Asian at Home

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One great thing about the American melting pot is the way our immigrants and our refugees have introduced us to the cuisines of other cultures. In cities like Los Angeles you can find within any random sampling of urban blocks anything from Syrian to Mexican to Vietnamese to Israeli to African food. We have unbelievable choices in the things we eat and better yet, ethnic markets are now commonplace so that we can try to make those savory Lebanese labne kabobs or that tangy Thai Thom Ka Gai soup at home. Also, we don’t need to adopt the American diet we grew up with just because it was what was served to us growing up in the childhood home. My kitchen cupboards are an interesting fusion—one peek into them and you might think I was a third East Indian spice, a third Planetary Herbalism and a third Armenian.

One of my favorite things to enjoy is Asian at home, (and no, I’m not talking about the Japanese Cute Gardener). In the old days before my palate was properly aged, I was a big fan of onion pancakes cooked in Chinese restaurants. Over the past year, spurred by an L.A. Times article touting seven places in the San Gabriel Valley with the best versions of those, the CG and I began an onion pancake hunt. After a few unsuccessful tries (yes, at one of the article’s restaurants) we came to the conclusion that they just weren’t all that good. In concept, yes, but in orchestration they tended to be too hard, too thin, too dense, too absent of green onion, or too oily for our liking. Which brings to mind one of the recurring conversations in our household about the difference between authentic and good. Something might very well be authentic but if you can make it better by stepping a wee bit off tradition than why not do just that? We often wonder why chefs in various cuisines aren’t that compelled to improve on old standards.

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In any case, I was still craving the kind of onion pancake I used to love so I bought a pack of frozen, raw onion pancakes from the Chinese market and decided to experiment on a simple lunch time wrap. Not only were these pancakes a one hundred percent improvement over the restaurant ones, they were simple to make. You simply take the flattened disk from between the fruit roll-up reminiscent cellophane and put it into a hot pan for two minutes per side. It fluffs up in a nice, flaky, and soft buttery (!) fashion. I like to grab some bitter greens from the garden for a one-minute sauté in the same pan, and sometimes if there is left over ground meat in the fridge like pork, I will throw that in the pan too. Then I squeeze a zigzag of hoisin sauce on the pancake and spoon the filling in and fold it in half to look like a Chinese taco. This dish goes wonderfully well with fragrant oolong tea.

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These pancakes are good all by themselves as well. So good that I had been making regular trips to the Chinese market just to buy them. Imagine my surprise when I found them in the frozen aisle of Ralph’s last week in a new large section of foreign foods. At least in the food sphere, we know how to be properly grateful for the richness our immigrants bring.

A RETURN TO JOY AFTER BEING LOST AT SEA

 

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Blue prawn crudo and cauliflower panna cotta

One of the biggest sources of joy in my life is eating, making and exploring cuisine with the Cute Gardener. Another is listening to live music – from an extremely varied musical palate we share between the two of us. For that reason, Papilles Bistro (taglined: Art is to Refuse Mediocrity by Balthus) in Los Angeles has had a very special place in my heart. The tiny restaurant in a strip mall, reigned over by Chef Tim Carey in his ever present L.A. Dodgers cap, where you never know which few fabulous things are going to be on the menu yet everything is stellar, has been our pre-eat spot for nights filled with Stanley Clarke’s jazz at the Catalina Club, Da Camera Society’s chamber music at an estate of magnificent architecture in the ritzy hills, and good ole Neil Diamond at the Greek. Something about the combination of fine food, a Southern California evening and cocktails on the town along to the beat of great tunes fills me with sparkling joy and I have shared that often here on this blog.

 

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Octopus mole

Recently however, my posts have dwindled, and I am embarrassed to admit it has been because I have been leery of expressing joy. For multiple reasons. One, I have been in a state of dread leading up to and since our Presidential election. Two, because of the outcome of the Presidential election I have been chagrined (by friends and foes alike) for sharing my natural outpourings of joy. For example, on the night of the election, the Cute Gardener and I were at a steakhouse and after the meal, I was brought a large pink tuft of cotton candy. I took a photo of myself with that puff and put it on Instagram and noted that now, more than ever, we needed to try and personally experience joy, because our small little lives are really all we have. I wasn’t trying to say that my experience of joy would automatically bar any knowledge of the reality of many suffering on our planet. I wasn’t saying that my joy was something that I wanted to cloud other parts of me, like the activist woman with a writer’s mouth, geared for a life of written word service. I wasn’t putting my fingers in my ears and screaming “la la la la la la,” as if I wanted to become blissfully ignorant. I was merely stating that if we are in positions to experience joy, we should, because many aren’t and we are really lucky to have that opportunity.

