Monday, January 22, 2007

Probably my last word on Oinkster, Eagle Rock

I had eagerly awaited the chicken at Oinkster as I think their salads are lackluster and I try to avoid over consumption of pastrami and hamburgers and any consumption of pork. I wanted this chicken to sing to me as it is available about two blocks from the sprats’ school. And while the fries are not the best I’ve ever had in my life, they are good enough for Eagle Rock and the self righteous plan was to pair them with roasted chicken and NOT pastrami. I was thrilled to see that on Saturday, the chicken had arrived and that it is available in dark meat form, accompanied by the decent cabbage salad and the good enough fries. The kids ordered burgers which I guess are above average but don’t send my heart aflutter and milkshakes, which were made rich and delicious with Fosselman’s. The chicken arrived too. It was pallid and flabby. Very similar to the foil wrapped warmered chickies you can get at any supermarket, except there was no cellophane melted onto it. So the fabulous long anticipated chicken cooker has finally arrived. And they still ask for your name when you order and then give you a number to take to your table, which for some reason bugs the heck out of me. Also, the Chowhound entreaties for some interior beautification (I believe one of us put it quite aptly with “friggin ugly”) have been entirely ignored. And for all the nifty bottled soda pops, there is not one diet beverage.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Cinnamon Vegetarian in Highland Park Reviewed

My hippie vegan neighbor shamed us to supporting a new Highland Park business and we went with a bunch of friends to Cinnamon last night. She’s pretty snarky at me because I’m not only a breeder, I feed my spawn dead animals. I must proffer my pedigree as a 20 year vegetarian and a real connoisseur of vegetarian foods. I once met Deborah Madison and Paul Westerberg in the same week and my life is now complete. Plus, I’m a sucker for neighborhood businesses, particularly DINING establishments in MY neighborhood. I tried to call all afternoon for reservations but the phone wasn’t answered. Their website listed the hours though and I took a chance and found them open. The restaurant is cute and colorful in that family done-on-the-cheap with flair and true love kind of way. The staff was all Hispanic and a bit tentative in English although obviously eager to please our dauntingly large party. One of our friends noticed a Christian themed decoration and my wild stab is that they’re 7th Day Adventists. The other old timer vegetarian at the meal and I reminisced about Loma Linda and Lindburg’s IN THE PINK from back in the day, but we both agreed that the veggie dog that Spuds absolutely refused to eat bore suspicious similarity to a Loma Linda canned product. Undaunted by the vile hotdog, Spuds, suffering from lifelong shrimp (and Christmas) envy dove into a really authentic looking shrimp cocktail. The product definitely had the appearance and nearly the texture of shrimp and a vaguely “I know this is SUPPOSED to taste like shrimp” flavor. I’ve purchased these faux shrimp a couple times at the Hawaiian Market in San Gabriel. They come frozen and I’ve used them on occasion to my family’s (not overwhelming) satisfaction but they’re cute in sort of a doofy way and not absolutely inedible.

We shared some decent chorizo and carnitas tacos and everyone liked the vegan tamales. They had two different soups-a lentil and a pozole, which is what I’ll try next time. There are also a number of interesting sounding salads, and even some Middle Eastern inspired dishes on the menu. The kids loved the smoothies although my celery, beet, ginger juice was chalky and had no detectable taste of ginger. I ordered steak fajitas which were just fine except for the steak part, some sort of wheat meat thing but the sautéed peppers, onions and tomatoes were nice with rice and beans and homemade tortillas. The vegetarians in our party were much more enthusiastic about the substitute products but even when I was a committed vegetarian it was always like substituting margarine for real butter. Why bother? It’s never gonna taste as good.. Would I go back to Cinnamon? Yes. But I would order the dishes that don’t rely on the suspension of belief. Would I go there if I weren’t entertaining a vegetarian? No. But I know so many vegetarians and they’re all so sanctimonious that they need a lot of entertaining
5511 N Figueroa St
Highland Park, CA 90044
Phone: (323) 982 9480

