Vanilla Bean Lemon Straws. Or, Therapy Through Tea & Cookies.

Lemon Straws

Even though I take all those silly self portraits of me doing absolutely nothing and blog about trips to pretty places I am not much of the relaxing type of guy. I’m actually quite the opposite and find myself nervous or antsy when I’m sitting still. The thought of midday naps freak me out and stopping to sit down for tea or coffee in the afternoon is a luxury I rarely allow myself. Even if I had the time I’d still feel like I was missing something or that something terrible would happen because I wasn’t working working working working working.

Yea, I have issues. I know this.

But I’m trying to grow and slow down just a little bit.

When I got home the other day after I was greeted by Adam clanking away in the kitchen. He had the urge to bake and it’s an urge I completely encourage. Who doesn’t like fresh baked anything the second they walk in the door? But I had a chunk of editing to do and had to submit some images to the magazine I was working for that day before running to Fed Ex to send out a package.

“Taste this,” Adam said.

“I will, but I’ve got to send some jpgs out right now and get a disk out and — ” I blurted out.

“Stop. Just stop for a moment and taste this.”

I guess I needed someone to slap me back into reality.

I took a seat and joined a small tray of cookies that appeared to be waiting for someone to eat. They were beautiful little cookies in the shape of ridged fingers with a faint glaze that was only visible when the light hit the surface at a certain angle. Next to this tray of cookies was a cup of tea, both waiting to be claimed.

I took a bite of this little crunchy fella, then a sip of tea, and then another bite. I picked up another cookie, savoring its vanillaness before moving on to a third and forth. The tea was delightful but I soon realized that for a brief moment in time I was doing nothing but enjoying a cookie and a glass of tea. In the middle of the day, no less. I felt like Divine in “Hairspray” when she said “Broad daylight and I’m sittin’ in front of a TV!” but with just a little less makeup.

I’m happy to say that unlike the cookie my day did not crumble and fall apart from taking a moment to do nothing. My images made it to the photo editor in plenty of time and next time I might just take another tea and cookie break. Why not?

Vanilla Bean Lemon Straws

Martha’s Vanilla Malted Cookies were the starting point for Adam’s cookies. He created them as a companion to a drink he was working on but graciously let me blog and photograph them. You see, if he hadn’t I would have just done the thing I always do when I want to annoy people: I begin talking. And then I talk and talk about stuff and keep going until the person gives in. I’m the most annoying person like that and legend has it that my mom used to bribe family members into taking me somewhere, anywhere, because at age 3 I was already speaking like an adult and would not shut up. I guess I had something to say. Good thing I started a blog.

COOKIES:
3 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup of sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
4 oz  cream cheese, room temperature
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons milk

GLAZE:
1 cup powered sugar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
zest of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 vanilla bean split and scraped
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven at 350˚ F.

With a pencil and a ruler mark out the placement of the cookies on your parchment paper. Each cookie should be about 2 inches and place 2 inches apart. Remember to turn parchment paper over with pencil markings face down before you pipe your cookies.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

In a stand mixer cream butter and cream cheese together on medium, add sugar and  vanilla seeds and continue mixing till fluffy.  With mixer on low add the egg,vanilla extract and milk until combined. Remain on low speed and add the flour mixture, mix well until incorporated. This is a stiff cookie dough.

Use a heavy duty pastry bag and fit it with a 1/2-inch star tip. Fill the bag about 1/4 full, it will give you better control of the dough. Pipe the cookies onto parchment lined cookie sheets following the tracing for equally spaced cookie. Continue to fill the bag and pipe cookies.

Bake in a preheated oven 15-18 minutes until the bottoms are golden brown. You will see this on the edges first.  Remember to rotate cookie sheets halfway through. Move to wire cooling racks and cool on cookie sheets till completely cool.

For Glaze: Combine all ingredients, stirring well, glaze should be quite thin. Dunk each cookie in glaze top side down and place on cooling rack to dry.

Store covered at room temperature for about a week.

Seattle

Seattle-opening-graphic

With about 48 hours in my schedule – and a completely insufficient jacket – I headed to Seattle this past weekend to visit my friend Joe and to also attend a dinner party hosted by my friend and fellow blogger Matt & his lovely wife Danika. Oh, the lengths I’ll through for a good party, I tell ya!

