Blueberry mint, peach ginger, watermelon rosemary, and old fashioned lemonade. This is just a sample of the familiar and curious concoctions that one encounters inside of Lemonade.
I first came across this trendy café while looking for something to eat at the University of Southern California’s Ronald Tudor Campus Center. Enter the fresh salads of Lemonade: beacons of hope and flavorful splendor. Okay, maybe that line is a bit hyperbolic, but they aren’t just any salads. They’re artistic medleys of couscous, wild mushrooms, parmesan, and lemon truffle. The ingredients are fresh and the flavors are distinct and provocative.
I’m gushing about this place because it isn’t hamburgers and it isn’t a new spin on Corner Bakery or Panera Bread. Just take a look at the “Seasonal Specials” that they’re offering today:
Cedar smoked salmon, celery root, horseradish vinaigrette
Sante Fe Beluga lentils, hearts of palm, jicama
Yellow beets, artichokes, Swiss chard
Roasted parsnips, pecorino, Vidalia onion bacon dressing
Tandoori chicken, green mango, coconut
Founder and Chef Alan Jackson’s goal is to use fresh, local ingredients that are healthy and casual. What I like most about this place is that I can’t replicate their signature items at home. I’m still learning to cook, but I often go into restaurants, especially Italian ones, and I say to myself: hey, I can make that or my family can whip that up, it’ll taste better, and it won’t cost $20 a plate. With Lemonade, the prices are reasonable and I have yet to see a salad that I could make at home. They also have these macaroons (it’s fun to say this word out loud with a French accent–give it a try) that are the size of a hamburger. There are so many things there that I’m looking forward to sampling, and I’ll put up some more posts soon.
There are certain dishes that evoke a sense of time and place. Their aromas tickle specific synapses in the mind: the ones that fired in childhood but fell dormant over the years. We yearn for these delights as though they were a lost friend. Often, they’re far from home – if we can even find them at all.
For me, I suckled on tamales as a baby, and by the time I began to teethe I was fully addicted to Hatch, New Mexico’s green chiles.
But alas, today I sit here in California mourning the loss of the last standing New Mexican restaurant to grace the LA area: Anita’s in Fullerton. My sister said it was a fire. Nothing for the young or faint of heart to behold. An ironic way for a spicy eatery to go after years of setting mouths on fire. And as best we can tell, Anita has hung up her apron for good.
I can still get my fix though. It just takes a little more work. We New Mexicans always have a back-up plan. Our addiction is voracious, and our appetite for the savory peppers of Hatch is insatiable. That’s where Sin City comes into play.
For many, Las Vegas conjures up images of flashing lights, the ringing of slot machines, and smells of inexpensive buffet food drying out under heat lamps. But for me, it’s home to Garduno’s New Mexican restaurant. AKA the closest New Mexican restaurant to my home.
And, as you have probably guessed now, one must pass through the towering casinos to get from California to Utah (see last weeks post). This meant that I got to visit Garduno’s twice. I drove like a man on a mission those days. As each mile marker passed, my mouth salivated more, and my senses tingled. Green Chile wasn’t far away.
I scrutinized the menu when we arrived, and consulted with my mom and Amberie so as to procure a sampling of my favorites. Thankfully the chef didn’t disappoint. We ordered an extra bowl of green chile to blanket our enchiladas, tamales, and chile rellenos. It wasn’t the same as eating in Albuquerque, but it was close. That sense of my childhood returned, and I sat back and enjoyed the green chile induced release of endorphins.
People from small towns call my mom’s hometown small. My aunt Pam still lives there and she and the natives like to keep this little haven a secret. In fact, if I told you where this place is, you probably wouldn’t hear from me again and this blog entry would be mysteriously expunged.
Now don’t assume that folks haven’t stumbled upon this place by accident. They have, and some even tried to “move in”. Such individuals are referred to as “move-ins”. These outsiders are usually city slickers from California who buy land, build a homestead, and attempt to change everything around them.
They are however, always chased away. This scene usually involves an armada of four-wheel riding locals wieding firearms and illegal fireworks that were purchased on the nearby American Indian reservation. Order is restored in a matter of days, and small town America is saved once again.
So you can imagine my surprise when Amberie said that she wanted to visit. I should point out, for your own safety, that the two of us are allowed into town on account of my blood relation. Thus, no need for us to fear the four-wheelers.
I have to admit though that I wasn’t that excited to go back. My childhood memories of this town were of the ubiquitous scent of horse manure, junk yards, and the absence of any comercial establishment. But, I agreed to go along because I needed a little jaunt.
