Saturday, March 7, 2009

the dinner files, jan-feb

my job has been sucking my lifeforce since the beginning of the year, and ridding me of all motivation in my day to day life. a list of things i've ceased doing include, but are not limited to: blogging, being nice to people, making friends, sleeping well and finding joy in life. this, of course, needs to stop. i mean, there are seriously at least 50 amazing dinners i have failed to share. here's a brief catch-up:

ultimate vegan mac and cheese. they all say it, but i win. my recipe takes every ingredient ever used in a vegan mac and cheese - cashews, nutritional yeast, soymilk, potatoes, you name it. and it's perfect.

some lavash wraps w made, with marinated/fried tofu & homemade caesar. he has a knack for recreating our favorite restaurant dishes in a way that deems said restaurants completely unneccesary. this one ruined pure luck for us.

mediterranean pizza night! sounds fun, right? i had a loooong work day and was being a real bitch. w knows that the only thing to do in this situation is to make pita pizzas. then popcorn.

asian dumplings, obviously w's creation. some sort of tvp/cabbage filling with wonton wrappers in a sour broth. i also ate the mushrooms, which is a barometer for the overall success of a meal. if you can disguise the taste AND texture of a mushroom to the point where i will eat it, you've done some serious food science.

tofu henge. our favorite midnight snack is buffalo tofu (bufftoes) with celery and homemade ranch. this is the one and only thing that i consistently make better than his majesty. the presentation, however, was all him. this snack always reminds me of my friend kk, who used to work at a pizza joint that was frequented by one of our favorite cavs players, z. ilgauskas. he ordered the "buffalo toes," and drank like 15 sprites.

homemade "feta" revisited, this time in stuffed tomatoes.

beautiful valentines calla lillies. and beer.



Saturday, February 7, 2009

amuse bouche

on my first trip to the LA library, i spent about 45 minutes trying to find the cookbooks. 6 floors?! apparently, cooking is filed under "science and history." i guess that makes sense. every book i had planned to look for was already checked out, so i reached a little - after all, there are entire books devoted to garlic, to stone fruits, to booze.

i like to read cookbooks like storybooks. i like to hear the author as a writer, as a personality, i read them cover to cover. as previously stated, i'm no chef - more an appreciator of food!

w was so sweet to gift me a copy of the produce bible by leanne kitchen, my favorite of the library's offerings. can i tell you how much i love this book? the bitch breaks down every fruit, vegetable, nut and herb known to woman. divided by type, she explains how to source, choose, store, compliment and prepare all of the classics, along with every oblong green spotted thing at the bodega that's never labeled but's always 2 for $1. plus, she includes a brief history for each item. seasonality, nutrition information and the fruit/veg/nut/herbs history is also addressed.

i do have one criticism of the book, and this isn't veganaziism: some of the recipes she included stray too far from the star ingredient. it makes sense to include spaghetti with arugula and chili in the arugula section - the arugula shines, is complimented. bacon breakfast muffins, however, are not the best use of shallots. seriously, do you know how much better one could honor the shallot?

while the recipes are not particularly useful to me, the wealth of other information in the book makes it one of my favorites.

consider endive. have you ever braised or fried these babies?

and the humble potato. i've made homemade pierogies before, but never thought to accent them with various mustards, lemon and dill.

other cookbooks were never able to make me actually prepare squash. when i read their history, i simply had to eat one.

besides, ain't vegetables pretty? no need to over cook, over season, over think.

just amuse your mouth . . .


Saturday, January 17, 2009

sensory memory

there's really nothing like narrowly avoiding catastrophe to make you start to enjoy the little things in life. take, for example, grilled plantains with a squirt of lime. i was in the mood for dessert last night, which is rare for me. w, his mouth feeling a bit better, had cooked up a melange of semi-firm foods, including spicy black bean burgers, roasted beets and baby chickpea cutlets with some inventive sauces.

fried 'nanas was a delicacy i often enjoyed back home during the summer months at one of my favorite restaurants, johnny mango. cleveland weather is truly volatile, and i savored those 40 HOT days a year i could meet my friends on their patio and split a pitcher of margaritas. johnny mango was my favorite place to be. though my midwest sensibilities attributed this to the booze and plantains, i realize now that i loved this place because of the time spent there with friends. i've been missing my home base friends a lot lately, and that snack actually made me feel tequila-drunk on the memories.

i'm happy to be enjoying 350-some days of perfect weather a year, but margaritas will never taste the same.

