Koreatown Part II

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Lunch at Sun Dong Nan set the tempo for the rest of our exploration of Koreatown. Across the street from our lunch spot is the landmark Chapman Market, a beautiful Spanish and Moorish style building dating to 1929. In its heyday, it was the city’s first drive in mall, frequented by wealthy families and Hollywood movie stars.

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Archway leading into the Chapman Market.

This luxury one stop shop for produce and dry goods was unique in that you could just drive through the archway into the middle patio, park, then shop. In 1988, it was named a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument. After several new owners and renovations, it is now home to Korean boutiques, bars and restaurants. A visual beauty!
Just down the street, we discover City Center, a three-story mall catering to the Korean population with a variety of shops including The Face Shop, where we purchase several face masks to please, please, diminish our wrinkles and a glance at sunglasses where the friendly salesman eagerly tries to sell us $450 glasses. All we want is a referral for something sweet to eat. He sends us to Okrumong, a few blocks away, his favorite place for shaved ice. IMG_8151Anything cool sounds heavenly. Okrumong reminds me of a tea room where friends would meet for an afternoon indulgence. Overwhelmed by the dessert choices, we decide on Green Tea Snow.

IMG_8152Green tea shaved “snow,” layered with red bean paste, and topped with something that looks like a marshmallow but is actually a squishy rice ball. We both take a bite, expecting even a hint of sweetness but find only a tinge. “Refreshing,” is Eva’s description. Trying hard to get my taste buds to adjust and actually enjoy this speciality is difficult. I’m sure it’s an acquired taste, especially when your sweet tooth is used to more sugar. We both agree that we are happy we tried it but would probably not attempt to recreate it at home.
One thing I had not realized is Koreatown is big! It covers 2.7 square miles. Perhaps on a cooler day, it would be a good workout to experience this neighborhood on foot. Next stop- Koreatown Plaza. Free underground parking! Working our way from the top-level down, we begin in a giant home goods store that carries everything from fine china to irons. It really has something for everybody! Requiring more hydration, we head downstairs to grab a water in the food court. We sit down across from a stand selling Cheesetella. What is Cheesetella? we wonder. We watch a video of how this jiggly, thick mass of “cheesecake” is made, and try the samples they are handing out. Straight from Korea, Cheesetella is a sort of sponge cake or Asian bread that has a layer of cheddar and parmesan cheese nestled between a fluffy egg cake batter. It is half-baked and half steamed and the result is a tall, wobbly cake that is not sweet. I guess it’s all the rage is Korea. Watch this UTube video to see how it’s made. Cheesetella Utube

On our way out of Koreatown Plaza, or KTP as it is affectionately known, we spot a store selling enormous, almost gaudy gold chairs. Of course, adventurous Eva must go in to inquire. We are greeted by a super nice salesman who offers to let us experience “The Bodyfriend,” an upscale massage chair. I watch as Eva sinks into the chair and then is almost wrapped in by the salesman. They turn on the magic and she drifts into bliss. IMG_8164“Do you want to try it too?” they ask me. Yes yes. This is just the thing I need! I tuck into the chair, close my eyes and the next 10 minutes might have been the best massage I’ve ever had. I feel like three people are massaging my feet, neck and arms simultaneously. This piece of luxury comes at a price – a cool $9000!
Completely refreshed and rejuvenated after this session, we are ready for dinner. Eva chose a pub on Western Avenue but our plans were about to change. The valet hints that Beer Belly is the best joint in this area and we really ought to try it out. So we did. Beer Belly is a cozy beer bar tucked back off the street behind an ice cream shop. The vibe is low-key but not the beer or food. We eat on the vibrantly painted patio and are treated like queens. The craft beer choices are all from the Los Angeles region. Beer Belly’s message is simple and beautiful: “To us, craft beer represents a conscious movement of good will.” From Gardena’s State Brewing Company, I choose an Oolong Summer, a Kölsch with oolong tea infusion. Not at all what I expect – better! It has a kick and is refreshing. The menu as well is carefully crafted. We split an order of duck fat fries topped with duck confit and served with homemade raspberry mustard sauce. Talk about creative.

IMG_8176My salad reminds me of something I would get in France, but LA style. It’s the LA Wedge Salad. Iceberg lettuce, avocado, pickled hot peppers, pickled red onion, queso Oaxaca, applewood smoked bacon and a fried egg gracing the top. Salty, spicy, crunchy and cool. It is perfect and I know I am in LA. IMG_8184IMG_8181The food here is made with care and creativity and the staff is extraordinary. I just wish I could have tried more items off the menu, but the prior heavy lunch would not permit my stomach to expand any more. I will return for their sincere hospitality and dedication to making their place in Koreatown. IMG_8186
Sitting on the patio, I have a view of a saying painted on a building wall across from us. “Bringing Joy Through Sharing Love.” And this sums up my day of adventure and food in Koreatown. The people we met, all of them, are warm, friendly and engaging. I can’t wait to return!

