Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Pomegranate Pomegranate Revolution

When I was growing up, my best friend's mom, Janis, gave us pomegranates to enjoy. "Eat them outside!" she'd warn us, not wanting any of the gorgeous blood red juices to stain anything in the house. That seemed a fair trade for the ruby-filled fruits, that were a puzzle and a snack all in one. Popping the little fruit gems out of the pith took a bit of effort, but biting into each perfect seed was a tart and sweet reward.

Just before she died, I wrote Janis a thank you note. It was late, I conceded, but better late than never. In the letter I thanked her for many things: for being my second mom; for being adventurous and strong; for being a soccer mom who plays soccer, not just one who shuttles the kids from game to game; for feeding me pomegranates, and Cheetos, and fresh vegetables from the garden; and for mothering me when I felt lost, after my own mom had left the building. It was a short thank you note, since it didn't require much explaining, but pomegranates made the cut. I remember thinking as I was writing that it felt silly to include food, but there they were, crystal-clear, important memories from my childhood of eating pomegranates and Cheetos, two foods my parents never bought. They would have fed us pomegranates had we asked, but I am the product of two neatniks, and that dangerous red juice didn't match our decor.

Until a few months ago, when the pomegranate craze really took over, I felt like they were my secret fruit. Many of my friends had never tried them, and some had never heard of them, despite the fact that there is historical evidence to suggest that they've been around for thousands of years. But here we are, with pomegranate martinis, pomegranate marinades, pomegranate juice, and more. They're one of nature's most powerful antioxidants, earning them headline status in our health obsessed society. Despite my skepticism, being the daughter of a woman who died of cancer too young, I'll take all the power I can get.

The most prevalent juice on the shelves is POM Wonderful, which is pure pomegratate juice from the Wonderful variety of pomegranates. They have five different flavors of juice combinations, pomegranate with cherry, blueberry, mango, tangerine, and plain. I've tried cherry, blueberry, and plain. My favorite so far is cherry. The slightly sweeter cherry cuts a bit of the tannic tang of the pomegranate for a potent and delicious drink. They're perfect mixed with bubbly seltzer for a kind of Italian soda without the syrup, or you can drink them plain. Don't expect a sweet drink, this is adult juice, not that fruit punch bug juice we loved as kids. At nearly $4 a bottle, it's not cheap either. But it's a delicious treat once in a while. If you try the mango or tangerine flavors, let me know what you think. My friend Kat isn't a big fan of tangerine, so I'm waiting on that one. But I'm sure I'll try it for myself one of these days.

For a bit of the history and science behind the pomegranate, check out Pom Wonderful's website. www.pomwonderful.com Ever wonder why grenadine and grenades share a root word? Both are named after the pomegranate, because one is made from pomegranate juice, and the other explodes like one. Cool, no?

Monday, May 30, 2005


On Saturday, I ventured down to Garden Grove in Orange County, home of Little Saigon, a vibrant Vietnamese community, for the Strawberry Festival. To be fair, I think they should have called it the Excuse to Have a Party Festival. We wandered around among the booths selling everything from blinking magnets to cowboy hats to sliding glass doors without seeing a single strawberry. We asked two different Strawberry Festival Representatives where we could find strawberries, and were pointed in all different directions. Finally, as we were getting ready to leave, we stumbled upon a booth selling real, bona fide, plain strawberries. They were gorgeous and sweet, so we bought a flat.

Our main goal was to make a strawberry rhubarb pie. Or I should say it was my goal to make the pie, and my friends' goal to eat it. I had never made said pie before, but I have eaten many a slice. Sweet with berries and tart with rhubarb, it can be a very delicious if done right.

According to my Baking Illustrated cookbook, by the authors of Cook's Illustrated magazine, a lot was riding on the thickener I used in the pie. Their recipe called for arrowroot powder, which they claim can be found in the spice isle of most supermarkets. I'm not sure where they're shopping, but it ain't so easy to find. At the last minute, my friend T was able to locate the powder at a local health food market in Silverlake. Kudos to T for the major effort. No longer hindered by the lack of proper thickener, I began to prep my pie filling.

I first began by washing my rhubarb thoroughly and removing any traces of the green leaves, because as I learned from my cookbook, the green leafy part is toxic. I don't know how toxic, but I wasn't about to take a chance. With that taken care of, the sauteing of the rhubarb to sweat some of the juices and the slicing of the berries was quick and easy, and soon a lovely pie was bubbling away in the oven creating that Suzie homemaker smell that can't be bottled.
It was a little too warm in Silverlake that evening, so my pie crust drooped a little over the sides of the pie pan, but the end result was still pretty and sweetly devilish with the blood red juices bubbling out onto the top crust.

As the pie cooled, we grilled a bounty of Korean BBQ with marinated beef, pork, glass noodle salad, seaweed salad, grilled mushrooms, and lemon soju. It was a feast for the senses. When we finally tucked into the pie, which had only cooled for about 2+ hours instead of the recommended 4, it was rather soupy. A delicious soup, by all means, but still quite runny and not set as I had expected. I assume that the lack of cooling time was the main reason, but it could also have been the arrowroot powder. Regardless, the pie was a success in that it tasted delicious and was enjoyed by all.

If you'd like the recipe, post a comment or check out Baking Illustrated. Their crust recipe is so easy and turns out the best crust ever. Flaky, buttery, golden brown, and manageable. Now that's a feat.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Casa Bianca Pizza Pie

Pizza is one of those things that varies as much and as subtly as the people who love it. I have yet to meet a person who doesn't like pizza. Except for hardcore vegans, and they're usually game if you ditch the cheese. To me, a pizza without cheese is like a day without sun. I'll live with it, but it can be depressing. So for those of you in the pro pizza camp, particularly if you like the thin crust version, way over yonder in Eagle Rock there is a little slice of heaven waiting for you.

