Wednesday, January 23, 2013


 Hello dear readers! I am happy to announce that this blog site will no longer be my place, but that my new and improved Unorthodox Foodie site now lives at Please come join me over there, enjoy the fun and sign up with your email to receive all of my posts!

Here's to a new world of food adventures in 2013!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Art Riddled Day at the Fango Mango

Back in my hometown yesterday, I received a special invitation from one of my favorite friend families to come and join them for an afternoon of art making and food. Now this is no ordinary trio. Leslie, one of my closest friends who has that uncanny ability to make me feel and act twelve again whenever I am around her, is the brilliant mastermind behind Tea With Iris. Her company, inspired by her pet turtle Iris, is all about taking life slow and reusing materials and upcycling fabrics to make clothes, house wares, jewelry, purses and a variety of other DIY-chic groovy things in her back yard studio that faces a desert garden full of herbs and greens. Her husband Tim, also equipped with a lovely Peter Pan-esque joie de vivre, is a noted artist whose conceptual pieces in bronze and other fabricated materials evoke an utter love and passion for life and constant reflection. Their daughter Elle is a hipster in slippers, already knowledgeable about farming her own food and inspired by cooking and painting. As a matter of fact, a tray of Meyer lemon peels fresh from drying in the oven, sat cooling on a counter when I arrived as Elle explained that she had been juicing tons of freshly plucked fruit just the day before. Nothing goes to waste in this household.

She also told me that her kitchen restaurant called Fango Mango was now open, and with apron on and order-taking pad in hand, asked what she could do for me. I handed over a bag of Satsuma tangerines and a voluptuous butternut squash from the Cute Gardener’s back yard and said, “Let’s make something!”

To take advantage of the crisp and cold arid desert climes underneath a lemon yellow sun in the backyard, we decided to make the meal simple and healthy, as pre-fuel for an afternoon of painting. We split the squash in two lengthwise and roasted it in a 400-degree oven for about 40 minutes until it blistered and the skin peeled naturally off. Then we put the flesh into a blender and poured in a cup of heavy cream and stripped five sprigs of fresh thyme into the mix before pureeing the soup. A thin baguette was heated in the oven and then quartered for dipping into the soup. Elle made a nice plate of mango and avocado, peppery salad dotted with tiny slivers of cucumber to accompany our meal. Some red wine for the adults topped off the outdoor lunch as I recalled how much I loved looking at the Santa Rosa Mountains in the middle of a bright winter day.

Afterwards, we each got to work on one of our own art projects while Big Audio Dynamite Pandora spun on the laptop. Leslie worked on a new series of coasters for her company made out of vintage book illustrations, used CDs and felt. I worked on a small still life painting on cardboard for a large, overall art piece in progress. Tim worked on two sculptural wall pieces, which will be going into a restaurant in Laguna Beach. And Elle painted small labels for her mother’s beet plants in the garden.

At the end of the day, to work off the creamy soup and clear our heads from the wine, Leslie and I rode old-fashioned bicycles up the mountain near her home. Thigh burn and giggles were the perfect way to end a whimsical day of creativity and play.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Good Bye Caffeine Jitters and Hello Comfort and Joy

I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions: they are a resolute way of making one feel bad about one’s self because they set us up for failure. Picking one day to suddenly change something, usually negative, in one’s life is like expecting to wave a magic wand to make a wish come true. A true transformative change occurs when an intention is set and given enough mental energy to bring a person’s behavioral patterns slowly up and over a new horizon. It takes concentration, planning and a crescendo of momentum to build.

My intentions for 2013 were to become more mindful in my every moment, to stay completely conscious in the present, and to nurture only authentic connections in my life. Why? Because I am going to turn 40 this year and let’s face it, with age we start to finally pay attention to the fact of our mortality and we no longer want to waste time. There were a few small things I could see that would help along my goal if they were erased from my habits. One of them was accepting social invitations to parties where the only thing occurring would be small talk and drinking and the other was to stop drinking coffee every morning and switch over to the poignant ritual of tea.

For fifteen years, I have been a three-cup a day girl and oh how I loved the smell of fresh roasting beans and the taste of a cup sweetened with cream and sugar. Oh how addicted I was to instant jolt of “hello world” a cup of java would bring. Oh how I would sail through the morning getting work done a plenty only to crash around mid-afternoon into the much-needed nap of coming off of my drug of caffeine. Oh how I realized that in my new intent towards mindfulness I no longer wanted to ingest anything into my body that caused it to operate on rote and then come down into a cloud of funk. I wanted coffee to be placed back in a proper place of the occasional after dinner party drink or a quick espresso in a smoky cafe while traveling, relegated back into the land of a special treat.

