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Trash Trucks, Food Trucks and Beer

15 Sep

We all know I don’t miss the opportunity to eat food out of a truck, especially when it’s for a good cause.

Have you ever heard of Coastal Cleanup Day?

photo courtesy of Heal the Bay

Coastal Cleanup Day is one of the largest volunteer efforts on the planet. On the 25th of this month, from 9am-noon, volunteers all over the globe will be cleaning up coastlines, inland waterways, parks and neighborhoods and you can get involved in L.A.

Last year, in Los Angeles alone, more than 14,000 volunteers lent a hand picking up plastic bags, bottle caps, coffee cups, drinking straws and other remnants of our disposable food culture (you do know you can bring your own travel mug to Starbucks, right?) Truth be told, the most ubiquitous piece of garbage is the cigarette butt. Last year, 300,413 pounds of debris were cleaned up and hauled away. That’s a staggering amount of garbage. If you need to be hit over the head with the amount of waste we create, consider yourself beaned.

After you’ve worked up an appetite cleaning up and feeling good about yourself, head over to The Beach Gives Back-A Food Truck Festival for Heal the Bay. The festival is located at Latitude 33 and 10% of the proceeds from food truck sales and donations taken at the festival go to Heal the Bay, who runs the show for Coastal Cleanup Day in all of L.A. County, and the International Bird Rescue Research Center, who is rehabilitating birds from the massive Gulf spill.

Now, I realize that food trucks are a big culprit when it comes to generating waste-think plastic silverware, drinks in plastic bottles, Styrofoam plates, etc. but each participating vendor involved in this event has been asked to forgo selling bottled water during the festival and water stations will be set up all over the event. You gotta admit, that’s pretty cool. Additionally, each vendor is being asked to bring not just something to hold the trash but, drum roll please, something to hold the recycling. Think every truck should do this every day anyway? I agree. If you catch one without a recycling bin, let them know that you think they are missing something…like maybe your business later on.

And if all that eating makes you thirsty, continue your revelry at the inaugural L.A. Craft Beer Crawl! Cheers to clean oceans, craft brewskies and the fact that, in L.A., you can get dim sum, ice cream and french fries in the same spot.

Common Thread

27 Aug

In the past few posts we’ve covered a lot of ground:

-the high cost of good, fresh, local food versus the high cost of junk food masquerading as good food

-the money we waste on processed supermarket food that we think is healthy and safe, and the waste involved in packaging supermarket and takeout food

-spending three dollars on a dozen eggs (it was actually $3.75 for a half dozen at Lily’s Egg stand this weekend, to my first point)

The argument to spend more on local, wholesome foods now seems particularly appropriate, given that the recent egg recall has risen now to a half billion eggs and more than a thousand cases of salmonella. While the FDA tries to figure out the cause (could take months, they say), it has become public knowledge that the two farms involved in the recall share ties to a supplier who has already had frequent citations for violating state and federal law.

"Boy, do I have egg on my face," the FDA seemed to say...

Are you starting to wonder where the FDA or USDA was? Are you also starting to wonder why your grocery store in California stocks eggs from Iowa?  Or are you wondering how a twenty-something blogger in the non-profit world with car payments manages to eat enough good, fresh, local food to write about it several times a week (I’m currently accepting donations, especially if you bake, by the way)?

So here’s the connection and the conundrum: How does one get a healthy full belly on a budget? Well, here’s my big secret, friends:

My inbox.

Yes, in addition to poorly-typed letters from Mom, Facebook friend requests from people I barely knew in high school and “Boycott Monsanto” petitions from the Organic Consumers Association, my inbox is choc full of covert ways to dine on a dime in the city. So here’s something I’m really good at-spilling the beans. For all my fellow broke foodies out deciding between making that student loan payment on time and resorting to another box of Ramen or being locally well-fed, here is your tool box:

Sign up for email discounts. There are countless mailing lists devoted to restaurant deals in your area. Preferdine and Blackboard Eats are two examples, but many other email discount programs exist. Living Social and Groupon both frequently feature food deals-be it on cooking classes or cocktails. Plus, signing up for other event related, L.A.-oriented emails usually gets you the skinny on upcoming food events, try Daily Candy if you want to hear about fru fru bake shops, try The Rundown if you’d rather hear about beerfest (I will admit-not really a whole lot of great deals out of these two, but good info on great spots). Follow food related people on social networking sites-use Twitter to track your food trucks for example.

