Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Finding an Engaged Community At the LA River Cafe Pop-up

Are you even aware of the LA River?  It's strange and wonderful.  And big things are afoot there.

I was pretty oblivious for decades, until a couple years back an epic six-mile adventure walk took me from my place in Los Feliz, across the Hyperion bridge into Atwater, down to River from there, across to Village Bakery, then back home, with side trips along the way.  [I should note at this juncture that for this day of River exploration, and all subsequent ones, my intrepid companion was my dear friend Stephanie Alpert of Rummage and Hollow Vintage.  Her hunger for adventure feeds me well.]
What we found was an peculiar mix of nature and urban, a concrete-walled waterway overgrown with reeds and other flora.  On that particular walk, we also discovered beautiful wrought-iron gates off Los Feliz boulevard, a well-groomed park on one side of the river, and in it, a path with signs posting instructions for yoga poses at regular intervals.  This was just the beginning.
Since then, we've discovered much more.  Just behind work, they recently opened the Glendale Narrows Riverwalk -- about a mile of river tidied up with picnic tables, wildflower landscaping, and a path populated by walkers, bicyclers, and even the occasional horseback rider.  For some, it's a vital part of their daily bike commute; for me, it's a place where I can clear my head during the work day, and get some movement in while I do.
But the neighborhood that probably has the most at stake with all the river's fabulous growth is Frogtown, or as it's also known, Elysian Valley.  Tucked away south of Fletcher, this small community of industrial studios and modest houses has had a gritty past, but these days, cycling along the River path, fraternizing at Marsh Park and Rattlesnake Park, birdwatching, fishing, and even kayaking, are part of life for the people who live and work there.

And now, as the secret glory of their riverside hideaway seeps out, the community is keeping a bright eye on Frogtown's future.

My first introduction to Frogtown was back in 2008, when local artists and conversation starters Julia Meltzer and David Thorne held a very special dinner featuring foods locally foraged by Fallen Fruit, a fruit-centered art collaborative that began by mapping fruit trees growing on or over public property in Los Angeles.

Back then, the airy loft space was Julia and David's home.  Now it's known as Elysian, and it houses private events, intimate monthly dinners, and continued discussions of cultural, social, political, and local issues.
RAC Design Build
Recently, I've been back to Frogtown.  Local hero Bruce Chan introduced me to LA River Cafe, a now-and-then popup of coffee, breakfast, and keen conversation steps from the river.  Eastside stalwart (and part of the all kinds of yum community) Cafecito Organico provides the fuel, and from there the program, menu, and venue vary.

The first one we went to took place at RAC Design, an architecture firm at the 24.7 mile marker on the River path.  They'd set up an espresso machine under a wood roof on their ample patio, and next to it, a food truck served up breakfast.  The highlights were the people, and the space:  we all ran into people we knew as Julia and David discussed future plans for the Glendale Hyperion bridge with architects from the firm over excellent cappuccinos in orange mugs.   The sense of community, and a vested interest in the city, were strong.  As we sat, more hungry folks rode in on their bikes, introductions were made, the circle of conversation grew.

Stephanie and I sneaked away to give ourselves a tour of the studio.  It's an awesome space.

The next time the cafe popped up, it was over at Elysian.  This time the community utilized the space's sunny garden as well as the indoor area, as David oversaw the open kitchen, churning out slightly fancier brunch fare like lamb meatballs with eggs, currant scones, and beautiful sauteed snap peas.  And again, conversations at communal tables turned to the future of Frogtown, the outside interests eyeing its unique location, and the efforts of the community to drive the area's evolution in a direction that sits well with its residents.  And of course, the hot topic was Frogtown Futuro, a series of film screenings, talks, art projects, and workshops exploring the past, present, and future of the area from every angle.  And subsequent pop-ups have taken over other Frogtown businesses and included activities like bike rentals and River tours.

striped citrus in the Elysian garden
The LA River is not beautiful in the way you might think of the Danube or the Nile.  It's an apt waterway for our concrete jungle.  But it's ours, it's awesome and getting better every day, and I look forward to seeing where it winds.

There are myriad groups and tons of information out there on the LA River.  Start with coffee: follow the LA River Cafe to find out about the next pop-up.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Turkey Meatloaf

We talk a lot about all the greed in the world, but I know there's something else.  I mean, look at us:  we get so much joy from watching someone else open presents that we do it at parties.  We sit around for hours mesmerized as others play video games.  And when we see someone getting enjoyment from something we've cooked for them?  Man, that's the jackpot.