So I did it. I packed up the espresso machine, cleaned the French press for its new life as a steeper of tea, told the Cute Gardener he could put the pot I use for sleep-overs away in deep storage, ordered up a bunch of fresh leaves of Earl Grey, Yerba Mate, Chai, Morrocan Mint, Vainlla Rooibos and Sleepy Time Chamomile from Teavana and started my new life as a tea girl.

Everyone told me I would experience migraine headaches from quitting the amount of caffeine I would consume, but strangely enough because I meditated daily filling my head with white light and visualization exercises to counteract the potential aches, I miraculously had NARY A ONE.

What I have come to love deeply about tea is the way you have to mindfully prepare a cup knowing that each one is different. The way you treat each one especially for its own identifying properties whether it be the length of time the water heats or boils to the amount of time it steeps. The way some cups go better with warmed milk and the way others go better with honey. The way you hold a hot cup in your hands and breathe in the life-affirming scents of deep roots, herbs and leaves. The way your belly rises to meet the stream of liquid diffusing anti-oxidants and other soul-essentials into your berth.

My body and my mind are my temples and this is the year I treat them as the powerful vessels they are with respect and a disciplined ascent into their full powers. I think 40 is going to be my best year yet …

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Endless Possibilities in the Lavash Pinwheel

When I first encountered lavash pinwheels I was in my late twenties and it seemed to be the sudden trendy item bought by Costco bulk card carriers for any occasion requiring food for many mouths. It seemed like every banquet table, after work mixer, holiday cocktail party or business meeting boasted a tray or two. Like the great Jewish bagel and Japanese sushi, it was one of those foods that suddenly became popular amongst the likes of the great white middle class when the fifties palate got old and started craving a little suburban diversity. But unlike its true Middle Eastern root uses, the lavash rolls I encountered in those years were always a bastardized deli version stuffed with ham, cheese, olives and mayonnaise and other cold cuts parading as something exotic. 

Traditionally, the thin unleavened flatbread is a Persian, Turkish and Armenian staple because of its diversity. When fresh, the bread is quite flexible and used to make wrap sandwiches that please because of their ability to host multiple types of satisfying filling. Even though it can dry out quickly, it can be stored for up to a year and reconstituted with water or used dry as an additive with butter, milk and cheese to dishes that need toppings or a starchy component to soak and sop up liquids.

I like the bread because it is low calorie, non-fat and lacks any cholesterol but also because the possibilities are endless when it comes to thinking up creative strains of the pinwheel. Basically you can spread anything on the full sheet in thin layers, roll it up into a nice compact log, refrigerate it for long enough to have the flavors merge (at least twenty minutes but no longer than a day) and slice and serve. One lavash roll can be cut into ten pinwheels serving four to five people for snacks or two people as an entrée.

The real fun comes in thinking about the stuffing. It is a good thing to roll out with refrigerator leftovers. This past New Year’s Day, we watched the Rose Bowl after a trip to the local Armenian market from which I had purchased a bounty of authentic dips and spreads. My lavash offerings included one with roasted eggplant spread, crumbled feta cheese and slices of oily, salted black olives and another with roasted red pepper vegetable spread, leftover shredded pork from a Mexican chili verde meal and labne yogurt cheese - both accentuated by dunks into tzatziki cucumber yogurt dip. A few days later, for breakfast I rolled up a superfood version containing tahini, acai powder, rose jam and sunflower seeds. 


And for the fourth piece of the bread left I covered it with hummus, carrot puree and tabouleh and dipped the pieces in comforting tomato soup!

Lavash is easy to find with a quick trip to any true Middle Eastern market where there are literally shelves offering different types and brands. If you wish to make rolls, make sure you purchase a bag on the day of or a day before you plan on using it.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Great Grapes and Grilled Cheese Honor Out With the Old and In With the New

There’s a time in one’s life when the way we celebrate changes and this past New Year’s Eve I felt my own transition from party girl to home body palpably. I no longer desire the cramped festive fete with flowing booze and too much dense and caloric small plate food and deafening music to shout over amongst people who either don’t know at all or would rather spend quality time with one on one during the normal daytime hours. And I like this about myself: the crawling inward towards the comforts of home, the safety of living it up off the streets, the nice cocoon of not needing to see and be seen. It’s like a warm blanket after a life of living so exposed.

