Saturday, December 3, 2011

(Is it a valid excuse to buy a new camera if I can't find the charger for my old one? I know it's not, but for the record, that's also my excuse for not food-blogging properly most recently.)

I made a delightful chili today. Simple, ground beef and kidney beans. Sweet tomatoes. Started by browning some bacon, to impart my favorite chili flavor principle: smokiness. The onions, spices and the beef followed. Tomatoes. I threw in three dried chipotle chilis from a huge jar of them I bought at the farmer's market in West Virginia years ago. Again, smokiness.

Topped with cheese, cilantro sour cream and crisp bacon bits. Snuggled up to watch The Godfather for the umpteenth time on a windy day. A joyous little meal.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

It's been a busy few months. I blame my aloof Aquarian ways for leaving you so poorly attended, oh blog of mine.

Let's see.

The now: the record has played to its end so I'm sitting in my apartment listening to the rain and the rattle of my bracelets against this laptop, which has scuffmarks where the two always meet.

The recent past: I unpacked two really big boxes of stuff that are the parts of my new table.

The less recent past: I moved to a new place. The new place has a gas stove that I love. Now the phrase "now you're cooking with gas" doesn't grate. The view is really nice -- not the windows of a sometimes carefree with the underwear old man. Instead, I have a pair of stomping idiots who live upstairs. But I've been keeping terrible hours with my work schedule all fakkakte, so I probably deserve their flat-footed passive aggressive rage. But the apartment really is pretty great. The neighborhood is really cool and nice. Lots of places to wander around to and eat and shop. Oh, and the view: when I wake up in the morning, I see the light settling into the Hollywood Hills. When I fall asleep, they're my twinkling nightlights. It's really soothing.

Since I last wrote, I've gotten loosey goosey with the diet, indulging now and again in some rice here and there. Some pita-binging now and again.

The other day, I invented the world's greatest/worst sandwich. Take Japanese eggplant rounds, salt, drain for 20 minutes, rinse, dry. Coat with egg white, fry in a half inch of peanut oil, drain on towels. Frying eggplant coated in egg white reduces the oil the eggplant sops up, leaving it light and crispy outside, soft inside. Slip yolk into oil, drizzle remaining egg white around it. Remove as soon as it's well set up. Take toasted pita, fill with French sheepsmilk feta, Japanese eggplant and fried egg. Drizzle it all with homemade bagna cauda (I like mine with basil). Try to go a day without wanting to do that again. So good. I'm keeping that recipe to entertain with -- it would be great for a lunch with a salad or as a warm starter for dinner, sans egg.

Oh, and I also made a pretty okay tahdig, not too long ago.

I'll try and be more attentive, oh blog of mine.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The season of salads continues. Tonight I roasted a big slew of vegetables after finding myself hungry for the savory vegetal dish I used to make weekly when I first moved to New York. It was my first real winter, with snow on the ground. This had never happened to me before. I lived in a linoleum-floored NYU dorm that I basically had all to myself because one roommate dropped out and the other never stayed the night. I cultivated a lot of weird behaviors there, in my tailspin of post-California life. I had a bunch of people over one night and cooked a very stinky Iranian feast in that little place. We hauled a table and chairs from a friend's apartment 7 floors up. The guys from an up and coming record label that was putting out obscure Sonic Youth records came for the meal, ripping through every drop of liquor I had in the apartment. They were trouble with trust funds.

I was still a vegetarian when I first moved to New York. I hadn't eaten bacon in near a decade and I was oblivious to the need for it because I'd been spoiled by California's harvest, the constant supply of ripe, excellent produce at reasonable prices. In contrast, the Key Foods nearest my dorm in the hospital hinterlands of 26th and 1st Ave. was a depressing, tight-laned space with a lot of dusty products with labels I'd never seen (everything seemed vaguely European to my bumpkin eyes) and a dismal produce section where everything seemed to cost so much more than it ever had. On several occasions, I called my mother from the store to tell her that a withering, little head of lettuce cost $1.99 and she would gasp her horror. I was raised in a house where one or two heads of lettuce were consumed a day. The pale tomatoes, dinged and sticky, were just as pricey. It's unsurprising that I gave up vegetarianism in that town.

And so, sometimes when it would be particularly cold and I felt particularly far from Southern California, I would slice up a big slew of vegetables _ peppers, onions, carrots, broccoli, garlic, whatever else was lying around. A pot of beans, tortillas and some cheese and I would have the closest thing I could to Mexican food in a city that had no acceptable Mexican cuisine.

Tonight, I made a spicy roast of peppers, jalapenos, sweet onions, zucchini, carrots and mushrooms.

My dinner bowl, visual representation*:
top: chimichurri roast salmon
under that: roast vegetables
under that: smoked cheese (my constant cheat on the diet. a little goes a long way, i reason)
under that: a blend of kale and arugula, dressed with the stevia-dijon dressing.

* a photo could not be snapped before it was gobbled up.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

a revelation: stevia in the salad dressing.

dijon, salt, apple cider vinegar, olive oil and stevia.

amazing. especially on my salty, smokey salad of kale, arugula, cucumber, tomatoes, smoked cheese and turkey bacon.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I just don't have as much of an appetite for meat in the summer. Except for sausages. Those are good year round.