I firmly believe in the importance of compassion, of hospitality.  Not for the recipient, but the giver.  I've recently learned about myself that it's utterly crucial to my general happiness to have people over regularly -- it feels nourishing to me.  Not only does it fill my quiet home with conversation and conviviality and force me to keep the place clean, but it gives me an opportunity to be hospitable:  to cook for others, make sure they have everything they need, use what I have to make others feel good.  And that opportunity is a gift.

Recently my friend Carolyn had some serious complications after giving birth to her second child.  An infection led to nights in the hospital, a days-long induced coma, and emergency surgery.  Those first days that should have been spent bonding at home with her family's brand new human were instead filled with worry and terrifying uncertainty.  Thankfully, Carolyn and baby Takashi are both doing great now, but it was a harrowing time for the family.

I'm not super close with Carolyn -- she's one of those people whom I rediscover how much I love every rare time I see her, but when I got the news through friends, hearing the clinical phrases for such awful circumstances was chilling.  I was so scared for her, and so sad for this nightmare her family was going through.  And as everyone does, my immediate thoughts went to what I could possibly do to help.  

Friends swiftly set up a MealBaby registry, and I was more than eager to sign up.  And so, on a sunny lunch hour last week, I got to drop off a meal of turkey meatloaf and roasted broccoli for the family, and spend a few quiet moments with Carolyn and her sweet, chubby little guy.  And all I could think of as I handed off the meal was what an honor it was to be able to share in the family's extraordinarily trauma, and to be able to help out even in the tiniest way.

the prize

Turkey Meatloaf
serves 4-6 people

Turkey meatloaf is commonly disappointing, but I've been told by some tough customers that mine is, and I quote, "amazing."  I don't come from meatloaf heritage (my mom tells me that back in Iran, they used to put hard-boiled eggs and whole carrots inside, so you'd get surprise designs when you sliced through.  SO WEIRD.), which gives me the freedom to go in whatever direction I want.  So, my meatloaf sways Italian, favors moistness, and gets a generous slather of homemade glaze.  Make it for someone who needs it -- you'll be glad you did.

1/3 C Breadcrumbs (or a slice of fresh bread, torn into pieces)
1/4 C Milk
2.5 - 3 lb Ground turkey
Olive oil  (optional, only if you are using super lean turkey, to add back some fat)
1 Small onion
2 Cloves garlic, minced or pressed (more if you want)
1 Tbs dried thyme leaves, or about 2 tbs fresh (be generous)
3 Tbs chopped fresh parsley
2 Eggs
3 Tbs Tomato paste (from a small can)
2 Tbs Worcestershire
2 Tbs Grated parmesan cheese (optional)
Salt and pepper, generously

The rest of the can of tomato paste, plus 1 more small can
1 Tbs Molasses
1 Tbs Brown sugar
3 Tbs Red wine vinegar (or apple cider vinegar, or whatever)
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350.

In a large bowl, moisten the breadcrumbs or bread with milk to make the (patented) moistmaker.  Add turkey and optional olive oil to bowl.  Grate in onion to get more juices and to get it better integrated with meat (this is a kabob trick).  Add in the rest of the ingredients, mix to incorporate well.  (I like using my hands to smush it together.)

Form into a loaf on a parchment-lined baking pan or pyrex (I like this better than doing it in a loaf pan -- you get the sauce on the sides, and it’s easier to cut and take out. Also this much meat wouldn't fit in a loaf pan).

Prepare the glaze:  in a small bowl, mix together all of the ingredients.  Taste it:  we’re looking for balance here, and the inspiration is ketchup -- the perfect blend of sweet, sour, and salty.  If it’s too sweet, add more vinegar; too sour, more sugar.  If it’s generally bland, try molasses and/or salt.

Spread the glaze over the loaf. If you have extra, save it to serve alongside (though, be wary of cross-contamination here:  maybe use one utensil to scoop glaze onto meat (without letting utensil actually touch the meat), and a different one to spread?)
packed for delivery

Bake the meatloaf for about 60-80 minutes.  Check on it at 45 and 60 minutes -- if the glaze is burning, cover it with foil. The internet says it should register 160 if you stick a meat thermometer into the middle, but if you don’t have one, just cut it open -- it should looked cooked, not raw.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Don't Call It a Comeback: Ricky's Fish Tacos

You guys, Ricky's Fish Tacos is back and it's back on Virgil and it's as amazing and crisp and fresh and wonderful and perfect as I remember horrrayyyy!

