Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sumo Citrus: What I like


"You aren't 5'3'', " He said to one.

"This is expired," He said to another.

He motioned for a third girl in the group to step forward.

"I have really bad handwriting," She stammered as though the legibility of the signature on her fake ID was the biggest obstacle keeping her from entry.

As I stood on the periphery of their circle, observing their earnest, youthful faces, for a moment I was worried the bouncer would think I was with them. That he would take a look at my *real* ID and note that the weight was clearly a good 15 pounds heavier than I actually am, and that the 16-year-old, overall-wearing girl with limp, dirty blonde hair couldn't possibly be me.

Instead, he waved me over, took a cursory glance at my ID before opening the door for me.

"Have fun," He said, his voice crushing my unvocalized hope that he would mistake me for a 19-year-old. That he would look past my striped cardigan sweater and bulky scarf and declare me far too youthful to gain entry into the tequila bar.

As I took one last glance at the semi-clothed girls clustered on the sidewalk outside, my thoughts flashed back to the conversation I'd had with my male sounding board earlier in the week about why he likes to date girls in their early 20's.

"They're up for anything," He'd said. "Women in their 30's already know what they like - they're more set in their ways."

"Do I seem old?" I'd asked, my voice flavored with a tone that made it clear what his answer had to be if he wanted our friendship to continue past the main course.

He'd answered how I'd wanted him to - that of course I didn't. That I was still fun and not so serious about it - life, dating, the pursuit of making babies.

Yet as I stood in the bar, surveying the crowd, the couples and groups of friends who were already letting themselves have far more fun than I would even dream of allowing myself to have that night, I did feel it.

Old. Serious. Not spontaneous.

Earlier in the night, I'd been tempted to stay home completely. Not because I'd had anything better to do, but because going out required making an effort - putting on makeup, socializing with humans instead of Anderson Cooper on CNN, saving my DVRed episode of "The Office" for another night. Plus, I'd made chana masala for dinner and was convinced my hair smelled like Indian food. I couldn't possibly go to a bar smelling like garam masala and garlic. It was bad enough that I was planning to wear a sweater.

Perched upon the sole remaining bar stool, I sniffed at my hair again, scrutinizing the strands for residual perfume from my dinner, whilst I attempted not to make eye contact with the squirrely man to my left. I reviewed the menu, sub-consciously wondering how many people had put their grubby fingers on it before me. I made a mental note to wash my hands with extra hot water when I got home.

"Home - where my sweat pants are," I thought with longing.

I bypassed the pages boasting various kinds of margaritas, knowing with certainty that even though it was a tequila bar, I wouldn't be ordering any because, A.) I'd already had a glass of white wine with my chana masala, and B.) I don't drink tequila.

I'd order one beer, drink maybe half of it and be home by midnight. Because I'm old. Serious. Not spontaneous.

At least not when it comes to tequila bars.

In the grocery store, the farmer's market, the restaurant down the street with the really good lamb burger, however, spontaneity wins out more frequently. I'll think nothing of ordering the grilled octopus and the burrata to start at my favorite Italian haunt. I won't hesitate to scrap my original plan for dinner because the Brussels sprouts look really good at the market that day.

And I'll gladly drop $8 on Sumo Citrus.

Because I'm old enough to know what I like.

Food.

Restaurants.

Wine with friends.

Saturday nights at home.

And eating segments of Sumo Citrus barely dusted with flecks of Maldon sea salt while I stand barefoot (and not pregnant) over the kitchen sink.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Kale, Apple and Pancetta Salad with Quinoa: Be disturbed

I have a routine.

Every morning before I sit down for breakfast, I lay out my copy of the print edition of the LA Times on my dining table. I separate the sections, immediately disposing of the Sports section (Jeremy Lin, who?), and then I place the Calendar section on top, spread open to the third to last page.

I'm not one to think too seriously about Mercury being in retrograde, or whether my sign is in line with the guy I like (I'm more concerned with whether he wants to take me to Mozza for dinner), yet every morning the first thing I read in the paper is my horoscope.

I usually tell myself it's silly, that 90% of the time it could be applicable to anyone with a pulse (Molly Mazda included), but on Tuesday morning, my horoscope read this:

"You'll never know what would have happened had your original plan worked out, but you can bet it wouldn't be as great as what's happening now."

If I were a cartoon character or Zooey Deschanel on a certain sitcom I love, I would have spat my green coconut-infused tea out in overdramatic, sputtering, hose-like fashion. Since I'm not inclined toward sputtering or spitting when I'm surprised, however, I simply reread it over and over again, willing it to be true.

Tuesday was a big day for me. And in the moment that I was rereading those words, my bowl of oatmeal growing cold in front of me, I knew the day could easily go one way or the other. I could easily find myself back at the starting line, or I could win the race.

