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Friday, December 9, 2011

Breakfast Grits Y'All Will Love

Gena Berry at Conference (
Les Dames d'Escoffier International  is an association of women in the culinary and hospitality industries and this year's annual conference was held in Atlanta.  I had been to Atlanta once before but only had time to visit the cola company museum and always suspected that there was a lot more to the city.  Sure enough, there is.
Ebenezer Baptist Church

A tour of the city included visits to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library & Museum (  and the Martin Luther King, Jr.National Historical Site (, both appropriately awesome centers honoring these amazing men.  It was a beautiful, sunny day, perfect for stepping back in time to revisit history and to remember the monumental strides both President Carter and Reverend King have made towards civil and equal rights for all. 
Presidential Library & Museum
Sonya Signing Her Book

 On a lighter note, the visit to Atlanta to attend the LDEI conference gave me a great opportunity to experience some of Atlanta's best culinary treasures, including a visit to The Sweet Auburn Bread Company, aka "Little Bakery That Could" to enjoy a tasty demonstration and delicious lunch prepared by owner and Atlanta Dame Sonya Jones (

 Later that same day I was at an event hosted by another Atlanta Dame Mary Moore at one of her 4 Cook's Warehouse stores (   The evening starred 4 additional Atlanta members Virginia Willis (, Rebecca Lang (, Angie Mosier (, and newly crowned Grand Dame and culinary icon Nathalie Dupree ( and actually from the Charleston Chapter of LDEI).  (Friend/Dame Gena Berry pictured at the top of this post made sure I had a vegetarian version of the delicious dinner.)   
Me and (Nathalie) Dupree

Much to the horror of the server at breakfast the next morning, when she saw me about to sprinkle brown sugar on my bowl of steaming grits, here's a recipe inspired by my visit to Atlanta.  Although Debbie went so far as to thrust her hand out in the "Stop" position, I did it anyway.  Heck, aren't grits just the Southern version of cream of wheat?  Apparently not according to Debbie, or Gena, or Brenda, or anyone really Southern.  With no disrespect to my fine Southern girlfriends, and inspired by a couple of Georgia's best culinary gifts, I offer these breakfast grits, Yankee-style.

Peach and Pecan Breakfast Grits
2/3 cup regular grits
2 1/3 cups water
4 Tbs. earth balance or butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup pecans, toasted
4 slices of peach (canned are just fine, in-season fresh would be better) 

In a small saucepan, melt the EB or butter then add the brown sugar and stir until blended.  Cut the peach slices in quarters and add to the butter/sugar mixture.  Add the toasted pecans, heat a couple of minutes, then set aside.

In a small pot boil the water then add the grits, returning to a boil, then simmer with the lid on for about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  When the grits are cooked to pleasure your textural taste buds turn off the heat.  There's enough to make 4 small servings, or 2 medium servings, or 1 big old servings, depending on how hungry you are.  Divide the butter/sugar/peach/pecan sauce to top the portions accordingly.  Sprinkle additional brown sugar if desired.

What's your favorite hot breakfast cereal?
Do you tilt your head when your picture is taken?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Korean Pear and Butternut Squash Soup - Simple and Very Satisfying

You probably have a recipe for butternut squash soup.  When I did a Google search there were 3,820,000 results in 0.11 seconds, and maybe your recipe is one of them.  You may also have a recipe for butternut squash soup with Asian pears or some type of pear, because there were 183,000 results for this search, in 0.28 seconds.  Wow, we're drinking a lot of some kind of butternut squash soup if Google results are any indication.

However, I could not find even 1 recipe for Korean Pear and Butternut Squash Soup, and even though Korean pears are a kind of Asian pear, they are different in that they are specifically from Korea and the growing/picking process is very special.  Extreme care and optimal conditions produce a juicier, better-tasting pear than from other areas.  Check out this video to see how it's done:

Using a butternut squash-Bartlett pear soup recipe from Vegetarian Times as a starting point, then switching out the B-pear for the super-juicy K-pear, substituting shallots in for leeks, going full fat instead of light on the coconut milk (that's what was in my pantry), and then lifting the soup up where it belongs with a couple of tablespoons of cream sherry, you have Korean Pear and Butternut Squash Soup - simple and very satisfying.  I  hope Google takes notice.

