Simple Pleasures

Whenever I commute on my bike I am bombarded with a cacophony of scents. They come on as invisible clouds, and many tell a story about what is happening in that particular spot in that exact moment in time. Sometimes however, the phrase “accosted by odors” seems more appropriate. Charcoal clouds of bus exhaust? One of the joys of living in LA. Marijuana smoke? Ahem. One of the joys of living in Venice. The attractive, if not slightly over-dressed woman stepping out for the evening, followed by a suffocating wave of perfume always gives me a laugh. Where is she going that she thinks men will enjoy literally drowning in her scent? I often smell the aromas of dinner cooking and imagine I can tell exactly what’s on the menu. Tonight I definitely smelled lasagna. If it wasn’t lasagna, then it was Chef Boyardee mini raviolis. Either way…

There’s never a dull moment in my study of smells and tonight’s ride was no exception. At one point, I got a whiff of the crisp scent of Lysol cleaner and it reminded me of how lovely a freshly cleaned space can smell (it’s a testament to my busy schedule that I haven’t smelled this my own home in quite some time). Freshly cut grass in front of Venice High School took me back to my childhood on Fletcher street and our acrobatic antics on the front yard. But by far my favorite was the Christmas Tree Farm on the corner, boasting freshly cut trees that did, indeed, smell brand new. That scent, combined with the one a half mile later of wood burning in a fire place, triggered that wondrous sense of nostalgia and plunged me right into the holiday spirit. It’s still warm here in the last week of November, but I’m dreaming of freezing nights with perfect stars, and boozy eggnog in front of a roaring fire.

What scents make you nostalgic?

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Bay Cities

Appearing in the dreams of foodies across LA County

Appearing in the dreams of foodies across LA County

In a blog dedicated to all things delicious, I would be remiss, dear reader, if I neglected to mention Bay Cities Deli in Santa Monica. I’ve globe trotted enough to consider myself somewhat of a sandwich connoisseur, and I believe a concoction from this crowded local gem can be considered the Grandaddy of them all.
How else could a sandwich so easily command the title of Godmother? This heavenly combination of genoa salami, mortadella, coppacola, ham, prosciutto, provolone with “the works”—spicy peppers, a must—stars in the dreams foodies dream at night. Perhaps it’s the freshest, flakiest sandwich rolls to ever grace the taste buds. Or slices of the finest quality meats and cheeses imported from the great country of Italy itself, rather than simply imitated. After all, American’s tasted mortadella and created bologna (and even butchered—no pun intended—the pronunciation). Boyfriend almost always gets the meatball sub, with luscious and gigantic beef and veal rounds that he can really sink his teeth into. The sauce is thick and authentic, delightfully tangy, not sweet.

I recommend going for a late lunch to avoid the crowds and the accompanying traffic jam in the miniscule adjacent parking lot. Better yet, go when you have time to spare. Only by lingering can you truly appreciate the differences between the 26 types of olive oil on offer, or find the perfect combination of flavors in the many handcrafted pestos. Another great option is to grab picnic fixings like mixed olive salad and imported burrata, and on Thursday evenings in summer head to a free concert at the Santa Monica Pier. Read all about this free event here (insert link here), and come do as the locals do.

Food*Wine*Yoga*Travel has moved!

Happiness guru Gretchen Rubin has a mantra, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

This translates roughly into, “Don’t get so caught up in the nitpicky details that you never finish the dang thing!” Which is something I’ve been guilty of doing my whole life.

So when I couldn’t get my blog to look the way I wanted, I threw my hands up in disgust and moved it. Please visit the new site here. And make sure to update your e-mail and RSS subscriptions!

It’s not perfect, but it’s appearance makes me a whole lot happier. And it only cost me two full 10-hour days of leaving the computer only for potty breaks. Not even to eat. You think I’m kidding.

But guess what? It got did! Baby’s growing up.

Now please come do something delicious!

More Bang for Your Veggie Buck: Lacto-Fermentation

lacto-fermented veggiesI consider myself healthy. I do yoga 3-4 times a week and try to bike rather than drive whenever its warm, which is mostly always. Fiancé and I eat well—lots of grilled, lean meats and salad at every meal. Because Mexican food is my greatest love, I’ve created healthy variations: including fresh, homemade salsas, low calorie “refried” black beans, and fish tacos that are grilled and not fried. We even eat whole wheat bread and tortillas most of the time.

But apparently there is healthy and there’s healthy. I have learned right out of the gate that I am not the kind in italics. Healthy in italics means you sprout your quinoa so that you’re able to absorb the minerals you don’t get when you eat the cooked kind. Healthy in italics means you drink a green smoothie once (or twice or several times) a day. Healthy in italics means you already know what stevia and amaranth and adzuki beans are, you know all about (and regularly employ) lacto-fermentation.

