Thursday, April 24, 2014

Trystero Coffee: Atwater's Own Garage Roaster

There's something specific I hope to celebrate with this blog.  Well, it's a few things, but they swirl together, and to me, they're pretty inextricable.  It's what drives my obsession with outdoor spaces (why, oh why, can't we have plazas?) and motivates me to walk or take the train. It's the spirit of having a great idea, starting where you are, and using what you have to make a little magic happen.  It's that feeling you get when an opera slowly materializes around you as you walk through Union Station.  It's what attracted me to the rustlings around Frogtown and the LA River, it's the force that pushed me to organize five years of amazing bake sales, raising tens of thousands of dollars for charity and bringing an entire city together over homemade whoopie pies.  Really, it's the very thing I love the most about living on the east side.  I talk about food here, but I do so because food brings people together.  It comes down to community, and the glimmers of light that grow when people decide to bring something special to the table.

So, I'm excited about today's post, because the topic exemplifies this magical thing, maybe more than anything I've ever written about here.  Plus, this goodness I'm talking about is being generated by coffee!  After my own heart.  A few months back, I discovered Trystero Coffee:  basically a guy in Atwater Village, roasting coffee in his garage, delivering by bicycle.  Already an amazing story, right?

the esteemed roaster
Then, I tasted the coffee.  I'll just leave this here:  The city's best coffee comes from a garage in Atwater Village.  I've now tried several varieties, and across the board, coffee made from Greg Thomas's garage-roasted beans is never bitter, always rich, and balanced just right.

But there's more to Trystero than just great coffee.  Most Saturdays, Greg opens up the garage to visitors, so I went to say hello and pick up my beans in person this weekend.  He's set up the modest space like a bohemian living room: between unfinished wood walls decorated with eclectic posters and clippings, mismatched chairs and and a funky old couch make for a welcoming place to meet your neighbors over a smooth cup of joe.  And Greg creates a warm vibe between strangers -- shaking your hand as you come in, and introducing everyone to each by name.  It's pretty special.

Hospitality reigns in the Trystero garage: after we'd been sitting for a bit, Greg turned from the espresso machine and said with a smile, "Can I make you a cappuccino?"  Uh, yes.  Not surprisingly, it was awesome.  Sweet without sugar, and again, perfectly balanced.
a perfect cappuccino

On this particular day, Trystero's ad-hoc coffeehouse was host to some community organizing.  Greg had opened up the garage to a couple Atwater residents collecting signatures in favor of adding a pedestrian path to the nearby Glendale-Hyperion bridge.  I'd walked the bridge that morning to get to Trystero, and it's utterly treacherous for pedestrians in its current state (though the view of the LA River from the bridge is pretty sweet).  So, petitions were signed, and the morning's coffee klatch talked about the project, about the neighborhood, about great bars and the Portlandification of Los Angeles.

treacherous bridge, beautiful view

And in addition to coffee, Greg uses the Trystero website to organize small events surrounding other passions:  bicycle rides, loud fun music, analog photography,  good beer, and camping with friends.  So much goodness.

So, in about an hour's time, a small group of strangers shared some knowledge and some warm hospitality, worked towards improving the neighborhood, and created a major spark of community.  All because a guy decided to do a little something great.  It's amazing what can happen over an exceptional cup of coffee.

bridge still treacherous, view still beautiful

Trystero Coffee is at 2974 Glendale Blvd.  Check the website for ordering details and delivery schedule.

[Incidentally, if you're interested in signing the Hyperion Bridge petition, let me know!]

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Matzoh Brei, Liberated

When I think of matzoh brei, I imagine Rob Reiner and Nora Ephron sitting at a table, arguing about the "right" way to do it. One argues vehemently for jam, the other is resolute about salt.  One knows for sure soggy is the only way, the other stands firmly behind crunchy.

How to prepare matzoh brei is one of those food questions that brings out strong opinions, like who makes the best pastrami in the city (though we know they're looking in the wrong city), or whose grandma makes the best babka.  These inarguable opinions are rooted in childhood nostalgia.  And when it comes to childhood nostalgia for matzoh brei, I have none.

Matzoh brei is a breakfast food that's a cross between scrambled eggs, French toast, and something unlike both of those, because neither has hard wheat crackers mixed in.  I was first introduced to it by the same grade school friend who taught me about lox and Thanksgiving candied yams.  And like those two, I thought it was super weird, and also delicious.

Because I don't come from a heritage of matzoh brei, I don't have to decide between sweet or salty:  I choose both.  Unfettered by tradition, I go with simple flavors and quality ingredients: lots of butter, farmer’s market eggs if i have them, real maple syrup, Maldon salt.  Something hoydel-doydel humble maintains its comfort, but picks up grown-up flavor.

I'm curious how others make it.  How do you like your matzoh brei?

Matzoh Brei

This is a super simple recipe, so you can go crazy with variations.  A friend adds lox and dill with delicious results.  I can imagine it'd be great with some of that Hebrew National beef salami that was a Passover staple in my childhood home, or, well, sausage.  Sometimes I fry it in olive oil instead of butter, mirroring the amazing olive oil/maple syrup flavor combo of the best granola in the world.  But most times, simple is best.

Per serving:
1 egg
1 Tbs milk
1 matzah
3 thin slivers of butter
Flaky salt
Maple syrup

Beat the egg with the milk in a small bowl.  Run the matzah under water to moisten on both sides.  Break into bite-sized pieces, and mix into egg mixture.  Let sit for a few minutes.

