Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Love bites

Last week I lost my appetite. And if you know me, this a rare and disturbing occurrence. I did not lose it by means of something distasteful or rancid or unappetizing.

I lost it in the name of lust and yearning. I blame it on the man. He is somewhat irresistible.

This has happened before. In fact it happened exactly 4 years earlier, on Halloween night, at the Pacific Dining Car on 6th street on the edge of downtown and crack-ville.

Pacific Dining Car is overpriced, and truly of a different era. It's a great place for a kitschy first date or a rendezvous with your mistress or a late night business meeting when you're not afraid to throw down the company credit card.

The Halloween from a few years past was the second date with a boy who had admitted some feelings. So we boycotted costumes and entered into the dark aged plush world of the Pacific's dining room. Being the first to arrive, I found a spot at the bar, where the ancient bartender served me a 15 dollar Pinot Noir in a massive wine glass. Worth every sip.

In walks my cocky adorable date in a white snap button cowboy shirt and rumpled hair with a slight smirk on his face. I was smitten. I bought him a steak. A 30 dollar steak that was smaller than the palm of my hand. I think it came with a few green beans or a tuft of spinach swimming in butter. I can't remember. I can't remember what I ate either but I do remember the wine being the only food that could go down easily. Because my stomach was flip flopping around, my head was dizzy, I was lost in that tiny green velvet booth across from someone who would unknowingly become my lover for the next 3 years.

The current Halloween date is not my lover. He is not even really a friend. I have cooked with him and watched him roast a turkey. I have quietly reveled at his choice of wine and his subscription to Cook's Illustrated. I know almost nothing about him; except what he does for work, that he is somewhat brilliant with the exception of matters of the heart, that he likes Donny Hathaway and that when we kiss it takes me a few days to recover.

Maybe all this vagueness and not knowing spurs on the longing. I came into our rendezvous hungry, but 15 minutes in all I could ingest were sips of Sangiovese and water. Those damn butterflies filled me up, a slight dizziness came over me. It has been a long time since I felt woozy from a man. It knocked me from a place I have been enjoying lately. A place of only a few harmless crushes and fewer distractions, of keeping men at arms distance so I can focus on what is directly in front of me and what I want in life.

He was able to clean his plate and mine as well. The pasta is cooked with a homemade fennel sausage. It is rich and clean and delicious. I also ordered us the rice balls, two heaping fried balls of risotto that ooze mozzarella.

I am not one of those ladies who picks at salads on a date. I can easily put food back and I appreciate those who has a diverse and healthy appetite. Even more so I like a man who can appreciate my appetite. But sometimes feelings prevail. Emotions and hormones and desire take up too much space and leave no room for real sustenance.

No substantial relationship will likely take place with this gentlemen. We are too different, the momentum is halting, we rarely run into each other, and he seems to be deep in his own complicated chaotic world into which he is rightly devoted. But for our brief occasional rendezvous, it is worth every moment of my lack of appetite. These days I find true chemistry to be a rare and fleeting thing. If someone can lose me in a kiss, I will gladly (temporarily) lose my ability to eat.

I do know, for future relationships, I will no doubt require someone who is adventurous with their food journeys. Someone who follows the beaten path to the hidden nook in the wall, someone who plans the next meal as we are finishing the current one, someone who shares a hunger for all things culinary, hopefully striking a balance between hunger and satiety.

I do hope he inspires my appetite as well as other things. I hope that's not too much to ask.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Medicine cabinet

I have never been good at meeting deadlines, completing assignments, following through. Admittedly, I am a bit of a slacker. Definitely a hard worker when given a specific task. But the follow-through tends to thin out and my attention runs rampant. The expectations for this here blog were a bit higher than they needed to be. What with 14 plus readers, do I need perfection, do I need Pulitzer prize material? Or do I need to meet the goal I set out to meet? Write. And write some more. Maybe post a pic or two. And when all else fails, write again.

I am eating every day. So I have plenty of material. Do you want to hear about what I just had for a lunch or about a lazy day messy recipe of throwing together what looks edible in my pantry? It seems so very exciting when being made, the satisfaction of eating my creation or someone else's work, but after the hunger drifts away, I forget about all the foreplay, all the details that made the experience worth writing about in the first place.