A vegetable saute. I've been really into sweet onions this summer and sometimes just cooking them until they get a little melty and carmel-y is all I want. But you can't just eat an onion for dinner, so I throw in odds and ends. This is a sliced Vidalia onion, grated zucchini, arugula, button mushrooms, garlic, turkey bacon and smoked cheese mix from Trader Joe's.

Here I made my best imitation of the Zankou garlic sauce yet. It's nowhere near right but it's so garlicky that it tickles the same sweet spot. But it's basically a garlic mayonnaise with lemon and oil. Organic vegetables to accompany: carrots, button mushrooms and heirloom cherry tomatoes.
A recent dinner was the sweet onion sauteed with chicken sausage, in a sauce of sugar-free ketchup, Sriracha and Worcestershire, which I prefer to BBQ. Served with kale, arugula salad with tomatoes and grana padano.

This is an optical illusion, she's not allowed to eat from my actual plate. We have boundaries.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

inane as it may be, i suddenly feel that i should admit that i don't always get my grocery shopping done at grocery stores or farmer's markets.

tonight, i shopped for diet coke through restaurant delivery. am i proud? no. but i am the person who is willing to pay a premium if you'll bring me 6 diet cokes to last me through the week instead of one to sip with dinner. and there was also food delivered, too, so i'm not some crazy evil customer -- pretty delicious tandoori and eggplant from this place, actually.

back when carbs were things i ate, i would also do this with brown rice _ it takes forever to cook and reheats very well, is my reasoning. and it's nice to always have on hand, ready to eat.

in college, i perfected the recipe for a meal of rice and rice alone, save for some refrigerator remnant condiments: rice stir fried with butter, soy sauce and lemon. it's really not the sort of meal you eat in front of another human being. kindof like the spaghetti sauce i developed at the time, which was basically a blend of ketchup, tomato paste and sriracha, mixed with cooked store brand spaghetti. These are meals one likes to be left alone with, save for maybe the grumbling dinner companion of Poverty. but I digress.

unfortunately, tonight, in this belle epoch of my life where i can afford not one but three diet cokes to be purchased at a time at a 100 percent markup, they decided not to bring me my diet cokes. sigh. one little can was in the bundle, which felt light to my hand but the deliveryman was a little hostile/annoyed with my pleasantries so i didn't check the bag in front of him. my spoiled girl plot, foiled. sigh.

Friday, July 15, 2011

my froyo habit is completely out of control. i need it daily. i circle the block for parking anxiously if there's not a space open, and sometimes park half a block away in a parking lot i'm not supposed to park in. i plan my meals around its availability when i'm on the nightshift. i use coupons to get it cheap. i religiously use the punch card -- one more and i get a free cup, worth up to $5 of creamy coolness. and let me tell you, i can practically tell by the weight in my hand how much of that self-serve goodness comes to a 5-spot. i've gotten good at swirling it into the cup _ though not as good as the place that Dava took us in the Valley, where the sweaty girl with glasses had it down to an art. I get the sugar-free flavor usually -- right now it's mint, a favorite. before that it was vanilla, which i swirled with a bit of peanut butter or reese's peanut butter cup, whichever was available. they had blueberry once and that was amazing -- I would cut that with a bit of plain vanilla, which is my favorite to mix any flavor with. Two scoops of almonds for topping. Then to the register, where the girl knows me well enough to comment when I cut bangs. She's blonde and bossy and orders the teenage boys around, saying stuff like " have to respect the customer experience" or something exactly that bad but i can't remember exactly what. i can't wait until i'm out the front door of the store to take my first bite. the cup fits in my cupholder but rarely leaves my hand despite some fairly demanding driving maneuvers, for which i suck on the spoon while i spin the car around, a pacifier for the minutes between me and my froyo habit is completely out of control.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

I'm still on the diet, but I made an amendment. At the end of all-protein days, I get a cocktail.

There's some cucumber in there. Muddled with Pimm's I bought at Silverlake Wine. Lemon juice. Stevia instead of sugar.

I made a ghetto shaker with that blue plastic cup. The recipe called for fruits I did not have.

I improvised with an orange and some cucumber spears. I forgot the mint. Guess I'll have to make another.

Oh, and in the meanwhile, I was burning the shit out of some chicken sausage. Which is how we like it.

One for Peeshie, of course. Here's how I figure it: regular cat food is like terrible hot dogs. Fancy chicken sausages with spinach and fontina are probably more like fancy cat food than I know.

And here's what tonight looked like. Someone should recycle those fucking newspapers. (Zoom into area the sausages are pointing to see the hilariously embarrassing catalogue that arrived in my mailbox this week.)

Nevermind all that, here's what you really come here for.

What's up DJ Peeshie Mamani? This photo captures her wild hillbilly twitch that happens sometimes when she's alarmed, where half her face goes back. She's such a jumpy kitty.


Monday, June 6, 2011

I had to choose between paying rent and continuing on a diet that I can't afford this week.

Guess who's living on borrowed rent?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The kitchen at my house has seen remarkably little action lately. I'm on the Dukan Diet. I eat mostly deli meat, yogurt and various meats. The one thing I consistently cook every day is a batch of oat bran pancakes, which are not very delicious. But I've lost 8 pounds in a week. And I'm determined to keep going.

