Friday, December 30, 2005

The truth about junk food

Clearly, some time ago makers and consumers of American junk food passed jointly through some kind of sensibility barrier in the endless quest for new taste sensations. Now they are a little like those desperate junkies who have tried every known drug and are finally reduced to mainlining toilet-bowl cleanser in an effort to get still higher.

-Bill Bryson

Thursday, December 22, 2005

My new neighborhood

In addition to a cool new stove (literally - it has no door springs, so everything takes twice as long to bake. But the kitchen is nice and warm) - I live in a cool new neighborhood.

One of the great things about living here is that it is heavily Latino, almost Mexico norte. For instance, we have street food vendors, something that NEVER happened when I lived in gringo-land on the other end of the county.

On Thursdays we have the tamale man. Unfortunately I have missed every visit so far, but I am living in hope. Yes, I know about the lard. I love tamales so much I may have to pretend it doesn't exist.

And last weekend, on a cold Sunday, I heard a bicycle horn honking up and down the street. Paletas? I wondered. But it seemed too cold and grey for ice cream bars.

I walked out to see. Elotes! A small woman in a plastic rain poncho was pushing a cart that had a pot of hot water on it. If you wanted, she would use tongs to pull out a large ear of corn on the cob and then add the condiments you like to it, all for $1.25.

Perhaps you are thinking of corn on the cob with butter and salt. Change your thinking, my friend.

I was unfortunately not hungry, but my neighbor got the works - first, a thick smear of mayonnaise. Then a container full of crumbled salty cotija cheese was flipped open and the cheese tossed in a flurry over the mayo.

THEN a drizzle of liquid margarine. Were we done yet? Hell, no. A quick spritz of lime juice from a sprayer bottle and a hot red coating of chile powder completed the masterpiece.

Now, don't you wish you lived in Mexico norte? A treat like that, eaten in your driveway on a cold Sunday afternoon, makes life worth living.

Como Mexico, no hay dos!

Monday, December 05, 2005

Deepest apologies

Sorry for my extended absence. I have been in the process of moving, and you know how that is.

The good news is that I am the proud renter....of a genuine 1940's O'Keefe and Merritt stove with the griddle in the middle.

It looks like this:

Except not quite that clean or shiny.

It also has the added little problem of having no door springs so baking takes, oh, twice as long. But the Good Landlord promised to fix that soon. I hope so. It is Christmas cookie season!

In any case, I am delighted to have the same stove we had when I was a kid right in my own kitchen. Now I can do like my dad did - come home from work, prop the stove door open, warm my feet with the pilot light and eat saltines and cheese and pieces of oily smoked bonito fish sliced off with my pocket knife. Maybe I won't actually do it - but that stove sure brings back those good memories.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Desserts with Nick Malgieri

Let's Get Cookin' gourmet store in Westlake Village is the center of a cooking subculture. It doesn't look like much from the outside - small, with windows crowded with cook books and cooking supplies - but inside it opens up into a surprisingly large yet snug shop with a nice demo kitchen in the back.

So there are always passionate cooks stopping by to pick up some gadget or cookbook they need, or to take cooking classes. I love going there because I am among my Tribe. I know no one will think I am insane for needing a green bean slicer, a Le Creuset pan shaped like a red bell pepper, and some balsamic vinegar priced like a fine Cabernet.

There is desk space for about 25 class members. During the day and on weekends, they offer hands-on classes. During the evenings, there are demonstration classes by famous and semi-famous chefs and authors. The walls are lined with photos of the unflappable owner, Phyllis Vaccarelli, with some of the biggest names in cooking today and in the past. I always love to see Julia Child smiling down at me from that wall.

On Nov. 17, 2005 cookbook author and cooking teacher Nick Malgieri taught a dessert class. His most recent book is A Baker's Tour: Nick Malgieri's Favorite Baking Recipes from Around the World."

He prepared, from scratch, 5 recipes, including a Norwegian Princess Cake, complete with bubble-gum pink marzipan (again from scratch) topping. Pretty impressive for a 2 1/2 hour class.

Malgieri is not a flashy teacher - think of him as the anti-Emeril. But he makes up for in substance what he lacks in showmanship. He has the sort of calm, measured demeanor you expect from someone who has the patience to be a great baker. Cooks can be wild and flighty, but bakers had better have their ingredients in order.

His talk was sprinkled with useful tips and he even took time during the break to give a student a long description of how to make the caramel topping for Dobosh torte, complete with diagrams. (One hint: place the caramel layer on a bed of granulated sugar, which acts like tiny ball bearings, so you can scoot it around easily.)

Princess Cream Cake

The five things he made were a caramelized Swiss nut torte, the aforementioned Princess Cream Cake, A Viennese Bishop Torte, Torta Caprese Bianca and Jan Hagel Shortbread Cookies.

The Torta Caprese Bianca was not made with goat cheese (as the name "Caprese usually suggests), but rather was from the isle of Anacapri. Malgieri warned us that the flavor was subtle, so I was worried that I wouldn't like it. I usually crave those kind of hit-you-over-the-head flavors like chocolate and chile and rosemary. This was made with white chocolate, lemon and almonds. The white chocolate gets melted and gives the batter a lovely richness. The Torta was my favorite thing of the night - a fabulous texture and a light flavor.

My second preference were Jan Hagel Shortbreads, which Malgieri is shown making in the top photo. A very sandy-textured dough - more of a powder than a dough, really - is pressed into a parchment-lined pan. Sliced almonds are pressed on top, it is baked, and voila. Crisp, buttery cookies with just a small warm hint of cinnamon. These are the kind of cookie that I dare not make, lest I eat most of a pan at one sitting. Delicious.

The Bishop Torte was a pannetone-like cake leavened only by whipped egg whites. It is studded with chunks of chocolate and usually candied orange peel, though in this case Malgieri used candied pineapple. It is much better the second day when the flavors have had a chance to come together and the texture has tightened. I know because I ate it for breakfast.

The nut torte knocked me out, too. The filling of big chunks of walnuts in a caramel base with just a dab of honey was made for my palate. The rich buttery crust wasn't so bad, either.