Too much comparison, too high of expectations. This is just a scrapbook. A virtual journal. An experiment. An experiment that is not reaching its potential considering I spend the majority of my income and waking hours ingesting or pondering food.

Maybe it scares me how my taste buds wane and wax, how my budget does not allow all that I want to experience, and that my body is less tolerant of my cocky brave appetite.

I'll tell you a story. A couple weeks ago my lower back seized and the majority of my vertebrae went every which way. I couldn't stand up straight for over a week, my right hip visibly 3 inches higher than my left. My emotions were a roller coaster of anger, helplessness, deep dull pain and occasional bouts of hysterics. So I laid on my back and began laughing and called a friend who tends to calm and soothe. He mentioned Mint Juleps; he was working on a project and was also thinking about making and drinking them. I don't know about you but on that hot day while I laid on the carpet immobile that sounded like true medicine. With the impetus of cold whiskey in my future I managed to rise up and pluck a few handfuls of mint from the garden and get a simple syrup started on the stove. My tall and lovely friend arrived not long after, a bottle of Makers Mark in his hand. He crushed some ice in the vita mix and put a straw in my lovely cocktail. The straw was curly and plastic and bright green and let me sip without bending over my glass.

Well, this started a 4 day trend. Since I rarely take aspirin I get to justify healing with booze. I know, I know. But the sweet mint syrup could not go to waste, or the bottle left behind. And my friends rallied and visited and tended to my thirst and mild hunger and crazy moods.

A four day binge can only end badly. Especially when your spine is not aligned. So a few days later, my liver knocking on my ribs, my emotions spent, I tried a new sort of medicine. A few beets were hanging out in the cooler, organic and golden. The thought of a raw beet salad made my body cheer.

So I grated those beets down, joyous yellow shocking my dulled out senses. Adding squeezes of lemon and orange juice, a few grinds of Hawaiian sea salt, a dash of olive oil. Chopped parsley to further aid in kidney repair and man, do I love parsley.

If you are a loather of beets, which I think 65 percent of you are, you might love this salad. That bitter beet grimy taste is nowhere to be found. It was crisp and citrusy. I felt my blood come back to life, color filling in my cheeks.

8 days later my spine found its way back to straight, the pain and burning allevaited, and I came out of it grateful, motivated, ready to dance.

I still think whiskey is medicinal, but I am happy to add beets to my repertoire.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

happy accidents

If you haven't guessed by now, I find great solace in eating. Chemistry shifts, satisfaction settles, flavors abound and I find joy.

Joy is something that has been waning and waxing lately. It is a word that is coming up often. In conversations, on paper, with some great and wise folks I am lucky enough to have in my life. They tap this word on my forehead with firmness and big love and remind me to find it, or even just remember that it's there.

It has been tough times. For you, for me and for folks that have issues I cannot even conceive. I have gotten a few chances to step aside and watch the tape that plays over and over. The one full of doubt and beliefs and the reality that is unmovable and ingrained. I finally called bullshit. Softly at first, but now it comes out loudly and more frequent.

So then when you counter your current situation and dream up a new one, what the hell are you going to put in it? Other than a working car, an actual income, debts paid: what does your life look like?

I have decided to try an experiment recently. I am breaking the habit of worry and despair and am giving up. I am deciding all is as it should be and I'm going along for the ride. In the back of my mind this seems highly irresponsible and somewhat arrogant but it is a hell of a lot more fun. I am experiencing surges of happiness that terrify me. I am attracting cool ass folks. I ask for big and little things like parking spaces and jobs and they show up.

After a long haul last week of massages and driving I was making my way back to the neighborhood. A big detour kept me off my exit and threw me into downtown. While coming up through Santee Alley, I was on the phone with my closet pal and driving aimlessly through dark streets and shuttered store fronts and haggard and hungry folks. I turn left and find myself in the hub and vibrant scene of Thursday Art Walk. Wow. Folks packed on city streets. Persian men sketching, punk rock kids hanging out of makeshift gallery spaces, tourists overwhelmed, tiny girls balancing on high heels holding on to their macho men. It is a time warp, a few decades represented in the sidewalk fashion show, a thrill in the air. The dead air of downtown is nowhere to be found. I strut down Spring Street to The Gorbals which is filled with raucous happy folks. Sitting, standing, pushing against the bar. Buzzed boys try too hard with sweet girls. A girl carries an accordion. The bandleader of Dakah Hiphop Orchestra enters and everyone cheers. It is a scene.