So in conjunction of my seeing the need to be social whirl away on the breeze of 2012, the Cute Gardener and I decided our New Year’s Eve theme would be out with the old and in with the new. We had just finished a whirlwind holiday week of visiting relatives, too much food and constant activity so we decided that instead of trying to shop for and produce another in the stream of lavish seasonal meals, we would simply try and empty the refrigerator of all the extra food that was plumping its berth. The most logical thing to do with all the assorted ingredients was to play with the idea of grilled cheese sandwiches alongside a wistful goodbye to one of our cherished grape vintages. 

The Tom Feeney Ranch in the Russian River Valley produced a strain of grapes that had starred in some our favorite wines of 2000’s first decade. These included Starry Night Winery’s obsolete 2005 and 2006 Old Vine Zinfandels as well as Williams Selyem’s 2007 and 2008 Zinfandels. The Starry Nights in particular have become a highly sought after wine as they are almost completely obsolete at this point so drinking these two bottles was a special and poignant signifier of the true end of pieces of our old lives leading into the seeds of our new. So we uncorked all four to enjoy sips with the food, enjoying the experimentation of what wine went with what ‘wich.

The idea for the grilled cheese started simply enough, grab a piece of bread and stoke it with a leftover type of meat, cheese and veg and slather that baby with butter and fry it up American diner style. From there it twisted into a gooey and luscious adventure of which no sandwich could be termed low brow enough for the open road but more worthy for a high class gastropub’s late night bar menu.

First up was a more traditional version of thick, white sourdough bread, cheddar cheese, leftover beef from Christmas cold cuts and creamy avocado – all of which blended together with a fine meat funk between its crispy covers.

Second was a brave combination of Christmas Eve and Night leftover chow mein bella button mushrooms, bacon bits, my holiday balsamic onion marmalade, and feta on hearty whole grain bread. Sweet, tangy and earthy all combined underneath a nutty crunch turned into a gourmet concoction to remember.

An earlier in the week magnificent Jewish delight at Brent’s had provided us with leftover corned beef, Swiss cheese and marbled bread. This became a sandwich of its own, the last of our night, tempered nicely between the sweet and savory notes by peppery fresh arugula.

It was an evening of equal goodness favorites and an enjoyable bunch of good memories of both food and wine and a sense of saying good-bye to one era and welcoming in another. Another in which we will continue to carry on in our fantastic wining and dining adventures as our palates and our miens mature and ripen. I do feel like my own are growing better with age!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Neapolis Delivers Rose Parade Worthy Small Plate Breakfast in Pasadena

I love Pasadena for nostalgic reasons. It reminds me of all the glamorous things Southern California used to stand for like a sunny manifest destiny, ranches and fruit groves, old school men who were half cowboy and half business, and sprawling and romantic architecture full of articulated details like porcelain colored molding and stamped interior roofs. It still glimmers beneath its modern exteriors of a time when craftsmanship reigned in the city that has my second favorite bridge in the state. Today that historical beauty remains in its parks, gardens and legendary estates and is spruced up once a year for the traditional Rose Parade and Bowl game.

We had stumbled upon Neapolis while coming home from a trip to the desert a few weeks ago. Hungry and tired of traffic in the rain, we hopped off the freeway to grab a pizza after dark. We found a rather dreary and doughy pie but then adventured into the small plates portion of the menu where we were pleasantly surprised.

A dish of Sicilian meatballs came with four tiny gems of super-densely packed, but with a meticulously fine gritted, pork that was seasoned in a subtle pink tanginess that verged on savory but with a dose of pickle. It tasted like a totally reconstructed and elevated corn beef with a new identity. The kale salad was simple and beautifully dressed with leaves how I long for them – not too hard but not too wilted, teetering right in the center about to submit to their fate on the palate.

We were so excited, we noted that we would have to come back again and skip the pizza and pasta that dominated the offerings and continue to veer off into the starters and sides because clearly that was the chef’s gift. Even though we rarely visit a restaurant twice, and NEVER go to breakfast at a joint, we ended up back there a mere week later for post-Christmas brunch with the Cute Gardener’s folks.

It was actually kind of nice and homey to revisit the restaurant in daylight after driving past the makings of the Rose Bowl parade throughout the city. Bleachers and porta-potties were cropping up all along the route and banners with the grand festival logo were strategically draping the city. As we drove down the streets we even gave halfhearted little Miss America waves to the empty seats that would be crammed full in a few days.