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
Marcel Proust

Ciao for now,

Mary

Koreatown Part I

Galbi Jjim

A visual masterpiece – Galbi Jjim.

“I Love LA!” I sang, Randy Newman style, as I drove up the I-5 toward a city you either love or hate. To me, Los Angeles is a polar opposite of San Diego, offering everything from the glitz of Hollywood, and the Getty Villa, (my favorite LA hangout), world-class restaurants, and diverse neighborhoods brimming with authentic culture. I needed a fix. Here’s how it began: “Eva, I need to get out of Dodge! Let’s leave our comfort zone and explore Koreatown, LA,” I begged. Her spontaneous spirit kicked in and we were on our way. So, why Koreatown? Anthony Bourdain. I love his show, “Parts Unknown,” and since Los Angeles is just up the freeway, why not? Bourdain’s episode featuring Koreatown made my mouth water and aroused my curiosity. We researched some “not to be missed” places and found some new ones.

Sun Nong Dan

Sun Nong Dan’s entrance in a mini mall, Koreatown

First stop, “Sun Nong Dan,” highly recommended by The LA Eater, Jonathan Gold. Open 24 hours a day, the cozy, maybe 15 table eatery, serves up strictly Korean dishes featuring steamy hot stews and bowls of soup, family style. An open doorway leads to the narrow kitchen where wafting aromas of spice and chili linger in the air, mingling with the sounds of sizzling dishes meeting the tables. Letters of gratitude from Korean celebrities?, taped to the wall are part of the decoration. Also on the wall, a mural of knife-yielding women and their somber observers. What are they doing?

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Eclectic decor!

Closely knit tables wedged us between students, families and professionals. Feeling a bit conspicuous with our white skin, we were still afforded the beautiful hospitality which defines this culture.

We took Gold’s advice and ordered the #24, Galbi Jjim, braised beef short ribs. Our server advised that this special dish would take 20 minutes to prepare. To ready us for this eating adventure, accompaniments of pickled green onions, cabbage and radish were placed along the side of the table to be shared and we were given our own bowl of pickled jalapeno dipping sauce and bowl of black rice that turns purple when cooked. Eva and I watched the other diners to see how they ate the dish. “Were there rules?” we asked our server. He shook his head no.

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The feast!

Voila! A large cast iron pot of the Galbi Jjim was placed between us. It was a show stopper! The brilliant garnet color of the stew had the appearance of shimmering, glossy lipstick. Mounds of hearty, thick short ribs, slices of beef, chunky potatoes, rice cake sticks, onion and chili combined for a beautiful presentation. We waited for the steam to subside before timidly taking our first bite. Sweet is the first taste which then becomes spicy but not too hot. You make your own heat with the jalapeno dipping sauce and chili paste. The onion gave it a sweetness while the rice cake sticks delivered an unexpected chewy texture. The depth of the layers of flavor was indescribable. It was impossible to discern the spices embedded in the stew. Not trying of over-analyze, we simply enjoyed every savory bite. The marrow in the flat bones was most likely meant to be eaten but there was so much food, we didn’t attempt it. The pickled vegetables were a cool bite during an intermission from the heat. We loved our experience at Sun Nong Dan and recommend it to anyone seeking truly authentic Korean cuisine.

Eva Eating

Eva’s first bite.

We were now initiated into Koreatown! With full bellies, we continued the adventure. More next week so stay tuned!

“For me, food doesn’t just taste sweet, sour, spicy, what have you—it tastes of feelings, it invokes memories.”
Renita D’Silva, The Forgotten Daughter

Ciao for now,

Mary

Peachy Keen

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I’ve always had a thing for peaches. I think it’s because my mom said when she was pregnant with me, she craved them. This love must have been passed along in utero because I too, delight in the season of stone fruit.
Every summer at the beach, we would excavate the old-fashioned, wooden sided hand crank ice cream maker and churn out quarts of fragrant peach ice cream, our favorite flavor. We took turns cranking the handle till our arms ached, all the while anticipating the best part – licking the paddle. It was a summer ritual.
Besides ice cream, peaches consumed our summertime baking activities: peach jam, peach pie, and my personal favorite, peach kuchen. I don’t know where the recipe for peach kuchen came from but I’ve been making it for over 45 years and still love it as much as I did as a teenager. Maybe it brings back fond memories of those care-free summers, swimming for hours in the warm ocean by day and baking with peaches by night.