There is an empty seat at the counter. I am served calamari with a Vietnamese dipping sauce. Broccoli arrives, the one I have spoke fondly of before. Every one is harried and happy and shaking their hips as they work. A young man with 3 inch eyelashes sits down next to me. He takes one of the yellow flowers from behind his ear and hands it to me. I put it in my hair and swivel my chair to face the gypsy band that starts playing. Bliss. I watch folks dance and eat and hold each other. The owner bustles and smiles shyly.

The calm that ensues is the confort of being fed after a long day, as well as a stellar glass of Viogner. It is the feeling of being in a city that likes me in this moment. Of hearing great music and having an excellent date with myself.

It is all my great loves in one room in one time, and that is enough to let joy linger for awhile.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

painting with cabbage

Cabbage is highly underrated. Versatile, crisp, inexpensive, it pairs well with so many flavors. It calls for sweet, salty, acidic. It likes to be raw and doesn't mind a little wilt, and also loves to be cooked down to a soft soggy mess. My friend Heidi makes a Christmas eve feast that celebrates cabbage like no other. On the menu there is her infamous borscht, perhaps the best I've ever had, as well as cabbage rolls stuffed with ground turkey.

I have never been a huge fan of coleslaw. Wet mayonnaise and sugar tend to turn me off. I have grown a fonder heart for it over the years, and I must admit The Pantry downtown has a pretty stellar version of the original.

But I grew up with the Asian version of coleslaw. No mayonnaise in sight. In its place were light oils and tangy flavors. The cabbage still kept its crunch and while ingesting foods off the BBQ, heavy meats and spicy dogs, a crisp cabbage salad creates the perfect marriage.

Napa cabbage is the princess of the family. Thin and light with a sweet ruffle, this cabbage takes on the flavors better than her sisters. I also love the shocking purple of red cabbage. With a bunch of green cilantro, an orange carrot, and some Breakfast Radishes we have a palette to work with.

I was never really a fan of radishes growing up, but recently I read a blurb about the health benefits of radishes. Loaded with Vitamin C, potassium, and calcium, they contain properties which help fight cancer and are also helpful in maintaining a healthy liver and gallbladder. I love their freshness and the shock of heat after a few bites.

I start my coleslaw dressing with minced shallots that marinate in rice vinegar for 15 minutes or so. I grate down my carrots and radishes and add some cucumber for coolness. Chop your cabbages thinly, then chop it again. Salt the whole salad. Cabbage loves salt. It releases the liquid in the cabbage which I actually want in my dressing. An option is to salt your cabbage and let sit in the colander, then press it dry.

A combo of sesame oil and olive oil to coat the salad. Add your rice vinegar and shallots. Sometimes I blend in some mustard, and sometimes tahini to make it creamy and more pungent. If you have a high quality mayonnaise feel free to add that as well.
The cilantro adds a shock of rich green and an earthier flavor. This gets better as it sits. Excellent on fish tacos, next to chili, or strewn on some meaty concoction, it is a feast for all your senses.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Fates and Lard

A little local downtown flavor was in order. We live so close to this bustling metropolis that it is only fair to occasionally head east and out of our familiar neighborhoods and see what is coming up anew.

My experience with downtown varies slightly. Half the time it feels like a ghost town, dark empty streets lit up with the neon light of the very disturbing LA Live. (ESPN burger, anyone?) There are a few gems. Church and State, Bottega Louie. I always love eating at Wurstkuche. The Varnish is charming yet pricey, and the scene at some of the watering holes and wine bars make me wonder where the hell are these folks from? It does not feel like LA to me.

My wing lady Miss V and I traversed in the dusk hour to catch the sunset at The Standard and see what adventure awaited us. The Standard is just that. Nothing remarkable although I always hope for miracles when I go there. I recommend a blistering hot weekday when all those poor fools are in their offices looking down at you lounging by the pool in the shade of a giant red pod chair, while some bored but kind out of work daydreaming actor brings you cold beer and appropriate day cocktails. Don’t head there on a Saturday night while a bachelorette party, a private industry party and an Ed Hardy boys night out is simultaneously taking place.