This diet has made my food fantasies run amok. I remember foods I've eaten in hopeless elegies. I can't stop thinking about tacos. Do you think tacos will remember me the next time I move to kiss them hello? Or will they look at me, pause for a moment, and walk away feeling certain they'd never met me? Will I chase after them? Or will I just wince and walk in the opposite direction. Oh, tacos.

Sigh. And all I do is tweet about the diet. Which makes me one of those horrible boring people who talks about their diet all the time. Oh well.

The goal is that, eventually, I'll be able to eat what I want after miraculously attaining my goal weight and stabilizing my body and my metabolism in such a way that I won't immediately balloon again.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Sometime not long after I posted that I would eat out of my pantry for the next week as a culinary vow of poverty, I completely changed my mind and decided to go on a very expensive diet. Luckily, enough of it is posted all over the Internet that I don't need to buy the book to do it (Amazon's free peek is really quite generous sometimes). Because I'm broke, remember? Now I'm spending my dwindling funds on meat _ pricey when you're as picky as I am about eating organic, no hormone, free range, thrilled to be killed animals _ and eggs and lowfat dairy products.

So this was Day 1. I ate plain nonfat greek yogurt for breakfast. This was hard because I had already bought the packages that have the delicious shot of blueberry-acai on the side... which I love so much. But I threw that fruit right out.

For my three lunches _ yeah. seriously, three. _ i rolled up slices of pricey, high-end deli meat from Trader Joe's with laughing cow cheese and pickles. In all, I think there were 7 or 8 slices of meat, 3 triangles of cheese and 3 pickles eaten. I'm dubious that this all-you-can-eat meats idea is great, but I'm choosing to believe.

(Then I went to the worst yoga class on earth, where I didn't even break a sweat because it was so... touchy feely and deep-thinking, and the weird instructor kept saying "there is no such thing as good news or bad news" and then he would bash media and say stuff like "you can believe CNN or believe in you"... causing my inner yogi to silently shriek: "Look, dude, you wanna take this outside?! And people of Crunch's 7 p.m. yoga class, please believe CNN over this guy and his intolerable beanie!" But I digress.)

For dinner I came home and made a delicious dinner of shrimp that I was too wildly hungry for to photograph. Shrimp with basil, oregano, garlic, lemon juice and feta cheese. Oh, and I ate the weird oat bran pancake from the diet for dessert because I think it's the only fiber this diet has for the first 10 days. Hopefully I find a way to make that taste better; my addition of a packet of stevia and a squirt of lemon were undetectable.

We've officially exited my comfort zone on what I'm willing to blog about. Welcome to my diet shame.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

I've woken up to my most common Sunday morning regret: I overspent this weekend. Just like the weekend before it, and the weekend before. I went to dinner, the theater and drinks and just like that, I'm out three figures. Not that I have any regrets. But compensations will need to be made.

So, this will be my week of salad days -- not my youthful heyday, but the week where I will scrounge up scraps and bits to make it to the next payday.

First, the fresh vegetables and the leftovers have to get eaten up.

Baby arugula mix buried under the "Healthy Seven Vegetable" mix from Trader Joe's. Topped with raw mushrooms, feta, olives and walnuts. Dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. Leftovers from a trip to Darya to celebrate a friend's soon-to-be new baby: leftover basmati rice and my new favorite kabob there, the Naderi kabob. Filet mignon, no less. I have no shame.

And an odds and ends salad that I had earlier this week, as if I knew this penance would come due: smoked herring, tomatoes, celery, green onion, parsley, lemon juice. Yum.

This will also be the week where I consider, for the umpteenth time, moonlighting at Whole Foods. Ugh.

Stay tuned. I have a feeling there'll be lots of posts about weird food that gets tossed together this week.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Did I ever tell you about the time that I attempted the world's most delicious kale salad? I did! There were a few things I'd never cooked with before, chief among them, this beast.

The object pictured here is exactly as oversized as it appears. Bigger than my big knife, dwarfing the coffeemaker.

I'll admit, at this point I felt a vast and deep intimidation. This thing is freaking huge and I was eating papaya for a week.

The dressing for this kale salad required an unholy amount of sweetener and an unholy amount of oil. I balked -- which is the problem I usually run into with baking. If the recipe says 8 tablespoons of butter, I just can't bring myself to do it. Which is why I can't bake for crap. I'm always trying to substitute milk for cream or Splenda for sugar and it always comes out awful. Other people's food/emotional problems manifest as eating disorders, mine manifest as cooking disorders. Or cagey rebellion, if you will.

So, I skimped on the oil and used a few tablespoons of sugar instead of 1.25 cups of cane juice. I dressed the kale with it and let it marinate overnight. It looked like this.

Admittedly, this was a lot of kale for one woman to eat. It took a week, but it got eaten.

This was how I liked it best. Instead of making corn salsa, I bought Trader Joe's and it gave an extra sweet punch that this dish needed after I skimped on the sweet dressing. I liked it over a mix of butter lettuce and radicchio. Plus walnuts, which I've learned are always great on everything.

In all, it was a pretty amazing salad.
Like most people who spend a good deal of time in the kitchen, my best teacher is failure. This morning I awoke uninspired. Then I thought of the delicious breakfast of fried egg, tomato and big basil leaves I ate wrapped in fresh lavash on a recent vacation in Palm Springs. My mouth watered with the memory and I went into the kitchen, remembering that I still had some of that lavash bread left and everything else on hand.

