Eschewing Easter for Italian Brunch at Cora’s Coffee Shop

IMG_5621The Cute Gardener and I tend to make up our own rituals for the holidays that the majority of the Western world otherwise celebrates in unison. It isn’t that we’re not patriotic that makes us eschew Fourth of July fireworks for crab and duck in underground Chinatown restaurants or that makes us ignore the Valentine’s romantic dinner crowds in lieu of our own private cooking sessions, wine tasting and LEGO making evenings at home. It’s just that we’re both inclined to make up our own road together filled with customs created that matter to us and don’t conform to the norm. There’s something special knowing that nobody else is honoring a day in quite the same way we are.

So instead of following the newspaper’s guidance on making gourmet peeps at home or following the crowds to the beaches, churches and parks to partake in colored egg hunts we like to spend Easter morning strolling lazily to some restaurant that we’ve always wanted to try. Today, it was Cora’s Coffee Shop, located a block from the beach in Santa Monica. In true adventurous fashion, we opted for a seat at the bar so we could watch the three cooks in their chaotic line dance of delivering up dishes to a packed crowd. Cora’s is unusual in that it’s one third gourmet egg and breakfast joint, one third upscale coffee shop and one third Italian specialty restaurant gaining inspiration and dishes from its sister property, the pricey Capo Restaurant next door. We didn’t want to shell out the big bucks to Capo for dinner until we tried a few of the Italian items that were being offered for half price or less at Cora’s.

IMG_5620From our position at the counter we gained an appreciation for what makes Cora’s a little offbeat and unique. Pancakes that first looked ordinary and mixed from boxes of Bisquick soon were peppered with organic blueberries, buckwheat or cranberries into high and fluffy disks waiting hot slabs of butter. Eggs poached to perfection were laid on beds of creamed spinach laden brioche slices. A massive, four-inch thick frittata was studded with soft lumps of potato and gleaming slivers of tender carrot. Freshly squeezed orange juice was poured room temperature and tangy into plastic oval cups. Plump tomatoes, bruised and full of character, were chopped in rustic chunks atop toast with large globules of silken burrata. Large tubes of rigatoni were tossed in buttery tomato sauce and strewn with fresh herbs. It was highly entertaining watching the hectic show around the stove and we hardly noticed the large amount of time that passed before our own plates were handed to us across the gleaming case full of flaky croissants, poppy seed muffins and gooey sticky buns. An air of do-it-yourself cuisine peppered with distinctive and special touches lent a favorable hue to our opinion of the place.

IMG_5622The CG ordered polenta with Italian sausage and although the polenta was poured from a Whole Foods-type plastic bag to cook in a pan, the quality burrata that was added made it milky and hearty. My lamb ragu over chunky al dente bucatini was comforting and warm, even if it was smothered in too much truffle oil. I agree with most of the top chefs today who say that truffle oil should be banished from the markets, as it is not the true essence of the miraculous and elusive fungi but a flavored rendition of a trend that overpowers everything in its wake. But despite this small error in execution, our time there was memorable because of the birds-eye view of a bustling kitchen that never stopped and was earnest in its attempt to please the ocean side masses.

Walking home along the water full of pasta was a moment to cherish as the mobs on the sand folded up their pastel colored table cloths and lugged bags full of candy to their cars. It felt good to be on the side of those who make life up as they go.

Marie Antoinette-Inspired Gluttony at Bistro Jeanty

IMG_2587One of my favorite things about Sofia Coppola’s 2006 version of Marie Antoinette was the over-the-top decadence the young, naïve queen partook in on a daily basis when it came to food. Who needs vegetables when you’re young, beautiful and rich and have access to the finest pastry chefs, cupcake bakers and Champagne makers in all the land? Of course, we all secretly wish that we could eschew the balanced meals once in a while for a feast of all our favorite treats.

Following in Marie’s footsteps, my own version of nonchalant foodie indulgence usually occurs in a French bistro and is always best during the daytime when you’re lent a feeling of sinning in sunlight while all the world goes on somber and serious around you, working and doing other adult-like things that you are not momentarily privy to.

