Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Hollywood Reservoir

Would you believe this is Los Angeles?

This isn't about food.  But, it's so beautiful I had to share.  Did you know that up in the hills above the most cloyingly Hollywoodish part of Hollywood, right in the shadow of the Hollywood sign, there is a huge and beautiful reservoir?  You drive up from Gower, then let yourself get totally turned around as you wind through tiny residential streets (lined with an amazingly eclectic set of houses). The city slowly fades away, and you end up in this lush green oasis with very little foot traffic (and an odd tendency towards Europeans among the small crowd who was there).  The Hollywood Reservoir is beautiful.
There's a dam with weird little bear's heads sticking out below its walkway.  There's a wide path, perfect for walking or biking, and the air smells cleanly of evergreens.  The path doesn't go all the way around: it ends where it meets residential Tahoe Street.  You could keep going on Tahoe at this point; you'd end up near Universal City (yes, the reservoir is that big).

Here's a Google Map of the reservoir.  We drove to Weidlake Drive, and parked where it meets Montlake Drive and Lake Hollywood.  You enter the premises there, and are met first with the dam.  You should go; it's lovely.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Panacea: Gravlax

 On a perfectly crisp day during winter break, I was at a fancy craft fair in a backyard in Angelino Heights, a block away from Carroll Avenue (one of those amazing secret treasures of Los Angeles that you really ought to see), with my friends Rachel and Jodi.  Rachel turned to us and said one of those things that, in normal circles, would be totally weird, but among us is perfectly normal.  Par for the course, actually.  All excited, she said, "You guys!  We should start a club where we cure things! Like, make sausages, and gravlax, and stuff like that!  Wouldn't that be awesome?!"  And supportive friends that we are, we totally agreed.  Of course it would be awesome.
As we browsed the crafts, we fleshed this idea out, and eventually I even came up with a name for our club: Panacea.  Because, you see, we cure all.  And on new year's eve day, our planacea became reality.
Our first project was gravlax:  a Swedish dish of salmon cured with a sugar and salt mixture and aromatic herbs.  After a few days wrapped tightly in the fridge, you wipe all that stuff off the fish's surface, and end up with a salty-sweet, flavorful product, ready to be sliced thin and eaten on dark bread (or whatever you want).
Guided by a great book called Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It, the three of us took a few slow-foodish hours, and in the end, were on our way to having created something that felt really substantial.  Using recipes in the book, we made two varieties of gravlax:  one classic, packed with lots of fresh dill, and the other, with fresh fennel and orange zest.
I come from a long line of women who crowd into kitchens together, and have had a good share of girly dinner parties with my own friends, too.  There's an efficient, perfect rhythm to women cooking together.  The three of us worked so well with each other:  sharing tasks, cleaning as we went along.  We shared the same space gracefully, all the while gabbing, catching up, laughing a lot.
Things went so well that we even DIY'ed a batch of ricotta cheese once the gravlax were prepped.  But that's a story for another day.   For now, gravlax.  And Murray.
oh, hello, Murray
PS It's Rachel's birthday today!  Happy, happy birthday, Rachel!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

LudoBites 8.0

It may seem counter to my bloggerly being, but until this latest round, I'd never attended LudoBites.  Something about all the frenzy that surrounds it makes me want to run in the other direction.   Between the phone-in hoops you have to jump through to get a reservation, and the gaggle of female bloggers who, under the 'Ludobitches' moniker, have branded themselves as groupies of happily married chef Ludo Lefebvre, it all just sounded like a scene I'd rather not deal with.   It's like my reaction to Downton Abbey -- when everyone is freaking out about something, I decide I'm too cool.  But then, one night in late January, a friend's plus-one bailed and I was invited to sit in.  And I couldn't deny my giddiness.  I got in to LudoBites!  With zero effort!  And as will no doubt be the case when I finally break down and watch Downton Abbey, I totally ate my words and thought it was amazing.