Happy hour menu? Check.

Beyond that, here are the no-brainers. Cook at home and bring your lunch. Freeze your leftovers. For some reason the practice of swapping unwanted food came to a halt following elementary school. Sick of your leftover chili? Maybe your co-worker will take them in return for his/her leftover meatloaf. When you go out to eat, take home the leftovers (I can’t believe it when people don’t do this). Also, always ask if there is a happy hour menu before you order.

Cooking-it's not just for the microwave!

Use your resources-find out about eligibility for WIC and their Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. Some farmers’ markets also except EBT cards (and some offer senior citizen discounts too). Check out Network for a Healthy California for other information. Don’t have time to go to a farmers’ market? It doesn’t mean that you’re destined for a drive-thru. Check out some community supported agriculture (CSA) programs and see if they deliver to a location near you.

Pop Culture

17 Aug

Because we’ve been talking about waste recently, I was reminded of a particularly poignant part in Food, Inc in which Joel Salatin from Polyface Farms discusses the true cost of responsibly raised food and how much money we waste on junk food.

Salatin says, “I’ve had people come up at farmers’ markets and say ‘What? Three dollars a dozen for eggs?’ and they’re drinking a .75 can of soda!”

And I always thought to myself: I don’t drink soda, but he makes a good point there. (Please note, Angelinos, I also thought: Three dollars for a dozen farmers’ market eggs? That’s half what I pay!)

Pop quiz, Hot Shot, what's actually in your high-priced novelty soda? Read on.

Thus, it’s been countless times since first seeing the movie in the theater that I’ve stood in front of the Lily’s Eggs stand at various local markets and made a mental catalog of what else I justify spending about three dollars on. A latte with friends. Two songs on iTunes. One third of a cocktail… Continue reading

Street Smarts

30 Jul

It’s summertime and travel plans are on. But working in the non-profit world and writing for free doesn’t afford me much of a budget for jet-setting to overseas dining destinations. And while the recently bygone L.A. Street Food Fest Summer Tasting Event sounded like a foodie’s playground, it was pricier than Beerfest. Well, I found the next best thing. And it doesn’t involve elbowing hipsters out of the way for the last scoop of Coolhaus’s bacon ice cream.

A dinner at Susan Feniger’s STREET on Highland is an experience. If you’ve ever looked at a menu and coveted  everything on it, we’re on the same level here. STREET is all about that feeling you get when you find a new ethnic food truck parked on your block. So how would you feel if all of the parking on your block was occupied by different ethnic food trucks (and a prime spot for your car, of course). Ecstatic? Right. So basically what I’m saying here is bring friends, so that you can fully maximize your menu choices. (Read: eat their food too.)

Behold, gnocci unlike any you've ever tasted!

And since you know me, you know I’m compelled to mention the fact that STREET only serves sustainable seafood and doesn’t serve tuna or salmon at all. They work with organic farms and I even saw some organic beers and wines on the menu (but I went for the honeydew juice, cucumber and vodka and wasn’t sorry). The counters are made from recycled materials and they recycle and compost almost all of their waste. In fact, they even recycle their used cooking oil and use it as a component for the bathroom soap. And that, well, that’s just beyond cool.

I don’t care what Top Chef Masters has to say, the Kaya Toast is not to be missed, my friends.

Roll Out

7 May

I have a confession to make. I’m not a sushi fan.

Yea, I said it. I realize this is one likely reason I am single in Los Angeles (really, you don’t wanna see me with chopsticks).

This is how I roll...

I unfortunately can’t blame my Central Floridian suburban upbringing for this deficiency (though I can for most other things). My high school friends frequently dragged me out to sushi places-even ones we had to drive an hour to get to, only to sigh as they watched me order the veggie roll. Something about raw fish just doesn’t appeal to me. So I tend to limit my sushi roll consumption to the need-a-fast-dinner-from-Von’s moments of my life.

Now, however lacking in sushi knowledge that I am, I’m well aware that sushi from a grocery store obviously isn’t any good. But I know a lot of you eat it for lunch, whether you are willing to admit it or not. I’m interested to know how many of you have read the ingredients. High fructose corn syrup is listed not once but three times on my Von’s California roll. Call me crazy, but I don’t think high fructose corn syrup belongs in there once, let alone several times.

