Wednesday, April 27, 2011

cook and bake. eat and laugh.

In the last month, I was on some sort of high.  I'm not sure exactly how or why, but for a good two weeks, I was bubbling over with happiness in a totally abnormal way.  I was buzzing, humming, flying.  I'd wail at the top of my lungs on the way to work, declaring along with the Cold War Kids that from now on, I'll be royal blue (seriously people, get their new album).  I'd go shopping, and everything would look amazing on me!  I couldn't wait to get home so I could dance around like a crazyperson.  The sun was shining; the world, and my life, were magical.  It was like everything positive I'd heard, read, seen for the last year that I just wasn't ready to believe had finally sunk in. 

It didn't last.

blood oranges
I didn't expect it to.  These things come and go.  But I discovered something.  There are things I can do to keep the magic going, to stretch it out as far as it'll go.  And a night like last Sunday, when my kitchen was filled with new friends baking and cooking and telling stories, then my living room was filled with the warmth of even more friends, laughing, gossipping, cooing over the day's work, moaning contentedly over its deliciousness -- well, if that kind of magic doesn't get you, you must be a robot.  What I discovered is that one major ingredient for keeping my world amazing is opening my home to good people: cooking, eating, and laughing together.

exotic ingredients
I won't bore you with how I'm connected to lovely Victoria, who designs beautifully sweet stationery as paper & type, or to sweet Satsuki, who designs handmade (by her!) goods as zakka nouveau.  I'll just say that through the magic of Twitter (I know), the three of us planned a baking day in my kitchen.  It was amazing to watch these women work.  Victoria had a conscientious meticulousness as she sliced lemons and rolled out perfect dough (then pierced the bottom of the crust in beautiful geometric patters -- no matter that her handiwork would be covered in lemon curd), and Satsuki lilted around the kitchen with natural ease, chatting happily as she formed pudgy little hamburger patties by hand.  Don't be fooled by their delicate appearance: there is strength, intuition, and wisdom shining through these two.

We cooked all day.  I was in charge of the blood orange galette, Victo made a sunny lemon tart, and Satsuki took on the main course of Japanese hamburgers with sesame snowpeas and completely-from-scratch miso soup.

hamburg steak
Satsuki's contribution was especially a treat.  For one, it turns out she is an encyclopedia of simple Japanese food preparations, and had brought with her specialty ingredients from at least 3 different stores:  the freshest bonito flakes ever, the cutest bundle of buna shimeji mushrooms, powdered beet sugar, and two kinds of seaweed -- one imported from the motherland.  And that's just some of her loot.  But also, we got to recreate a variation of one of the recipes she posted, with quirky hand-drawn instructions for each step, on her blog.  Though we went with snowpeas, her okra goma-e recipe is versatile enough for a variety of vegetable options.

satsuki's miso soup
The joy in the place multiplied when our dinner guests arrived.  Four giggling girls brought with them a new wave of infectious positivity, not to mention homemade kale chips (sprinkled with fleur de sel, bien sur -- it pays to work at Spice Station!), which we inhaled, and sweet-like-candy farmer's market dates.

We sat on the floor around my coffee table (our places marked by beautiful hand-written placecards compliments of miss Victo), drinking cheap sake out of tacky shot glasses, oohing and ahhing over every course, and smiling from the inside out.


The happiness-high of the past month made one thing clear to me.  The psychobabblers and spiritualists are totally, completely, absolutely right:  if you take the time to nourish yourself with quality, you will get results.  Nourishing, quality literature* and music get me pretty far.  But sharing in the slow preparation and eating of delicious, real foods with high-quality people goes an extra step to nourish both body and soul.

Hey, here are some recipes:
 - Blood Orange Galette with salted caramel sauce, from Lottie+Doof.  (Do you know this blog?  You should.  Totally crushworthy.)
 - Lemon Tart, from Design*Sponge
 - Satsuki's Okra Goma-e, from Zakka Nouveau (For snowpeas:  Trim the end and cut into bites.  Cook for a few quick minutes in a pot of boiling water.  Chill snowpeas, and add sesame and other ingredients just before serving.)

* I recently started reading Jonathan Lethem's Fortress of Solitude.  Halfway into the first page, I decided not to finish the other novel I was in the middle of.  My god, life is too short to waste time on mediocre pap when there exists writing that is so achingly, deliciously good.

Monday, April 25, 2011

how can you not love aziz ansari?