Marukai Market Little Tokyo-New Digs in Weller Court

They’re still on the main floor of Weller Court but across the courtyard. The new space seems a bit larger but I was a bit disoriented by the brightness of the lighting. I asked one of the checkers if the location was bigger and she wasn’t sure although it has a much more modern, corporate look than the previous location. I have always had divided loyalty between the Nijiya Market in the Plaza and Marukai. Neither is a good destination for produce unless you were going to cook it yesterday but there’s a swell farmer’s market in Weller Court on Saturdays. If marketing in Little Tokyo is my only destination I will usually go for Marukai as the parking is a bit more civilized. The Weller Court Lot is easy to maneuver. It's a quick trip from car to store. If we’re eating at Suehiro and have already made the commitment to suck up and park, we’ll happily make a pits stop at Nijiya, after himself has made me drive around for an hour in search of street parking. Nijiya also validates parking but the lot is sort of a pain and in the evening you have to leave a five buck deposit for the parking, which is never repaid with interest. Both have a good selection of bento, which I suspect peaks out at lunch time, unsuitable to my schedule. The new Marukai really did seem to have the largest selection I’d ever seen in either market and when I stopped by at 5:00 p.m. on a weeknight, things were marked down 20 and 30% and I was able to assemble a some really great quality delicious stuff which provided dinner at home and lunch box coverage for the next day. The other imported crap I have no business buying like weird flavored hard candies, salty rice crackery things and dried vegetable snacks were well represented. The store (I was there last week) seemed to just have opened and there were greeters in aprons who tried to get me to sign up for a credit card. Also, for Japanese Market aficionados, I purchased several months ago at Nijiya these cunning little sweet potato and chestnut snacks in foil vacuum bags. They were delicious and as I recall, the only added ingredient is salt. They were not freeze dried but seemed somehow roasted. These have been AWOL however and any pointers would be appreciated.

Archived Post-The Melting Pot--per the kids.

The kids really wanted to try the new Melting Pot (chain) restaurant in Pasadena on Wednesday. It was too crowded to get a table and we were seated in the bar where we were limited to ordering cheese and chocolate fondue. The kids chose a cheddar/Gruyere mixture which was substantially greasy and flatly flavorless. This was accompanied by cubes of stale utterly undistinguished bread, and a bowl of what appeared to be the trim from one of those appetizer veggie platters from the Albertson's which had been sitting a day. Literally, there were misshapen pieces of dried out baby carrots and awkward clumps of dirty celery root. I guess the intention is that these would be improved by an application of melted cheese. The kids ordered a s'more fondue for dessert which was just about as thrilling as the cheese. It came with unripe ill-cut strawberries and hefty hunks of pineapple which was about 3/4 core. The back entrance is through a private door you have to ring, like a gritty speakeasy. The decor airport lounge. The service was perky.