Korean Pear and Butternut Squash Soup                               
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium shallot, minced
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cubed
2 Korean Pears, peeled and cubed (eating 2-3 slices now is fine)
5 cups vegetable broth
1 can (14 oz.) coconut milk
1 tsp. fresh thyme
optional garnish:
coconut chips, lightly sweetened with agave syrup then toasted*

1.  Heat the oil in a stock pot over medium heat.
2.  Add the minced shallots and cook about 5 minutes until golden.
3.  Add the squash and pear cubes and saute 5 minutes.
4.  Add the vegetable broth and bring the mixture to a boil.
5.  Reduce heat and simmer the mixture about 30 minutes until squash is tender.
6.  Remove from the heat and add the coconut milk.
7.  Use an immersion blender to puree the mixture.
8.  Return the pot to the stove on low-medium heat for 3 minutes until the soup is reheated.
9.  Season with white pepper and salt.

*To make the toasted coconut garnish, start with unsweetened coconut chips, toss lightly with agave syrup, then toast until golden brown.  This makes them just slightly sweet and perfectly crunchy. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Persimmon Month Celebration Salad

This picture of the front of my house, taken just a couple of days ago, shows Fall in all its colorful glory.  Trees are in full-color throughout my neighborhood, about a mile or so from the Pacific ocean.  Yes, Virginia, there are seasons in Southern California.

These vivid, warm, bright colors are the inspiration for a little salad that represents the seasons best fruits and veggies and some of my favorite flavors, with a couple of extra seasonal twists.  A perfect dish to bring to a post-post Thanksgiving gathering at cousin Sherri's on Saturday, or maybe to somewhere you're going this weekend to celebrate Persimmon Month.

Take a look around you - there are colors and flavors everywhere to inspire your own culinary creativity.

Fall Harvest Salad
1 cup cubed Korean pears
1 cup cubed Fuyu persimmons
1 cup cubed, steamed, peeled Baby Beets
1 cup cubed red cabbage                                              
1 cup cubed green cabbage
1/3 cup diced scallions
1/2 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese
1/2 cup toasted pepitas

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup sparkling apple cider
1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar

1.  Whisk the dressing ingredients together.
2.  Mix all the fruits and veggies together.
3.  Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to combine.
4.  Sprinkle the gorgonzola and pepitas on the salad, lightly toss again, and serve.

If you'd like more info on the season's best produce visit

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Tempura Fruit - Thanks So Much

Need a little break from Thanksgiving preparations, shopping, cooking, etc.?  Well here's an idea for something seasonal and simple.  Seriously, you must read this post and make this recipe, I'm not kidding.

So, right now I have a case of Melissa's Korean Pears because 1) it's Korean Pear season, 2) they're crisp & juicy, unusual yet familiar at the same time, and 3) ginormous in size means more fruit per square inch.  The fact that I'm a consultant for the company is beside the point because 1) their products are really the best and 2) they're my friends and that's what friends are for.

What to do with my bounty of Korean Pears?  For a long time I've thought about making fruit tempura and these KP's practically screamed out "core now, slice into 1/4" thick rings, coat in tempura batter, fry in grapeseed oil, drain on paper towels, and start eating you fool".  Luckily I also had a box of Kikkoman Tempura Batter Mix Japanese Style Extra Crispy from my friend Helen who is the test kitchen and development chef for that company.

In no time the batter was made, the oil was hot, the KP's were sliced into rings (skin on) and the tempura train was ready to leave the station.  You will want to eat a ring or two au naturale, but try one or two sprinkled

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Mysteries and Morsels

Mystery stories are favorites of mine, in books, movies, and live performances too.  Last Friday night my friend Cynthia and I drove (very slowly on the 405 of course) out to North Hollywood to see "And Then There Were None", Agatha's Christies 'Ten Little Indians' story, set on a secluded island in a mysterious mansion.. 

