Sunday, April 27, 2008

Two Photos

"Au café, il y a toujours une chance de parler, d'écouter, d'émouvoir, d'être ému."

(At the cafe, there is always the chance to talk, to listen, to move, to be moved.)
(Indulge me, I'm taking a French class...)
(These photos are by Pierrick Bourgault. Aren't they lovely?)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

4 non-food-related things that are really cool

Oh, Los Angeles, you never fail me.
  • The Silent Movie Theater. I mean, they show a documentary about tea, complete with an intermission tea party -- a generous serving of rare oolong and home-made potstickers -- on their lovely Spanish patio. They screen Jim Henson rarities, and when the 8pm and 10pm screenings sell out, they add another screening at midnight. There are couches. What's not to love?
  • Taking the subway to Staples Center. Faster than traffic, easy peasy, drops you off across the street, and if you're lucky, the whole train will break into Bon Jovi's "Wanted, Dead or Alive" mid-commute.
  • Tuesday nights at Heartbeat House, an awesome dance studio in Atwater Village. First, JP will whip you into gear with his Latin/hip-hop stylings and sweaty, high-energy beats in his Zumba class. Then Heather gets you to work muscles you didn't know you had, all in the most feminine way, in her Bellydance class. Might be my favorite two hours of the whole week. (They also have an 80s dance party class, people!)
  • Thai massage. Is the best thing ever. For one, it's cheap ($45 for an hour!). For another, along with all the regular massage stuff, they yoga you. So, not only are you kneaded and smushed, but your sore, stagnant, muscles are stretched in just the right ways. Quite possibly the best, and most effective, massage I've ever had.
[Thanks to KarenLeah for the Silent Movie Theater photo.]

Friday, April 18, 2008

Get You Spork On...Seasonally

Do you ever get the feeling that you're getting further and further from the sources of your food? To me, it often seems like everything is so pre-cut and packaged and continually available that we begin to forget that the things we eat (in the best case) come from the earth, and have a connection to our local climate and geography, and to the changing of the seasons as we orbit the sun. I'm always seeking ways to get closer to the source, so when I learned that Spork Foods, the cheery culinary sister act out of Silver Lake, was holding a class on spring's seasonal and local foods, I jumped on it. And people, it's good.*

Spork Foods is Jenny and Heather Goldberg. Jenny, a vegan chef who studied at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York, handles the culinary side of the business, and Heather, who's worked at TreePeople for years (and is an awesome local musician) handles the rest. Now, I am not vegan or even vegetarian for that matter, but sometimes I like to pretend. My experiences have been hit or miss, but I always know to trust Jenny: her foods are healthful and truly delicious.

The classes work like this: you step through a perfectly appointed Silver Lake living room to the kitchen, where you take a seat at the long counter with your fellow students in this intimate, informal class. From here, the magic begins. This isn't a hands-on, everyone-cooks kind of class, so you just have to sit back and pay close attention as Jenny wows you with her delicious ways and her pearls of wisdom. How many of you knew that Meyer lemons and bay laurels (which produce bay leaves) are local to Southern California, hmm? Or that apple cider vinegar stimulates the digestive system? Lucky for us, Jenny is constantly betraying the semi-medical secret double lives of her ingredients as she cooks.

Because of the subject of this particular class, the focus was on fruits and vegetables, so there weren't too many exotic meat substitutes or other wacky replacements (not that there's anything wrong with those -- in a previous kitchen encounter, Jenny taught me to love seitan**, and I'm still an ardent follower). But a few simple vegan preparations made sense: curdle your soy milk with a bit of vinegar to get 'buttermilk' for your strawberry shortcake, Chef Jenny teaches us. And to top the shortcake, she made a whipped 'cream' from chilled coconut milk that was so delicious, it could stand on its own atop any dessert, vegan or not.

The kitchen was wild with vivid colors: beautiful spring peas from the farmer's market, just plucked from the pod -- some plump, some tiny -- would make the frozen variety cower in shame. Sturdy rainbow chard, with bright red veins running through its deep green, kept its color as it was sauteed with cremini mushrooms and white beans as a filling for elegant phyllo purses. Strawberries, carrots, and bright basil oil kept our eyes as stimulated as their aromas did our noses. As we savored all this, the class is so well-timed that before we know it, a full multi-course meal had been prepared before our eyes.