Sweet and juicy ripe peaches from the farmer’s market, the best kind, are the foundation for my Peach Kuchen. The recipe comes together easily as there is no dough to roll out, just a crumble that you pat into the bottom and sides of a pan. Slice peaches on top and sprinkle with sugar. A top sour cream layer adds depth of flavor when paired with the juicy peaches and buttery crust. It is irresistible and great for breakfast too!

Peach Kuchen
Note: Although this recipe is called a “Kuchen,” it is not the typical German yeast dough Kuchen. It must be a modification perhaps by my grandmother.

2 Cups flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons sugar
4 oz. butter or 1 stick, cold and cut into 1/2” cubes

5-6 ripe peaches – I leave the skin on
3/4 Cup sugar, more or less depending on the peaches and your sweet tooth
1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 egg yolks
1 Cup sour cream
hearty sprinkling of grated nutmeg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Mix all dry ingredients into a bowl. Cut butter in with a pastry blender or fork until crumbly. Pat into the bottom of a 7 X 11” pan.
Slice peaches and arrange over crust.
Combine sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle evenly over peaches.

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Bake 15 minutes. Remove from oven and turn oven down to 325.
Meantime, combine the yolks and sour cream. Stir in the nutmeg or you can sprinkle it on top of the custard mixture.
Pour the sour cream custard mixture evenly over the peaches.
Bake another 30 minutes or until crust is brown and custard is set.
Serve warm or cold.
Makes about 8 servings.

An apple is an excellent thing – until you have tried a peach.
George du Maurier
Ciao for now!
Mary

Santa Fe Style!

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View from the Casita’s porch. Stunning!

Last week I wrote about the New Mexico I experienced in my 20’s. What hasn’t changed is the way the food is prepared, firmly rooted in its use of locally grown ingredients, really before it was “cool” to eat “local.” Take chile peppers for example.

Chiles require respect and dominate New Mexican cuisine. Their hot, spicy, and sometimes smokiness contribute a distinct flavor that every other vegetable must yield to. Chiles can be intimidating too. I start to feel the heat creeping up, first in my mouth, then in my throat, as my eyes water and my nose runs. Heck, this is just looking at a menu! I don’t know why, but nowadays, I am more tolerant of chile heat and not afraid to order something that will challenge my taste buds.

The Shed Sign

My favorite place to eat true New Mexican cuisine is The Shed in Santa Fe. Originally an old hacienda dated to 1692, this restaurant has remained a family owned and operated establishment since 1953. The shaded patio, which is dog-friendly, leads into an old adobe house. Every time I’ve eaten here over many visits, the food is consistently delicious. I love the blue corn enchiladas smothered in homemade red chile sauce, their specialty. All the red chiles are grown locally and ground on the premises. Spicy, plump posole (large, dried corn kernels that have been simmered for hours and result in a popcorn flavor and a chewy texture) and soft pinto beans share the plate with the enchiladas. A perfectly balanced Elite Gold Margarita with fresh lime juice, on the rocks, tempers the heat in my mouth from the chili sauce. I am in heaven. It’s a must do when in Santa Fe and is usually my very first stop.

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As much as I enjoy returning to an old favorite, like The Shed, I also make a point to discover one new eatery like Rowley Farmhouse Ales, which will now be on my list to visit again. Unassuming from the outside, and situated in its own little space away from the shopping, Rowley is a pub-style brewery serving up some of the best food we had on our trip. An outside patio is as large as the inside pub and felt like a park with gravel floor, shady trees and long picnic tables with bench seating. Family style! Our neighbors eating behind us quickly became our friends as they showered Sparky with friendly pets. We ordered an IPA house beer and took a look at the menu. Again, local ingredients were combined creatively. Hum. Chicken Biscuit Sandwich. “What can be so great about this?” I asked myself. I took the risk. A perfectly fried chicken breast was wedged between a split cheddar cheese biscuit slathered with horseradish crema and topped with homemade cucumber pickles. On the side sat a ramekin of homemade catsup – tomatoey, tangy and not too sweet to accompany a mound of thin, crunchy and hot french fries. The side pickle tasted of briny, chile- infused heat. Wow. Every bite was a marriage made in heaven.

Mom ordered the Warm Prosciutto Pear Sandwich on toasted brioche. Another masterpiece. She also had onion rings which had to be the best I’ve ever tasted. Very thinly sliced and lightly batter-coated, they practically melted in your mouth. If I lived in Santa Fe, Rowley would be a weekly date. Besides the food, what else made this trip special? The place we stayed!

