Lunar Eclipse Loquat Love Jam Quenches My Need to Feed

IMG_5852The idea of wasting food really bothers me on so many levels.

I cringe when I think about all of the food that people throw away from their refrigerators including leftovers they never get around to finishing or produce that’s been forgotten in the bottom bin, turning moldy and rotten. It ties in with my problems with our overreaching societal attitude that more is better therefore we must have more than we can potentially use rather than learning to gauge economically and efficiently what we need to consume. It also makes me reflect on all those people in the world who know what true hunger is and those people in our country who line up at food banks hoping for just a piece of bread and perhaps, if they’re lucky, a piece of fruit on any given day. I also get discouraged when I see gorgeously filled citrus trees overflowing people’s backyards or bounties of fruit in large pastures in the middle of nowhere where the fruit is merely dropping and dying on the ground with no one around to enjoy what nature is so amply providing.

Sometimes this food obsession makes me do funny things. Recently, at the State Capitol I found myself taking a fresh orange that had fallen from a massive lawn tree onto the ground. The drop had split it wide open yet I still carried it in the car cooler until the Cute Gardener and myself could share it on a long drive home from up North. It somehow pleased me that the bright citrus treat, full of syrupy juice, might be a regular staple to all of the homeless who called Sacramento home. The last time I took a trip out of town for a few days, I gathered up a bag of things that would go to waste or turn stale from my kitchen including a box of chocolate halva, a few random sea salt caramels and a box of Ak Mak crackers. I rode my bike along the beach until I found a stranger sitting alone with a backpack on a stray bench on the sand and asked if he wanted some food. He turned out to be a hitchhiking hippie kid from Joshua Tree with a daisy in his ear who told me he was Jewish and missed halva from his youth.

Oftentimes, I dream of becoming a guerilla food rescuer and mapping out a plan to scour the neighborhoods and forage fruit so that I can take it into the schools and provide it (along with a little true food education) to kids for free; the same kids who think cheap and preservative-rich gummy oranges and fruit roll ups are ample sources of vitamin C. Or, I could take it to the local homeless shelters and give it away to all those who need to eat. It seems silly that legalities surrounding feeding people and making food and serving food do stand between the hungry and someone who merely wants to feed. I know why many of these rules are in place, yet it still disheartens me to see such a glaring disconnect between the uneaten food I encounter daily and those who could benefit from it who inhabit the very same streets.

IMG_5856A week ago during the Lunar Eclipse I received a message from a dear friend about the special energies an eclipse brings to our personal sphere of intentions. He told me that instead of working on my normal to do list like any other day, that I should instead go out into the world and do something that brings me pure joy, that is in line with my higher self, and that denotes a bit of my true inner passions. He said that doing so would create a powerful energy around my existence the way prayer does and that I would be fortified with grace for the day along with something a tiny bit magical. That was all I needed to hear to jump on my bike and head off to my friend’s house to raid her loquat tree.

I had been riding the streets of Venice Beach for a week and noticing the trees along the way that were bursting with clusters of the small pale yellow fruits (otherwise known as Japanese plums) that reminded me of overgrown apricots. I was dying to taste them, dying to save them from imminent death and invisibility in the eyes of the people who owned the homes they were connected to; and although they were clearly feeding the birds because I noted so many sidewalks lined with their tiger’s eye hued, golden brown and metallic large seeds, I was hankering for ways to figure out how to use them to feed actual people.

IMG_5860After half an hour on a ladder with a picker, I bicycled home with a bag of about 100 of the luscious fruits. As I was picking, a dozen or so fell to the ground and splattered their better halves across my shoes, so I ended up eating the remains of many of those as a snack and was delighted by the subtle, mellow sweetness of the fruit which oddly enough came embedded with three pits a piece. I spent the rest of the afternoon in a classical music and cooking coma making marmalade – or what I have come to call Lunar Eclipse Loquat Love Jam.