Our first matter of business was to “take a trip into town” for pizza. Back when my mom was a teenager, some guys from California established the first Italian restaurant ever in town. Their signature dish: breadstick on a stick.
But we didn’t come for pizza. Amberie wanted to experience the Fourth of July and all the pomp and circumstance that my Mom’s hometown puts on each year.
There was of course the parade in the morning. I couldn’t help but smile as kids zipped past on bicycles and wagons that were adorned with flags, crepe paper, and streamers.
This was then followed by a program held in the town hall. Kids played the piano, violin, and sang. And of course there were the traditional fiddlers accompanied by a man waving the American flag. Said man’s gesticulations are accompanied by shouts of : “Lets go! Lets go! Lets go!. This goes on for at least 10 minutes. Where did this tradition originate? Well, a drunk guy ran up on stage about fifty years ago, and the rest is history.
At the end of the program, everyone attends a hamburger fundraiser that’s put on by the fire dept.; and after that, there are games in the park like potato sack races, a tug of war match, and the water balloon toss.
It was over in the corner of that park that I noticed the old playground equipment. There’s a 20-foot tall slide and it’s made of American metal. It had been there since my mom was a kid, and conquering the behemoth is a generational rite of passage. Needless to say, I made sure that Amberie had a go.
Fortunately, I got to take a nap before the evening’s home made ice cream, the dry ice bombs, the cannon, and the spectacular fireworks show that was put on by my cousins. The presentation was nearly professional. Imagine if you will, the newly legalized aerial rockets, and about six men running around at the same time setting off multitudes of pyrotechnics at a frantic pace for nearly an hour!
I’m pretty sure that I had a smile on my face the whole day. I’d forgotten about how much fun I had pulling a wagon in the parade when I was a kid, and I’d forgotten about the slide. I’d forgotten a lot.
Here are the pics of some of the foods and sights:
Blueberries are one of my favorite foods of all time, and I can trace this love affair back to my discovery of yoghurt when I was about 7 years old. I remember digging a hole, my spoon acting as imaginary shovel, down the center of the bright, white yoghurt that glistened under the kitchen light, and down to the jelly-like bottom of the blueberry-flavored delight* — I had struck blue gold. Now, as I look back, I can only assume that because my favorite color is blue, I developed a penchant for the little treats.
Blueberries became a household favorite a couple of years ago, but most of the berries were shipped from Oregon and even South America. I hadn’t noticed any from California, but you can imagine my excitement when my cousin Tandy informed us that there was a farm in Temecula, the Temecula Berry Co., that allows patrons to pick their own blueberries.
When I balked at the $5 a pint price tag listed on their website, the trip almost didn’t happen. But, we thought it over and decided that it would be fun to go out with Tandy’s little ones. I’m glad we went — we spent the day out in the sunshine and fresh air, watching the joy on the kids’ faces when they found plump berries. The trip was also educational. I had never seen an actual blueberry field before. The dark blue of the berries set against a backdrop of lush, bright, green leaves is a wondrous sight to behold.
This turned out to be a worthwhile day for all, and yes, the berries cost more than they did at Henry’s ($1 a pint in the ad that week), but it’s the experience. It’s about breaking out of your routine and going on a small adventure. Plus, there’s something special about fresh produce. Nowadays farmers from across the world pick green produce and ship it thousands of miles to your grocery store. If you’ve ever tasted a fresh garden tomato and compared it to one purchased in the market, then you know where I’m going with this. The blueberries we picked were nearly as sweet as candy, and the skin was ten times more delicate than their store-bought counterparts.
Sadly, the farm just closed for the season, but I hope you mark your calendars for next year. I guess I’ll have to blog about blueberry pancakes and waffles to tie you over until then.
* When I was a kid you had to work for your yoghurt – you had to mix it yourself, unlike the fake, artificially-flavored and sugar-loaded gruel that Yoplait and others churn out. There’s a few brands out there that still have the fruit on the bottom, but you get the point.
A friend told me to celebrate every day. Before hearing this advice, I had mentioned that I’d received some good news, and that Amberie and I were going to mark the occasion by visiting one of our favorite eateries. But, that friend’s counsel meant more than going out to dinner.
It’s easy to flip on the autopilot switch and to pass through weekly routines: work, school, church, and exercise. But it’s the small and simple things, the ones that are easiest to neglect, that need to be celebrated. For me, spending time with my family and friends is one way that I try to enjoy life.
With my wife, for example, it’s fun just to watch her squint her eyes and cover her mouth with her hands as she attempts to hold back her laughter after we see something outrageous on television. I know that she’ll be my companion forever and that we can take on everything that is in our future – no matter how difficult. Reflecting on those things – that’s celebrating every day.
