eggplant like little chunks of candy; and tripe! Tripe is not something i would have ordered myself -- I mean, let's face it: it's a cow stomach -- but, simmered in a mirin and soy broth, it was soft, comforting, and oddly nostalgic despite my lack of former cow-stomach experience.

So, what's the take-home? If you're looking for post-frat debauchery, go elsewhere (Furaibo on Sawtelle comes to mind). If you want to have a mellower, but still very fun night, over delicious food, go to Izayoi.

(Incidentally, Little Tokyo is fun! There are lots of people walking around, a dense crunch of restaurants and interesting shops open late, and brand new funky-modern apartment buildings to imagine living in if life were Blade Runner. Go explore! Then go to ceFiore and fight the frozen yogurt war to a soundtrack of obscure 1990s pop hits!)

* On the subject of tofu's blandness, and the futility of adding sauces, a particularly eloquent friend once said (and I should note, I disagree), "It's like putting make-up on an ugly girl."

Izayoi is at 123 S. Central Ave., just south of 1st St.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Farmers' Market Marathon

FMFM: The lovely Food Marathon (FM) , who does exactly what it sounds like -- eats through a whole day of deliciousness, one restaurant after another after another, has alit upon the Third and Fairfax Farmers' Market (also FM). I admire his (her?) stamina, not to mention the cool old-school photo and postcard from the Market's past.

Speaking of eating marathons, stay tuned for 11 in 11: On the eleventh day of the eleventh month, a dedicated group of eaters visits eleven iconic and delicious eateries around town. It's totally awesome.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Pear Rosemary What's-It

My cherry vanilla spoon sweet having run out, I needed something new with which to fill my jar and top my yogurt at breakfast. This time around, I was feeling pears. When it comes to making cooked fruit things (preserves, compote, spoon sweet, whatever), I am motivated by laziness: I don't want to buy random ingredients, and I can't be bothered with all the boiling and gloves and tongs involved in preserving the proper way. So, due to a pretty impromptu preparation, what I ended up with is hard to pin down: with its big chunks of red pear, it's most definitely not a jelly, but is it a jam either? And just by virtue of the fact that it lives in a jar, it just doesn't seem like a compote to me. I guess we could go with spoon sweet again, but I feel a little uncomfortable using that term authoratatively -- I've not had much experience with them other than the ones I made myself, and we all know I'm not a stickler. If anyone's got any ideas for a better name here, send them along.

Whatever it is though, it's delicious. The combination of pears, brown sugar, and rosemary is comforting, with the woodsiness of the rosemary cutting the sweetness, all coming together into a sensation that feels great on a grey chilly morning.


Pear Rosemary What's-It

I used red pears, whose skin added a pretty rosy hue to the end result, but Bosc or Bartlett would work great too. I didn't want to use too much sugar, and I didn't want to cook it too long either, for fear the pears would get too mushy. So, the resulting 'syrup' didn't thicken all too much. The what's-it still works great in yogurt, on its own, or as a topping for a simple dessert, but I might venture into the world of fruit pectin for the next go.

3 red pears, cored and cut into 1-inch dice
1/2 cup brown sugar
juice of half a lemon
2 sprigs fresh rosemary

Bring all ingredients to a simmer in a small nonreactive saucepan. Cook until pears have cooked through and softened, but still have some texture -- about fifteen minutes. Transfer to a jar (including rosemary sprigs), and refrigerate.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Izakaya: A Tokyo Memory


So, this was going to be about Izayoi, this seriously delicious izakaya in Little Tokyo, but as I was writing it, I kept thinking back to the first time I went to an izakaya, in actual big Tokyo (ie, the one in Japan), and kept getting more excited about that. So we'll deal with Izayoi another day, and lay some authentic izakaya groundwork today.

That first time, in Tokyo, was the quintessential izakaya experience: cozy and festive at the same time, with more beer and sake than we could stomach, and small plates of interesting, satisfying, food alongside.

That first time, I was a sad sack. All four of us were. We had been walking up and down the streets of sleepy Asakusa*, in the rain, in the dark, schlepping all our luggage, lost, looking for our hotel (which, if you're interested in cheap lodging, Andon Ryokan is awesome -- think traditional Japanese inn meets Blade Runner). We finally made it there, put down our stuff, and set out to find food. Luckily, Take (TAH-kay), the friendly guy who was running the place (whom we'd eventually befriend and take along to an unbelievable local street festival, a great story for another day) directed us to this spot, only a short drizzly walk from the Andon.

This place was a relief: warm wool paneling and an extremely friendly staff -- who generously overlooked the fact that we were drenched, boorish Americans -- made us immediately feel welcome and comfortable. They took our shoes and umbrellas (for the umbrellas, they had an ingenious contraption that sheathed each one in what can only be described as a protective plastic umbrella condom! Ahh, Japan...), and led us to our table. We sat on the floor, but there were trenches underneath the table so our legs could dangle comfortably. And although the place was pretty big, walls sectioned off every couple tables for an intimate feel.

This was one of the most fun nights of our trip to Japan. We went from damp and dejected to drunk and delirious over one meal. Small plates kept coming: yakitori, tempura, whale and horse sashimi (!!), tofu, and on and on. And the drinks! First came a bottle of cold sake. For each of us, a small glass was placed into a sake box, and the waiter poured until the glass overflowed and sake filled the box as well. When one person in our party asked for tea, the waiter laughed and told him to drink sake instead. It was that kind of night. Then came frosty, frothy steins of beer as big as our heads. By the end of it, we had forgotten how tired we were, and were laughing so hard, we were crying.