LudoBites is a really fun concept: at his whim, Chef Lefebvre takes over the kitchen at some restaurant for a very limited time, and creates a full menu of shareable items, all with his signature mix of the best ingredients combined in unexpected ways.  When I got there, the air seemed charged with the collective excitement of all the diners who made it into the fleeting pop-up.  The T-shirt-clad waitstaff provided excellent service, and affordable carafes of tasty house wine (in addition to a list of wines and beers) made you feel that, despite the high caliber of the food being served, this wasn't an ostentatious meal.  Our group of six ordered everything on the menu, and were treated to a string of strange and wonderful tastes and textures.
The meal started off with pure indulgence: chicken tandoori crackling, followed by brioche with yuzu seaweed butter.  The former, the creamiest chicken liver mousse dolloped on a square of crisp chicken skin.  Salty, fatty, mineraly goodness; tastebuds piqued, big-time.  The latter, a fluffy, buttery brick of brioche so comforting that a child would swoon over it, but spread generously with a decidedly grown-up compound butter with the bright Asian notes of yuzu and salty seaweed.  I seriously spent the rest of the meal contemplating getting an order (or nine) of the brioche to go.

One of the most elegant dishes of the night was simply called 'Scallop, Leek, Potato, Black truffles' (first photo), a combination of soft, mellow flavors, punctuated with dots of an herb sauce and pops of briny roe.  One of the most challenging was Uni Crème Brûlée, a bizarre combination of sea urchin, sweet custard, a hint of coffee, and salty salmon roe.  Once you got past the initial shock of completely uncharted culinary territory, it was actually quite delicious.

Raw beef has surely never looked as beautiful as it did in a dish of Raw Beef, Radish, Beets, Eel.  Thin slices of radish and tart green apple, and a blood-red beet puree offset the richness of the meat. 

Opulence came in the form of soup.  Based on its looks, I expected the dish of Foie Gras, Tamarin, Turnips, Daikon to be a ramen-like broth, characterized by fattiness and salt.  So, I was totally shaken by the first spoonful, with its intense tamarind sourness.  I was also taken aback by the amount of foie gras in the dish: I don't know, it was just...a lot.  Not my favorite, but others at the table loved it. 

OK, that's enough.  I realized when I wrote two epic posts on the Istanbul Eats walking tour that I don't particularly like writing posts that are endless lists of every bite.  I get bored, so I suspect you guys do, too (correct me if I'm wrong?).  Sure, there were more outstanding dishes --  an excellent red wine braised duck, perfectly cooked John Dory, and a kooky take on lemon meringue pie that tasted as delicious as it looked whimsical were just a few.  So, I offer you a link to the rest of the photos from the night, artfully shot by my date, Erin Ramos.  And instead of the itemized list, I leave you with this.

The best part of the night for me (aside from the part where in my head I decide that Chef Ludo himself designed the night's awesome 90s-hip-hop playlist) was my vantage point.  Overall, I wasn't thrilled with the space:  Lemon Moon is a cafeteria in an office complex, and the ambiance of its bright, spacious dining room just didn't match the excitement of the night.  But it has an open kitchen, and from my seat, I could watch as one chef prepped plate after plate, using an empty glass display case as his work station.  He was meticulous about every detail, and I watched as Chef Ludo peered intently over his shoulder, hanging on every drop of sauce, making sure each dish was just perfect.  In that moment, all the LudoBites fanfare made sense: every item I was served was at the highest level.  Chef Ludo and his team took great pains to achieve harmony from a wild array of complex flavors, to make every plate beautiful.  A world of mindful effort is behind every bite.  He's pulling out all the stops, putting all he has out there.  In that moment, I totally got the LudoBitches.  There is most definitely something hot about a man who works so hard to ensure that I, that all of us there, feel taken care of (and seriously, the French accent doesn't hurt, either).  This meal made me feel taken care of -- how can I dare act too cool for that?

LudoBites' last night is tomorrow night!  Get there!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Baking Bread In Iran

My very first breakfast inTabrizUPDATE: In the last 8 hours (1-9am Los Angeles time), this tiny blog has gotten over 800 hits.  Unheard of for the blog, thrilling for the blogger.  Save a few exceptions, they are all coming from Facebook, and from all over the world.  I'm unable to see who it was that posted the link on Facebook (clearly someone with a lot of friends!), and am dying to know!  Can someone post a comment or email me and let me know?!  So, so curious!!!

UPDATE 2: A kind anonymous commenter clued me in.  David Lebovitz, who writes beautifully and hilariously about his delicious life as an ex-pat in Paris, linked to this post on his Facebook page.  Clearly Mr. Lebovitz is an influental man around these circles.  I am incredibly stoked.  Thanks for the post, and best of luck on the kitchen remodel!