I was surprised that the most spectacular dessert, the Princess Cream Cake, was the one I liked least. Layers of sponge cake are filled with whipped and pastry cream and the whole thing is encased in marzipan. One of the audience members said that she had had it with a raspberry filling, which Malgieri said he had never seen on his travels in Europe. I think it might just - pardon the expression - kick it up a notch.

Here is the complete assortment for your viewing pleasure. If you want to taste, you will just have to bust out the $35 and buy the book. Believe me, just for these recipes, it is worth it.

From the Pink Princess Cream Torte clockwise: Swiss Nut Torte, Torta Caprese Bianca, Jan Hagels, and, in the middle, Bishop Torte.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

You Do What You Eat

Despite my extensive training in nutrition (2 big classes at Cal State University, Northridge), I usually hesitate to use this blog to delve into the world of vitamins and minerals. I proceed to eat whatever I feel like and ignore the dietary consequences. I figure "I'm a vegetarian - what more do you want from me?

But this article I found on relating behavior to nutrition was so amazing that I felt I simply must post an excerpt and a link:

You Do What You Eat
by Marco Visscher
Bernard Gesch, physiologist at the University of Oxford, decided to test the anecdotal clues in the most thorough study so far in this field. In a prison for men between the ages of 18 and 21 in England's Buckinghamshire, 231 volunteers were divided into two groups: One was given nutrition supplements along with their meals that contained our approximate daily needs for vitamins, minerals and fatty acids; the other group got placebos. Neither the prisoners, nor the guards, nor the researchers at the prison knew who took fake supplements and who got the real thing.

The researchers then tallied the number of times the participants violated prison rules, and compared it to the same data that had been collected in the months leading up to the nutrition study. The prisoners given supplements for four consecutive months committed an average of 26 percent fewer violations compared to the preceding period. Those given placebos showed no marked change in behaviour. For serious breaches of conduct, particularly the use of violence, the number of violations decreased 37 percent for the men given nutrition supplements, while the placebo group showed no change.
The experiment was carefully constructed, ruling out the possibility that ethnic, social, psychological or other variables could affect the outcome. Prisons are popular places to conduct studies for good reason: There is a strict routine; participants sleep and exercise the same number of hours every day and eat the same things at the same time.

Fascinating to consider, no?

Friday, November 04, 2005

Two-Day Egg Custard

How is it that I can make something like dried ancho chiles stuffed with potatoes and chorizo in a chile-seed tomato sauce, yet a simple thing like egg custard defeats me?

Perhaps I never got around to making it in my 40-plus years of existence because of the name. "Egg custard." Are there two more ugly-sounding words in the English language. Say them. They just die on the middle palate (ok, that is one of my favorite wine-snob pronuncements (because it is pretty much undefineable and therefore unarguable)) but you get what I mean. Plah. Egg. Custard.

The other night Mr. Snackish requested egg custard. I flew into action, checking the internet for recipes because the infamous recipe bookcase was blocked by the furniture, which had been moved (and never replaced) for carpet cleaning.

Voila! A recipe for MICROWAVE egg custard. No stirring. No baking. No splashy dangerous bain marie!

I stirred together the few simple ingredients (eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla) and popped the things in the micro.

What emerged seven minutes later looked less like custard than thick, wet omelettes. I, not being too familiar with egg custard quality control, showed them to Mr. Snackish for his approval.

"What did you DO?" he wailed. "How can you screw up an egg custard so badly?"

Fortunately for me, the dog loves thick, wet omelettes.

Not to be deterred, I unwedged the Betty Crocker Cookbook from behind the couch, which was resting on its side in front of the bookshelf.

The only recipe for egg custard in the index was a custard you make for some kind of alcoholic beverage. Ok. It required cooking but no baking.

I assembled the ingredients and cooked, stirring constantly. And kept stirring. And kept stirring, long past the 20 minutes it said it would take to coat the back of a spoon. The Daily Show came and went, as well as most of the brilliant Colbert Report. It thickened, somewhat. I figured it would finish in the fridge.


The next day Mr. Snackish proclaimed his outrage at my having screwed up the recipe again. He said it was still thin and watery.

"Did you bake it?" he asked. "You have to bake it!"

So I suggested baking the custard I had already made. "It's the same ingredients that the baked custard recipes call for," I reasoned.

He finished the dish by baking it for 40 minutes in a bain marie. He took the dish out, as proud as if he had made it all himself.

"Now THAT," he said, "Is egg custard."

I would give you the recipe but I am sure there are better and easier ways to make egg custard than my 2-day method.

Or maybe the two-day method is just a family secret. My mom has an infamous 2-day potato salad that she makes. Take ordinary potato salad and mix in about 10 phone calls and a medical emergency and there you have it - 2-day potato salad.

If you have any one-day egg custard recipes, will you let me know?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


Enchiladas in Mexico were a revelation. If you are an American, you probably know enchiladas as I do - tortillas stuffed with some usually meaty filling, rolled up or folded over, and baked in a dish, covered with a mildly spicy sauce. A topping of melting cheese completes the picture.

Growing up, Mom's enchiladas were flour tortillas filled with a mixture of ground beef browned with onion. The tortillas were dipped in Las Palmas mild enchilada sauce. They were topped with shredded American cheese. We loved them. A popular present to take when visiting sisters who had moved away from California was a case of Las Palmas, so they could make enchiladas just like mom's.

In Oaxaca, enchiladas were a different animal. Corn tortillas were dipped in a thick coating of enchilada sauce, folded in neat quarters like a hanky and served three to a plate. They were garnished with a tiny piece of fresh cheese and a few whispers of onion slices.

Similar dishes were enmoladas - tortillas dipped in one of the region's 7 famous mole sauces - or enfrijoladas, tortillas dipped in a thinned-down paste of refried beans. Are you starting to see a pattern? I guess you can pretty much en[dip]alada with anything.

At this time of year, I make an enchilada that bears no resemblance to anything traditional. They are delicious, vegetarian and easy to make. I have fed them to everyone from captains to kings (ok, maybe not kings, but my pre-teen nephews ate them happily) with compliments all around.

Butternut Enchiladas
1 medium butternut squash, halved , seeded, and baked until soft
Cream cheese - from half to a whole package, depending on how fat-friendly you are
1 bunch green onions, sliced in thin rings, including some of the green part
Some shredded monterey jack or queso quesadilla cheese, amount to your taste
12 flour tortillas
1 large can Las Palmas mild enchilada sauce

While the squash is still hot, combine it with the cream cheese and onions. Stir until cream cheese gets melty.

