Friday, May 28, 2010

My Summer Reading List 2010

With Memorial Day weekend ahead of us, I wanted to share a list of a few books I intend to check out this summer, either in book or audio form. The summaries are adapted from Goodreads. Feel free to share your comments if you have suggestions or have read any of these! What's on your reading list?

Sister of My Heart: Set in Calcutta, this novel follows two "sisters", beautiful Sudha and passionate Anju, bonded together by love yet torn apart by a family secret. This one was recommended by a dear friend and I am already reveling in the author’s gorgeously lyrical prose.

School of Essential Ingredients: Highly rated by a fellow foodie on Goodreads, the plot of this novel is set up as follows: "Once a month on Monday night, eight students gather in Lillian's restaurant for a cooking class... Over time, the paths of the students mingle and intertwine, and the essence of Lillian's cooking expands beyond the restaurant and into the secret corners of their lives, with results that are often unexpected, and always delicious." Sounds delightful!

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: Murder mystery set in Britain, anyone? "In his wickedly brilliant first novel, Debut Dagger Award winner Alan Bradley introduces one of the most singular and engaging heroines in recent fiction: eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison. It is the summer of 1950—and a series of inexplicable events has struck Buckshaw, the decaying English mansion that Flavia’s family calls home..."

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: Or how about a trip to a hot, steamy Southern city? "John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil has been heralded as a "lyrical work of nonfiction," and the book's extremely graceful prose depictions of some of Savannah, Georgia's most colorful eccentrics... "

Prodigal Summer: I recently found a copy of this one at Goodwill. It seems to be the sort of literature that asks to be read in the seasonally appropriate period. I haven’t read anything by her since Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, but I’m excited to revisit this author. "Barbara Kingsolver's fifth novel is a hymn to wildness that celebrates the prodigal spirit of human nature, and of nature itself. It weaves together three stories of human love within a larger tapestry of lives amid the mountains and farms of southern Appalachia. Over the course of one humid summer, this novel's intriguing protagonists face disparate predicaments but find connections to one another and to the flora and fauna with which they necessarily share a place."

Madame Bovary: I need to read another great work this summer, as my goal was to read three this year. This classic French novel sounds a lot like Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, which I found very interesting in school. Furthermore, it's so famous that I feel obligated to see what all the fuss is about. "One precious quality distinguishes Flaubert from the more or less exact observers who pride themselves on conscientiously reproducing reality, and nothing but reality: he has style." --Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Like A Julia Child Recipe, Only Easier

Is there anything more tantalizing than a good cut of meat roasting in the oven? Methinks not. I found a quirky cookbook in small used bookstore in Mendocino called Once Upon a Tart. In it, the French owner of said café shares his recipe for a simple roasted pork loin. It is delicious on its own with an arugula salad and vinaigrette, or sliced and eaten on a baguette for lunch.

French Pork Loin

2 lb. boneless pork loin
2 cloves garlic, sliced
½ c. good-quality Dijon mustard
3 T. herbes de Provence
2 T. kosher salt
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350F.

Take the pork loin and cut slits all over it, inserting slices of garlic in the slits. Spread the mustard liberally all over the meat, then sprinkle with the seasonings. You may want to use a spatula to spread the spices evenly over the meat. Place the meat in a roasting pan on the rack.
Bake for about an hour or until meat is thoroughly cooked. Remove from oven and let the meat rest for 10 minutes. Slice and serve.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

My Favorite Black Bean Soup (so far....)

We are always thrilled to find tasty meatless dishes, and this soup was a huge hit for us. Not only is it quick to prepare (ready in under 30 minutes) and delicious (great combination of spices), but the colors are just gorgeous. Black, yellow, green, red juxtaposed together make this dish beautiful and healthy as well. What more can you ask for? Besides a side of corn bread...

My Favorite Black Bean Soup

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 (15 oz.) cans black beans, rinsed and drained (or substitute cooked dried beans- we did)
2 cups frozen corn, thawed
½ green bell pepper, chopped
½ red bell pepper, chopped
14 oz. can low sodium chicken broth
14 oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1 tsp. dried basil leaves
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/8 tsp. pepper
dash red pepper flakes


Cook onion and garlic in oil in a large soup pot until tender. Mash about half of the beans using a fork, and add to the pot, along with the remaining whole beans, corn, bell pepper, chicken broth, and tomatoes.