Friday, January 9, 2009

the new year soup

a happy new year, it was not. in fact, it was the scariest day of my life.

w was hit by a (presumably) drunk driver while riding his bike home from work on new years eve. he doesn't remember being hit, he doesn't remember getting home. he doesn't remember big chunks of the following day in the er. the amount of blood was incredible.

he's home now, back at work tonight in fact. broken nose, fucked up hand and leg, scary-level concussion. scary scary scary. every night, i wake up ten times, hover my hand over his mouth or on his chest, just making sure...

the past week, i've been completely overwhelmed with love and admiration for this person. we're so close, and imagining my life without him is impossible.

after the first couple days, he was ready to cook. it had to be something soft - his palate and teeth still ached. this is the first lentil soup that ever brought me to tears:

watching him chop up the vegetables, stir, season. watching this precious man, who i feared i could lose only days before, i could only cry.

i am so thankful, and i know that this year is going to be special, every single day of it.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Winter Break

sometimes, i'm totally into holidays. i have a pretty excellent family, so growing up, they were always a good time. since leaving everybody, though, religious (which i am not) holidays such as christmas seem particularly irrelevant.

so as you can imagine, i was psyched to go pick my mom and brother up at LAX on christmas morning. they stayed for 5 days, and we had a truly excellent time. gifts were exchanged, local landmarks were visited, pictures were taken, beer was drunk, wii was played, and best of all, food was everywhere. i was having too good of a time to photograph any of the restaurant food, but i did manage to get some of the home-cooked ones.

there were three major culinary experiences over the last five days.

the first occurred christmas night, when we had dinner reservations at the shojin in little tokyo. i've read a lot about this place, and when i heard they were having an 8-course dinner special, i reserved a table for 4. being from cleveland, the family made all of the obligatory a christmas story jokes about eating christmas dinner at an asian restaurant. but in this case, no ducks were harmed! the meal was amazing. we ordered two set menus, a shitload of appetizers and couple entrees, and shared everything. i know it's like torture to not have pictures, but here was the menu:
  • french onion soup. sounds basic, right? anything but. this soup was amazing, and topped with a sexy little crouton and vegan mozz.
  • kobocha pumpkin croquette. this thing was tiny, and awesome.
  • cabbage roll. they floated this is a shallow bowl of broth, also very good.
  • christmas salad. probably my favorite course. all kinds of nuts and fruits in a spinach salad. i typically hate fruity dressings, but the bright red raspberry stuff on this salad was great. we also ordered a chef-style salad off the regular menu, which i could have eaten a bathtub full of.
  • seitan stroganov w/ brown rice. it was tomato based, which was unexpected, but you guessed it - freakin good. we ordered three other seitan dishes, one barbequed, one breaded and fried, and one with yuzu and radish sprouts.
  • dessert & coffee. brace yourself: we were presented with the cutest arrangement of baby desserts - little truffles, one rolled in cocoa and the other in pistachios, a baby slice of pecan pie, and pumpkin cheesecake.

for those of you who live in/near la and have the chance, please, go support this restaurant. the food is inventive and delicious, the service was impeccable, and the price was beyond fair. when we left, we were shown out by the chef and our server, and given a 'thank you for coming on christmas' gift. how did the know we wanted a copy of "shojin music: selections by ken" wrapped in pink ribbon? that truly was the icing on the cake. inside the cd case was another profuse thank you from the restaurant. best holiday dinner ever.

the second great food-related activity was taking them grocery shopping. sounds like the type of thing you should get out of the way before company arrives, no? but i knew that my brother would like seeing all of the ethnic specialties that do not exist in his neck of the woods (cincinnati) and my mom would be blown away by the low low cost of produce. seriously, though, tons of fun. w and i stocked up on the usuals, while the guests picked up some special snacks (three kinds of gardeniera?!)

the foodie trifecta of xmas 2k8 was completed by w, who, recognizing that we were too busy playing wii to go out for dinner, cooked up the worlds most delicious small plates and let us go crazy. the tapas party included a fun mix of all the stuff we had procured at the markets that day:
  • warm olives and pepperoncinis
  • foul medammas with pickled turnips, flat parsley and pita
  • roasted brussels sprouts
  • stuffed mushrooms*
  • loubie. loobie? not sure how to spell it. you know, garlic, tomatoes & green beans, lebanese style. served with baguette

*i have been on a loooong, unsuccessful journey to mushroom enjoyment for years. i want to like them, but i can't. i ate five of these mushrooms, and loved them.

not to be outdone, i woke up early the next morning and made a big breakfast. supremed grapefruit (thanks top chef!) fronch toast (thanks VWAV!) oatmizzle with sliced almonds and currants, and fried potatoes. what really makes breakfast for me, though, is breakfast condiments. blueberry syrup, earth balance, hot sauce, ketchup, & crappy old aunt jemima.

