What I Ate in Los Angeles

One word: Amazing. We had so much good food during our long weekend in LA. It was truly an epicurean paradise, and site of a few foodie firsts for me.

We arrived around noon on a Friday and were immediately whisked off to the excellent CaCao Mexicatessen for lunch. GO THERE! I had a Michelada and a Carne Asada Sope. A lunch companion had a spicy cucumber margarita and let me have a taste. Amazing.

 Michelada to the left, spicy cucumber margarita to the right.



Carne Asada Sope

Next, we went to our rental house in Altadena. It was, naturally, amazing. Mediterranean villa style with immaculate interior and lovely patio and pool. A fellow foodie and I ventured forth to get provisions for the place, including some hard-to-come-by ice and way more alcohol than we could ever drink. We had a lot of fun. We also found a cute watermelon and some fresh figs.



We were in town for a family wedding, so next was rehearsal dinner. This was in a great spot in Old Pasadena called AKA Bistro, on a European feeling patio that backed into a square that happened to be showing their weekly movie... Chicken Run.



 Deep fried portobellos with truffle aioli


Salad course included beets, tomatoes, and goat cheese.



My neighbor and I shared entrees. Here's his burger.




And here's my huge platter of pacific coast mussels (that also included sausage, peppers, and clams).

The next morning we made eggs in our rental house and noshed on spinach boreg. I tried to catch up on some sleep while others accidentally purchased more watermelon.




Then... the wedding. I love weddings, particularly how a wedding is such a unique expression of the couple who create it. This one was completely charming and surprising and lovely and fun. We loved seeing two good people tie the knot, and being able to celebrate with them.

And next... the 9-course Chinese banquet. I never thought I'd get to do this, and it was AMAZING.


     
Cold Cuts Platter


 
Chicken soup with "bamboo pith." Not advertised but present was fish maw. It was quite delicious!


 
Stir-fried lobster with garlic. I took big bits because I don't know how to deal with these bugs.


 
Honey Walnut Prawns--one of my favorites. Sooooooo good. I took seconds.


  
Andrew Style Filet Mignon--we figured out Andrew is one of the co-owners of the catering company. I like his style.


 
Peking duck fixin's


  
Peking duck ready to eat. YUM!


  
Andrew Style vegetables.


Whole fish, scraped off the bone at-table. Skeleton at front, tender fish pieces at back.


There was much dancing and enjoyment and use of fans (no AC) after dinner. There was a DJ and there may have been some Hey Ya and some All Good People. And then we still had two days left in Cali!
 
On Sunday morning we went to a family brunch at Amalia's in east Hollywood. This low key treasure serves Guatemalan food. Do NOT ask for a burrito, as they will politely inform you that a burrito is not Guatemalan at all.



September in Los Angeles deserves a large ice water with lime. And an unsweetened iced tea, too... I had two, not shown.



Delicious appetizers, very simple flavors from black bean to meat to guacamole.



I never get a chile relleno by itself (left) when I can get a tamale too (right). These were very different from the Santa Fe versions I'm used to, but tender and yummy!

Coming up next... dim sum on an LA afternoon!

Thrifty tip: Don't buy a whole bag of grapes

My weekly grocery bill was unusually high on Sunday. I couldn't figure out what I'd done wrong. I scanned my receipt for errors and found the following 5 items that cost more than $10 each. Can you spot the huge problem?
  • Unscented Aubrey Organics Sunscreen, 1 tube 11.03 (on sale!)
  • Cabot Creamery Seriously Sharp cheddar, 2-pound block 10.07
  • Breakfast blend coffee, just over a pound 10.01
  • Organic Red Seedless Grapes, 1 bag 10.28
  • Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, 12-pack 14.71
Lightbulb! It was the GRAPES! I really wanted to spend about $4 on grapes. But grapes get packed in giant pristine bags. Even though it's allowed at our co-op to split up a pretty bag into smaller bunches, I am reluctant to do so. Also, four dollars worth of grapes would be so small it would look pretty pathetic.

Children have already consumed half the bag--there is maybe $5 dollars' worth left?

I am aware that conventional grapes are cheaper. But did you know that grapes are on the Environmental Working Group's "Dirty Dozen " of high pesticide residue crops? So I do try to go organic with grapes at least every other time. I think that I'm evening out the pesticide odds.

What do you think--this is pretty old news, right? You've heard about stupidly large bags of grapes already? A great Vermont alternative just happening NOW is to simply buy... local apples!

How to Feature Summer Veggies: Thai green curry

This is delicious on its own as a stew, or served over rice. I used whatever veggies were on hand... you could certainly use almost any of the late-summer bounty that starts to overwhelm around this time of year. This was a great way to use up some beans, peppers, and Thai basil from my mother-in-law's garden! Also it's vegan.

I love how dust & light-leak filters can make a bad image look merely "bad."