Santa Fe has over 500 Airbnb’s and we were lucky enough to hit the jackpot with the Quiet Country Casita on Historic Santa Fe Trail.  Surrounded by acres of wooded forest, the guest house, in traditional New Mexico style, was as comfortable as I’ve ever been staying in someone else’s home. Tonie and Mark live across the way and were super helpful hosts with eating ideas and places to visit. Tonie makes an Apricot Bread for all her guests which my mom and I quickly polished off. She generously shared the recipe with me. I thought this was particularly appropriate since we are now in the peak of apricot season and farm stands selling apricots and cherries lined the New Mexico highways.
Thanks Tonie!

Apricot Banana Nut Bread

1/2 cup dried apricots * see my notes below
1/3 cup orange juice
1 stick butter
1 1/3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
Grated zest of 1 orange
2 large eggs
1 cup mashed ripe banana
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Turbinado sugar or coarse sugar

Using kitchen shears or a sharp knife, cut each apricot in 1/4” dice.
Combine orange juice and apricots in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from the stove and let cool. The apricots will drink up the orange juice.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9 X 5 loaf pan with parchment.
Melt the butter and let cool.
Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl.
In a mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the melted butter, sugar, and orange zest. Mix in the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the mashed banana, apricots with juice, and nuts.
Carefully mix in flour. Do not over mix!
Scrape dough into prepared pan and spread evenly.
Sprinkle top with Turbinado sugar and bake for about 1 1/2 hours.
Check center with a toothpick to make sure inside is done.
Cool on a rack.

* I quartered fresh apricots and put them in a 150 degree oven for a few hours to release their moisture. They came out great!

Certain things catch your eye,
But pursue only those
that capture your heart.

old Indian saying

Ciao for now!

Love, Mary

 

Santa Fe – The Past Comes Full Circle

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For me, travel is like a recipe. You take a bite, it consumes your senses. You make a memory out of a few ingredients along with the people who join you on this trip. Soon it’s in your “favorites” file. Some places have a profound effect on us, like that incredibly tasty dish you can’t get out of your mind. That dish we return to again and again and rarely disappoints. Like ingredients in a recipe, my travels create memories worth repeating. But, the experience is never quit the same because the world is dynamic and things change. Freeways move and beltways go around a town instead of through them. That small town with a cool trading post is now difficult to find among the dense population and crowded tourist traps.
Santa Fe is one of those colorful destinations where the ancient drumbeat of the culture calls me to step back in time, slow my pace and breathe in the scent of stringent sap from the Pinon pines.
Two weeks ago, I returned to New Mexico to capture this feeling where chili ristras abound and the sand palette of the mesa’s adobe is the required color block. Dedicated to improving my blog writing skills, I took a road trip to Boulder, Colorado to work with a personal writing coach. It just made sense to include a stopover in my Santa Fe. Where did this attraction to Santa Fe begin? I need to go back in time.
One spring, long ago, my mom and I rendezvoused in St. Louis. I had finished spring semester at Southern Illinois University and she flew out to help me drive back to California. Our trip across the country bonded us in so many ways. A mother-daughter trip is special. She showed me places she had visited with her friends at my age and together we discovered a few new venues. That trip, our favorite new find was Acoma, Sky City, a 13th century pueblo 60 miles west of Albuquerque that sits high above the barren desert, on a tall mesa. In 1977, it was so remote and barely known to tourists that you literally had to drive off the beaten track to get there. The only access to the pueblo was up a gravely and rocky dirt road that tested the limits of my little yellow Capri. We seemed to be the lone visitors. A young native Acoma boy appeared with a blue bandana tied around his forehead and a welcoming smile. “Would you like a tour and history lesson on the beginnings of the Acoma Pueblo?” he asked. In its ancient times, Acoma was an impenetrable fortress that protected its people from neighboring Indians as well as the Spanish.

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Me at the top of Acoma, 1977.

Sparse and dry with the sun warming the dirt beneath our feet, the stillness felt eerie and haunted. Was I imagining, or did I hear the cries of Indian chants? The heat unearthed the dusty smell of clay which was also the dominant mono tone color of the pueblo. Entryways with screen doors alternated with kiva ladders for higher access to second and third floor homes. “Where is everybody?” I wondered.

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Very old photos of lonely Acoma Pueblo.

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Weathered but still standing.

The only other sign of life was two women, both with gray hair pulled back in neat braids, sitting on the ground on well-worn blankets, in front of what must have been their home. We watched in awe as their brown, weathered and steady hands painted intricate geometric designs on small pots in the Acoma colors of black, white and burnt orange. I purchased a small pot, just finished, for a few dollars. Little did I know that Acoma pottery was about to explode in the “collectible” scene of today.

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The quality of these old slides isn’t great but it tells the story!