In Napa we found this experience on our first full day when we decided to have the one lunch of the trip at Bistro Jeanty boasting a Chef Philippe who is indeed actually from the Champagne region of France. Upon entering the charming little space I was met by walls of butter yellow, which has become my superstitious sign that I will love a French bistro.

From the moment we sat down gluttony ensued. We ordered everything at once and watched as our table became laden with the dishes, compelling us to move our noontime cocktails over to adjacent tabletops.

IMG_2581As if we needed bread to start a bread heavy meal! But in wine country it never hurts to get extra sponge material in the body to help sop up the tastings. It arrived warm with crispy outsides and beautifully soft interiors alongside an adorable ceramic pot of grainy mustard. The doughy innards were also the perfect material to soak up the remaining lobster cream sauce at the bottom of an emptied dish of pike fish quenelles.

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Three large bones came filled with marrow in the perfect consistency to spread on the large, toasted baguette slices. It was not too watery and not too thick and easily spoon-able; something that takes talent to get truly right. The bordelaise sauce added a nice jolt of tang to the overall bite.

IMG_2585Two sweet slabs of girlie pink and meaty pate came served with a wooden box of cornichons. The creamy consistency, kin to really good headcheese, was divine.

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The star of the lunch and the reason we had come was the savory and belly-warming tomato soup in a bowl topped off by a delicious dome of puff pastry. With each bite pulling in some of the puff along with the cream-heavy richness of the soup, we were in true foodie bliss – letting ourselves “eat cake” in broad daylight without regard to who saw us. We were after all on vacation!

Whipping Cream Scones Off the Beaten Path

IMG_5353By the 3rd morning of our recent trip north to wine country California, we were seasoned enough to know that we needed something hearty in the car cooler to soak up all the magnificent vino that lay ahead. Not only that, but before we started, I needed to find some grounding tea to meter my internal system back into its usual place and was seeking something bark-like and dark, fortified with earth and the spirits of old ancient trees.

Before a slated stop at Iron Horse Vineyards, we drove out along the Bohemian Highway near Sebastopol in search of the Wild Flour Bread. I had visited this particular bakery five years back when staying in the area with friends and the memory of the dark chocolate scone studded with raw ginger chunks had permanently imprinted itself on my brain.

We pulled up to the quaint little building amidst an overflowing lush green landscape and were instantly tantalized by the smells of hot bread baking within in their famous brick oven. Inside we found a tiny counter in front of a work area overflowing with tables full of many kinds of bread and baked goods. I immediately saw a row of their famous whipping cream scones with a chocolate variety drizzled in fudge and dotted with large dried cranberry and blood orange chunks made just for me.

The Cute Gardener tried a few samples, of which they generously hand out as many as you wish, before settling on a green garlic and goat cheese pretzel-esque concoction that would end up being torn into bite size chunks throughout the day between remaining wine trips.

Other things we didn’t try but which they are known for are the messy and sweet sticky buns, their round boule loaves with flavors like rosemary and garlic, and other magnificent hard crust breads of sourdough. The bread is made fresh daily and once it’s gone, it’s gone. Visitors are advised not to come too early to avoid the massive lines that form when the place first opens.

IMG_5358I was also able to find some excellent Kukicha Twig Tea amongst their large selection of organic bags near the coffee counter that you self-serve with water. The authentic time honored tea from Uji, Japan put me in exactly the right mode for enjoying the landscape and reflecting on the day ahead in little private places we stopped at in our car to eat our wares along the way to our first vineyard.

Sweet Meat and Cannellini Bean Bliss at ARC

IMG_5427Slippery, slimy, still cooking at the table, tender and drool-worthy calamari swimming in pickle-esque onions with a chunk of warm charred orange to juice over the bunch.

On a business trip to Costa Mesa this week, two major foodie friends of mine treated me to dinner at the new restaurant ARC Food and Libations. In fact, the restaurant has only been open a mere five weeks but you wouldn’t know that considering the miles of press it has already received. The darkly wooden, deeply homey, broken brick affair was packed to the gills with customers throughout our entire dinner there.

 IMG_5429Beets could have been cooked a bit longer as they were tough to cut but really good flavors and nice blended with the subtle overtones from the cheese spiked up with bits of orange zest. 