Some background:  Long ago, there was a cool space on the corner of Sunset and Manzanita called Mi Alma.   Funky vintage furniture shop, but also a big garden space, too, smack in the middle of Sunset Junction, where they held magical parties, screenings, and concerts, all out in the warm Los Angeles air.

And on sunny Saturdays, a smiley man with a Panama hat and a fat cartoon mustache would set up a fryer in a corner of this fantastical garden, and vend out the greatest fish tacos the city has known.*

After some time, he changed venues.  Ricky and his fryer moved to an odd private driveway on Virgil Avenue, and it was amazing.  Ricky is from Ensenada, birthplace of fish tacos, and his family recipe makes for the the most flavorful and shatteringly crisp battered fried fish.  Add to this shredded cabbage, super-fresh pico de gallo made fiery with chopped jalapeños, crema to balance out the heat, and an array of bright salsas to add complexity.  There wasn't a better way to spend a few summery moments than crowding in with your fellow angelenos at one of the mismatched tables on this makeshift patio, and savoring this taste of Baja in the form of perfect fried fish.  You'd start scarfing down bites, ignoring the real possibility of burning your mouth, because you want to eat it all before all the toppings sog up that perfect texture.  Some days, he might have aguas frescas, others, shrimp or even lobster tacos on offer.  Just gilding the lily.

And then, suddenly, Ricky was gone.

The rumor was that some competing food vendor had ratted him out (admittedly, his ad hoc space was not the most up-to-code -- though that was part of the appeal), forcing him to close up shop.  Eventually he resurfaced somewhere in Chinatown, but it just wasn't the same.

But lo and behold, our intrepid taco man now has his own truck, and it's parked in that very same Virgil driveway for lunch service!  It's a wonderful thing.  The anxious crowds of appreciators are the same, the mismatched tables and chairs are the same, the rolls of industrial paper towel on the tables are the same, and most importantly, the taco awesomeness is as awesome as ever.  Tastebuds, rejoice!  The only sad part is that you don't see Ricky working behind the fryer as you walk up anymore, as he's now cooped up in the big grey truck, but it's all good.  He's also got shrimp tacos, aguas frescas (mint cucumber yum!), and Mexican bottled beverages.

So, here's hoping our beloved Ricky never leaves us again.  The collective tastebuds of an entire city couldn't take the grief.

Ricky's Fish Tacos is currently parked at 1400 N Virgil Ave., just south of Sunset, 11:30 to 4:30, but check his Twitter @rickysfishtacos for the latest.

* Admittedly, Ricky's is not the only fish taco game in town.  Just up the street, Best Fish Taco in Ensenada is serving up serviceable fish and shrimp tacos.  And, farther out, Tacos Baja Ensenada is actually exemplary, but, I mean, Whittier.  

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Homely Mary

Been thinking I ought to drink alone more.

Hear me out.  I recently read a book called Rules of Civility, about a clever young girl in 1930's Manhattan, who gets swept from her workaday typing job into the glamorous world of smoky jazz clubs, glitzy parties, and lavish vacations.  She speaks in snappy noir bon mots, knows the best late-night diner in the city, and often, she ends her day by walking into her apartment and mixing herself a cocktail.  All this conventional wisdom against drinking alone, and yet, our heroine Katy Kontent makes it feel so very right.  I mean let's face it:  drinking makes us happier and better-looking.  Right?

It's kind of a Don Draper thing.  And see how well that turned out?  I really feel like it'd make my life better.  I want in.

But, ugh.  Stupid drinking comes at a cost.  Despite all attempts to be Zen/French about it, I am in a constant battle with calories.  And there's the issue of waking up useless the next day.  And, if I'm gonna be honest, I don't actually see the point.  Like, I'm alone, I get drunk, and then what? I lie on the couch watching TV just like I would have been anyway, only I fall asleep faster?  I love to drink, but I do because it makes me more social.

Am I doomed to never experience the mystique?  Is there no mystique?  Seriously, can someone explain this to me?

Well, I've come to decide that my home cocktail making isn't going to be about the buzz, but the bite.  And what drink typifies bite better than a Bloody Mary?  I love a Bloody Mary:  I like that it comes with nearly a meal of garnishes (did you know that the Bloody Mary at Bludso's comes with a bit of beef rib tip?  Kind of amazing.)  I like the horseradishy heat, and that it's completely savory.  I love that it usually signifies a bit of luxury -- it's brunchday, and you're going large.*

In the priggish January atmosphere of cleanses and new beginnings and all that silliness, I'm afraid I've jumped on the bandwagon, taking a boozy indulgence and turn it into a boringly low-calorie snack.  But the fact remains, it's delicious.  And only as complicated as you want it to be.  At it simplest, throw some ice into a glass, pour in tomato juice, and stir in a big gob of horseradish.  Stop there, or go wild with additions:  Old Bay, pickled veg (these beauties, perhaps?), smoked paprika (yum!), Worcestershire, celery salt, fiery hot sauce (anything from Tapatío to Sriracha), wasabi, fresh-squeezed lemon juice.  Anything goes.