Stir in seasonings. Cover pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer the soup for 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove bay leaf and serve. Serves 4-6

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Napa, Sans Wine

What do you do in Napa when you don't drink? A lot! We took a trip with some friends recently and began at Round Pond in Rutherford with an olive oil tasting. It was actually a lot more than that - arrayed before us was an impressive spread of cheese, fruit, baby tomatoes, organic mixed greens, and lots of freshly baked bread.

These goods were sampled in a variety of pairings along with the estate-made extra virgin olive oils (Italian, Meyer Lemon and Blood Orange varieties); vinegars (two different red wine versions); and syrups (again, lemon and orange).

The sugar cubes are used to test the vinegars, which you suck out from the cube and thereby taste the fruitiness without as much of the sourness. The three blue glasses contain the olive oil (they don't want you to see the color because the color does not affect the taste one way or the other).

Here is how to properly taste an olive oil: Take a small sip and let the oil coat your mouth. Next, aerate by sucking in a few breaths of air. Finally, swallow. You will taste a wide range of flavor qualities depending on the type of olives, the age of the olives, etc., from fruity to herbal or grassy to peppery.

Here is our tour guide Linda explaining about the method of tasting the oils, which are to be used in finishing dishes, not in high-heat cooking, as heat destroys the flavor and nutrients of the oil.

My husband and I in front of the estate.
Beautiful vineyards surrounding the estate.

After Round Pond, we drove to Yountville where we had lunch at Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery. I bought a loaf of Herb Palladin to take home. For lunch, we had a ham/cheese baguette and a sandwich Provencal, along with a tarte au citron (lemon tart) and two of Keller's trademark bouchons (a moist chocolate "bite", somewhere in between a cake and a brownie).

We spent the afternoon exploring the shops at Yountville, mingling with the rich visitors and me jealously eying their small lap dogs. Closer to Napa, we found antique shops, an excellent kitchen store named Shackford's, and an impressive garden nursery that may help explain why most of the yards in this area are so well-kept and manicured.

For dinner, we ate at a casual local favorite called Pearl, where meatloaf and steak sandwiches are popular dinner entrees. Paul got the steak sandwich, and I got a special, the soft-shell crab sandwich.

Here's what we ended up buying: a balsamic and a red wine (Cabernet) vinegar, along with a fruit, smooth extra virgin olive oil. I can't wait to make my first salad!

Also note-worthy: The Oxbow Market, where we found Kara's Cupcakes, along with Three Twins Ice Cream which sells the most expensive ice cream sundae in the world! (One is $3,300, served with syrup made from 3 vintage dessert wines. Call a day a head of time and they'll arrange for a cello player to serenade you while you dig in.)

Friday, May 21, 2010

On Chinese Foot Binding and America

The book I’m reading now, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, details the life of Lily, a 19th century-era Chinese girl and the customs of her village in Southern China. Like nearly all of the respectable women in her time, her feet are bound, and the description of this stage of her life is gag-inducing to say the least.

Most of us learn about foot binding in elementary school- the toes are tied tightly underneath the foot, causing them eventually to break and heal in a claw-like position. Much of the flesh decomposes and falls off, leaving the foot small in size and pointed in shape, a very desirable aesthetic at the time. The goal was to create a "delicate, golden lily" no bigger than 7 centimeters. One out of every ten women died from infection as a result of this practice, and many were crippled due to the effects of it.

In this picture, a Shanghai girl is photographed circa 1900. She was reluctant to show her feet, which were considered a woman’s prized feature, but finally agreed when the photographer offered her four silver dollars.

