Friday, July 18, 2014

Chocolate & Cherry Chia Pudding: Breakfast of ch-ch-ch-chiampions

I've been having a fierce debate in my head about how to tell you this. Do I pretend like it's nothing? Just come out with it without even addressing the elephant in the room that may or may not double as a decorative planter?  Or admit straight-out that this is weird and now I'm weird, but then again I always was weird, so it's really not that shocking that I've become...

a chia seed-eater.

And, guys, it's not even because I'm an ignorant hipster who also happens to order her decaf cappuccinos with almond milk, or because I am fixated on how it's going to make my skin all glowy or tighten things up so I look better in my new denim shorts (50% off, bitches!).

It's because I actually like them.

Chia seeds!

The things that grow the ch-ch-ch-chia pets that my brothers and I used to mock and threaten to give each other for Christmas whenever the commercial came on the TV while we watched "Saved by the Bell" and "Full House" re-runs.

It wasn't an immediate like, of course. There were some failed attempts, some sad bowls of gelatinous fruit-topped goop that were consumed with the same level of enthusiasm I reserve for dentist appointments. I ate these experimental breakfasts hoping, but not really hoping, that I would begin to understand "the fuss."  The why behind the #chiaseed #superfood #omgyum Instagram photos that have been clogging my feed.

And while we're on the subject, kind of looked like feed.

So naturally I was shocked when I inadvertently stumbled upon a way to make them - the ch-ch-ch-chia seeds - not only palatable, but enjoyable! The breakfast that has been propelling me through my early morning workouts for the past three days as a genuinely perceived "reward" for my effort.

Obviously, it involves chocolate. And fruit - banana that's pureed and combined with the chia seeds to counterbalance the gelatinous texture, as well as cherries that are judiciously layered over the top. And lest we stop there, at a point where it's already far past the point of acceptability, toasted walnuts that bring further textural contrast into the picture.

So, basically, dessert. That you get to call a healthy breakfast. Maybe even the breakfast of ch-ch-ch-chiampions.

Chocolate & Cherry Chia Pudding
Serves 1

1 ripe banana
1/2 cup unsweetened vanilla-flavored almond milk
2 tablespoons chia seeds
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder (I use Ghiradelli)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
6-8 ripe cherries, pitted and cut into quarters
2 tablespoons toasted walnuts

Using an immersion blender or blender, blend the banana with the almond milk until smooth. Transfer to a bowl or container that can be fitted and sealed tight with a cover. Stir in the chia seeds, the cocoa powder and vanilla. Seal and refrigerate overnight.

The following morning, remove the chia pudding from the fridge. Serve topped with the chopped cherries and toasted walnuts.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Charlie Bird's Farro: Reset, revisit

I've come to the conclusion that going on vacation is the worst possible thing that anyone can do ever. Particularly when it's someplace so far removed from your daily life that you forget that work and responsibility and laundry and things that are not pizza & ice cream even exist. They are the song you skip on Pandora, the garnish in your cocktail that you toss aside, the commercials you fast-forward through when catching up on "Mad Men" "The Bachelorette." 

Unnecessary interruptions to the life you actually want to be living.

So when you arrive home with a suitcase haphazardly stuffed with dirty clothes that you now have to unpack and wash, and are faced with things like the gym and your Outlook inbox after five days out of the office (!!!), returning to normal feels impossible. 

"You mean I can't just go eat doughnuts now?" You think when confronted with your first work crisis -- a mere hour into your Monday morning.

Because on vacation, there are no problems.

There are doughnuts.

I realize that doughnuts are not exclusive to one specific city or region, and, in fact, are perhaps more prevalent in Los Angeles than elsewhere, but "doughnuts" as an idea feels less accessible after a trip that revolved around what could be entangled on the tines of your fork.

By nature, that moment seems reserved for adding insult to the injury of your return -- a post-vacation "detox" whereby you are supposed to eat "clean" and "vegan" or whatever form of self-flagellation you're inclined to employ when hitting the reset button.

Perhaps it's a three-day juice cleanse. Maybe it's gulping down sparkling grapefruit Perrier instead of sparkling wine.

And maybe, it's a farro salad inspired by one of your favorite meals during your vacation. Wholesome without edging into the punishment territory, and a reminder of a brief period of time when you experienced a world without responsibility. 

