Go West! Life is peaceful there.

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Do you know the joke about the difference between Los Angeles and a bowl of yogurt?

The yogurt has more culture.

Ok, go ahead, you can laugh. It is actually pretty funny. But laughing at the joke and thinking it ends there is only missing the point. Yes, we lack a true city center or downtown like many American cities do, we may opt for a cool demeanor over urban sophistication and we must drive everywhere we go, but to be honest it’s not that bad. Yes, it does take getting used to it, but it’s the only place I’ve ever lived where I can see snow, ocean, desert and forest all in one day. It’s also the only place I’ve lived where I can eat any type of food from around the world in one day, and herein lies the beauty: we’re not like yogurt at all. Our culture come from dozens of neighborhoods all inextricably linked together, from thousands and thousands of immigrants who have made this their home, from matted knots of freeways that link us, and as inhabitants living on the edge of Western civilization. You can choose to get wrapped up in the frenetic pace of the “industry” if you’d like or you can choose to stand on the sidelines and watch from afar. You can even ignore it entirely.

It’s always hard to show new guests “around town.”  Which town, I ask? My mind goes back to living in San Francisco, flying down for work meetings and wondering what the difference was between Burbank and LAX, if I’d see celebrities, and if I could just hop in a cab and head to a bar in downtown while staying in Studio City (distance, yes, and hell no, to answer those questions.) It took over a year to understand the geography of Southern California and how going from point A to point B becomes a daily challenge. Westside, The Valley, Downtown LA, the South Bay Curve, Orange County – it all became so confusing. But once deciphered, those little gems suddenly began to appear – Little Armenia, Little Saigon, Little India, Chinatown (there are 7 to be exact), and almost every place in between – and I’ve never been so excited to have so much to discover.

I’ve come to accept the common belief that it must suck to live here when I talk to others who haven’t spent time in Southern California. And it’s not for everyone. You can’t plop yourself in the middle of town (there is no middle) and absorb the energy and sights the same way you would in London or New York. It’s just not possible. But what this city does offer is equally as splendid, if just a bit hidden under the surface. It may take time, curiosity, and a set of car keys to discover it, but in my experience I’ve found it so totally worth it. Fer sure.

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My personal connection to this state (where I’ve been living since 1996), originated when my grandparents and their families moved from Mexico to the US in the 1920s. Some settled in Texas, others in Los Angeles and the Coachella Valley. It was a typical migration pattern at the time (and still is to this day), and it gave my family an opportunity to visit Los Angeles while I was growing up. That 2 week vacation, with all of us piled into a station wagon, became of my most favorite memories ever. And once in Southern California it was like a dream come true- sunshine, pretty people, a relaxed attitude, movie studios and hot dog stands that sucked me in when I was 7 years old.

It did take me a while to make it out west though, spending 5 years in Chicago before moving to San Francisco, but the journey has been worth it. I learned that cold weather is not for me, temperatures below 5 degrees should be illegal, and a mild, sunny climate keeps me in good spirits. I’ve also learned that Austrian actors can become governors, a high cost of living can make one cry themselves to sleep, and running into TomKat around town in inevitable (and to my So Cal readers in the know, please note I said running into TomKat, not running into the Tomkat on Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood because I would never do that. Anymore, I mean.)

In the next day or two I’ll get out from underneath a super secret project deadline and blog about a few places around Los Angeles we visited with our food loving best friends, Paul and Wade. Their visits to Los Angeles involve food, food, and more food, and they’re our guides and hosts when we visit San Francisco. See you in a few!

Oh, and David & Posh, welcome to LA. Stop by for tea when you get here – I’ve got tons of Spice Girl questions!

Rootin’ Around With Parsnips

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Parsnips. Parsnips parsnips parsnips.

Just saying the world really fast makes and in repetition makes me laugh. I don’t know why.  And yet as cute and funny looking as they are (think albino carrots), I realized I don’t include root vegetables in my life nearly enough. And why is that? It’s not as if I don’t like them. I just never seem to think about them. Perhaps because they are our seasonal winter-loving friends, hiding underground until someone comes along and plucks them from the earth. Maybe it’s because they are starchy, somewhat tough and require some finesse and trickery to enjoy.

(I’m going to exclude radishes from the above, as they are just fine sprinkled with a little sea salt, perhaps a dab of butter, and popped into my mouth like there’s no tomorrow.)