I write this here as a reference. Lately, Japanese-style pubs are sprouting up all over Los Angeles. This experience, to me, was the platonic ideal: these places were designed to whisk you as far away from your harried day as possible. Flowing food and drink, and friendly, festive vibes are perfect to take the edge off, whether it's on a rainy November night in Tokyo, or a balmy November night in Los Angeles.


* Sing it with me: "mama-say mama-sa asakusa". (Yeah, yeah).

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Foodgeek Fame for Fairfax: 2 Dudes Catering

When T on Fairfax closed, we all were really sad. But then we learned that the space has been taken over by the Food Dudes, a couple grungy hipsters who actually can really cook. And now, those scruffy dudes, Jon Shook and Vinnie Dotolo, have made that little stretch of Fairfax Avenue (a little) famous. They have their own reality show on Food Network, 2 Dudes Catering, so in the premiere last night, they kept showing that space (before it was painted neon green) on my TV! There's Supreme in the background, and the old Schwartz Bakery sign. And there's that muttering homeless guy who grabbed my ankle last Sunday (ok kidding about that one).

How's the show? It's alright. Food Network capitalizes on the LA-ness of it all: catered birthday party for the daughter of one dude's dentist, a small gathering in a gorgeous modern mansion for which the dudes buy a grand's worth of sushi-grade fish, cursing back and forth on cell phones as they are stuck in traffic. Yep, that's about right. The team doesn't have quite the lovable charm of Duff's quirky crew on Ace of Cakes, but this is LA, not Baltimore, so there you go. Nevertheless, it's fun to watch these guys, who are both clearly very good at what they do and who have a solid relationship that goes back over a decade, work together. There's a low-volume mumbling of cattiness, disagreement, even a little competetiveness, but you can see the underlying love. They maintain a solid balance, and churn out really delicious-looking food.

Yeah, that stretch of Fairfax's claim to fame might currently be on a more urban, hip-hop bent, but I'm glad that my neighborhood is getting a wee bit of food fame. I'm excited to see what their restaurant will be like. We can definitely use a casual delicious spot right there.

(Incidentally, Eater LA's got an interview with the dudes with photos of them and their space.)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

Today is Blog Action Day. Fifteen thousand blogs all over the world will publish a post about the environment today. Tiny blogs like mine, as well as behemoths like Lifehacker, the Google blog, and my own of-late-neglected WiseBread will contribute their unique voices to inundate the internet with a common message. Pretty cool, and pretty important.

Here at All Kinds of Yum, I bring you two posts. I will ramble on about how all the cool kids, including my mother, are going green. But I'm more excited to report, we have a guest blogger today! My dear friend Brad Brauer, an engineer who may someday use his expertise to make environmentally friendly stuff, has done the hard-hitting research, and offers us a a really informative post about what's behind the momevent towards local, organic foods. We've all heard the buzzwords -- local, organic, sustainable -- but Brad gives us the reasons behind the buzz. Thanks Brad!!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Blog Action Day: Why Go Local and Organic?

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action DayBeing a friend of Tannaz means reading about food. Sometimes I try to give her suggestions about articles to write, mostly because I want her to cook for me. But she threw me for a loop when I told her about Blog Action Day.

You see, this was a one-way facet of our relationship, and I was happy to continue in that vein, but this time she asked if I wanted to be her second guest blogger. Realizing that saying no was tantamount to self-induced exile from Persia (in the cuisine sense at least), I set about trying to figure out an appropriate post. The conclusion is a short list of reasons why there is such a big fuss over local organic farming. This post is by no means inclusive -- if anyone has more specific info, or differing opinions, I would be very interested in hearing about it.

I think there are a lot of misconceptions about organic farming, both local and far, but there are a few simple reasons why it is such an attractive alternative to our current food system:

Close Food vs. Far Food

Transportation costs. This is a fairly easy one, just think of the salad you ate today: was the lettuce grown in a huge corporate farm in Salinas or a small farm in Corona? The distance between these to locations is roughly 350 miles. It is not hard to imagine further distances, especially when food is imported to (and from) other countries. Transportation uses energy, which contributes to air pollution and other bad ecological problems.

Locally adapted varieties. Most corporate farms use the same varieties that maximize yields. Losing local varieties decreases genetic diversity, which could result in losing important beneficial traits between varieties. From a taste perspective, this means the homogenization of fruits and vegetables (imagine if there were only one kind of apple?).

Organic vs. Non-organic

Pesticides. Organic farming, especially polyculture, reduces the needs for pesticides. Also, there is the energy cost to produce the pesticides (especially nitrogen, which must go through an intense heating process).

Sustainable Agriculture. Organic farming usually implies (although this is not universally true) more sustainable agriculture practices. Farms and soil are better taken care of in order to decrease the effects of soil erosion, and degradation of soil health. One popular method of sustainable agriculture is to rotate different crops; planting crops for sale on the market and other crops that naturally replenish nutrients in the soil. Polyculture takes it another step forward by planting complementary crops at the same time.

Farming Techniques. Another exciting benefit of small organic farms is that they are able to experiment with farming techniques on a smaller scale that might not be feasible on a larger farm. Polyculture is one example, but other methods include planting more trees to increase soil stability and shade, and to provide a habitat for birds.

Costs

A major reason that people do not consume as much local organic produce is that the prevailing wisdom is that is much more expensive than “regular” produce. In a sense this is true; if your local supermarkets stocks organics they are typically about 10% more expensive than the same non-organic varieties. Farm subsidies artificially keep our food costs down, and until the subsidies are the same for the small farmer as they are for the large, then it will be harder for local organics to achieve the same price performance.

