Monday, December 29, 2008

England Withdrawal

I had this dream last night that I was in London with my expat friend and her Fabulous British Boyfriend (FBB), and I was getting lost because I was trying to write everything down in my rose-patterned journal and wasn't noticing where I was going. Fortunately, the FBB was making sure I didn't wander off too far.

I must be craving a bit of England-- I bought bangers yesterday. Yes, bangers. They say "bangers" on the package, and I thought, "well, there's tomorrow night's dinner sorted out! Bangers and Mash!" I felt a bit guilty about forcing my anglophilia on Charles so I bought some
Italian sausages too, which are crammed into our freezer for another night when I forget the existence of fat grams.

Another symptom of England-withdrawal is the recent population explosion of Cafetieres in my cupboard. I asked for one on Amazon, which an aunt was kind enough to send me, and my mother bought me another one, and what a girl is supposed to do with TWO Cafetieres I'll never know. I love them both.
I hate to choose.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

London, October 25th Part 1

London, the 25th

I’ve sat down to write this blog three times. The first time, I actually made it halfway and it was glorious. Specks of golden historical detail embellished my first-person narrative and brought it to a vibrant, though short-lived, life. I say short-lived, because my third flashdrive in 6 months corrupted the file, and it was gone. Now, staring at my notes two months after the events, I am intimidated by my inflated memories of the first version. Will this be as good? Can it come close? No, probably not, but damnit, I’m writing it down anyways because I haven’t updated my blog in weeks and it’s my New Years Resolution to record my London trip for posterity (and the mild amusement of friends and family who are bored at work). So here goes, and keep in mind that whatever comes from my fingers now is nowhere near what it could have been… *sniff* *sigh* *single tear* *string of profanities towards that flashdrive*…

On the 25th of October, which if memory serves, was a (need to check cubicle calendar…) a Saturday, my boyfriend Charles and I were to meet my very good friends Monique, Athena, and her Fabulous British Boyfriend (FBB) Alex at London Bridge station. Our adventure for the day was Borough Market in Southwark, a place I have seen described as a “foodie paradise,” a giant market where one can forage for whatever wonders the local flora and fauna can produce. I envisioned heaps of brightly colored British vegetation like currants and cucumbers, mountains of caramel-coloured farmhouse cheeses, and the sweet warm waftings of pastries stacked in golden piles.

Nothing is ever quite as you expect. Borough Market was better.

Let me backtrack – first we had to find our friends. Planning a place to meet up from across an ocean and the width of a continent is a triumph of optimism over sense, but that’s exactly what we tried to do, looking at an online map of the tube station. Alex, the FBB, suggested we meet outside the actual market at Oast House in the station: “there we can join forces and strike into the interior with strength in numbers.” Our carefully forged plan was doomed to failure in the labyrinthine tube station and crumbled into confused raspy pay-phone calls and “where ARE you?”s that were cut off mid-sentence by my failure to insert coins into the slot at the appointed times. We found Athena first, and Alex ran off to search for Monique who was wandering around outside probably wondering why our calls kept cutting out. Finally we were on our way.

Alex, Athena’s FBB and our fearless Sherpa of London city streets, guided us through winding narrow lanes to Borough Market, which is a series of paved paths formed by myriad market stalls and tables practically toppling with pumpkins and apples, heads of lettuce, bunches of radishes and yes—boxes of red and black currants. Is there anything more British than currants? I tried to take everything in as quickly as possible as we moved through the crowds of people, not noticing where my friends or my feet went. I veered off several times, always with an arm or a finger wrapped around Charles, who knows how I get at these kinds of places. Furry rabbits and fowls hung overhead, which prompted Monique to sigh with pity for the poor things, and me to dream of roasting and stuffing them. They’re dead already, right? Might as well enjoy. Besides, there’s nothing like seeing strung up game to feel like you’re really in a medieval town, next to nature, glorious mud, and history as old as the pitted cobbled stones under your feet. As if this weren’t sublime enough—through the brisk rain scrubbed air, I smelled spicy steam coming from the mulled wine stand. Ok, there is one thing slightly more British than currants, and that is mulled wine. I’ve tried making it 3 times since I got back, but no cup of mine was better than the one I had at Borough Market. We rounded a few corners and found cheese and a mountain of brownies within a few tables of eachother. My senses were overloaded- but I walked straight past the brownie-Everest to the love of my life: crunchy, caramely Dutch aged Gouda. I nearly wept for joy, barely glancing at the layout of raspberry tarts and baked sweets to my left. My eyes were on the cheese. I came, I tasted, I bought as much as I could eat in a day.

Historic Fact: Borough Market is London’s oldest food market. It was established on the south bank of the Thames when the Romans built the first London Bridge. It has occupied its present site for 250 years.
Still clutching my rapidly cooling mulled wine, which had ceased to steam while I deliberated over how many pounds of cheese my boyfriend and I could conceivably inhale over the course of the day, we ventured forth along the Thames. Past Monmouth Coffee with its lines trailing out the door and around the corner, past a reproduction of Sir Francis Drake’s ship, The Golden Hind, and past the Clink. Apparently, the famous prison is now a site for Birthday parties.

Historic Fact: The Clink was a notorious prison in Southwark, England functioned from the 12th century until 1780. It was originally used for the detention of religious non-conformists (both Protestant and Catholic, as English religious winds changed). The Clink Prison Museum is currently located on the original site in Clink Street, in the basement of a former warehouse.

As we walked, the terrible Tate Modern loomed tall, sterile and ugly, still very much the Bankside Power Station, and looking more like one of Blake’s “dark Satanic mills.” Entry is free, but in my opinion, you get what you pay for. On the other side of the river, the dome of St. Paul’s floated like a Nintendo cloud above the London rooftops.