And to those of you who are stopping by for the first time, welcome!  Wish I could pour each of you a cup of tea!

When I talk to adults who grew up in Iran, the memory of warm bread, fresh from the noonva, or baker, always comes up.  It's one of those little luxuries that supermarket culture has thrown to the wayside here in the states, but in Iran, bread is still taken quite seriously.  There are just certain ways with Persian bread -- tearing off pieces of the thin lavash that's laid underneath skewers of kabob right off the grill, yellow with saffron and saturated with the rich, seasoned juices from the meat; or splitting open a piece of warm, sesame-specked barbari, spreading it with sarshir, Persian clotted cream, and a spoonful of homemade strawberry preserves -- that you simply aren't going to achieve with your old Wonder bread.  There's also rich and slightly sweet shirmal, taftoon, lightly spiced with saffron, and sangak, with its yummy bits of  char and sprinkling of nigella seeds.
Inside Barbari Bakery Anissa Helou, a food writer I was first introduced to via her beautiful Mediterranean Street Food cookbook years ago, has a great blog that exposes little bits of the world of Middle Eastern food that we'd probably never be privy to without her.  (She also features a Belly Dancer of the Month, so obviously, she has my heart.)  Today's post tells us about a story she's written for the March issue of Saveur on Iranian food (you can bet I'll be picking this up), and she included a couple videos of Iranian bakers in action.  It's worth checking out: I love how fluidly and rhythmically the three men in the top clip move through each other's space, just like interconnected cogs in a machine.

Thanks to mohammadali and kamshots for the photos.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A New Look!

I'm really excited about the little housecleaning tear that went on here.  I loved the look that lovely Heather at CheekyDesign had done a few years back, but minimalist urges came creeping in, and I wanted a clean, white space where I could post larger photos.  The header image is of my own kitchen.  I have a lot of love for that particular spot as it's where, over the past couple years, I've come to discover that I can pretty much create anything I want.  Grab a jar from the shelf up top, pull a bowl from the hook, and turn a bunch of ingredients into something that brings smiles and nourishment, and keeps my apartment feeling like a home (Beloved tea and coffee also start here).  On the best days, it feels like my studio, and I try to share that here.  So, please, make yourself at home!

I trust Thom Yorke when it comes to matters of the heart.  He tells us that true love waits, and if you're reading this after my 3-month disappearance from this place, I appreciate that you're still here!  On this Valentine's Day, thanks for waiting; thanks for true loving me.  I totally true love you back.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Dinner, Local: Harvest Spoon

Nights like tonight are pretty magical (what, you thought I had disappeared?).

It's weird that we haven't talked about Meg here, because actually, she's spectacular.  Meg Taylor is the woman behind Large Marge Sustainables, and when she's not feeding the crew of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, or crafting her catering company's newsletters, each of which closes with poetry, she's finding ways to feed anyone she can find, every bite laden with love and magnanimity.

Meg's foods resonate with her beliefs: community building, protecting the environment, including everyone, and eating well.  She works with school gardens, contributes to bake sales (her insane lemon rosemary shortbread has been gracing our No Cookie Left Behind bake sale since its first year), creates neighborhood picnics and dinners, and more, always serving satisfying, delicious food on real, non-disposable dishes, regardless of venue.
Tonight was the start of the latest expression of Meg's heart, Harvest Spoon / Cosecha Cuchara.  In her words, the concept was "to create an opportunity for communities to connect, form deeper bonds, and intersect with other communities in public spaces over local-garden-sourced dinner, discussion and performance," and this dinner in the park delivered exactly that.  
local lemons
The food wasn't merely local, but actually community sourced:  greens and citrus came from the gardens of attendees, and Meg whipped up a totally satisfying vegan and gluten-free meal (after all, everyone was included) with warming soups, hearty mains, and bourbon-spiked dessert.
jam jars for soup
Conversation ranged from greywater recycling and soil additives to providing food for Occupy LA, and the same guy who was helping us carry giant pots of cauliflower soup from truck to table at the beginning of the night was later going wild on a Spanish guitar as we all huddled together in blankets to keep warm.  It was that kind of night.
I feel strongly about using food as a vehicle to build community (this is not news).  I love the fact that I'm not the only one.