At the table while eating our food, I read an OC Register article that had come out just that day and discovered that writer Brad A. Johnson called ARC, “One of the most important restaurants to open in America this decade.” I had to re-read the article twice to make sure I was really seeing that line. Really? That’s an awful lofty statement by a food writer in Orange County. I mean, above New York? San Francisco? L.A.? But when I went on to read the article I surmised that he was making this statement based on the concept. In plain view of the diner, situated behind the bar, the chef cooks all dishes over an open flame either over almond wood in a brick hearth or on orange wood on a grill. And nutty, fruity goodness did indeed permeate all the dishes we were given albeit beneath an oddly smoky atmosphere, which I am still left wondering about whether or not it is an environmentally-conscious ambience to be injecting into guests. Another keynote of the concept is that all the dishes are prepped ahead so that all that is needed is arrangement in a mini cast iron skillet, flash cooking and then voila the food is guaranteed to be at your table under seven minutes, and time and again it was! No other conventional cooking apparatus like a range or stove are used.

IMG_5431Possibly the best meatball I have had in the last five years: decidely rustic, loosely packed, high grade meat, tarted up by a tomato sauce and served with butter-soaked yet perfectly crispy bread. 

On the menus for food and drink, written with whimsical Shel Silverstein quotes, is printed the tagline: Dirty, Sexy, Happiness and that was indeed how I would describe the dishes we shared.

Dirty, because the presentation of each comes steaming to your table in a pot so hot set onto an iron coaster that you have to fumble over each other to spoon portions of the mélange out onto your own plate.  Grabbing the handle a good ten minutes later to redeliver some of the dish burned my dining companion – something that is of some concern and could be worked out by the owners.

IMG_5433The way the cheese melted over the dough in this caramelized onion and lardon “tart” (which is really a flatbread pizza) made a nice textural juxtaposition in the mouth in nice inch-cut square bites. A generous amount of the pork bits allowed for every mouthful to be filled with flavor which is a high mark in my book due to the fact that most restaurants are ultra cheap with toppings. For those who don’t like black burnt spots on their pies, this one is not for you because those bites do come at the tail end of the creaminess from the cheese and are rather jarring.

Sexy, because the food that is served is so sensually concocted towards pleasing multiple senses from taste to feel and is meant for  sharing.

 IMG_5435My favorite dish of the night was this roasted pork shoulder floating in perfectly chewy cannellini beans, all topped with an exquisite maple reduction. A bonus for the sweet meat obsessed like me and the meat just fell apart with the slight tug of the fork .

Happiness, well it depends. If you like your meats sweet and your savories floating in citrus and sloppily sauced like I do, then yes indeed bliss will ensue.

We shared five items amongst three people and were happily sated although I could have ordered a bowl of the scrumptious and addicting cannellini beans alone for dessert. Dessert is actually something they don’t offer because they can’t make anything that quick without it burning or turning bitter. But rumors have it that a churro cart (serving the authentic kind, short and curly for dipping into chocolate) or some other fun pit stop may arrive and sit outside the door upon leaving for diners who need a sweet bite to top off a sweet meal.

An American Gothic Cheese Jaunt

IMG_5333There are two main things that compel me to create art. One is my inner impetus that becomes obsessed with something, mostly an emotion or a psychological condition, in  that I just have to figure it out thus exploring it through the medium of creation. Or, I have this stunningly poignant experience or vision of something existential in life that I feel if I don’t articulate it no one else will ever see it, know it or feel it so I wish to recreate and convey it to others.

On my path of foodie adventures, I oftentimes also look for that one of a kind thing that can not be replicated and I found one of these gems recently in Santa Rosa while winery touring.

 IMG_5336I am used to being led down the strange and random path by the Cute Gardener who is also ravenous for unique discoveries. So it was no surprise when we made a sudden right hand tour through a field of yellowing brush and choppy green grass towards a farm in the middle of nowhere off of a Santa Rosa highway on a recent morning. It was still early enough for dew to be glistening like crystal on the blades of grass beneath a stark silvery white sun and within a minute we were bouncing up a dirt road past a pasture of wakening cows, their dusty mouths filled with twiggy breakfast. Met by a huge barn and a small home converted into what looked like a shop, we parked the car and the CG told me we were at the Joe Matos Cheese Factory.