If you read the reviews on Citysearch, you'd think that Italy's boot punted a few pizzas our way here in sunny SoCal. I've been to Italy, and I think American pizza is much heavier than the light etherial crusts with minimal toppings that they do in Italia. But we also eat pasta as our main entree, so I accept that there is room for interpretation.

Now here's where the funny part of this review comes in. I didn't set foot in Casa Bianca. We had planned to, for months now, but we were always too busy, and time marched on, and now my friend Kat is leaving town (we'll miss you!!) and she was the inspiration for the pilgrimage to Casa Bianca, seeing as she lived in Glendale as of yesterday. So last night, a friend and I went over the Kat's place to help her pack and to taste the fabled pizza from the East. Kat ordered one of their specials and went to pick it up and paid for it. She's a trooper. I'll admit, when she told me she'd ordered eggplant and artichoke pizza, I was a little skeptical. But hey, if it's called a special, it must be at least good, right? Boy was it. They put breaded and fried eggplant on their lovely, toasty, thin crust pizza, and then piled artichoke hearts on top. It was so delicious, I gluttonously devoured three pieces. The sauce was tomatoey, rich, and well-spiced, with the right balance of sweet and savory. There was plenty of cheese, but it wasn't dripping off the pizza, which is my big pet peeve. I don't want tons of cheese, I want the right balance. And they achieved it. All in all, Casa Bianca lived up to the hype. That said, there was one drawback: the wait. Kat called at 6:30pm to ask about ordering a pizza for pick-up and was told it would take at least an hour. Since we hadn't arrived yet, she took the liberty of ordering, which was a wise choice. At 7:45pm they called to tell her it was ready. For pick-up. Not delivery. So patience is a virtue at Casa Bianca, and all the reviews will back me up on that. But in my experience, it's worth the wait.

Casa Bianca Pizza Pie
1650 Colorado Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90041
(323) 256-9617

Pizza of note on the West Side:
Victor Jr.'s
- Near Sony in Culver City. Thin crust and lovin it. Not open on Sat and Sun. *Sob.*
Dagwood's - A huge slice with well-spiced, tomatoey sauce.
Mulberry Street Pizzeria - New York style to the core. Owned by Raging Bull's Cathy Moriarty, a classy Italian chica.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Nook: a sheltered and secluded place

The neighborhood restaurant. Oh how I crave the homey, comfortable, neighborhood restaurants that I remember as a kid. Formico's Pizzeria. Country Gourmet. The Cheese House. God those places were good. I know the Cheese House is still there, I wonder if the other two are....

What made The Cheese House so special was the maze-like, floor-to-ceiling library of gourmet sauces, oils, vinegars, chocolates, and other treats. It was there that I first had a Haribo Gummi Bear. And where I discovered the carnivorous pleasure of a tri-level sandwich piled high with meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and special sauce. Screw McDonalds, this sauce is more special. It sounds so simple, and it was, but simple executed perfectly is divine. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. Which is what I've been looking for. A mouth-watering restaurant that's in my neighborhood. Convenient and affordable, delicious and walkable. Is it too much to ask?

Happily the answer is no! Hidden, truly, in the corner of a mini mall on the corner of Santa Monica Blvd and Barry is a little gem called Nook. You will almost miss it. Part of me hopes you do so that it stays unpacked, but I know that spells doom for a restaurant, so come one, come all, and eat at Nook.

Brought to us by the same folks who run the cafe at Bergamot Station, that amazing art gallery warehouse in Santa Monica with the fabulous name, Nook is a neighborhood bistro with delicious food, unpretentious decor, and incredibly friendly staff. I've been a few times, and each time I've enjoyed it thoroughly, and each time it's gotten better. At the beginning, I could sense hints of newness and apprehension. It felt like the place had just opened, but they were doing well despite the occasional misstep or pause. The waiters made up for it, with quick refills and enthusiastic recommendations on the menu, without that fake, "everything here is good!" baloney. I had the catfish burrito on my first and second trips there, a yummy combination of blackened or grilled fish with napa slaw, oven roasted tomatoes, and meyer lemon aioli coupled with shoestring fries. Oh that's good.

And then something magical happened. On my third trip to Nook everything gelled. The menu expanded, the kitchen blossomed, and the waitstaff knew it. From the second we were seated we had a fabulous dining experience. None of us could decide what to get, which is always a good sign, and everything we ordered tasted divine. I had the caesar salad with whole grain mustard dressing and fried capers, a nice change from anchovies, and a side order of Mac and Cheese. I still have a secret place in my heart for the bright orange stuff, but real Mac and Cheese, such that this was, puts Kraft to shame shame shame. My dining compatriots enjoyed a Maple Glazed Steak with sauteed apples and onion rings, Chicken Paillard, Roasted Green Lip Mussels, and Shitake Mushroom Bread Pudding. As we ordered, the waitress looked like we were listing all the greatest hits from her favorite band. And perhaps we were.

Oh, those onion rings were so good. (The steak is underneath. It was a huge pile of crispy onions.) After this plentiful bounty of food, we didn't have room for dessert. It was embarrassing, really. We should have left room. But it was all so delicious, how were we to know we would fill up so completely? Next time I go, I will be sure to save that secret dessert pocket in my stomach.

Hidden in the corner of
11628 Santa Monica Blvd #9
Los Angeles, CA 90025


Open from
11:30 AM to 3 PM and 5 PM to 10 PM Monday through Friday
5 PM to 10 PM Saturday

I'm back. Won't you come back too?