Oil a 13x9 baking dish or spray with cooking spray. Use a lot - this WILL stick to the pan. Pour enough sauce in the dish to coat the bottom with a thin layer.

Put rest of sauce on a flat plate or pan. Dip tortillas in sauce on one side. Place them, sauce side down, in the dish. Put a blob of squash mixture on them. Roll up. Do this until you run out of tortillas or squash, which will vary depending on how crazy you get with the squash mix.

Pour any remaining sauce over the assembled enchiladas. Top with shredded cheese - as much or as little as you like. I like a little. Cotija cheese crumbles would also work, come to think of it.

Bake for about 25 minutes in a 400 degree oven, covered if you like them soft or uncovered if you like crispy crunchy edges.

Serve with rice and a nice green salad.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Agua de Tuna

If you have some rudimentary Spanish skills, you are probably thinking "Tuna water? Yuk!"

Fooled you. "Tuna" is the Mexican name for the fruits of prickly-pear cactuses. The red fruits are sweet and filled with tiny black seeds.

Agua de tuna y naranja

Tunas are good to peel and eat, or you can make a drink out of them.

I had my first Agua de Tuna outside a church in Zaachila, Oaxaca one hot Sunday afternoon last summer. A tiny woman was selling cups full of the magenta liquid out of a plastic bucket. The drink was sweet and refreshing, perfect.

When I saw tunas at Whole Foods the other day, I snapped some up and made this:

Agua de tuna y naranja (Cactus-orange drink)
3 red ripe tunas
3 cups of water
Juice of one orange
Sugar to taste - just a bit

Peel and chop the tunas fine. You can strain the seeds out if you want but they add texture and mostly sink to the bottom, anyway.

Juice the orange. Mix the tunas and orange juice with the water and sugar, stir and refrigerate. Simple.

When I heard that La Dolce Vita was sponsoring a food meme called "In the Pink" to raise breast cancer awareness, I was sad to miss the entry deadline. But in the spirit of Mexico, where time isn't so important, consider this lovely pink drink my entry.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Fairview Gardens "Fields of Plenty" Festival

Fairview Gardens in Goleta, California, just north of Santa Barbara is a tiny jewelbox of a farm wedged between subdivisions on all sides.

Michael Ableman and a crew of workers and volunteers have created a thriving organic farm in a most unlikely place and have turned it into a demonstration and teaching center as well as a source of impeccably fresh produce for people in the surrounding area.

My new pal Martha and I took in the "Fields of Plenty" festival there this afternoon. We ambled the fields, tasted about 10 different varieties of squash, and feasted on a meal of tamales, fresh tortillas, beans, rice and three tremendous salsas.

The squash tasting may not have been the best idea. They had roasted about 10 different kinds of squash plain and were serving them at room temperature on toothpicks for $5. Hm.

Most people are already not THAT crazy about squash, especially when it isn't hot, and the $5 price was assuring that there weren't many takers. We went for it. I am a big proponent of side-by-side tastings and I figured "When am I ever going to get a chance to taste squash side-by-side again?" It just doesn't come up every day, you know. My favorites were the dense sweet squashes like butternut and kabocha. Martha preferred the lighter, more subtle delicata.

The cool part about the squash tasting is that it took place under a big old mulberry tree that had branches that reached all the way to the ground, making a green room to stand in.


1890 Farmhouse built by the Hollister Family. This is the band doing a sound check.

Me hanging out under the tree

Walking the fields on a warm fall afternoon was idyllic. The farm have lovely big chickens in a pen out in an orchard, brown ones and my favorites, the black and white ones that look checkered. An organic farm is so interesting because they grow a mix of crops to confuse the bugs and to improve the soil. I don't know how many crops they had there, but we saw lettuces, broccoli, onions, garlic, flowers, guavas, cherimoyas, citrus, squash, pumpkins, avocados, stone fruits, passion fruits, beets, basil, carrots, fennel, oh gosh, what else? A lot.

At lunch we sat with the nicest family. Or group of friends. I was never sure of everyone's relationship, but they were a bunch of Latino musicians who had come from Fresno and San Francisco to play there under the big pepper tree. One young man, Javier, sat down at our table, then more and more people kept coming and greeting each other, talking, laughing, telling stories, kids crawling on people's laps, giving hugs, sharing food. It was just a happy scene full of love and caring and I know Martha and I both felt lucky and charmed to be included.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Pakistani Cooking Class

The Ojai area about 70 miles north of Los Angeles is never more lovely than on a fall afternoon. It is always lovely, of course -- that's why was used to represent Shangri-La in the movies -- but something about the fall, when the withering summer heat has passed and a soft breeze kicks up, is just magical.

It was in this setting that we eight eager cooking enthusiasts came to learn a bit about Pakistani cooking from the talented Dodo Mufti.

Two men well-known in the local food scene hosted the class in a sweet farmstyle hideaway on a hill outside of town. They have a fabulous kitchen that manages to be both professional and cozy at the same time - it features both an industrial-strength Viking range AND three Laborador Retrievers (one in each color).

Dodo is originally from Bombay (Mumbai) India and learned to cook at the side of her mother-in-law, a Pakistani.

Pakistani food has much in common with Northern Indian cuisine, explained Dodo and her husband Tariq. The garam masala spice mixes are ground exceedingly fine, dishes are served with a variety of chutneys, and usually, meals from the Muslim country are meat-based, unlike the more vegetarian Hindu south. But today's adventure was pure vegetarian, a perfect lunch meal for a warm day.

In fact, Dodo said, the eggplant dish would only be served as a lunch, never as a dinner. Like the musical ragas that are only played at certain times of the day, there are dishes that are inextricably tied to a certain meal. And they are eaten in a certain fashion: when rice is served, bread is not.

Onions for Tahiri

Dodo began by explaining how to slice an onion in very thin strips for Tahiri, a rice and potato dish. The onions need to be fine and even so they caramelize perfectly before potatoes are added to a pan of the cooked onions, oil and spices. The potato chunks are partially cooked, then put with the other ingredients into a rice cooker.