I didn’t know if we were about to be pitch-forked ourselves and turned into a nice California milk variety (we certainly had been stoked with enough fat already to turn into cream with enough churning of our flesh while on our food and wine trip) or if there was actually a way to buy cheese at this place. The old man puttering in the barn waved a hello to us and then turned promptly back to his work offering no other communication.

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We entered into the small building that we thought was the shop and a loud alarm went off to alert someone somewhere that we were there. A dark and tiny office greeted us with a deli case, bare save for one huge fat wheel of cheese and a small knife next to it. I could see behind the counter into the back storage room, which was dank and dry and lined with shelves also full of rounds of cheese.

Just as I was peering over the counter at the piece of notebook paper that was handwritten with notes amounting to a weight and a price of what was bought throughout the day, a short gray haired lady looking weathered and hearty like her land appeared from out of nowhere, startling me. She seemed Greek or something similar and said nary a word to us at all as she methodically sliced us each a generous piece of the cheese. It was absolutely delicious, or as the CG remarked, probably more experientially delicious due to the authentic locale and the strange American Gothic-ness of the scene, enveloped by the scent of cow patties. We used our fingers to show the woman how much we would like to buy after discerning that her English was not that great and received a half pound slice for about three bucks, quite a deal for two people used to shelling out more for cheese at the major grocery stores.

As we left and trekked back out to the main highway, I realized the little jaunt had become a highlight of my trip. We had the cheese over the course of the next few days, used to sop up wine between tasting rooms, and it remained scrumptious in our little cooler through heat and cold and the accompanying textural changes.

The Perils of Pasta: Fresh or Dry

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Some of my best memories are borne from a great bowl of pasta. Sometimes this has meant freshly made pasta from the Italian deli or homemade pasta from friends in the home. Sometimes it’s meant dry from the stock of grocery store varieties. It’s nice to have options and with pasta it’s all about the flavor and texture needed for a particular dish that accentuates the opting of fresh or dry. It’s a matter of personal taste and mine has been finely honed over the years emerging from experiences that run the gamut.

Some of my favorite San Francisco dinners were the ones that took place around my friend Robert Birnbach’s chaotic kitchen table after watching he and his son painstakingly feed white strings of the lightest pasta dough through a roller, creating an elegant and light linguine tossed with nothing but a homemade pesto to go along with the purring of their fat white cat and the sounds of Allen Ginsberg reading poetry from the living room radio.

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Or the nights spent at my friend Rick’s house in Santa Monica where he specializes in cooking for his consistent stream of goddess girl friends and the pasta beneath the savory shrimp is always super fresh and eclectically rolled, bought that day from Bay Cities Deli, mere hours old, along with a sinful and rich custom scampi butter.

Fresh pasta is best when its job is not to be the carrier of lots of items but as a fluffy textural beauty accentuated by a few hints of subtle ingredients. Like ravioli, always better frail thin, when the pockets containing the filling drape loosely and finely over rich innards of depth in a non-competitive and non-clunky fashion.

But then there are times when a drier version makes more sense. For some odd reason, I can’t stand my tortellini fresh. When fresh, it’s skin gets so loose and the insides tend to topple out. I like my tortellini hard and al dente with a tight little tummy packed with a meaty pocket of cheese and other fillings. Barilla is the only company who I’ve discovered gets it right for my palate. Their dry farfalle has been my obsession of late.

I asked Marcel Vigneron (former Top Chef and Top Chef All Star contestant and noted chef) what a simple rule of thumb was for choosing fresh or dry, to which he replied, “Fresh for papardelle, ravioli, agnolotti and any other style you can hand crank but dry for things like orechiette, shells and bucatini in which you need the pasta to have strength.”

I still haven’t convinced the Cute Gardener to buy a pasta roller even though he eats the stuff three to five days a week but I have a feeling that has more to do with my propensity to want to make the fresh dough coupled with my Lucille Ball knack for making a grand mess.