I just eat well. I have not yet achieved “health nut” status. And don’t, for one second, get the idea that I think there is anything wrong with what I’m calling “health nut.” The term is merely a way to differentiate from myself—a health-food-loving cooking instructor-slash-food blogger with a TON to learn about health.

As a result of this Elimination Diet, I’ve had to seek out inventive new recipes, predominantly from the Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen’s website. It’s there that I discovered that there are “normal” pickles (laden with sodium, not nutrients) and then there are “healthy” pickles.*

What’s that, you say? Healthy pickles?

That’s right pucker lovers, hoarders of the brine, seekers of the tang. “Pickles”–or pickled veggies of your choice–that introduce healthy bacteria into your intestinal tract! You begin with raw, nutrition-packed veggies (think radishes, cauliflower, cabbage, or green beans), and pack them into a salt brine where they are allowed to ferment at room temperature. No pasteurization (or heat) is involved, preserving the nutrients. And the lactobacillus bacteria that cause the fermentation produce B vitamins–a cherry on top of the probiotic love they’re already giving to our gut.

Read more about the benefits of this friendly bacteria here.

Lacto-Fermentationkimchi

In high school my best friend Julie told me that her Korean family made kim chi by burying a glass jar of cabbage in the yard for several weeks. She was describing what is apparently a very common method of employing lacto-fermentation. For me, however, the image (slimy intestines) and corresponding flavors (sweaty socks) that came to mind made kim chi that food I was never able to wrap my head around enough to try. Until a few years ago when I was “tricked” into eating the condiment while dining at a Korean BBQ for the first time. I was rapidly shoveling bowl after bowl of the stuff into my mouth when my Korean roommate commented on my affection for kim chi. I tried–for all of three seconds–to be horrified, then just conceded that I might actually have fallen in LOVE with the spicy-sour stuff.

In the initial weeks of the Elimination Diet, without vinegar or lemon, I found that I really missed tangy foods. So I was excited to come across this recipe. I happened to have a couple of canning jars, so I can attest to the fact that metal lids will work, although I plan to buy the plastic kind for my next round. And as a bonus—they’re really pretty on top of your fridge!

Here’s Tom the Nutritionist, doing a better job of explaining the process than I could ever hope to recreate here.

For a written step-by-step, click here.

So easy, you can’t not try it! I love the idea of getting my savory munchie fix with something that’s actually benefitting my health.

Have you tried lacto-fermentation? Any favorite flavor combinations?

*In spite of their many benefits, lacto-fermented veggies are high in sodium, so would not be considered healthy for those on a low-sodium diet.

(Top photo by yours truly)

(Bottom photo by Nagyman)

Challenge 2013: Elimination Diet a.k.a. Food Allergen Cleanse

Goal:

Find the perfect response to the statement: Why not just do the scratch test at the Doctor’s office? That sounds sooo much less terrible.

Finish line

When everyone around you is running a marathon or giving up alcohol for 30 days or doing the Insanity workout, you start to feel the need to demonstrate that you’re is not an irresolute schlub.

This is how a girl who hates diets and rules ended up on the elimination food plan. Meaning a 6-week (minimum) eating regimen that removes all possible allergens from your diet, reintroducing them slowly–after a cleansing period–to test the system for reactions.

Why Is This A Good Idea?

There are so many reasons to give this eating plan the old college try, not the least of which is gaining a general sense of feeling “better.” I chose to follow The Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen’s guidelines; the site is beautiful and the recipes, delicious sounding. Nutritionists Tom Malterre and Ali Segersten really manage to sell this “diet” in a beautifully photographed blog that just might entice you to take the challenge yourself. When you visit their site, you’ll read about all which conditions can be remedied by eliminating allergenic foods and reducing the accompanying inflammation these foods cause.

So my reasons?veggies

*I’ll stop suffering from food hangovers. I live to eat and not the other way around, so its time to take this bull by the horns.
*I’ll discover what my triggers are (pleaseohpleaseohplease don’t let it be cheese), so I can carefully pick and choose the moments to eat them.
*I’ll learn a lot about more about food and discover some new flavors (as a cooking instructor, it’s important to always be learning, right?)
*I might lose weight

3 Potential Road Blocks

*If you try this, accept that you will not be fun for the next six weeks. For the first fourteen days especially, the response to remarks like, “oh you can order a salad,” when everyone wants to go out to dinner, will still be, “no, I can’t.” Planning is of the essence.
*The food might be so boring or bland, I might fall instantly and firmly off the wagon.
the-shining*Being deprived may make me feel the need to remodel the bathroom with an axe. This possible outcome is based upon a history of starvation-induced offenses, leading Fiancé to mandate that I NEVER be allowed to do anything requiring actual fasting.