It’s been about 7 years since the last time I visited Seattle. While it’s only a quick jet up the west coast I always wondered why I never made it up more often. Seattle has its share of amazing bloggers and people I call friends, but it took the constant, never-ending emails of a certain persistant British lad who just happens to have a very nice name to force me to visit. Alright already, I’ll be there!

(Yea right…he asked me once and I bought my ticket immediately. If you know Matt and Danika you know why!)

So, this dinner. Oh my stars this dinner. No, really. There’s no way I could do him justice so just visit his blog for a recap of the entire evening. And you’ll also see who was there and if you look closely you’ll see me stuffing my fat face with pork crackling. Do not ever put chicarrones in front of me and expect to have any left to share. Just don’t. Don’t do it.

Although my trip was too short I did manage to pack quit a bit of activity in.  I thought I’d compile the 10 things I loved about Seattle, in no particular order. And while I really had an amazing time in such a beautiful city it’s really the people that made my trip so special.

Macrina-bakery-2up-web

10. Macrina Bakery • 615 W McGraw St • (206) 283-5900

There is a huge shortage of adorable cafes in my life. When you live in Southern California it’s just something you deal with. In order to make up for my environmental  deficiency I asked my friend Joe to immediately take me for coffee and a pastry somewhere and to my surprise we ended up at Macrina Bakery. I had a delightful muffin and a great latte while I watched the caffeine slowly bring my friend Joe to life. I think he started complaining about heart palpitations or something.

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9. Skillet • Roving restaurant, different locations

You know what I did immediately after breakfast? I braved the chilly wet weather and stood outside eating one of the best burgers of my life. And I’d do it again in a second if it involved anything from Skillet, the roving airstream that serves amazing burgers and sides. While standing up freezing my ass off isn’t my ideal manner in which to dine it was totally worth it. And getting to hang with Traca was delightful. And two parting words: Bacon Jam.


Pike Place Market

8. Pike Place Market • 1501 Pike Place

No visit could be complete without a visit to the Pike Place Market. Since 1907 this vibrant market has been a bustling center of food and commerce and quite a sensory overload. I wasn’t doing any cooking this trip but it was nice to grab a few apples and snacks and admire the colorful residents all around.

Stumptown Coffee & Might O Donut

7. Stumptown Coffee and Mighty O Donuts

On the second day of my visit my friend Joe offered up a cup of Stumptown Coffee as we sat on his couch gossiping about the 3 Bs: Britney, Boys and Booze.  We were happily singing bad 90’s pop songs to each other when I raised my cup of Stumptown to my lips and was completely distracted. What happened next was one of those moments in your life when you realize you’re having a perfect moment and one damn perfect cup of coffee. So immediately after finishing up my cup of coffee (and my Toni Braxton — or was it Whitney?) I had to get my hands on this bean, and boy did I ever. I came home with 5 or 6 pounds of the stuff and have been on Cloud 9. Speaking of Cloud 9, everyone told me I couldn’t miss Mighty O Donuts and by golly they were right. Vegan donuts never ever ever tasted this good.

Molly

6 . The Woman On The Right. My Heart Be Still.

Reason #7 why I love Seattle: Orangette. As soon as my childish boy crush subsides (will it ever?) I might tell you how utterly gorgeous, stunning and wonderful she is in person. But right now I’m still in Swoonsville. As I told her, when the physical presence of a writer is as dreamy as their words you’ve grown to love it’s a very magical thing. I’ll stop now so she doesn’t think I’m some sort of crazy LA stalker.

Joe Keeps A Secret

5 . Bloody Mary Interludes at Oddfellows Cafe & Bar • 1525 10th Avenue

In my dreamlife I will have enough time to read the newspaper, play with my dogs and then walk to an adorable cafe for a Bloody Mary with friends on any given afternoon. Since that’s not likely to happen any time soon I made sure to seize the moment with Joe at Oddfellows. The gorgeous open space was so relaxing and the drink was delicious. So was my oatmeal. What, you think I can live on olives and the pickled asparagus in my cocktail alone?