As for my parents, well, moms know their children. Mine knows the texture of my hair, she knows when I’m upset, and she loves me unconditionally. My dad isn’t familiar with my hair, but he has taught me many things like sports, and how to keep wild bears out of the national forest’s trash cans. He was there the first time I swung my red, plastic bat and hit a wiffle ball over our house. He’s always tried his best to help. And so, telling my parents that I love them – that’s celebrating every day.
That takes us to my sisters. We don’t always get along and maybe that’s because we’re so alike. But, I know that you are always going to be there no matter what. Still, you drive me crazy sometimes, and you will continue to do so for many years to come. But, we had the same childhood and no one else in the world has or ever will share in those experiences. We have our squabbles, but coming back together with softened hearts, and taking on new experiences together – that’s celebrating every day.
I also have a new family: my in-laws. It’s only been a couple of years, but it sure is funny to sit at the dinner table and laugh when someone (I won’t name him) can’t pronounce Bangladesh – those little things are celebrating every day.
Friends. There are the ones that spend time with you because they get something out of that exchange. And then there are the ones that prop you up even when you’re not a pleasant person to be around. They’re the ones that hope and pray for you even when there is no horizon in sight. There are those jokes that only the two of you understand. Sometimes those jokes are only one word, but that’s all it takes to start the laughter. You can call at any time and tell them of your hopes and fears. Enjoying those friendships – that’s celebrating everyday.
And what would a fancy meal be without all or even just one of those people at the table?
Well, there’s my two cents. I should probably get to the part about food.
Amberie and I went out to eat at a place in LA called Little Next Door, and here’s some info and pictures of what we ate.
Little Next Door
8142 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Neighborhood: Mid-City West
What do you do when it’s peak strawberry season and you splurge on two whole flats? Hold a festival of strawberries of course!
I think it’s funny that reciprocate was Merriam-Webster’s word of the day yesterday. It was about 4 years ago that I asked Amberie on our first date. Of course I took an interest in her, but by our third date I wasn’t sure if the feeling was mutual. My thoughts at the time went something like this: Did she say yes to our dates just to be nice? Does she want to go on another date, or is she sending me a subtle hint to get lost?
It’s hard for us guys to read you girls, and sometimes we need a subtle hint to indicate that you’re interested in another date. Well, Amberie made cupcakes one night after that third date and invited me over to try them. That was a good way to reciprocate—I assumed that she wanted to marry me, and now we’re coming up on the second anniversary of our wedding.
And, fortunately, Amberie is still developing her talent for making deserts and sharing them with the people she cares about. Last Saturday we picked up our two flats of strawberries* and Amberie set about preparing a strawberry galette, strawberry pie, strawberry cake, strawberry salad, strawberry muffins, and strawberry-peach soda.
I washed strawberries, and watched Amberie design this delectable desert celebration. But here’s how you can hold your own festival of strawberries.
* The strawberries were from a local field in Chino, picked fresh that morning.
This recipe is from Martha Stewart and can be found at:
- Yield Makes one 10-inch cake
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pie plate
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 10-inch pie plate. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together into a medium bowl.
- Put butter and 1 cup sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-low; mix in egg, milk, and vanilla.
- Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in flour mixture. Transfer batter to buttered pie plate. Arrange strawberries on top of batter, cut sides down and as close together as possible. Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over berries.
- Bake cake 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Bake until cake is golden brown and firm to the touch, about 1 hour. Let cool in pie plate on a wire rack. Cut into wedges. Cake can be stored at room temperature, loosely covered, up to 2 days.
Peach and Strawberry Soda
Giada De Laurentiis came up with this idea and it can be found at:
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup (6 ounces) frozen and thawed peaches (preferably with no sugar added) or 2 fresh peaches, peeled and pitted
- 1 cup (6 ounces) frozen (preferably with no sugar added) and thawed or fresh strawberries
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from 1 large lemon)
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest (from1/2 large lemon)
- 1 cup sparkling water
In a small saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar has dissolved, 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside to cool for 20 minutes.
In a blender, combine the cooled syrup, peaches, strawberries, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Blend until smooth. Add the sparkling water and pour into an ice-filled pitcher.
Strawberry Galette with Meyer Lemon Curd in Rosemary Crust
Amberie found this recipe on this blog called “Dishing Up Delights”
The recipe on the blog calls for thyme, but Amberie substituted Rosemary and it tasted great.