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The recipe is super simple. You take however many loquats it is that you have and wash them. Then cut the ends off, pop out the three seeds from within and put the remains in a pan. Cover the loquats just to their tops with water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn down the heat and simmer for about fifteen minutes, mashing up the loquats with a potato masher every few minutes. If you are a purist and want smooth jam you can then immersion blender the liquid before the next step but I prefer my marmalade chunky so I skip that step. Measure how much liquid and fruit you have at this point and add one half of that amount in organic sugar. I had six cups from about 50 loquats and therefore added three cups of organic sugar. Stir all together and bring to a boil again. Once boiling, turn down to simmer again and do so for one to two hours, stirring every so often, until the color is tawny and the texture is rich and sticky. It took me two hours to get there. Then put into sealed mason jars and refrigerate. Because of the purity of the recipe, the jam needs to be eaten within a week.

I came away from my afternoon jam session with five solid jars full and immediately started divvying up the sweetness into tiny Tupperware for my friends. I got back on my bicycle and started riding the streets of Venice delivering them to random people in an inspirational way. One of my closest friends who is pregnant received some to please herself and the growing spirit inside her. My loquat donor received a package of her own upon her doorstep. Another friend currently in the throes of heartache received one to take on an outdoor sleepover. And I reserved a jar for the Cute Gardener along with some special cocktail syrup I had made for him from the few remaining fruits in my kitchen after returning home that evening spent from the outpouring of love on my own very special lunar eclipse.

I may not be able to feed the world or save all of the ignored and abandoned fruit of the land, but I can do my own little part from my heart when the urge of the wild moon calls.

P.S. While writing this, I came across an amazing website called Neighborhood Fruit that connects people who want to find fruit with people who want to share fruit. I will be exploring this intensely over the next few weeks.

Patina’s Class Act

IMG_0145The Cute Gardener has been extolling the virtues of Patina Restaurant and its alumni chefs ever since I’ve known him and we’ve had the pleasure of tasting dishes by many of these exquisite masters over the course of the last two years amongst the Southern California culinary landscape. Last night I had the pleasure of trying the restaurant out before a concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall (which Patina is conveniently connected to) and feel equally entranced by the truly class act presented by the whole experience.

There’s something special about getting dressed up for a world-class performance and being fed a world-class dinner beforehand. Walking into the understated and minimalist dining room past an old school elegant cheese tray I knew I was in for a treat. We were given a great booth and then proceeded to be pampered by a bevy of special touches that elevate a great restaurant from a sea of wannabes starting with the fact that the soft-spoken and sharply professional waitress came carrying both black and white napkins to the table to see which was more appropriate for our attire. We settled in with perfectly mixed cocktails: a Le Voyageur made with pisco, campari and lemons juice for me and a Printemps Precosse of Tanqueray, spiced kumquat syrup, Champagne and lime for the CG and watched the artistry begin.

IMG_0146An amuse was offered of creamy carrot puree soup floating with an oval of toast. The CG informed me that the amuse is given to everyone no matter what even if a person merely stops in for a cheese course or a bowl of balsamic reduction strawberries at the end of a performance. This was followed by a bread course of which a large wooden box was presented with a choice of freshly baked plain baguette, whole-wheat roll or green olive ciabatta.

IMG_0147Based on their reputation for good soups, I had to try the asparagus veloute. A bowl arrived with a few curls of the vegetable alongside strands of pink pickled allume and a large crispy, breaded farm egg over which was poured a vibrant green and thick broth. A spoon sliced through the egg revealed gloriously runny yolk that swirled lusciously into the dish adding a luxurious heft to the dish.

IMG_0148The crispy veal sweetbreads came in a generous trio, perfectly accented by a touch of black truffle and a creative display of caramelized miniature cipollini onions, tiny polenta log and pencil asparagus. The sweetbreads were smoky meat treasures that I had to eat in small, delicate bites not wanting the pleasure to end.

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I am obsessed with pork belly and enjoy the fact that it can be presented in so many different ways but this was my favorite so far. Only a thin layer of the skin was kept on and the belly was rolled up like a roulade so that with each forkful I received a crunch of crispy skin, a soft layer of buttery fat and another more densely textured sliver of meat. The spinach laden with golden raisins and translucent radish disks gave the meat a nice kick. The sweet and sour sauce was poured over the dish steaming tableside.