Okay, I know that I've been remiss in posting to my blog. It's been such a whirlwind of activity here for the past two weeks, my only excuse is that I've been busy. Which is a silly excuse, really. I started this blog because I like to write, so goshdarnit, I'm gonna write, busy or not.

I don't feel bad for not posting over the past few days however, because I seem to have gone and caught myself a sinus infection. My doctor just called in a prescription for antibiotics to the pharmacy, so hopefully that'll kick this thing's butt so I can start tasting my food again. Yes, you heard me. I lost my sense of taste for the past four days. Yesterday, I began planning my funeral because of it. But today is a new day. And I am optimistic that my tastebuds will once again sing with joy at the presence of food.

I am quite sure that I owe my recent return to health to my new friend R and his unbelievable artistry.

This vampirical man is commanding me to feel better. Amazing, the power of hypnotism.

Okay, I am heading to the pharmacy to fetch my antibiotics. I hope those evil little pills help to dispell the pain in my head and ears. Oy. Before I go I'm going to write about Nook, this great little place in the hood. Stay tuned....

Monday, May 23, 2005

The (one and only) French Chef

As you probably know, they just released the DVD of Julia Child's incomparable cooking show, The French Chef. Since the show premiered in 1962, I never saw her original program, I only saw the spoof by Dan Ackroyd on Saturday Night Live, and watched with rapt attention her Baking with Julia program on PBS. So I was thrilled when Netflix delivered the first DVD of six episodes to my doorstep yesterday.

You probably know Julia Child's name, and that she's one of America's most beloved chefs, but you might not know why she became such a household name. Well, after watching just the first episode of her show, "The Potato Show," I can venture a guess. She is hilarious, down-to-earth, and imperfect. She spills, she jokes, she studders and pauses, and she makes you feel like you could do everything she's doing in the kitchen and even fix the inevitable mistakes you'll make when experimenting with a new recipe. Cooking shows now are all about perfection. The chefs say things like, "You'll never believe how easy this is" and then turn around and make an ice sculpture of David. They have to convince you that you could cook like they do, when Julia did it simply by being who she was. When picking chefs for my team, I'd choose Julia any day.

Now, I'm not saying that I would want to cook most of the recipes she presents for her audience. Food tastes have changed drastically since the 60's, and the amount of cream and butter she used in her potato show alone is enough to feed Paris for a week. But watching her is inspiring and fun, and it makes me fall in love with cooking all over again, which is the point, in my mind anyway.

I want nothing more than to cook something delicious for myself right now, but I have a fever and a sore throat in 85 degree weather. Ugh. So I think I'll turn back to my Julia DVDs and let her do a little cooking for me. I hope you are all well. I will post again soon. I have much to discuss, including Nook and Lemon Moon. See side panel. Yum!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

I'm Chiquita Banana and I'm here to say, I think you should make banana bread today.

Interesting factoids about bananas:
  1. Bananas are the world's most popular fruit.
  2. They are documented as being eaten as early as 6 B.C.E.
  3. When bananas were first discovered, they were as small as a man's finger. Hence the name Banana, from the Arabic word banan, for finger.
  4. The banana plant is not a tree. It is the world's largest herb.
I love bananas. In addition to being delicious and nutritious, they are also convenient and portable. They do not, however, make a good car snack if you drive stick. Believe me, I have tried. They are delicious in a variety of desserts, my favorites being fried bananas, banana fritters, banana splits, and the ever popular banana bread. While banana bread isn't liked by everyone, those who do are usually passionate about this sweet treat. Last night I baked a loaf of banana bread for a friend who claims not to have a sweet tooth, but is definitely a huge fan of banana bread. The smell of the bread baking is enough to make you a few new friends. It's warm and sweet and nutty and homey. Yum. After devouring two huge pieces of the bread still warm from the oven, this is what it looked like.

The reason I love this recipe is because it's incredibly easy and doesn't use any oil, nor does it require any kind of expensive kitchen equipment, such as a Kitchen Aid. Instead it contains yogurt and butter, and you can mix it all up in a few bowls. Since I was making this at my friend's house, it turned out a little differently than normal because I don't know his oven. But it was still great. If you like nuts, which I do, I recommend using toasted pecans in this recipe. You can also use walnuts if you prefer.


2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup toasted walnuts or pecans, chopped
3 ripe, soft, darkly speckled large bananas, mashed well (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup plain yogurt (you can also use vanilla yogurt)
2 large eggs, beaten lightly
6 tablespoons butter, melted then cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease bottom only of regular loaf pan, or grease and flour bottom and sides of nonstick 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan.
Combine dry ingredients together in large bowl and set aside.
Mix mashed bananas, yogurt, eggs, butter, and vanilla with wooden spoon in medium bowl.
Lightly fold banana mixture into dry ingredients with rubber spatula until just combined and batter looks thick and chunky.
Pour batter into prepared loaf pan; bake until loaf is golden brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 55 minutes.
Cool in pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack.
Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and store in refrigerator for 4 days, on the counter for 2 days.

Recipe taken from The Best Recipe, from the editors of Cook's Illustrated a fun and informative cooking magazine where they experiment to find what they think to be the best recipe for many different kinds of dishes. I highly recommend the cookbook and magazine, not as the final word on recipes, but for excellent, thorough, well-thoughtout, logical, obsessively-tested, and fully-explained recipes. I have learned a lot from reading this book. I have also had great success with everything I've tried, particularly their pie crust.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Pour Some Sugar On Me: My Rant on the Low-Carb Revolution

There are some things you should know about dieting. First of all, diet means a prescribed selection of foods. It also means the usual food and drink consumed by an organism (person or animal). In Japan, it’s a legislative assembly, but that’s not the popular meaning, at least not in America. The definition includes the synonyms: starvation, regime, and abstinence. Given how our current government, or regime, reveres abstinence, and how I personally feel about starvation, I am inclined to stick to the antonyms of binge and overindulgence.