One drink in and hunger came over as it always does, and while the food at the Standard is decent bar fare I wanted a change of scene.

Miss V was down for the adventure as she often is and my brain gently reminded me of what was at the top of my downtown eats list.

The Gorbals. Ilan Hall, winner of Top Chef Season 2 won his place fair and square and with great grace and emotion. Very exciting that he has opened his own little personal spot in the newly revamped, haunted but glorious building that is the Alexandria Hotel.

The fates were in our favor. A parking spot half a block away. Absolutely no wait at 8:30 on a Saturday night. An adorable hard working chef greeting us as we slid into our stools at the counter overlooking the kitchen. (Who designed the great stools with a built in hutch with room for your purse and jacket and a sleeping infant?)

The wines are all California. The service is friendly with just the right amount of flirtation. The space is raw with blondish wood. There is no pomposity. Just a passion for what they do.

And what they do is so very…well this is what is difficult. The menu is brief with mostly small plates as well as a few big ones. We opted for sweet potato latkes served with a homemade applesauce and fried sage leaves. Nothing too remarkable but a good choice for Miss V who is veggie. The broccoli served with a chili soy glaze was unreal. Slightly fried, maybe a little toasted at the end. Pure sodium heaven. It was the last broccoli of the night we were told. Lucky again.

I will be brave and get the bacon wrapped matzoh balls next time. They looked perfect and I believe they were grating fresh horseradish on top.

On another dish of deep fried greens they were grating butter. Yes, butter. And what is the white creamy sauce they are dishing onto the plate of chicken schnitzel? Why, lard, of course.

The Gorbals is not for the faint of heart. And it is NOT for vegans. I was eyeing some gorgeous king oyster mushrooms being sautéed up and served with walnuts. Those accompanied a large roasted bone marrow and some dark brown rye bread. Crazy, I thought. But I secretly longed to try. Well, within a few minutes we were offered what was an extra bone marrow dish. And I am NOT one to refuse free food. So I took my little silver spoon and spread gelatinous opulent marrow onto my brown bread and arranged my mushroom walnut parsley heaven and enjoyed.

This is food you eat with guilt and wonderment. It is food that negates anything good you might have done that week for your health. It is food you create when you are alone in your kitchen teetering from drunkenness and insatiable hunger but you still have the wits to utilize your culinary prowess. It is sexy and slightly sinful and I can guarantee a food hangover the next day. And I will be going back very soon.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Breakfast of Champions

A facebook post from Bon Appetit magazine recently gave a shout out to local musician/photographer Jon Huck whose Breakfast Project is getting some major attention. Huck chronicled the eating habits of more than 100 of his friends and neighbors by photographing their faces along with the first meal of their day.

Comments flooded in, with Bon Appetit fans confessing what they had for breakfast that morning. I was impressed with the healthy delicacies fellow foodies are getting into their mouths for the so-called most important meal. Breakfast is what can often make me motivate myself from the bed. These days the thought of a smoothie from Naturewell on Sunset gets me up and going. The better I start out, as in the healthier, the less guilty I feel if I bend in a not so healthy direction later in the day. Eggs, oatmeal, high protein and high fiber are a sure fire way to keep things rolling (no pun intended). Grapefruit and avocados are winners. And forget cold boxed cereals. They will put me to sleep an hour later on my mid-morning commute. Plain Greek yogurt with sliced almonds and pumpkin seeds and a squeeze of agave is my favorite thing right now. For breakfast and dessert.

Some mornings though, I am defiantly in the mood for baked goods and old fashioned coffee. Fresh, just out of the oven, baked goods. And baking first thing in the morning is a lovely way to sort through the sleepiness and start a quick science project in your kitchen with a (hopefully) tasty result.

Despite my deep love of the act of baking, I am admittedly pretty bad at it. Due to lack of practice and my experimental tendencies in the kitchen I can understand why.
I once attempted to improvise a pan of brownies with a gorgeous block of Valrhona chocolate only to serve up an embarrassing goopy layer of something resembling hardened chocolate flavored mud. I would not be surprised if I enrolled in some pastry program in the near future and tried to tackle the art and intricacies of baking although my belly asks me firmly not to even consider it.