So what’s the takeaway? Our food system is not built for everyone to start buying 100% organic food at their local Farmer’s Market. But the next time you’re at Ralphs or Whole Foods, notice that they have a lot of organic options. The more you buy, the more they sell, and more will be available in the future. And if you’re at a Farmer’s Market, you don’t have to insist on organic. By supporting local farmers you are helping decrease the energy cost of agriculture. The best of both worlds is buying local organic produce. But you know what’s even better? Getting Tannaz to cook it for you.


Note: This note was brought to you by Brad Brauer. I (Tannaz) was too lazy to set up an account for him, but really, he wrote it, not me.

[Thanks (nz)dave for the photo.]

Blog Action Day: Momentum is Rising

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action DayEvery once in a while, I get a certain kind of email that I find particularly infuriating. A forward that has made the rounds for God knows how many years, calling me to action. One of those things that, if everyone in the world took part, something incredible would happen. I open the email, skim through quickly, entertain for a half-second how cool it would be if it did actually work, curse the person who sent it to me for wasting my time yet again, promptly hit the delete button, and get on with my day.

But when it comes to the issue of the environment, the 'I am but one man' argument no longer holds water. Books like Jared Diamond's Collapse, and Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma (yes, this is very much a book about ecology) are national bestsellers. Super-high-profile celebrities like Julia Roberts, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Jeffrey Katzenberg are foregoing fancy sportscars to make a very different statement scooting around in Priuses (plus, in the case of Katzenberg, I can tell you firsthand that he takes great strides to make to make the corporation he runs clean and green). An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore's impassioned film about the urgency of the issue of global warming, is the fourth-most popular documentary in history at the box office. What I"m saying is, everyone is doing it.

For one, my mom is an environmentalist and doesn't even know it. With zero fanfare, I was raised in a home that, quietly and with little self-awareness, was doing its part. The more I read, the more I come to realize that the idea is to shrink our footprint -- the simpler we keep things, the lower our impact is, the better off we are. When it comes to food, Violet (my mom and I are on a first name basis), stays close to the source. A bowl of fresh fruit is always on the table, processed foods are kept to a minimum, and dinners are constructed -- quite artfully -- from real fruits, vegetables, meats, and rice. She often makes her own preserves and dries her own herbs.

In Violet's kitchen, nothing is ever wasted. Those dried herbs might reside in a jar that once held pickles, old boxes gain new life holding bags of spices, and leftovers sit in yogurt containers that have been washed and reused dozens of times. After a trip to the grocery store, all the plastic bags are folded and stashed for future reuse. You don't run the dishwasher unless it's full to the brim, and same goes for the washing machine and dryer.

I have a few simple ones of my own. I walk to as many errands as possible. I've started taking canvas bags to the grocery store -- I always got frustrated when, even at Whole Foods, they would pack a couple small in items in doubled up thick plastic bags. Now I get an extra smile from the checkout person, not to mention compliments on my rad Los Angeles maptote. The Hollywood Farmer's Market is my new favorite place, and the benefits come back to me in the form of interesting produce I'd never see at the supermarket, and good, good times.

The point is, this is no longer a small niche of wacky hippies flailing about in vain. It's a significant movement, and simple changes can make a difference. Everyone's doing it. catch up! I encourage every one of you to educate yourself, see what simple changes you can make, and if you haven't already, check out your local farmer's market. It's a fun way to spend an afternoon outside, see people, walk around a bit, and get acquainted with your food.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Aww, Lucy: Bake Sale for the Skylight Books Cat

Everyone who knows me knows I am not a pet person. But for years, I've always loved the sweet kitty basking in the sunny window of Skylight Books in Los Feliz. As if a shady tree in the middle of the store and a vast collection of McSweeneys publications were not enough, this cat is the coziness cherry on top over at Skylight. Sadly, Lucy has been diagnosed with feline lymphoma, and Skylight Books is having a bake sale (and you know how I feel about bake sales) this Sunday to help out with her medical costs. (They've also put a donation jar at the counter.) Here are the details:

What: Lucy Benefit Bake Sale
When: Saturday, October 13, 11 am
Where: Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont Ave., between Hollywood and Franklin

Ways you can help:
  • Donate baked goods to sell
  • Buy some delicious baked goods
  • Volunteer for an hour or two to man the bake sale table

For more info, call or email Kerry kerry@skylightbooks.com

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

I Have a Blog Crush: Figs Olives Wine

Well, it's like a crush in that we're just getting to know each other, this blog and I. But I've already learned so much (by nature, blogs are not a shy bunch), and with every new post, I'm struck anew by the gorgeousness of Figs Olives Wine. Its writer, Amanda Darrach Filippone, is a Manhattanite chef, but her food is pure Mediterranean. She highlights seasonal greenmarket produce in unpretentiously alluring recipes. All of her dishes seem to have that distinctly Mediterranean deceptive simplicity that floors me: she puts together just a few ingredients in a way that seems so obvious, but is clearly quite artful. It's actually a bit infuriating -- recipe after recipe, photo after photo all lead to "why didn't I think of that?!"

And then there's the paragraphs (I love paragraphs). This is not a blog where an amateur waxes sentimental about her love of food (like, say, the one you're reading now). There's an academic expertise here that really appeals to the food geek in me. Her grasp of seasonality is impressive -- she's really mastered that squirrelly issue of 'Where does my food come from?' with monthly harvest calendars and a well-researched knowledge of the New York greenmarket circuit (not to mention the harvests of far-flung bits of Italy, France, Turkey, Greece...). And the stories that precede the recipes often include fascinating anecdotes, taking you from Sicilian breadcrumb slang to the spice-heavy days of the Black Plague to a houseguest hospitality in Cyprus. Delicious.