IMG_0151The lamb arrived with a nice funk juxtaposed with a rainbow of carrot varieties, exquisitely charred to counteract the rare meat.

IMG_0154We couldn’t resist a cheese course and the tray was rolled up to us for our choosing. We opted for a super cream, an ash ripened goat and a hardened and aged beauty to run the full gamut.

IMG_0155After we made our choices, slices were taken in front of us and then laid onto a place with guava jam, raisins, filberts alongside a plate of the best fruit studded toast I have found to date.

IMG_0156Finally, as full as we were, we couldn’t resist a handcrafted passion fruit chiboust which was a circular disk of extremely light custard with a brulee topcoat surrounded by a sea of teeny diced exotic fruits like kiwi and mango. A wafer roll filled with carbonate mango sorbet provided a nice bitter twist to the otherwise super sweet dish.IMG_0157

To top off the elite performance, our waitress delivered a final plate of candies, a special send off to seal the memory of this unforgettable place.

One nice point about Patina is the fact that our server asked us if we were going to a concert and when we replied yes and told her what time it was, she made sure our meal was perfectly timed to meet our curtain call. Our receipt actually showed timing notes and we were there for close to two and a half hours and the expediting turned out wonderfully.

Utterly charmed by the flawless dinner, we made our way into the concert hall high on the good feelings that come from being catered to in such a professional way with the realization that we had absolutely not one critical thing to say about the whole experience. That’s a rare feat to encounter and was worth every penny – making Patina my favorite restaurant of the moment, and one I will return to on special occasions in the future.

Looking for a Pearl in the Los Angeles Oyster Scene

IMG_0110Oysters and a glass of the driest Champagne might very well be at the top of my last meal on earth request list. It’s the sort of meal that’s never the same twice, which ups its priceless ante because no matter how many times I slurp the same version of oyster, the bite is never duplicated. There are simply too many intricacies to an oyster to be uncovered between each shucked shell from texture to thickness to flavor to brine to character to cleanliness to dirtiness and a myriad of attributes in between.  The complex gem of the sea is one thing that has never failed to keep my fickle taste buds dancing on the edge of curiosity and desire.

Living in Los Angeles along the shoreline of the Pacific leaves a lot of room to interpret a vast and bountiful oyster scene; of which I have only begun to scratch the surface with my own adventures. My initial forays over the last year have uncovered the following experiences thus far.

The Upscale Seaside Shack – The Lobster IMG_0097

What could be better than overlooking the ocean while actually eating an oyster so that the whiff of salty sea air accompanies the bright, watery mouthful? At The Lobster, located right smack above the Santa Monica Pier, you can go for happy hour and choose from the otherwise pricey menu to receive smaller portions of the fare for better prices. Although an indoor bar boasts clear sight of the ocean, it’s fun to sit outside along a wooden ledge overlooking the tourists taking pictures of the famous pier arch. We ordered a dozen Fanny Bays from the Pacific Northwest, which have proven to be my favorite variety of the year. Large and meaty, each bite starts with a fleshy swirl followed by an eventual surprise nugget of sweet meat. The restaurant’s horseradish is freshly ground from the root, plain and simple, and all that’s needed to accommodate each bite.

IMG_0101They also serve the best version of lobster roll I’ve tried yet. Big meaty chunks float in a softly toasted bun although there was too much bread for my liking. Still looking for a West Coast joint that gets the elusive roll right. Fingerling potato “fries” were a nice touch to the otherwise ordinary fish and chips, stabbing to be too creative for their own good and a crab taquito of which the crab taste was non-existent. Their Lobster Margarita in a solid glass tumbler was a great accent.

The Hipster – L&E

IMG_2757At L&E in Silverlake on a Saturday at five o’clock, we were the only ones in the small hipster bar. With a bartender who looks like Morrisey and a gaggle of young girl waitresses standing around sipping lattes from the café across the street, what at first appeared casual soon turned into a packed house of trendy locals. The rush didn’t deter us from ordering a dozen Pacific oysters that were better than what we are used to (specifically the ones from Hood Canal, WA) and needed no adornments for the slurping. Although these were the best of our seeking, the prices were simply outrageous and not worth the hours’ worth of children screaming at another table that we had to endure.

