There and back again…

central park

more of the park

Last month I finally visited New York, the city, after a year and a half of not being there.  I had missed it a lot and yearned so much to go to my favorite places in the village and downtown.  I embraced being back: the sky, the tall buildings, the trees, the trains, the pedestrians crowding the sidewalks and squares, the skaters at Union Square, the familiarity of moving constantly and meeting and seeing all kinds of people, and best of all, eating great food and taking classes from my favorite yoga teachers.  I stayed with my sister for a week and each day there I took notes and made a title for what each day represented.  Without further ado, here’s a look into my first day, titled “Memory Lane; Like eating a madeleine.”

After getting out the door my first day, in the afternoon around 2ish with my leather jacket on, ready for crisp fall air, I walked about seven minutes to Abraco in the East Village.  Just as I remembered it, tiny, warm, welcoming, and very European–in other words, perfect for me.  By the time I got there, they were out of their popular olive oil cake, but they did however have something screaming AUTUMN: a pear ginger maple cake!  That paired with their cappuccino made with organic whole milk was solid.

pear ginger maple cake

The Breslin, at The Ace Hotel, is a British gastropub by acclaimed British chef April Bloomfield.  She’s been getting a lot of attention recently–appearing on KCRW’s Good Food and on an episode of last season’s “Gossip Girl” (my favorite show).  In short, I HAD to check out her food.  Determinedly, I opened the black door and entered a darkened but light world that was wonderful to observe.

The Breslin dining room, look at those cows!

the kitchen, middle in the back, the perfect view, loved seeing them busy cooking and enjoying it.

I loved the super comfortable leather seats, the dark deep colors, and the quintessentsially posh elegance mixed with notes of modernist chic like the chandelier above the communal table.

chandelier above communal table, just in front of kitchen.

The homeyness was impeccable.

The waitress, very attentive, was extremely helpful and friendly, I asked my usual questions, and after not too long, ordered what she said is the most popular and best thing on the menu.

Now, the lamb burger, yes I understand why this is so popular; it’s the best lamb burger I’ve ever had.  Thankfully, finally, a bun that is not brioche like all the other trendy hamburger buns are in LA., but instead, it was a dense, chewy, artisanal-tasting sourdough.  After one bite I wanted more.  The meat: medium-raw of course.  Pink, tender, decadent and perfectly complimented with the strong feta cheese on top.

of course I ate it open-faced.

And the fries; my goodness, the fries.  Thick, just right, to be happily dipped into the friendly and unique side of cumin mayo–delightful.

cumin mayo with perfect thick fries…yum.

After an hour, I walked back towards where I began, and went through Madison Square Park, down 5th, and arrived at the Green Market Union Square.  My mission was to pick up some granola to have with the abundance of Wallaby organic yogurt that  my sister had in her fridge (it was on sale she said, so she couldn’t resist getting a ton–a trait she shares in common with my mom–buy more if it’s on sale, quick!).

One would think that the great Green Market would have excellent granola, but no, it did not.  My sister and I were completely disappointed; there was no crunch, there were a lot of peanuts, there was nothing in it that jumped out–it was rather blazé.  What did stand out however, were the pumpkins!

In the evening, I went to Rima’s class at Jivamukti Yoga School, Union Square.  She’s been a favorite teacher of mine for years; naturally, I was really excited to  take her class again.

The handsome guy next to me offered some of his Jivamukti muscle/joint cream before class; it smelled of peppermint and was perfect.

Rima as always, made us laugh and imparted her personal life mixed with spirituality and wisdom.  Her rhetoric comes from her organic essence; she speaks so well–it always flows and makes so much sense.  I always loved her storytelling and magic in the beginning of class.

We chanted together something about time; we looked at the Jivamukti chant books to follow along.  We then made the sound of the universe together, “OM”–always a deep brilliant sound.

At the end of class, after changing into dry clothes, I went up to Rima and waited for her to finish talking to a student so that I could say hi.

I introduced myself nervously and she said, “Yes, of course I remember you!”  I always think people forget who I am (it’s a habit).  She asked how I’ve been, what I’ve been up to, and I said I’m teaching yoga, to which she wasn’t surprised.  At the end of catching up she hugged me tightly and said she hoped to see me again soon.

It felt good to be back seeing familiar places and the same friendly faces.  Before leaving Jivamukti, I bought a much-needed yoga mat bag, one that was colorful and unique–kind of symbolizing my experience of being back.

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Rhubarb Crumble

The afternoon birds are singing loudly.  Meanwhile, a fly at my desk is trying to get outside, but the window screens won’t allow it–maybe he’ll figure it out.  There is noise and movement everywhere during this lovely season.  Just outside in our garden, blackberries deep in color and bursting with juice are ready to pick from their prickly vines.  And the big plum tree out front now has an abundance of ripe purple plums.