Santa Fe was equally enchanting. This trip took Mom and me to the roof of the La Fonda Hotel, tangy margaritas, a classical guitarist serenading us, and the aroma of spicy chilis. Vibrant color- turquoise, corals and sunflower yellows decorated everything from clothing and  door frames to hanging geranium flower pots and chili red ristras. Visits to Native American museums, the nearby Taos Pueblo, spicy, innovative food I had never experienced so captivated me, my mom and I often returned to create even more memories.img_80512.jpg

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The Old La Fonda Hotel, 1977.

It has been 27 years since our last visit to Santa Fe together. The following is my mom’s recollection of her favorite time in Santa Fe.
“It was our family Christmas in Santa Fe. Dad and I met Mary and her brother in Albuquerque. The Four Runner we had driven from home was packed to the ceiling with food and gifts and the four of us. New Mexico didn’t disappoint us. Snow for Christmas! Lots of snow! The NM highway patrol escorted a long line of Santa Fe bound travelers along the barely cleared highway. It was one of those snowy years that had impacted the entire southwest. We Californians were not daunted. I said “Now it feels like Christmas.” Santa Fe was magical. More than two feet of snow and below zero temperatures. Crisp and crunchy dry snow. Christmas luminarios lit flat roofs and walkways. Our condo Christmas tree fashioned out of a pine branch and decorated entirely with southwest decor- coyotes, mini painted pots, Kokopelli. Christmas dinner of blue corn enchiladas and posole. Indeed it was one of the best Santa Fe memories. Each trip makes for another memory. I still have a quote to bring us into the present. ” The only thing constant is change.”
A lot has changed but the ambiance has stayed the same as well. Acoma Pueblo certainly has advanced its stature. We stopped there on this recent road trip for a very different experience. Now there is a visitor’s center at the base of the mesa. For $24 buses shuttle you to the top for a peek of the past. It’s structured. We passed on the tour, wanting to remember the lonely Sky City as it was.

The photo above is from our recent visit to Acoma.
For both Santa Fe and Acoma, the ingredients, culture, crisp, clear air, magnificent sunsets, were all still there, but the recipe had changed. I have learned to accept the changes, like adapting a recipe, because I still feel a deep connection to the earth that I felt the very first time my eyes met the brick-red dirt of the desert kissing the glacial blue sky of New Mexico.
Embrace it, but remember.
Next week – more on Santa Fe plus a recipe for Apricot Bread from a local.

Ciao for now!

Mary

I Write Because…

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“The butterfly does not count the years but the moments for this, its short time.” Great writing!

I believe we all are writers. The only thing separating us are the filters we choose to use to describe an experience. Our filters may be color-driven, emotionally driven, memory-driven or personal belief-driven. It’s all these variations that make one moment in time appear in a thousand different ways. I write to hold certain moments close, to learn from the past, and to celebrate my friends and family.

I find it fascinating to take a snapshot of an event in my mind, capturing only my feelings and remembrances. Reviewing past photographs helps me to go deep within and unearth times in my life that mark a turning point. I can feel the salt on my skin after viewing photos of my early years rafting all day long at Mission Beach. I smell Jessie’s puppy breath, my first dog who was my constant companion while living in Australia, by just looking at a picture I have of her hanging in my bedroom. I feel gratitude and a sense of accomplishment after looking at photos of the tiny fig tree I planted not even four years ago and seeing how at home it now feels at a height of over seven feet tall. Always when I see photos of Italy, my heart pounds and I am in love again. All these moments were important to me in some way and by expressing in writing the emotion they carried, give me intense satisfaction. Sharing these emotions reveal our vulnerability and make us human.

Five years of blogging have taught me how to look within and not be afraid of who I am. This platform has given me confidence to keep writing, even more fervently. As I embark on year six, the camera continues to click as I change the lenses more frequently, fine tune my focus and always look for the unexpected.

To celebrate the past five years of my writing journey, I’d like to share some of my favorite stories.

A long ago past adventure in Paris: June 4, 2014  Time Travels

A recent Italian love:  May 18, 2017 Take Another Little Piece of My Heart

Inner feelings: March 25, 2015 My Life as a Leaf

My favorite pastime: April 12, 2016 Play Ball!

Family Stories:  June 18, 2014 A Drink of Nature
May 17, 2016 The Egg

Art!: Artful Traveling

Coming soon! A new look for this blog with easier navigation and ability to print recipes!

Writing frees my soul, grounds me in the present, and makes the fire of my spirit dance with delight. Mary Knight

Ciao for now,
Mary

The Music of Food

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finished Carrie Ann

The Carrie Ann

Music and cooking both have a beat, a pulse, a flow of notes and a sequence of ingredients. Listening to music while cooking brings out the best in my recipes and in me. My spirit is light as I dance around the kitchen swaying to the tunes, singing along and feeling totally in the groove of the moment. It’s amazing how different styles of music influence my final product. My food can actually take on the character of the music being played and dictate how the recipe will develop. My favorite – Rock and Classic Vinyl of the 60’s and 70’s. What is it about the tinniness of the tambourine that makes my shoulders keep time with its beat? It brings out the edginess and risk-taking in my recipes. Sinatra’s cooing makes me slow down and go more mainstream. Maybe even create a new cocktail to honor the era. Another love – blues and soul music- touches my soul and sends me swaying into a nostalgic bliss.