If you Google diet, the top Sponsored Links are The South Beach Diet, Ediets, and Weight Watchers, the last of which is the only one to garner long-term praise from nutritionists. If you believe that the high-protein, low-carb diet touted by South Beach and Atkins is new, it’s not. Most diets aren’t new, they are trends. William Banting, an undertaker, began his popular low-carb diet in 1863. By the time of his death in 1878, he’d sold more than 60,000 copies of his Letter on Corpulence. You can find a more complete version of Banting’s diet history, at www.lowcarbdietguide.com, or on the slew of other pro low-carb diet websites out there. Just Google William Banting.

When it comes to nutrition, there are some basic building blocks that every body needs to be fit and maintain a moderate level of activity throughout the day. One of the key building blocks is the carbohydrate. Carb is the pejorative. Carbohydrates are our storage lockers of chemical energy. This is why it scares me to think about how prevalent low- or no-carb diets are these days. In the low-carb world, the most “evil” of the carbohydrates is the simple carb, otherwise known as sugar. According to Harold McGee’s brilliant book, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, “There are many different kinds of sugar molecules, each distinguished by the number of carbon atoms it contains, and then by the particular arrangement it assumes. Five-carbon sugars are especially important to all life because two of them, ribose and deoxyribose, form the backbones of ribonucleic acid (RNA) and deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the carriers of genetic code. And the 6-carbon sugar glucose is the molecule from which most living things obtain the energy to run the biomechanical machinery of their cells.” Now, I am in no way suggesting that we should have a diet consisting solely, or even primarily, of simple carbohydrates, or sugar, but I am advocating them as a delicious part of our well-balanced diets, as they play a crucial role in our survival as a species. When we eat high-protein meals and concentrate on complex carbohydrates instead of their simpleton brothers, we are simply making our bodies work harder to break the food down into the simple carbohydrates we use as energy. I understand the why, all I’m saying is a warm French baguette is damn delicious and I’m going to eat it with butter proudly and NOT feel guilty about giving my body a little easy energy. I’ll even make yummy noises while eating it if you talk smack about it to me.

As I am writing this, a commercial for ediets.com just came on the TV. Yes, I’m watching Ellen on daytime television, but seriously. The TV audience for Ellen is largely women, no pun intended. Should I be insulted? This commercial is the symptom of a bigger problem. We, as a country, are completely obsessed with our weight. I am guilty of it, too. Living in LA, I see women every day who seem to have perfected the art of deprivation, all to achieve our unattainable body ideal. Every magazine, every commercial, every TV show, everywhere I go I am faced with this constant barrage of ridiculously thin women coupled with weight loss soliciations. Last year, I stood in line behind a malnourished, balding woman at the grocery store. She was buying, I kid you not, ten tubs of nonfat cottage cheese and eight boxes of chocolate-flavored Ex-Lax. That’s it. I can only assume that she was trying to turn her digestive tract into a nutrition-proof Slip’n’Slide. If the black bags under her eyes and premature hair loss is any indication, this clearly isn’t the answer, no more than eliminating simple carbohydrates is either. So where’s the middle ground? What happened to the realists? Why are we all so obsessed with closing down our body’s access to good food when all we have to do is open our minds?

I vote to let a little sanity back into our lives. Accept your thighs. Celebrate your stomach. Shake your booty. Or at least try. And please eat from all the food groups. Please? Because there’s too much good food out there to be enjoyed, and it’s such a shame to think that we’re skipping so much of the good stuff, all so we can fit into an overpriced pair of jeans that no one will ever notice because they’re too busy worrying about what they look like to care. Ask yourself this: Do you remember the meals that you did eat, or the meals that you didn’t? Which would you rather remember?

Monday, May 16, 2005

31 Flavors, And Then Some

On this day, 31 years ago, 32 actually, if you go by actual time spent on the planet, I was born. What? You're telling me you didn't know? Fuggeddaboudit. We cool.

I like birthdays. They are silly excuses to get free stuff. Go to a restaurant, get a free dessert. And probably an embarassing serenade of Happy Birthday from the waitstaff. But hey, that was free too. People smile a lot on your birthday. They get really excited for you, even if they've just met you. Like you're doing something special, you've summited some invisible mini-mountain, when all you're doing is living through another day. That's cool though. I like to celebrate small achievements. Because if you combine all the small achievements, you get the big ones.

All I've done today is wake up. Actually, I received a birthday phone call from Suzie (thanks!) and now I'm writing. But as they say in my lovely home state, it's all good. My grand plans for the day are to go to the gym, do a little shopping, watch the fog burn off as it's promised to do, get a scoop of Baskin Robbins ice cream (31 flavors, baby), and hang out with some friends at one of my favorite bars in the city. All in all, it looks to be a great day.

Anyway, I'm off to enjoy life, fog and all. I plan to try the recipe for pickled carrots (sounds weird but they're sooo good) that I love from Gilbert's El Indio tomorrow. I'll post the recipe as soon as I sort it out. They only gave me the ingredients, not the quantities. So if anyone knows of the Spanish recipe for pickled carrots, possibly known as escaveche (which is usually for marinating fish or chicken), please let me know.

Friday, May 13, 2005

The Best Diet Ever

It's called the new Laughing My Ass Off Diet. And it is sponsored by threadbared.com. Let us pause for a moment and celebrate the power of laughter. Thanks to some women from Georgia, we get a running commentary on the lovely knitting, sewing, and craft patterns of yore. Here is one of my favorites.