I confess that while writing this at 9 a.m., I have just finished off my own bowl of pasta. On days when I take my 30-mile morning bike ride, I like to use a bowl of whole wheat, plainly dressed pasta as my gasoline. It becomes my main meal for the day and gives me energy to burn late into the afternoon.

Pre-Biking Fuel Breakfast Pasta

4 ounces dry, whole-wheat linguine
2 tbls. chopped green olives
1 tbls. minced sun dried tomatoes
1 tbls. feta
1 tbls. grated pecorino
1 tsp. olive oil

Simply cook the pasta around 8 minutes to an al dente chewiness and then toss with the remaining ingredients.

Glistening Meats and Leisurely Pasta at Angelini Osteria

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Being a part of a long-term relationship comes with its own emergence of patterns over time. It’s an inevitability bound by discoveries that occur as you get to know someone. Sometimes it shows itself in who does what chore, who drives more often or who needs to be the one controlling the remote. In my relationship, the biggest patterns can be seen in the way we eat because that is what we tend to be doing together the majority of the time whether it is out in the restaurant world or cooking together at home. For example, most of our first few minutes at a restaurant consist of the same ritual. I scan the menu picking out the four or five items I would choose and then he decides what he wants knowing that he is going to be the recipient of half of my dishes in the end. This means our orders never duplicate and then he is tasked with picking the wine, having the better nose of us two.

When it comes to Italian restaurants we tend to follow a similar groove of our own making. I can’t really get through a full meal of antipasti, first, second and third courses so we typically share a starter and then I get a pasta course and he gets an entrée, thus he eventually gets the fruits of the whole full course meal while I get a few bites of each.

But the beauty in patterns is that once in a while they are broken by a special circumstance. This past Friday we shook it up a bit at Chef Gino Angelini’s Angelini Osteria because of a variety of things. For one, I had heard that the whole idea of an old Italian osteria was to provide a place where people of all income brackets could come together to enjoy a leisurely meal over wine. A precursor to the bar, it was a place where people could burn off the workday over a pack of cards and flowing dishes of food. Having been privy to Italian restaurants over the past year that have become so Americanized as to rush the food in efforts to table turn, this was something we were looking forward to enjoying in proper time. Lastly, we had heard that Chef Angelini’s specialty was meat tempting us away from our typical experience of eschewing the meat dishes that are always all too ordinary for us in lieu of exploring new pasta combinations so we were anticipating dual meat entrees.

Located on Beverly Blvd. and squished into a small, rectangular dining room warmly constructed of modern concrete, high ceilings and low lit wood furnishings, it lived up to its populace concept by placing diners nearly elbow to elbow while the savvy servers wheeled shank laden serving carts table side to serve glistening slices of roasted lamb, veal and beef.

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Also off the track of trendy Italian joints in L.A. the portions were generous as my perfectly al dente bombolotti came filling an entire plate and spiked with plentiful slivers of guanciale laden with the spice of red peppers. The flavor combinations were bold and creative reminding me of why I enjoy ordering new variations on pasta. The Cute Gardener’s seafood risotto indeed tasted fresh from the sea and not muddled by too much cream as is often the case.

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 My lamb chops were cooked perfectly as in there was no distinguishing between the fat that lent the overall flavor and the meat which in its tenderness showed an excellent touch from the kitchen. There were four of them on the plate on top of a peppery arugula salad; savory in their simplicity as all good meat should be without accoutrement.

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The branzino, which was brought to the table and cracked from its salt encrusted shell, was creamy and hearty unlike the branzinos I’ve had of late at lesser joints arriving stringy and beneath a gummy skin.

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The ricotta cheesecake dessert was balanced and not cloyingly sweet, only getting a hint of sugar from the sublime slivered almonds.

We stayed there longer than we are used to and it was because the dishes arrived in good time and were delicious enough to warrant savoring. The lively atmosphere in the place was like all good places where people converge and fall into a relaxed state without feeling hurried to leave.

Although I didn’t get to enjoy a pack of cards with strangers, we did go home and play billiards for three hours to work off the satisfying meal.