It seemed apropos to enter the morning-gleaming restaurant, draped with Stanford banners, and looking classy in the damp, crisp winter air. We got a better chance to see the grandiosity of the three dining rooms dressed in old times where red acrylic meat machines glistened on counters near deli cases strewn with freshly made charcuterie, bar tops were stacked with polished glasses for the day, and a television played sports in black and white. Mirrored tiles dusted with gold flecks lined the cozy and deep upholstered benches and even the bathrooms boasted floor to ceiling wooden doors for private quarters – a classy joint.

The Cute Gardner who rarely finds a breakfast entrée that can compete with the basic eggs he makes at home finally found his dish. A gorgeous pile of golden polenta came bearing two beautifully plump and pillow-y poached eggs (even if they weren’t exactly runny inside) alongside two savory rafts of fried pork belly and little piles of sautéed mushrooms. A deeply satisfying and earthy dish for a cold day.

I, the mother of all who cannot resist risotto, ordered the arancini balls, which were crunchy on the outside and swimming with gooey cheese on the inside. The rice was cooked perfectly and studded with tender, flavorful cubes of butternut squash. I could barely eat two of the full four-piece order because they were so rich and delicious. 

I also ordered the Brussels sprouts, which was more like a dolled-up fruit salad. Crunchy, diced Brussels sprouts halved shared equal space with nutmeg spiced apples, cranberries, walnuts and daubs of goat cheese. I am going to copy this one at home.

I was happy I had chosen to venture further into the small plates, which is definitely where the chef shines best. Like the Rose Parade itself, it seems that a great breakfast out of the house is something special that tends to come around only once a year.

Monday, December 31, 2012

My First Chow Mein Christmas

To carry on in the vein of non-traditional traditions I seem to have acquired this year I was invited to spend Christmas with the Cute Gardener and his family for seafood and chow mein dinner.

Christmas dinner for me has always meant turkey. While growing up, the holiday morn meant waking up early to the smells already wafting in from the kitchen as mom cooked a trough of stuffing for the basted bird that would soon go into the oven. The family would converge in the living room around the tree with a big black garbage bag for discarded gift wrap and we would gorge on trays of brie en croute, goose liver pate and my mom’s famous white trash dip alongside cracker bread from San Francisco and miniature pumpernickel and rye bread slices while opening our stockings stuffed with treats. Throughout the day guests would arrive as my mother always claimed the day for all our orphan friends who had nowhere else to go. Hot toddies and white Russians would be poured long into the evening and clean up would be saved for the following day when we would scour the pots for leftover food and slices of pecan and pumpkin pie. As an adult, I continued on with the turkey to feed my own orphans but developed my own recipes for things like my famous (and constantly requested even from other people for dinner at their own houses) sausage and sage stuffing and tarragon green beans.

But this year it all started for me at Santa Monica Seafood, which became a strange Dickensian scene of mass people gathered around the fish monger deli counter five deep waving their hands in the air as their numbers were called in a frantic symphony of buyers and sellers of fruits of the sea. We danced around the crush of bodies, weaving in and out to choose salmon and crab and other tantalizing things to eat.

Later on our holiday destination, I watched as the CG prepared chow mein, something I have never participated in but have always been strangely fascinated by. For, like the CG says, “Chow mein is an odd meal in that you take a dry noodle and make it wet only to make it dry again and then make it wet again before it even reaches the dinner plate.”

In laymen’s terms this meant watching him first boil the special chow mein noodles in a large pot.

Then he painstakingly fried handful batches of the cooked noodles and then put them aside.

Next he stir fried cubes of tender pork that had been marinating in dark mushroom soy sauce all morning.

Then, he prepared vegetables: carrots, yellow bell pepper, mushrooms, and bok choy for the wok, cutting them all into roughly the same ratio of julienned strips. This was all stir fried together in a strategic order before a dousing of chicken broth, corn starch and oyster sauce that married all of the flavors together.

The noodles were then added and everything was tossed and plated along with the body, legs and head of this shell-y beast. 

I had the pleasure of cooking the salmon, simply baked, lain with thin, whole rounds of lemon slices under a sprinkling of fresh chopped parsley.

Although I am typically a red wine drinker, I find that it's really hard to find a libation that goes with Chinese food. Although, for this meal we found the perfect accompaniment in a Corpse Reviver cocktail that consists of gin, Lillet Blanc, lime juice, Cointreau and absinthe. 

I have never really cared for chow mein in Chinese restaurants because it tends to be oily, mushy and fat-ridden – not worth the calories. But after having this version, I am now an ardent fan and even may try to copy it in my own kitchen experimenting with the types of veggies, meat and sauces.

I also didn’t mind being the orphan for a change!