Everyone knows that music is the Universal Language but recently I’ve felt an even deeper connection, an awakening as to how it enhances my everyday living and balances me like nothing else can. I even hear it in my garden with the songs of multiple birds and the sound of rustling leaves that the music of the wind creates. It’s like a spiderweb of energy that vibrates across the world, bringing hope and healing to all of us, everywhere.

Music pulls out stagnancy and draws in good vibes. It’s a tonic. It intoxicates and releases memories of old and brings them to the surface. My food always tastes better and is more attractive when listening to something that lights up my spirit and draws me in.

In honor of music’s tonic for the soul, I wanted to design a cocktail of vintage meets rock. My mom actually created this drink last night, under the influence of Frank Sinatra. I named it the Carrie Ann, after one of my favorite songs , (actually a Hollies song) by one of my favorite artists, Graham Nash. I recently saw Nash perform in Riverside and my love for him and his music was rekindled. This cocktail combines whiskey with brandied cherries and maraschino cherry liqueur. Whiskey lends the “vintage” feel while the music of Nash, inspiring the addition of the cherries, is the “rock.” You can drink it “neat” or over ice with a heavy dose of sparkling water as a delicious summer refresher. I was in love after my first sip. Thanks Mom for your superb bartending skills. I can’t wait for your next invention!

The Carrie Ann

2 brandied cherries*
1/2 teaspoon sugar or one sugar cube
1 1/2 ounces good whisky. We love Bushmills.
Dash of Angostura bitters
1/2 ounce Maraschino cherry liqueur**
1 Tablespoon brandied cherry juice
ice
Sparkling water
cherry on top for garnish

*I make my own brandied cherries but you can purchase them too.
**I used Maraska Maraschino Cherry Liqueur from Croatia. A gift from dear friends, Alan and Jenny, it is delightful and delicious.

ingredients

Start with great ingredients!

Muddle the brandied cherries with the sugar.
Add ice to fill.
Pour over the whiskey.
Add the maraschino cherry liqueur and the brandied cherry juice.
Add a dash of Angostura bitters.
Stir.
Add sparkling water to taste and garnish with another cherry.

Another version is to make as directed without the sparkling water and then strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a cherry. A little stiffer drink but a great sipper.

“The light music of whisky falling into glasses made an agreeable interlude.”
James Joyce, Dubliners

There really is a kind of insane beauty around us all the time. It’s just a question of learning to slow down, take a deep breath and meet the moment.” Graham Nash

I couldn’t agree more!

Ciao for now,

Mary

“Take Another Little Piece of My Heart”

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The most peaceful, beautiful place on earth. Lucca, Italy

My heartstrings are tugging like a hug you don’t want to release. This feeling waxes and wanes but mostly waxes. It’s a longing to be in another place, another reality far different from what I’m used to. A chance to reinvent oneself, live in the moment and not be caught up in the hustle bustle and busyness of big city living. It hits me hardest after I receive a letter from my dear friend, Angela, in Lucca, Italy, who tells me the news of our mutual friends, her painting and the latest art exhibits, her pets and garden. I flashback to our meals cooked together, excursions to the countryside and festivals, and friends picking grapes for our wine. How I wish I could trade places with her for a year!

What spell, exactly, does the charming town of Lucca have on me that calls to my heart like a siren at sea? In my eyes, it’s the one place in this world where everything I love comes together so naturally. Ancient history, walled cities, pasta, gelato, sculpture, pecorino cheese, opera, olive oil, wine, art, cobblestone streets with narrow alleyways, homes of rustic reds and harvest golds, the beautiful sing-song language (so romantic), markets of fresh garden vegetables, espresso, scarves, Buccellato bread, prosciutto and the list goes on.

Whenever I feel the need to return to my dreams, I review my favorite photos of Lucca. I thought I’d share a few that tell a story about the countryside, people and food I embrace so tightly. I hope you enjoy them and are able someday to travel to this special piece of paradiso. I’ve included an amateur video I took of my friends, the opera singers, Michelle and Mattia performing in a small church in Lucca. Bellissimo!

In the words of  the famous song by Janis Joplin, [Lucca}, “takes another little piece of my heart” every time I visit.

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Angela

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My favorite photo. The view from my room at La Mimosa. Spectacular!