In a flash, my life could be different. My world, rocked. My original plan, a blurry photograph from another era.

"...you can bet it wouldn't be as great as what's happening now."

The elephant, which I can now reference in the flesh, went away on Tuesday afternoon. My brief stint with (deep breath because even now the word still terrifies me) unemployment ended almost as soon as it had begun. A new plan to supersede the original plan that I thought was so right/so perfect/everything-I wanted-and-more, came through in such a way that I couldn't help but think, "Yes, yes, of course!"

Because, you know, my horoscope had told me so that morning.

I'm not very good at dealing with the disruption of things, plans, my un-rocked world. Order is my pot de creme and the ugly other -- the lumps -- are terrifying for me. But Tuesday I fully embraced the new plan and the disruption of my life as I had known it to be just two weeks prior. It felt right. Maybe even meant to be.

This kale salad, adapted ever so slightly from Serious Eats, also rocked my world this week. Fatty cubes of pancetta revolutionize the virtuous green, and radicchio lends a supporting hand as a proper counterbalance to the sweet maple vinaigrette and slivers of apple. It's a salad with lumps -- crunchy pecans, savory knobs of pancetta -- and all the better because of it.

I add red quinoa to mine. Because recipes, like original plans, are meant to be disturbed.

Kale, Apple and Pancetta Salad with Quinoa
Serves 4
Adapted ever so slightly from Serious Eats

Notes: The only changes I made to this salad were to add quinoa and to reduce the amount of oil. I also gave the kale a good bit of massaging before I added it to the mix -- gives it a silkier texture that I find a bit more appealing to eat than unmassaged raw kale.

3/4 cup red quinoa, rinsed well
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil, divided
4 ounces pancetta, cubed
1/4 cup Champagne vinegar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 small head of radicchio, shredded
1 8-ounce bunch kale, stems discarded, leaves shredded
2 tart yet sweet apples, sliced into matchsticks
3/4 cup pecans, toasted

Bring just under a cup and a half of water to boil in a saucepan. Add the quinoa, reduce the heat, and simmer, covered, for approximately 20-25 minutes. (Note: Red quinoa takes longer to cook than the white variety.) When the water has been absorbed and shells have separated from the kernels, remove the lid, fluff with a fork and set aside to cool.

Heat small frying pan with a lip for pouring (I used a cast iron) or small saucepan over medium heat. Add two teaspoons of the oil, swirling to coat the base of the pan. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring frequently, until the pancetta is crispy and golden brown, but not burned, on all sides. Remove the cubes with a slotted spoon or fork and set aside on a paper towel-lined plate.

Pour the fat from the pan into a small bowl. Add the vinegar, maple syrup and pepper. Whisk till well-combined.

Meanwhile, drizzle the remaining 2 teaspoons of olive oil and salt over the shredded kale. Massage with your fingers until the kale shrinks in size and takes on a somewhat silky texture.

Toss massaged kale, radicchio, apple, quinoa, pancetta, and pecans together in a large bowl. Add the dressing and stir until well-combined. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Granola Flecked with Happiness

So about that elephant.

A funny thing happened last week.

I stopped worrying about him. I should be worried, or at the very least angry, depressed, scared, bitter and a host of other emotions that lend themselves to destructive behavior involving marathon sessions of the "The Real Housewives" and Dreyer's Mint Chip ice cream, but I'm not.

I'm oddly, inexplicably okay.

More than okay.

Happy.

I was fully prepared for the ugly other -- an apartment accented with crumpled tissues, an inability to move from my bed without the promise of alcohol, and blubbery, hour-long phone conversations with my mother structured around the singular, wailing question, "Whhhhhhy?" (Inspiration of course derived from the "Stella" scene in A Streetcar Named Desire.)

In the midst of what I, in the moment, considered the lowest possible low, I realized I had a choice. I couldn't control the situation, but I could control my reaction to it. Channelling my inner Marlon Brando and numbing my brain with reality television wouldn't make me feel better, nor would it change what had happened. I didn't want to play the victim. I didn't want sympathy or drama.

I wanted to be happy.

It's a rather freeing concept.

This past week and a half, I dove headfirst into this happiness. I ate tongue and tendon tacos at the LA Weekly's Gold Standard event (my impressions captured in this video at 7:20); I spent four hours drinking sparkling wine with my favorite partner in food crime at Freddy Smalls; and I made granola.

Granola has always been a touchy subject for me. Not because I hate it, but because I could easily demolish quarts of it with nary a drop of milk or spoon in sight. I'm talking me, sprawled out on the couch, scooping up fistfuls of the sweet, nutty clusters and cramming them into my mouth until my gums become sore and flecked with minor oat cuts.