Potatoes, onions and spices for Tahiri

Very long-grain basmati rice is added and the whole thing simmers into a rich, tasty combination that Tariq described as a "lazy mom dish." Obviously Tariq didn't grow up in a place where Cheez-whiz and crackers are a lazy mom dish.

Dodo also made Borani, a dish of sauteed eggplant slices layered with yogurt that has been mixed with a lot of fresh, pressed garlic. Then that is topped with Anaheim chiles that have been cut into chunks and sauteed with lots of oil, cumin and carom seed (also called "ajwain" in India).

Preparing layers of eggplant for Borani

The finished dish

When the dish is finished, there are pools of oil on top of the yogurt, a sight you never see in the fat-phobic United States. Dodo explained that you could take as much oil or as little as you wanted when you served yourself.

"And when it comes to matters of food," she said, smiling, "I rather think that more is better than less."

The Tahiri was served with a garlic-and-chili powder-based Red chutney and a mint and chile-based Green chutney. Dodo also brought along some tomato chutney and a lemon pickle for us to taste.

The finished meal

The flavors of the food danced like fireworks on our tongues as we ate our lunch. With our meal, we drank a Rancho Sisquoc Riesling or a Santa Barbara Winery Pinot Noir, two fruity, not-too-dry wines to go with the spiced dishes. Good conversation made the food even tastier, and when we finally left about 2 pm, the warm feelings that a satisfying meal and pleasant company bring followed us out the door like a soft Ojai breeze.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The dish was good. The dishes were horrible.

Ancho Chiles Stuffed with Potatoes, Cheese and Chorizo

How tough can cooking a dish with five ingredients be? That was the thought in my head when I read this month's Gourmet magazine "Five Ingredients" feature.

The five ingredients are: ancho chiles, potatoes, chorizo (soy chorizo, obviously in my case) cheese and tomatoes. The idea is that you soak dried chiles and stuff them with a variety of stuff, bake them with a sauce. Simple, non? Non! This recipe messed with my kitchen and messed with my day off. It did, however, have the virtue of tasting fabulous.

Let me give a dish count:
Bowl for soaking chiles
Plate for weighting chiles in the water
Cutting board for seeding chiles
Bowl to hold chiles
Baking sheet to toast chile seeds on
Pan to boil potatoes
Strainer to drain potatoes and rinse to stop cooking process
Measuring cup
Bowl to mix chiles, chorizo and cheese
Blender for making tomato sauce
Pan to reduce tomato sauce
Baking pan for assembled dish

5 ingredients, 2 pans, 2 baking pans, blender, spice grinder, 2 bowls, a strainer and a cutting board! Is there anything we forgot to get messy?

The dish was good, spicy and rich. But I am exhausted and there is still a pile of dishes in the kitchen. Next time I will make yet another quesadilla with some nice salsa and save a dish this complicated for a party, when I can at least impress someone other than just Greg & myself.

Chiles soaking (not something from CSI)

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

American Swedish Limpa Bread

Ok, I promised that I would discuss the Swedish Limpa Bread I made with the wheatberry salad, and I know you have all been waiting on the edges of your seats to hear about is pretty good.

I made this from a James Beard "Beard on Bread" recipe, slightly modified for my American taste. The original recipe calls for 2 1/2 cups of rye flour. I'm not big on that sourish rye flour flavor, so I used a mixture of white and wheat flour. Beard's recipe says cardamom is optional. I wanted this because I LOVE cardamom - then I found out I was out of cardamom. Oh well. It turned out great anyway.

1 pkg yeast
1 tsp sugar
1/4 cup lukewarm water
2 cups beer, lukewarm
1/2 cup honey
2 Tbsp butter, melted
2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cardamom
3/4 tsp aniseed, lightly crushed
Grated rind of one large orange
5 1/2 - 7 cups flour, a mix of white and wheat

Put the yeast and sugar in a large bowl and add the lukewarm water. Let proof for 5 minutes, then add beer, then the butter, honey and salt. It will foam up some. Add cardamom, aniseed and orange peel. Mix flours together. Add 3 cups of flour to the liquid ingredients and beat hard with a wooden spoon til smooth.

Cover and let rise for 45 minutes in a warm place. Stir down and add enough flour to make a firm but sticky dough. Turn out on a floured board and knead, adding more flour, until the dough is tacky but much smoother, about 10 minutes. Shape into a ball, put in a buttered bowl, turn dough until it is coated in a thin layer of butter. Cover and let rise until doubled, 45 minutes to one hour.

Punch down and split in half, form two balls, and put on a greased baking sheet. Put baking sheet in fridge, covered, for 2-3 hours. Longer is better.

Bring out for 15 minutes, then put in 375 degree oven for 45-55 minutes, until loaf sounds hollow when tapped on bottom.

Limpa bread is slightly sweet and delicious toasted with a little butter.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Kitchen Sink Wheat Berry Salad

Wheat Berries make a good base for a cool end of summer salad when it is hot outside and the kitchen is full of ripe produce and fresh herbs. Making the berries takes a bit of forethought because they need to soak for 8 hours, but once they are prepared, pretty much any combination of vegetables, herbs and dressings can turn them into a meal.

Cooked wheat berries
1 cup wheat
3 1/2 cups water

Rinse the wheat berries and put them in a covered pot to soak in the water for at least 8 hours. Use the soaking water to cook them. Bring them to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer, and cook, covered, until tender, about one hour. Drain.

Kitchen Sink Wheat Berry Salad
Cooked wheat berries
3/4 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
About 3/4 cup each diced bell pepper (orange), Persian cucumber, zucchini
3 green onions, sliced into thin rings
A big handful each of chopped mint and parsley
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, sliced into thin strips
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup Bulgarian sheep's milk feta cheese

1/4 cup roasted walnut oil (I would use EVOO next time)
1 Tbsp champagne vinegar
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt, Pepper

Smash garlic with blade of knife, sprinkle with salt, mince and smash with knife until mostly a paste. Scrape into a bowl, add mustard and vinegars, mix well. Drizzle in oil, whisking madly. Add pepper, stir. Pour over salad ingredients, stir well.

I served it with some homemade Swedish Limpa Bread from a James Beard recipe. I will talk about that more some other time.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Meme: Five food memories

Mika at The Green Jackfruit asked me to contribute to the Five Childhood Food Memories meme a while ago. I am finally getting around to it.