“You may have the universe if I may have Italy”
Giuseppe Verdi

Ciao for now!

Love,

Mary

Poof!

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Mother’s Day soufflé brunch. It deflates the minute it is removed from the oven!

When was the last time you made a soufflé? That long? Let’s fix that!

Soufflés are one of those basic recipes that every chef is expected to master. It’s based on technique. Once you understand the basic bechamel sauce and how to properly whip egg whites, the world is your oyster. The recipe I am sharing today showcases a simple cheese soufflé with herbs. I love to delve into my collection of reference cook books when researching a recipe. In Larousse Gastronomique, one of the authorities on classic French cuisine, I counted 36 different variations on the soufflé including the addition of  puréed brains. Really!

Soufflés are a delicate matter. To achieve a light and airy product, concentration and timing are essential. I consider this a form of meditation as your mind cannot wander and must stay focused on the tasks on hand. The key is mis en place or having all the ingredients prepped and ready to go.

My mom, the cooking adventuress, made us soufflés after she discovered Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. I’m sure she also referred to the copy I now have of Gastronomique, given to her by my babysitter Claudia, in 1966. The two of them loved experimenting and I was an eager guinea pig. The soufflé soon turned into a family favorite, my mom adding spinach or ham or whatever leftovers she had in the refrigerator. She called it “Sunday night surprise.”

In France, I learned the technique rather than the recipe of the soufflé. It begins with a basic bechamel sauce of just butter, flour and milk plus the seasonings. I use this foundational sauce as a springboard for many dishes including gratins, lasagna, mac and cheese and chicken pot pie. Once you master this simple technique, you can venture into all sorts of recipes you might have thought were too difficult to attempt.

bread crumbs

My mom’s 6 ounce soufflé dishes. Very vintage and very beautiful. They are buttered and breadcrumbed in preparation for the egg mixture.

So, why don’t we eat soufflé any more? I think most people are afraid of them! I am here to calm your fears. All it takes is confidence!

This menu was designed as a Mother’s Day Brunch, with the cheese soufflé as the super star. I paired it with watercress and parsley for the greens, papaya and raspberries, a rhubarb tea bread and a glass of Rosé wine. A little bit of everything good and healthy too.

I celebrate you Mom for giving me the gift of cooking, now for you!
Happy Mother’s Day!

French Cheese Soufflé
Butter and dust with bread crumbs a 1 1/2 quart soufflé dish. Or, butter and crumb 6-8 (depending on the size) small souffle dishes. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
This recipe makes one large 1 1/2 quart soufflé or approximately eight 6 or 8 ounce soufflé dishes.

Bechamel Sauce
1 cup whole milk
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon ground dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt

3 Tablespoons butter
3 Tablespoons flour
pinch of ground nutmeg

4 egg yolks
2/3 cup grated Gruyère cheese

2 Tablespoons minced parsley
1 Teaspoon minced chives
1/2 Teaspoon minced chervil or marjoram

6 egg whites at room temperature

Combine the milk, bay leaf, mustard, pepper and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer and then turn the heat off to let the flavors infuse into the milk. While still hot, strain the milk into a measuring cup to make it easier to add to the bechamel base.

Melt the butter in a saucepan until frothy then stir in the flour. Stir quickly with a whisk to create a smooth roux with no lumps. Cook for a few minutes to cook out the flour taste. Slowly whisk in the hot milk, stirring constantly so no lumps will form. Continue to cook on medium low until thick and smooth. Stir in the nutmeg. Taste for salt and add more if you like. Remove from the heat and stir in the egg yolks. Gently stir in the cheese. Cover with plastic wrap or waxed paper until ready to use. Remember to season the bechamel well as the egg whites will dilute the flavor.

Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. In France, I was taught to hold the bowl of whipped egg whites over your head. If they didn’t spill out, they were ready.

Pour half of the bechamel into the egg whites and fold together the two mixtures. Add the rest of the egg whites and all of the minced herbs. Fold with care to keep the mixture light and fluffy. Do not over mix. All of the egg whites do not have to be completely incorporated.

Immediately pour into the prepared dishes and place in the hot oven. The small ramekins took about 12 minutes and the medium size, about 15 minutes. The 1 1/2 quart soufflé dish will take about 20-25 minutes. I look for a brown top. You want a creamy center so try not to over cook.

in oven

Just out of the oven. Poof!

Serve immediately as the soufflé will start falling the minute it hits the cool air. This is fine. It still tastes delicious. I love this combination of cheese and minced herbs. It is delicate and flavorful and so French!

fruit and rose

Cheers!

“Good food is the foundation of genuine happiness.”
― Auguste Escoffier

Ciao for now,

Love, Mary

Rhubarb Marries Meringue

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Lately I’ve been feeling disenchanted with the world. About the only thing I find enchanting is my lovely, colorful garden. This is just a phase I’m going through. We all have them.

