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!]

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

No Cookie Left Behind: The Little Bake Sale That Could

We talked a bit about the Great American Bake Sale last week, but I wanted to talk a bit more about my own bake sale on Saturday. I am completely floored by the support we've been getting. It's gone from a half-baked idea (heh) hatched up on a night like this, as I sat on my bed reading emails and surfing my life away, to a real-life thing, with a roster of people affiliated that reads like a who's who of Los Angeles up-and-comers: restaurateurs, caterers, and bakery owners; artists, musicians, and writers. And let me tell you, the roster of baked goods is even more glamorous. First let's get the basics out, because I want you all to come, and then I'll gush about all these details.

What: The No Cookie Left Behind Bake Sale and Hootennany
When: Saturday, Aug 18, Noon to 4 pm
Where: Scoops Ice Cream Shop, 712 N. Heliotrope, just north of Melrose
Why: As part of the Great American Bake Sale, we're filling you with sweets to raise funds for Share Our Strength, an organization that combats childhood hunger in the US by:
  • increasing access to the public and private programs that can provide food to those who need it,
  • strengthening the community infrastructure for getting healthy food to children, and
  • teaching families how to get the most nutrition out of a limited budget.

click flier to enlarge

Ok, now that that's out of the way.

The food: Mexican chocolate rice crispy treats, Persian-style baklava with saffron and cardamom, pumpkin cupcakes, strawberry cupcakes, cappuccino cupcakes, lemon bars, biscotti, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, orange vanilla cookies, chocolate Guinness cake, coconut cake,
fleur de sel caramel cake, maple vanilla granola, Barefoot Contessa coconut macaroons! And this is just a sampling! Woooo!

The bakers: Many food-loving amateurs -- some dear friends, some people I've never even met -- are contributing sweets. But the following delicious professionals are also representing: Lark Cake Shop, Spork Foods, and Reservoir.

The blogosphere:
Franklin Avenue
LA Lunchbox
Gastronomy 101
Green LA Girl
Living Large LA
Misanthropy Today
What's to Eat LA
Blackburn and Sweetzer
Metroblogging Los Angeles

The tipping point:
  • Watch out for No Cookie Left Behind in DailyCandy LA's Weekend Guide on Thursday!
  • Tune in to Good Food on KCRW 89.9 on Saturday at 11 to Ann Le of and Jenny Goldberg of Spork Foods chatting with Evan Kleinman about our bake sale (amazing, right?).

Seriously though people, it's gonna be rad. Stop by on your way to Sunset Junction or the Tofu Festival. See you there!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

From the Heavens, in Bovine Proportions

There's a certain sensation I'm thinking of. It has to do with a mundane weeknight meal becoming somehow festive, almost like a holiday. It's extremely casual. Mellow and friendly, and weirdly exciting. Usually there is a sense of the communal to it, and it's very blue-collar. It tends to take place somewhat outside. It has a taste of third-world to it, but the last time I experienced it was right in my own backyard: Manna is all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue, in Koreatown, in a tent.

For the first memory of this sensation, we go to Guadalajara. 2001ish, on a balmy night. We rounded up a bunch of Guadalajaran cousins -- strangers to me, as they were some sort of second cousins of the boyfriend of my friend (gushy sidenote: said friend and boyfriend are getting married tomorrow. woo!) -- and went to dinner. The place was called La Esquina, perhaps because it is on the corner, and it had a ceiling but no wall on one side. On the night's menu, shrimpburguesas.

OK, they weren't really called that, but that's what we were calling them. From the counter you'd get a burger, except instead of a patty was a bunch of shrimp, held together with a thin layer of melted cheese. So you got your shrimpburguesa, and customized it with toppings: basic hamburger stuff, plus strawberries pickled in jalapeno juice. Nothing fancy at all, but something about it was jubilant -- the place had a pulse.
Next we go to Israel and the world's most utilitarian kabob joint. A broad, completely unadorned hall with concrete floors simmered with activity. Stacks of cheap plates and mismatched flatware sat on a table against the wall. At every folding table was salt, pepper, and a bottle of lemon juice. Again, you'd order from the counter from a menu stripped down to the essentials: salad, rice, kabob. Skewer after skewer of chicken, ground beef, chunks of steak, made the place smell amazing. This place was a far cry from the trendy restaurants right on the sand in Tel Aviv, with perfectly groomed beach babes everywhere you look. It was in some town off the main road, in a strip mall, most of the clientele were families, and class-wise, it was a side of Israel that I hadn't really experienced before. But it was bustling, delicious, and just right.

Which brings us back to exotic retreat in our own backyard, good old Koreatown. Manna brings this lively, gritty scene to LA and adds to it a decidedly American bent: all-you-can-eat (17 bucks a person -- not bad at all considering how kbbq can add up). The tent has the proportions of a commissary, but is decorated with random twinkly lights -- about the only intentional decorative touches in the place. Sit down, order some beer (not included), and tuck into the extensive panchan. And prepare yourself for much meat: mounds of thin slivers of marinated beef, thick cuts of boneless short rib, or even chicken and pork keep coming faster than you can grill and eat them. And how's the meat? Solid. It doesn't feel buffet-quality at all -- it's quite good. Just try to balance it out with some rice or fresh green salad, also included and constantly refilled. A large crew of servers manage to wrangle the needs of a dining room full of patrons, and they'll even help normalize the temperature of your table's built-in grill if you seem to be struggling not to burn your meats.

There is nothing pretentious about Manna. Everyone seems to have a common goal: a straightforward path to as much Korean barbecue as possible, and enjoying themselves once they get there. It's the jolliest beef assault you can find, and everyone's invited.

Manna is at 3377 W. Olympic Blvd., 2 1/2 blocks west of Western.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

At Long Last

I'd been looking at this little blog with a little ... unrest lately. That old template just wasn't doing it for me. I mean, I thought it was quite cute, but it was just so templatey. And all the dots and colors and noise were eating up the pictures, not to mention the text -- not leaving much for you guys! So, with much amazing generous help from my dear friend Heather Hammill of Cheeky Design (who is quite delicious in her own right, let me tell you), and much wrangling with rounded corners and blogger quirks, we've created a tidy and cozy place, where I hope you guys will stop by often. Lie back on the couch, cross your legs over the arm, and enjoy!

And incidentally, this week marks another milestone for my little blog. You can now point your browsers to! still works, but now that the blog's all gussied up, it really needed its own domain, don't you think?