My five favorite childhood food memories:

I grew up in the 60s and 70s on the California coast about 40 miles north of Santa Barbara. The "town" we lived in til I was 6 years old had a population of 99, with telephones with party lines (more than 1 family sharing a phone line, imagine. You could pick up the phone and hear what anyone was saying, though that was considered quite rude). When I mentioned Chef Boyardee in my profile, my mom said "I wish you would have said it was 40 miles to town and sometimes we ran out of things." Hey, mom, I'm not complaining - I loved Chef Boyardee, especially Spaghetti-Os. They were as much a dessert as a pasta, they were so sweet, but I did love eating them.

My mother was unafraid to experiment with ingredients, maybe because we lived so far from the grocery store and she had to. I remember a snack of crunched-up saltines drizzled with maple syrup. Crunchy, salty AND sweet - as a kid, that was a perfect trio.

Mom was president of the parent-teacher association for a while. So on the nights she had to preside over meetings, Dad prepared dinner for us 5 kids. As a child, nothing was quite as thrilling as having dad make pancakes in the shape of Mickey Mouse's head, or my initials. He also did other creative things with Bisquick - tiny flat muffins with dabs of jam inside. Pure heaven, a fabulous change from those nutritionally balanced meals Mom prepared.

We lived near the ocean and dad had a little boat and some lobster traps. He would catch California spiny lobsters and bring them home. I remember them alive and terrorizing the cat on the back porch more than I remember eating them. We also had fresh abalone and big scallops. We all loved sitting around the kitchen eating little pieces of salty smoked bonito that came wrapped in thick waxed paper (maybe because of the way it smelled - really strong and fishy, LOL).

I remember when we moved to the big city (population about 50,000 back then). I was 12 and for the first time we had Chinese food. The whole experience was so new and exotic for us. It wasn't fancy Chinese food - it was a standard Chinese-American Cantonese family-run place. But I loved the food so much I wanted to eat there all the time. All those great flavors and textures and you shared the food. Wild! Anyway, that wonderful food opened my eyes to the fact that there were amazing things out there that I had no idea about, and I wanted to go try all of them.

Hurricane Help

Donate Housing :: Find Shelter

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Is that a gas leak, or a durian?

I tasted a durian today for the first time. After years of hearing about the legendary stinky fruit, I finally met one in person.

I was at Whole Foods and right near the doors, there was a very tall, frighteningly thin woman handing out samples of durian. Well, she wasn't just handing them out - she was really sort of evangelizing about them. Her zeal for durian was of a manic level only usually seen in TV preachers and Ron Popeil.

Because she was by the open doors, the level of stink wasn't too bad, but it was definitely there - a funk that smelled like a powerful gas leak mixed with poo.

But I had to try the durian, so I forged on. She made me take a taste, which had a powerful gas-leak flavor. Not good. Then she MADE me take a second, which she said would be so good, sweet and creamy, it would erase the first. Not so. The second was about 30 percent better, but still nasty enough to make me look around for something else to sample.

She asked me how I liked it. I said "As long as there is cherimoya in the world, I don't need durian."

Oh my. Those were fighting words. She was outraged .

"This is BETTER than cherimoya," she shrieked. "Much better!! Cherimoya is nowhere near as good as durian, and durian is much better for you."

I scurried away to buy other vegetables and overheard her telling people, among other things, that the wonderful durian could raise your seratonin level. Whatever.

But there are many durian fans out there. Here are some links to durian fansites.

Durian On-Line Homepage. This one mentions farting in the first paragraph. Hm.

Durian Palace. With links to articles about durian-flavored condoms and a durian that sparked a terrorist alert in Australia.

Wikipedia has to weigh in, including some bits about how one can get killed by a durian if not careful (by one falling, not by consuming one).

A westerner tells his tale of converting to durian love, though he mentions another possible way to die by durian.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Los Angeles Tofu Festival

Some of the day's offerings.

This photo would have been better, but I had to shoot around someone who just would NOT move...

My kind of event. Lots and lots of tofu and mostly vegetarian. A place where tofu is the star, not a dirty word.

The Los Angeles Tofu Festival kicks off Nisei Week in Little Tokyo (also known as J-Town) downtown Los Angeles. The event is a benefit for the Japanese Service Center. It is about 50 booths selling tofu-based or soy-based food items, plus entertainment and vendors. This year's theme was "Tofuzilla," so of course I had to buy the t-shirt.

Me, Mr. Snackish and food-loving vegetarian friend Martha met to take in the festival. It was a nice warm day, not blistering hot. We even got a little breeze a few times.

We walked around and sampled the food. We didn't have anything amazingly good, but a good time was had by all.

Smoked tofu salad with lemongrass was pretty good.

These folks were having a great time making onigiri sushi.

This guy was eating something that I didn't get to try, but looked great - really fresh tofu with strawberries, strawberry-orange sauce and sliced almonds.

2 creative items - tofu chili in a bread bowl and tofu spam musubi, a Hawaiian treat.

Dessert - red bean paste in a tofu crust.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Too funny to pass up

Go to this Chowhound post and click on the link. The attached pdf file has some of the worst writing I have ever read on a menu or off.

By the time I was done reading the description of "Sweet Fire and Ice," a restaurant in New Orleans (hint: they have 25 different cheesecake-flavored martinis) I had lost my appetite.

Overblown, adjective-stuffed, repetitive - it is an English teacher's worst nightmare. Made me laugh. Your mileage may vary.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Slow Food LA Weiser Family Farms field trip

What a wonderful day. Despite my early morning misgivings about getting up when the alarm went off at 6 a.m. on a Sunday, it was all worth it in the end...and even in the middle.

I joined the Slow Food L.A. tour to Weiser Family Farms in Tehachapi, which is about 2 hours outside of Los Angeles, up where the Sierras are thinking about beginning.

Weiser Family Farms sells a variety of organic produce at southern California Farmers Markets. Much of it is rare or unusual varieties. At our market in Thousand Oaks, they mostly carry melons and tiny potatoes in red, white, yellow and purple.

About 40 of us foodies piled onto a fancy Santa Monica City "Big Blue Bus" (unlike most city buses, it had a restroom, TV screens and high-back seats) at 8 a.m. in Santa Monica after standing around drinking coffee and eating croissants and muffins in the parking lot.

