Tuesday, September 30, 2008

shana tova!

The typical Rosh Hashana image here in the states is of apples dipped in honey for a sweet new year, but in our Iranian Jewish family, for two nights in a row, our spread has a whole set of symbolic foods, and the whole thing has a strange 'exotic soul food' bent to it: roasted beets, cow's tongue (accompanied of course by the annual demonstration of the sound of a tongueless cow mooing, thank you cousin Sadaf), black eyed peas, fried zucchini, dates, and a big bowl of sweet-tart pomegranate seeds. Whatever your particular tradition, here's to a year of sweetness and peace for our community and our world.

Monday, September 29, 2008

On Cousins and Tomatoes

I have 25 aunts, uncles, first cousins, first cousins' spouses, and first cousins once removed here in Los Angeles. Most of these people are Persian, and yet, it's incredibly rare that we all go to the park together for a picnic. It's like we don't know we're Persian or something. So it was quite a miracle when, earlier this summer, all 25, plus myself and my own family and even a few relatives we brought in from Chicago, all alit upon unassuming Genesta Park in lovely Encino, California for a big old cousinpalooza; potluck picnic, card-playing, impromptu breaking out into song, softball, and in the great tradition of our people, tres leches cake for my mom's birthday. (Oh, and in the other great tradition of our people, a fight over pepperoni pizza.)

I've been really feeling this eat-local stuff lately, so I thought I would go ultra-local: My idea was to make a bread salad featuring tomatoes from Tapia Brothers, a little farm right in Encino with a market in front. It being the middle of summer, I thought I'd be able to get a variety - heirlooms, different colors, etc. When I got there though, for all the market's quaintness, they had one type of tomato and it was kind of ridiculously expensive. Hightailed it back to Whole Foods, who actually did have a good variety (including a basket of multicolored baby tomatoes -- perfect for this salad), and amazingly, at a reasonable price.

Some of the kids thought the pale yellow tomatoes were actually potatoes or some other random vegetable, but once they got past the initial shock, this simple salad was a hit with everyone from the oldest uncles to the tiniest cousins.

Tomato Bread Salad

Only make this salad with really good tomatoes, as it doesn't do much other than than showcase tomatoes (Note: even though it's technically fall, there are still pretty delicious tomatoes to be found around these parts). If you are not eating it immediately, store bread and salad separately, and toss together a few minutes before serving.

your favorite bread, cut into chunky cubes (A day or two old is fine.)
extra virgin olive oil
a variety of tomatoes, roughly diced
fresh minced garlic, to taste (I used only one clove, as too much raw garlic kind of grosses me out)
fresh basil, chopped
balsamic vinegar, the tiniest drizzle
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat broiler. Toss cubed bread with a little olive oil. Broil until toasted and slighty brown in parts. In a large bowl, combine remaining ingredients, along with additional olive oil. A few minutes before serving, add bread to tomato mixture and toss to combine.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I Guess I Like Fusion

Awesome article in today's LA Times about a few 'fusion' places in LA. It features interviews with two of my favorite local food people, Tai Kim of Scoops and Viet Tran of Viet Noodle Bar in Atwater Village.

The article isn't talking about fusion in the sense of weird Asian-French-Indian-Mexican hybrids, but rather a more organic fusion that comes with starting with a set of tried and true recipes, then tweaking them according to the new and exciting ingredients available here in abundant Southern California. I like this. Tai makes fun of hipsters and calls his particular style 'confusion', and Viet is fascinating and sweet in introducing us to bits of Vietnamese cuisine we never imagined existed.

Both men, along with Jorge Mora, the the man behind the Guadalajaran smoothies (with a SoCal twist, of course) at Olimpus Juices (I have to -- have to -- go here! Like, now.), get into the artistry behind creating their flavors and the Zen-like concentration with which they craft their product, whether it's ice cream, soy milk, or smoothie. Go read now.

  • My long-standing love affair with Scoops. (What's not mentioned: the pint of white chocolate/mint/banana that Tai gave me as a birthday gift on Monday night. See that? Love.)

[thanks to sarah palmer for the photo]

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Public Service Announcement: Spain...On the Road Again

I have been hearing inklings about this for months and months now, and it fills me with glee. I've been scared I'd miss it when it finally starts, but Heather just came to the rescue. Here's the deal: a new show on PBS called Spain...On the Road Again, which consists of Mario Batali, Mark Bittman, Gwyneth Paltrow (yes, she actually eats, with fervor, and also shows off her enviable Spanish skills), and Claudia Bassols (hot Spanish actress) traipsing around the eponymous country, eating, bantering, riding around in convertibles, and making me very, very jealous. The show sounds amazing; I can tell you now I will be its number one fan.

I'm sure you want to watch it too (I mean...), so let me just tell you, it will be airing on KLCS (channel 15 on our local Time Warner cable), at 10 pm on Thursday. I just watched a little preview, and it has me giddy. I've never embedded youtube videos here because I always find it a little garish, and also I'm a luddite, but this is pretty delicious:

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Taste of Fallen Fruit

You start with a peach, sitting on the sidewalk under the tree it fell from, a little squished from the drop, but heavy with syrupy juice, visibly sweet. You end up with so much more: a conversation with an architect who dreams up education centers for day laborers, a taste of a bottled vodka infusion that features Filipino limes picked from Myra avenue and bitter oranges from Talmadge, a meal home-cooked by an artist who moonlights in the kitchen at Canelé, a long twinkly dinner table in a cool industrial home made cozy by a black cat lounging about.
A few weeks back I went to a very special event. Clockshop is a local arts and culture non-profit, and with its Table Talk program, it brings together artists, writers, food people, all sorts of experts, for conversations, sometimes over dinner, at the Clockshop space in Frogtown, which also happens to be the home of its founder Julia Meltzer and David Thorpe. August's Table Talk featured Fallen Fruit, a living breathing art project centered around maps that point out where you can find public fruit and vegetables in Los Angeles and other urban centers.
In an open kitchen, David was putting the finishing touches on the night's meal, all accented by traffic-median-grown tomatoes, Silver Lake's own figs, and other foraged contributions.
People showed up, admired the sparse space -- the books against one wall, Julia and David's dreamy garden, the bits of art scattered around -- over wine and appetizers featuring local figs and bananas (yes, that's right, LA has bananas! A much better prospect than this.).
Over a gorgeous dinner of rosemary roast lamb stuffed with pine nuts and figs, vegetable couscous, a beautiful heirloom tomato salad (note to self: add crushed coriander and cumin seeds to tomato salad from now on. yum.), and wine flowing freely, I chatted with my neighbors. Everyone around me was fascinating: an art curator, an event coordinator focusing on art and environmental causes, a religion professor loving Los Angeles having just moved here from the UK, and not one but three local female chefs, all of whom focus their efforts on keeping their work sustainable, local, efficient, and delicious.

Eventually, Matias Viagenes, one of the three men behind Fallen Fruit, taught us a bit about the project. Fallen Fruit is not all about logic and efficiency -- it is, after all, an art project, and there is an inherent beauty to their work. What they do is a little bit magical. Imagine frolicking through your neighborhood, passing the same buildings and concrete you see every day, but this time, looking a little closer, then coming home with a bag full of just-picked fruits and vegetables, perfectly in season, impossibly local, completely free of charge. It's kind of a revelation. It might even inspire you to plant some of your own food-bearing plants for passersby. And in fact, Fallen Fruit is not stopping at maps. They're now working with local cities to create public fruit parks and replace some of the area's decorative, water-guzzling greenery with plants that grow food. Why not, right?
Everything about the night was pretty enchanted, from the setting to the company, from the meal to the conversation. But I was particularly struck by something called a Neighborhood Infusion. I'm waxing a little poetic here, but imagine capturing the spirit of a singular moment on a city street in a bottle. That's basically what it was -- they'd taken citrus from a couple streets on the eastside, infused vodka with the fruit, bottled and labeled it.
I love this -- had the fruit been picked at any other time of the year, had it been picked from any other street, the resulting spirit, refreshing with a tangy flavor that set it apart from our usual lemons and limes, wouldn't taste quite the same. I can't wait for these bottles to be available for purchase: this would immediately become my favorite gift to give -- a little taste of our big city.
At the end of the night, stragglers like me were able to fill up a bag with the bounty of the day's foraging. In addition to the found Asian pears, lemons (with actual juice! and fragrance!), peaches, and some amazing stubby bananas, I took home a reminder: explore your surroundings a little more deeply, Tannaz. You'll probably find beauty, and you might even find dinner.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

keeping afloat if just barely

ack. it's a sad fact that the more there is to write about, the less time you have to write it. this summer has been busy, in the best way, to say the least. i've quite literally not had a single night at home in the last 13 days. this will change tonight, and i'll update this neglected blog then. but in the meantime, can i just say that bobby flay just added my bake sale as a myspace friend? dude!

(i mean, i'm pretty sure that in fact some intern in central islip, new york, whose charge it is to update the myspace pages of the food network stars, is really the one who added me, but still.)

(and if you're bored with me, just go to manbitesworld -- the kid updates every day, god bless him!)

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Man Bites World... Today!

Can you guess how many countries are represented by restaurants in Los Angeles? 20? 50? Well, so far Noah Galuten has about 90 covered, and he'll be visiting a new restaurant (or 2, or 3), from a new country, every single day, until he runs out. Do you get how this is amazing? First of all, what dessicated husk of a human being doesn't love exploring ethnic restaurants and discovering new corners of her city (I've reached this stage in my life where I think that everyone is like me. Maybe this is a bad thing?)? Secondly, this project is a living, breathing love letter to Los Angeles -- a way to celebrate its unique diversity, in a different way every day. Thirdly, it's an awesome way to get people talking about food and culture, and to get us all to learn from each other. And finally, I gotta say the whole thing is a wee bit nutty. We're talking every day, people. As in Thanksgiving, and that weekend where all your friends are losing their money (and their sobriety, and possibly their pants..) in Vegas. I just hope that Noah's girlfriend finds balut, Filipino fertilized chicken eggs, crunchy with partially-developed bones, to be a romantic birthday dinner. We'll all be spending the day doing all that wild, fun stuff we usually do (I'm drawing a blank. Sigh.), while Noah is trekking to Monrovia to chase down poutine or pushing down anticuchos (that's right, kids, beef heart), all the while saving his stomach for the next culinary adventure, just a day away.

Check out his shenanigans at Man Bites World. They're still working out a few kinks with the site, but he's already got some supersweet photos of sunny ceviche at La Playita and amazing white mole at La Casita Mexicana to drool over. And of course, he'll have more tomorrow! And then again the next day! Forever! (ok not really forever. but close.)

Also, if you've got some knowledge of obscure restaurants in town, please join the discussion on the Man Bites World Facebook group (Note: facebook is a magical enigma, so I'm not entirely sure if the preceding link works. If you want in to the group, and can't get to it, contact me. I'm an officer, you know.). We know these countries are represented out there somewhere, we just need a little help finding them!