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Say Cheese

6 Dec

Cheese-zilla

Perhaps the best thing about doing a lot of vegetarian home-cooking is feeling less guilty about smothering everything in cheese.

Everyone has their condiment of choice growing up. Maybe you slathered dreaded green things on your plate with ketchup or mustard? I buried everything in a layer of grated Parmesan. That being said, you can understand the tragedy of living most of my adult life devoid of good pizza. Cheese and bread-lovers, Florida isn’t really a pizza pride type of place (with the exception of some nice work being done on South Beach) and when you move to L.A. they have this nonsense they call “California” pizza. Which means, of course, NOT real pizza. I’m not into nouveau toppings… so keep the caramelized, stuffed whatever whatever to yourself. (One exception–the fried egg pizza at Cube–how I love thee.)

After a particularly long and trying day looking at apartments we couldn’t afford, my boyfriend and I found ourselves in Palo Alto looking for something to eat. We had an assortment of healthy choices (probably lots of “California pizzas”), all packed with hungry patrons. Then, we passed by some serious pizza heaven. This pie looked like it weighed as much as a bulldog . It sat on it’s own elevated serving dish. And as it was sliced, strings of cheese and toppings cascaded from the knife.

“Here. We’re eating here.”

Abandon your diet at the door, folks. In fact, wear your Stanford sweatpants, and get some serious deep dish at Patxi’s. I promise I’ll still try Zachary’s, everyone, but I had to share this stomach-stuffing experience. There are salads on the menu, though I don’t know who comes to a pizza joint looking for a salad, but the interesting thing is that Patxi’s menu is full of sustainably-raised toppings and options for the dietarily-restricted. While the crusts range from thin to double-deep, the choice is obvious, no one in the restaurant is nibbling thin crust.  A double deep takes about 40 minutes to cook but you can call ahead and pick one up half baked to finish at home. And when the server tells you your pie will feed two or three people, he/she means two or three HUNGRY people or perhaps four ordinary people.

From where my boyfriend and I were seated, we could see a line of honey in bear-shaped containers and before I could point out the absence of dessert (not surprising at a pizza place) our waiter suggested we try some honey on the crispy ends of crust. The result is reminiscent of a graham cracker. Yum.

A worthy pie. In California no less.

"After"

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Reality Bites

24 Oct

photo: lenngrayes via Flickr

A few weeks ago, I watched the season finale of a “food show.” Two teams driving frantically around Miami in food trucks were competing for a grand prize. Very little cooking was shown, but quite a bit of bitching and drama.

Now I’m struggling not to roll my eyes as I zone out to a team of pastry chefs tasked with making a massive cake that depicts a monster truck (a losing battle for both eyes and cake). And last night I fell asleep in front of an ego-crazed New York chef who had to cook appetizers with rainbow fruit candy in order to win 10 grand. I think it’s safe to acknowledge that any food show with the words “extreme” or “war” in the title are not truly worth watching. Is it only offensive to me when a loud twenty-something from Jersey in a magenta tutu apron declares “war” with cupcakes? Yet, “Cupcake Wars” and “Halloween Wars” (Team Bling Bats vs. Team Boo) practically play in a loop on Food Network. Yes, I’m talking about a show where  people bake ingredients like parsley into 1,000 cupcakes to win cash. This followed by a show where chefs compete to be declared a “Sweet Genius” buy creating desserts with surprise ingredients (like squid ink) that arrive on a robotic conveyor belt. (Have I made my point yet?) Reality TV in general is bad enough already, and I don’t know who sat in the focus groups for “Extreme Chef” but honestly no one wants to watch people cook in a simulated wind storm while hurling insults. Well, not anyone I know.

Remember when cooking shows taught people how to cook something? Gave you a few new recipes? I need to figure out what to cook for dinner, what to do with that leftover produce or which wine to serve with an entree. I will never need to know how to cook Skittles into appetizers.

Fortunately, you don’t need to rely on food television for recipes and you don’t  need to go out and buy a collection of cookbooks written by celebrity chefs.  The internet is an expansive resource when it comes to recipe hunting.

Some of my favorite stops for online recipe hunting are Tasting Table, Chow and Serious Eats. Other sites like Gojee and Allrecipes let you search by ingredient. Gojee even lets you add ingredients you don’t want to your search. If you’re in the mood for veg food, as I often am, Fresh365 allows you to search by season or category. Countless recipe blogs await you online.

And if all else fails, call your mother.

Hip(pie) to it

30 Aug

Edible Schoolyard

It takes time to know a city and get hip to its food culture. Six years in Los Angeles still left plenty of unopened menus and undiscovered markets. I only know a few things about the East Bay.

One is that Chez Panisse happens to be located in Berkeley. Another is that Berkeley is full of hippies.

So when I heard Chez Panisse was celebrating its 40th with a free event at the Berkeley Art Museum with food and exhibits, I had a basic idea of what to expect and promptly informed my boyfriend that we would be making the trip. The event didn’t disappoint. And neither did the weather, which was seemingly untouched by the usual San Fran fog.