So, maybe I'm not cut out for solo drinking after all.  Health and productivity are good things as well, right?  I don't know.  Not convinced.

Homely Mary

The last time I made one of these, I added Worcestershire and a bit of truffle salt.  It varies every time. You do as you please.

1 can tomato juice
1 Tbs horseradish
splash Worcestershire sauce (optional)
dash truffle salt (optional)

Add a few large ice cubes to a glass.  Add tomato juice, horseradish, and Worcestershire; stir vigorously to combine.  Sprinkle some truffle salt on top.

Makes 1 serving.

* I still dream about a Bloody Mary I had at beloved Prune in NYC.  A group of friends (the UAFTP: United Angelenos for Transcontinental Playgoing, obvs) were in the city to see a play a favorite friend had written.  Miraculously, our group of five was seated at tiny Prune at the height of brunch rush. We got our own weird table downstairs from the main dining room -- the only one there, just outside the kitchen.  Two in the group had gotten engaged at Rockefeller Center the night before.  The food was incredible.  Spirits were high.  And my Bloody Mary, picked from a menu of about 10 different ones, came in an oversized thin glass tumbler, with an entire garden of pickled vegetables, and came with a beer back in a tiny tumbler.  Good memory.  (bad hair.)

Monday, January 06, 2014

Announcements, Announcements, Announcements!

(You're totally singing the song now, aren't you?)

Hi friends!  Let's discuss some exciting bloggy bookkeeping things, shall we?  Boring, yes, but if you get to the end, you get a prize.

  1. I'm very excited to tell you that All Kinds of Yum is now part of the Daily Meal Culinary Content Network.  A couple weeks ago, I got a nice email with the subject "We Love Your Content", because clearly someone intuited how easily I am swayed by flattery.  From there, I was easily sold:  it's a group of great blogs around the country, all tied together by thedailymeal.com.  I'm thrilled by the chance to gain feedback through the group, and hope to bring some new eyes to this space and more voices to the conversation we have here.  And as you're seeing already, it's motivating me to spend more time here.  Good thing.  Here's hoping it lasts.  You'll see the Daily Meal's footer at the bottom of the page.  If you ever get bored with my blahblahblah, just click through for tons of delicious reading and viewing material.  
  2. Lots of link cleanup.  Now the links to the right point to pages I actually read.  Today, in 2014.  Cleaning house, see. Click around -- lots of good stuff from people I've grown to love.
  3. All Kinds of Yum has a Facebook page!  Horray!  Huzzah!  I'm super excited about it.  Throughout the week, I see so many things I want to share with you -- restaurant news, awesome LA stuff, sweet food art -- so many things.  Things that inspire me, and that hopefully inspire you, too.  Just as I believe that the real power of food is the way it connects people, I kind of dream that the page can be a place where food connects people, too -- through the conversation of the future, Facebook comments.  I encourage you to join in.  Like the page right over here.
And on a serious note, I love this time of year -- everyone is filled with so much hope and potential, so much motivation and positive energy.  2013 has been so crazy for so many people that it almost makes me believe in unlucky numbers (Almost, but not.)  I was pretty absent here in last year.  I tried to write once this summer, but the end result was so depressing that I couldn't bear to post it.  I mean, I was writing through tears.  I've had my share of ups and downs this year, but the end result has been deep awe and serious gratitude.  There were a few weeks in September when I couldn't stop saying to myself, over and over, "Everything is amazing."  It is.  

I'm super excited to be back writing here, and I'm deeply grateful (like, kind of to a psychopathic degree) for every single click, every comment, every share.  It means a great deal to me.  I wish each and every one of you a very happy new year.  Here's to a 2014 filled with slow peaceful time with nature; moments of buzzing ecstasy; unexpected surprises; challenges to keep us aware, alive, and grateful; sparkly connections with old friends and new; soul-satisfying food and drink throughout it all; and most of all, love.  Everything is amazing.

Oh! The prize:
it's a cat.  dressed as a shark.  chasing a duck. on a roomba.

Truly, everything is amazing.