Ingredients
  • 1 t coconut oil
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 yellow potatoes, cubed
  • 1 carrot, cubed
  • 2 t (more or less) Thai green curry paste
  • 1 can full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped up
  • Any number of green or yellow beans, chopped
  • 1 t Shoyu or soy sauce
  • 2-3 small bunches of bok choi, washed & sliced
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped
  • Thai (or regular) basil
Directions
  1. Melt coconut oil in Dutch oven, sauté onion. When it starts to turn glassy, add garlic and sauté.
  2. Add one cup of water plus potatoes and carrot, bring to a simmer.
  3. Stir in Thai green curry paste. Simmer for ~8 minutes until the potatoes start to be a little soft.
  4. Add coconut milk, bell pepper, and beans. Continue to simmer about 5 minutes more.
  5. Add shoyu. More water can be added at any time if more liquid is needed.
  6. Once vegetables are mostly cooked (espeically the potatoes), add the bok choi, tomato, and basil. Cook for only a few minutes more.
  7. I refrigerated this overnight and it may have helped flavors marry more. This was an extremely popular potluck dish. Reheat and serve... with rice if you wish!
I also have a CLASSIC summer squash recipe coming soon! What's your favorite way of featuring summer veg?

Coffee Talk

Do you like coffee? I love it. Not like I love chocolate cake or a lovely massage. I love it like I love... oxygen. Always there and very much appreciated. When it's not there, I am sad.

On a recent morning, like every morning, I turned to our Black & Decker coffee maker, which I think of as the Will & Kate coffee maker because I bought it around the time when Prince William married the Duchess of Cambridge. I loaded it up with freshly ground coffee and filtered water, as always, pressed the ON button, as always, and walked away. It started to do its usual huffing and puffing, but after 5 minutes... no coffee. It was making its usual steam, but nothing was dripping out into the carafe. I tried various tricks like: turning it off and on again, replacing the water, jimmying the carafe, rinsing the brewing chamber. Nothing!


 
Pick the lame-o in this mechanical lineup.


My reaction was as follows: I got a stool and dug around in high cupboards until I found our French press. Then I made coffee that way. Once properly caffeinated, I wrote a haiku about the broken coffeemaker and posted it on Twitter.



Then I avoided dealing with it by taking a week's vacation. Upon my return though, it was clearly time to buy a new coffee maker. (The French press only makes one cup at a time, and we need about 4 cups to get started in the morning.)

So. At the local hardware store I contemplated the selection. What was annoying to me about the broken machine is that I still don't know what was actually wrong with it. It just mysteriously stopped working. Why spend money on something that will One Day betray me? The first coffee maker cost about $30, and so would the next one, and the next, and then I'd have spent hundreds of dollars on crappy coffee makers. Why not buy a great coffee maker that I could understand inside and out? Why not spend a little more now but be able to use the thing for years and years?

That's how I came home with a Chemex.


It's pretty classic. Groovy 70s vibe. Glass vessel, thick paper filter, hot water, that's all you need. No buttons, no inner workings, no cheap plastic bits.

It does take more time than pressing a button... because the hot water must be poured over the ground coffee by hand. But I'm thinking of it as Zen attention to the present, so that's a good thing.


Which item was invented in 1941?

What do you think of the Chemex... as a beautiful object or a daily item? Personally I really liked the Black & Decker coffee, but this stuff is Pretty Good.

My new used car

If there's one thing I hate, it's making an important decision and/or acquiring new debt. Boo!  However, when one has vowed to "drive my car into the ground," these things will happen. Recently I realized that my beloved diesel VW Jetta was indeed almost driven into the ground. Being a diesel, it had over 280,000 miles on it. The emergency brake snapped, some kind of belt fell off, the turbo stopped working, and it produced impressive black smoke by burning oil whenever I drove up hills. Things were getting embarrassing, and worse... I was feeling unsafe driving my own beloved car.


 
My wheels since June 2003. YEAH fahrvergnügen!

Apparently my method of doing anything, from choosing a car to getting a new job to checking out a library book, is a first-strike shock-and-awe technique. I like to see something good, get in, and get out. In the case of the car, I spent a week complaining, a week rather lazily investigating local prospects along with random insurance quotes and vague bank investigations, and then a week swinging into super-effective action (for me).

Here's how the latter super-effective week worked out:

Monday: Grab car for a test drive and insert entire family, drive to favorite local mechanic and beg for an assessment. Done in under an hour, present list of minor issues to dealer who promises to fix them. By end of day I have bill of sale in hand and completed loan application, drop them off at bank.

Tuesday: Make sure the bank has the paperwork they need, wait for it to process.

Wednesday: Check in again on paperwork, have insurance binder emailed to bank and to myself for good measure, make sure an insurance ID card is also included so I can drive the new car once acquired. The bank guy tells me he's out Thursday but the loan can close on Friday.

Thursday: Send my wonderful husband over to the dealer during my work hours to ensure that the fixes from Monday were done, particularly the AC fix. Everything seems to be set. (Thanks, dear!) He also moves the kid seats out of my Jetta into the new car. I clean out my old car as a sign of respect before it's traded in. Right before I let it go, I photograph and then remove the stickers.