Reasons to Stay Tuned

*I’m a real person, so I’m likely to mess this up from time to time, in ways that might even be humorous. Plus I hate rules remember, so I may even cheat out of spite, and then you’ll know whether or not it works for real people, or whether you have to be a hyper-focused zen master in discipline in order to reap the benefits.
*I believe there are delicious realms to be discovered my friends, and I intend to send all that lusciousness your way.

Meantime, check out my slightly less than successful first days of the Elimination Diet below.

Day 1: Put off diet for an additional week and ate half a pound of cheese. And leftover Easter candy. This is going to be hard.

Day 1 (again):

All delicious things, no?

All delicious things, no?

Green smoothies ONLY for two, very long days. Green, meaning chalk full of vegetables, the flavor of which is only slightly masked by the meager handful of fruit the recipe calls for.

Discovered I hate smoothies. Not even just the veggie kind—I don’t really even like fruit smoothies. It’s a texture thing, apparently. Felt hungry and tired all day long. My stomach cramped and I lay on the couch and whimpered to evoke sympathy from Fiancé.

I cheated repeatedly to entice myself to drink down 2 blenders-full a day. A dried apricot as a reward. A gluten-free zucchini cracker to provide an alternative to the salsa-esque consistency that had been in my mouth all day long. A bowl of smashed warm raspberries (what the what?) because they didn’t taste like kale and were well, warm.

I also had a headache all day long. I never get headaches. I thought I was going to feel like superwoman, not like I’d been poisoned.

This cleanse sucks.*

Looks better than it tastes.

Looks better than it tastes.

*Spoiler Alert

This post is finally going live after I’ve actually been doing the diet for a few weeks. It’s worth muddling through the tough days at the beginning–I promise! Furthermore, upon researching my first few days of “symptoms,” everything I experienced is a common effect of a detox (which is why I do the research after, not before, so that I don’t have a chance to talk myself out of things).

I just wish I had had a cheerleader to tell me this stuff during the first few days, rather than a bunch of health-nymphs hopped up on wheat grass fluttering about saying things like “green smoothies are delicious and energizing! I could drink them all day,” and “here are 1 billion invigorating recipes!” when all they really are is kale and a bunch of other good-sounding things that are, in fact, not good because all you taste is kale. Blech.

Ever tried one of these programs yourself? How’d you get through it? I’d love to hear your tips and war stories.

(Top photo by Berke)
(Second photo by MomLogic)
(Third photo by 98.3 Fly FM)
(Bottom photos by yours truly)

End of the World Cake

Unarguably on the menu at my final meal

Unarguably on the menu at my final meal

Once I was invited to an End of the World Party. Guests were encouraged to partake in whatever sorts of activities they’d want to spend their last hours on earth doing. I showed up with ingredients for four different recipes, a bottle of good champagne, and some great tequila. To me, these “last hours on earth” were all about indulging in the finest food and spirits. For others at the party, like Kenneth* who wore nothing but a speedo and red high heels, they were about (cough) something else.

Oddly enough, someone at the party accused me of using cooking as a way to resist “connecting” with others. I wanted to hold his face in my hands and look into his glitter-lined eyes and say, “Oh sweetie, don’t you realize that a chef is never lonely?” A kitchen can be the size of a kleenex box and if something delicious is happening, everyone will be standing in it.

But maybe he was calling me out on something: Food mattered more to me than the dance party or the guided meditation slash jam session with well meaning strangers–and it was evident to others. I spent only a very modest amount of time worrying about it, however, because the celebration I had with myself, Don Julio and this cake was all I needed to sail into eternity with a smile. Stay tuned for gluten-free and healthified variations.

Almond Soufflé Cake with Lemon Curd and Berries
Adapted from Cooking Light (click here for nutritional info)

2 Tbsp. grapeseed oil
2 tsp. matzo cake meal (I use finely ground matzo meal since I’ve never found matzo “cake” meal. It works like a charm. Or sub almond meal, available at Trader Joes, very finely ground)
4 large eggs, yolks and whites separated
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup matzo cake meal
1 1/2 tsp. water
1/2 tsp. lemon zest
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup almonds, coarsely ground
1 cup lemon curd, see below
2 cups of your favorite berries (why not try raspberry, blackberry and blueberries mixed?)

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350°.

Grease a 9-inch springform pan by rubbing with a paper towel dipped in grapeseed oil. Dust pan with 2 teaspoons matzo cake meal.

Place the egg yolks in a large bowl, and beat with a mixer at high speed for 2 minutes. Gradually add 1 cup sugar, beating until thick and pale (about 1 minute). Add 1/4 cup matzo cake meal, water, lemon zest, fresh lemon juice, and salt; beat just until blended. Fold in the almonds.