Chattering like a bunch of caffeinated parakeets, we made new friends and talked food on the way up. We passed through dusty, deserty towns like Mojave, Lancaster and Palmdale, but as elevation rose we began to see more trees and green.

Alex Weiser greeted us. He is a wiry, enthusiastic, dark-haired guy who, along with the rest of his family, started the farm in the early 1980s after his dad, Sid, retired from teaching.

His passion and love for his work came through in every word, and as he got more into what he way saying, his hands began to fly in broader and broader gestures.

We drank Evan Kleiman's wonderful agua fresca of melon, mint and ginger while we listened to Alex's story of the first few years of the farm.

The family first tried growing apples and peaches and selling wholesale, but realized they couldn't make a living with such a narrow range of crops and with the low prices they were getting at wholesale markets.

Selling at certified farmers' markets is what made it possible for them to keep farming. Alex thanked us for supporting the markets. He said that the interaction with customers gave them the feedback they needed to know what to plant. The willingness of Farmer's Market patrons to try new foods or varieties also gives them an incentive to grow test plots every year, he said.

Then we headed out to the fields to see what the Weisers were growing up here at 4300 feet elevation in a town Alex calls "The land of four seasons." He said Tehachapi has four true seasons, each lasting about 3 months. It doesn't get as hot up there as it does in their other farms sites at lower elevations.

We saw tomatoes, branching broccoli, peppers, carrots, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, berries, lilacs and all other manner of wonderful things on the farm.

People bring the Weisers seeds and cuttings from travels around the world so they can try new crops and introduce foreign foods to their customers. Alex revealed a few things he has in the pipeline to us, but I won't reveal his secrets, lest other copycat farmers get a jump on him.

We ate things that we harvested - tiny carrots, brocolli, tomatoes - standing out in the sun and enjoying tastes of pure freshness.

Warm melons were plucked from the vine, sliced up with pocket knives and shared. We had to bend over to keep the juices from running down our chins as we ate. It was a little taste of sweet heaven.

Someone said, "Notice how small everyone's vocabulary has gotten?" as everyone was reduced to saying "Oh wow," "Oh my God" or just "Ohhhhh."

We came in from the fields after about an hour and a half to find a feast that Evan Kleiman, chef/owner of Angeli Caffe in Los Angeles, who also has a fabulous radio show on KCRW, Good Food, had made.

There was grilled eggplant, griddle-cooked bread, rustic bread drizzled with olive oil and grilled (or maybe grilled and drizzled with olive oil), sauteed chard, a rich potato and pasilla chile dish, carrots, a beautiful salad of heirloom tomatoes, oil-cured black olives, cucumbers and feta cheese -- and those were just the vegetarian offerings.

Weiser's workers had made a huge pork and potato stew in big pot in an underground oven and simmered it for a long time, letting the rich flavors come together.

We all came to the table and stayed for hours, eating, drinking and sharing. We were outdoors under a big tent with the fields just a few feet away.

The Weisers joined us and we toasted and thanked everyone in sight. There was a lot to be thankful for. I felt like I was in one of those gorgeous Saveur magazine photo spreads.

Just when we thought we were done eating, we found out that Evan had been busy making ice cream during the meal. Mindy Pfeiffer, one of the organizers, handed out little plastic cups of pinky-purple ice cream and as soon as everyone took a taste, conversation stopped for a minute as we pondered the layers of flavors our tongues were experiencing for the first time.

Then we got busy playing "guess the ingredients." Finally Evan came out and revealed the secret combination: goat milk, mulberries and saba, a concentrated grape must. I can make a pretty confident bet that that was a new one for everyone there and that it is something most of us will never have again.

The wine and the heat and our full bellies conspired to make our eyes heavy and our thoughts grow slow. Just in time, we climbed back on the bus, cranked up the air conditioning, and took a nice siesta on the two-hour trip home.

I love the spirit of people who love good food. Everyone was unpretentious, giving, and eager to share thoughts, recipes and experiences. I hope to be able to attend more of these Slow Food Los Angeles events.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Cook next door

You coax the blues right out of the horn, Meme,
You charm the husk right off of the corn, Meme!
(an ode to "Mame" in case you couldn't guess.)

Thanks to Megret at Morsels of Megret for tagging me for the Cook Next Door meme. I was in desperate need of some inspiration.

What is your first memory of baking/cooking on your own?
On my very own? I know I "cooked" plenty with my mom and my three sisters and brother. I remember one particularly messy (and good) jelly roll my sister PK made when mom and dad left us in her care. But the first thing I recall making on my own was meringue cookies, because they had the fewest ingredients of any recipe in my mom's huge cookbook. Eggs, sugar and maybe vanilla. I still love meringues.

Who had the most influence on your cooking?
Well, my mom is a trooper in the kitchen. She made meals for all 7 of us all the time. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. She tried her darndest to accommodate my very picky tastes, too. So she taught me about feeding people.

But for my entree into cuisine, I would say probably Stacy, my college roomie. Before her, I had never even seen ingredients like pine nuts, sun dried tomatoes, and basil. That was in 1985.

Do you have an old photo as "evidence" of an early exposure to the culinary world and would you like to share it?
I have one but my scanner is on the fritz.

Mageiricophobia - do you suffer from any cooking phobia, a dish that makes your palms sweat?
I am a vegetarian. One of the reasons I became a vegetarian was because I could not stand the thought of cooking meat, and I figured if it made me that ill to think of, I had no business cooking it or eating it. I thought chicken was the worst but the other night I decided to suck it up and try to cook some salmon for my BF and guest...and I found a fin and almost threw up.

What would be your most valued or used kitchen gadgets and/or what was the biggest letdown?
I admit I am an addict. Coffee maker and good corkscrew. Of course I love all the regular stuff. Good chef knife and bread knife. Citrus reamer. Big blue Kitchenaid. Zojirushi rice cooker. Ancient Osterizer blender.

Biggest letdown - zillions of tiny tart and other molds I keep buying at garage sales and never using.