 I also had this T-shirt in high school! (Save the Humans w. cute whale)


Friday: My car loan closes at 10am, I am there and ready and out with a check in about 15 minutes. I take last photos of my Jetta and drive it over to the dealer (who, by the way, is mainly a mechanic). He transfers my plates, does a lot of paperwork, trades keys with me, and I'm in my new car by 11am... About 100 hours after my first test drive.


I'm perfectly happy with my new-to-me Subaru Forester. Yes it has tons of miles on it and a few scratches and dents. But I think it will last the length of my car loan at least, it will be safe in winter with all wheel drive, and it will be comfy and fresh for my family to ride in. I have selected the following stickers to help it stand out from the other bazillion Subarus driving around Vermont. (Thanks KG for the perfect dim sim props!)


Wordless Wednesday: DIY Roasted Red Peppers









Notes: Leave the thoroughly charred pepper in the paper bag for about 5 minutes. When removing skin use fingers or a knife. Resist the temptation to rinse off black flecks—it washes away flavor.

I stop running and pick up a Margarita

Today, July 5, is the first day since Memorial Day that I haven't gone for a run. I successfully completed a 40-day "streak" from May 26th to July 4th, as suggested by Runner's World magazine. The main rule of the streak is that you run at least 1 mile every single day. 

Rather than keeping track of my runs online I wrote them on a paper calendar on my fridge.

128 miles total. Probably more since I always round down.

My last run of the streak was the annual 4-miler race that goes right down the Main Street of our town. It was a rainy Fourth for once, though that didn't help my time much!

In other news, I've decided it's time for me to have a go-to cocktail. Something I can make for myself now and then, or order if I'm out and in a cocktail mood. I have selected the margarita. I do not make mine from scratch, but use a mix that is quite yummy: Dr. Swami & Bone Daddy's. "Fresh Gourmet Taste!"



I know, wrong kind of glass. Tastes good though.


I would also like to submit these photos of professional margaritas as evidence of... something.

 


What is your go-to cocktail? Is that even a thing?

Prof. Kitty visits Chicago


I had a work trip to Chicago this week and it was great! The work itself was very rewarding, and I was also glad to be back in Chicago so soon after my September trip. I didn't get a chance to take many photos, but I'd like to share a few highlights.

Day 1, evening

Lobster mushroom bisque, real Caesar salad (meaning yes to anchovies) at Stetsons (the steak and sushi place inside the Hyatt Regency hotel).

Dramatic steak knife display

Day 2

  • breakfast: eggs benedict at Yolk -- I found Yolk via Google Maps, so it was touristy, but I liked it. High-end-diner style, bright and open interior, with unmissable yolk-colored decor.
  • Lunch: takeout chicken breast kebab wrap from Reza’s -- I only kick myself for not ordering hot sauce to go with!
  • Dinner: Union Sushi & BBQ—warm mushrooms, crispy "buffalo" duck leg, spicy tuna cup, smoked white tuna with tomato confit, a LOT of sushi on black rice. So. Good.

As an aside, I'd never before seen real wasabi up-close. They grated it tableside and left a small dish for sushi-dipping.

Day 3

  • Breakfast: Panera Bread—some kinda sausage, egg & cheese sandwich
  • Lunch: takeout chicken caprese salad from Maggiano's Little Italy—huge, lots of chicken, TWO kinds of dressing, tender fresh mozzarella, kalamata olives, and a lovely surprise... the occasional fresh green bean.
  • Dinner: EPIC turkey bar, Vanilla Bean Frappuccino. This was my dinner when I was inadvertently stuck at O'Hare for 2 hours. Did you know a Vanilla Bean Frappuccino from Starbucks has NO COFFEE in it? It was delicious, but... jeez. I needed the caffeine!

Here are a few more snaps and notes of things I saw in Chicago, June 2014:

The photo doesn't do it justice, but that glowing area in the middle = shelves of liquor lit from behind. It was gorgeous, like a stained glass beacon of alcohol beaming into the night. It is called BIG Bar.



This TRUMP sign just went up and has set the media afire. Yes, it seems to be 2 stories tall.


 
Trend report: The latest in specials or wine lists is an ipad left at-table for perusing. This happened to me twice in two days, so it's science.


Trigger Warning! "Try one of our new specialty craft drinks. Today's events: Alcoholics Anonymous."


Not shown: 

Sooo many smartphones. In the airport, on the subway, on the street—everyone was staring into the tiny screen of their phone. Sometimes I felt like I was in a Bodysnatchers movie. I got out my own phone so as to blend in.

Sunset at O'Hare. This is something I didn't want to see, because I was supposed to be in the air already but my plane was delayed. It was pretty though. A caffeinated Frappuccino would have helped even more.

Chicago Riverway. It took me about 30 seconds after jogging out of the Hyatt Regency to identify a great place to run—down a set of stairs to the bike/jog path that runs along the Chicago River. I headed lakeward and got to run along the shoreline & boats for a little bit. Tranquil!