IMG_2762We even tried the oyster po boy which was smaller than expected and disappointed in its breading to oyster ratio in which the poor fruits were completely lost.

IMG_2760The one hit of the meal was the deconstructed clam chowder in which two types of clams were featured in a subtle broth.

The Do-It-Yourself – Santa Monica Seafood malpeques

Because we are adventurous AND love oysters, we purchased an oyster knife and shucking glove over the past year so that we could eat oysters at home. We found eureka at Santa Monica Seafood over the holidays with their fresh deli case teeming with fresh oysters. We fell in love with the Fanny Bays the first time we tried an oyster feast at home but the star of the evening were the eclectic Malpeques in the funky shells colored with gradients of green. There’s something about shucking over a bowl of ice from the freezer that allows forgiveness for the small bits of shell that slip into the mix. The Santa Monica Seafood mignonette is perfect for the DIY experience and even comes in handy later to spruce up other meals like roasted veggies in the oven. Or, as I like to have it, drunk straight out of the container like tangy vinegar.

The Food Truck – Jolly Oyster

oysterWe tried to give the food truck craze (which we wholeheartedly avoid at all other costs) a hand by ordering oysters from the Jolly Oyster truck at a Ventura Beach picnic with friends. My advice to the oyster connoisseur is this: don’t. Don’t eat oysters bought from a truck because no matter what preparations you make, they don’t stay cold long enough to eat with relish. And they aren’t that good to begin with. If you are going to BBQ them to smithereens, that’s fine, but the DIY on the sand experience didn’t hit well with us.

The Trendy Starter – Gjelina gjelina

It’s become a natural trend for restaurants that are close to the ocean but don’t emphasize seafood to offer oysters on the menu as a starter course. My advice though, is to eschew your desires at these joints and strike out for the specialists. We’ve tried this route at Gjelina’s for a Sunday brunch amidst the overly loud bustle of the constantly busy place. But amongst a hive of activity such as that perfect oysters will never be a priority. And although they tasted fine, experientially you are left to feel like the servers just want you to hurry up and eat and leave so they can fill your table with the next pocketbook, hopefully owned by a celebrity.

The Pop Up Shuckster – Larry’s and Joe’s

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Another big trend of late in the area is the “one night only” oyster pop-up in well-known restaurants and gastropubs. We first encountered this phenomenon while dining at Larry’s by the Sea where we saw Christophe Phillon from Oyster Gourmet set up by the entrance hocking oysters at a couple dollars a pop. At a birthday luncheon with girlfriends, we enjoyed varieties from British Columbia and Washington. Then while dining at Joe’s, we encountered the pop-up again, set up along the bar, and enjoyed a dozen high quality versions as well. I prefer eating from this company because I know they specialize in what they do and that they are showcasing their best face forward when they show up as a star of a restaurant on any given evening.

The only two things missing from our oyster hunt now is an elegant white tablecloth dinner with oysters or on the opposite end – a completely lowbrow and salty sailor joint. Will keep you posted!

Taming the Chard Shrew

IMG_5751I never understood while growing up how people could possibly hate Brussels sprouts. Nor could I fathom why some people couldn’t stomach greens – especially the more pungent varieties such as mustard, dandelion and chard. For me, the world of bitter plants and multiflavored vegetables was like a constant paradise to explore – not just a required nutritional additive.  But I also think this is because I was interested in food early on and inquired through books and learning on how to prepare, cook and eat these things within a generation of kids whose parents made huge technical errors in the cooking of said things. I recall many dinners at the homes of my peers where all the life was boiled out of vegetables in a pot of salted water before they ever hit the supper plate. Or where greens were steamed into lifeless piles of mush to pour over intensely mashed potatoes like some hot puree that would mingle enough to lose its identity completely. We also learn early on, perhaps erroneously, that all things that taste bitter are too good for you to be tasty. We even call an herbal preparation that triggers a cascade of healing properties to the system a “bitter vetch”. But the truth is, in the real world, grown ups like their greens, especially when prepared properly.