Place egg whites in a large bowl. Using clean, dry beaters, beat egg whites with a mixer at high speed until stiff peaks form. Gently stir one-fourth of egg whites into egg yolk mixture; fold in remaining egg whites. Spoon batter into prepared pan.

Bake at 350° for 35 minutes or until golden brown and set. Cool for 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack. Run a knife around edge of cake. Remove cake from pan. Cool completely. (Cake will sink in center as it cools.) Spread 1 cup Lemon Curd in center of cake, and top with berries. Cut cake into wedges using a serrated knife.

Serve right away, as this cake is delicious fresh, but gets too moist from the curd when it sits for a long time.

Lemon Curd:
(makes 2 cups, leftovers will keep for a week in the fridge)

1/2 cup sugar
3 large eggs
2 Tbsp. grated lemon rind
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preparation

Place sugar and eggs in a medium bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until blended.
Gradually beat in rind and juice. Spoon mixture into a heavy-duty saucepan over medium heat.
Add butter to pan; cook 5 minutes or until thick, stirring constantly (do not boil). Spoon
mixture into a bowl. Cover surface with plastic wrap. Chill thoroughly.

*Names have been changed to protect the wicked and the naughty.

Cranberry-Jalapeño Relish

For those who crave the cranberry tang on their holiday table but loathe the jiggle of Ocean Spray, this recipe is for you. It’s nice to have some healthy crunch in a sea of roasted, mashed, steamed and smashed, and spoonfuls of this on top of gooey slathers of baked Brie just might bring tears to your eyes. I often find myself sitting down with the leftovers and eating straight out of the Tupperware, something I heartily encourage you try!

As much as I’d like to lay claim to this recipe, my dear friend Teri brought it into the fold, so I get to call “mine” only because I make it year-round (and sometimes dream about it at night).

Add some fresh and zingy to your meal a'plenty

Add some fresh and zingy to your meal a’plenty

2 cups fresh or thawed frozen cranberries (fresh are simply marvelous!)
1/4 cup finely chopped sweet onion
1 large fresh jalapeño chile, seeded and finely chopped (I use serranos—I like it spicy)
Zest of 2 oranges
2 blood or navel oranges, peel and pith removed, flesh separated into segments, juice reserved
2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
3 tsp. minced fresh ginger
1/4 cup, plus 1 Tbsp. sugar

2 celery stalks, cut into 1/4 inch dice
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped

Full of tummy soothing ginger

Full of tummy soothing ginger

Preparation:

Pulse cranberries in a food processor until coarsely chopped. Transfer to a bowl. Stir in zest, onion, jalapeño, orange sections and juice, lime juice, ginger, sugar, and celery. Refrigerate 1 hour (up to 2 days). Before serving, stir in mint, cilantro and pecans.

Enjoy a flavor circus in your mouth!

 

What foods simply have to be a part of the holiday spread in your home?

Wine and Truffles: An Affair to Remember

Recently the boyfriend celebrated his 40th birthday, and his boss gave him a bottle of Cakebread Merlot and a box of Lindor chocolate truffles, with the strictest instructions to share them with me. I love his boss!

So we’re sitting on the couch soaking in the atmosphere of our new apartment, and it just seems like the right time to celebrate. I’ve never tried the Cakebread Merlot, but at around $50 a bottle (I looked it up, nosy thing), I know we’re in for a treat.  We decant it for 30 minutes to let the fruit and roasted herb aromas develop. We are very serious.

Lindor truffles come in dark, milk, and white chocolate and have a ganache center the consistency of butter. I’m not a big “chocolate-on-top-of-chocolate-decadence” girl (who would be, after working in a shop during college that sold every possible variant of the stuff), but these little babies are showstoppers. I’ve long since outgrown the over-sweet taste of most white chocolate but for some reason, white Lindor truffles hold the key to my heart. Basically, they defy everything I feel about the confection; about its decadence and tooth-pain inducing sweetness. And the buttery quality of the ganache gives such a silky mouth feel that it perfectly complements the velvety texture of the wine.

A tiny, creamy bite. A ripe, berry-filled sip.

The chocolate marries with the jammy flavor of the merlot, full of punchy plum and cherry notes, evoking Black Forest cake. Boyfriend compares the softness on the palate to sucking on a silk tie. It is marvelously balanced; there is just enough tannin to leave my palate cleansed and ready to taste all the nuances of flavor in the next sip and each one after that. Is that toasted oak that I detect?

Now this is certainly not the first time I have consumed chocolate and wine together. But it is the first time someone has given the combination to me (or Boyfriend) as a gift. Accompanied by the instruction to share this experience with someone awesome. Making this more than just a gift of wine and candy—making this a gift of time.  Making it a memory. A moment in my crazy life to stop and smell the roses. And plums. And cherries. And oak.