We browsed through rows of paperback books set up under Waterloo Bridge—though after my forays into Charing Cross bookstores, I couldn’t bring myself to buy—and crossed Embankment Bridge on our way to the National Portrait Gallery. Just outside the opening of Embankment tube station is Gordon’s Wine Bar, a family owned restaurant where guests can enjoy wine and “an excellent cheese plate” by candle-light in an old crypt, so Alex told us. This place is at the top of my list for my next trip to London, but as it was, we needed to get to the gallery in time to scope out the Tudors and depart in time for tea.

End of October 25th, Part 1 (part 2 will be posted shortly)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Holiday Food Around the World Article is up on Peter Greenberg's site

Usually when a new article of mine is published, I discreetly link it on the right-hand side. But I'm excited about this one because not only is it a fun article about Holiday Food Around the World, it has the recipes too! Many many thanks to my traveling friends who helped me research this.
This article inspired me to put a microwave steamer on my Amazon wishlist, so someday soon I'll be making some Mongolian buuz. Merry Kentucki Furaido Kurisumasu everyone!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Emails from the East

Another anecdote from my friend in India:

"Today a couple of house-wives turned up at our badminton club.
Instead of a nice "hello" or "good morning" one of them came up to me and asked me

'do you buy cock?'

My brain stops and I go 'excuse me? ' and now she yells it at me like I can't hear her ' do you purchase the cock?' ( say this in an Apu accent ) so i look at my hands and I'm holding a box of birdies so I go 'umm..yes.'"

Sunday, November 9, 2008

New Posts Delayed

My 3rd flashdrive this year is about to be chucked into the drawer with the other two for corrupting my files yet again. Apparently, I cannot use a flashdrive without my word documents turning into gibbrish, and there's nothing that can fix it. So my next blog post is lost and I have to go back and re-write everything.

If ANYONE has any answers as to what is going on with my flashdrives, please comment. I am at my wits end.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

London Postscript

Tuesday, November 4th

I’m still working on recording the remaining days of my trip, so stay tuned. But in the meanwhile, here are my thoughts today.

Three days after our return flight I’m still finding little remembrances tucked away in bags and on clothes (no, I haven’t done my laundry yet, and yes, I’m still wearing the same pants I wore in England). Copper pennies bearing the Queen’s profile jingle in my travel-stained bag with feather-light yen from two summers ago in Tokyo, and tiny blue fuzzy balls from my Topshop scarf have infiltrated every piece of fabric I own, and somehow found their way to being unintended bookmarks in my journal.

My body still has not acclimated to California time, weather, food, or activities—though it never was to begin with. I’m falling asleep around 8pm and waking up at 4 and 5am by choice, which would normally make me feel sick for the rest of the day, but now is very pleasant. I have endeavored to bring English food back with me and have taught myself how to make meat pies (and unfortunately discovered their calorie and fat gram count, which I am stubbornly denying) and mulled wine. I’m drinking more tea instead of coffee, and have a craving for “biscuits” that I haven’t found a way to satisfy. American cookies are similar, but not the same thing. I’m even toying with the idea of making risotto, which isn’t English, but try telling them that. The entire country is fixated on Risotto, and you’ll find it in every restaurant, on every table, in every home.

I’ve gained what I call London Superpowers, which means I can now race up the L.A. Metro stairs as fast as the young Mexican men can without even getting winded. Bless those trillion stairs at our London B&B.

It’s Election Day, and forgive me for not waxing political. Rather, think of my reticence to discuss my personal politics as further evidence of my innate Britishness. Those lovely people characteristically refrain from discussing personal matters in public, which is something I came to appreciate immediately upon my return to the office when, in the elevator, I overheard a fat, middle-aged coworker discussing her preference for men with big cocks.

Yes, you read that right.

God Bless the British.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Anglophile in London, Day 2

Anglophile in London, October 24th, 2008
London, Day 2

We awoke at 3am. And when I say “awoke,” I mean eyes-wide pulse poundingly alert. The air in our room made my throat so dry and scratchy that I did something I never do—braved the tap water. Surprisingly, the London tap is better than some bottled waters taste-wise. It has no public-swimming pool meets metal finish like L.A. Tap water does, the latter increasing in 'flavor' if you leave it sitting around.

London tap water is at the center of a movement—yes, a movement-- to promote tap over bottled water through restaurants, bars and hotels and to urge Londoners to take pride in their tap. The London water does rank the best in the UK, but when the BBC did a taste test in Notting Hill, virtually everyone could tell the difference instantly. The thrust of the argument, according to the Thames Water Chief Executive David Owens is: “Our water is 500 times cheaper than bottled water, and is kinder to the environment, emitting 300 times less CO2 to process than bottled alternatives. Tap water is not only good for you, it’s good for London and kinder to the planet.” Alright, anything I can do to help. Truth is I'm too lazy to hike to Sansbury's at 3am. Now, back to my story.

We obstinately refused to get up at 3am, and instead stayed awake in bed until we eventually nodded off. The second time our eyes opened, it was 10am, and too late to trek to Bermondsey Market like I had hoped. Not to worry, there's plenty to entertain us closer by. We walked around the corner to the British Museum and spent the morning traipsing around its marble halls. We saw George III's Library, the Rosetta Stone, intimidating Assyrian front doors (15ft high), winged lion-bodied men with beards spiraling down their chests, and bits and pieces of the Parthenon tacked up on the walls. My favorite carved stone reliefs are of the battling Centaurs, caught mid-blow fighting human men. The tension, energy, and sublime attention to delicate details like the slim curvature of veins in the muscled arms anticipates the Baroque period (which is noted for the same artistic intensity) by almost 2000 years.