Lots of "curtains" in this play as the cast starts dropping one after the other, with suspense, humor, and production quality far exceeding the little theater and only one very stylish set.  Only 2 weekends left, so catch it if you can, or look for a play that interests you in your neck of the woods and you'll probably get more than your money's worth - we definitely did.    


Before the play we went to Big Mama's and Papa's Pizza in Burbank and had their amazing Khachapouri, aka Egg Gondola Pizza.  Their regular pizza and Greek salad were also delicious.  Worth the drive or put it on your list of places to go next time you're in the Valley. 

On Saturday I participated in another Santa Monica Food Swap at Palisades Park  It was a beautiful day to be ocean side with fellow foodies sharing recipe ideas, restaurant recommendations, and the other delicious things that come up when friendly people who love food get together.  This time I brought some Quince Butter with Cinnamon & Rose Water, and Fatima's Date & Almond Truffles from a recipe by my friend, cookbook author Kitty Morse  These sweet morsels resemble their chocolate counterparts but are made from dates, almonds, honey, orange blossom water, cinnamon, and toasted coconut, and one bite will transport your taste buds  to an exotic, mysterious place.

Hope your weekends are filled with good fun and great food!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

All Pumpkins Great and small

Fall's iconic orange pumpkin takes us gastronomically and ornamentally from Halloween through Thanksgiving.  Botanically a fruit, in the same family as squash and gourds, millions of pumpkins planted in the warmth of July are now ready for us to have our way with them.

California is one of the top pumpkin producing states in the U.S., and in Half Moon Bay up the coast, the annual Art & Pumpkin Festival draws over 250,000 visitors.  Farmers and other competitive food cultivators from near and far compete for bragging rights, and this year's winning orb weighed in at 1,704 pounds.

Another way that sizes matters is that small pumpkins are best for cooking and larger pumpkins are best for carving.  Baked, steamed, boiled, broiled, roasted, or mashed, the mild, slightly sweet pumpkin flesh is a tasty addition to puddings, muffins, soups, stews, cookies, cheesecakes, and of course pie.  To make a puree, cut the pumpkin open, remove the fibrous strings and seeds (set these aside to roast), cut the pumpkin into 4-8 pieces and place on a baking pan lined with foil.  Bake at 375 degrees for 1-1 1/2 hours until the flesh is soft, then allow to cool until the flesh can easily be scooped from the rind and then process until smooth.

One of my favorite seasonal recipes is for Pumpkin and Sage Gnocchi and I'm sharing a version of it with you here.  I cannot tell a lie - I was too lazy to make my own pumpkin puree, and my local grocery store was out of canned pumpkin, so I used a box of frozen butternut squash, and if I hadn't confessed that fact no one would have been able to tell the difference. 

Fresh Pumpkin or Frozen Butternut Squash and Sage Gnocchi
1 lb. ricotta cheese
8 oz. pumpkin or butternut squash puree
2 Tbsp. maple syrup
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh sage
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
2 eggs
2 tsp. sea salt
2 pinches fresh ground black pepper
3 cups all-purpose or white whole wheat flour
4 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. earth balance or butter
1 extra Tbsp. chopped fresh sage
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup toasted pepitas

In a medium sized bowl combine the ricotta, pumpkin (oops I mean butternut squash), maple syrup, sage, parsley, eggs, salt and pepper, and blend together.

Put the flour in a separate bowl, create a well in the center, and fill it with the liquid mixture.  Fold together until a dough is formed - if slightly sticky add a bit more flour.

Take an amount of dough about the size of a tennis ball and using both hands roll the ball out into a cylinder shape about 3/4" in diameter.  With a sharp knife but the cylinder into 1" pieces, imprint 1 side with the back of a fork, set aside the finished gnocchi, and repeat with the remaining dough.  Stage the gnocchi on a parchment lined baking sheet lightly dusted with flour and keep covered until ready for cooking.