But when I picked up the bag of bread, I saw that it was polka dotted with a bright mold. Sigh. I went to the fridge for the basil and saw that it had wilted into a dark, unhappy mass (and then I cursed myself for putting it in the refrigerator at all--stupid!). Sigh.

But I would not be thwarted so easily! Fail number one leads to idea number two! There are always certain things that can be found in my home, and these are the makings of a Greek omelet -- though I don't think I'd ever actually attempted that dish before. I whipped up some eggs, topped them with crumbled feta, rough chopped some tomato and olives and thought I was on the path to breakfast redemption. But when I went to flip the omelet closed, I saw the not-so-delicious image above. I'd burned the damn thing black.

Oh well, I tried. At that point I told myself that I'll have to cook it over a much lower heat next time, and maybe use oil instead of butter to grease the pan. And then I put on cutoffs and went down to the newstand for my paper and ate tofu chilaquiles at Fred 62. Sunday saved.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A virtuous _ and almost completely pre-made _ vegetarian dinner, starring pre-made brown rice and cumin garbanzo beans from Trader Joe's. A salad of heirloom tomatoes and shallots. Torshi, or pickled vegetables (cabbage and cauliflower, mostly... and mostly eaten before a picture could be snapped), that my grandmother made in Tehran and my mom brought back for me in the specialty food-packed suitcase.

Monday, March 7, 2011

This is what post-spinning class weakness looks like.

Zankou Chicken's half chicken plate, with hummus, pickled beets, spicy peppers, diced tomatoes and garlic paste of the Gods. Though there's plenty left in the fridge, I'm so full it hurts.

Even Peeshie's eyes half-close in pleasure when she eats Zankou.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sunday Brunch at home. Runny eggs with very yellow yolks, cooked in olive oil and salted with parmesan. Served over creamy polenta and asparagus. Hot coffee. Not pictured: fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

I am really into polenta right now, the soft and creamy variety. And I've found the world's easiest way to make it. Crumble the pre-made Organic Trader Joe's Polenta that comes in tubes into a pot with a bit of milk and a touch of butter. Whisk it over heat until the clumps break down into a smooth mass. Garnish with grated parmesan and cracked black pepper.

I'm sure someone's Italian grandma would slap me with a wooden spoon for doing it this way. But it's delicious and too easy not to pass on. And only 70 calories per serving of polenta (plus maybe 150 for the fats that make it luscious; worth it).
And then there are the times when we act on practical needs, rather than whim, fancy or craving.

More to the point, vegetables were outnumbering other food groups in my refrigerator and the guilt was killing me as I drove home from the gym tonight. So, in the pot went an onion, a celery heart, a handful of carrots, garlic cloves, a really nice, big shallot and broccoli -- all ingredients I regularly use to make cream of broccoli soup.

Then came the experimental vegetable: broccoli rabe. It doesn't sound like it should be a stretch, I know. But that bitter broccoli rabe flavor -- I usually like it grilled. Luckily, it came out all right.

Here's the cookery, in photos.

It started as so many things do, carelessly sliced and chopped carrots, onions, celery, shallots and garlic. Let 'em sweat.

I didn't really bother to chop up the broccoli or broccoli rabe either. Seasoned with some bay leaves, a pinch of Herbs d'Provence (which I like in most soups), celery salt, sea salt and cracked black pepper.

Add water, simmer the vegetables to cook... and if you're weak like me, toss in a couple bouillon cubes. I know it's not very chef-y, but I just like it. And believe it or not, that is how grandma used to make it. And I buy the nice kind.

I fished out the bay leaves and went to task with one of my favorite kitchen tools, the immersion blender. I bought the one recommended by Cook's Illustrated and have yet to find something this thing can't whittle into velvet.

The dollop of fat-free half-and-half in the soup... does not look so appetizing, but really helps the texture. It came out a little bitter from the rabe, but not bad at all.

Look what's all packed up and ready to go for lunches or dinners. Holler if you want a jarful.

Oh, yeah. So that's something I do that's probably a little weird. I don't like to store food in plastic, so I recycle glass jars. My current apartment has way too much storage space for a woman who lives with her cat. So, there's a whole shelf just for the jars.

A while back, I tried to make pupusas. This is shredded cheddar and Monterey jack with swiss chard.

They look kindof okay on the griddle... but kindof sucked. The dough was okay on one batch, dry and brick-like on the next. Must try again, after I get some good advice on the dough.

And if you're ever wondering if a cheap Trader Joe's Malbec with sliced Gala apple and grapefruit would make a good sangria: that's a yes.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

I ate the best kale salad I've ever eaten in my life on Friday.

The restaurant I got it from is located right downstairs from my gym, where I stopped in with a friend after we took a very intense yoga class. Later, during a delightful drizzly afternoon in Laurel Canyon, we pondered the recipe, among other things.

I had thought that the kale was blanched, perhaps -- the texture was so interesting, cooked but not soft. Today I found the recipe and for a moment, rejoiced. Until I started really reading it. This was going to require math. And a lot of it.