“You’re shitting me! I’m going to be on the cover of Doll Crafter magazine!?!
me you’re not shitting me!! You have got to be shitting me!”

Now, I know that this is not about food. I am actually writing a post about dieting as we speak, but this is much funnier than anything I've seen in a while, and it deserves to be seen. So go to http://threadbared.com and laugh a few pounds off.

Thursday, May 12, 2005


I wish I was referring to the utensil, but I am referring to the band in this case. A dubious connection to food, I know, but bear with me, the story is fun. Note: If I was referring to a utensil, I would probably discuss the spork, the hot lunch all-in-one spoon-fork.

Last night I went to see Spoon perform at Amoeba Music in Hollywood. My reasons were twofold. First, I like Spoon. They just released a new album, and I was curious to hear if it was good. Plus, a free concert is a free concert. Second, I will take just about any excuse to go to Amoeba. If I hit Joan's on Third and Amoeba in one day, I get what's known as wallet hemophilia. The money just won't stop flowing out into the giant coffers of Amoeba and Joan's. Or medium sized coffers, probably.

Having never been to a concert at Amoeba before, I wasn't sure what to expect. Due to traffic, I was quite a bit later than I planned, and was thus relegated to the C section of used music, instead of J, as I planned to meet a friend there. No matter, he was late too and couldn't get past the jaded bad punk rock row bouncers. Our bouncer was named Nelson. He had bright blue hair, and was wearing a black long-sleeve concert tee, black tight pants, and boasted a large pot belly that I can only assume was formed by the famous PBR + french fry combination he learned in college. Nelson didn't like Spoon, and was rather vocal about his distaste for their music. I felt that he was unusually bitter about working that night, and it made him look like angry Grover. This amused me until the show started.

The show was okay. I suppose that's what you get seeing a concert in a record store, but hey, free show. Afterwards, I met my friend, who was chatting with Jon Brion, thereby cancelling out Nelson's opposition to the show, as Jon is a very talented musician and can validate better than angry Grover can. We decided to head down the street for a drink at The Cat and Fiddle. The Cat is a very cool pub in Hollywood. Its main attraction is the gorgeous patio out front where you can eat, drink, and smoke yourself into a proper haze. Due to a work snafu, we could only stay for one drink before my friend had to head back to work for a half hour, and then he'd return so we could have some dinner and relax. While he worked, I shopped at Amoeba. I did well in the used section, so I only spent $__.__.

For our second trip to The Cat, we sat outside. On a warm evening in LA, there is almost nothing better than a beverage and a plate of fish and chips under the smog covered stars. It was just such an evening, which brought the stars out to play. The human ones, that is. When we first walked in, I had one of those, I-know-that-guy-but-can't-place-him experiences. I still can't tell you who he was, but I know he's an actor of moderate acclaim, because his mug is in my mental rolodex. Then, just as we sat down, Sandra Oh walked in with a man of undetermined fame, i.e. no one I knew. I like Sandra Oh. She was hilarious in Sideways, and I like her brusk character on Grey's Anatomy. She had bright blonde streaks in her long hair, which I assume means they've finished shooting the first season of Grey's.

My friend and I enjoyed our beers and food, and chatted under the warmth of the night, accentuated by the heatlamp next to us, which was good for me as I am a girl and we have terrible built-in heat regulators. The diners came and went from the table next to us, until Morrissey and his posse sat down. Morrissey is certainly a rock star, and a proper rock star in Hollywood gets attention. Especially a rock icon. A ripple effect went through the crowd as everyone recognized him, and then everyone from the hipsters to the busboy filed by to say hello. My favorite was the woman wearing a Morrissey t-shirt. She couldn't have planned it better. I think I am glad that I am not a rock star. I prefer to eat my food in peace. But he handled it with aplomb, and the traditional English humility that befits a British rocker. On our way out, my friend told him that he thought he had a very nice voice. I left them alone to talk, because I just can't talk to famous people while they're doing something else. If they're sitting by the side of the road and I am walking by, I might be able to say hello. But I'd probably just keep walking.

So my friend and I said goodbye outside the bar, and both headed home. I retrieved my Amoeba bounty from the trunk of my car, and selected a moody CD by A Girl Called Eddy to listen to on the drive home. It doesn't happen all the time, but it certainly wasn't unusual. It was just another night in Hollywood.

The Cat and Fiddle Restaurant and Pub
6530 Sunset Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90028

Amoeba Music
6400 Sunset Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90028

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

He's Super Freaky. In A Good Way.

Thanks to Steve Almond, I shrieked like a little girl when I saw a Valomilk for sale at Joan’s on Third. Joan’s is a beautiful gourmet shop full of glorious cheeses, homemade sandwiches, delectable salads, towers of mouth-watering cupcakes, imported chocolates, and other various and sundry treats. I hemorrhage money when I go to Joan’s. It is criminally good. On this particular day, I was enjoying lunch with my friends K and L, and K was the only one who witnessed my somewhat understated reaction to seeing a Valomilk in the chocolate vanilla flesh for the first time. It was like a little chocolate celebrity willing to go home with me. Mine, all mine.

You see, a few moons ago I was handed a book by my friend M and told that I must read it immediately if I knew what was good for me. The book was titled, Candy Freak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America, by Steve Almond. Needless to say, I didn’t require one iota of convincing. I was in. From page one I was amused. He begins his book, “Some things you should know about the author. 1. The author has eaten a piece of candy every single day of his entire life. I want you to look at this sentence and think about it briefly and, if you’re so inclined, perhaps say a little prayer on behalf of my molars.” I love chocolate. I enjoy candy. But never in my life have I met (on the page) someone so completely obsessed with it. And I love obsessions about food. I welcome these people into the fold, because it is they, and only they, who will understand if I wax poetic about a particular dessert or chocolate bar or cheese, ad nauseum. Healthy obsessions are good. His is probably the only unhealthy obsession that isn’t illegal. I just said a little prayer for Steve’s molars.