So, basically, what I'm saying is, check out Figs Olives Wine, swoon over the photos, learn a thing or two about Mediterranean cuisine, and make me some.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Your Neighborhood Gourmet Fruit Stand

Can we talk markets for a sec? Because there are a few around town that are very important to me, and I want to share. I'm only going to talk about one right now, but I think it's a pretty unique place, and these days I really miss it. I'm talking about Marina Farms, a small westside market that despite its diminutive size, never disappoints in the quest for quality, inexpensive produce, and much more.

Back at my old job, on days when the sun was shining just right for a walk, we'd trek a few blocks to 'the fruit stand' for a bag of cherries, or a tangerine -- in one variety at Marina Farms, piled high just outside the door, the fruit was not completely connected to the skin. Shake it around and you'd feel the fruit inside wobbling about inside the lumpy skin. They were super sweet too. The store is about 80 percent produce -- a wide variety, and cheap: all manner of apples and peaches, tiny bananas, plenty of fresh herbs, and more.
But that other twenty percent is not to be overlooked. You wouldn't guess on first glance, but Marina Farms is an unassuming gourmet shop. The back corner of the store houses a small crunch of products like walnut and hazelnut oils, polenta and other interesting grains, this awesome saffron tea from Spain, and more. I like that I can go to a corner store, not at all fancy, and pick up creme fraiche or imported chocolate bars. You get the special ingredients you need, without having to pay a premium for snobbery. They also have a shelf devoted to more health-food-store-like offerings -- nuts, seeds, and candies that they package themselves. (And they even carry my very favorite addictive substance, Have'a Corn Chips.)

Now that I don't work near the Marina anymore, I've been on a mission to find something like Marina Farms farther east. While I've found plenty of fancy gourmet markets, and plenty of pushy bustling ethnic markets, the middle ground that Marina Farms strikes is unique. Too bad.

Marina Farms is at 5454 S Centinela Ave., north of Jefferson. They close at 7, so get there early!

[Thanks to Dan Phiffer and the Del Rey Neighborhood Council for the photos.]

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Top Chef Finale Tonight! Holy Crap!

UPDATE: Ok, so it didn't turn out the way America (or at least I) wanted it to. Tom was surely disappointed with his 'Case', but, hopefully their love affair will remain intact. But, what was the deal with everyone wearing the same clothes as they did the last day in Aspen? Weird, right? And, if they were going to do that, could they at least have chosen something pretty for gorgeous Padma to wear? That dress was so medium. Anyway. More to the point, what am I going to do with my time now?
-------------------------

Friends. The moment of truth looms. Will it be Dale, his mohawk, and his mischievous little-boy face? Will cheeky Hung show the judges that behind that cocky grin and robot-perfect technique lies some hot immigrant soul? Or will it be poised and composed Casey, quietly busting out dishes that make the judges purr, looking all the while like she has a hair and make-up entourage primping consantly her behind the scenes? Honestly, at this point, I'd be happy with whoever won.

(But what I really want is for Hung to mess up. Again. To be so sure of himself, so busy grandstanding and basking in his own glory that he forgets the sauce, or the meat, or something French-sounding. Sweet justice for a salty, salty man.)

Thoughts? Predictions? Bets?

Sunday, September 30, 2007

more living less blogging

I know, I know! Two weeks and no post! This is truly terrible. But the last few weeks have been this busy: the produce drawer in my fridge molded over, I've missed the last three episodes of Top Chef (and this with a DVR), and until this morning, there was hardly room to move among the basket of clean laundry yet to put away, the displaced dirty laundry strewn all over the floor, birthday gifts still in disarray, and all the other crap that manages to accumulate when everything is already a mess.

In fact, this whole summer has been a busy one, and there were a lot of great days, meals, events that I would have loved to share here, but got lost in the shuffle. But the last couple weeks were a particularly harrowing one-two-three punch: all on pretty much the same day, summer ended, Yom Kippur came and went in all its misery glory, and good lord, I turned thirty.

So, in a cleansing ritual befitting the start of the Jewish New Year (so, it was three weeks ago. Do I look like the atomic clock?) -- one of three New Year's celebrations I participate in each year -- I present you with

Everything I Should Have Blogged About This Summer, But Didn't
  • Sonoma. I spent a dreamy weekend in a cottage in the woods of Sonoma this August. Two of my closest college friends and I trekked up for the long-awaited wedding of our friend Jana. This wedding was supposed to happen three years ago, and now that Jana has been in full remission for a couple years, and has gotten law school and the bar out of the way, it finally did. The whole trip was a dream that ended too quickly -- after marking our arrival into town at a late-night taco truck, we found the perfect little cottage that a scheduling glitch had bumped us into, complete with infinity pool. So we romanced the next day up with home-cooked breakfast, then cheese, fruit, chocolate, and of course wine, all poolside, accompanied by every variation on the In Touch/Us Weekly/OK family of pap we could find (in addition to The New Yorker, thank you very much). The wedding itself was perfect, too: paper lanterns in the trees, tables in the dirt, flowers in jelly jars, jugs of aguas frescas and bottles of local wine, hosted by a sister, officiated by an old friend, and the bride and groom looking happier than we've ever seen them.