Charlie Bird's Farro with Pistachios, Mint and Parmesan
Adapted from the NY Times
Serves 4

Notes: The original version of this salad contained fava beans, but as these are now a scarce commodity in Los Angeles, I opted for shelled edamame to no adverse effects. I also omitted the tomatoes (mostly because I am loathe to buy them at the grocery store and couldn't make it to the farmer's market that day), and added in some thinly sliced fennel for kicks rather than the arugula requested. (Yes, I do realize I get "kicks" from weird things.) Finally, I was a bit less liberal with the salt and application of olive oil, and a bit more liberal with the thinly sliced radishes, as this salad was meant to help me recalibrate after a trip filled with all the things you'll find documented here.

1 cup semi-pearled farro, rinsed well
1 cup apple cider
1 teaspoon salt
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup parmesan, shaved with a vegetable peeler
1/2 cup roasted pistachio nut meats
1 cup basil leaves, torn
1 cup mint leaves
1 medium fennel bulb, sliced into thin ribbons
1/2 cup thinly sliced radish
1 1/2 cups shelled edamame, cooked
Freshly ground pepper, salt, to taste

In a medium pot, bring the apple cider and 2 cups water to a boil. Add the farro, salt and bay leaves, and simmer, uncovered, until the farro is tender (approximately 30 minutes) and the liquid evaporates. I found that the liquid actually evaporated before the farro was tender, so I added a bit more water as it was cooking along.

While the farro is doing its thing, combine the olive oil, lemon juice and a pinch of salt in a large salad bowl. Add the warm farro and then let cool to room temperature if serving immediately. If not, refrigerate until ready to use. (Just be sure to let it come back to room temperature prior to serving - it's best when not too cold or too warm. Like Goldilocks.)

Just before you're ready to serve, toss the farro with the herbs, radish, fennel, edamame, parmesan, and pistachios. Season with freshly ground pepper. Add additional salt if needed.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

25 Things to Do When Traveling Solo to NYC

1. Use airbnb to find a spare bedroom in an apartment with an insane view in your desired neighborhood destination, and spend the week (or 3 days) playing, the "I live in NYC" game, whereby you abide in extremely close quarters with a stranger, who could very well be your best friend, or just that person who you pass, blurry-eyed, in the living room on your way to bed after drinking too much Rosé during happy hour at the wine bar at Punch across the street.

2. Share a gene pool with someone who has airline points growing on his trees and get "magically" upgraded to first class, because going to New York all by yourself is "sad face." Drink lots of champagne and eat excessive amounts of the warm, salty, roasted cashews & almonds to make yourself feel less "sad face." Flying alone is hard.

3. While you're waiting for your luggage to arrive (you obviously packed ALL your shoes & special normal-sized beauty products since no one was around to complain), download the HopStop app on your iPhone to map out the best subway routes to get to your destinations restaurants while you're in town.

4. Once your suitcase is in hand, make a beeline for the taxi line. Direct the driver to take you to "Manhattan, please," all suave-like, and then totally flub up your super awesome, totally-with-it, fake New Yorker persona by leaving your black sweater in the back seat. Momentarily wonder if you can call Yellow Cab to get it back, and then picture the actually super-awesome, totally-with-it real New Yorker laughing in your face. Your very sad sad face. 

5. After checking out your vacay digs (and securing the Wi-Fi password), head out to nab a seat at the bar at one of the best new restaurants in the city, because when it's 10 pm and just you, getting into Estela is like #NBD. Order the mussels escabeche and eat it like a savage beastly human, with vinegar and mussel juices dripping down your chin. No date, no shame.

6. Since you are in NYC (!!!) and are feeling excited noises (!!!), walk back to your airbnb trying not to be the out-of-towner who looks up at all the buildings. Get smacked on the butt by a 20-something riding by on his bike and feel simultaneously violated and impressed by his audacity/strategy.

7. Even though you barely slept your first night in town (still too excited noises!!!), wake up the next morning to go for a run in Central Park. Accidentally stop your supposed "6-mile loop" at West 72nd instead of East 72nd, but figure out how to get back to your temporary home anyway, because HopStop saves the day!