One recipe I tend to not screw up too royally is the muffin. Muffins are easy, quick and very adaptable to be incredibly chock full of fiber, texture and good morning ingredients. One can easily substitute the standard ingredients of butter and eggs with oil, yogurt and applesauce, use honey, maple syrup or agave instead of sugar, and whole-wheat flour, oats and flax meal can take over for the white stuff. And that makes spreading real butter on a hot muffin right out of the oven that much more pleasurable.

I have adapted and played with a few recipes over time to come up with this ramshackle but dependable recipe. I prefer a muffin that is hearty yet does not sit in the gut and one that is not too sweet so I can rub preserves all over it.

*Mind you, I know blueberries are presently out of season, so you can easily sub frozen blueberries or bananas. Yum.

Breakfast (or anytime) Blueberry muffins

(Makes about a dozen muffins)

1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
(pastry flour is best but all-purpose also works great)
1/2 cup ground flax or quick rolled oats
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp dried ginger (or 1 Tbsp fresh grated)
2 eggs
1/4 -1/2 cup agave, honey or maple syrup (depending on you, sweetie)
1 1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup vegetable or olive oil
1 Tbsp lemon zest
1 cup fresh blueberries

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Mix dry ingredients in bowl. Sift if you have a sieve. If not, no worries.

In separate bowl mix wet ingredients. Stir into dry ingredients. Please do not over mix.

Spoon batter in greased muffin tins to about 2/3 full. Bake for 15-18 minutes until a gorgeous brown on top and your knife pulls out dry.

Slather with butter and homemade jam.
They keep well for a few days and are even better toasted the next morning.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

You say Oysters...

I hate to say it, but I think the moment I knew it wouldn't last with my former flame was when he made a face as I slurped down a freshly shucked oyster at the Hollywood farmers market. I knew if he wasn't brave enough to dive into the succulent sensual raw goodness of Vancouver's best, then it most likely wouldn't work out between us.

Maybe my initial oyster encounter is not as prophetic and life changing as Anthony Bourdain's. But I still feel best when immersed in the sweetness and brine, the feeling of the ocean covering my head, my entire being awash in some sea that lingers in my memory. And if you love oysters, dear reader, you know I am not being dramatic.

Blue Plate Oysterette, the sister restaurant to the un-extraordinary diner Blue Plate on Montana avenue, is a fish haven. They carry oysters on the half shell, usually 6 choices from both the west and east coasts. About 5 catches of the day are written on the chalkboard, simply pan sauteed and served with a choice of sauce, such as lemon caper or roasted garlic pesto. I fell for the black bean chutney, a jammy intense concoction which played off well with the lightness of the Hake special.

A friend claimed the fish and chips to be the best in town, which is why on every visit to the Blue Plate it is the only thing he orders. He proved himself right; the ling cod is succulent and light; the crisp shell serves its purpose adding crunch and texture to the fish, never overriding or becoming soggy.

There is a generic list of about 5 beers on tap, which is surprising with all the great micro brews that are currently coming out of California. The wine list is not too adventurous but suitable and affordable. Heavy on the whites with a few choices of red. A Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand impressed us all.

While the fish tacos are not the best in town they are still incredibly tasty. I loved a recent appetizer special of Peruvian ceviche served with steamed baby potatoes, spicy paprika aioli and house-made tortilla chips.

The Lobster Roll, artichoke, and Lobster Mac n' cheese are the crowd favorites.
And don't miss desserts. I tend to always go for the coconut ice cream sandwich with a side of macaroon but I am a sucker for coconut ANYTHING.

What has also made me fall hard for the Oysterette is the awesome, friendly and efficient service.

When we called 15 minutes ahead to get our name on the list we were told a 30-45 minute wait. When we walked up 10 minutes later, we were seated right away. The place is jumping, gleaming and very friendly. One can sit and dine at the counter or get cozy in the banquet against the wall of mirrors.

On my first visit, while I pondered the wines, our waitress brought a bottle to the table so we could taste before choosing. She was not afraid to cite her favorite dishes and why, which is always a turn on. The manager will no doubt stop by your table and check on you as if you are regulars. It is sincere and consistent and makes you come back.
1355 Ocean Ave
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 576-3474