Learning about the practice of foot binding makes me grateful that modern American culture is generally more lenient and accepting of natural female beauty, but also reflective as well. We look at the practice of foot binding and recoil with horror at this symbol of the oppression of women. Yet I wonder if centuries from now, students will have a similar opinion of the plastic surgery and fad diets that women in our culture voluntarily submit to, presumably for reasons similar to Chinese women of old (prestige, beauty, sexual appeal, etc.).
My hope is that women of all cultures and backgrounds is that they will see and love their own natural beauty and let it shine.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

What We Bought on Our First Trip to the Farmer's Market

We made our first trip of the season to the Farmer’s Market last night. One of the best things about going is discovering what’s new. This time, we found pastured lamb and grass-fed beef. I remember seeing chicken there before and thought it slightly odd to buy meat at the outdoor market, but now that I understand more about the meat industry, I think it's wonderful that the small family farms have Farmer's Markets as a venue to sell their quality product.

The lamb was tempting but a little above our budget; the beef, however, was an excellent price, even cheaper than Whole Foods. We ended up buying ground beef and short ribs from Lucky Dog Ranch in Dixon, as well as some gorgeous, firm cherries (they had three kinds of cherries- THREE!) and carrots with tops still on. (Those tops make them seem so much fresher. He he!) Also beautiful were the strawberries, spring onions, greens, and fresh herbs that we saw many stands selling. How I love spring!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Would You Eat at French Laundry?

The French Laundry

Lately I have been planning a trip to Napa Valley which we are taking this weekend (olive oil tasting, here we come!), as well as reading The United States of Arugula (a history of how our country became gourmet-ified). Between both activities, I have become aware that Thomas Keller’s French Laundry restaurant, located in Yountville, CA, is one of the best establishments in our country.

Keller states his philosophy towards the French Laundry dining experience: "I serve five to ten courses, each meant to satisfy your appetite and pique your curiosity. I want you to say, ‘God, I wish I had just one more bite of that.'" His tasting menu changes daily, and the prix fixe for dinner is $250. Per person.

There are hundred of reviews of the French Laundry on, some of which claim that eating there was a "once in a lifetime experience" and even "life changing", "humbling", one reviewer even claimed, "I wept" (upon tasting one exquisite dish). I understand feelings like this as I reflect on the first time I tasted an extremely expensive French truffle in Paris. It was unlike anything I had ever tasted before, and until then, I did not know that chocolate could taste like that. However, said truffle was given to me by a generous friend and did not entail personal impoverishment to acquire.

I find the cost requested by Keller to be extraordinary - dinner for two, $500. My question is: Would you spend that kind of money on one meal? If so, under what circumstances?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Edible Landscaping

One day in March, I was walking through Downtown Sacramento and saw a huge, gated community garden that was thriving. Big, bold colors were everywhere, and it wasn’t until I stopped and peering in through the gate that I realized that most of the plants were edible, like the flaming red stalks of Swiss chard.

Instead of growing a huge lawn and planting regular trees, many people are starting to landscape using edible vegetables, herbs, and trees. Remember the feeling of amazement and pleasure you felt the first time you watched the scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when the kids walk into the room in which everything was edible? That’s how I feel about the idea of edible gardening. It makes me giddy to think about landscaping my future yard according to this concept.

Many herbs are not only wonderfully scented and useful in cooking, they also boast gorgeous flowers as well. Take for example Russian sage, pictured above, which is hardy, drought-tolerant, and can be used in border landscaping. The edible landscape idea blurs the traditional lines between garden and yard, which I think is brilliant. While I will probably still set aside a separate space for veggies like tomatoes and squash some day, I also hope to use lavender, thyme and sage in my borders and create my own Willy Wonka wonderland, right in my backyard! Not to mention apricot, cherry, plum, peach trees... What's in your dream garden?

Friday, May 14, 2010

I Finally Try the Real Pie Company!

Today was a monumental day. I finally procured a pie from the Real Pie Company of Sacramento. They can only be ordered once a week and must be picked up at the local Corti Brothers store, but I found the effort to be well worth my time and money.

The crusts are made of all butter, and are as flaky as any crust I have ever eaten. The owner, Kira Donnell, uses family farms to procure her fine ingredients, such as the strawberries and rhubarb that filled the pie I bought. This is the next best thing to homemade, and probably better than many of those as well, depending on who is making it. :-)

They aren't easy to get; it took me several weeks to order in time to get one of the pies. However, Kira recently acquired an assistant and says she should be able to take many more orders starting this week. With summer on the way, I can't wait to order my next seasonal pie!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

See My First Attempt at Sewing (An Apron)

When I was younger, I used to think that crafts were useless and the fact that mine always lacked creativity and skill didn't help. Nowadays, I am fascinated by the idea of making useful items by hand, particularly because it's rarely done in our hurried lives. So I've been thinking, while I have the time, why not learn how to do things that could prove useful or a positive creative outlet?