  • Summer Dinner Parties, or Tannaz hones her Persian rice skills. First Rachel and Ashley invited some friends over to grill fish and eat it outside. I went with the traditional Iranian accompaniment to fish, sabzi polo: delicate Persian rice made even more fragrant by layering it with fresh dill, parsley, fenugreek, and chives. Then when the bake sale girls had a late summer reunion, the main course was a sultry dish of chicken roasted with fresh peaches and rosewater, so I made a sweeter riff on zereshk polo, which is usually made with tart barberries: Persian rice topped with a mix of slivered almonds, dried cranberries, and onions, sauteed together with saffron. Both were huge hits, and my tahdig skills continue to improve! (One of these days we need to get into the nitty gritty of the art that is Persian rice.)

  • Beach Days. One took us south to Laguna Beach: walk to Crescent Bay, lie under the sun with magazines and gossip, dip into the water for a chilly swim, finish the day with cocktails and dessert overlooking the ocean. The other took us north towards Zuma, with a stop at the Malibu Fish Company: fresh seafood and some of the best fries ever, followed by the discovery of a secluded semi-private beach that our rowdy crew managed to happily stomp all over.

  • Rosh Hashana. In the homes of most Ashkenazi (white) Jews, you eat apples and honey, have a round challah with your dinner, and you're good to go. But the Sephardic (brown) tradition -- well, the Iranian leg of it anyway -- has a full-on seder, as complex as the Passover one. Before dinner, we have a soul-food-esque feast that includes beets, tongue, black-eyed peas (especially good with leftover honey), dates, and pomegranate, each with symbolic significance for the year to come, and each with its own prayer. Our family has many irreverent takes on these ancient rites (like the annual demonstration of the sound of a cow without a tongue mooing), but that's a story for another post.

  • The birthday. For the first time since I was born, my birthday fell on Yom Kippur this year. So, hot on the heels of 26 hours of fasting, I met friends for a great night of drinks and silliness in the pretty much perfect setting of the Hotel Figueroa's poolside bar. The next day held a barbecue hosted generously by my parents, where we learned that Violet is a natural at the art of guacamole, and that margaritas make even the best day better (well, I already knew that last one). I was bowled over by the generosity of friends and family. They obviously know for whom they are shopping: cookbooks, a Mozza gift card, funky pearl tea from China with gorgeous earthy tea cups from the MOMA store, more fancy tea -- this time with dried fruits and sunflower seeds built in, a hunk of swoony Humboldt Fog cheese the size of my fist (well, let's not take away from it -- it's really size of a normal person's fist), cookbooks, jewelry, an ice cream maker, and more. As if this wasn't enough, 2 friends took me to a birthday dinner of a seemingly endless string of tapas on the cozy patio between La Loggia and Next Door Tapas in Studio City -- banana caramel napoleon, anyone? -- and 2 other friends took me out to Little Tokyo for a delicious izakaya dinner at Izayoi. Simmered tripe, anyone? (Seriously, you should try it -- it's surprisingly delicious.)
So, as you can see, the blow of leaving my fun-sounding twenties and entering my depressing-sounding thirties (and oh boy, was it a nasty blow!) was cushioned by good times and massively great friends and family. Looking back on this action-packed summer actually makes me feel okay about already being in the thick of autumn (not to mention the autumn of my life. ok now i'm just being dramatic). Hopefully now that I've gotten that bottleneck of items out of the way, posting here will resume as usual. Thank you for your patience, and happy autumn.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

the dearth of coffee beans around here


It looks like a Coffee Bean is coming to the corner of Third and Crescent Heights. This is great news, as I was really getting tired of having to walk all the way to the one on Third and La Cienega, or the one a block away, at Third and Fairfax, or the one about 5 blocks from that one, at Third and Martel. I mean, sometimes as I'm walking past the Coffee Corner and the Starbucks in the Farmer's Market to the crepe place to get an iced cappuccino, I think to myself, there really aren't enough places to get a decent coffee in the area. I mean, granted there's Bagel Broker a block up Fairfax, Mani's all the way down Fairfax, and the espresso bar at Whole Foods in between, just across from Frank's keeping it real with their delicious regular coffee; and yeah, there's Doughboys (ahem, not at the moment, but usually), and Little Next Door right, well, next door. And of course there's Joan's, Toast, Alfredo's, and Who's on Third, and I guess, the Seattle's Best Coffee inside Borders, and the Starbucks in the Beverly Connection, and the Starbucks and the Coffee Bean inside the Beverly Center. But seriously, is it too much to ask for a couple coffee shops around here? Geez.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Boule Atelier: Champagne Wishes, Chocolate Dreams

The crowd at Boule Atelier's opening party was artsy, sophisticated, and rich. I am none of these things, but managed to sneak in to the delicious new space for champagne and sweets.

Jammed into the new space -- from the minty green storefront back to the impeccable kitchen -- guests chatted over pink champagne and an endless flow of smartly appointed baked goods. Trays flowed with the most elegant pain au chocolate; deeply chocolaty sables; dainty mini-macarons in lemon/saffron, matcha, and raspberry; lemony warm-from-the-oven madeleines; tiny eclairs brushed with vanilla-specked glaze; cubes of pistachio nougat in edible paper; and even savory breads: a bacon ciabatta pulled into organic shapes, foccaccia topped with minced olives, crisp breadsticks, and some of the most gorgeously frilly croissants I've ever seen.

Boule's chocolates were not on the night's menu but sat prettily in the display case across from Boule's gelati, each piece a perfect little cube, artfully rendered, ingeniously flavored (campari citrus caramel, anyone?). The space itself is equally refined. It doesn't quite capture the charm of Boule's posh robin's-egg blue boutique a few doors up, but the new shop is at least twice as big, and high ceilings and hexagonal tile floors give it an urban feel, with enough pretty touches to carry along the boutique's luxurious style.

All in all, it was a nice little respite from the average weeknight: champagne and excellent sweets, all in a lovely space. My kind of happy hour.