The All Hail Kale Salad apparently calls for 6 bunches of kale to serve 8. Now, I'm fairly certain I could tuck away 2 servings a day for a couple days, so maybe I could halve the recipe. But then that means changing the rest of the recipe. How does one measure 1/2 an ounce of ginger, I ask you? And how many cups is in 1 1/4 quarts of Ginger Papaya Dressing? And how many cobs of corn does one roast to acquire 1 cup of roasted niblets? And am I going to be swimming in corn salsa if I make it as directed?

Recipe math is always tricky, too, because even if you get all the numbers right, the chemical reactions may be totally off. For example, I suspect that the enzymes in the papaya are what makes the kale have such a unique type of bite in this salad -- soft but maintaining the rough integrity of the leafy green. So if I halve the papaya in the dressing, will the kale soften as much? Questions, questions, questions. The questions are actually the way I talk myself out of running out to try and make this right this second. I'm sure I could spend the time to figure it all out on the internet. Or just suck it up and swim through kale for a week.

Or maybe one day, I'll feed an army of friends and loved ones this dish at a potluck. Until then, you taunt me, All Hail Kale salad.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

When I was very young, my mother reveled in the kitchen, working side-by-side with my father to recreate delicacies that couldn't be found in America. Traditional, complicated foods were plotted and savored with some regularity. Deep fried fritters that required a strange powder for the dough to hold were prepared in our little kitchen and doused with honey. The skins of the oranges we snacked on after dinner were saved for weeks so that we could make dried slivers of zest to tuck into rice, along with pistachios and barberries and saffron. We would pick the stems from leaves of parsley while watching The Cosby Show, before my father would take a big mezzaluna to chop it down into a fine mass along with other picked over herbs, before my mother would fry the herbs until they turned a very dark color, and they were ready to be stewed with onions and meat for several hours before being served with rice. There were nights when we would sit at a picnic blanket in the living room, smacking and sucking marrow out of bones, eating a mash of beans and meat with our fingers, using thin lavash bread to scoop it up.

Then came the doldrums, roughly the years surrounding my grandfather's long illness and his death. With his passing, something in the house unraveled, the tie to fatherland grew dim, and my mother's enthusiasm for filling the house with the smells of her childhood home seemed to wither for a time. And so, the cooking began to fall to me.

There was one dish that I made for many years, at the direction of my mother. Chicken with onions and turmeric. It is exactly what it sounds like, a most unenthusiastic recipe that filled our bellies without flair or nostalgia. Sliced onions were briefly sauteed before raw chicken and a heaping tablespoon of turmeric were added to a pot. A cup or two of water was added and a long simmer was set under way. I'd make a little pot of white rice and a salad of lettuce and tomato dressed with lemon and olive oil and that would be that. I was probably 11.

I later joked that eating this chicken so frequently made me become a vegetarian for 10 years once I turned 15. That might be true.

Tonight I came home somewhat late, and decided to bank a bit of cooked protein for the remainder of lunches this week to tie together all the loose bits of leftovers in my refrigerator right now. I'd thawed some chicken, but I cook chicken so rarely that I hardly know what to do with it, really. So I made the chicken with onions and turmeric, slopping it together in the pot on a sort of auto-pilot that hadn't grown rusty in the many years since I last made the dish. Then that yellow smell filled the house, and I remembered how long it had been.

Monday, February 21, 2011

As a new gym devotee, I've been trekking over to West Hollywood pretty regularly to take pelvic-thrusting dance classes and ambitious yoga classes. It's been really great, except for one thing... the gym is a bit of a commute from my place and, though I kinda love driving, the route can be a dangerous gauntlet when one is hungry and feeling entitled to a bit of a splurge post-workout.

I'm not typically tempted by fast food, but a lot of weird L.A. favorites lie between my apartment and the gym. If I were giving directions on how to get there from my house, they might include "turn right at House of Pies," to give you an idea.

But that's only if I take Franklin across town. Usually, I go on Sunset. Which means there's a standing battle on every commute: me vs. Zankou Chicken. I don't know what Armenian magic is wrought on these birds _ on appearance alone, it seems like they should be no different than your average grocery store rotisserie. The restaurant itself holds no charms, whatsoever. It's located in a fairly sketchy mini-strip mall, where there seems to be a screaming match over one of the few parking spots almost every time I'm there. The hard, plasticized seating tends to be greasy to the touch and I have to make a mental note not to inspect the floors too closely. There's a stuff-in-the-grout problem down there. And the employees working the register are ladies who have eyebrows that are either drawn on in an unflattering angle that makes them appear angry or... they're just truly pissed off to be there. Either way, I don't think they have ever smiled at me.

But the chicken is amazing. It comes with a little, bitty cup of a garlic paste that is completely delicious -- and I actually tend to avoid garlicky foods. And there's a little salad, a little tahini, a little hummus. Really, it's almost impossible to talk it up without overselling it, because it's a really simple meal. But the siren song of that chicken makes me have to squeeze the wheel and floor it past the corner of Normandie and Sunset with some regularity.