My mom is an excellent seamstress and I have been trying to get her to teach me to sew for several years now. I finally succeeded this month and with her help, sewed an apron after two sewing lessons, although I am still learning and my skills require a lot of honing. (When I sat down with the pattern for the first time, I was perplexed by the instructions. Baste? All I knew how to baste was a turkey!) For now, I'm just glad it stayed together without falling apart when I put it on! Maybe some day I can sell cool stuff on Etsy... Dream big, right?!

My apron is a halter-style with ribbon lining the waist and skirt.
It's feminine, flirty, and definitely not your granny's apron! :-)

"Look, ma! I put it on and it didn't fall apart!"

Herb-Crusted Salmon with Israeli Couscous

I try to throw in new ingredients to my weekly menus to keep myself excited about cooking dinner. I was flipping through the Family Circle magazine that we keep in the lobby at work and saw this recipe (kind of - of course, I tweaked it!). It sounded like an interesting way to get our fish this week.

Israeli couscous looks like tapioca; the grains are like small balls. While my husband doesn’t care for regular couscous, he enjoyed this dish. I perked it up with a little EVOO and lemon to complement the salmon, which I served with the remaining lemon wedges.

I really liked the bread crumb coating on the fish. If you don’t have fresh dill, use a lesser amount of dried dill. I think it might also be good to use the zest from the lemon in the bread crumb mixture, but the lemon I was using had already been zested for another project. Next time!

Herb-crusted Salmon with Israeli Couscous

3/4 tsp sea salt
1 c. Israeli couscous
2 ½ T. Bread crumbs
2 T. Chopped fresh dill
4 (4oz) salmon filets
1/4 tsp. Black pepper
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
3 c. baby spinach
1/4 c. low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 lemon
Extra-virgin olive oil

Heat oven to broil. Place nonstick foil on a rimmed baking sheet and set aside.

Bring 1 1/4 c. water to a boil in a medium-size pot. Add ½ tsp. Of the salt and the couscous. Cover and cook 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in 1 T. Of dill, spinach, and chicken broth into cousous; let sit until spinach is wilted. Drizzle with EVOO and a squeeze of lemon.

Meanwhile, stir together bread crumbs and 1 T. Dill; set side. Sprinkle salmon with remaining 1/4 tsp. Salt and the pepper and place on prepared baking sheet. Place directly under broiler and cook for 5 minutes.

Remove salmon from oven and lower rack so it’s 6 inches from heating element. Brush salmon with mustard and sprinkle with bread crumb mixture, pressing to adhere. Generously spritz each fillet with olive oil and return to oven; broil 2 minutes to brown the top.

Serve salmon with side of couscous and remaining lemon wedges to squeeze over salmon.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

Eating seasonally can be glorious in July but tedious in February. Just when I began to tire of citrus, along came this month's dark garnet strawberries and tart, slightly retro rhubarb to mark the changing of the seasons.

I am a total sucker for rhubarb. I adore the sharp tang I get when I bite into it, and I look forward to the classic combo of rhubarb and strawberries every year. For Mother’s Day last Sunday, I used a recipe I found in Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. (The author includes multiple recipes for dishes she prepared using the food she and her family grew themselves for a year-long locavore experiment.)

I was a little worried because there didn’t seem to be a thickening agent in the fruit, but the rhubarb sort of melts into the strawberries and thickens up nicely. I doubled the topping because it's my mom's favorite part. Everyone liked it! If you haven’t tried rhubarb, I say: Give rhubarb a chance.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp
Adapted from Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

3 cups halved strawberries (cut large berries into thirds)
3 cups rhubarb, chopped
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice or nutmeg
1 cube unsalted butter, softened (NOT melted)

1) Preheat oven to 375ºF.

2) In a medium bowl, combine strawberries, rhubarb, and honey. Stir to coat. Pour mixture into the bottom of a 9x9-inch baking pan.