IMG_5742The latest object of my obsession from the garden is the fuchsia-stalked Swiss chard that grows abundantly this time of year with wide and smooth, curly-edged forest green leaves. Yes, it carries a bitter flavor. But I have discovered some new ways to incorporate this into dishes that not only disguise its sometimes off-putting flavor without sucking the vitamins or life out of it but also make it taste mighty good.

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Swiss chard is excellent for making small side salads for dinner but the trick to taming the astringent taste (which is the very thing that equates with the fact that you are getting a myriad of amazing nutrients for your body) is four fold. One, you need to cut the leaves off the stalks and use only the green parts. Two, you need to chop the green leaves into a fine shred which creates more open breathing of the pores that release the tightly condensed bitter accents. Three, you need to marinate the leaves for at least twenty minutes in a lightly applied dressing that counteracts the bitter and blends all the flavors together into a nice mesh. A spritz of fresh lemon does the trick remarkably mixed with a bit of buttery and mellow oil like avocado or pistachio, rather than olive. Once that foundation is laid you can have fun finding things to throw in that are also opposing to the bitter flavor or accentuating of, such as dried cranberries and/or crushed wasabi-encrusted almonds.

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The fibrous center stalks of the chard can be treated like celery. Inspired by the Cute Gardener, I have learned to cut them up finely and throw into a pan with some butter and garlic, onion or shallots until they soften. This then can become a base for a myriad of things from sauces to stocks. I have been using this application recently for a bevy of vegetable medleys that I then throw on top of pasta for a quick meal. In my most recent version, I mixed the tender sautéed stalks with roasted butternut squash hot from the oven, sunflower seeds, butter and mascarpone cheese before piling it all on top a bowl of spiral noodles.

I think next I may get a little ambitious with the abundant and overflowing chard and try to make my own version of the famous New Orleans dish Gumbo Z’Herbes.

 

 

 

Salted Chevre Nostalgia at Zin

IMG_5775I am extremely fickle when it comes to dessert, not typically prone to laden my body with extra empty calories unless it is really worth it. And worth it to me requires the following basic principles:

  1. Big pastries and butter-laden shortbreads filled with fatty swaths of cream are simply not my thing. All that fluff and pomp are entirely unnecessary to fulfill me. I would much rather have something where the butter is still evident, glistening within an egg wash on some crispy, flaky yet thin and sturdy doughy concoction that offers density rather than sugary. This is why the apple and cinnamon basteeya from Terra in St. Helena is now on my top ten desserts list. It’s a savory and sweet rough nut and fruit spread bursting from within glorious Moroccan dough.
  2. Fruit is for a snack or for breakfast or to shove in smoothies to get your vitamins. I don’t want it in my dessert unless it’s a tiny essence of lemon or a miniscule layer of ripe raspberry between butter cream chocolate cake. Don’t muss up my sin with something super good for me.
  3. Dark chocolate and flourless go together in a myriad of ways that pierce my heart pleasantly. From creamy ganache to moist, rich cakes to slim slivers of various textures between tarts and tortes that also perhaps carry a complimentary daub of light hazelnut or sea salted caramel. All the milk, white and artisan flavors of chocolate aren’t for me – the bitterer then better, and maybe with a welcome dusting of cocoa truffle powder to be extreme.
  4. Don’t bother me with ice cream unless it is the anti-ice cream like the insanely, orgasmic and non-sweet crème fraiche version I tried on my recent 40th birthday at the Kitchen Restaurant in Sacramento.
  5. Cheese is always going to make me happy, just like the recently exquisite picandou at The Royce, before it turned into a manly steakhouse.
  6. When it all comes down to it, the old chocolate chip cookie – slightly chewy, not too flat, and with a solid middle girth for soaking in milk or earl gray tea (or better yet the Earl Gray milkshake at Hatfield’s) will always be the simplest way to my gluttonous heart. Fortunately, the Cute Gardener makes the best ones to date.
  7. And of course, I wouldn’t be living up to my grandmother Doucette’s French heritage if I didn’t pay proper respect to a well-made macaron with rose, pistachio or strawberry flavored meringue squishing some sweet buttery frosting.