Also en route:
_ Toi, my favorite Thai restaurant in L.A., a title earned by nostalgia rather than epicurean assessment. They have my favorite vegetarian pad see ew, but I mostly love Toi because it's open until 4 a.m and we used to eat there after coming up to the big city from the burbs to see a band.
_ YogurtLand... it's a whole land of yogurt. And toppings. And pleasure. Sprinkly my ashes into the sliced almonds, please.
_ In N Out... note to future self: the protein-style double-double is still a double cheeseburger, albeit sans bun.
_ The Griddle... though there's always a million people outside and the wait can be brutal, this is easily my favorite breakfast place in LA., with really great huevos rancheros. It is also kindof a dump.

You also have to go through Little Armenia and Thai Town... And then there are all the places I go past in my neighborhood, which I happen to think has some of the best restaurants in town...

Ah, but it's a small price to pay to get to take classes in this fine facility.

(full disclosure: I have not taken the pole-dancing class.)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Though I've been an apartment dweller for the last decade, I do spend a considerable amount of time fantasizing about having a garden. This is among my more unreasonable pastimes because, unless I marry well, it's unlikely I'll ever own a plot of land large enough to host it.

This nesting desire-cum-tree-planting desire manifested, for a short time, as a semi-serious Farmville addiction. You know Farmville, the game your 8-year-old cousin can't stop thinking about at the dinner table as she rearranges her dinner into perfect rows and makes clicking noises every time she "harvests" a spoonful of mashed potatoes and eats it. It was fun to play for a time, but I had to stop before Dr. Drew showed up at my door.

So, now I think about what my real garden would have. I think I'd want a big orchard actually, too. That way I could have lemons, limes, grapefruits, tangerines... and all manner of nuts, like almonds, walnuts, pistachios... It would be nice to grow my own salad vegetables, too. And to have a berry patch. And grapes growing on arbors. Look at me, I'm quite fancy with my multiple arbors, aren't I?

But if I had limited space in my fantasy yard, and had to choose between garden or hot tub, I would choose hot tub. For the record.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Ugh. Two reasons I wish I hadn't ordered Thai for dinner tonight:
1. Tub Tim Siam is the best Thai place in my delivery area, I've established this. But it is still greasy as hell.
2. The apartment smells like Thai takeout in what I fear is a permanent way, despite repeated spraying of orange-scented Lysol.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

When I was 11, we took my first trip to Iran that I wasn't in diapers for. Customs officials around the world met my families deepest, darkest food fantasies while rifling through our luggage in search of contraband.

It was a long flight to Germany, then to Iran. We flew Luftahnsa, and I remember feeling cold for the whole flight, and that my mother was furious that we were seated one row ahead of the smoking section. I also remember dutifully eating the hard, dark brown bread with strange cheese they served in-flight because my mom told us that this was the sort of food her father had eaten in Germany, where he was educated.

Because each passenger was allowed two suitcases, my mother, me and my younger sister each lugged two massive suitcases to Tehran. That was the first flight I'd ever been on where you got off the plane and stood on the tarmac _ I had only experienced travel in the cool confines of American terminals. Ever the anxious child, as we stood in the middle of the night on a runway that smelled of fuel, I kept whipping my head around, certain that we were standing in the takeoff path of a zooming jet. We rode a very quiet bus in to the terminal, where everyone seemed anxious for what lay ahead of us: customs. After we managed to get our hulking suitcases onto carts and get in line, we watched as bored, sweaty customs officials rifled through the suitcases of the people ahead of us under unforgiving fluorescent lights. Everyone looked so wan and tired. There was a large sign greeting arrivals at Mehrabad Airport in those days, with Ayatollah Khomeini's beatific-seeming visage and the words Death to America on it. I felt offended but kept this to myself _ after years of playing the de facto (and sometimes unintelligible) translator to the numerous newscasts we watched in my home, I knew this was a common refrain.

Customs officials were flipping through books, asking if travelers intended to resell the 8 pairs of Levis in their suitcases that still had tags on. Many terse words seemed to be exchanged and I remember assuming the travelers' innocence and pitying their lack of foresight -- we had snipped tags from all the new clothes we'd brought as presents for our family, careful only to leave the small plastic tag-holders so that they would know they were not receiving hand-me-downs.

Our turn came. It wasn't long before our customs official became quite amused with our suitcase. He picked up the jar of peanut butter -- Jif, because my mother is quite choosy (and because she wanted to fatten up my cousin who was a picky eater). Laughing, he showed it to other customs officials. He picked up the salami, beef jerky and other meat products my uncle had come to miss in Iran, after spending his college years in the States. There was more laughter. I hoped they wouldn't see the pièce de résistance: in my mother's carry-on was a cold Big Mac, a food that I'd never eaten as an American citizen, but her brother had fond memories of. The customs official joked that Iran had food and asked if we were afraid of starving. My mom said no, playing nice. He then asked if we'd been back since the Revolution. My mother said we hadn't, and it was my first trip. He took pity on us, or deemed us to be the harmless weirdos we are, and let us through without further scrutiny. I breathed a sigh of relief that my most valued possession, the Donkey Kong handheld game in my backpack, had survived the trip without being confiscated.

When we came back to the States, we went through customs in Los Angeles. Again, we lugged all sorts of foods that are hard to explain and smelled a little funny to the table in front of a bored customs official. He was a tall white man, a little sweaty, a little tired, wearing a variety of uncomfortable things: a tightly tied necktie, a belt that must have dug into the underside of his considerable gut, and plastic gloves in the dog days of August in a windowless corner of an airport basement in Los Angeles.