3) In a separate bowl, combine flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, and allspice. Whisk together. Cut butter into smaller pieces. Add butter to flour mixture. Using a fork or pastry blender, mash butter and flour mixture until medium-sized crumbs are formed. Sprinkle crumbs evenly on top of the baking dish.

4) Bake about 45 minutes, or until rhubarb can be easily pierced with a knife. Topping should be browned and mixture should be bubbly. Remove from oven and let cool a few minutes. Serve with vanilla bean ice cream.

Monday, May 10, 2010

If You Like Carnitas, Try This

Last week was Cinco de Mayo, aka (in our house) Carnitas Appreciation Day. My husband really loves this dish, and so I found a recipe in which you can use the slow cooker to make tender and moist, nicely spiced Mexican-style pork. Get home from work, finish preparing, fold inside tortillas with lettuce, salsa, and whatever tickles your fancy.

Where to Buy the Best: I buy my pork (and much of my meat, also) at Whole Foods. They offer the strictest meat rules in the industry. For pigs, these rules include:

  • No antibiotics — ever
  • No animal byproducts in feed
  • No gestation crates
  • Sows provided freedom of movement in farrowing (birthing) pens
  • Bedding required to satisfy natural rooting instincts

(Gestation crates are used by most factory farms to prevent the pigs from moving while they're pregnant and cause sores and discomfort for the sows.) Like the best pig farmers in the business believe, Happy and healthy pigs make happy and healthy humans! Enjoy!

Slow Cooker Carnitas

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 (3-4 pound) boneless pork shoulder roast

2 bay leaves

1. Mix together salt, garlic powder, cumin, oregano, coriander, and cinnamon in a bowl. Coat pork with the spice mixture. Place the bay leaves in the bottom of a slow cooker and place the pork on top. Pour the chicken broth around the sides of the pork, being careful not to rinse off the spice mixture.

2. Cover and cook on Low until the pork shreds easily with a fork, about 10 hours. Turn the meat after it has cooked for 5 hours. When the pork is tender, remove from slow cooker, and shred with two forks. Use cooking liquid as needed to moisten the meat.

On Making the Food Revolution Our Own

Taking a cue from my favorite celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver, I did something unique this Mother’s Day. I enjoyed watching Oliver’s recent Food Revolution series on TV, often watching in disbelief and chagrin as I saw families who relied completely on processed food because they lacked the basic cooking skills needed to prepared healthful food. However, I know that Oliver’s goal involves not only looking outwards at society’s worst-case examples, but also inside our own homes at how we can improve ourselves. Somewhere along the line, I realized that my own little brother, sister and father probably wouldn’t be able to survive on their own if my mom wasn’t around to cook for them.

Yesterday, I went over to my parent’s house with a plan and a bag of fresh ingredients, and I organized a team of chefs. I had everyone doing prep work first (grating cheese, chopping garlic, slicing bread, etc.), then handling a specific dish. Together, we made whole-grain spaghetti with meat sauce and freshly grated parmesean cheese (no more canned Kraft), tossed green salad, balsamic vinaigrette from scratch, sauteed asparagus, and a garlic/herb butter that we spread on fresh pugliese bread and warmed in the oven.

My mom loved the meal, and best of all, I felt like my family had gained a basic life skill that they will be able to draw on in the future as needed. They loved the way the result of their labor tasted, and all commented that it was easier than they thought. That’s what the Food Revolution is all about! Cheers, Jamie!

How to Make the Best Falafel

One of the favorite new food discoveries I made on our recent LA trip was falafel. Last week, we made it at home, and it wasn’t as complicated as I had anticipated. At first, it seemed time consuming, but when you break it down, it’s not too bad.
For example, You can make the tahini sauce ahead of time. (In case you didn’t know: Tahini is made of ground sesame seeds, is smooth and liquid, and has a slightly nutty flavor.) The night before you made this dish, just soak the beans, then for dinner that night you grind them up with the spices, make little balls, and fry them. Serve on pita bread with tomato, sprouts, and drizzle your tahini sauce over it, and bam- you’ve found Mediterranean bliss. Once again, this recipe is based on the version I tried in the Moishe’s stall at the LA Farmer’s Market.