Fill a large pot with water, add a pinch or 2 of salt, and bring to a boil.  Add 15-20 gnocchi into the water and remove after the gnocchi float to the top.  Remove them from the boiling water and repeat until all the gnocchi are cooked. 

Heat the olive oil and butter in a saute pan, adding the additional fresh sage, then enough gnocchi to fill the pan.  Saute until the gnocchi are lightly browned, season with additional s&p, divide onto plates, sprinkle with the Parmesan and pepitas, and serve.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Buddha's Hand - You Had Me At Longevity

One of the coolest things about working for the greatest produce company in the world ( is that my culinary creativity is constantly challenged to come up with delicious, unique ways to use some of Mother Nature's most extraordinary fruits and vegetables. 

A fairly new item is Green Buddha's Hand, sibling to the Yellow Buddha's Hand which has been seen in these parts for a few years now.  Originally from northeastern India and carried by Buddhist Monks to China, this remarkable looking and unbelievably fragrant fruit now also grows right here in coastal California.

Don't let the gnarly "fingers" scare you off from this most unusual fruit.  While this is definitely not your mama's citron - no actual fruit or juice inside - it's the amazing zest and peel that is used in baking, flavoring spirits, and pretty much added to anything where a citrus-flavor and scent would be welcome, that makes this fruit so highly treasured..

Buddha's Hand offers not only wonderful flavor and fragrance, but it's prized in many cultures as a symbol of good fortune, prosperity, happiness, and longevity.  Lots of reasons to get out some bottles and canning jars to whip up a couple of simple recipes to share some good fortune.

Two Hands - Two Recipes!

Buddha's Hand Vodka 
1 Buddha's Hand                                                   
medium sized glass bottles (about 12 oz. size)

Cut strips of the Buddha's Hand skin - some pith is fine because it's usually not bitter like lemons.
Put about 6-7 strips in each bottle, fill with vodka, then close up the bottles.
Store for at least 1 month in a cool, dark place.
Make these soon so they'll be ready for holiday gift giving.

Buddha's Hand Marmalade
(3 half-pint jars)
1 Buddha's Hand
4 cups water
3 cups sugar
juice of 1/2 a lemon

Dice the Buddha's hand skin and a little pith.  Place in a heavy pot with the water and let soak at least 1 hour.
Turn on the burner to high heat until the mixture is boiling.  Continue boiling for 30 minutes. 
Add the sugar and stir to dissolve.  Boil gently for an additional 45 minutes.
Add the lemon juice to the mixture and continue boiling another 10 minutes.
Fill sterilized jars with the mixtures, seal, and place in a water bath for 10 minutes.
Remove to your counter and let sit overnight. 
I'm thinking that I should have left more pith on the peel, or added some conventional citrus because the concoction is on the runny side so not so much the consistency for spreading on a scone.  But I know it will make a delicious glaze or syrup, and I can confirm it was delicious in my Earl Grey this morning.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Easiest Jam Recipe Ever

Last Sunday my alarm went off because I didn't want to miss the "Preserve It!" demos at the Good Food Festival in Santa Monica.  Like always, I hit the snooze button, snoozed some more, hit the button again, snoozed some more, then turned off the alarm altogether and thought fugetaboutit I'm going to keep snoozing.  But then something amazing happened.  I woke up on my own, and since there was still time to brush off the dust, hop in the car, and get to the Fest, that's just what I did.  And boy am I glad I did and now you will be too.

Valerie with Steamin' Jam
The first demo was by Valerie Gordon of Valerie Confections.  Famous for her chocolates, and her baked goods, Valerie is doing the same thing with jams. While I've made jams and pickled veggies, I needed an infusion of inspiration to get my big beautiful blue canning pot out of the pantry and onto the stove.  To my good fortune, Valerie demo'd the easiest jam recipe ever to remind me how simple it is.