I received a backlash. And it had everything to do with the Presidential election. And it threw me into a state of dread. And I wrote about my postpartum blues after the election for a literary magazine and I spoke about how many of us now feel frozen – frozen between enjoying our lives that we knew and being scared of whatever damage may come, not particularly to our lives, but to the lives of many others.

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Snapper

But … yesterday I read a quote in the Los Angeles Times by a writer named Jade Chang whose “Wangs Vs. The World” is becoming a bestseller. She spoke about being at a writer’s conference recently and how all of the panelists and audience members were kind of in the same frozen daze. They were asking, “Why even write?” She said, “We started talking about how joy itself is a rebellion, how living unapologetically is an act of defiance.”

It was enough to put some happiness back into my strut, giving me the confidence to share that strut here, where now I have come home to experience joy unapologetically. And it is entirely synchronistic that my first post back is about my experience last week at Lost At Sea, a new seafood restaurant in Pasadena, reigned over by none other than that favorite L.A. Dodger hat-wearing chef of mine Tim Carey.

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Butter poached lobster

The best artists in life know to move from project to project, passion to passion, without growing stale. They take their surroundings, the materials they’ve been given, and they mingle that with themselves to find inspiration. We see this happening now in Los Angeles a lot. Chefs will open multiple places, or pop up here and there, or float, giving their talents and their muse a large field to choose from. Carey’s food at Papilles is still exquisite and supreme but Lost at Sea is his outlet for channeling a deft and creative touch onto the Southern California fresh seafood scene. The niche is exemplary in his hands. Think tangy raw blue prawns aloft in a sauce of passion fruit, orange, guava and aguachile; octopus mole with sweet potato, Satsuma and sesame tuile; snapper with baby turnip, fingerling potato, spigarello, tarragon fumet and duck; butter poached lobster with black trumpet mushroom, celery root velouté, (the CG says any chef, like Carey, who is an alum of Patina-training knows how to make a superior velouté) fresno chile and parsley; or my favorite dish of all, (and perhaps #1 yet for 2017), a rich and decadent cauliflower panna cotta (which coats the tongue wickedly more like a mousse) topped with luscious uni, pop-in-your-mouth trout roe, sexy brown butter and the sprightly spritz of citrus. Yum.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring but I am happy that I can continue to find joy in food through my relationship with the CG while it lasts. And I shall.

Forgive me for being (at) Lost at Sea.

 

 

 

Caviar Holiday Bookends (+If Eggs Were Clouds)

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For many, this holiday season has been blighted oddly by election malaise. Prior to Thanksgiving, the temperament of the masses had vacillated between surreally high or devastatingly low due to the tempestuous climate surrounding the race for president seen in particularly vicious battles between campaigners, the public, the parties and then eventually even our own families and friends. It has been a weird time to be an American and for some, to even consider what that still means within a contemporary context. So the idea of celebrating Thanksgiving came with a strange tone this year.

The Cute Gardener and I decided to bookend Thanksgiving with tiny food rituals that mean something to us so that we might celebrate, in the least, the things we are grateful for within our own relationship. Because despite what is happening in the rest of the world beyond the walls of our own home, we have it really good and don’t want to take that for granted. One of the things our love revolves greatly around is the intimate sharing and eating of food.

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For a year, a small bottle of luxurious caviar powder and a tiny jar of bottarga from our favorite Beverly Hills purveyor Petrossian, have resided in a kitchen cabinet, only to be brought out randomly yet judiciously for use as an expensive garnish on dishes we deem worthy. We decided to take those two beautiful ingredients to the living room coffee table this year to create our own finger foods that don’t quite fit into any of the three regular daily meals.