Moishe’s Falafel

For the tahini sauce:
1/2 cup tahini
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup water
Juice of 1 lemon
2 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch of kosher salt

For the falafel:
1 cup dried chickpeas, picked through and rinsed
1/2 cup peeled and split dried fava beans, picked through and rinsed
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 small green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Canola or other vegetable oil for frying
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
6 whole wheat pita breads, warmed
Alfalfa sprouts and sliced tomatoes for serving

Make the tahini sauce:
1. Combine all the ingredients in a blender. Process on high speed to make a smooth and creamy sauce. If it gets too thick as it sits, mix in a little bit more water or lemon juice to thin it before serving.

Make the falafel:
1. Put the dried chickpeas and fava beans in separate bowls and add cool water to cover by 2 inches. Soak the beans in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours or up to 1 day; they will swell to double their original size. Drain and rinse separately.
2. Put the soaked chickpeas in a food processor and process until well ground (about the consistency of cornmeal). Scrape the chickpeas into a large bowl. Process the fava beans in the same way and add them to the bowl with the chickpeas.
3. Add the onion, bell pepper, parsley, garlic powder, cumin, coriander, salt, and pepper to the bowl. Mix thoroughly by hand until the ingredients are well combined. Refrigerate while heating the oil; this should take about 15 minutes.
4. Pour oil into a cast-iron skillet, or deep, heavy-bottomed pot to a depth of about 3 inches and heat to medium high heat.
5. Add the baking powder to the falafel mixture and toss with your hands to blend. Roll the falafel mixture into 16 balls (about the size of Ping-Pong balls), then press and pat each ball with your fingers to flatten them slightly. Carefully slip a few falafel at a time into the hot oil, using a slotted spoon to make sure they don’t stick to the bottom. Fry, turning as needed, until the falafel are crisp and golden on all sides, about 2 minutes per batch. As they are finished, transfer the falafel to a platter lined with paper towels to drain.
6. To serve, cut your pita bread in half and open one half, filling it with a couple of falafel, sprouts, tomato slices, and drizzling all liberally with tahini sauce.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Save Your Pennies

Do you see the ancient pirate medallion in this picture?

Sometime last year, my husband started collecting all of his spare change in a jar. Apparently, most men consider it undignified to jingle-jangle when they walk; at least, that was my father’s opinion. He usually just gave his loose change to me, his thrifty child. I was also the one who would go on money-earning expeditions throughout the house, scouring underneath the cushions of our couch and other hidden places for coins.

But back to Paul’s story: For Christmas, I bought him a coin counting machine and encouraged him to keep saving. Just before our last vacation, he took his full jar to a coin-counting machine and found that he had saved over $70! It was nice to have extra spending money on our vacation. I also learned that saving little by little really can amount to something! Who says piggy banks don’t add up over time?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

My Menu for Next Week

Monday: Meatless Monday strikes again with a new recipe from a vegetarian blog I recently started following, Seattle's own Herbivoracious. I love the blog because the pictures are amazing and the recipes are intriguing and much more creative than your typical vegetarian fare. When I prepare this vegetarian chili, I am going to try a new ingredient, chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. This stuff seem to be everywhere lately, and this will be my first time cooking with it!

Tuesday: Cooking Light, my favorite magazine, published a budget-oriented section in this month’s edition which featured a recipe for Chicken Enchiladas with homemade red sauce. It uses chicken thighs to keep costs down. Don’t worry - they will be free-range. :-)

Wednesday: Now that spring has fully sprung in California, it is time to celebrate with a rite of passage - our first trip to the Wednesday night Davis Farmer’s Market, complete with a trip to the Hotdogger. They serve the best hot dogs that snap when you bite into them (a sure sign of a quality wiener), with the freshest, fluffiest buns you’ll ever taste. With a refreshing lemonade, it’s the best warm weather meal around!

Thursday: We try to eat fish every now and then, as it’s so darn good for you. I found a recipe that sounds delicious in the Family Circle magazine at work: Salmon (gotta be wild-caught; I can’t stand that pale flabby farmed stuff) coated with bread crumbs, Dijon mustard and dill. Sounds delicious! Can’t wait to try it.