"Tokhmeh? Pesteh? Badoom?" he asked, in accented Farsi. My mom, my sister and I giggled at this big white man asking us if we were smuggling in toasted seeds, pistachios or almonds into the country _ which did not amuse him. So as not to undermine his sense of authority, my mom dutifully showed him everything in our suitcase, trying to explain what things were.

"What's this?" he asked, raising a small mass of piroshkies wrapped in many layers of plastic. Knowing me, I'm fairly certain my mouth watered involuntarily at that moment, as it does now remembering it.

"Piroshki," I chirped, feeling very protective of one of my favorite foods. "It's like a jelly donut, but with custard or cooked ground beef in it," I said, underselling it a bit. My mom had brought a bag home for my dad _ they've been sweethearts since they were 15, and on their dates they would often go to a special vendor to get their piroshkis. I breathed a sigh of relief when he let us through.

My parents recently returned from Iran, bringing back a bunch of food souvenirs once more, including two favorites. Iranians eat lots of seeds and nuts, and one of my family's favorite snack foods (sold in movie theaters and the like) is berenjak, a mix of puffed basmati rice, sesame seeds and shahdooneh, which are hemp seeds or pot seeds, I'm not sure which. The seeds are toasted and salted, and the mix seems tart with lemon juice to me, but I'm not sure how it's prepared. To eat it, you scoop some into a saucer and dip your tongue into it, letting the tiny bits stick to your tongue. It's not the most attractive thing to watch, but the crunch and snap of the seeds and rice are endlessly satisfying.

Berenjak: from top to bottom, sesame seeds, puffed rice, shahdooneh.

Something we've only discovered in recent years are the delicious crackers of Iran. Again, it's the same ingredients in a sense: finely milled rice flour, sesame and shahdooneh.

From left to right: sweet, cardamom-scented morning crackers with sesame; savory shahdooneh crackers and sesame crackers.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Sunday, January 30, 2011

"New rule: If you're paying less than a buck for a taco you can't be shocked that the meat in it isn't really meat. Your 'meal' costs less than gum. There's a reason taco spelled backwards is O Cat." -- Bill Maher, "Real Time..." Jan. 28, 2011.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

It's been years since I've had a cold. My body tends to find more creative ways to be uncooperative and fail me, but this sniffling, sneezing, getting chills and feeling achey stuff is so foreign that I hardly know what to do.

Feed a cold, right? Is that what they say? Sure. It just so happens that I also feed a perfectly healthy body. But let's not quibble. Sniffle.

When I first started feeling icky, I went to my refrigerator with one word in my mind: healthy.

After recently wishing I had fresh fennel and teasing out that craving with brown sugar fennel ice cream in San Francisco, I had stocked up on my favorite crunchy vegetable, which happens to be favored as a digestive aid by the Italians. I also had some delicious ruby red grapefruit in the pantry. Which are the two ingredients I need for one of my favorite salads.
Segmented grapefruit, sliced fennel, salt, pepper, olive oil.

If I were feeling a bit fancier (or even the slightest bit energetic, really) I would have put this over baby arugula and topped it with parmesan shavings and toasted pine nuts. But just like this, it made me feel like a million bucks. For a few minutes.

The next day, I was still feeling fairly terrible. Call me Californian, but there is no comfort like Mexican food if you ask me. I decided that if I was going to feel like crap, I might as well have a drink to take the edge off. I proceeded to pick up tacos from my favorite stand (which happens to have won a James Beard Award and is within spitting distance of my apartment). They serve them with these pickled jalapenos that I love; they are so spicy that I bet they cure diseases by scaring them out of the body.

I mustered the energy to try and recreate the Michelada Classica that I liked so much from Loteria Grill, and I think I definitely got it right but I need to get the Dos Equis lager next time instead of Corona Light (which is truly awful).

Carnitas tacos from Yuca's, two jalapenos. Michelada cocktail with Tapatio, Worcestershire, lime and a rim of salt and crushed boullion.

I proceeded to pass out immediately after eating this last night. And haven't quite recovered yet.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"Travel light, live light, spread the light, be the light." -- my teabag is trying to enlighten to me
Growing up bilingual means knowing some things are so hard to translate that they will never be communicated properly, and sometimes the more effort you put into an explanation, the less understood it ends up being.

This feels particularly true in the kitchen. The hardest thing to explain to my adventurous food-loving friends who have asked me how to cook Iranian dishes is the concept of jah oftadan, which means "falling into place." You just have to keep cooking the food until it hits the right flavors, long after individual elements are thoroughly cooked enough to be edible. Though cookbooks will tell you that it's an hour or two for flavors to fall into place, they lie to sate marketers and publishers. Few Iranian dishes can be pulled off without 4 to 5 hours of straight simmering. On rare occasions, I've overdone it and overcooked dinner. But rarely.

If it wasn't clear before, it should be apparent now why European and American cooking is conceptually refreshing to me. The appeal lies in their embrace of the concept of overcooking as a flaw -- steaks are served medium rare, pasta is served al dente and the French like to cook a la minute for fresh fare, fast.

Maybe part of the intrigue is the mouth-wateringly long wait it takes for foods stew in their own juices, allowing for unlikely marriages of flavors like cinnamon and eggplant. It's fairly normal to not see a scrap of dinner before midnight at many Iranian dinner parties. The hunger and excitement such food repression creates is immeasurable.