Boule Atelier is at 408 N. La Cienega, one block north of Beverly. Note though, that according to Eater LA, it doesn't open officially for another week. For now, get your fix at Boule's original bakery a few doors down at 402 N. La Cienega.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Cube: Philosophically Mine

Once upon a time, I conjured up an idea of how the perfect diet would go. It involved everything fresh and bright: lots of vegetables, even more fruit -- particularly figs, ripe and tender -- salads dressed with grassy olive oil, the most vibrant colors splashing every plate. Meat consumption would be slim, but would come in the form of seafood and the occasional bit of red meat -- if not cured or smoked and sliced impossibly thin, then definitely grilled. Wine, prosecco, minty ades all would be part of the discourse. And everything would be eaten outside. Maybe it's a little silly, but over the years, my friends and I have spent inordinate amounts of time developing The Philosophy. And this weekend at Cube on La Brea, it came to life.

This tiny spot used to be the Divine Pasta Company, and still has an Italian bent: the menu covers an extensive list of artisanal cheeses, panini, and pasta -- Divine Pasta, of course, including a wide variety of ravioli -- as well as gorgeous salads, vegetable sides, and meatier mains. I swooned over how well the menu understood the spirit of the Philosophy: dishes like grilled prawns with salsa verde, or summer cantaloupe with black pepper, olive oil, and ricotta were summer incarnate. We ordered light: a cheese flight, a ravioli dish, and a salad.

A meal on Cube's front patio is festive. While, admittedly, our server seemed a little bored with the proceedings, he did adhere to the no-corkage policy, so a few twists of the corkscrew and we were adding to the bubbly chatter of the small sidewalk space. Even the cheese was living it up: along with a nutty 3-year provolone, ciambella all'aglio, and 2 kinds of salumi, we also got ubriaco al prosecco -- a cow's milk cheese that's bathed as it ages in all the grape stuff that's left over from making Prosecco -- all sitting happily on a slab of chalkboard marked with their names. The pasta was a delight too -- rapini and pecorino ravioli with brown butter and sage.

The prize of the night was the salad though, with even its name sounding like it had been preened and primped for hours by a food stylist: first of the season pink pear apples, speck, shaved fennel & red cow parmesan with acetoria apple balsamic vinegar. Perfect half-discs of fresh apple had it looking like a piece of modern art, and flavors clamored for attention like a bunch of rascally kids: smoky, pungent, nutty, sweet, even a pleasant bitterness.
Top it all off with a Valrhona chocolate lava cake, as decadent and deeply chocolaty as it sounds, oozing into vanilla bean gelato. (Perhaps you'd say this dessert was a little heavy for our summery Philosophy, to which, in this case I would reply, philosophies were made to be broken.)

Cube is casual but thoughtful food. It's got a cafe atmosphere (in fact, the shop itself sells take-home pasta, artisanal cheeses, gourmet olive oils and much more, but all this is lost in shadows at night), but with its no-corkage policy, seasonal produce and quality ingredients, a informal meal here becomes something special. I guess that's what The Philosophy's all about.

Cube is at 615 N. La Brea Ave., between Clinton and Melrose.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

odds and ends: bake sale photos and the new yorker food issue

Two Fun Things for a Summer Day:
  • Photos from the No Cookie Left Behind Bake Sale are HERE. delish!
  • This week's New Yorker is The Food Issue and it's awesome. A long, meaty article about my personal inspiration and genius of all that is the Sephardic kitchen, Claudia Roden; and a story on Singaporean food by perhaps my favorite food journalist, Calvin Trillin, and more more more. I will be reading it cover to cover on the beach in Malibu tomorrow. Happy day.
Guys, I'm melting.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Come and Knock on the Griffin

Every person inside the Griffin, a loungy tavern in Atwater Village, looks like this:


Every person outside the Griffin looks like this:

Joking aside though, the Griffin is a lot of fun, and is not unlike the Regal Beagle. It's very local and subtly hip. Carpet and dim lighting make it cozy. You might run into someone you know there from Santa Monica -- I did, as well as a friend from West LA, and a couple others from Silver Lake, and a few from the valley (for some reason everyone in town is driving miles east to this place for a night out -- maybe a night in Atwater Village's mellow urban suburb is a nice reprieve from the sceney scene farther west). And you might see Jack and Chrissy secretly handcuffed together at adjacent tables.

For all its fancy decor, it's a familiar place. The bartenders are friendly, and drinks are cheap. There is a smoky patio out back, but you won't find Jack Tripper in chivalrous fisticuffs with some octopus of a man who won't take "no", let alone "I can't go out with you tomorrow night because I have to wash my hair", for an answer. Mostly because there's no room for fisticuffs. It's super-cramped, so you can't really be shy with your neighbors. But it's fun that way: just like on "Three's Company", hi-jinks ensue.

Also, there are a lot of misunderstandings at the Griffin.


[Note to self: don't drink and blog.]
The Griffin is at 3000 Los Feliz Blvd., at Boyce Ave.

Recurring Fantasy


It happens every day. As I drive to work, at around 8:30 in the morning I pass slowly by the giant Hollywood and Highland shopping center. And I think to myself, maybe today will be the day. I'll find a spot that hasn't been reserved for tour buses, and park my car on the curb. I'll wait an hour and a half until Beard Papa opens. Then I'll cross the street, walk in, and order a green tea flavored creampuff. I'll sit down with it and start eating it slowly: delicately break off small pieces of pastry with two fingers, lick any dribbles of custard -- slightly bitter with its tinge of matcha green, balanced with perfectly velvety texture and rich, creamy flavor. Forgetting that I'm now about 2 1/2 hours late for work, I'll savor each perfect bite.