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Before Thanksgiving we knew we didn’t need a full dinner, as we’d be getting plenty of carbs the next day. So we filled a bowl with Terra Chips made of roasted root vegetables and had fun deciding whether the caviar or the bottarga went better with various chips atop a dollop of sour cream and sometimes a meaty flake of smoked salmon. Our verdict after many crunchy bites washed down with dry champagne? Yukon white potato chip with sour cream and bottarga!

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After Thanksgiving while enjoying a morning of college football on the couch, I re-imagined a dish we’ve tasted at Petrossian before that is called Egg Royale, or what I like to call “If Eggs Were Clouds.” I found a recipe online and was stunned by its simplicity.

My version as follows:

If Eggs Were Clouds
Serves 2
(a few perfect bites)

2 eggs
½ c. whipping cream
½ tbls. vodka
1 tbls. butter
salt and pepper
caviar powder

Freeze a small aluminum bowl and then in it, whip ¼ c. cream and the vodka till fluffy. Place in fridge.

Whisk together eggs and remaining ¼ c. cream and half a pinch of both salt and pepper until thoroughly blended. The longer whipped the better.

Take a heavy bottomed saucepan and heat on low. Place ½ tbls. butter in it and melt. Pour egg and cream mixture into it and then whisk constantly while still heating on low until soft, fluffy curds develop. When they start to develop, remove from heat and they will continue cooking. Put the remaining ½ tbls. butter into eggs and whip till melted.

Divide egg mixture between two cups, top with whipped cream and sprinkle with caviar powder.

 

 

Sometimes Cooking Is All About the Kitchen Sink

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When I was a teenager working at a frozen yogurt shop, a friend’s family opened a Mexican food counter across the street where I would buy my lunch. My favorite thing to order was the “kitchen sink” burrito. The concept was simple: the burrito would consist of any stray ingredients that were lying around at the time of my order, resulting in a massive flour tortilla bursting with surprise. Sometimes it would consist of beans, cheese, carne asada, lettuce and tomatoes. While other versions might be pork, fried chitlins, ranchero sauce, sour cream and black beans. It was a concept I enjoyed working into my later life as a cook – one that has also been popularized in shows such as Chopped where contestants are challenged to make food from whatever random assortment of items are found in a basket. In our kitchen at home, the Cute Gardener has become a master at this kind of meal, thinking up innovative fusions of creative cuisine toward the end of the week when our carefully planned meals from the beginning of the week have produced a fridge full of leftovers – odds and ends that inspire new dishes where randomness is key. The best part of this game lies in the way different cultures clash on the plate forging meals with no discernable origin; magically delicious combinations that would never exist in a recipe file or that might never be conjured from a regular chef’s strategic mind. To me, this element of discovery is one of the most satisfying things about being a home cook. Recently, the CG whipped up a shrimp stir fry that became an umami bomb in the mouth, something that we may never have the pleasure to eat again, composed of end of season tomatoes from the garden, stray vegetables in the produce bin, the remains of a bag of frozen shrimp and rarely used seasonings from the spice cabinet. We still don’t know what to call this part Vietnamese, part Indian, part Chinese, part Spanish taste explosion but it is worth noting for any brave readers who might want to attempt its recreation.

Kitchen Sink Shrimp

¼ pound split shrimp
¼ chopped onion
½ julienned turnip
3 cups sliced cauliflower
3 cups chopped yellow grape tomatoes
One bunch mizuna or other Asian green
1 egg
3 cups water
Olive oil
1 tbls. sage
2 tsp. Vietnamese crustacean seasoning salt
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. granulated garlic
1 tsp. dried Aleppo pepper
Salt and pepper
2 servings cooked jasmine rice

On high heat, saute chopped onion and julienned turnip in olive oil until soft. Add yellow tomatoes,  water,  sage, Vietnamese crustacean seasoning salt, cumin, granulated garlic, Aleppo pepper, fresh ground black pepper and salt. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until a cup of liquid remains. Uncover, increase heat to high and add cauliflower. When cauliflower is soft, add shrimp. Toss until shrimp turns orange. Turn off heat. Quickly stir in egg. Toss in mizuna with stems, chopped into 3-inch sections. Serve on jasmine rice.