it was awesome watching my family eat and enjoy vegan food all weekend. they're adventurous eaters, and will try just about anything. they each said on separate occasions, "i could easily be vegan if i had access to all of these markets/restaurants/recipes." baby steps, family, baby steps. if nothing else, putting two people back out into the world with a little more compassion for animals and the people who don't eat them is a good thing.

for christmas, little bro and i promised to spend >$20 on each other - it was agreed that i would get him something CA-centric, and he would bring something to remind me of home. i thought the above t shirt was funny. he had the following painting 'comissioned' for me, by his friend tyler. he totally won.

l o v e i t

Monday, December 22, 2008

the dinner files, 12/21

as you will come to know, i am incredibly spoiled when it comes to food. between four and six nights a week, i come home to a beautiful homemade meal, prepared with love by my sweetie, w. after 6 years of such nonsense, i have never waned in my appreciation of this gesture. he enjoys being in the kitchen, and everything he makes is nothing short of awesome. i like to watch him go at it, and have always annoyed him by taking pictures to document his meals. i love reading vegan food blogs, and have always thought that if he wrote one, it would be my favorite. in the dinner files, i'd like to share pictures of his processes and finished products, along with the tips and explanations that he gives me, a relative idiot in the kitchen.

so last night! hoo boy. we've spent the last weeks combing our new city for a suitable asian market. we found a few we like, but the standout was mitsuwa market in the little tokyo shopping center. cheap produce, 50billion kinds of miso and the sweet black hair dye i haven't been able to find since i lived in cleveland. the great feast of 12/21 was courtesy of such finds (minus the hair dye.)

mr. w makes a mean stock a couple times a month, which is then used for quick lunch soups and batches of seitan. the seitan makes it into a number of meals, and this one was a crowd pleaser.

first, he floured the seitan squares up. he brushed one side with a vegan worchestershire we found at a mexican supermarket - the other side was melted earth balance. the squares were then breaded in panko crumbs and fried.

the seitan was served on a puddle of roasted red peppers puree, plain israeli couscous, and a balsamic chili jelly. it's touches like the jelly that crack me up - gourmet and special, but so fun and easy too! he basically reduced the vinegar and chili powder with agar, chilled it in the pot, and sliced it up, rather than just splashing it in with the rrp puree. it was fun to cut it up with each bite.

to boot, the dinner was served with the best greek style salad ever: cut up cukes, tomatoes, olives, parsley, & green onions. he had been experimenting with a faux feta, and i must say, succeeded. some whizzed tofu, more agar, lemon and spices. we both typically prefer to eat vegan food that does not resemble 'regular' foods that make us gag, but this 'feta' was perfect - it created the creamy, lumpy, salty salad-eating sensation that had long since been forgotten.

so there ya go, first installment of the dinner files! i kid you not, i am presented with a dinner like this most nights. thanks w!


Saturday, December 20, 2008


what happened to last year? all kinds of interesting shit happened, that's what, and i have no cohesive record of it. i hear 2009 is the year of the blog...

for my own enjoyment, i've recapped 2008 from digital camera scraps.

words to live by. cleveland is cold! don't snivel, move to arizona. (sounded like a good idea at the time.)

the day the babies showed up! we moved into a house with a bunch of stray lady cats. they all got fat, disappeared for a few days, and came back with kittens. the next few months of my life were dominated by the placement of said kittens. spay & neuter, people.

first house = first garden! nothing turned out super well, but the experience was awesome. i spent more time tending to the existing bamboo, as it is nearly impossible to kill.

moving was fun! let's do it again. this time, to CA.

of course i adopted one of the AZ kittens. and zingzang ('zingy the pinhead', affectionately) makes 8...

went home to see my favorite cousin, eric, get married off. another one bites the dust.

there have been quite a few of these nights since we arrived in los angeles. not because it's a crazy party city so much as because i haven't really made any friends. thanks for always being there, st. pauli girl XOXO

around noon the day before thanksgiving, i decided instantaneously and firmly that i needed a proper thanksgiving dinner. nostalgia, you know? the remainder of the day was spent procuring ingredients. we woke up around noon, cooked for 8 hours, and enjoyed a vegan FEAST. good call, d. good call.

so today, a coworker gave me a delightfully random xmas present. he claimed he was jumped by a jolly fellow in red velvet on the bus this morning, and was instructed to deliver these gifts. my associate ozzie was given a tomahawk crafted from fake bone and agate. when the laughing ceased, i unwrapped my copy of "days to remember: a journal of lifetime events," allegedly rescued from the giver's basement or junk drawer. meant as a sweet/funny gesture, this gift actually rocked. it's a blank book, with one page for every day of the year. the idea is to use it for many years, noting significant events or just observations. so the december 21st page's first entry will be, "received this book from jc. started weblog."

my daily life is actually pretty excellent, and i'd like to start keeping a record of that.


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