A facet of jah oftadan goes beyond the melding of tastes, and deals with consistency and tenderness. You never want a soup or stew to be ab o doon jodah, which literally means "water and bits separate." When I think of this phrase, I can almost see my mother in my head, frowning while spooning at a bowl of Campbell's style chicken soup, allowing the broth to drip and splash before bits of carrots plopp into the bowl. You want herbs to have cooked into melting smoothness, meat that requires little chewing and beans and vegetables that are mushable with a spoon.

I tried to capture the difference with pictures of an ash e joh or barley soup that I made this week. It's made by browning stew beef with onions and turmeric. Add various beans (dried kidney, white, lentils, split yellow peas and garbanzos in this pot) and water to the pot, boil an hour. Add barley, boil an hour. Add a huge mess of herbs and spinach, boil for an extremely long time until everything is perfect.

Ab o doon jodah. See how you could fill a spoon with a wad of very green herbs or a hunk of beef and a bit of water, never getting everything the soup has to offer in one great bite? No good.

Ja oftadeh. See how the greens have boiled down into an olive-colored base for the broth and the soup is dense enough to stand up to its fried medley of garnishes (onions, garlic and mint)?

Perfect. I now have a massive pot of this in the fridge and a bunch of it frozen for cold days... assuming we get any more of those this winter. Oh, California.

Equally perfect but much less labor intensive is this black cherry Jell-O, morello cherries and whipped cream dessert parfait.

You are so beautiful... to me.

Monday, January 17, 2011

San Francisco, what a treat. I didn't take any pictures. I forget the names of the places we went, though I'd been to the taqueria in the Mission that Shannon and I went to with Rebecca before. And there was a place with skewered chicken hearts that were truly amazing. And a stabbingly great show, where we got real close to the stage and sang along like we were still teenagers. There were donuts at a donut stand: I ate the spiced chocolate donut and made my friends try it. It was awesome. There was ice cream at Humphrey somethings. I couldn't get through the buttery scoops of Vietnamese coffee or brown sugar fennel, but loved them both quite a lot. I feel like I lost my breath for a second there. There was other food, but it wasn't the best part. Good times.

Friday, January 14, 2011

My friend Carrie in New York sent me a very good-looking recipe for a lemony escarole soup recently and it came to mind this week while I was feeling a little under the weather. My fussy stomach and tired brain had me craving something clean, simple and light, and her recipe basically calls for a stewed head of greens doused in grated hard cheese. Perfect.

Carrie's recipe, and at one time this was Carrie's haircut but she pulled it off better.

Doesn't the word gorgability have a fantastic ring to it?

Less perfect than this lovely piece of mail was my brain function while at the Whole Foods in Glendale, shopping for the recipe. Blame it on feeling yucky, but I not only failed to get escarole, I got radicchio instead. I can't explain why. They don't look anything alike, taste anything alike. I don't use either in cooking very often, though I like both quite a lot. As I stood in front of the wall of organic greens, watching the water mister go on... and then off... and then on... I absently picked up a bunch of scallions (why? no idea.) walked up and down the aisle twice and finally asked the hippie employee where the radicchio was. She showed me, I put two heads of it in my cart, and continued to wander around the store for long enough to spend $100. So, 20 minutes.

It's like she knew I was going to blow it without a visual -- that is clearly not a round bulb of radicchio.

I got home and realized my error, but was feeling a little too weak to fight it. So I decided to make a radicchio soup in the style of Carrie's escarole soup. Also, because I didn't get chicken broth (though I definitely stood in an aisle staring at it for a time), I browned red onions to boost flavor and I added some whole fennel seeds. I'm always trying to add fennel to things and it seemed like maybe they'd like eachother, the fennel and the radicchio, as paesans. I love fresh fennel and kindof wished I had some after I got home with the wrong groceries. I wonder if fennel is easy to grow; I would grow that if I had a garden. And lemons. I digress.

I struggled against the urge to dump some balsamic vinegar on this and carmelize the radicchio and onions and fennel seed. Maybe next time.

Escarollin' with it.

As if the grated parmesan on top wasn't enough, I thought a little toasted olive bread topped with Swiss Emmental cheese would be this meal's fat and protein content.

Raddichio is fairly bitter, but cooked down in this way I didn't mind the slight bitter aftertaste at all -- in fact, it felt almost medicinal in my diminished state. I love the purple color of the broth. The dish inspires me to try a different recipe altogether -- some day, I should make an Italian Radicchio-Onion Soup in the style of French Onion Soup. Maybe the balsamic vinegar would be good for that base to draw out more flavor, deepen the color to mimic ze French version. Little crocks with cheesy Fontina toasts on top. Ohh, sounds yummy.

Thanks, Carrie. I enjoyed it tons, even if I did it all wrong. I'll write you soon, xoxo.

Sadly, no trip to Whole Foods is complete without serious regrets. In addition to TWO trips to the olive bar (almond-stuffed olives are such a sick weakness with me), there were some pretty eye-popping budgetary failures.

Olive loaf, made by local favorite La Brea Bakery. $8.

Tiny pasta that suckered the girl who's always nostalgic for New York. $8.