Just got the incredibly dreamy Italy issue of Bon Appetit magazine (thanks mom!), and whose napkin scrawlings did I find gracing the last page, but those of Aziz Ansari?  There's an extra interview with him on the Bon Appetit website, and it's the most lovable thing ever.  How can you not love a guy who namechecks Alegría on Sunset and basically recites the Animal menu by heart for a national magazine? This guy is clearly so passionate about food and about Los Angeles.  What is hotter than that?

Here's the interview.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cracked the Code: Bar Covell

The boys that run Bar Covell in Los Feliz have figured it out:  Girls like wine.  And girls like stylish, charming boys.  And once you have the girls, you'll bring the boys.  Boys like girls.  Oh, and boys also like beer.  Et voila, with this knowledge, they have cracked the code on bar success (right, because that's all it takes, Tannaz).  Even on a Wednesday night, the place buzzes with an energetic and beautiful crowd, and it's no coincidence.

The wine list is small at Covell, but the bartenders will engage you.  I've only seen the same three guys behind the bar: one owns the place, the other is the wine director.  The third, I don't know his position or pedigree, but this tall man leans in close, smiles with every word, and is a picture of wine knowledge, charisma, and undeniably alluring personality.  They dress as a wine and beer bartender in the heart of hipster country ought to: button-downs, vests, an occasional bow-tie... and tennis shoes.  And as soon as you walk up to the bar, a conversation rooted in your personal tastes on wine (or beer) ensues:  a miniature wine-therapy session that culminates in tasting a wine or two expressly selected to suit your taste, leading to the perfect glass.  Seriously, these guys know what they're doing.

Tonight, I had a glass of a Galician blend  -- spicy and fruity, but not too sweet -- that suited my palate, long ago trained on Spanish wines, just fine.  It eventually came with an unorthodox lesson in stemware from our dear bartender:  Sip the same wine from the bulbous bowl of a Burgundy glass and from the longer, leaner Bordeaux glass, and you will taste a difference.  Science meets poetry as the voluptuous bowl brings out the more 'feminine' floral notes in wine, while the slender glass accentuates the the spicier, more forward 'masculine' tones.  These are the kinds of lessons you learn at Bar Covell:  it's enough to make a lady blush! (I mean, not really.  Well, maybe some ladies would blush, but who would want to drink wine with those squares anyway.)

As if this were not enough, the decor in the place is impeccable:  dim light, a collection of vintage cameras resting on shelves made of stacked books on one wall, an old motorbike mounted on another.   And behind the bar, a section of cool black subway tile holds a perfect row of shiny chrome beer taps:  an Allagash, a Tripel, and a hefeweizen, in much good company.

There's food to be had, and though it can be pricey, you won't be disappointed:  gooey croques monsieur or mac and cheese, a traditional tortilla española fried in olive oil, Heirloom LA flatbreads, cheese and charcuterie plates, and a croissant bread pudding that will one day break my resolve -- just a few. 

Maybe it's because of the bartenders' demeanor, but something makes the crowd in this place extra friendly, and extra interesting.  You're surrounded by the beautiful hipster elite, but on a given night, you might exchange stories with a just-out-of-jail magician (true story), a freckled local musician, or a guy who runs his own local brewery and hosts free barbecues for the community throughout the summer.  It just feels good to be in this place.  Can we please make plans to go? 

Bar Covell is at 4628 Hollywood Blvd., 1 block east of Vermont.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

What You're Doing Today: Bake Sale for Japan

Not sure what you're doing today?  Good, I'll tell you.  This morning, you'll be going to one of seven bake sales strewn throughout the city raising funds for Japan.  If you go to the one at Black Cat Bakery on Fairfax, you can sample Lesley's crazy delicious bacon caramel popcorn.  If you go to the one at Forage in Sunset Junction, maybe you'll try one of my blood orange bars.  And there's no doubt that there will be plenty of other delicious things at the bake sales at Akasha, BLD, Angeli Caffe, Brentwood Country Mart, and the Chefs Center in Pasadena. 

And whichever bake sale you go to, the proceeds will be going to Peace Winds Japan, an organization headquartered in Japan and dedicated to providing "necessary support to people in need" since 1996.

Come on, guys, it's a no-brainer.  It's a bake sale. For Japan. Get there. Duh.

(And speaking of bake sales for Japan, stay tuned for details on a No Cookie Left Behind bake sale for Japan coming soon!  ON THE WEST SIDE! But in the meantime, go to this one today.)

All of the LA Bake Sales for Japan take place from 10 am to 2 pm.  More info here.