Archived Post-Meditation on Tupperware 10-4-06

Wednesday, October 04, 2006
A Meditation on Tupperware Current mood: restless Category: Food and Restaurants
I can't stop looking at the Tupperware cupboard. Kitchen cleaning and organization was a part of my Yom Kippur prescription for myself and my cupboard is a masterpiece. I also got rid of a pile of stuff from the bedroom and tidied a drawer but the Tupperware cupboard is a portent, a symbol of things to come, teshuvah. I am a friend/victim of Phranc, the Jewish Lesbian Folksinger Tupperware lady, whose pure love of the product foisted me into that "where's the f—kin' lid?" vortex. I love Phranc. She is one of the smartest people I know and subversive in a wonderful way, far more than the persona she's created would belie. Tupperware has contributed to the economic empowerment of women, back from the 50s when housewives would get their hair done and sell Tupperware at parties to earn a little mad money. I haven't talked to Phranc about her relationship with the corporation (about which a documentary feature was made about five years ago) recently but the gist of what I recall is that Tupperware has helped a lot of people to dramatically improve their lives economically. I remember hearing about a number of single moms tooling around in Tupperware issued minivans. I remember too though that the Tupperware Corporation was less than warm with regard to reciprocating the enormous lovefest it was given by the queer community. If you've never attended a drag queen Tupperware party, you weren't living in L.A. in the 1990s.Yom Kippur and I'm emptying all this crap from the cupboard and meditating about time and money and plastic. I created a sorting hierarchy. Tupperware in good condition, with matching lid, but not serving a regular purpose in the kitchen was relegated to the garage sale bag. There is a really nice and complete fruit and vegetable freshness storage set that we just never got in the habit of using regularly but is truly a sensible item consisting of, I believe six pieces, including lids. Likewise, a number of bowls and other storage containers with identifiable lids and bearing the Tupperware logo were consigned to the resell area.The second category, I referred to mentally as "recycle" but I knew the housekeeper would go through it before it hit the blue can. It was Tupperware without lids, Rubbermaid and all manner of off-brand plastic goods. Regardless of cost or level of utility, to me, Tupperware is the most valuable plastic storage container brand. This probably has to do with the largeness of the actual Tupperware buying experience (at least with Phranc) and the fact that it does tend to be quite pricey. I knew that before this collection of castoffs actually made it to the recycle bin, my housekeeper would have a go at it, matching up lids patiently and without brand snobbishness, simply because my time is worth more than hers. She would go through the bag with a closer eye and ferret out items that she could somehow profit from. The economic gods have simply deigned that she will have to work harder physically to feed her children than I do to feed mine. She can't afford to throw away the Rubbermaid, but I, with partial economic responsibility for my own family, hers, and the families of those who work for me, can't afford to consider it.The Tupperware which made the cut was a nice set of bowls with good lids, plus an ingenious set of small and large storage containers with a unique twisty shaped lid which fit on each piece and because of the odd shape never seemed to get lost or mismatched. I also held on to some really large ½ gallonish containers for storing soup and big casseroles. I don't know how earth-friendly it is, but I am using simple white cardboard boxes from Smart and Final (available in a number of different sizes) for storing food, giving away leftovers and packing lunches. It seems like eliminating the tyranny of tracking expensive name brand containers and the expenditure of soap and water to wash them makes using these heavy paper disposables a little less reprehensible. Nevertheless, the cupboard looks great. Next, the pantry

Archived Post SUPER KING 10-3-06

Tuesday, October 03, 2006
All I really care about is food. Thoughts on the Super King. Current mood: hungry Category: Food and Restaurants
In a hurry to get food for us before the start of Yom Kippur, I hit the Super King, which is, now that the crappy Albertson's on Figueroa is gone, my closest large grocery store. I have had pretty good luck with the prepared foods there in the past, but Sunday, they were kind of lackluster. I ordered chicken lula which had a weird acrid bite that none of us liked and some beef filet kabobs which were sort of on the dry side. The rice they serve is plain white, unseasoned, the pita wasn't particularly fresh, the hummous was ho-hum but the grilled pepper and tomato accompaniment was nice enough and added a nice flash of color to the Styrofoam assemblage. I'll give it another chance because previous dinners have been pretty good and the attraction of the meal being prepared while I shop is irresistible. The shopping itself is pretty wondrous and the conglomeration of folks from all over the planet makes an incredibly rich multicultural experience, even for L.A. The Trader Joe's in Silverlake has this (pretty snarky, actually) display with products purchased from the Gelson's across the street, compared with the same products from T.J.s. The bill from Gelson's was over 40% higher. I like the service and a lot of the quality at Gelson's but it will be a long time I think before I do another major shop there again. This summer we were vacationing in Santa Barbara and I fell in love with a store called Lazy Acres which makes Bristol Farms look like Food4Less. I remember looking for a jar of honey and finding nothing on the shelf for less than twelve dollars. I found a gorgeous jar of pure Acacia honey at the Super King for $3.69. The Super King also has a great collection of bulk spices. I purchased annatto, sesame seeds, sumac, garam masala and stick cinnamon all for less than two dollars a pack. I found a nice bottle of Armenian Avshar brandy for $15.99. This was the five year old. There is also a three year old variety for a couple dollars less. I'm not a big spirit head, but this tasted delicious to me, and I macerated some raisins in it for my break-the-fast kugel and it imparted a really lovely flavor.There is an excellent selection of California and imported olive oils. I bought a handsome bottle of Saifan extra virgin for $5.49 and shudder to think what Gelson's would charge for the same item. I haven't made a dent in the cheese department yet but I got an amazing French feta for $4.79 and a pot cheese/raisin spread called "Farmer's Sweet Kiss" which I put on toast for a big treat. There is also a daunting selection of yogurts which I intend to mine a bit more as well.I need to spend more time there. I bought a jar of preserved young walnuts that I have not the foggiest idea what to do with and I want to explore the other preserved fruits and jams they offer, not to mention dried fruits, frozen appetizers like blintzes and boureks and all manner of things that can (economically) add sweetness and savor to our new year.