Strawberry and Lemon Curd Galette in Thyme Crust
1 thyme pate brisee (recipe follows)
Strawberries, sliced 1/4 inch thick (I used almost a pint, may vary depending on the size of the strawberries)
1 tablespoon honey
1-2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon milk or water for egg wash
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Mix the strawberries, cornstarch, honey, and lemon juice in a bowl and set aside.
Roll out the crust to about 1/4 inch thick and about 8 inches in diameter. Top with a few tablespoons of lemon curd. Placed the strawberries on top of the curd in an even layer, leaving a one inch ring around. Fold the edges of dough over the strawberries. Brush the dough with the egg wash and bake for 20-25 minutes until the crust is browned and the center is bubbling.
Thyme Pate Brisee
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 stick butter
2-4 tablespoons ice water
Mix the flour, salt, and thyme in a food processor. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. With the motor running, add the ice water; process only enough to moisten the dough and have it just come together. Dump the dough out onto a floured board and knead quickly into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic and allow it to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to one hour.
This one is kind of self explanatory – even for me. The recommendation that I’ve heard is that a balsamic vinaigrette dressing helps to bring out the flavors.
Amberie found this recipe in the following magazine:
Cooking Light Magazine, April 2000. Page: 196.
50 reduced-calorie vanilla wafers
1/4 cup butter or stick margarine, melted
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon grated orange rind
2 cups ripe strawberries
1/2 cup water
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
6 cups small ripe strawberries
1/2 cup frozen reduced-calorie whipped topping,
thawed and divided
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. To prepare crust, place wafers in a food processor, and process until finely ground. Add butter, 2 tablespoons sugar, and orange rind, and pulse 10 times or just until wafers are moist. Press into bottom and up sides of a 9-inch pie plate coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes; cool on a wire rack.
3. To prepare filling, mash 2 cups strawberries with a potato masher. Combine mashed strawberries and water in a small saucepan; bring to a boil, and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Press the strawberry mixture through a sieve into a bowl, and reserve 1 cup strawberry liquid (add enough water to measure 1 cup, if necessary). Discard pulp.
4. Combine 2/3 cup sugar and cornstarch in a pan; add strawberry liquid, stirring well with a whisk. Bring to a boil; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Reduce heat, and cook 2 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in lemon juice.
5. Arrange a layer of small strawberries, stem sides down, in the crust. Spoon about one-third of sauce over the strawberries. Arrange the remaining strawberries on top, and spoon the remaining sauce over the strawberries. Chill for at least 3 hours. Serve with whipped topping. Yield: 8 servings (serving size: 1 wedge and 1 tablespoon whipped topping).
A more appropriate name for this pasta might be: Abandonment – the night that Sam almost starved. Okay, of course that’s a bit dramatic, but a few years ago my brother-in-law Chris and I were deserted at dinnertime. Our only option was to designate the evening as Man Night. So, I found my copy of the movie Top Gun*, and Chris conjured up a recipe in his mind. He has this thing — it’s either genius or serendipitous — for designing easy and flavorful meals.
Chris had me help in the kitchen that night, and the meal was so easy to prepare that it was one of the few dishes that I knew how to cook when I got married.
All you need is farfalle pasta, extra virgin olive oil, 1 Italian zucchini, 1 yellow squash, prosciutto, mushrooms, a package of grape tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese, and some fresh basil.
The aforementioned list of ingredients, with the exception of grape tomatoes, isn’t necessarily doctrine. It’s fun to add spicy Italian sausage, eggplant, or whatever else may be in season. But, I can’t emphasize this enough – the grape or even cherry tomatoes are essential to this recipe**. My favorite term in a chef’s vocabulary is “add to taste.” With this meal, just add to taste. If you like a lot of prosciutto, then add a lot of prosciutto. If you love eggplant, then add two.
What to Do
First, you want to cut your vegetables up and sauté them in the extra virgin olive oil (EVOO***). Cook the pasta in salted water while sautéing, and then layer a baking dish with the farfalle as the foundation. Top with the sautéed vegetables, the prosciutto, and cheese(s). Next, place the dish into the oven to melt the cheese – 350 degrees ought to do the trick. Finally, remove the dish and sprinkle fresh basil on the top.
Give this a try, and you’ll be on the highway to the flavor zone.
* Proper Man Night etiquette makes clear the fact that Top Gun is to be viewed in the absence of a sporting event on said night.
** Yes, grape tomatoes are more expensive than their larger, flavorless, waterlogged cousins that are sold year round; but grape and cherry tomatoes are packed with vibrant flavor.
*** I know. Rachel Ray always says EVOO and it gets annoying for some reason, but it’s easier to say and type EVOO as opposed to extra virgin olive oil – that’s four words a pop!