At the end of the class, we sat together at the table to dine -- and really, between carrot soup, phyllo purses, warm new potato salad, and an awesome strawberry shortcake (comforting and ultra-fresh at the same time), it's quite the feast! Between oohs, ahs, and satisfied grunts, I got to know my classmates: a South Bay make-up artist whose car is powered by 'veggie' fuels; a stalwart vegan who swears by her strict diet for saving her health, her sleep habits, and her life; and a vegetarian newbie trying to spice up her cooking repertoire. Despite the vegetable love in the room, I never felt cast out for my carnivorous tendencies. I guess everyone knew that anyone can benefit from a Spork Foods class. If you know what's good for you.

The schedule of classes for April, May, and June is up on the Spork Foods website, and includes yummy topics like Southern Food, Mother's Day Brunch, and Amazing Vegan Desserts. Check it.

* Full disclosure, just so we all start on the same page: I paid for my class, but the Goldbergs are old friends, and I've been a fan of Jenny's unique style of vegan cuisine for years. But really though, it's good.
**Don't be fooled by the disgusting-looking seitan pictures on the linked Wikipedia page. Clearly the photographers have not been schooled by Chef Jenny on the best brands to buy, nor the best ways to prepare it.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Did someone say...

caption contest?

come on people, i'll even throw in a prize...

before i forget: DineOut LA

So, the idea is, go out for dinner on Thursday night. The only stipulation is, go to one of the bajillion or so restaurants listed here.

And that's it. That's all it takes to help prevent hunger and homelessness for individuals and families impoverished and disabled by HIV/AIDS.

In fact, it can even be breakfast or lunch. And there is definitely a restaurant in your neighborhood that's participating -- they've got the westside, the eastside, and my neighborhood in the middle covered. There's even one in Westlake Village. Through DineOut LA, local restaurants are donating at least 20% of their proceeds for all of Thursday April 17 to Aid for AIDS, a local organization providing financial assistance to people living with HIV/AIDS under the poverty line.

A great cause, and a great excuse to dine out.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

sabzi polo pictures

as stated, when I made my own sabzi polo, i was too fixated on eating to take any photos, but when we went to my parents' a few nights later, my mom had made it as well, along with the requisite fish (in this case, a gigantic salmon filet with saffron and lime juice, and -- surprise! -- a little soy sauce). i snapped some pics. the flower pattern in the tahdig is slices of potato, which fry as the rice crisps on the bottom of the pan. delish like a knish.

glorious tahdig goodness

the full spread: salmon, sabzi polo, sabzi khordan (fresh herbs and radishes), limes for the fish, pickles...

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Emeril Lagasse, Not So Smart

Now, granted, I can't expect everyone in the world to be an authenticity expert when it comes to a cuisine that's a little esoteric and only recently making its way into the culinary mainstream. But, if you're going to have an episode on your hugely popular one-hour show where you authoritatively instruct America on the finer points of Persian cuisine, could you at least feature Persian cuisine?

You'd think that at the very least, the resident expert, 'Minoo', would quit clucking about how perfect everything was, and clue him in on the fact that hummus, felafel, and tahini Are Not Persian Foods. Nope. Not at all. None of them. Maybe if Emeril read his own blog, he'd know about Najmieh Batmanglij's New Food of Life, and maybe, just maybe, he'd consider doing some research before the show, pick up the book, and see that none of those items are in there. Hummus ma lahma? Those aren't even Persian words. They're Arabic! Don't know the difference? Right. Great.

Now, there are as many variations on Persian rice dishes as there are Iranian mothers, so I won't comment on the particular Persian rice recipe he made (Yes, they did manage to wedge in one Persian dish between all the felafel and lahma (and speaking of lahma, really, check this out)), but in the world of Persian rice, one thing is fundamental: respect the grains. You want long, distinct grains of Basmati rice -- no extra starch, no sticky, no mush. I could just sense the old mamanjans cringing as he squashed down his sloppy, waterlogged, parboiled rice with a big heavy spoon. He just seems bumbling: glopping enough saffron on his chicken to spice the whole henhouse, smushing rice back into the pot with a heavy oafy hand. Come on, Emeril, we know you're paid handsomely. And for the love of tahdig, you're a well educated, and well-reputed, chef. Please, just try a little bit. Just a little. Please.

End of rant; thank you for listening.

(And, now that I'm done whining, I will say, the bits of traditional Persian music performance they played at the end of the show were lovely, and I was pretty tickled to see that kind of footage on national television. But still.)

[Thanks to Tostie14 for the image of our hefty hero.]