(and that’s my dear friend Joe above, apparently passing judgement on me for drinking during the day even though I spy a mimosa not far from him)

Melissa & Matt

4 . Melissa of Traveler’s Lunchbox • www.travelerslunchbox.com

Early on when I began food blogging I was inspired by Traveler’s Lunchbox. I was captivated by Melissa’s writing that fused travel, food and memories together so perfectly. I couldn’t wait for new posts so that I could see the world through her eyes and learn about something unique and delicious.To me her food and travel writing is some of the best I’ve ever read and transports me each and every time. We struck up a long-distance friendship, always keeping in touch throughout the years. When I found out she was moving back to the states from Scotland I was beside myself.  I knew I had to meet her and her husband Manuel and I was thrilled they’d be heading to the same dinner party.

I didn’t leave her side the entire night and I was lucky enough to meet up with her for brunch the next day before heading home. You’ve heard me say it a million times before and yes, I shall say it again: blogging is one of the most amazing things I have ever done. I’ve met the world’s brightest people this way and Melissa is a shining example. I miss her already!

more coffee

4 . Coffee

Yea yea yea, I know I already mentioned coffee in #7 but really people, it bears repeating. Any city that does coffee correctly really deserves accolades. But I don’t need to tell you this. Sigh.

Dinette

3 . Dinner at Dinette with friends • 1514 E Olive Way

I secretly pray for moments like this: friends with smiling faces come together over food in a neighborhood restaurant, enjoy a bottle or two of wine, and share a moment in time that feels comfortable and meaningful yet relaxed and just perfect. These are moments of what I want my memories to be made of. Joe and Mike, you rock. I love you guys.

World Spice

2 . World Spice Merchants • 1509 Western Avenue

I hadn’t planned on heading to Seattle and stocking up on spices and chiles. But one whiff led to another whiff which led to me filling my arms with herbs, spices and dried chiles and peppers. I couldn’t resist! The staff was super friendly and I wish I had a shop like this near me.

The Party

1. Matt & Danika and The Entire Group Of Seattle Food Bloggers (and you too, Bradford!)

I met Matt & Danika last summer at a So Cal Food Blogging Dinner held by my friends Todd & Diane. Matt said he was inspired by the gathering and wanted to host his own party. Now I know some may say hopping on a plane for a dinner party is excessive but I don’t see it that way. I would have crawled on my hands and knees to get there and all I can say is that it was one of the most amazing nights I’ve experienced in a long time.  I simply cannot do the evening justice so I urge you to head to his blog to read about the evening.

Sometimes when I’m down or frustrated with the world I only need to close my eyes and think back to moments like the party at Matt’s house. No agendas, no hidden motives, no need for anything but people coming together to share a meal and love one another. Because that’s what it was — pure love. I get choked up when I think that people can connect like this when we all lead such hectic lives and sometimes forget to slow down. But it’s possible and I thank god I’m alive to experience it.

Matt and Danika, thank you for making it an evening I will remember forever. And can you make me some extra rillette and paté and send it on down? Thankyouverymuch.

A New Site!

Hey there! If things look a bit different around here it’s not your eyes…this is indeed a new site! I thought it was time for a small update and thanks to my friend Margaret Roach from A Way To Garden and The Sister Project and her power of persuasion I now have a brand new home.

Many of you know Margaret already. We were on the same episode of Martha back in September and she’s the former Editorial Director for Martha Stewart Living. She’s my new resource for All Things Green And Growing and I plan on nagging the hell out of her with gardening questions come spring.

As far as the nuts and bolts I want to thank Brad from WebdevStudios for getting me up and running. He is amazing and made my switch to WordPress effortless. I wholeheartedly recommend him if you’re looking for some assistance. So what’s new? There are some tabs up above, an expanded FAQ section and I’ve made it super easy for you to send comments via the “contact” form up above. So don’t be shy, c’mon, say hello!

And while I’m here let me just say that I’m sorry for such spotty blogging lately. 2009 has started off with a bang but I promise to be around here a bit more.

Thank you Brad and Margaret!

Menu For Hope Winners Announced!

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Hello everyone! Yep, the winners for Menu For Hope have been announced! Skip on over to
Chez Pim to see the results and to check out if you won the prize of your dreams. Can you believe we raised $62,206.86 this year? What an amazing amount.

I’ll be contacting the winners of my prizes shortly.

Thank you everyone for all the help. It was a beautiful thing!