Rhubarb, a mix between a fruit and an herb since it’s from the sorrel family as Jamie Oliver notes in Jamie at Home, is one of my new spring favorites!

chopped rhubarb

Rhubarb is much loved in England, and here, it’s definitely becoming more popular.  Fergus Henderson’s bread dough is made with rhubarb in the beginning process.  Jamie Oliver adores it, and Sophie Dahl has childhood memories of getting tummy aches from eating too much of it in her grandmother’s garden.  Yes, rhubarb is sour, so it is always important to pair it with the right balance of sweetness.

Lately, I’ve been making Jamie Oliver’s “rhubarb and sticky ginger crumble,” which has a just right crumble and lots of stewed rhubarb; it’s pure, and a good celebration of those lovely pink-red stalks.  I love his idea of adding fresh ginger to it; indeed as he says paired with the rolled oats it makes a great crumble.

I enjoyed stewing the rhubarb the most.  A bubbling pot of rose-red goodness with just- poured-in sugar and fresh lemon juice is wonderful to witness.  It looks fantastic and it smells rather pleasant–neither shockingly strong nor too sweet.  It’s got that perfect friendly balance of texture, color, and flavor.

rhubarb that’s just been stewed with organic brown sugar and fresh lemon juice

Once done baking in the oven, and waiting for it to cool, I plated a bowl of it with a swirl of organic madagascar vanilla ice cream.  I gave some to a friend and she asked, “what is this fruit called again?”  I said, “Roo…barb.”  She enthusiastically said it was delicious and noted that the tart rhubarb paired with good vanilla ice cream offers a blissful bite.

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Flourless Chocolate Cake

A good chocolate cake to me means that it tastes like pure good quality chocolate and hence is decadent and after one bite it should be so good that you might just simply say, “heaven.”

In Santa Monica, I like Milo and Olive’s valrhona chocolate cake that is made with 60% cacao and chocolate ganache.  I also like a couple from Urth Caffe: Duchess of Hazelnut, which is a milk chocolate hazelnut gem, and their chocolate tiramisu, a great take on a classic.

The day finally came, last week, when I was ready to make Sophie Dahl’s Flourless Chocolate Cake, a recipe from her first cookbook.  The same cookbook that truly ignited my interest in food writings—particularly food stories and experiences.

Sophie Dahl’s first cookbook. All three of these photos are from Google.

To begin, I broke apart two big semisweet Ghiradelli chocolate bars and mixed that with the sugar.  Then, added the butter, eggs, vanilla extract, and coffee powder—following her method and order of course.

The cake turned out like any traditional British dessert; with lots of butter, sugar, and eggs—it screams heart attack and yummy at the same time.  Maybe I should’ve written some kind of warning sign on the side of the cake tin.  Actually Miss Dahl does offer some kind of a warning when she says, “Eat it at your discretion.”

Once out of the oven, one must have patience because it has to sit in the fridge for at least a couple hours or overnight.  This was the hard part for me, I love trying my baked yummies when they’re fresh out of the oven.  So, it was late at night, and this perfectly looking chocolate cake was sitting in my kitchen…so tempting.

Dahl likes to make this cake for parties because it’s such a no-fuss-minimal-effort kind of a process.  Whizzing everything in a food processor is easy peazy and doing it the night before is even better for the cake so that it can sit–the perfect celebratory dessert.

The next morning, eager to finish off the cake with the last step,  I took out the ingredients and  the sun poked through and shined down on them.

organic strawberries and organic raspberries, AND Bellwether Farms creme fraiche.

After spreading creme fraiche on top of the cake, I carefully placed the berries on top.  In the end, I had a generous looking chocolate cake that begs to be eaten and shared with many people.  When I did share it with family I received a lot of  smiles and exclamatory responses like the usual, “Mmm this is SO good,” the always enthusiastic aunt said, “DIVINE” and others asked for the recipe.  It felt right.

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Cookie cookie. Here they are.

Cookies have always been everywhere in my life.  Growing up we always had bake sales at school consisting of big plates of chocolate chip cookies.  Every year Girl Scouts sell their famous cookies packaged in bright colors, all over town on street corners.  The chocolate chip cookies that did always stand out to me as a kid were the ones that were still melty- chocolate- warm and fresh out of the oven.  There are so many bad cookies out there–it’s shocking.

During my trips into NYC while at SLC I knew I could get good cookies at one of my favorite coffee shops, Joe the art of Coffee—the one on Waverly Place being the most quaint and idyllic spot.  Their cookies are from Downtown Cookie Company (a small kitchen in the West Village).  Handmade cookies made with good ingredients? Yup.  I really like the peanut butter and jane street jam cookies.  Once, I tried their seasonal pumpkin spice, which was moist and good too.