Then I'll get up and order another one.

I have this thought every day on the way to work. Every single day.

Is this weird?

[thanks stanley for the photo]

Monday, August 27, 2007

Made it Myself: 2 of 2

In researching this new culture (heh) of homemade yogurt, I decided to check a blog that is new to me but has quickly found a place in my heart. In Figs Olives Wine, New York chef and food writer Amanda writes with a Mediterranean perspective on eating: simple preparations focusing on the best local seasonal ingredients. Needless to say, I love it -- I'm Mediterranean-obsessed, after all, and the stories that accompany her recipes are charming and fascinating.

No word on home yogurt making, but I did find a recipe that for something to have with my yogurt: cherry spoon sweet. Good lord, what a treat. Less mushy and homogenous than preserves, the cherries stay plump and whole here. It was a perfect way to use up some cherries that were beginning to shrivel in the fridge. After the slow, conteplative, Zen-ish task of pitting cherries, it comes together quite quickly and leaves your kitchen smelling like some sort of exotic candy shop.

I skipped the sterilizing step, since it was going to sit in my refrigerator, and such a small batch as I was making would get eaten fast. I also omitted the blanched almonds for simplicity, lowered the sugar, since I wasn't using sour cherries, and replaced her cinnamon and star anise (sounds delish, but I'll save those for colder days) with lemon zest and vanilla bean. Except not vanilla bean -- instead vanilla extract. I mean, I contemplated stopping at Trader Joe's really a lot, but like, it's Friday night and I've got a full-time high-profile (ha) job for god's sake, and I can't be a slow foodist and a career woman at the same time, not that I ever wanted to be a career woman, and I have to get to Atwater Village later tonight to hang out with strangers and check out some new bar that's not that new anymore because I'm just not as on-the-ball with this city as i think i am but still it's east -- way east -- and that counts, right? Right?

Anyway, I had it for breakfast on Saturday.

Cherry Vanilla Spoon Sweet

Gorgeous colors abound in making this recipe -- winedark juices as you pit the cherries, and a pink at once both deep and bright as the juices cook. Just take care not to get them all over yourself -- pit the cherries with your hands inside a deep bowl.

about 40 bing cherries, pitted
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp red wine
2 tbsp lemon juice
4 long thick pieces of lemon zest
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (or about 1 inch of a vanilla bean, sliced open and seeds scraped into the cherry mixture)

Combine all ingredients in a medium pot. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring gently but continuously. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring often, for about 8 minutes, or until the cherries are slightly wilted.

With a slotted spoon, remove the cherries to a sieve over a bowl (you can do this in one step with a spider strainer, what's quickly becoming my favorite kitchen gadget), but leave behind the lemon zest. Raise the heat to medium and reduce the liquid for 5-10 minutes, until well-thickened.

Remove spoon sweet from the heat and allow to cool. Spoon mixutre into jar.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Made it Myself: 1 of 2

In the time between getting home from work on Friday and making my way to The Griffin for some hot Atwater action, I made yogurt. In doing so, I signed my life away into some weird yogurt making society that has its claws on me tighter than the Church of Scientology on baby Suri.

When I replied to that fated work email, I didn't know I was joining a cult. Someone was offering a bit of starter for something called 'Caspian Sea yogurt.' You add milk, let it sit for 8 hours, and voila. Romantic images of skinny French women and their yaourtières, and Greek island women pouring honey over thick homemade yogurt filled my head, and so I replied. Next day, a friendly woman stepped into my office with a tiny tupperware full of something that I believed to be both Caspian Sea yogurt, and Caspian Sea yogurt starter (it should be noted here that this product named for the Caspian has nothing to do with the eponymous body of water and actually comes from Japan. I'm holding judgment).

the lab
This endeavor is an act of faith. A strange woman gives you something, tells you it's going to turn your milk sour and thick. This could be a container of Elmer's glue for all I know, or fluff, or cyanide. But don't worry, just eat it, it's good for you. Not only that, but in acquiring it, you get a lecture that subtly ties you into a lifelong yogurt pact. Apparently, the live cultures only last three days. So, you have to make more yogurt every three days, or else your starter is rendered dead and useless, and you can never make yogurt again (the horror!). In fact, the reason this woman was giving away starter was to protect her own investment: she's going on vacation, and wants to make sure she has a starter source when she comes back. I've been sucked in.

So, now I've made the leap into the cult of yogurt, how did production go? Well, it took a little longer than 8 hours -- I let mine sit overnight. But in the morning I had several containers of a yogurt that was a little less firm than what I buy from the store, and a little stretchier. I tried both whole and low-fat (2%) milk. They were similar in texture, but the whole milk was a little heavier. Both had a tangy taste that, if it were a little stronger, would be gross, but as it was, was fine -- natural tasting, which was the point of making it myself, right?

It was extremely easy, and now I can have all-natural organic yogurt (provided I use organic milk) ever available in the fridge -- breakfast for days. I even sweetened and froze a portion, breaking up the icy bits every couple hours -- instant natural frozen yogurt!

So, friends, if anyone is interested in making their own Caspian sea yogurt, I'd be glad to give you some starter -- just let me know. Come on, you know you wanna join the club.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Enter Pinkberry

The initial shock having long worn off, I'm still a bit put off by the less-bizarre-than-i'd-like-to-think clash of uber-fad Pinkberry and the stalwart Farmers' Market. Nonetheless, there it is, and apparently, it opened today.