 

Rebirth of the Palate at Kali

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It was two years ago this month that I lost my mother to a swift and sudden battle with a rare form of cancer. Since then, my activities on this food blog have been spotty at best. When one is enthralled in the grief that follows the loss of a loved one, time becomes veiled in a marshmallow fog moving at light speed one instant and slow as molasses the next. Then one morning you wake, clothed in the realization that life must go on. It occurs to me now that my lack of luster for celebrating food here has been intricately tied to the absence of my mother, who for many years was my blog’s biggest fan. Every time I would write an entry I would find her comments shining on my page as she reveled in the culinary adventures of the Cute Gardener and myself. She was so thrilled that I had found my perfect mate and that we were fellow foodies eating our way through a fantastic life together. Every time I wrote after her death, I would feel the gap in my life where her happiness for me had been so vividly present.

But the other night, the Cute Gardener and I dined at a splendid new restaurant in Los Angeles called Kali and my zest for presenting my palate on the page was rekindled. Fittingly, Kali is the Hindu goddess whose name means “She who is death” in Sanskrit. She sweeps into our lives to shake up our notions of time and with her appearance comes the inevitability of great change. She shakes our equilibrium and asks us to topple all that is static in our existence so that we can make way for the new. This luxurious and innovative meal ushered me back to the land of the living and reignited my desire to share my life in food again.

After a few years of watching the restaurant scene become embroiled in trends like charred Brussels sprouts, potted meats in Mason jars, kale, deviled eggs and pork belly everything, it was refreshing to find a chef doing creative things with bitter notes and unusual ingredients that veered more toward the kinds of food I like to eat. There was a discernable lack of overarching fat and a respectful nod toward the delightful and unordinary, making Kali my pick for best L.A. restaurant so far for 2016.

Some highlights included:

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A gorgeous, silken soup where wicked nightshade vegetables of eggplant, peppers and tomato were roasted to bursting then covered with tomato puree.

Soft and puffy mini rosemary infused loaves of bread accompanied by herbal whipped butter.

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A black barley “risotto” served al dente with tart black garlic and strands of wheatgrass; the nuttiness of the grains spiked by chips off the disk of nearly burnt, toasted taleggio cheese that topped its middle.

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A luscious hunk of black cod over fig and corn streusel.

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And my favorite of the night: cubes of gorgeously fried duck breast reminiscent of the texture of perfect pork belly with a surprising sauce of coffee, honey and cocoa, daubed with curls of purple carrots.

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For dessert, a creamy meringue ice cream was sprinkled with shaved frozen egg yolk tableside. Amazing!

It was the perfect meal to mark my entrance back into a lust for food writing, eating and recognizing that at the end of every cycle of death is a concurrent wave of rebirth.

 

 

Goat Cheese Puffs and Kir Royale

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We live in an age where convenience is king and attention spans have diminished to focus on a steady stream of 140-character sound bites and grab-and-go eats. Taking time to enjoy a meal or having a lengthy, real life conversation that extends beyond a thumbs up “like” on a Facebook post are going the way of the dinosaurs. A sit down meal, which used to mark a dinner with the family or close friends, is now a rare occasion involving copious amounts of preplanning and synchronization between the technologies and timeframes of various people all operating within distinctly individualized schedules. In an extreme backlash against all of this twenty-first century behavior, I am committed to make the moments that I eat actually mean something. And not something in the special way of birthdays or anniversary occasions, but special in the way that reminds me that life is in the ordinary hours. Life is right now.

The one time a week when I cook for the Cute Gardener and myself is a time when I can slow down for a moment and reflect on what I want to convey with my efforts. I am not merely making a meal or a dish but crafting an experience that bubbles up from someplace inside of me first, borne of a feeling, and then crafted outward. It is not about flipping through a list of recipes but rather culling from an internal well, something conjured that tantalizes all the senses, rather than just the tongue.

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Recently, I finished reading An Extravagant Hunger by my ex-Stanford writing class teacher Anne Zimmerman. The book was a biography of the famous food writer MFK Fisher and something that rang true throughout Fisher’s life was her absolute commitment to enjoying food and drink, even if eating solo or making a simple lunch at home. It also made me recall all the meals I had read Fisher describe in her books that were accompanied at the end by Crème de Cassis, the dark red liqueur made from black currants, which had always given me a tinge of romantic fantasy in the gut but which I had never yet tried. I researched and discovered an elegant drink, the Kir Royale, which is made from floating fine French Champagne atop a few tablespoons of the liqueur and decided to build an appetizer course around this drink; one that would equally fulfill my many deep hungers that had been percolating in my mind regarding the making and sharing of food.