My current favorite dessert is the Salted Chevre Cheesecake at Zin American Bistro in Palm Springs. It’s held reign as my number one sweet for about half a decade now. I recently had it again on a visit to the desert and was reminded of its exquisite position in my mental culinary favorites list. After a kiss hello to the owner Mindy and a reunion with friends over white wine and oysters on a sunny afternoon, I insisted on ordering two of the small and special cheesecakes for our table of four to share.

It had simply been too long since my last bite of the creamy and perfect circular little pie for two. Only about three – four inches in diameter, the cheesecake sits an inch or two high and is made from a tangy yet mellow goat cheese. The sides of the disk are rolled in a signature rock salt that has been first drizzled with a special balsamic reduction. The combination of sweet and tart – sugar and acid and crunch of the salt – spike the taste buds just for an instant prior to the creaminess that ensues from the perfectly whipped cake of cheese.  Topped with a sprig of basil or mint, it’s the perfect afterthought to an indulgent afternoon meal or an evening of pounded chicken schnitzel.

Reishi Tea Begins My Chinese Way

IMG_5629 It was a noisy Sunday afternoon when I found myself curiously hunched over my knees in a portable toilet in the middle of Los Angeles’ Chinatown scribbling down notes on the right way to make reishi mushroom tea while a parade of large, colorful faux dragons took place mere feet away from me, marked by ear-deafening gongs on the street.

I had spent the past two days helping a friend man her upcycled clothing booth during the annual Chinese New Year celebration where my languid affair with the Fuk Yin Tong Herbs Trading Co. began. The store was located across the alleyway from where I stood for two whole days and I managed to come to know it better over the course of the weekend.

It started with the sign of course, a place promising herbs – and I, a burgeoning student studying to be a certified herbalist, found it the perfect sort of synchronicity for a weekend’s worth of curiosity. Atop the sign was a balcony, done in typical sloping Chinese architecture with no doorway and I quickly envisioned myself holed up there in that mysterious room for days uncovering centuries of lore in big dusty books. As a matter of fact, at the end of the first day there the spry senior proprietor came outside baring boxes of used books to sell for $3 each, capitalizing on the onslaught of potential customers in the center for the celebration, and I spent a good deal of time meandering over to peruse the stacks. Philosophy, literature, art and seething, smart writing on history and politics over the course of the last fifty years showed a reader with a mind constantly needing to be fed. I entered the store to find a seed, root and bark geek’s dream as every perimeter shelf was lined with plump glass jars filled with twisted and earthy specimens of each, labeled plainly with white stickers and scribbled with indecipherable Chinese. These shelves surrounded a central area filled with other products stacked high of every imaginable breed from shark cartilage pills to plump the skin to various assorted flushing and purging teas. I was in bliss. I immediately bought tiny green mung beans to self-sprout at home and red aduki beans to make healing stews. The proprietor and his female companion were clearly old enough to be my grandparents yet both seemed ultra youthful and spry, leaving me to wonder about the old wise words of Lao Tse who professed the key to life was based on keeping the mind and body perpetually busy and fed with natural things, and also to be still like a mountain and flow like a river.

The second day I meandered back in, lured by a new character in the store’s cast of staff – another older man with a warm and gentle smile in perfectly creased blue jeans and a soft blue sweater. Something about his energy called to me and I discovered he was offering Chi massage for a dollar a minute. I also noticed that it was a busy day in the store and that many people, including groups of families, were coming in to speak to the proprietor for a few minutes in the small curtained back room out of which he would come bearing a piece of paper written with notes and proceed to fill a bag with a combination of things from the various medicinal jars. My friends and I decided to try out the massage. We each took turns entering the store, sitting on the chair, and getting miraculously pounded, poked, prodded and touched for fifteen minutes prior to floating ethereally from the place back into the alley in some sort of ecstatic, state – our energetic fields completely readjusted and properly electrocuted.