Since we missed breakfast at our hotel, I was in need of some food. Once again I resisted the temptation to buy the jumbo sausage dog with oily sautéed onions from the stand firmly entrenched outside the gates of the British Museum, and we struck out to find anything but Starbucks (yes, it's here too). We stumbled upon the Malabar Express Indian restaurant in Great Russell Street, and went down the stairs in search of their £3.99 lunch special of curry and rice. For the price, it couldn't have been better. Hot spicy curry on a cold day is heaven.

We headed West to Charing Cross road, which is lined with specialty book stores, including antique book stores where 100 year old leatherbound, gilded books sell from £3-£70 and up. Age before beauty is my motto, and I refuse to buy anything post 1900, no matter what golden swirls they've ground into the cover. The prices have gone up since the last time I was here two years ago, but I spied three pricey temptations. The first was a brown leather book of Robert Browning's poetry for £67, the second was Princes and Princesses by Mrs. Lang, edited by Andrew Lang (1908), and Untravelled England by James John Hissey (1906). I passed up Browning – too expensive. I'm telling myself I will buy Princes and Princesses tomorrow – I love Victorian children's literature, and Andrew Lang is the first and foremost in the genre (sorry Charles Kingsley). But when I saw the unknown Untravelled England by the author I've never heard of, I couldn't resist. Here is a man who, over a hundred years ago, took it upon himself to write a travelogue on the “unfrequented spots” -- which is exactly what I myself vowed to do precisely 2 days ago. Of course I'm not going to attempt that grand feat on this trip, but hope remains that a longer stint in my beloved country will allow me to indulge this goal.

From Charing Cross road, passing by Leicester Square (home of the famous TKTS booth—the place to find tickets to all London shows for lower prices), we made our way to Trafalgar Square. I've passed by St. Martin's in the Fields church countless times, but this time I decided to venture inside, hoping to see crypts, maybe a stained glass window or two. We went in, climbed down the stairs, and found a cafe. The floor of the cafe has the names and dates of the people buried beneath carved into the paving stones, and I wonder how they would feel to have people spilling crumbs on their tombs. Well, the English are known for their sense of humor, so perhaps they don't mind. Further in, we passed through a doorway from the ancient stone crypt into a modern, almost clinical, underground area. I became so disconcerted by finding extreme modernity sharing ground space with a crypt beneath the elegant and stately St. Martins that I promptly marched up the brushed steel suspended staircase and out of that terrible place. Back on the venerable pavement of Trafalgar Square, we walked around taking pictures trying to avoid the tarps put up for the film festival taking place later that night.

To the left of Horatio Nelson's towering statue is the Strand—a road long associated with fashion and wealth that runs East from Trafalgar Square to Fleet Street on the other end of the City of London. It used to border the Thames closely and around 9 palaces ran along its edge from the Tudor period on. Later, it was where the literary elite resided, from Charles Dickens to John Stuart Mill. Now the Strand is lined with higher end clothing stores, postcard shops and some of the best hotels in the city, like the Savoy. We took the Strand to Covent Garden where we explored the famous covered market and gawked at the street performers, and where my boyfriend was surprised by a lingerie model in a window who would spontaneously 'come to life' to wave at passersby. Poor guy; he doesn't like lingerie stores even when the models aren't waving at him.

We found Neal's Yard Dairy, a lovely little cheese shop near Seven Dials in Covent Garden, one of my goals for the trip. Last time I was in London, I always passed this shop without ever taking down the name, but the memory of giant cheese wheels laying out in the open stuck with me. I entered the shop to take some pictures, and maybe to try a few cheeses, but one of the counter staff was coughing all over the exposed cheese, and I quickly left.

Our 6pm dinner reservation was at Rules restaurant, the oldest restaurant in London (35 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, The restaurant dates back 200 years, and was opened the year Napoleon began his campaign in Egypt. Since then, Rules has become the go to place for the greats of literature, theater, and film such as Dickens, HG Wells, Laurence Olivier, Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin and John Barrymore. Rules specializes in traditional English food with a focus on game, which they shoot on their own estate in the High Pennines. For my Starter, I tried the Potted Wiltshire Rabbit with spiced apple chutney with Melba toast, which looked exactly like canned cat food, but tasted absolutely delicious (£10.95). My boyfriend tried the Terrine of Smoked Cumbrian Ham with English apple and cobnut salad for his starter for £9.50. A cobnut, for those like me who have no idea, is a type of cultivated hazelnut developed in 1830. Dinner for me was an English Grey Leg partridge with chestnut and apricot stuffing for £26.50, which I spent the better part of an hour carefully carving up. Normally, in cases such as these where utensils should be used to separate meat from carcass, I give up in about 3 minutes and use my hands like it's a Monday night at Kentucky Fried Chicken. But this is a nice place where they take your coat at the door (apparently it's impolite to wear one's coat at the table). So I struggled through scraping, pulling, prying and pushing the meat around until it was off the damned bones. If that bird had tasted any less good, I would say it wasn't worth the effort. But with the three accompanying sauces (one savory, one creamy, and one fruity), that partridge was worth returning for.

Friday, October 24, 2008

London, Getting There

Happy is England! I could be content
To see no other verdure than its own;
To feel no other breezes than are blown
Through its tall woods with high romances bent.

LAX to London, Day 1 Oct. 23, 2008
Between yesterday at 8:30am and today at 12:30pm (LA time -aka 8:30pm in London) I have gotten a little less than 1 hour of sleep. I was so looking forward to a nice long plane ride too; a rare chance to relax, read, watch movies I haven't had time to see, listen to my audiobooks, and after days of being too excited to rest, it was supposed to be a chance to sleep. The plane stayed aloft, but my opinion of my flying experience lost altitude quickly.