8. Since you went running and obviously need to do some reverse carboloading now, find you way to the L train to Brooklyn for lunch at Roberta's (off the Morgan Avenue stop). Pony up to the bar, order a PBR, because when in Rome, and even if it's not on the menu, ask for the Bee Sting Pizza. Initially think it's far too big for one person, but after eating four slices of what is probably the best pizza you've had in your life, insist that the two hipsters sitting next to you finish the rest.

9. Feeling virtuous because you only ate four slices as opposed to six (bravo, you!), reward yourself with ice cream. Take the L train back into the City, get off at 3rd Avenue, and head to Momofuku Milk Bar to try the Cereal Milk Soft Serve (add the crunchy cereal bits for the extra .75 cents), and both the Compost and Confetti cookies for, uh, later.

10. A few licks into the Cereal Milk Soft Serve, decide that now that you've tried breakfast fro-yo, you're obviously ready to graduate to Brunch Ice Cream. Walk to Davey's and order a scoop (in a cup or their housemade waffle cones), and make the astute conclusion that you prefer cinnamony French toast chunks (!!!) and caramelized nubs of bacon better than cereal in your frozen, err, rewards.

11. Since you have 3 1/2 hours until you're going to be rewarding yourself with libations (see Punch), continue walking through the city, weaving your way down 5th Avenue to see if the Anthropologie in New York is different than Anthropologie in Orange County, Los Angeles, Carmel, Phoenix, Washington DC, Chicago…

12. Continue your solo dining adventures at Charlie Bird in the South Village. Fill up on the salted Grissini, because, obviously, but still finish your Octopus with Crispy Pancetta & Chickpeas; and Farro with Pistachios, Mint and Parmesan, because, obviously. Make friends with your neighbor who ordered the Roast Chicken. Or just make friends with the chicken.

13. Compost your Momofuku cookie in bed. 

14. Bypass the cronut line outside Dominique Ansel because you (or your savvy New York friend) had the foresight to place a pre-order for the coveted croissant-doughnut hybrid at 11 a.m. EST on a Monday precisely two weeks prior to the week of your visit. Order the kouign amann in real time, because you had the foresight to be…fat.

15. Put your sugar high to good use by taking a Bar Method class at the studio down the street. $37 a class is a small price to pay for… absolutely nothing.

16. Go sight-seeing in Greenwich Village.

17. Decide to give your body a break from the pastry-composting and stop at Hu Kitchen (the place on 5th Avenue with the giant black & white sign that says "Food for Humans") for quinoa & lentils and green juice. You know, food for gerbils. 

18. Bring your recovery lunch, sunscreen and a blanket to Washington Square Park, and take pictures of your outstretched legs & feet while you pretend to read your book. Aaaah, vacation.

19. Drink prosecco or a Sbagliato cocktail at the bar at Bar Primi while waiting for your party of five (or zero) to arrive. Order the burrata anchovy bruschetta, stuffed meatballs and spaghetti clams casino. Giggle at the visual of a casino filled with clams. Drink more prosecco.

20. Refuel with more ice cream at Morgenstern's. Mostly because you want to take an overhead shot of your salted caramel pretzel and chocolate oat scoops with the black and white tile in the background for Instagram. #sugar #dessert #payattentiontome

21. Have a nightcap at Eleven Madison Park. Do not take any photos for Instagram.

22. Pay $7 for a piece of smashed avocado toast with curry oil, lime and mustard seeds at The Butcher's Daughter for a wholesome breakfast. Decide it's the best thing since… sliced bread.

23. Pop into Ladurée in SoHo to pick up macaron souvenirs for your friends. Document the entire experience so they understand how expensive special and French these macarons are.

24. Eat the caramel with salted butter macaron you bought for yourself on a bench in Washington Square Park to savor one last bite in NYC before you leave on an Amtrack train. Try to look really pensive in case Brandon Stanton from HONY is there taking your picture. 

25. Hustle to Penn Station and have a minor panic attack trying to get through the bottleneck at the escalator after the track for your train posts on the schedule. When you finally get through and secure a window seat next to the outlets for your laptop/iPhone, comfort yourself with your Momofuku Confetti cookie. Congratulations, you've survived a trip to NYC alone!

Previously: 25 Things to Do When Traveling to NYC