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Dorie Greenspan’s goat cheese mini puffs were the perfect solution. Made from her exquisite choux dough recipe and accentuated with a whipped goat cheese filling, the resulting clouds of herb-spiked goodness added a light and airy bite between sips of the heavier, sweet cocktail. I served the drinks in fine stemless  flutes on our everyday, ordinary coffee table as we came together at the end of a regular old workday, shoving unread stacks of newspaper aside to partake in our ongoing obsession with Game of Thrones. The juxtaposition of classy bites with our regular scheduled television programming made our evening special, with nothing more to celebrate other than our lust for life and enjoying the present moment with each other—and that in this day and age is becoming ever so priceless.

Discovering My Inner Troll Through Oat-Laced Griddlecakes

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There are so many cookbooks in the world today, churned out every minute by our latest superstar chefs or directed by our palate’s latest obsessions for Paleo or gluten-free or raw or rustic French cuisines, so I tend to turn a blind eye to building my own collection because of the overwhelm. I am already behind in the few that I have. I’ve made under a dozen of the dishes in Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table and the collected recipes from one of our favorite restaurants in L.A., Scarpetta (heartbreakingly-deceased) glowers intimidatingly from its place on our shelf adjacent to the Cute Gardener’s French Laundry bible. These are further accentuated by my slim volumes of Middle Eastern delights and tiny glimpses into the jewels of the Mediterranean and a random Thai or grain bowl assortment bought because the deal was just to good to pass up. But the truth is I am not a big cookbook kind of girl.

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But when Clint Marsh, co-editor (along with Karima Cammell) of The Troll Cookbook asked if I would like a review copy, I was pleasantly intrigued. A book not centered on the latest fashionable food trends or embedded with highly personal musings of an egocentric Michelin-man or woman? Yes, please. What I discovered after reading the book from cover-to-cover in one afternoon, hilariously enough, is that I just might have some troll within me.

Trolls get a bad rap in polite society. Yes, they may be strange in visual appearance ranging from the gnomish to the gigantic, and yes, they may eschew participation in the regular world, but it’s only because they burn up in casual daylight! They are highly feared and disregarded due to one particular delicacy of their diet. According to the book, trolls like many people are carnivores, although unlike our human predilection for pig, duck, cow, turkey or chicken, their tastes are geared toward us—the man and woman. WE pique their biggest cravings. So yes, I understand our aversion yet to judge would position me as a hypocrite because everyone knows there is not a pig belly I can refuse. So I will not, judge that is. Yet this is apparently what renders trolls scary in all the folklore and fairy tales that are delightfully peppered throughout the book amongst the conversion tables—what does a gnome-handful equate to in person form? Or a slip, drip, flicker or fist?

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On the lighter side, trolls sing to my heart with their gleeful foraging spirits that follow the seasons of the year to plan their menus full of locally available ingredients that can be found on forest floors, in musty, mushroom filled caves, and on many a mountain side or slab of tree bark. I found myself loving every recipe in this book and finding my taste buds teased by the idea of making some old fashioned griddlecakes this past weekend. The recipe is below—it turned out three days worth of breakfast plates overflowing with oat-nutty, tart buttermilk, salt of the earth goodness. Next on my agenda? The dog-eared pages for porridge fritters, quick bread, sourdough, limoncello, creamed winter greens, spring vegetable soup, sweet carrot soup, grilled figs and cheese, beets and eggs, eggs in oil with sumac, ricotta tart, jam bars and fig salami. And of course, the complex and unique Srikund (a strained yogurt with cardamom and saffron dessert) and Rumtopf (a rum pot combining a medley of alcohol, fruits and sugar made in a crock.)

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GRIDDLECAKES
(Word for word from The Troll Cookbook with * addendum notes of mine below.)

Greasy griddlecakes made from oats (or any rolled grain) are a favorite troll meal for breakfast or lunch. The trolls show off by flipping the griddlecakes without a spatula. (Which I was tragically unable to do.)