To console myself, instead of watching evening tv, I crawled into bed with food. Figuratively, not literally!  I perused my cookbook shelves and started pulling notebooks and recipe books that spoke to me. I have a few treasured and tattered notebooks that contain my private collection of dessert recipes from my days as a pastry chef . I’ve relied on the basics from these books but really haven’t delved into the more serious desserts that lined my pastry cases. Suddenly, my enchantment with life was restored. Flashbacks of colorful fruit desserts filled my head and my creativity shifted into fifth gear.

A recipe for almond meringue caught my eye. “How could I make this special and new?” I asked myself. Rhubarb! And it was all over. I quickly jotted down my ideas and slept well, excited to start cooking and already tasting the combination I dreamed up.

Rhubarb is one of those indescribable flavors that if you love it, you really love it and count the days until it is in season. Rhubarb pie – who doesn’t love it?  Every year I wait for spring rhubarb and try all sorts of new recipes using this vegetable. Yes, it is technically a vegetable. Rhubarb is just beginning to make its appearance in southern California. My friend Di lives in Iowa and told me last week how she and her sister planned to pick the rhubarb in their backyard that grows like crazy and make strawberry rhubarb jam. I was envious. I became so whinny about her stash of rhubarb, she even offered to ship me some!

My vision for a cake with rhubarb turned out perfectly, in beauty and in bite. I assembled it yesterday afternoon, took photos and then my mom and I dug in, anxious to taste it, as our dinner cooked. “Dessert first?” We asked each other. We both nodded and could not put our forks down. And yes, we did have another piece each after dinner!

As beautiful as it is, because it is a meringue, has a short shelf life and when cut, does not hold its shape for long. Use a serrated knife for best results. There are just two steps to the recipe and each can be made a day ahead. The rhubarb compote will last for 7-10 days in the frig and once the meringues are baked, you can leave them in the oven (oven turned off) overnight so they won’t collect moisture and will stay dry.
This recipe is one of the very best, I think, I have ever created. I hope you make it and enjoy it as much!

Almond Meringue Cake with Rhubarb Compote

Preheat oven to 225 degrees.
Line two sheet trays with parchment paper. Place an 8” cake pan bottom on the paper and draw a circle for your template. Repeat two more times. You will need three circles for the three layers of meringue. Turn the paper over so you can see the outline but the meringue will not absorb the ink or pencil!

3/4 cup sugar, 150 grams, split in half.
1 1/2 cups ground almonds or almond meal, 100 grams
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
4 egg whites at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Measure half the sugar, the almond meal and cornstarch together. Set aside.
Beat egg whites until foamy and starting to hold together. Slowly add the remaining half the sugar – 75 grams. Beat until glossy about 5 minutes total time.
Fold in remaining sugar/almond mixture.
Fold in almond extract.
Place the meringue into a 14-16” pastry bag, fitted with a plain tip and starting on the outside line, pipe the meringue, working your way inward until the circle is all meringue. Repeat with the other two circles.

I had a little bit of meringue left over so made these little buttons to use as added decorations.

Bake 225 degrees for about one hour or until very dry. Turn the oven off and let your meringues sit there until you are ready to use them.


Rhubarb Compote
Makes about 3 cups of rhubarb

1 Cup sugar
1/4 cup water
6 cups rhubarb cut into 1” pieces
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
Combine sugar and water in saucepan. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Add rhubarb and lemon juice.
Cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes. The rhubarb will break down. This is the reason I cut it into such large pieces.
Cool and refrigerate until ready to use.
This is a slightly less sweet recipe than I would normally make because it is being used as part of a meringue recipe, which is already very sweet! It is delicious and simple!


1 1/2 cups heavy cream
Whip cream until soft peaks form. Place whipped cream in a pastry bag, ready to pipe.
2 boxes fresh raspberries

To assemble:
Place one meringue round on a cake plate or cardboard cake round. Spread about 1 cup of the rhubarb compote evenly on top of the meringue.

rhubarb meringue

The first layer. Love the ruby color!

Pipe a whipped cream border around the edge of the cake, then fill in the middle. You can go lightly on the cream in the middle. The whipped cream adds a creaminess but you don’t want the cake to be mostly cream!
Sprinkle on about 3/4 of the box of raspberries. I made sure some of the raspberries stuck out of the sides for the glamour effect.
Repeat with another meringue, rhubarb compote, cream and raspberries.
Place the last layer on top and spread with remaining rhubarb. Sprinkle the remaining raspberries on top and voila!
This would be delicious served with chilled Prosecco.

“People who love to eat are always the best people.”
Julia Child

Ciao for now!

Mary