The seats appeared to be rearranged to be packed more densely than my carry-on luggage. The back of the seat in front of me was three inches from my knee when the passenger occupying it was seated upright, but when she reclined, my knees were either jammed into the back or spread to avoid the intrusion. My boyfriend and I carefully chose seats in the very back of the plane, believing that if we got seats in the back with lots of space behind them, we would be able to take full advantage of reclining without jamming anyone's knees. Even with many feet of space behind us, our seats reclined less than the ones in front of us (much to the discomfort of my knees). To end the unhappy part of my tale, my tray was broken, and during our descent into Heathrow, the plane started leaking on me (or, rather, on a picture of Anne Hathaway's ample bosom on the back of the in-flight magazine).

On the bright side I was able to realize my goal of watching “Hancock” with Will Smith (it was much better than the critics said), and got to watch “The Edge of Love” with Kyra Knightly and Sienna Miller, which is about two of the women in Dylan Thomas' life, which I enjoyed. The highlight of the trip, however, were the free alcoholic beverages-- yes, even with the financial crunch, the airlines still booze up their international passengers gratis.

London Day 1 Contd.
Our first day in London began at 12:00pm when our plane landed. We lugged our wheeley-bags to The Imperial hotel on Russel Square, just around the corner from the British Museum, cleaned ourselves up, and collapsed on the twin beds in our closet-sized room. It's clean, it doesn't smell funny, its a quick walk from anything in Central London, and it was thrown in with the plane tickets for 2 nights-- good enough for us.

When we were somewhat recovered, we ventured out to attempt to find a raincoat for my boyfriend. So off we went to the shopping mecca that is Oxford Circus, with me pulling him in to almost every store along the way and him dragging me out by the hand with my eyes still locked on the store window displays. The one-stop-shop for youthful London fashion is TopShop: multiple floors of mens' and womens' shoes, coats, dresses, sweaters, and accessories. Come to TopShop if you want to watch the young and beautiful from every corner of the world converge and push each other back and forth for time in front of the mirrors. The boyfriend didn't find the coat he wanted, but I tried out every single one in the ladies' section, doing my share of pushing for mirror time, and came out with a knee-length blue wool coat with subtle orange stitching and burnt orange satin lining and a matching scarf (£111 total).

On the way back, I saw the green coat I've been dreaming about for the past two years in a shop window. Everything about it is perfect: the shape is more like a dress than a jacket, and there are velvet rosettes sewn into the right lapel. It fits like it was tailored just for me. I couldn't resist: £129.

By this time, my boyfriend was exhausted, both from shopping and from holding my coat and purse while I tried on clothes, so we found one of the many hole-in-the wall restaurants and sat down. The restaurant is called Ooze Risotteria (62 Goodge Street, London, W1T 4NE), and while it has many other items on the menu besides Risotto, I don't recommend them. The house wine had no body, the bruschetta appetizer lacked taste and the tomatoes appeared to have come out of a can—but the Zucca e Salvia risotto (butternut squash with sage and walnuts) was exceptionally good. A good risotto requires patience and unwavering meditative attention, which might explain why the other food was lacklustre. Dinner was around £20 for two, plus wine and appetizer.

With our wine to fortify us against the chilly night wind, we trudged home along cobbled streets still twinkling under the lamplights from the gentle rain.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Take a second to click into Spice Monkey

Allow me to take a moment to plug my new favorite blog: Spice Monkey.

Spice Monkey is hosted by my friend in India, who while taking a break from plotting counter-attacks against the shifty-eyed house lizards, has decided to share her growing culinary expertise in exotic cookery. And since her friends are fairly accomplished chefs as well (including me), she has graciously accepted our contributions to her blog.

So if you're looking for health-conscious recipes with flavors from the East, far East, Middle East, and eventually the Western hemisphere as well, Click into Spice Monkey, where the motto is: Khao, piyo, aur jiyo (Eat, Drink, and Live).

Keep an eye out for my recipes too: Saffron Chicken with Couscous, Rose-water Fruit Salad, Baked Mini-Pumpkins, and Turban Squash Soup.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Engine Co. No. 28

“Didn’t anyone ever tell you to treat a ketchup bottle like a woman?”

I looked up at my boyfriend, looked down at the bottle, and slammed my fist onto its bottom repeatedly.

“Now you’ll never get any” he said, without a hint of irony. “You’ve clogged it now.”

Unfortunately, my ketchup bottle playing hard-to-get was the most entertaining aspect of my lunch at Engine Co. No. 28. The pile of Spicy Garlic Fries (does every restaurant in Downtown LA have garlic fries?) was pretty good, and I enjoyed the slow build of heat from the red pepper flakes coating them. I had the grilled chicken and watercress sandwich and vegetarian chili, which comes with guacamole, pico de gallo and cheddar shreds, and my boyfriend had angel hair pasta coated with olive oil with a few chunks of tomato thrown in, for a total of around $40. For a restaurant built in a 1912 fire station, Engine Co. 28 lacks excitement.

The architecture, more than the food, is worth the price of a meal. What is now the restaurant was once the apparatus room where the station’s two motor-driven fire trucks were kept, but in the early 1900s, even garages were elegant. The 18-foot pressed tin ceilings and the giant metal door through which patrons enter are impressive, and the enlarged black and white pictures of Los Angeles’ horse-drawn fire engines pay respects to L.A.’s history, much of which has been torn down since the turn of the century.

644 S. Figueroa Street
Los Angeles, CA 90017
Phone: (213) 624-6996
Reservations are recommended.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Snapper Jack's Taco Shack - The Next In-N-Out?