Heat a sliver of butter in a small non-stick pan over medium-high heat.  Add the matzah mixture to the pan, and stir over heat to make sure all bits are cooked through.  After a couple minutes, add the second sliver of butter and mix through.

Serve on a plate, with a third sliver of butter, drizzled with maple syrup and sprinkled with salt.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Spicy Chocolate Tart with Ginger Almonds

I promised a spicy chocolate tart recipe, and have ever gone back on a blog promise (don't answer that)?  This tart is ridiculously good.  The texture is velvety, and its chocolatiness deep and rich, but it's cut with heat from cayenne pepper and crystallized ginger.

A simple gingersnap crust echoes the filling's spice, and topping it with ginger-cayenne almonds (I used Fat Uncle Farms' Ass-Kickin' Ginger Almonds) brings the whole thing home.  The filling recipe is based on a Mast Brothers chocolate-on-chocolate tart that appeared in Bon Appetit a few months back.  They topped theirs with maple almonds, but ours is better.

Seriously.  Make this.  You'll swoon.

Spicy Chocolate Tart with Ginger Almonds

The original recipe called for a 9-inch tart dish, but I did great with a 9-inch springform pan.

The crust:
40 ginger snaps
1/2 stick butter (1/4 cup), melted
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 300F.

Grind snaps in the food processor.  Add butter, process to combine.  Press into 9 inch tart dish or springform pan.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Allow to cool.

The filling:
1/2 stick butter, cut into pieces
10 oz chocolate (70% cacao or more), broken into pieces
1 1/2 C heavy cream
3 Tbs honey
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/3 C chopped crystallized ginger

Place chocolate and butter in a large bowl.  In a small saucepan, bring cream, honey, salt, and cayenne to a boil over medium heat, whisking to dissolve honey.  Pour cream mixture over chocolate mixture; allow cream to melt chocolate for about a minute, then whisk until smooth.  Stir in crystallized ginger.

Pour chocolate mixture into crust; chill for at least 4 hours.

The almonds:
1/4 cup Fat Uncle Farms Ass Kickin' Ginger Almonds

Coarsely chop almonds.

Before serving, top tart with almonds.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Fat Uncle Farms: Finding Joy in Almonds

Regarding almonds: they're the best.  I have a giant bag of roasted almonds at my desk at work and eat them pretty much every day.  Almonds are my constant companion and I love them.  So, you can imagine my excitement when my old friend Lisa connected with her old friend Nate, a man who spends his days dealing in almonds. Lovely reader, I'd like to introduce you to Fat Uncle Farms.

[Full disclosure:  Fat Uncle Farms gave me lots of delicious free almond products.  But, even if they hadn't, I'd still think they're awesome.]

I met Nate at Fat Uncle's stand at the Atwater Village farmer's market one sunny Sunday not too long ago, and he told me a bit of the Farm's story.  Both he and his wife come from almond farming families, and both were in more traditional day jobs before they decided to take on the family business.  For the past five years, they've been growing almonds in a lush orchard in the San Joaquin Valley and turning them into delicious specialty items, which they sell at farmer's markets around town.  They also have some impressive commercial customers:  Proof Bakery uses their almond flour in its sweets, and SQIRL Cafe uses their almonds for the almond butter they slather on morning toast with jam.

Back at the farmers market, Fat Uncle has a variety of products, all made simply and with wholesome, familiar ingredients.  I'm really enjoying my personal bounty.  I've been piling up rosemary blistered almonds (just three ingredients: almonds, rosemary, salt) on cheese boards and adding almond butter (one ingredient: almonds) to banana and date smoothies.  But my favorite has been to spread chocolate almond butter (two ingredients: chocolate and almonds) on a piece of wheat toast and topping it with a sprinkle of coarse sea salt -- a decadent little snack.  And this weekend, I made an insanely delicious spicy chocolate tart, topped with the aptly named Ass Kickin' Ginger almonds (five ingredients:  almonds, salt, sugar, ginger, cayenne.  Addictive combo of sweet, salty, and devilishly spicy).  The tart is so good, it's going to get its own post.

For the short few weeks when they're in season, Fat Uncle even offers fresh young almonds:  mouth-puckeringly tart, fuzzy green on the outside, with a bright crunchy texture.  They've even been known to feature house-made marzipan.

Fat Uncle Farms are strong believers in community outreach and sustainable farming practices.  In fact, Nate and his wife Bekki live on a working farm in Lompoc. They've recently renovated the the ranch-hand's quarters and are offering it as a getaway destination on airnbnb.  Guests can help out on the farm and enjoy its bounty at meals, explore nearby wineries and beaches, and take quiet hikes through the surrounding rolling hills to views of the Pacific Ocean.  Honestly, the place sounds like an absolute dream.

You guys know that I'm driven by a sense of community.  I love sharing stories of food connecting people, and when the blog itself makes that happen, well, it makes me beam.  I'm so glad to have met Nate.  The story of Fat Uncle Farms, the way they treat their staff like family, their choices in living close to the land, are all so inspiring.  And even better, now I know that their chocolate almond butter is always just a Sunday farmers market away.

Fat Uncle Farms can be found at several farmers markets around LA.  Check out their website to find the nearest one or order online, or find them on goodeggs.