Name some funny or weird food combinations/dishes you really like and probably no one else.
It's normal in Mexico, not so much here - melon with lime, salt and chile powder. I also like watermelon curry (see previous post). When I ate meat, I loved peanut butter, sweet pickle and bacon sandwiches, which my mom made up. She loves them too.

What are the three eatables or dishes you simply don't want to live without?
1. (I stole this one from Megret) Chocolate. I mean, a world without chocolate would be a sad, sad world.
2. Tortillas. Fresh handmade corn, yes, but I will settle for flour or whole wheat if I must.
3. Raspberries. They are too perfect.

Favorite ice cream:
I know it is gilding the lily, but Ben & Jerry's Phish Food (chocolate with caramel and marshmallow stripes, and tiny dark chocolate fish...that being said, I eat it about once every three years.)

You will probably never eat (again??):
I hate to say never. I have even eaten meat on some very odd occasions. But raw's a dread fear of parasites that keeps me away. And orange-leek soup. Nothing could be more horrible, since it tasted exactly like bile. Mmm.

Signature dish:
Butternut squash enchiladas:
1 lg butternut squash, baked til soft.
Mix hot flesh with as much cream cheese as you think is wise (1/2 box if you are low-fat, the whole thing if you are crazy and wild) and a bunch of chopped green onions.
Use the squash mix as a filling for enchiladas - at my house I use flour or corn tortillas dipped in Las Palmas red sauce, folded over, covered in a bit of Monterey Jack cheese or queso quesadilla. Bake until hot through or longer - 350 for 20 minutes or so.

Question added by Zarah: On average, how many times a week would you cook something to satisfy your sweet tooth? Zero to three.

Question added by Cathy: What do you usually eat for breakfast? Toast with jam and butter. Bread is just raw toast to me.

Question added by Alice: What are your stand-by dinner options when you don't have the time or the inclination to follow or create a new recipe? Quesadillas. Pitas with ajvar (see previous post) and a handful of olives. Boca burgers in a pita.

Question added by Karen: What would you like to cook someday that you haven't tried before? Vegetable pate.

Question added by the chronicler: Sweet or savory? Depends on many factors.

Question added by Snackish: Soup or salad? Salad

Question added by Grommie: Do you have any food quirks you'd like to admit?
Hm. Being a vegetarian should be enough...If I don't go to the market every other day, I feel like I am missing out.

And now, to debut the future bloggers who are tagged for this meme:

Beurre Monte
Pinoy Cook

Good luck, and have fun!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Good Korean cooking

I knew Cecelia Hae-Jin Lee was a cool person because we are in WriteGirl together.

I also knew she had published a cookbook because the LA Times ran a rave review of it.

I didn't know what a good writer she was, though.

I picked up her book, Eating Korean at the library. I flipped it open there in the aisle and started reading.

Not only is it a cookbook, but it also has personal stories from Cecelia's life, some of which are incredibly sweet and touching and sad. I was crying within 2 minutes.

Check it out.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Matira - Yellow Watermelon Curry

The photo is of yellow watermelon curry. You can make it with red watermelon, but I bought the yellow one unsuspecting until I opened it up.

This recipe is modified from a LA Times article in June of 2003, I think. They got it from "The Great Curries of India" by Camellia Panjabi (a great name, no?).

It is festive food because you can be pretty sure most people in the U.S. have never tasted it before. If you can get them to try it, they are amazed by the wild combination of flavors and textures.

Watermelon Curry
10 cups watermelon, seeds removed, cut into 1 inch dice (about 1/4 of a large melon)
1/8 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp chili powder or more to taste
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1-2 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 Tbsp sugar

Puree 1 cup of the watermelon with the spices down ingredient list to salt.

Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat, add cumin seeds and fry a bit until they turn a little brown and fragrant. Immediately add the watermelon juice puree. Lower heat and simmer for about five minutes, until it is reduced by one-third. Add lime juice and sugar and simmer one more minute. Add the watermelon chunks and toss gently until warmed through.

You can serve hot, at room temp, or cold. It is wild and amazing whichever way you choose.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Crispy Crispy Parmesan Lavosh Crackers

This depends on whether you can find fresh lavosh. Or lavash. Or lahvash. Armenian Bread. Whatever.

Just don't buy the Ak-Mak crackers in the box - you have to find a source for the fresh-baked kind.

I wanted parmesan crisps for my party but didn't want to pay $3.99 for 8-10 of the parmesan baguette things at Whole Foods. I am, above all, cheap.

This was my solution. Lavosh runs about $1.19 for three or four huge pieces where I am. I made enough crackers for 15 people with most of one package.

Crispy Crispy Parmesan Lavosh Crackers
One package of fresh lavosh
One half-cup egg whites (I used the pasteurized kind in the carton)
1/2 lb freshly grated parmesan

Brush the lavosh with the egg whites, one sheet at a time. Sprinkle with grated parmesan. Put under broiler just until cheese is light brown and before the whole thing has caught on fire (things happen!)

When cool enough to handle, break into lovely random cracker sized pieces.

I also made some sprinkled with sesame seeds and poppy seeds with a little salt and pepper. They were good, but people were picking through the basket to find the cheese ones.

The crackers will be thin and exquisitely crispy.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Shrimp and Mango with lime and mint appetizer

A shrimp is not a vegetable, I know. But after making about a zillion tiny empanadas filled with potatoes and chiles or vegetarian sausage, I felt I had to give my guests at the Great Journalist Gathering of 2005 at least a little something with animals in it lest they rebel and write bad things about me.

I made this up out of my head and they all pronounced it fantastic. Your mileage may vary. When journalists are faced with free food, they can get mighty enthusiastic.

Shrimp, Mango, lime and mint on endive leaves
1/2 pound cooked shrimp, finely chopped
1 ripe mango, diced fine
1/2 sweet red pepper, cut into tiny squares
Juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp mint, chopped fine

A dash or two of Green Jalapeno Tabasco or a bit of finely minced jalapeno pepper
Belgian Endives - eight or so

Combine all ingredients but endives. Peel endive leaves off and use for little edible dishes. You can only use the outer leaves of the endives, because they get small and soft inside.

Then, if you are a veg, you will have lots of lovely endive insides left for you!

Thursday, July 14, 2005

A true taste sensation - Dry Brown Curds Snack

I bought this at the Middle Eastern market. The people there are super nice and they have a zillion foods I have never heard of. This is one of them.