I take an audible bite of my steak taco which I’ve learned to order “crispy,” meaning the flour taco shell is fried a bubbly brown. I unceremoniously dump a cup of pico de gallo mixed with their creamy guacamole-green “Incan salsa” over the top to convince my diet-conscious self that it’s not entirely unhealthy. The salsa drips down to the spicy marinated steak. Delicious.

Snapper Jack’s Taco Shack in Ventura successfully brings back the relaxed, but energetic ambience of 1960s surfer culture-- and amazingly, the restaurant has revived the prices of a bygone era as well. My steak taco dinner was $2.95.

Even at 6:30pm on a Friday night, there is no wait to order, though the place is bustling with trim teenage girls, older couples in Hawaiian shirts and families. Middle aged men in plaid mingle with toe-head blond children in the feeding frenzy at the salsa bar, which boasts far more interesting selections than a Baja Fresh, which Snapper Jack’s vaguely resembles.

Unusually conscientious high school students politely take orders at the counter, above which Endless Summer and other surf footage plays, well, endlessly, on the flat screen TV above. Longboards line the walls with cheerful montages of vintage photographs of sandy-haired surfers and bright advertisements for seaside destinations.

The atmosphere is family-friendly, but with the high energy of a Friday date night. The Taco Bell across the street is deserted, and the only sound coming from the Dominos Pizza store front nextdoor is the wavering buzz of the fluorescent lights illuminating its sterile white interior. It’s no wonder that the ubiquitous chains can’t compete with the happy hubbub of Snapper Jack’s.

In an interview for the Camarillo Acorn, the owner, Jack Plasmyer, said he followed the business model set by In-N-Out by offering a limited menu and using only fresh ingredients. So maybe in a few years time, Snapper Jack’s will branch out from its two current locations in Ventura and Camarillo. I hope so!

Snapper Jack's Taco Shack Locations:
5100 Telegraph Rd. Ventura, CA (805) 642-5111
4350 Verdugo Way Camarillo, CA (805) 384-0334

Sunday, September 21, 2008

E-mails from the East

My friends are scattered far and wide across the globe and sometimes I'm treated to some pretty funny emails. Here is an excerpt from my friend in India, who recently had a house lizard dive bomb from the ceiling, landing mere inches away from her head.

She was inspired to check online for a way to rid her room of house lizards, and here is the advice she found:

To drive away common house lizards it would be handy to try this method.

It's very time consuming to drive away the lizards using peacock feathers,empty egg shells or other repellents, so what i would suggest you is that to deal directly using a vaccum cleaner through which it can hardly elude the sucking pressure.

If you dont have one (vaccum cleaner) ask your servant to drive away those lizards using a broom stick."

Thursday, August 28, 2008

If you want Real Food, You Have to Find the Blackmarket

I follow the sweet heavy scent of buttery brioche, thick dark chocolate brownies, and savory focaccia to the farmers market stall of Blackmarket Bakery. The plastic packets of pastries and bread still hold the condensation and heat that denotes freshly baked fare, but what is most addictive about these treats is what I don’t find on the ingredients label: no shortening, no artificial flavors, no preservatives, no crap.

Baker and owner, Rachel Klemek, is adamant about that: “My father-in-law bought a cake from the grocery store recently, and the list of ingredients on that thing was 4 inches long with a .5 font! I’m like ‘what is this stuff and why do we need it?!’ Everything we made in culinary school used real food. I know that’s what I want my kids eating, and it tastes better too.”

Although I love the bakery’s focaccia pockets filled with eggplant and asiago, or crimini mushrooms and cheddar, cakes are Rachel’s bread and butter (pun fully intended). They come in combinations unheard of on supermarket shelves, like toasted hazelnuts, raspberries and dark chocolate ganache, or coconut buttermilk cake with fresh mango, passion fruit syrup and coconut buttercream.
Rachel and her team can artistically sculpt almost anything out of cake and fondant- which she says is the hardest part of the job, but also the most creatively rewarding. She’s not stingy with her expertise either, and teaches small hands-on classes to adults and children which can be tailored to their interests, or structured around a theme like Rustic Fall Desserts or My Grandma’s Southern Sweets.

Blackmarket Bakery appeals to my rebellious side, at least if rebellion is defined as eating well despite trends to the contrary. After she attended the Culinary Institute of America (also known as “the CIA,” though Rachel denies that she is a ninja-spy-baker) and landed a few jobs, she decided to open her own bakery—just as the Atkins diet hit.

“The whole country was like ‘bread is going to kill you, let’s eat bacon,” she recalls. Instead of letting that deter her, Rachel let the fad diet and the punk rock music she was listening to become the inspiration for her bakery’s name and logo. She set up shop in an industrial park in Irvine, CA, and hauled her breads, cakes, cookies and focaccia to Farmers markets around Orange County and built up a cult following of people who appreciate real food.

As I approach the table eyeing the brioche, I overhear the large rugged man next to me cheerfully admit to Rachel that he “can’t go a week” without something from her bakery. I’ve heard that secret handshakes denote members of some underground societies—but for us Blackmarket Bakery disciples, it’s the pastry crumbs down the front of our shirts that give us away.

For information on cakes and classes, call Blackmarket Bakery at 949.852.4609. Check out their site to find their Farmer’s Market locations:

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Downtown Dining, Cheap Eats Edition

Yogurt Land in Little Tokyo boasts around 30 flavors of frozen yogurt, which can leave a gluttonous patron with one heck-of-a brain freeze. The instinct to try everything, combine flavors, and create a small sculpture in your cup is irresistible since you serve yourself and can pile on the fruit toppings (raspberry, strawberry, mango), “dry” toppings (peanut butter cups, mochi, sprinkles), or “cold” toppings (cookie dough, brownie bits, cheesecake bits). Yogurt flavors range from classic to exotic, with taro, mango, pumpkin and green tea right next to pistachio and espresso. My artistic creation of peanut butter, chocolate, cheesecake and cookies n’ cream yogurts with Oreos, white chocolate chips, brownie bits and chocolate sauce came to just $3.75—you pay by weight. 130 S. Central Ave. Los Angeles.