Candy Freak is the real life story of a man who traveled far and wide to meet some of the classic candy makers in our great country. From Valomilks in Kansas (created by happy accident), to Idaho Spuds in, you guessed it, Idaho, where they make candy that looks suspiciously like the tuber that the state is famous for. I loved this book. Not just because Steve Almond grew up in Palo Alto, my hometown, and not just because it’s about candy, mostly of the chocolate variety. I loved this book because it’s hilarious, delightful, smart, and sassy, with more than a few well-placed rants. Any man who understands my deep hatred of white chocolate is good in my book. If he also makes me feel downright tame in my love for chocolate, he deserves a prize. Thanks to Steve I got a little trip down candy memory lane, with multiple detours into his twisted candy mind. Candy Freak is coming out in paperback soon. He also has a new collection of short stories entitled The Evil B.B. Chow and other stories. I think it’s semi-pornographic writing that may or may not include candy. Have you ever heard a better endorsement? Me thinks not. Buy Candy Freak, if you know what’s good for you.

Go to www.stevenalmond.com and be amused, be very amused.

Joan's on Third
8350 West Third Street
Los Angeles, CA 90048

Monday, May 09, 2005

Breakfast at Suzie's

I love breakfast. As teenager, I thought it was gross. Toast, cereal, eggs—I wanted none of it. But I also thought I was fat, Michael Jackson was cool, and frozen yogurt was a nutritious lunch. Oh how far I've come since the 80's. Now that I understand the allure of a good breakfast, I celebrate it in all its different forms, from a simple bowl of cereal, to an elaborate brunch buffet, to the delicious Dim Sum adventure.

Every time someone comes to visit, Suzie makes granola. On my recent trip to NY, she made a delectable batch of crunchy granola, even using pecans, my favorite nut. The beauty of granola is that you can alter the recipe and adapt it to almost any preference. It's the best kind of recipe, because you basically just chuck a bunch of ingredients in a bowl, mix, and bake. The end result is a nutty, crunchy, toasty mixture that's so much better than the stuff you buy in the store. Suzie mixes hers with fruit and yogurt. I think that's still my favorite way to eat granola, but it's great with milk, sprinkled over ice cream, eaten plain, or any other way you can think of to enjoy it. The following is a picture of the granola I enjoyed at Suzie's. I'm also including a recipe. I encourage you to change it to suit your own taste. Just remember, if you want to add fruit, fresh or dried, add it afterwards, when the granola is done baking and has cooled.


3 Cups rolled oats, such as Quaker (Don't use Quick Oats)
1.5 Cups roughly chopped raw pecans
75ml Oil (You can use canola or any other flavorless oil. 75ml = approx. 1/3 cup)
75ml Maple syrup

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Mix oats and pecans in a large bowl. Whisk oil and syrup together and add to the oat/pecan mixture.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread the mixture out on the lined tray in one layer.

Bake for about 1.5 hours. Check every 10 min. or so, turning the granola with a spatula to brown it on all sides. When it's browned and crunchy, it's done. Rely more on your opinion of done than the baking time recommended.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Completely Homemade

I get a real kick out of making a meal completely from scratch. If I could grow the grain, mill the flour, lay the eggs, and dowse the water, I might even do that too. But instead I settle for buying all the ingredients at my local market. It still counts in my book.

The first day I arrived in New York was my friend's birthday. To celebrate, we had a fabulous dinner at Moto, on the outskirts of the hipster haven of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Williamsburg is 1 part cool, 16 parts attitude. In Williamsburg, legwarmers are in. It makes me want to pull the cord and let the water splash all over their fashionable garb, a la Flashdance. Instead, I wore my coolest Adidas track top and most expensive jeans and tried my best to blend in. I think that makes me a poser. Whatever. But Moto is mostly safe from the hipness, and resides in its own little bubble of cool. It was like Paris or San Francisco before the .com era. Quaint, charming, and cozy. Our meal was good, the desserts better, and the conversation was the highlight. At the end of our meal, my friend received a pasta maker from her sweet friends T and A for her birthday. Her voice goes very high when she's excited or honored by a gift, and at this point, we would have required translation from a dog to understand what she was saying. Needless to say, she was thrilled. And we immediately made plans to make homemade pasta during my stay.

Homemade pasta is one of those things that seems hard, but is really very easy. The most basic recipe requires eggs and flour. That's it. And a pasta maker. You can either hire a cute little Italian lady from the old world, or buy a metal contraption from Williams Sonoma. They run about $50 for the metal kind. The grandmother version is priceless.

So on Saturday afternoon, we set about making ourselves some pasta. I hadn't made pasta since I was a kid cooking with my mom. But I've watched a lot of cooking shows, so I figured it would be easy. All you do is make a pile of "00" flour (about two cups of the finest milled semolina flour), push the pile down in the middle to make a moat for the liquid, and pour two eggs, beaten, into the center. Using a circular motion, you swirl the eggs taking in a little bit of flour each time until you've incorporated enough flour to make a sticky paste. Continue combining flour until you have a dough, and begin to knead the dough. Knead it with the heel of your hand, pushing down and forward on the dough, folding it in half, and kneading it again. The dough is ready when it is firm to the touch and not sticky. Then you feed it through the pasta maker, starting with the widest setting, graduating to the thinnest setting. The final pass goes through the pasta cutter, and then you've got pasta. When the noodles come out the machine, coat them in flour. Don't be shy with the flour, it won't hurt the dough, in fact it will keep the noodles separated until cooking.