Parsnips are delicious when pureed or roasted with other root vegetables, but I’m digging this recipe I found while on a work assignment. It screams winter, and pairs perfectly with a tender, slow-cooked pork roast. Comfort food at its best.

Maple Glazed Parsnips
Use a high-quality maple syrup for the glaze. It can’t be that butter-flavored fake syrup stuff, folks.

Ingredients:
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon mustard
2 teaspoons butter
5 1/2 cups parsnips, raw and sliced
3 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 dash of black pepper
1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley

Method:
1. Combine the maple syrup and mustard in a bowl; stir well and set aside.

2. Coat a large, nonstick skillet with cooking spray; add butter, and place over medium heat until butter melts.

3. Add the parsnips and the next 3 ingredients. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook for 10 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally.

4. Add syrup and cook, uncovered, over medium-high heat for 1 minute or until lightly glazed, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Biscuits & Gravy A La Elton

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I hope everyone had a fantastic holiday and is enjoying the new year. Mine went well, but it involved a fever, blankets and  electrolyte-replacing liquids. How about a toast to that?

But it wasn’t all that bad. After all, I was home with my man, my dogs, a stack of DVDs, and a roof over my head. I could ask for no more.

But a sidenote:: Don’t watch Jackass 2 if you are easily offended, or if you possess a refined sense of humor and find toilet humor absolutely disgusting. I’m still giggling.

As always, my better half knows exactly what it takes to cheer me up and lift my spirits, so on New Year’s Day he headed off to the kitchen to make one of my favorite things on earth–biscuits and gravy. But not just any biscuits and gravy folks. This is the recipe that he learned from his father.

Elton, my father-in-law, moved to California from Jackson, Mississippi when he was a teenager. His recipe for biscuits and gravy is one of the things he taught Adam, who informs me that "my dad taught me how to make biscuits and gravy when I was 10 years old. Then I got fat."

Sssh! We don’t think of these things when we eat biscuits and gravy. Besides, it’s not like we have this every day.

Although I grew up in Texas, which is next to the deep south, well, kinda sorta, biscuits and gravy were never the featured star at our breakfast table. They were flaky afterthoughts that took up space next to eggs and bacon. And the diner style of two dry hockypucks doused with bland floury gravy isn’t my idea of tasty.  It wasn’t until Adam made biscuits and gravy from scratch that I realized how rib-sticking good they are by themselves, no other ingredients needed.

Elton, thank you for raising such a fine son who takes care of me when I’m under the weather. More importantly, thank you for passing down your recipe. I’m fat, too!

Biscuits & Gravy
While I’m a fan of letting sauces and flavors meld over time, I’ve learned that the best way to enjoy this dish is immediately. Besides, it’s not like I have enough will power to wait, you know?

Biscuits
For the sake of baking clarity I’m borrowing Alton Brown’s recipe for buttermilk biscuits, which is the same standard recipe that Adam learned and uses.  I’m not a baker and I know I’d fudge something up for you since it’s not in front of me. And then peeps will be trippin. Besides, Alton sounds remarkably similar to Elton, no?

2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons shortening
1 cup buttermilk, chilled

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using your fingertips, rub butter and shortening into dry ingredients until mixture looks like crumbs. (The faster the better, you don’t want the fats to melt.) Make a well in the center and pour in the chilled buttermilk. Stir just until the dough comes together. The dough will be very sticky.

Turn dough onto floured surface, dust top with flour and gently fold dough over on itself 5 or 6 times. Press into a 1-inch thick round. Cut out biscuits with a 2-inch cutter, being sure to push straight down through the dough. Place biscuits on baking sheet so that they just touch. Reform scrap dough, working it as little as possible and continue cutting.

Bake until biscuits are tall and light gold on top, 15 to 20 minutes.

Sausage Gravy
You can use any type of sausage, but breakfast sausages tend to pack more flavor and spice, yielding a tasty gravy.

1 lb breakfast sausage
4 cups of warmed whole milk
6-7 tablespoons of flour
2 -3 tablespoons of butter, optional, only if sausage is lean
salt and plenty of black pepper, to taste

Brown the meat.  Add the flour and butter and cook for 2 minutes. Add milk and bring to a boil, reduce heat and let thicken. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve over freshly baked biscuits.

Liladam