Let me paint a picture for you. Have any of you read “Garlic and Sapphires” by Ruth Reichl? Imagine me as the reluctant friend getting dragged out to the real sushi joint. I haven’t got a clue. So I go with the only acceptable way to turn down a sushi date in L.A.

“Oh no, most sushi is really not sustainable.”

Then I sound educated, edgy and committed to a cause, instead of inept at navigating the menu.

Continue reading

Have Sweet Tooth, Will Travel

30 Apr

I was 26 before I took my first trip outside the US. As (bad) luck would have it, I had the flu for nearly the entire excursion and didn’t get to try any new foods. As (good) luck would have it, L.A.’s vast collection of pocket ethnic neighborhoods more than makes up for my lack of a world-wide travel budget. This is the final post in the “talk desserty to me” series, so savor it.

My first and only international trip was to Israel, and while I didn’t get to try any luchon kugel there (Jewish noodle pudding), I can be sure that none of it would have beaten my mother’s version anyway (recipe below).

Israeli mall spice stand. Show me to the kugel, please.

If you are willing to risk the health of your heart for a good dessert, you ought to try this one. Buying farm-fresh organic eggs and butter from the market makes me feel less guilty (because the recipe calls for five eggs and a whole stick of butter, oh and cream cheese and 1/2 pint sour cream…you get the point). While the recipe uses canned peaches, you could substitute skinned and sliced fresh peaches when they are in season.

If egg noodles and dessert don’t say “match made in heaven” to you (then you haven’t tried it) then just go for some ice cream-with a twist. My first box of mochi was a gift from Mitsuwa, but since then I have become one of those people who know which Trader Joe’s stores carry which flavors. Mochi is basically a Japanese ice cream ball, covered in a chewy, gummy rice layer. Again, if you’re making a face, you haven’t tried it. It’s hand-held ice cream, now that’s genius. Mikawaya in Little Tokyo has a full selection for those of us who stand in the freezer section of TJ’s thinking, “Out of chocolate again?! I guess green tea in that case.” Mikawaya  has an array of mochi made with gelato centers as well. The flavors change but are as intriguing as plum wine or as ordinary as mint chip.

For sheer selection, it’s tough to beat Indian Sweets and Spices for slightly sweet, spicy treats. I just point to something behind the glass and I’m not usually disappointed. Plus, you can pay a visit to the Culver City farmers’ market before dessert, then you’ll feel more like you’ve earned it.

For more slightly spicy, always exotic sweet treats, I head to Tehran Market on Wilshire in Santa Monica. I was first hooked on the saffron rock candy. The rose jams are a little too sweet for even me, but I love the slightly sweet, rich and delicate little chickpea cookies and the gata (sweet bread). And seriously, if you haven’t heard-best fresh hummus in L.A.

Walnut cookies from Tehran Market

Before L.A., I lived in Miami for a few years, where I became acquanted with tres leches cake for the first time. I love soggy deserts so tres leches and I get along famously. I have yet to find the perfect slice of it here so I’ve been nagging various friends for their mom’s recipes. In the mean time, you can find a Kogi chocolate version of tres leches cake at The Alibi Room.

Lastly, if your dessert style leans all American, I again defer to my mom and her candied walnut apple pie. But, as with all my mom’s best desserts, you’ll still be putting the health of your heart on the line. But if you aren’t willing to risk some negative side effects for a good dessert, I question your commitment to the cause.

Ma Chewgooder’s Luchon Kugel

  • 1/2 pound medium egg noodles
  • 3 oz cream cheese
  • 2/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 pound cottage cheese
  • 1 stick butter
  • 5 eggs
  • 1/2 pint sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Can of sliced peaches, drained well

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

-Cook noodles until al dente, drain and set aside.

-Grease a 9×11 inch pan and line bottom with peach slices.

-Whip together all ingredients except noodles.

-Add noodles and mix well.

-Cook for about 50 minutes making sure top doesn’t burn.

Sugar, Honey, Honey

23 Apr

Hello sweet talkers. Welcome to the party.

Welcome to the second ‘cake walk’ posting. I’d like to address the flood of recommendations I have received from you fellow bowl-lickers.