Whatever, schminkberry, I'm going to Scoops.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Deconstructing Dinner

Remember when I used to cook? Seems like lately nearly every post is about a restaurant or a bake sale (more on the latter below). The last couple months, the best you've seen me muster up is a sniffly soft-boiled egg. Kinda lame, really. Well, there are 2 things going on: for one, there has been some cooking that's gone undocumented, that we'll get to one of these days. But more to the point, I'm being fed so generously on a day-to-day basis that I hardly have room for more.

You see, I haven't talked about it much here, but I started a new job back in late April. After a 4-month hiatus from the world of visual effects, computer programming, and paychecks, I fell back into it, with a job at Dreamworks Animation. Believe me, I struggled with the thought of leaving languid mornings of half-grapefruit and green tea for breakfast, followed by a walk through my neighborhood. Not to mention the impromptu meet-ups with my niece and nephews (and their mother, of course), the consistently clean room, the afternoon naps -- just because I felt like it. And oh so much writing.

But, then, on the other hand, after meeting some of the people at Dreamworks, and visiting the gorgeous campus, how could I resist? The work environment (laid out like a Mediterranean villa -- complete with courtyards, fountains, and bougainvillea everywhere), the smart, personable potential coworkers, and the work itself, all seemed like an eerily perfect fit.

And then there was the food. Man, free lunch ain't the half of it. For breakfast, the commissary serves a wide variety, including fresh fruit, a different baked good every day, eggs, cereal, yogurt, and more. For lunch, a hot entree (tomorrow is Argentinean flank steak with chimichurri), a vegetarian entree, an extensive salad bar, an equally extensive sandwich bar, and for the summer, daily barbecue outside. Still hungry? Well, there are desserts, snacks, frozen yogurt, slurpees, an espresso machine, and the entire collection of Tazo teas, even the Darjeeling they don't carry at US Starbucks (!) -- it's endless.

So, you can imagine how, by the time I get home, I'm simply not that hungry. Certainly not hungry enough for a full meal. So a few weeks ago, I devised a system: I'm simplifying dinner, scaling it back to its most basic elements. My new dinner plan has 3 items: some fruit or vegetable, simply prepared, whole-grain bread, a small hunk of cheese. The end.
It may seem meager, but let me tell you, it's a revelation. It's certainly enough food for me, and on these balmy summer nights, no one wants to cook much, or eat anything heavy, anyway. Now, sometimes there is cooking involved, and sometimes there is variation: the whole-grain "bread" may be buckwheat soba noodles, "cheese" might be butter or yogurt, or maybe even hummus, but the endless variations keep me excited with this deceptively simple diet. I buy the produce the day I'm going to use it, because my schedule is unpredictable, and leftovers sit around until they rot. And, unfortunately, I keep fresh herbs to a minimum -- again, because I use about 2 sprigs and the rest turns to sludge in my fridge. You see, this isn't totally about slow food; it's about finding a way to make eating dinner at home work for me.

I think it's not just me. There seems to be a move towards simpler, cleaner meals. Over at Orangette, a commenter and a trip to France got Molly thinking about paring dinner down, and at the New York Times, Mark Bittman, self-proclaimed minimalist, gives us 101 meals to make in 10 minutes -- an impressive list in which, over and over, he comes up with inspiring meals of just a few ingredients.

My own list includes the following:
  • Grape tomatoes sauteed with basil (the frozen pellets from Trader Joe's -- not the same as fresh, but better than nothing) over fresh spinach with multigrain bread and a hunk of Maytag blue cheese.
  • Frozen peas in a garlicky-lemony broth with parsley (more pellets), topped with fruity olive oil and parmesan, served with more multigrain bread to dunk in the broth.
  • Purple corn (regular will do, but what a find -- so pretty!), just barely cooked and served with crumbled cotija and Tapatío.
  • Baby bok choi sauteed with garlic, ginger, and sesame seed oil, served with soba
  • My first taste of morels! sauteed in butter and served over multigrain bread. (When portions are small, and there's no meat, you can splurge on individual ingredients.)
  • Skinny asparagus, roasted in the toaster oven, with lots of salt and pepper, and a sprinkle of parmesan.
  • A mini Margherita pizza on whole-grain dough (from Trader Joe's, natch) baked in the toaster oven.
  • And tonight, nothing but bread, Bosc pears (leftovers from the pear and yogurt cake I made for the bake sale), and a sliver of brie I found in the back of the fridge.
When it comes to dinner, turns out, less is more.



And a note about the bake sale, quite frankly it was awesome in every way. It was such an outpouring of goodwill from far and wide: from Tai at Scoops, who after seeming minorly flustered by the hubbub in the morning, offered by the end of the day an open invitation for future events, to the random stoner dude who came out of nowhere to offer our stalwart sign painter a pillow to kneel on, from bakers coming one after another to drop off their delicious handiwork, to a team of volunteers that I simply can't say enough about. Even the parking attendant looked the other way at about 10 cars parked illegally so they could get some sweets and help the kiddies.

And then there were the consumers. The woman who heard us on Good Food as she was driving on Melrose, made her way to Scoops and bought up a bunch of stuff, then reappeared in the afternoon to snag a gorgeous coconut cake from Lark bakery (amidst a round of applause from us!). The one who read about us on DailyCandy and brought her daughter, who naturally chose a pink cupcake. Coworkers from long-defunct companies who I haven't seen in six years and who now live in Phoenix. Lovely Catherine, another LA blogger who stopped by after teaching a hoop dancing class! And plenty of friendly vegan bicyclers. Thanks to this sprawling network of support, we were able to raise over $1300 for Share our Strength. Rad.

[also.. pictures coming soon!]