1-1/2 c. rolled oats (or any flattened grains)
2 c. buttermilk or whole milk
2 eggs
1 spoon vanilla extract
6 spoons of maple syrup
¼ c. melted butter or cooking oil (plus more for the pan)
½ spoon salt
An open handful of flour
¼ spoon of grated nutmeg
¼ spoon cinnamon

In a large mixing bowl, stir together all the ingredients in the order listed. Add more flour until the batter thickens to your liking but is still runny enough to pour easily. A thin batter will give you crispy griddlecakes, and a batter that’s too thick will make your griddlecakes doughy. Add berries if you’d like.

Melt some butter in a griddle over medium-low heat and splash on scoops of batter. Flip the griddlecakes just once and only after they are riddled with bubbles. The second side of a griddlecake cooks faster, but if it offers any resistance let it cook a little longer before lifting it off with a spatula. Serve your griddlecakes as you cook. If any of your fellow trolls like greasy griddlecakes, serve them the first few from the batch, as these will have soaked up more butter.

Cover griddlecakes with syrup, honey, chocolate, fruit, jam, yogurt, whipped cream, or anything you think tastes good. If you’d prefer a savory meal instead of a sweet one, make larger griddlecakes and roll them up with slices of meat and cheese.

*
I used oats bought in the bulk bin at Whole Foods.

“Spoon” means teaspoon in troll speak.

I used a cast iron pan rather than a grill so it was important to pour tiny rounds rather than a big flapjack disc in order to get the cakes to cook nicely. The first side took about five minutes to bubble and then 30 seconds on the second side.

Use as little flour as possible as to avoid damp cakes in the middle. These are very nice that way, dependent more on the taste of the buttermilk and oats.

I threw blueberries into the raw batter and it was awesome!

I topped mine with a mere drizzle of organic maple syrup, delicious.

Chez Panisse-Inspired Strawberry Salad

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My bucket list in life vacillates from year to year. Things like hot air ballooning fall off as I age and become more protective of my life. Things like “visit Ibiza” turn into “visit the South of France” as my tastes evolve from the love of nightlife to a more refined love of charming small towns and foreign flora. But one thing that has remained on my list for decades is Chez Panisse, the Berkeley, California restaurant owned and operated by sublimely seasonal chef Alice Waters. As far as chefs go, her style of cooking fresh, simple and delicious food from seasonally available, local sources has always matched my palate’s deepest hankerings for the good, the true and the natural.

A week ago, I was able to check Chez Panisse off my list when the Cute Gardener and I stopped in for lunch on a dappled sunny afternoon. Seated upstairs in the wooden, arts-and-crafts movement dining room, we enjoyed a taste of the famous roast chicken, a duck confit, fried green onions, smoky roasted tomato soup and a nectarine galette with the brownest, crispest crust I’ve had yet. But one small dish, a starter salad dressed in tomato vinaigrette was the biggest source of inspiration for me. It made me want to stretch my own capabilities from my normal salad dressing fare at home, which typically consists of an emulsion of shallots, garlic, lemon juice, vinegar and oil. It made me want to stretch my creativity.

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This morning our garden was full of growth so I decided to create something new with Waters’ philosophy in mind. I took what was fresh and available: avocado, purslane leaves, Asian greens, green grapes and strawberries. Then as the greens dried from a quick wash, I looked around in my pantry to see what might make an unusual dressing. A stray bit of goat cheese caught my eye and I decided to make a sweet summer dressing using the strawberries in a puree. To the puree of cheese and berry, I added lemon juice and olive oil and voila! I had a new vinaigrette, silky smooth and sweet with just a bit of tang.

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The unctuous creaminess of the dressing was calling out for avocado. And all that was missing was some texture so I added sunflower seed, whole grapes and chopped strawberries for variation on top of the greens. The purslane leaves, who many ignore as a mere garden weed, made for a beautiful garnish but also a nice dose of Omega 3s.

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As I ate my salad, it felt good to know that very little labor or resources had been drained in the making of this dish nor were there any pesky chemicals or genetic modifications to my fruits and veggies. Best of all, the ingredients had come from my own home—both backyard and pantry, in the spirit of grow your own.