George’s Greek Café: someone tell the cooks in back that it’s spelled GREECE, not GREASE! But when they get it right, and they often do, it’s very good. Brave the long lunch line which moves surprisingly quickly, and try the Spanakopita (flaky phyllo filled with spinach, feta and spices) with a dollop of tzantiziki, a yogurt, garlic, mint and cucumber sauce ($8.25), or play it safe with a lamb Gyro ($6.49). Don’t forget the vegetarian Dolmathes (stuffed grape leaves, $3.94) and the equally unpronounceable Keftethes--ask the waiter for the “meatball things,” he hears that all the time ($3.94). 7th and Figueroa, in the downstairs food court.

Super Torta is one of those great Los Angeles hole-in-the-wall joints that City workers know so well—and the place is packed with them. For readers who derive their knowledge of Mexican food from the drive-through menu at Taco Bell (like myself), a torta is a Mexican sandwich served on a fluffy variation of a baguette, called a bolillo, with guacamole, meat, tomatoes, onions and peppers. The bolillo is the secret to this sandwich’s success- the pillowy middle absorbs the meat juices and sauce almost like a French dip from Philippe’s, but is saved from sogginess by a toasty outer edge. Don’t let the spicy pickled carrot appetizer scare you, it’s actually pretty good. Bring a friend fluent in Spanish to order, or just point and smile like I do—the waitresses are very understanding. Prices are around $6. 360 S Alvarado.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Anglophile Packing Light

With American Airlines now charging $15 for even one checked bag (plus the constant risk of airlines losing your luggage), packing light has become a necessary skill. The LA Times interviewed fashion experts to find out how they pack light, as they brag that they can fit a WHOLE WEEK’S worth of clothing into a carry on.


You’re reading the blog of a woman who went to London for a MONTH with nothing but a carry-on and a large purse. I’m planning another trip to England in October for a week and a half—and not only am I taking a carry-on, I plan to leave room in it to bring home antique books from the Charing Cross road bookstores, and anything I fancy from Portobello and Camden markets.

The LA Times article asks, “is it even possible to stow a week's worth of wardrobe in a space the size of a breadbox without looking as stale as day-old bread?”

I’m just going to leave their “experts” holding their Dolce and Gabbana totes, and answer this myself.

~ Every piece of clothing you bring should be stylish, in colors and fabrics that will mix and match, that can do double duty as day and evening wear. In London, I lived in black lacey tank tops that looked great with jeans on a hot summer day, and served as a shell under a more colorful and formal over-shirt or jacket for evenings at the theater. Another plus, is that black cotton can be easily hand-washed in the hotel sink and air-dried overnight (along with black underwear and black socks). Black is timeless—and stainless, making it perfect for travel.
~ Bring one pair of casual pants (jeans or khakis), one pair of light weight pants that can double for semi-formal (or skirt), and one pair of dressy pants. Pants are easiest on the road, because cold windy days can hit anytime, anywhere north of the equator.
~ Bring 2 pairs of shoes. 3, if you need sandals. Bring one good pair of walking shoes (not tennis shoes) that can do double duty as semi-dressy or casual (I like Mephisto), and one pair of dressy shoes that you can walk in. Blisters on a vacation really suck the fun out of the experience, so do not sacrifice comfort for looks. Wear the bulkiest shoes on the plane
~ Bring a good jacket that- again- does double duty as semi-dressy and casual. I got a pink trench coat in London that I wore everywhere. For men, it’s even easier, because wearing a sports coat over a t-shirt, or shirt and tie, looks equally hip.
~ Wear your bulkiest clothing on the plane- it’s cold in those cabins anyways. Use sweatshirts and jackets as neck pillows and blankets.

So, when it comes to looking good: choose classic pieces that you can dress up or down with accessories like jewelry or scarves. Scarves double as wraps for the evening. Draw attention to your upper body so fashionistas won't notice your comfortable shoes. If you’re a woman, take the time to learn how to put your hair up in a French Twist—once you get the hang of it, it’s the fastest way to look chic without hauling hair tools.

~ White clothes! With limited clothing options, you don’t want one piece out of commission due to dripping gelato, or a spurting jelly donut.
~ Your entire makeup kit. Choose a couple neutral shades that make you look fantastic. Don’t worry about matching your eye-shadow to your shirt, match it to the color of your eyes instead.
~ Clothes that wrinkle easily. Cotton/polyester blends are your friends, as are tank tops and t-shirts. Most hotels provide you with irons anyways. This way you don’t have to worry about perfectly packing and professionally folding every article in your wardrobe.

To end my rant, I’d like to quote that LA Times Article one last time with a question the writer asked the knowledgeable stylists:

“You both live in New York. If you had to fly to Los Angeles with just a carry-on, how long a trip could you take?

MM: Five days -- no, I could probably go a week.

FM: Two days, maybe three.”