Tortilla Soup for A January Summer

Tortilla-Soup-Mattbites

Let’s pretend for just a tiny moment that it has not been in the 80s here in Los Angeles over the past few days. We can also pretend that I did not lay outside in shorts and no t-shirt in the sun on a big madras print blanket with a book and three small dogs who insisted on standing on my back, butt and head. And let’s also pretend that yesterday I didn’t get home and fight the urge to run straight to the grill with a beer in my hand.

Let’s just pretend, shall we?

It’s during these chilly months that we turn to soup and all things comfort.  With the chillier

Ugh.

OH I JUST CAN’T! I CAN’T I CAN’T I CAN’T!

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I really wanted to wrap myself in the briskness of a Southern California winter but damnit it’s just not going to happen! It’s hot here — as in yes, you will sweat if you stand outside – and it’s throwing my seasonal eating outta whack something terrible! How on earth can I crave comfort foods when it not only seems like summer but smells like it, too? It’s hot and all my plans of braising and roasting just really don’t make that much sense. And you know it’s bad when you stroll around the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market looking in earnest for summer vegetables when you know it’s smack dab in the middle of January.

It’s wrong wrong wrong.

So something funny happened as I began working on this post. I wanted something warm and homey but wouldn’t you know it the temps soared and I was distracted. And then I realized that tortilla soup actually worked for everyone: it’ll warm you up in the dead of winter and it’ll also warm you up (and cool you down provided you keep plenty of cold cerveza nearby) in the, um, JanuarySummer of Southern California.

Tortilla Soup

I grew up with Caldo De Res, Menudo and Albondigas soups and stews and didn’t discover the pleasures of Tortilla Soup until I was an adult. And even then it seems like a funny invention to me. Why not Enchilada Soup or Taco Soup? Luckily this recipe isn’t really about throwing something else in a bowl with liquid and giving it a new fast name as much as it’s a very simple soup with some crunchy bits on top. Because we all love crunchy bits, don’t we? And once again the cuisine of my peeps is so ever adaptable and can be made brighter and snappier (limes! lemons!) or mas caliente (salsa! peppers!) or ever thicker and cheesier (cheese! cheese! cheese!). I’ll go ahead and stop now with the snappy! remarks! because I’m sure I’m annoying you.

But seriously, this soup is really simple and delicious and hits the spot.

8 tomatoes
3 garlic cloves with skin on
1/2 yellow onion
8 cups chicken stock (you can easily use vegetable stock too!)
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 anaheim chiles
1/2 cup water
8 corn tortillas (and of course you can fry more if you want, I certainly wouldn’t mind)
oil for frying
1 cup Oaxacan cheese
lime

Broil the tomatoes, onions, chiles and garlic in the oven til blackened. Make sure to flip over and broil them completely. Once done remove the skin from the tomatoes, garlic and chiles.

Place the tomatoes, onion, chiles and garlic in a blender with 1/2 cup of water and puree. Strain the mixture.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a pot over medium high heat and add the pureed mixture. Boil it until it thickens and turks a dark red, about 5 minutes. Add the stock and salt to taste and cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes.

Cut the tortillas into 1/2-inch strips and fry in hot oil until golden brown. Careful not to burn them! Dry them on paper towels to remove excess oil.

To serve the soup place the tortilla strips in the bowl and ladle the soup over them. Garnish with cheese and a wedge of lime and if you’re feeling colorful you can add chopped cilantro on top.

Winter Citrus

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I know many of you love winter so I shall do my best not to disparage
it. However, it’s not my most favorite time of year as I’m a creature
of warm weather and open-toed shoes. But if there’s one bright shining
spot to the season it’s most definitely citrus. Citrus in any form.
When I begin to see the beautiful stacks of pommelos and meyers I can’t
help but get excited and my mouth begins to experience sympathy pucker
just looking at them.

[Read more...]

Happy 2009!

2009

I want to wish everyone a very happy and healthy 2009!

Man, what a crazy year 2008 was. And I mean crazy in the best possible way. I thought about a year end summary but decided against it, I don’t want to bore you to tears! But I must say it was a year filled with firsts and experiences I will remember for the rest of my life. I gotta say blogging has been one of the most rewarding experiences ever.

2009 is going to be insane. There’s some exciting stuff planned and I can’t wait to share all the news with you. But in the meantime, stay safe, keep it together, share your meals with those you love and remember those that don’t have the same access to great food like many of us do.

Now go enjoy the new day! I’ll be back shortly!