Example Pot of Jam
How simple could it be?  Well, what about 5 pounds of plums (no peeling required), 2 pints of blackberries (my idea), and 3 1/2 cups of sugar.  Cube the plums, put everything in a largish, heavyish pot, and cook on medium heat about 30 minutes to start to break down the fruit, then cook another 20-30 minutes on high heat to jam it all up.

While this is happening, fill a really large pot with water, so the water will cover the jars with at least 2" of headroom, until the water is boiling.  Also be sure you have a rack or steamer basket for the bottom of the pot, to lift the jars off the bottom when processing, allowing the boiling water to surround the jars.

Take your new canning jars (you'll need 8 half-pints), lids, and rings, and wash them in hot, soapy water.  Then put the jars only in the boiling water for about 5 minutes, remove to your towel covered counter, and dry these off.

Ladle the jam into each jar, leaving about 1/4" at the top, wipe the rim clean, then put on the lid and ring and twist shut.  Put the jars in the rack or lower the jars onto the steamer basket in the boiling water.  This is where a jar lifter would really come in handy, but if you don't have one, carefully use tongs.  Leave the jars in the boiling water for 20 minutes, then even more carefully remove them from the pot and onto the towel covered counter.  Gently wipe any remaining water off the jars and leave on the counter overnight.

Within just a few minutes of placing your jars on the counter you will hear this little ping.  Then another one, and so on.  That's the sound of your jam saying good job.  One last thing is the next day use your thumb to push on the lid and when nothing happens - Congratulations, you have just made your very own, homemade, easiest jam ever plum & blackberry jam.  Not only is this a great jam for putting over a schmear of goat cheese on an English muffin, but it's very tasty with vanilla ice cream, and I'm sure you will find many other ways to use this tart, tasty, fruit, easy jam.  Yes we can!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

You Gotta Serve Somebody This Salad

Once a month my food blogger group meets to brainstorm and chow down on a potluck of blogging quality dishes.  In other words, food must taste great and must look great because there will be lots of lips smacking and cameras flashing.  Just a little pressure I must say.  So I look high and low for inspiration and with the sweet and/or savory stars aligned, I got my idea...

Since I'm very partial to salads in general, and salads including potatoes in particular, and because Rosh Hoshanah is right around the corner, and one of my mother's staple Jewish holiday salads takes potatoes then adds beets, onions, and hard boiled eggs to a Moroccan inspired, Russian influenced palate pleasing place, I have my recipe well underway.  To make it my own, I substitute shallots for onions (more delicate I think), and for a twist on the traditional vinaigrette I use cream style horseradish instead of mustard.  Lots of chopped parsley sprinkled on top brings the salad to life and there's nothing left to do but dig in.

At the FBLA meeting, thanks to the generosity of Melissa's Produce Company, I was able to give each blogger a bag of Dutch yellow potatoes, a jar of cream-style horseradish, a package of ready-to-eat beets, and a small bag of shallots.  With my salad as inspiration, I'm hoping that other recipes using all or any of these items will be created and shared in the blogosphere soon.

P.S.  Thanks to my blogger friends for inspiring me to keep on bloggin'!

Jewish Holiday Potato & Beet Salad
1 lb. Dutch yellow potatoes
1 pkg. steamed-peeled beets, cubed                                           
2 eggs, hard boiled and chopped
1-2 shallots, diced
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1 Tbsp. beet juice
3 Tbsp. cream-style horseradish
sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
3 cups chopped romaine lettuce or spinach or arugula or whatever you like
3/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Steam potatoes about 15 minutes.  Let cool enough to handle then cut into cubes.

To make the dressing, whisk the oil, lemon juice, vinegar, beet juice, and cream-style horseradish together.  Season with sea salt and fresh ground black pepper.  Set aside for just a little while.

Line the bottom of a large serving bowl with the greens of your choice.  Put the potato cubes on top of the greens.  Put the cubed beets on top of the potatoes.  Put the chopped eggs on top of the beets.  Put the diced shallots on top of the eggs.  Sprinkle the chopped parsley over everything.  Pour as much dressing as you like over the salad.  Let everyone see how fantastic it looks.  Now you can toss it and serve.