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One of These Things is not Like the Other

22 Apr

photo: Brandon Bloch

Yoga people.

They know how to ‘om.’  They carry their yoga mats everywhere — in case a yoga opportunity arises. They go on retreats just to yoga-fy, and their family members outside of Los Angeles probably just call them hippies. And don’t get defensive, I’m one of them too (but I’d just as soon sing bad karaoke then om, sorry guys).

Generally speaking, I think yogis are a group of people very much in tune with mind, body and planet. They know how to be calm, still and relaxed, even with a leg stuck behind their head.  Know this: I’ve seen some strange things go on during yoga classes… sweaty, tattooed instructors ending classes by playing instruments ranging from wooden horns to accordions to triangles (more cowbell, please). Breathing exercises that involve sticking your tongue out and huffing and puffing like a panting dog… I’ve been told that massaging your jaw with your knuckle may cause hallucinations — that is, if one holds stress in their jaw. I’ve even been instructed to lay on my back and write positive things on the ceiling with my toes. And as silly as I thought all of that was, there’s something I see that’s much sillier. And that’s people toting in plastic bottled water to class…sometimes when there’s even a water fountain in the yoga room.

Is it possible that a group of people who advocate for maximum health of body and planet don’t realize how bad bottled water is for the Earth’s uh…zen?

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Don’t Get Fresh(er) With Me

25 Feb

There’s nothing quite like being reminded of why you should take your own advice more often. The advice in question (today anyway) is always read the ingredient label-even if it seems like a food that should need no additives. It’s embarrassing the amount of times I’ve grabbed something at the grocery store that looked healthy (or even the farmers’ market once) only to turn it around at home and find it containing all kinds of things that I can’t pronounce. It doesn’t take someone nearly as well versed in food politics as I’ve become to realize that crap you can’t pronounce shouldn’t be in your food.

However, I’ve noticed lately the attempts of processed food producers to make their food seem healthier have reached a newly humorous level. Case in point, I was running through Trader Joe’s the other day. We all know a quick trip to Trader Joe’s is impossible, right? Between the tiny aisles and the requisite useless parking lot… I can easily spend an eternity in Trader Joe’s just searching for produce or meat from this country (no easy task, if you’ve never looked). The employees must get sick of asking me if they can help me find something (yes, your purchasing manager, please). I grabbed some odds and ends and chips and hummus and was finally on my way.  But when I dug into the hummus at home, I truly had to laugh. You may be used to seeing random additives in your food, but are you used to now seeing them justified on the packaging? Behold:

“Cultured dextrose (for added freshness).” I’m sorry, what? I need something to “add freshness” to my hummus? As far as I know, you can’t add freshness. And check out what’s right above it: “No artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.” OK, so what is cultured dextrose if not one of the above, a natural preservative perhaps?  Looks like I’ll be making my own hummus from here on out (Do you think it will work in a blender? Chunky-style? No?).

whitneyinchicago via Flickr

Just this weekend I was walking down the cereal aisle at the grocery store and literally walked by a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch proclaiming in huge letters that General Mills cereals (like said cinnamon one) are America’s greatest source of whole grain. (Got another doozy for me? Please share in the comments and I’ll post on Twitter.) I had to scoff, um, could this be why we have such an issue with childhood obesity? What’s not funny is that most American’s don’t see the irony in that box advertisement. What they see is a trusted company (General Mills) telling them that this stuff isn’t bad for their kids. If this isn’t a call for the FDA to regulate and standardize front of box advertising then I don’t know what is. Now, I’m not saying that Cinnamon Toast Crunch should be banned (in fact, I’m not even saying that it isn’t tasty) but there’s no way it should be misleadingly marketed as health food. But it’s great PR for General Mills.

Which brings me to Walmart, and their famous negotiations with the First Lady, that led the giant to make its processed foods more healthful. Again, great PR for Walmart, but no real change for our food system.

Come on Obamas, what we need is actual food system and safety reform, not more people buying minorly less bad-for-you junk food from the biggest of big box stores. While I absolutely applaud the First Lady for taking on the issue of childhood obesity, this is no way to solve it. While planting an organic White House garden sent a very admirable message, it was certainly undermined by the fact that the President seems to be completely pushing forward a genetically modified agenda, organic be damned.

How about some fresh ideas, Washington? Or is cultured dextrose your answer?

It’s Protein!

5 Jan

We’ve all had that moment as a kid: the accidental bug ingestion. The ant in a peanut butter sandwich left momentarily unattended at recess, a fruit fly drowned in a soda or some questionable dirt colored smush on a rescued Popsicle. (Five second rule is really not always a good metric to go by…)

Then there’s another moment we all had as kids: the moment we had to tell Mom something bad–while she was at work. You know…you forgot the project she reminded you not to forget, you missed the bus after she woke you up early, you got sent to the office…and even though you didn’t do anything wrong, you swear, the phone-call-to-mom-at-work was scarier than death.

 Photo: Rein Rache via Flickr

And it still is as an adult.

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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.