Finally, the Perfect Pastrami

IMG_7919I admittedly wear a pair of gimlet eyeglasses when I talk about my experience with Jewish delis in that the ones I see through them are a limited selection of places I have tried in my life in the Southern California zone. I am sure Jewish deli purists could point me to the real veteran joints in places like New York City but for now I am merely talking from my myopic experiences in the land I know.

My history is small and mainly consists of a youth spent eating in the open dining room of Sherman’s in Palm Springs. In a town where restaurants turn around faster than real estate deals it’s been one of the only places I grew up with that maintained its roots. Although it served the normal obscenely huge sandwiches loaded with meats and slabs of tongue with pickles on cold white plates, I usually opted for the desert-centric and Sherman’s-created Oasis salad, which was a beautiful thing with avocado, bleu cheese dressing and moist, chewy dates. Later on in the desert, a trendy Jewish deli cropped up called Manhattan in the Desert where I would eat nothing but their cream cheese blintzes in a special strawberry sauce while sipping mimosas on Sunday mornings. And when I would come to Los Angeles and venture out to Langer’s or Canter’s for a business meeting, it would always consist of chicken noodle soup and a trip to the pastry counter for rugelach before heading into their old school decorated bathrooms to take strange photo shoots of my friends or my feet on the classic retro tile. In all of those times, I never had a piece of meat or slice of rye and strangely so because those are two of my favorite things – although I have a feeling it had something to do with a half sandwich being the size of a small horse’s head.

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This past year I met my first proper Jewish deli experience at Brent’s in Northridge. It was one of those cold Christmas holiday days where you have already eaten so much food and fallen off your normal health track that you just keep going until all the relatives leave. We arrived at Brent’s and the parking lot was already filing up before noon with patrons spilling out of the front doors. Upon entering, I immediately knew it was all the best things I love in a Jewish deli: dessert cases floating with insanely large macaroons and marbled breads, lots of chattering patrons eating belly-warming dishes, bowls of matzoh ball soup with matzoh balls the size of dodge balls and really long chunks of tender shredded chicken, milky plastic tumblers with crushed ice to jam up straws and sip out through the lips, tangy dill pickles, greasy tablecloths hiding even worse things underneath, and all in a dining room jammed with low tables smelling and decorated like a family living room.

But the best part was the pastrami sandwich, more manageable than I have seen at other places in size but still hefty with thin perfect, peppery slices of burgundy and pink meat. On a nice soft rye with some grainy mustard, the taste stayed in my mouth for days making me accustomed to a new kind of craving. I think it’s the best pastrami I have ever tasted – perfectly verging on a thin line between wet and dry and cut in a way that formed a delicate and flaky pile that didn’t compete with its soft doughy bed.

Egg Whore Pasta as Common Denominator

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When it comes to life and love, I believe that pairs are oftentimes made by extremes. Either you are completely the same as another person and share so much in common that it’s impossible not to get along, or you are so different that you fit into the holes where each other lack as well as get filled up by the things they are full of that you are not just like perfectly cut puzzle pieces. The Cute Gardener and I noticed immediately that in many ways we were the latter but that the traits I was missing were merrily generated by him while the ones absent in him were the ones overflowing in me. When it comes to our palates, it’s been a fun adventure to navigate the road of our opposites while also finding things that are more harmonious.

For example, he loves his butter while I love my coconut oil. He enjoys mild while I thrive on spicy. He loves gamey and bloody meat versus my farmed and cooked. His favorite desserts consist of thick, flaky pastry dough while mine tend to come dense, flourless and full of straight dark chocolate. He lubricates daily with water while I drink my super food concoctions and teas. He has a sophisticated bevy of wines that he likes while I prefer my bold and aggressive French and Spanish reds. And he’s a traditional semolina pasta man while I tend to aim for hearty whole wheats.

The fun in our relationship has been constantly wanting to cook for each other to show off the things we love ourselves and secretly hoping the other will come away delighted as well. The fruits of his well-practiced culinary skills have consistently sated my stomach while he’s been shown a roster of experimental dishes that I am constantly stumbling upon and hankering to make. It means that life is never boring or predictable when it comes to our intimate dinners for two.