Toast Trend Transformed

 

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It’s National Dairy Month and what doesn’t taste better with butter and cheese? Last week Finlandia sent me some Swiss cheese and butter to try, giving me the perfect opportunity to experiment with the latest toast craze—a ramped up fad I had been avoiding like the plague for an entire year. Don’t get me wrong, I am an old and ardent fan of butter and cinnamon sugar on crisp toasted wheat bread or hearty rye broiled with a slim layer of almond butter but I was hard pressed to start shelling out $5.00 a plate for some burnt bread and smashed avocado as it started to spread tsunami style on the menus of all my local restaurants. Avocado toast was quickly becoming this year’s poached egg or charred Brussels sprouts.

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Now, armed with a gorgeous block of salted butter, some sliced Swiss that tasted more sharply aged and less waxy then most grocery store brands, and a tree in the garden bursting with fresh avocados, the Cute Gardener and I were determined to create an elevated version of toast that I could sink my teeth into without wincingly becoming just another slave to the latest food trend. I would create a base toast that could be used either on its own for a quick snack, or fluffed up for a fancier role such as pre-dinner appetizer or a lunch meal all its own. I started with a hoagie-style roll of puffy, hearty sourdough sliced in half and swathed with butter.

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After the bread broiled for a minute or so in the toaster oven, just enough to crisp the edges for a textural crunch like the best garlic bread, we generously layered it with freshly cut avocado slices. After adding the Swiss on top, we stuck it back into the broiler until it melted into a nice even bed on the avocado.

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We had our base. It was noontime and all we needed was a simple lunch so we chopped up some chives from the backyard and threw them on top as well as an elementally important dusting of black pepper. Of course, we But as we ate the delicious toast we imagined all of the other things we could add on top to accentuate the gooey combination of goodness in the future: lump crab or tuna salad? Tomatoes and basil or strawberries and caraway?

I look forward to our continual transformation of toast.

 

 

Superhero Cereal

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Before we lived in this grand contemporary world where one can find a whole restaurant dedicated to the acai bowl, you had to have connections to people in the multilevel marketing world to access a taste of the superfood berry. I’ll always remember the nights in the early 2000s when I would head to my friend Stephen’s house before a night on the town or dinner plans out and we would share prized drinks out of his regal purple MonaVie container in the fridge. A couple we knew had become privileged distributors of the drink in America and they doled out cartons to Stephen and I to share as if we were co-owners of a child or a painting or some other highly valuable thing. We would pour the electrifying purple liquid into small shot glasses ice cold and feel something close to high with the buzz of its healthy goodness.

Now of course superfoods are everywhere, and in fact the word superfood may even already be a passé thing, kind of like probiotics and antioxidants. But acai is here to stay. No longer relegated to skeptical pyramid schemes, it can be easily found on the freezer shelf of every local grocer.

Until now, my acai lust has been centered on using the frozen, unsweetened packs of the berry slush as a smoothie additive. Not only does it provide the much needed slush element when I want to use fresh rather than frozen fruits and to my daily super shake, but the signature cool, mellow berry flavor provides a complementary and non-conflicting base to just about any ingredient. It also, unlike ice, doesn’t get watery.

But recently I have fallen for the acai bowl, which is like a smoothie cereal but more fun. The trick is to whirl the frozen acai with some kind of thickener like frozen banana, avocado or a favorite nut butter, which gives it some heft enough to sit in a bowl. Then the fun begins as you layer as many other ingredients as you want on the top. The combinations are endless and fun, promoting experimentation to find your favorite version. You also encounter some surprising taste delights. For example if you layer seeds, like sunflower or pepitas, atop your acai and then sprinkle honey over the seeds, they all stick together in a sort of sweet, chilled and chewy jerky that is ultra fun to eat.

My Latest Favorite Acai Bowl

1 pack frozen acai, unsweetened
1/2 frozen banana
1 tbls. almond butter
½ gala apple
½ c. frozen boysenberries

Blend all of this together for the base.

Top with:
1/8 c. sunflower seeds
1/8 c. pepitas
1 tbls. shredded, nonsweetened organic coconut
1 tbls. hemp hearts
1 tbls. chia seeds
½ c. sliced fresh strawberries
1-2 tsp. drizzled honey