Once back in LA and getting reacquainted in my hometown.  I instantly was mesmerized by the pastries at Tavern in Brentwood;  finally a chocolate chip cookie that was good.  This one made with dark good quality chocolate chips, tasted fresh and decadent.  Their ginger date chew cookie is also great as a unique twist to a ginger cookie.  And their sablés are a must try—perfect sized circles of simple shortbread cookies.  Others that have caught my attention in LA are Uncle Eddie’s vegan cookies (made in Glendale); my brother and I like all of the Uncle Eddie’s flavors especially peanut butter chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin.

Below are some cookies from Tavern.

ginger date molasses chew

chewy chocolate chip cookie. notice the big dark chocolate pieces. they're actually the size of coins, and as you can see once melted it's a cookie with big dark chocolate goodness mixed with a chewy good cookie.

pistachio and salted chocolate sablés

While at the farmers market last Sunday I sampled cookies from The Secret Goldfish Company, a new-ish bakery company that sells vegan cookies and muffins and lots of good breads using organic, local, and fair trade ingredients.  Their chocolate chip cookie with walnuts is fantastic.  I had to hide the bag from my brother who keeps eating something if it tastes really good.  He noted that this cookie pictured below is similar to Tavern’s chocolate chip cookie.  He’s right; the good quality dark chocolate chips as well as the buttery flavor from the organic non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening is very close in taste to Tavern’s non-vegan cookie.

organic, vegan, and fair trade chocolate chip walnut cookie from The Secret Goldfish Co.

Their gingersnap cookie was good, moist, and fresh, but I found it too sweet probably due to all the sugar that covers the top.  I actually prefer the gingersnap cookies I made using Babycakes’ recipe.  These turned out thin, chewy, the perfect molasses ginger flavor, and not too sweet.

my homemade gingersnaps, vegan and gluten-free, following Babycakes' recipe. The white specks are from the coconut oil, an oil that seems to be in vogue right now. It's rather healthy and tasty as a spread on toast!

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“moonlight stars are shining in the sky…”

Coachella was last weekend and I don’t really care about it much.  Rather, I’m into less is more; I’m into really good quality, small vibrant spaces, meeting with a select few very special people—people who are brilliant, intellectual, creative—not too many of them but enough to have a tangible time together.

Last weekend, I filled my days with M Ward’s new album (which came out several days ago), and I love how the iTunes store describes it in brief: “For his eighth solo affair, Ward strikes a masterful balance between sunny and shadowy songs, reflecting the beautiful range of emotions evoked by life itself.”  Such an apt description.  They’re the perfect songs to listen to while cooking in the kitchen and spending a weekend with good literature and good food.

On Saturday, I picked up a book I’ve been waiting for from the library—Erin McKenna’s Babycakes cookbook (her first one).  My sister had a baby-shower-potluck to attend Sunday, and she asked me to make something for that in addition to what I was going to make.  Sure….no probem.

Alright, here are some photos of some yummy treats.

brownies and chocolate chip cookies!  both are vegan, gluten free, and from the Babycakes cookbook.  After having a bite of a brownie i said “heaven;” they are rich and moist…ultimate chocolate bliss.  And the chocolate chip cookies? SO good. I was pleased with how both turned out.  :)

This is how my sister, Sophie, decorated the brownies and the peanut butter fudge!  The latter is a recipe from Sophie Dahl.  It’s a simple no-fuss kind of recipe filled with lots of sugar and peanut butter and is always a crowd pleaser.  The rose petals are from our garden at home!

And then, while busy running errands on a bright Sunday afternoon, I had to try the  carrot pistachio muffin by Cake Monkey from Intelligentsia in Venice.  And?  It’s the perfect unique combination.  The crumbly topping is how all muffins should be. mmm.

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M+O Tastes

10 April 2012

Milo and Olive…a spur of the moment decision to indulge on a springy breezy  late-morning.

Roasted tomato and mozzarella sandwich on sourdough bread with arugula and red peppers and an olive tapenade made of five different olives.  This is a fresh, sweet, soft, crunchy sandwich.  The fresh mozzarella cheese goes great with the bright green arugula and the tomatoes.  I’d prefer it without the peppers, since I’m not a big red pepper fan.  The tapenade is a wonderful surprise in this sandwich that adds the right kick from what would normally be a boring mozzarella and tomato sandwich to something that pops.  Of course the bread is amazing, Milo and Olive knows how to make good bread.

Valrhona chocolate croissant, the caramel honey colored outside of puffed up croissant that has been made with care and precision.  It’s the perfect shape and the valrhona chocolate (which comes from France) is the best pairing–a rich indulgent dark chocolate that tastes good.