Variations:  Add capers or celery or olives (black or green) or cilantro or pine nuts or pepitas or whatever you like.  Actually the Russian version usually has carrots but I thought that would be too sweet for me.  

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Creativity - Coming Soon to a Project Near You


[kree-ey-tiv-i-tee, kree-uh-]                     

the state or quality of being creative.
the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination: the need for creativity in modern industry; creativity in the performing arts.
the process by which one utilizes creative  ability: Extensive reading stimulated her creativity.
Add plywood, broken tiles, old plates

Take one old iron table - no top

Close-up Ready!
To me, being creative is a large part of what makes life worth living.  You might even say that creativity is one of life's main ingredients.  So today I want you to consider creativity and all of its beneficial nutrients.  Letting curiosity lead you to new places and experiences.  Being as conventional or inventive as you want to be. Expressing your desire to transform or transcend.  To plan or not to plan - the choice is ultimately yours. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Mother Knows Best

My mother's been a pretty good sport during "The Vegetarian Years", a.k.a., my life since 1985.  She even requests that we go to a vegan restaurant about once a month.  One of her few vegetarian digs has been to mispronounce tofu as "soul food" and I correct her every time.  I admit that she's in the majority when it comes to mocking tofu, with the general consensus being 1) it doesn't taste like anything and/or 2) it tastes gross and/or 3) what exactly is it?  My response is 1) it tastes like whatever you season, marinate, and/or serve it with, 2) see #1, and 3) tofu is soybean curd, a relative of the very healthy, natural soybean.

My Beautiful Mother and festive sparkler

It may not be nice to fool mother nature but once in a while it's fun to fool my mother.   So when she was over for lunch on Saturday, and while she was waiting for the main course, I brought her a little glass bowl filled with a delicious egg (wink, wink) salad for her to spread on some bread.  "How do you like that?" I asked and she replied "it's very good egg salad" and I said "no it's not" and she said "what do you mean?" and I said "it's soul-food".  She hesitated for a few seconds and with a big smile said "it's still very good!"

Now, therefore, I hereby proclaim that today is Tofu Tuesday and today's special tofu recipe is "Egg" Salad, with a side of homemade Dutch yellow potato chips.  This is very reminiscent of one of my favorite childhood lunches that mommy used to make - egg salad on wonder bread and a bag of chips. Actually, now that I think about it, tofu is soul-food.  Mother does know best..

Better Than "Egg" Salad (Really)
1 pkg. extra firm tofu (water packed)
1/2 cup shredded carrots, finely diced 
1/3 cup celery, finely diced
1/4 cup green onion, finely diced
1/3 cup Vegenaise/mayo (or as much as you like)
1 tsp. turmeric (or more if you like)
seasalt and fresh ground blackpepper

In a medium sized bowl, take a fork and run it through the block of tofu until it resembles diced egg whites.  Add the carrots, celery, and green onion and stir the mixture together.  Add the Veganaise and turmeric and mix until well incorporated.  Season with s&p, mix again, taste.  This makes enough for a bunch of sandwiches.

Dutch Yellow Potato Chips
8 Melissa's Dutch yellow potatoes, medium sized
vegetable oil for frying
sprig of fresh rosemary

water with lemon added for holding the potatoes between cutting and frying

Fill a bowl with about 4 cups of water and the juice of 1/2 a fresh lemon.  Using your Martin Yan kitchen knife ( if you have one or another sharp knife, cut the potatoes into very thin slices then place them in the water until all the potatoes are sliced. 

In a small frying pan add vegetable oil about 1 1/2" deep and heat until sizzling.  Throw a few of the rosemary leaves into the oil, followed by some of the blotted potato slices.  Cook about 4 minutes or so per side until lightly golden, and slightly crisp on the edges.  Remove the potato slices from the oil and place on paper towels to drain.  Sprinkle with s&p.  Repeat with more blotted potato slices.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat. 
This makes a nice pile of chips.