I decided that when it was time to do my intern hours for my certification in herbs, I would eschew the trendy yoga and alternative spas and wellness centers cropping up on every street corner where cucumber water accompanies your meeting in lieu of some funky place like Fuk Yin Tong where the meat of life’s essence glistens from the neon lights permeating the space and highlighting the elemental underpinnings of true warts and all health and centuries of knowledge.

IMG_5725On the last day I asked the man behind the counter what I should do with a large bag of petrified reishi mushrooms I had waiting around at home and he told me to grate them and make a tea. Try as I might to scribble down all that he had said in that portable potty in the last minute, I failed to capture all of his description. So for the past month, I have been researching on my own, the values of these strange yet potent fungi and in my class have been experimenting with a couple of brews.

The reishi mushroom is known for its cancer fighting, toxic cell inhibiting, blood pressure regulating and immune system boosting properties and it is said that within a month of incorporating it into your life, you will feel a marked difference. I have been drinking mine steadily for about two weeks now and have noticed a few definite things. For one, I don’t wake up tired in the morning nor do I need my afternoon nap – a habit that had lingered for years. And secondly, and most importantly, I don’t feel fearful around certain issues that arise in the course of life but that I can tackle anything with an odd sense of peace.

The key is to find the right preparation for you and like with all herbs, it’s important to know yourself before accepting any old recipe from someone like me. Some people have allergic reactions to reishi and therefore need to brew the tea with other herbs that counteract the allergy-producing elements. For me, this means the addition of astragalus root. But anyone wishing to make just a basic reishi brew can start with the simple combination of one tablespoon reishi to about 4-5 six cups of water. The water is boiled first, then the reishi thrown in, and then the whole pot simmers for two whole hours to extract the water-soluble polysaccharides known as beta-glucans that are hiding out inside the tough interiors. It tastes mighty bitter and goes down like dirt but I spruce mine up with pine cone honey to make it a little more palatable.

I am looking forward to visiting Fuk Yin Tong again in the near future to capitalize on another of those chi massages that have that magical ability to get me back into whack as well as continue my studies approaching a brew at a time in my new repertoire of ancient health.

Fava and Chard Tie the Knot

IMG_5693Over the weekend, the wind was whipping so hard in the dark hours of night that I was shocked when Sunday morning the garden still existed in the back of the Cute Gardener’s house. Almost as shocked that we, and the house, were all still standing in his neighborhood way up high on a hill. I had seriously envisioned being part of some nightmarish Dorothy dream from Wizard of Oz as I was awakened all night by banshee-like howls.

IMG_5697But like most days post-chaos and storm, Sunday was a peaceful calm and by the end of the day we were in the garden trying to decide what to make for dinner of all that had survived the winds and was ready for picking. Our answer arrived in glorious red stalked leaves of Swiss chard and a bounty of voluptuous fava beans that had seemed to multiply by the dozens merely overnight. Presented with these two vegetables that are very different in personality, the Cute Gardener set about on a mission to prove that opposites can attract.

IMG_5700(Looking at us, we know this can be true. I am kind of like the fava – voluptuous, curvy, tough exterior with a mushy inside. He is kind of like the chard – long, lean, sturdy, fibrous and bitter).

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In the spirit of marrying multiple personalities, he got busy in the kitchen preparing a new dish in his perpetual and encyclopedic repertoire of pastas.

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The party began with a dicing of the chard stalks and leaves. The CG uses chard stalks much like celery, to provide a base of flavor, and in pastas to act like a shallot or an onion foundation. In a whirlwind, I watched as an odd assortment of guest ingredients started to arrive. Shrimps were thawed and cooked. Pork belly was diced and sumptuously fried. The fava were thrown in at the end with the wilting chard leaves and tenderized centers. Chives were diced into a million splinters. Pecorino was grated to weave it all together.

IMG_5712It seemed absolutely fitting that, for this special marriage of such widely juxtaposing flavors, a bowtie farfalle was chosen to escort dinner to the table. Not only was the eccentric bowl of pasta interestingly hearty but also it allowed two current and overflowing vegetables produced naturally a chance to dance together. In the end that is what I like best – picking and eating what the earth naturally and seasonally provides.