Friday: Date night! I can heard the Thai food calling my name now...

Saturday: Attending a charity spaghetti feed! It’s always spaghetti they serve, isn’t it?

How Strong is Your Vocabulary?

I will be the first to admit that since graduating from college, my once respectable vocabulary seems to be diminishing. I'm sure that living in another country and trying to learn Cantonese for 18 months subsequent to my graduation didn't help me retain those cultivated English language skills.

However, I recently found a cool web site that I wanted to share because it helps you sharpen your vocabulary skills and contribute to a charity at the same time, in a very low key way. Visit and for every word you correctly define, sponsors will donate 10 grains of rice to the World Food Programme to help reduce hunger. Give it a try!

The words do get increasingly hard as you go along - I usually have to put on my thinking cap after the first few. My best lovel so far has been 31, and I have certainly learned a lot. Good luck and in case you were wondering, a tuffet is a footstool.

Monday, May 3, 2010

How I Ate My Way Through LA - Day 2

Day 2: We hit the LA Farmer's Market to hunt down some lunch. It's an amazing collection of ethnic foods and little shops. After much deliberation, I decide on Singapore's Banana Leaf because I haven't had real Indonesian food before. (Although I do find the packaged Mi Goreng noodles to be curiously addictive. Could be the MSG...) I order the Chicken Rendang, a gingery red curry concoction. It was pretty good, but the best was yet to come...

My husband went to Moishe's, a famously popular stall selling Mediterranean food. He ordered the falafel and it was the most incredibly flavorful, addictive thing I've tried in a while: spiced garbanzo and fava beans formed into delectable balls and fried, then wrapped in a warm pita next to a ripe tomato slice and drizzled with creamy tahini/yogurt sauce. As soon as I got home, I got online and found their recipe and I plan on making it for dinner one night this week. It was that good! (Maybe I will post that later this week....)

My dad stopped at the Gumbo Pit and ordered alligator, fried like chicken. It was a little rubbery but novel (for us).
Last stop was Du-pars, where we sampled pie. I went for the gooseberry pie (pictured before). The gooseberry turned out to be like a small tart grape; I enjoyed it! Du-pars makes their pies without preservatives behind a window where you can watch them assembling them.

While walking along the Walk of Fame, we got some lemonade at Skooby's, which was voted the best in town. It really was quite tasty.
While walking down the street, we spotted a Beard Papa's store and had to stop for a chocolate cream puff. This is an Osaka-based chain that sells the above irresistible treats. So good!

For dinner, we ventured to the predominantly African-American territory of Roscoe's, home of the chicken and waffles. It's greasy Southern food, but a must try. Paul got the classic chicken and waffles; I went for a combo with collard greens, cornbread, candied yams and fried chicken. Then we shared. It was an experience to remember!

We finished the night by sharing pina coladas with our friend Charlie on the 35th floor of the Bonaventure building. It's a restaurant that slowly revolves in a circle, giving you full view of the skyline of LA. A very nice spot to enjoy the city by night.

Day 3 still to come...

Sunday, May 2, 2010

How I Ate My Way Through LA - Day 1

I have returned from our latest trip! My cousin Joel got married down in Southern California this weekend, so my husband and I took this opportunity to take a little tour of the area like we had never seen it before. We planned the little time we had around what I love best: food. Here are all of the sides a city I came to know through its cuisine.

Day 1: We have lunch at Clementine's, an adorable little cafe suggested to me by my friend Rachel. It's the kind of place where the menu is written in chalk and the upscale clientele isn't too intimidating, despite its location just minutes from the gates of Bel Air. Paul, ever the carnivore, ordered the grilled cheese with bacon and chili; I went for the grilled eggplant and tomato confit with goat cheese. Delish!

The Battle of the Cupcakes: Next, we hit our first iconic stop at Sprinkles. Prepared to wait an hour if needs be, we were relieved to obtain our 4-cupcakes sampler in under 15 minutes. We tried the coconut, red velvet, lemon, and dark chocolate marshmallow varieties. (By the way, did you know that they only prepare a handful of what's on their menu each day? It took us several tries at ordering to catch onto that. They put a little dot on the menu next to the cupcakes that are being freshly made that day.)