LV: One month at least!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Downtown Dining 3rd Edition

Little Tokyo and Literary Libations

The Curry House
The Little Tokyo Plaza is a three story building stacked with Japanese restaurants. On the first story, Marukai Market has unsweetened jasmine and green teas, and yummy chocolate éclairs in the refrigerated section. Vegan-friendly Shojin, on the third story was recently featured in the Los Angeles Downtown News. But my personal favorite restaurant is The Curry House. You won’t find sushi here; this restaurant features newer models of Japanese cooking. Try the pork “katsu”, which is fried breaded pork smothered in spicy brown gravy-like curry sauce, served over white rice. Their curry ingredients read like an inventory of a grocery store’s spice section. If you haven’t had “Calpico” water, give it a try (it’s sort of like soda, but not carbonated). The sweetened iced green tea is another treat on a hot day. As odd as it sounds, they also have Japanese spaghetti, ranging from normal seafood marinara spaghetti, to Tarako & Ika Spaghetti (cod roe and squid). Lunch menu prices are from $7-$15, leaving you enough cash to get some…

Gelato! Just outside of the Little Tokyo shopping center is the Piccomolo Italian Ice Cream shop, with around 33 flavors of gelato. You get to pick two per cup or cone (I recommend chocolate banana and Peanut butter cup). Not only are they delicious, but the gelato is made fresh in-store daily, using only natural ingredients with no preservatives or chemicals. It’s lower in fat, calories and sugar than either Baskin Robbins or Coldstone with a softer creamier texture since its served at a higher temperature than American-style ice cream. If you really want a guilt-free treat, try the fat free fruit gelatos, but for me, I’ll take the rich Roasted Almond, Tiramisu and Hazelnut milk gelatos. 2 scoops for $3.25.

Friday night at The Standard Rooftop Bar is quite an experience. The swinging 60s retro design, the sun setting just beyond their long pool, and the scantily clad servers bringing pricey drinks and mini-burgers to you while you attempt to gracefully lounge on your waterbed in a dress without flashing the middle-aged men ogling you… well, it’s a rite of passage. The service is good, the view is fantastic, and the big TV behind the bar playing classic films like How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying won me over despite the wind gusts, the leak in the waterbed, and one drenched dress as a result. There's no cover charge before 7pm, and with a small group of friends out for novelty and nightlife, you could do worse—but you could also do better at…

The Library Bar, just around the corner from the L.A. Public Library (6th and Hope) is like an English pub or (an alcoholic) gentleman’s study. If you order food, it comes from Wolfgang Puck’s L.A. Bistro next door, which serves a passable pizza (not quite Pitfire’s) and excellent herbed garlic fries. The Library Bar is known for carefully selected beers (try Brasserie Dupont Saison, and the chocolaty Deschutes Brewery Black Butte Porter), but also serves fun martinis like the Willy Wonka and the Sun Also Rises. Happy hour is from 3-7pm, M-F.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Anglophile in Downtown L.A.

Downtown Dining Part 2: Farmers’ Markets

Tables laden with plump tomatoes and lush greens, bright orange carrots poking through mounds of cilantro, and… Peruvian samosas? Farmers’ Markets in Downtown are as diverse and surprising as L.A. itself, but one thing you can count on is that farmers’ market vendors place a premium on the health, taste and quality of their products in a way that no supermarket produce section can.

On Wednesdays, I take a nice walk down 7th St., make a left on Flower St., and stop when I hit the smell of Hawaiian BBQ chicken and crepes wafting along the sidewalk of 5th St. This is the L.A. Library Farmer’s Market. One of the busiest and most varied of downtown Markets, they have handmade tabouli, hummus, and greek pita bread (no additives or preservatives) by Baba Food, purple potatoes, perfectly ripe artichokes, and of course, giant tomatoes. Lunch costs around $5-$8 from one of the many vendors who serve food from around the world—France, Brazil, Mexico, Peru, and Asia are all represented.

On Thursdays, I have my choice of two markets. One is a very short walk down to 7th and Fig Plaza, but the offerings are limited. There they have basic Farmers’ Market staples, like kettle corn, nuts, candies, and fresh flowers, but a unique find is the Corn Maiden Euro-Mex Tamale stand with unusual creations like the BBQ chicken and smoked gouda tamale, or one with wild mushrooms, cabernet sauvignon, garlic and thyme. “Yummy You Love” crepes have vegetarian options, seafood crepes bragging omega-3 oils and high fiber, a “fitness style” crepe with lean ground beef, a “healthy choice” crepe that’s low in carbs and calories, and less healthy dessert crepes, all from $4-$8 dollars. George’s Greek Café, one of the plaza’s restaurants, also has a stand out in the courtyard with free samples of Greek meatballs (keftethes), hummus, and kalamata olive spread.

Also on Thursdays is the City Hall Farmer’s Market—just a quick A-Dash ride away-- which focuses more on organic produce, and has organic free range eggs and goat cheese (try the lemon and lavender cheese). Last week I sipped iced green tea while dipping bread cubes into $15 olive oils (the sun dried tomato and basil oil might actually be worth the price) and flirted with the two young Italian men behind the counter trying to talk me into buying the balsamic vinegar as well. One stall I never miss is The Sweet Spot, where you can try the pecan and chocolate tarts of Pasadena baker Rickey Smith. He prepares his treats with “conscious, organic, fresh and natural ingredients,” but more importantly, he was featured on Martha Stewart.

To find more Farmers Markets in California, go to:

Friday, March 28, 2008

Anglophile in Downtown L.A.

Discovering Downtown Dining

Since starting work in the City, I’ve spent many a lunch hour pondering what corner, alley and car lined street to explore in my tireless quest for really good food. My wanderings have taken me as near as the all-you-can-eat sushi buffet at Kyoto in the Wilshire Grand, and as far as Howard’s Famous Bacon Avocado Burgers on the corner of Venice and Dufresne. But out of all the diverse dining options available, these are the three I keep returning to in the heart of Downtown L.A.