A Trifle Yummy, a Trifle Strange, and Tator Tots Aplenty at the Tripel

IMG_5612Sweet Potato Tots With Horseradish Honey Mustard & Spiced Aioli
The tator tot textures were imitated perfectly.

I know how it is to be a self-taught human. Although I have been painting and writing since age ten, I’ve never taken a class in either. Sometimes this drives editors crazy yet I continue to get published because literature is simply in my blood. I admire others who are self-taught and excel because I know how it is to forge forward on your own, faltering on colt legs yet led by a passion that knows no bounds as you gather up information and learn as you go. I know that if you follow the road with severity, that passion will find a successful home.

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Black Lentil Soup, Rock Shrimp, Watercress, Lemon
Lentils with cream and brightly saturated citrus overtones bequeathed an eccentric marriage of Thai and Morrocan.

This is one of the reasons I enjoyed watching Brooke Williamson compete on last season’s Top Chef up to the very last minute when my other favorite chef Kristin Kish swooped in to swipe the crown. Even though she’s gone on to gain much experience in the kitchen through privileged internships, a stint as the youngest chef ever to cook in the James Beard House and today as the proud owner of her own restaurants, her culinary wizardry continues to stem from that original and authentic practice of making things up as she goes. What was refreshing about Brooke is what is refreshing about a lot of self-taught people in that they oftentimes don’t play by the rules because they don’t know the rules. What results are bold choices and risky combinations that would be considered taboo by anyone else. In these taboos brilliance often springs forth unexpectedly. That happened a lot over the season, emphasized perhaps most remarkably in her wildly wacky yet widely extolled dish of frog legs and mussels.

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Red Kuri Squash Dumplings Brussels Sprouts, Tangy Mushrooms, Chimay Cheese Sauce
Mushrooms and cheese and a foreign squash – do they mix? In some bites I thought yes, in some bites I thought no. Loved the Brussels sprouts and the hen of the woods fungi. Little freaked out by the beer cheese sauce. Bizarre comfort food or drunken mash to soak up alcohol when the taste buds have gone? Couldn’t stop eating it but still not sure.

This past weekend the Cute Gardener and I took a trip down to Playa Del Rey to try out her restaurant The Tripel. We were hoping to find some of her creative combinations and both hankering over the idea of the sweet potato tater tot appetizer. What we found was a tiny little joint, concrete grey with lots of cool alphabet carved wood, and only a few communal tables around a miniscule bar crisp with the bustle of beach dwellers in the spring. Although very early in the evening, it filled up moments after we scored the end of an eight-person tallboy table.

A nice selection of wine was available by the glass and we enjoyed the following:
2008 Mas Grand Plagniol Syrah-Grenache Blend, Rhone, France
2009 Berger Zweigelt, Niederosterreich, Austria
2010 Broc Carignane, Alexander Valley, California
2006 Rozak Syrah, Sta. Rita Hills, California

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Charred Quail, Wilted Pea Greens, Vine Ripe Olives, Pomegranate, Saba
TWO birds on one plate! LOVED the pomegranate infused pea greens in both creativity and taste – something I want to steal and make at home although am baffled as to how.

The prices were noticeably miniscule in context to the very large portions of food not normally found in a bar setting. The dishes, although verging on the strange, were indeed extremely innovative. I left wondering about Brooke’s self taught palate, where the origins of it formed, where the inspirations for her peculiar combinations were born, and whether she was truly materializing strategic concepts or whether an “all in the kitchen sink” approach was more of the norm – sometimes hitting gold and sometimes hitting dirt. And, if in her seemingly chaotic, inspired world, her paying customers really should be the guinea pigs dabbing their forks into her culinary Petri dish?

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Chicken Waterzooi Heirloom Carrots, Leeks, Kale, Potato Latka, Fenugreek, Gremolata
Super delicious pot of multicultural yum. This is what I wish all those people trying to deconstruct a chicken tagine would end up with. My favorite of the evening.

The verdict is still out for me. I look forward to watching what she does next and if she will continue to refine her process towards gaining that other crucial trait the self-taught eventually need to learn as they mature – the ability to edit and curate.