For more potato info go to

For more tofu ideas go to


Monday, August 8, 2011

When Life Hands You Lychees

Recently I was the very lucky recipient of a small bumper crop of fresh lychees.  These rosy red orbs were leftover from my recent participation on behalf of Melissa's Produce Company at Project Sake.  This benefit   for the Little Tokyo Service Center, held at the magnificent Vibiana (the first cathedral in Los Angeles before a newer, slightly larger one was built), is another reason why I have a great job.  I get to do good and I get to eat really good too.

Succulent Lychees courtesy of Melissa's Produce Co.
One of the tastiest of all fruits, Lychees are fantastic just peel-and-eat style, but because there were enough to munch on and also make something with, I googled "lychee recipes" and I couldn't resist a simple one for lychee infused vodka.  With vodka always on hand for infusion opportunities, and an only 5-day waiting period, this recipe looked like, and in fact turned out to be a winner.

To take this to the next level, because it's summer cocktail time and with further inspiration from Project Sake, I created this Lychee Martini.  With sake in place of vermouth, and fresh basil sugar syrup for sweetness, this is a drink for all seasons, but especially for right now.  声援  (Cheers in Japanese.)

Lychees Infusing Vodka
Lychee Infused Vodka
2 lbs. fresh lychees
6 cups vodka

Peel and pit lychees.  Place in glass jar, add 6 cups of vodka, put on the lid, and let stand in a cool, dark place at least 5 days.  Drain infused vodka through cheesecloth, and store in  the refrigerator.

Amazingly delicious Lychee Martini on latest mosaic creation
Sake To Me Lychee Martini
2 oz. lychee infused vodka
1 oz. sake
1 oz. basil sugar syrup

Place the liquids in a shaker with ice.  Shake, shake, shake.  Strain into pretty glass, garnish with "pickled" lychee & basil flower.

Basil Sugar Syrup
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
4 basil leaves

Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and heat on medium until sugar is completely dissolved and mixture has come to a slow boil.  Take the saucepan off the heat, add the basil leaves, and let stand for about an hour.  Remove the basil.  Store syrup in the refrigerator.  Right now this is my go-to sweetener for iced tea too.  And try this with other herbs - let your imagination lead the way.

For more on fresh lychees go to

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

So Much Promise, So LIttle Produce

What's not to like about growing your own food on your very own land?  Going to the garden center and picking out the very best soil and organic plants and seeds to have exactly the things you want  whenever you want them.  Standing with the garden hose and zoning out to the sensation of spraying water. To watch each seed grow and each plant change from day to day, first a little sprout then a stem, a leaf, a flower, a zucchini.  "You've planted too much and you won't know what to do with it all" friends warned and so I braced myself for pick-up truck loads.

So Much Promise

 Local.  Sustainable.  "Farm" to table.  I am one with my garden.  Well actually not so much.  I tried, I really did.  "Good morning zucchini, how are you doing snap peas, love you tomatoes, blah, blah, blah."  Instead of being one with my garden it's more like I'm one with the DWP - now that my water bill has gone up double digit percent and they've upgraded my account to platinum.  I was in way over my head, not realizing that not only a lot of water, but a lot of care, cleaning, trimming, weeding, pruning, and feeding among other things went into this little old fashioned grow your own experience. Garden creatures apparently like collard greens and snap peas as much as I do so it's been a race to get them first - Losing!  That abundance of zucchini has amounted to a sum total of 1, one, uno, aka the Lone Zucchini.  Seven, count 'em, 7 snap peas.  A few tops but not a carrot to be found.  Lots of tomato leaves, and only 2 measly albeit teeny green fruit.  A lonely bell pepper the size of a malted milk ball, something that looks like an exploded yellow cauliflower, and not a cilantro stem in sight.
The Lone Zucchini
So Little Produce