I know "Dry Brown Curds Snack" doesn't sound too appetizing to most people. But I am, as my BF says, the person most likely to order the weirdest item on the menu. If it is novel and doesn't contain meat, let me at it.

So this was right up my alley. It looks a bit like fruit leather and claims to be made of yogurt. So far, so good.

(Sour) it says on the label. They should issue some kind of stronger warning, I think, because this may well be the sourest item on the planet. Super sour gummy worms taste like cotton candy compared to this.

You can see from the photo the size of the sample I took. Unfortunately I tasted it while I was on the phone with the BF. I immediately began making weird noises and gasping, having lost the ability to speak.

Once the initial shock and pain of my salivary glands shriveling up passed, I was able to tell him what happened.

The stuff was so sticky and a piece stuck to my molar, but I was actually afraid to move it, lest the sour flavor blast start again.

This may have a use, but I am not sure. If Persians can actually eat this with joy and happiness, they are much better and stronger people than I.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Cafe de Olla

This is my latest obsession:

Cafe de Olla
2 cups water
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 tsp anise seeds or a dash of anise extract
1/4 cup piloncillo (Mexican brown sugar pressed into cones - you can grate it off) or brown sugar

Bring to a boil in a 2 quart saucepan.

Add 1/2 cup ground coffee and remove from heat. It will foam up in a dramatic fashion.

Steep 5 minutes.

Strain through a fine strainer and drink straight up or with hot milk. It is best from little rough clay cups, in Mexico, but it ain't so very bad in a mug in California, either.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Oh Canada!

Cookies in honor of Canada Day

To recognize our dear friends to the north, I made these Maple Shortbread cookies in the shape of a maple leaf and decorated them in a Canadian-flag theme.

This photo is kind of a funky cookie, but the rest of the photos were pretty bad. But you get the idea.

The cookie recipe is in 2 parts so it takes a while for the maple butter to cool enough to make dough out of.

Maple Butter
2/3 cup maple syrup
1 cup butter, softened

In a small saucepan, bring maple syrup to a boil and cook until it reduces by half, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Add the butter and stir until completely blended. Place in refrigerator until firm. Makes1 cup.

Shortbread - this is simple!
1 cup maple butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt.

Combine the ingredients in a food processor. Pulse using the steel knife just until well combined and form a ball. This should take less than 30 seconds.

Flatten into a disk shape. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until the dough is well chilled. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Position rack to centre of oven. Remove dough from fridge and roll to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut dough into desired shapes. Place cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake until slightly golden brown, approximately 10 to 15 minutes.
Makes about three dozen two-inch cookies.

I used a Betty Crocker white icing recipe with slightly more butter than Betty calls for (she actually called for margarine, pretty funny considering the recipe is labeled "White Butter Frosting" - 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, 1/2 cup butter, 1 tsp. vanilla and 1 Tbsp milk, blended with an electric mixer til smooth.

Spread icing on cool cookies. Place a strip of paper over the middle of each cookie and sprinkle with red sugar.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005


I don't give orders very often. I am sort of a "go with the flow" kind of person, probably due to my unconquerable laziness and California heritage.

But this item my cooking friends, is something you really really need.

The Messermeister Serrated Swivel Peeler is a wonder. It can skin a tomato. It can skin an apricot. It can make slices of parmesan thin enough to read through. YOU WILL LOVE THIS PEELER. Come on, it is less than 5 bucks. Just buy one and make both of us happy.

Besides, you needed to know about Surfas Online anyway.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Don't forget the Mystery Contest!!

Scroll down a bit for Mystery Contest 2.

Email entries (don't comment!) to The sign is in Chinese, so if you know someone who reads Chinese, you are in luck.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Chrysanthemum Leaves

Chrysanthemum Leaves

I have had a soft spot in my heart for chrysanthemums ever since a hot and sweaty summer as an intern at Kono & Sons growers in Carpenteria, California in, oh about 1985. 20 years ago. Yeesh. I AM old.

But I have never, ever eaten chrysanthemum leaves or even seen them at Farmer's Market before this week.

I looked online and found some interesting stuff at the Hormel website, of all places.

I also dug up a recipe at Sweet baby media that sounds beautiful and interesting. It is a Korean dish.

I didn't buy any chrysanthemum leaves because I didn't know what to do with them. Next week I will pick some up and let you know how the recipe goes.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Vegetable Pancake

I am a weird pancake eater. I prefer savory over sweet pancakes. I would rather find a slice of swiss cheese in my pancake than maple syrup on my pancake.

I made this recipe up, inspired by Japanese okonomi-yaki.

It is a kitchen sink recipe - anything in the veg drawer can go into it. I love fresh corn, a bit of onion, scallion or shallot, sliced bell peppers, shredded carrots or zucchini.

The raw

It is a lunchtime staple because I can make it in about 5 minutes. I usually eat it with dijon mustard, salsa, taco sauce or soy sauce, depending on my mood & what culinary region is tickling me lately.

You could add meat too - I never thought of that until just this moment! See what 20 years of vegetarianism will do to you.

1 egg, beaten
A couple tablespoons of flour
About 1/4 tsp baking powder
1 cup of vegetables shredded or in small dice
dash of salt

Blend all ingredients and cook over medium high heat in a lightly oiled non-stick frying pan. Flip when the bottom has gotten brown. That is it.

And the cooked.

Thursday, June 23, 2005


Isn't this the most beautiful vegetable? It was part of dinner tonight.

At Farmer's Market, they described it as "Chinese Red Spinach" but I am pretty sure, botanically speaking, that it is an amaranth, a green leafy vegetable and seed totally unrelated to the Order of the Amaranth (weird one, huh?)

I washed the leaves and sauteed a clove of garlic in olive oil for a minute, then dumped the leaves in and flipped them over a few times until they wilted a little.

They turned the garlic slices quite pink. Pretty.

The result was nice and tasted vegetal and green, a nice healthy side dish for my frozen pizza from Trader Joe's.

In Oaxaca, they make a delicious sweet of popped amarath seed called an alegria which means "happiness". Spending a buck on a big slab of alegria and chomping on it for the next few days always made ME happy.

The seeds are super high in protein - 16 to 18 percent. As my dad would say "Good and good for you."