We compared the cupcakes at Sprinkles to those of the competition down the street at Crumbs, ordering a Key Lime cupcake there as well. Our conclusion? Crumbs is all about appearance, but were a bit stale. Sprinkles was the clear winner when it came to a quality, buttery taste and for freshness. However, the best cupcakes we have ever tried are still nearer to home in San Francisco. Kara's Cupcakes (located across from Ghirardelli's) are still the best we have ever had, hand's down. While I'm giving out cupcake advice, may I suggest that eating more than, say, two gourmet cupcakes on any one day is not a great idea. Thank goodness we had something light planned for dinner...

Celebrity Sighting: Finally, we conclude our day with dinner at Real Fresh Daily, a vegan restaurant. I tried tempeh for the first time (that's fermented bean curd) with my Asian stir fry. It was odd. Paul ordered the Mexican salad, pictured below, and really liked it. Like I said, this comes from a die-hard carnivore, so that really is significant.

Randomly, we ate our meal next to minor celebrity Mike White (aka Ned Schneibly from School of Rock). He was eating dinner there with an incredibly obnoxious blond companion, who kept debating whether or not to go to New Orleans with him and their friends this summer. As it turns out, IMDB reports that he is, in fact, a vegan. And Paul swears that Kevin Bacon was there too, but I doubt that one. The famous actor appeared to be sitting with two twenty-something thug-like young people. I simply cannot believe that Mr. Bacon would keep such company..... Or would he? Opinions? Conspiracy theories?

To be continued...

How I Ate My Way Through LA - Day 3

Day 3: Our trip to LA was busy, and I couldn't be bothered to track down the Kogi truck, no matter how much I wanted to try it or how hyped it was. Not to worry- it found us, as we were walking down the street by Venice Beach, looking for lunch.

It was fate that we found the Korean tacos. I know this because after I ordered a chicken, spicy pork, and short rib, the dude who took our order even gave the two of us free samples of their newest dessert - a chocolate concoction that you simply must try if you ever get the chance! It goes a little something like this: chocolate with crispies, topped with a layer of liquid chocolate and caramel, then hazelnuts, and dusted with a spiciness that lends warmth. To die for! The tacos (pictured below) were sensational too- juicy meat topped with fresh kim chee, sitting inside tender tortillas. This is fusion cooking at its best - and cheap, too! Just $2 per taco.

Gimme Some of Your Tots: Next to the Kogi truck, which is known for its persistently long lines, sat the Dogtown Dogs truck. Partly because we felt sorry for it and partly because we were still a lil hungry after sharing the 3 small tacos, we decided to show some love and order a couple of specialty dogs. Mine came with grainy mustard, fennel slaw, and roasted red peppers. Paul's was topped with chili, cheese, and Frito's. Both were accompanied by 3 small, perfectly crisp tater tots, and no, I did not steal Paul's tots, in case you were wondering. And the dogs were good, but they're no Kogi!

The Macaroon Trend: Our friend Charlie tipped us off to a patisserie in Venice Beach where we could try macaroons, the tiny, delicate French cookies which are popping up everywhere these days. We got a variety pack (see half-eaten picture below) with flavors ranging from ordinary (chocolate and raspberry) to exotic Ube. They were ok, not something I would crave, but I'm glad I tried them so I can now differentiate the French version from the more familiar dense coconut macaroons.

Joel's Wedding: Last but certainly not least, let's talk about the reason for our trip to LA, my cousin's wedding reception. Influenced heavily by the bride's Persian heritage (her father and many of the guests were Persian), the food included grilled beef and chicken kebabs with pita bread; grilled lamb chops and salmon; lots of fresh fruits; an orange-peel studded rice pilaf (my favorite new ethnic dish!); and for dessert, there was even a rosewater-flavored ice cream (which my family felt tasted similar to old ladies perfume). It was an enlightening cultural experience and very unique!

This brings us to the conclusion of our memorable food tour of LA. We tapped into the varied ethnic roots of the city, the vegetarian/health vein, and many food trends, from gourmet cupcakes to Korean tacos. We enjoyed it so much that we hope to have many more food tours in the future!