I will not abandon the "crops" now, but this will be my first and last vegetable garden.  It's too much work, water, and worry.  That one zucchini cost about $136.  Now I know this much is true - store bought vegetables are a bargain.  I truly appreciate how much is involved in turning a seed into a snap pea, and have renewed respect for farmers big and small, from near and far.  Let the farmers do what they do best, which is make things grow in ways I apparently can't.  Let the markets, both farmers and super, do what they do best which is make it all available every single day, at extremely reasonable prices, so that I can do some of my best things - shopping, cooking, and eating.  Oh, and maybe I'll  keep the the cute hat too.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Sunday Swapping and Sunset Boulevard

Where's the 405?
The biggest challenge we face living in Los Angeles isn't the closure mid-July of part of the 405 freeway in a week or so.  It's the ongoing, always growing, never ending, sometimes confusing, constantly enticing array of things to do, places to go, people to see.  Festivals, farmers' markets, premieres, sporting events, book signings, flea markets, conventions, volunteer opportunities, cultural events unlimited, plays, concerts, gallery openings, meetup groups, which classes to take, restaurants to try, day trips to take, etc., etc., make weekends in L.A. no place for social sissies.

If you do nothing you can feel very guilty, lazy, or at least left out - yikes, could I be a loser?   So you pour over the Times' events calendar, check your online notices, and try your best to pick and choose what's best for you, i.e., still leaving a few dollars in your no-interest earning bank account, and maybe time for reruns of MI-5 and a short nap.  One recent Sunday had so many options I seriously thought about going back under the covers and waiting it out until Monday.  But my two main events actually sounded so good that I changed into some clothes and headed out for new adventures.

Event #1 was my first visit to one of downtown L.A.'s classic movie theaters, to see one of Hollywood's classic movies.  It was the 100th anniversary of the Palace Theatre, with a screening of "Sunset Blvd.", and Gloria Swanson and Bill Holden were better and bigger than ever (remember, it's the pictures that got small)..  Part of the Los Angeles Conservancy's (  25th Last Remaining Seats' series, watching a classic movie on a big screen with a theater full of people was a unique experience.  Glad I went. 

Event #2 was my first food swap, which is the latest craze for crazy people like me who love to craft food and wrap it up real nice.  This swap, one of several now held monthly in various parts of the southland, was in Santa Monica (  About a dozen or so fellow foodies were there with a nice array of home made, hand made, or hand picked goodies up for swap.  I brought little jars of my sweet/sour pickled grapes, a white & milk chocolate bark with dried rainier cherries, pecans, and orange zest, plus macadamia nut brittle with Hawaiian sea salt (recipe below).  Came home with walnut pesto, chimichurri sauce, teriyaki marinade, tomatillo salsa, granola, cake pops, and snicker doodle cookies.  Really glad I went.

Life is a big adventure and all you need is a little planning and the right attitude to fill your's with great experiences.  Discovering new places, revisiting old favorites, seeing your city with all of its opportunities and in all its diversity is a fine way to spend any weekend.  Go out and explore - you'll be glad you went.

Macadamia Nut Brittle with Hawaiian Sea Salt
(adapted from
3/4 stick butter + more to spread on pan
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup clear corn syrup
2 cups macadamia nuts, toasted and chopped
1 1/2 Tbsp. Hawaiian sea salt

Lightly butter a baking pan.  Dissolve the baking soda in the vanilla.

In a heavy pot over medium heat mix the sugar, water, 3/4 stick of butter, and corn syrup until the butter is melted and sugar is dissolved.

Add a candy thermometer to the pan, increase the heat,  and cook until mixture turns a dark golden brown (like Loving Care #52 before I decided to embrace the gray), stirring from time to time with a wood spoon.

When the thermometer reaches 335 degrees (this could take anywhere from 20-30 minutes or more but stick with it), then remove the pot from the heat and carefully mix in the soda/extract mixture and chopped nuts (mixture is bubbling up now), and immediately pour onto the prepared pan.  Using the wooden spoon quickly spread out the goop so it's a nice, even level.  Let it cool about 5 minutes then sprinkle with the sea salt.

After about an hour at room temperature this buttery, nutty, crunchy, incredible concoction will be ready for devouring.