Monday, January 8, 2007

The L.A. Food Blog WITH Bias

I love Chowhound but as a site devoted purely to “deliciousness” it doesn’t promote a local forum for addressing pursuit of deliciousness from within the larger framework of eating mindfully and all the messy political and philosophical debate with which that is fraught. We are not afraid! Ironically, one of the intents with which I am starting this project is to put an end to a long and self indulgent orgy of personal writing. That said, I will begin by telling you about me. First of all, I love to cook and I love to eat and I do so regularly and own up to having unresolved personal, cultural and spiritual issues with regard to food, feeding and being fed and therefore am publicly opening myself up to scrutiny and direction.

I almost never shop at big chain supermarkets. I was in the Pavillion’s in South Pasadena recently and I was staggered by how little food there I would actually eat. I am a hypocrite. I shop frequently at ethnic markets all over the city. I select ingredients there with a lower standard than I would at the Ralphs. I would never buy Kraft salad dressing but some of the weird sauces I pick up in Koreatown are probably just as toxic, it’s just that the unfamiliar packaging looks exotic and adventurous, and not trailer trashy. And I serve my (incredibly fussy) family about 14 hand prepared meals a week based on ingredients plundered from all manner of international purveyors. And I talk to people when I buy my food. I find out how to use different ingredients and share in return some of my own weird fusion techniques. I am very idiosyncratic about what I will and will not eat. I go to temple perhaps three times a year yet I avoid pork products and shellfish but think nothing about accompanying a brisket with a hefty side of macaroni and cheese. I buy Kosher meat (except steaks) whenever possible. I buy kosher or organic/free range chickens. But I love the short ribs from the 99 Ranch Market. At $1.99 a lbs. these are not kosher nor I’m sure connected in any way to anything sustainable, but it allows me to feed a crowd quickly and easily and is one of the surefire things I can get the whole family to eat with gusto. One of my very favorite inexpensive meats to use is turkey thighs. I have never seen these available in a free range nor organic version but I was able to purchase about 6 lbs. at Gelson’s (the most reliable source and the least expensive) for less than $5.00. The secret of these is to slather them with some highly flavored sauce (think anything which would be compatible with pork) and slow roast for several hours and remove the skin when it cools down. This week I baked some thighs in a raspberry salad dressing from Trader Joe’s--good, but I prefer something more spicy/molassesy. The first night I served the meat sliced up with some of the cooking liquid with some pasta and a carrot salad. Last night I stirred some of the chopped meat, some chard, olives and lemon into a nice risotto. I still have a ton of meat left and I’m going to use it in a big pot of chili with white beans and lots of cumin to take to a party. And, I do admire vegetarians. And I yearn for the day when vegetarianism will be the logical alternative in terms of convenience, flavor and economics, but I accept that it will probably not come in my lifetime. Does that really make heading in that direction less desirable? What inroads is the militant vegan community going to make with its separatist antagonistic agiprop to any portion of world citizenry except those with prosperity problems? I would rather the working mother who fills up her cart with processed lunchmeat and canned vegetables at the Super A know what she can easily and deliciously accomplish with 5 bucks worth of (not organic nor raised in love) turkey. Life is a series of ethical and moral trade offs. Oh, that we could eat food that was purely delicious and produced in a purely human, earth and spirit friendly fashion. But I’m willing to confront and be confronted as I sermonize about what I like to eat and why it’s ok.