Things to keep in mind:
  • When feeding the dough through the machine, it's easiest if you cut the dough into batches instead of feeding the whole lump through at once.
  • Don't worry if you don't use all the flour. Add only as much as the eggs will take. Trust your instincts. If you feel like you don't have instincts, trust the dough.
  • Don't be afraid to make a mess.
  • Don't worry if the dough looks weird or lumpy on its first pass through the pasta machine. That's normal. At least for me. And it will smooth out as it is passed through again and again.
Our resulting pasta is below.

You could leave the pasta in a pile like this and let it dry to be cooked later, but we were dining that night, so we didn't need to do that. I prepared a sauce of fresh peas, mint, lemon, and butter. It was delicious, if I do say so myself. We also roasted some tomatoes to go along with the dish.


Note our gourmet floor picnic tablecloth. The New York Times is quite handy.

Please make fresh pasta at least once in your life. It is incredibly satisfying. That said, you can make this sauce for dried pasta, or store bought fresh pasta, which is very good too.

Sauce of Fresh Peas, Mint, and Lemon:

2 lbs fresh English peas, shelled
1 or 2 handfuls of mint, chopped gently
1 lemon, zested and juiced, reserve both
5 Tb butter
1 Tb olive oil
Grated parmesan

Boil water in a saucepan big enough to hold all the peas. Blanche the peas, cooking them in the boiling water until they float to the top. Drain them, and shock them in ice water. Drain them again and set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil, wait until the sauce is almost done to add the pasta.

Put oil and 3 Tb of butter in a large pan. You'll want a big one because you'll be putting the cooked pasta in when the sauce is done. When the butter is melted, add the peas and saute them until they are warm. Add the mint, to taste. Add 1 tsp of lemon zest, or more, to taste, and 2 tsp of lemon juice. (Start the pasta, see below.) Finish with 2 Tb of butter. When it's melted, the sauce is ready to add the cooked pasta.

Add the pasta to the pot of boiling salted water, cook for only a few minutes, tasting often, until the pasta is al dente. Drain. Add the cooked pasta to the sauce, stir to combine. Serve. Sprinkle parmesan cheese over the finished dish. Enjoy. Our batch of fresh pasta and sauce served three. It was very light, but the portions were plenty generous.

Roasted Tomatoes:

1 tub fresh cherry tomatoes (My test to see if they're good is to smell them through the plastic tub. If they smell like tomatoes, they'll probably taste like them.)
Salt and Pepper, to taste

Cut the tomatoes in half, lengthwise, and arrange them on a baking pan in one layer. Sprinkle salt and ground pepper over the tomatoes. Roast in a 250 degree oven until they release their lovely fragrance. About 20-25 minutes. Wait before tasting, or you will have one sorry burned tongue.

You can roast some garlic cloves alongside the tomatoes and spread it on toasted sourdough or a bread of your choice to accompany the pasta. Yum.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

There's Always Room For Chocolate

Lately, I've heard more than one person tell me that they just don't like chocolate. I think they're mad—in the British sense of the word. Plum loco crazy. And because of their affliction, I feel most sorry for them. Chocolate is the food of the gods. The Mayans are believed to have made drinks from it as early as 900 B.C. The Aztecs followed shortly thereafter. A few thousand years later, modern chocolatiers are perfecting the art of the chocolate confection throughout the world, and some of the best artisans reside in New York.

Happily, the friend I visited on my recent trip to The City is also a chocolate lover. Together, we have visited Vosges, MarieBelle, Jacques Torres, Jacques Torres Haven, and many of the other small chocolateries around New York. Looking at chocolate is pure bliss. Eating it, divine. When my friend told me that a new chocolate dessert shop had opened up near her apartment in Brooklyn, we were both dying to try it, and one night we did.

We wandered into The Chocolate Room around 9:30 p.m. on Sunday night. One of the beautiful features of New York is that it is built around late nights, early mornings, and everything in between. It seems like nothing closes there, except the museums, which are always closed when I want to go. So the fact that this little slice of chocolate heaven was still open felt like kismet.

The Chocolate Room is a small establishment with a glass counter up front selling gorgeous and delectable truffles and treats, and a soda fountain-style counter at the back where the pastry chefs hide and Willy Wonka their way into our hearts and minds. Since we were coming from dinner, and were stuffed to the gills, we only had room for a few truffles each. Initially, we thought we'd share. But upon further investigation, we decided it was wise to each get our own, as our tastes are different and, well, sharing is for children whose parents force them to.

It was next to impossible to choose from the wide selection of different tastes and flavor combinations, but we managed. My selection is on the top, in all its dark chocolate glory. My friend's selection is on the bottom. She is the more egalitarian of the two of us; an equal opportunity enjoyer, if you will.

Of the three that I chose, my favorite was Donna. The truffle genius names his truffles after women friends. I wonder if he's married, because I am available, and I promise not to get jealous. Donna is a sexy vixen, with a daring blackcurrent ganache inside. If I were a truffle, I would contain a blackcurrent ganache as well. Or perhaps apricot. But we'll get to that in a second. The tall tower was amazing, hiding a red chili and tangerine ganache. Her name is Patricia. She's a spicy little number. Kelly, the triangular truffle, was filled with a strawberry, lemon, and thyme ganache. Kelly was my least favorite, but I would still see her again.

Charming and comfortable, with a relaxed and knowledgeable waitstaff, The Chocolate Room is what I imagine when I think of opening my own dessert shop some day. I would change it a bit to reflect my own personality, but overall it was exactly what I hoped for. A respite from the noise of the city. A place where chocolate is king. And queen. And they rule together, benevolently.