In other words, it makes me really happy.

This granola, Early Bird Foods Granola via Orangette, is especially joy-inducing. I've been eating it spooned over Greek yogurt with slices of cold banana. I've been taking straight shots of it in the middle of the afternoon. And I have every intention of spending at least one evening this week sprawled out on the couch with a tub of it.

Because I choose happiness. And I choose granola.



Olive Oil and Maple Granola
From Orangette who adapted the recipe from Nekisia Davis, Early Bird Foods, and Food 52

Adaptations: I didn't do much to disturb this near flawless granola recipe. My only changes were to halve it since one singular person does not need 7 cups of granola lying around in tub form, and to leave the brown sugar unpacked since I tend toward more wholesome-tasting oats. Everything else remains virtually intact. Except, of course, my will power.

1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/2 heaping cup raw pecans, roughly chopped
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut chips
1/4 cup loosely packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 cup olive oil

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine oats, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, pecans, and unsweetened coconut chips in a large bowl. Add the brown sugar and sea salt and mix together with your hands, making sure to break up any clumps of brown sugar. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil and maple syrup. Pour over the granola mixture and stir until evenly distributed.

Spread the granola out onto the baking sheet and bake for approximately 45 minutes. stirring every 15 minutes. To ensure clumpiness, don't stir any more frequently and try to crowd the granola a bit on the pan so it sticks together. When toasty and brown, remove from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack. Again, avoid stirring, and shove it together a bit as it cools so it creates those delicious clusters. Store in an airtight container.

Orangette notes that it will keep at room temperature for up to a month.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Kale Salad and Unaired Elephants

It's easy to talk about the little stuff.

The creep from OkCupid who I was all set to go out with until he texted me the swoon-worthy question, "What's your dress size?"

The Bar Covell outing where I told the bearded bloke sitting next to me that his beer reminded me of "elves frolicking in the forest." (I was not inebriated at the time.)

Or my newly discovered obsession with Sumo Citrus that could end up rivaling my obsession for quinoa. (Not really.)

But the big stuff, the ooey gooey serious stuff, is harder to say out write. Harder to air in a place that lends it any kind of permanency -- especially a place cloaked and bordered by the color pink. I can't possibly open up a sore for someone other than my mom and close friends to see here. This is supposed to be all quinoa all the time, with a few dashes of bad dates, unattainable crushes and awkward party behavior splashed in for good measure.

So I'm not going to talk about the thing -- the elephant in my room that I'm ignoring until it goes away. Not just because I'm terrified for an audience to see him (he's not very attractive), but because I have every confidence that he will vacate the premises soon. He doesn't deserve words. He doesn't deserve my panic or worry. He doesn't deserve a place in this space.

Today, I'm talking about the thing I've been hoarding to myself for the past three weeks. A kale salad from, yes, Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day yet again. I've been gorging on it in this and other iterations in emphatic succession, one day with coconut, the next with shiitake mushrooms, the next, topped with a fried egg. It's an elephant worth sharing. And an elephant I have no plans on forcing out of the room anytime soon.


Kale Salad with Toasted Coconut & Sesame Oil
Adapted from Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day
Serves 2

Adaptations: I played around with the quantities of the dressing - increasing the proportions of sesame oil and soy sauce and reducing the amount of olive oil. I also added tempeh and increased the amount of kale, while reducing the amount of coconut chips. Other iterations I've tried (and loved) include shiitake mushrooms in place of the coconut, and when a touch of sweetness is desired, I'm gaga for the kale/coconut/sesame combination with little cubes of sweet potato. In the latter version, a fried egg is the perfect top hat for the mixture. Sweet, savory, salty - a proper excuse to fuse dinner and breakfast together.

1 1/2 tablespoons good quality olive oil
1teaspoon sesame oil
11/2 tablespoons soy sauce
4 cups lightly packed cups of chopped kale, ribs and stems removed
1/4 cup unsweetened large-flake coconut (or 1 cup shiitake mushroom slices)
5 ounces tempeh, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2/3 cup farro, rinsed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine olive oil, sesame oil and soy sauce in a small bowl. Whisk together until well-combined.

Spread kale, coconut and tempeh out on a baking sheet. Drizzle oil/soy mixture over the top and toss until evenly distributed. Roast, stirring once or twice, until the coconut is golden brown and the kale is crisp, but not burned. (Approximately 18 minutes.)

Meanwhile, bring 1 1/3 cups of water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the farro, reduce heat, and cover. Simmer for 20-25 minutes until farro is tender but still toothsome. Divide farro between two plates and top with the toasted kale, coconut and tempeh.