There are bridges between the two palates for sure. We both love pork in all its meaty variations, terrines and mousses of every color, excellently prepared raw sushi dishes, and our variations of the perfect pizza are pretty identical. But the edible that makes us both equally mad is the simple egg in various applications but ultimately runny and hot from a soft yolk.

So it always gives me pleasure when I can combine aspects of him with aspects of me topped off by the sinful aforementioned egg into a bowl worthy of the both of us. This is something I feel I accomplished this past weekend in a recipe that will make the old index card file for life.

Runny Egg Whole Wheat Pasta with Oyster Mushrooms
(adapted from Food and Wine, January 2009)
Serves 2 (with ample leftovers)

1/4 pound oyster mushrooms cut into ¼ inch pieces
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 large eggs
1/2 pound whole wheat fettuccine
1/2 leek, white and light green parts only, halved and sliced 1/8 inch thick
1/8 cup plus 2 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
1/8 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 – 1/2 cups baby spinach
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 400°. On a nonstick baking sheet, toss the mushrooms with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 15 minutes.

In a medium pot of boiling salted water, cook the eggs for 5 minutes. Drain and cool under cold running water. In another pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente and drain well.

In a medium skillet, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Add the leek and cook over medium heat until translucent. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the mascarpone and cream or milk, then stir in the butter, if using. Season with salt and pepper and remove from the heat.

Add the roasted mushrooms, cooked pasta and spinach to the skillet and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper and mound the pasta into shallow bowls. Peel and halve the eggs, adding one to each bowl. Sprinkle the pasta with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and serve immediately.

The Mellowness of Matcha and a Breathing Wall

IMG_2479If Dr. Seuss had a Whoville chocolate it would me made out of matcha – a finely milled and supersaturated powder form of traditional green tea.  My love affair with the mellow yet rich and slightly sweet flavor started with my traditional childhood birthday dinners at the high-class teppanyaki restaurant in my hometown. I always lusted after the green tea ice cream that followed the weird tropical pineapple boat. I later learned it was because of the matcha; an exotic substance that even as an adult, I can rarely afford. Over the past year I have seen it added to a multiple of imported products likes Kit Kat bars in the candy aisle of the Japanese supermarket and in the cabinets of my rich hippie (I know that’s an oxymoron but it’s also a real live breed of human in 2013) friends who generously add it to their morning spirulina and acai smoothies. In tea, it’s rich and creamy and is the epitome of what I imagine a shamrock would taste like!

I found a steaming cup of it recently in San Diego at Extraordinary Desserts prior to a jaunt down the street to the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art where it put me in the right frame of mind to see a very Zen-like piece of art that became the overall highlight of the collection of work we viewed.

breathingwallsbulgeAfter viewing the entire main building of the museum, we ventured across the street to the small addendum building where we viewed the contents of a small and strange conceptual show. Upon leaving, the docent asked us if we had experienced the Wendy Jacob “breathing wall.” We said we had not and she invited us back into the elevator to go up to the space where this mysterious work was placed. She told us to stand at one corner of the room and pay attention to the wall abutting our shoulders to the right, looking at it lengthwise to the end of the room. She told us to stay still, asking us to take in a few deep yoga breaths. Immediately upon calming my physical body and taking a few deep breaths, I started to hear a slow cycle of what seemed like a mechanical sighing, up and down like a release of relief. The line of the wall in front of my face started to blur and I noticed that it was actually moving very subtly with the cycle of sound, in and out, mimicking respiration. We never would have noticed it without being called upon to do so which informed my fond reflection on the piece. How many times do we miss a chance to feel true calm because we are too busy to notice something so slight and so simple amongst us? How many of us take a walk down a street on a bright day but fail to recall all the colors of the houses we’ve just passed? How many of us walk through a museum glancing at each visual object without taking a chance to inhale and really feel our guttural reaction? How many of us continually decline the opportunity to just be that oftentimes looms directly in front of us? It was nice to experience a piece that blurred the boundaries between what it is visible, what is literal, what is hidden and what is felt all within an unassuming installation so confident in its Buddhist-like detachment that it is discovered only by those viewers who slow down enough to discover it or agree to walk back upstairs after missing it and being invited in for a second chance at a moment of peace.