As we were leaving, and I paid the tab, I noticed some bistro bars sitting next to the truffles in the glass counter. I swear they saw me first. Chatting with the proprietress, I asked after the bars, inquiring which of the apricot caramel or grapefruit caramel filled dark chocolate bars was better. "Oooo, that's tough," she pondered. "Hmmmmm...." It was as if she was mentally tasting them again in her mind. "I can't decide," she said. "You should get both," our waiter replied. "You won't regret it." Well, I never regret a chocolate purchase, so I put the dilemma to rest and got one of each.

The apricot bar made it all the way back to LA with me, but the grapefruit bar found a home on my friend's pillow, as a tiny token of thanks for hosting me over the long weekend. Last night, as I slumped onto the couch after arriving home, I tasted the apricot bar to reward myself after my long trip. It is chocolate perfection. An amazing combination of sweet, apricot goodness infused with a hint of caramel. Not too much, which is good, because I don't like caramel very much, and I was hoping for the tart taste of fruit to contrast with the smooth dark chocolate. It's jammy and thick, with just the right amount of ooze. One square is good, two exquisite, and the third square's the charm. I am hooked. I recommend rushing out and buying some right now.

The Chocolate Room
86 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11217

Chocolat Moderne
Order online, or visit a retailer in your state.

Feed Me, Suitcase. Feed Me All Night Long.

I'm back! After a delightfully long weekend in the most international city I have ever been to, I have returned to overcast(???) LA and my lovely computer. Oh my gawd I missed my computer. And my Internet connection. And Veronica Mars. But it's all better now, my world is right-side up and I am home.

I have so much to write. I think I'm going to have to do it in installments so I can cover it all. But I will start with the plane ride home, because it is still fresh in my mind.

As I made my way to what felt like the very last gate of the very last terminal at JFK, I was sad. I didn't want to leave the bustling city of food and culture that I didn't realize I'd become accustomed to in just six days. Now that I'm home, I'm wondering what that silly chirping is outside my apartment. And the lone car driving by not honking its horn is beginning to worry me. Am I in heaven? But I digress. Arriving at the gate, I plopped down wearily on the bright green leather seats against the wall in the bizarrely modern terminal. There were many comatose passengers draped over the other flourescent seats, most of them reading or listening to their iPods to pass the time until we could board. Then a couple pulled in and settled next to me on the bench seating. The woman lifted a heavy suitcase onto the couch and opened it to reveal a bevy of delights. Her suitcase was filled, entirely and completely, with bounty from Zabar's. I think I waited twelve seconds before commenting.

"Is that filled with food?" I questioned.
"It's all from Zabar's!" She exclaimed. "Have you been? Would you like some?"
"Oh, no thanks. I'm impressed, though. A whole suitcase. I love Zabar's."
"I know. I'm not sure what happened to all the clothes. I think they're dirty."

I laughed. And thus began our conversation. For thirty minutes we talked about food. Food in New York. Food in LA. Food in San Francisco. They had never been to San Francisco! I told them it was a pilgrimage any respectable foodie must make. I instructed them to change their travel plans for SF, deplane, and head directly for the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market, perhaps stopping to pick up their checked luggage if it meant enough to them. Seeing as they had a suitcase full of Zabar's, perhaps they could just dump the rest of the clothes at a shelter and bring the empty food-transportation vessel instead. They wanted more. As it turned out, they would be heading to San Francisco in a few short months, and they wanted food recommendations. We oohed and ahhed about the best places to visit during their short 3-day stay, and we settled on Gary Danko, Slanted Door, and Delfina for dinner. Breakfast at Miss Millie's and Tartine, lunch at Pizzetta 211, and dessert at Mitchell's for their deep dark Mexican Chocolate Ice Cream. That would give them a lovely overview of the city, I told them. And on their next trip, they could delve into the foodie underbelly, the little places, the secret spots that everyone talks about, but no one dares give away. Okay, that's me waxing poetic. These were top shelf folks. I don't think they'll be gracing the steps of any of the secret spots anytime soon. But I will, if I can help it.

Once we actually boarded the plane—they sat in First Class, I mooooved back to Economy—our conversation was over, but I was consumed by thoughts of food. Happily, I cracked open my book, The Man Who Ate Everything, by Jeffrey Steingarten, and dove into some of the best food writing I've ever read. I will write about Mr. Steingarten again, rest assured, but until then, if you are curious, go immediately to the bookstore and buy his books. The other one is titled, It Must Have Been Something I Ate, and I assure you that you will savor every morsel of his delightful prose. As I was enjoying his essay on Ice Cream, who should turn up but my First Class food friend. She wanted to get the names of the restaurants I'd mentioned so she could make sure to go when they were in SF. During the course of our previous conversation, I'd told her about my family's deli and bakery in LA. Being a native Angeleno, and from the Valley to boot, she said she'd dated one of my cousins years ago who had worked at the bakery. What a small world. She had confirmed my food pedigree with her mother, who assured her that my LA family, and by extension me, are well-bred foodies, and that my advice should be welcomed with open arms. So pen in hand she braved the cattle car to chat with me. I was flattered.

Thanks to a generous tail-wind, we sailed into LA forty minutes ahead of schedule. Outside the window, our sprawling blanket of a city glided by, looking much like an enormous Lite Brite toy I cherished as a kid. I go back and forth about LA. Sometimes it truly feels like home. Other times, it's the place I hang my hat. Tonight it was a relief to see the ground, and know that I would be asleep in my bed shortly. My bed. In my apartment. With my stuff. Having gotten a good night's sleep, I'm ready to venture forth. Next stop, ?