Green onion skillet flatbread: This is a new one at the bakery.  The green onions, screaming that it’s spring.  I love their skillet flatbreads; they usually have a tomato and olive one that’s definitely yum.  This green onion one is moist, soft, made with olive oil and salt, it’s simple and a delight.  The little bits of butter inside are nice.  At first I didn’t think this was special. But as I bit into it more, I understood it; it’s a good slice of simple minimal ingredients done well.  Foccaccia bread, soft chewy, the onions are great.  Once you taste the subtleties of this it’s bliss.

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Luscious and Vivid

Springtime to me still means the sound of lawn mowers and leaf blowers, the sound of birds, and the chatter of people while lingering in the sun on the grass (Sarah Lawrence lawn) or at a park (Regent’s in London being my favorite).  Ah, Los Angeles and it’s lack of “definite seasons.”  Nonetheless, there is indeed a slight shift in LA as there always is when a new season arrives.  We still get excited and embrace it with fashion and seasonal eating—well I hope we do.  I am furthermore always excited with the changes of a season.

This year, it’s a time when my younger brother is reviewing the colleges he’s been accepted to and scheduling college tours; he’s just beginning his college adventure.  It’s been an anticipatory and joyful time at the Shauk residence lately; the youngest Shauk is about to embark!  He stands at about 6’1—a shocking presence with a strong math/science mind.

Anyways, yesterday, I went to Huckleberry Café and got their mixed berry trifle in honor of this miraculous and colorful time of year.  This to me is the quintessential English spring/summer dessert that I can imagine Sophie Dahl enjoying among an array of vivid flowers in the English countryside.

Let’s enjoy this weather and all the sweet changes it brings.

Below is a food critique I wrote last Autumn:

Milo and Olive is the latest neighborhood restaurant by Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan—the collaboration behind Rustic Canyon, Huckleberry Café, and Sweet Rose Creamery.  In relation to their other spots, it’s located closest to Sweet Rose, just a few blocks further from the Brentwood area—on the corner of Wilshire and Harvard, still in Santa Monica—thankfully for us Santa Monicans.

Once inside the minimal, clean, and cozily small interior, the walkway ramp leads up to the pastries.  These are chef Zoe Nathan’s wondrous concoctions ranging from skillet flatbread, valrhona chocolate croissants, strawberry jam scones, and whole wheat chocolate chip cookies—all made with care and a true knowledge of French traditions yet with a twist, such as using whole wheat flours more—making things healthier.

On opening day, I rushed out of bed eager to try something from their breakfast menu, which had caught my attention when I noticed the bagel section (the menu was on their website shortly prior to opening day).  After living in New York for three and a half years and just recently moving back to LA, I was craving a good bagel.

Breakfast is served till 11am every morning at M + O, and as I’m not a morning person, I barely made it—I actually got there just after 11, but it was their first day and they weren’t going to say “no” surely.

I sat at the bar, facing the open kitchen, providing a full view of the creative process.  I was anticipating a whole wheat bagel with onion marmalade and cream cheese.  It took some time to make everything fresh and get it all just right.  What made it perfect was the presentation—it shocked me—exceeding my expectations.  Chopped Green onions were carefully placed on top of this open faced cream cheese shmeared bagel with a rich sweet onion marmalade jam piping hot off-the-stove and layered just over the cream cheese.  One bite and I said “Wow.”

My next visit to M + O was for dinner with a friend, a good friend whom makes for a great dining buddy because we just share everything and really taste the food.  We came in for a dinner around 7.  It was still early enough so the wait wasn’t too long.  The two communal dining tables were full and the crowd, the buzz, and plates of food lent to a convivial neighborhoodey feel.  They don’t take reservations but waiting is no problem since they offer hor dourves and you can start ordering appetizers and drinks at the waiting bar—the wooden table along the entryway.

We got lucky, and were seated within a few minutes.  After looking over the menu repeatedly, thinking carefully, talking to each other about it, then asking the waiter, we came to a conclusion.  To start, we had the roasted pumpkin with honey and sage—a seasonal wintry dish—seemed perfect on that night.  Neither of us had ever had anything like it, and we were rather pleased with its sweet, soft warm pumpkin, yumminess.

Next, we shared the Roasted Potato Pizza, a pizza with rosemary cream and parmigiano reggiano.  I realized I couldn’t really cut into my slice so reluctantly I picked it up—something I rarely do.  Nonetheless after a bite and then another I said “I’m in heaven.”  The waiter saw my smile and he too felt good and even made a comment about it…something like, “YES.”  The taste of the pizza was also really unique to us.  The cheese the tastes of the rosemary those potatoes that granier chewy dough it all came together so wonderfully.  A little messy with the potatoes sometimes falling off the pizza while eating it, but the tastes were in harmony.

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