Take the A Dash to City Hall, but don’t bask in its art deco grandeur for too long—instead, walk in the opposite direction towards Main and 2nd Street where you’ll find the Pitfire Pizza Company. If you’re looking for an after work dinner spot, the Pitfire Pizza Co. has a special going: $10 for a pint and an individual cheese pizza, or $20 for a pitcher and a large cheese pizza from 3pm until closing. But for lunch, this spot is hard to beat—you can create your own gourmet pizza that features fresh organic vegetables and nitrate, hormone, and antibiotic free meat, or enjoy one of their many seasonal specialties (like winter squash ravioli in a sage butter sauce). Paninis, salads, pastas and soups are also on the menu, often giving classic favorites like Mac & Cheese (with gruyere, mozzarella, gorgonzola and Parmesan) a unique twist. Prices range from $5-$10 for an entrée (but beware the $2.00 bottled water—that’s expensive!).

On the other side of City Hall, venture to 640 North Spring St. for the best Southern barbeque in the West: the Spring Street Smokehouse. Before it was redesigned in the hip trendster-tool-shed style, the Spring Street Smokehouse was known only to intrepid city workers willing to investigate hole-in-the-wall eateries. Now it’s a well known hangout, but you can still grab a spot at a checker-clothed picnic table and munch some sliced bread (an invention surpassed by nearly everything since 1928) while you stare in awe at the carnivore-friendly menu. My favorite is the pulled pork sandwich, which is so full of juicy bbq sauce-flooded pork, topped with cool and creamy coleslaw, that you wouldn’t dare eat it with your hands. The babyback ribs, slow smoked sliced brisket sandwich, and even a deep-fried whole turkey (which must be ordered in advance) keep customers coming back. Someday I hope to save room for their bourbon bread pudding… Prices hover around $5-$8, and you get two “sides” for $2 (hush puppies, French fries, baked beans etc.)

Ciudad, on 5th and Figueroa, is a great place to unwind with a $4 mojito, margarita or sangria after work (paired with $4 tacos). The chefs of Ciudad, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, take their inspiration from South America, Central America, Cuba, Spain, and Portugal, to create unique and flavorful dishes such as their Brazilian Seafood Moqueca with mussels, clams and shrimp in a coconut lime broth. One of the house specialties is the Peruvian Ceviche appetizer—white fish marinated in lime, ginger and aji amarillo chile, which is as healthy as it is delicious. Health is a priority at Ciudad, which uses seasonal, locally grown organic ingredients, sustainable seafood, and hormone and antibiotic free meats—and all menu items are trans fat free. If you’re around on April 12th, sign up for their South American Fiesta Cooking Class, taught by the master chefs themselves! Lunch appetizers are $5-$11, entrees from $12-$18, and dinner entrees are from $16 - $29.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Picturesque Travel

One of my articles for Peter Greenberg-- "Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Photography Tours"-- was picked out to be made into a Today Show segment! Check it out here:
Today Show Video Link.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Cheesophile in the City of Orange

Maybe I’m the only one, but I didn’t know that downtown Orange has much the same feel and look of Main Street DisneyLand mixed with Andy Griffith’s Mayberry. Its old town American charm is increased by the profusion of antique stores, at least two tea shops and cozy restaurants hiding in the depths of brick buildings. I’m looking forward to spending a few more weekends exploring Orange, as well as revisiting my new favorite place in Orange County: Frog’s Breath Cheese Store.

Frog’s Breath is divided into a large boutique wine section, offering a wide selection for decent prices, and an excellent assortment of cheeses. I found almost all of my favorites: English Cotswald, Old Amsterdam, Leyden, and Red Dragon, but unfortunately, they didn’t have Pittig Gouda, which I find to be richer and crunchier than Old Amsterdam. Even though they missed one cheese, they made up for it by introducing me to another: Speziato al Tartufo. Speziato al Tartufo is a hard Italian cow’s milk cheese with a rind dusted with black truffles and cinnamon. The cheese itself is very mild, and the sweet flavor of nutmeg-truffle (it tastes more like nutmeg than cinnamon to me) is the main attraction. Don’t bother me with crackers for this cheese; just take it as is--and enjoy.

The cheese-counter staff were very helpful to myself and my fellow wide-eyed drooling cheesophile placing her order next to me. A kindred spirit. I read an article somewhere that claimed cheese was addictive and had the same effect as morphine to those susceptible to it, and they could have used me as a case study. This is the place to get your fix in Orange County. And, like all great cheese stores, they are happy to tempt you with free samples of anything in their well-stocked case. A feature that sets this store apart from others is that they pre-order fresh Italian cheeses for in store pickup—as in, you can order the freshest cheese straight from Italy.

Wine and cheese go together like a wink and a smile, or like tea and crumpets, but don’t overlook their specialty sauces, dips, and other gourmet goodies. Upon entry I was greeted with free samples of creamy wine-filled chocolate truffles, some filled with Port, Cabernets or other reds. These chocolates make Frog’s breath a one-stop shop for Valentine’s Day--Wine, cheese and chocolates are all I require for absolute epicurean bliss.

Frog’s Breath offers wine tastings Thursday through Saturday, with individual cheese trays crafted to complement the wines. They also have wine and cheese pairing classes once a month. For example, in their Pairing Cheeses with Pinot class, you can learn which cheeses can stand up to the acidity and alcohol content of a Pinot, as well as which cheeses to stay away from. And, even though my method of putting together a cheese party platter is to pick out *MY* favorites and eat it all before the guests have a chance—their “How to put together a Christmas Party Cheese Tray with Paired Wine” class, looks very fun.

Store hours are Tuesday and Wednesday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Thursday - Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Visit their website for more details: Frog's Breath Cheese Store.
And here is the slightly ridiculous and very alarmist rendition of how
Cheese is a Highly Addictive Drug.
Also, check out MY article for Peter Greenberg on
Destinations for Cheese Lovers.