For this post, I want to focus on some great combinations: both classic and strange-but-tasty.

Could there ever be a better pair than peanut butter and jelly?  If you love your PB&J like an eight year old at recess, head over to Bite on Pico in Santa Monica and try their peanut butter and jelly cupcakes, but go early, they are still only open until 3pm on weekends (noon weekdays) as I eagerly await the roll out of their dinner menu. Bite even makes a homemade version of Nutella, and by the way, a late night sweets menu is in the works, so you’ll know where to find me.  I myself was always a PB and banana sandwich kid which led me to this brilliant discovery. My favorite banana cake recipe (from the Silver Palette; recipe below) works just as well with peanut butter frosting as with its assigned cream cheese frosting. If you dig the banana/peanut combination too, head to Buster’s, a South Pasadena hangout, to grab some frozen yogurt. They will mash bananas and peanut butter into the yogurt for you.

Continue reading

Let Me Eat Cake

14 Apr

I’ve always had a sweet tooth. OK, sorry, that’s an understatement. I could eat maple syrup on, well, on nothing, just by itself. And I feel chocolate has a place at any meal. That’s right breakfast, I’m looking at you.

Hands off, kid. This has my name on it.

This is a good place to live when you are open to eclectic tastes and new flavors. A single average mini-mall here can provide you with papusas, lo mien, tamales, gefilte fish and probably some overpriced coffee too.  Just think of the possibilities for dessert that I have yet to discover.  When I asked friends to weigh in on their favorite bakery in L.A. I got a cake-load of responses, and even some heated arguments over whose auntie makes the best cakes (I’m undecided).  So I’m embarking on a new adventure to sample bakeries all over town. (Or your aunt’s, cousin’s or nanna’s baking, if that’s alright with you.)

This sounds much more enjoyable (and more fattening) than my last experiment — a month of veganism. Because you all seem to have strong opinions about your desserts, feel free to send me recommendations if you feel I am leaving out your favorite hidden gem but keep in mind, there’s only so much sugar and butter I can inhale. Oh who am I kidding? Bring on the cake!

PS-Also feel free to donate your personal trainer to help me recover from frosting overload.

Back in the Land of Plenty

10 Apr

There’s nothing quite like a California strawberry fresh from the market. And there’s nothing like not being able to get one to make me realize that.

I’m back in L.A. after a vacation in central Florida. My parents, who live there, have been duly putting forth the extra effort to find locally grown food. Unfortunately,  they aren’t getting much help, or having much luck. Large chain grocery stores are the norm and many people still aren’t aware of the benefits of local or organic food. Thus, the market is slow to catch on. (And lastly, they just don’t grow a juicy, tasty strawberry in Florida like they do in California.) My parents’ search for local food has mostly had to be limited to food grown in-state, but in some cases they still have to settle for “US grown” and call it a day. There is a local farmers’ market, but it’s held during the work day on Thursday, which makes it inaccessible to many people, including my parents.

Food made and grown locally here is easy to come by.

We are lucky to have farmers’ markets nearly daily and a bevy of small and large restaurants serving fresh food grown close to home.

I do like to walk to the farmers’ market on my lunch break. But if I can’t make it there, chances are, I can find a pretty decent roach coach within a few blocks.

Back in roach coach territory

Yum. But while this is way (way) better than grabbing a meal at Micky D’s, this form of fast food isn’t without some of the same pitfalls.

Continue reading

Comfort Food

26 Mar

Ma Chewgooder

Home is where the food is. And for the first time in a long time, I’m heading home to Florida to visit my parents. I’m looking forward to beaches with warm water, people who think it’s appropriate to dress like Jimmy Buffet on a daily basis, my mom’s cooking and of course, seeing my dog. (Oh, and my parents, that goes without saying, right?)

Something I’m not looking forward to? Spending a full day on a plane full of people, while coming down with the dreaded pre-vacation cold. You’d think Mom’s cooking would be the perfect prescription. She always said the best way to get over a cold is with “Jewish Penicillin,” AKA matzo ball soup. But my mom refuses to cook matzo ball soup; she insists her matzo balls, without fail, come out “like hockey pucks.”

So, the search is on for a reputable matzo ball on the Westside, or at least a decent recipe that I can try myself.

Continue reading

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