All posts in Thoughts

Salt-Baked Trout

Mckenzie river oregon trout

Earlier this summer, I spent a week fishing for trout on the McKenzie River in central Oregon. The days were simple: wake up, row, cast, eat, row some more, cast some more, watch the sunset, sleep. I was with my family, generally reputed as a feral bunch of intrepid extroverts ranging in age from 16 to 80. On the McKenzie, we were forced to ditch our antsiness and discover an unknown peaceful, still group dynamic.

helfrich mckenzie river fly fishing oregon

Fishing is about patience. As my dad says, “it’s called fishing, not catching.” Lucky for us zealous city folk, the McKenzie River lends itself to a life of plenty. With a little finesse and the right fly, you’d have a trout on your line more times than not. The slightest flick on the surface of the glassy water would send them zipping toward your bait in no time, and you’d be set for lunch way ahead of schedule.

fly fishing trout oregonmark mintz sydney mintz

Lunch was a hedonistic mess of butter, cast iron and rainbow trout. We’d dock on the river’s edge, stoke a mighty fire and nestle a behemoth of a skillet right in the flames. Then, in went the pound of butter with the cleaned fish following close behind. We were each allotted three trout a day, each one flaky and soaked to the bone with nutty, rich brown butter and simply seasoned with some unidentified spices our guide brought along.

cast iron trout

Day one was a dream. I sat hunched in my sun-faded camping chair over a greasy mess of fish meat, forgoing my fork for some griddled bread used to scoop up every last bite. It wasn’t my prettiest moment, but I enjoyed every bit of it.

As the days lingered on, I settled into the quiet of the river, the meandering conversations, and the routine repetition. But as my tranquility improved, my hunger for trout waned. Five days of pan-fried, butter blasted fish will do that to a person.

Back home, I didn’t dare look in the direction of a single fish for weeks. Eventually, I dipped my toes back in by way of sushi, grilled salmon, and only now, trout.

If there was one recipe ideal for trout reintegration, it was this. Salt-baked fish is at once a science experiment, magic show, and performance art. Since salt has a crazy high melting point, it can withstand super high heat, so packing it around anything creates an airtight oven without permeating whatever it’s encapsulating. It’s also a preservative, so though the fish inside is fully, perfectly cooked. It looks like it just hopped out of the McKenzie when you crack that salt shield open. Oh yeah – and that’s the most impressive part. Prying that sucker open is just about the most dramatic, eye widening party trick in the book.

salt baked recipewhole foods trout

Tldr: Packing your fish in salt keeps it super moist. No, it doesn’t make the fish really salty. I stuffed mine with thyme and lemon, which was yummy. Trout is crazy cheap, so the real magic trick is eating fish without breaking the bank.

lemon thyme trouthuckberry salt baked trout

Due to the showy, salt-hogging nature of this recipe, it’s not necessarily a weeknight quickie, but if my past experience with trout means anything, this fish is best filed in the delicacy department. I’m back on track day dreaming about riverside trout, but this recipe will keep me busy until next summer in Oregon.

sienna mintz pantry raid

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 1 1-1.5 lb trout, cleaned (pick the one with the clearest eyes)
  • 4 cups coarse kosher salt
  • 5 dried bay leaves, torn
  • 1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
  • ½ lemon, sliced
  • 4-6 springs fresh thyme
  1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
  2. Line a baking sheet with tinfoil.
  3. Place the cleaned fish on the baking sheet and stuff the belly with lemon slices and thyme.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, combine salt, bay leaves, and peppercorns. Slowly pour in some water, mixing as you go, until mixture feels like damp sand and vaguely holds its form.
  5. Tightly pack the salt mixture onto the fish, leaving the head and tail exposed, but not letting any air in.
  6. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest 1-2 minutes.
  7. Crack the salt casing open and push aside. Serve straight up, or chop the head off and easily peel off the skin to reveal the meat.

Kop Khun Ka, Thailand!

Thailand has been on my bucket list as long as I’ve had one. Since high school, I’ve been trying to coerce various friends to make the journey east with me, so the second Harley and Gerard said “yeah!” I was on Kayak.com scoping out tickets. We made out like bandits, since the dates we picked were right at the beginning of low season. (Low season = torrential downpours, possible monsoons, etc. etc.) You’re only young once!

We’d spend two weeks hitting the major stops – Bangkok, Chaing Mai and the southern islands, eating as much as possible along the way. I’ll spare you the details of the major sights to see, hotels to stay in and activities to do – TripAdvisor has got you covered there. But I will say this – Thailand is a seriously special place. The colors are unbelievably vivid, from the flamingo pink royal buildings in Bangkok to the aquamarine beaches. There’s never a dull sight – the fast paced, organized chaos of the cities is captivating and the sleepy stoner beach villages feel like the last of their kind. Travelers, donning overstuffed backpacks and baggy elephant pants roam from hostel to bar to hostel, their only goal to exist and experience. Locals welcome visitors with the kind of gratitude and hospitality I didn’t even know existed. From the subtle head bow that comes with every thank you (Kop khun ka) to the great lengths some will go to help you find your way, I’ve never felt so welcome in a place that wasn’t my home. This country is a treasure trove of flavor and color and energy that piques the senses and the mind.

elephant nature park chiang mai  wat po bangkokwat po bangkok  railay beach lagoon thailand

And the taste buds! (I know that’s why you’re here) Thai food, I learned, is so much more than pad thai and chicken satay – it’s definitely those things, but it’s also slow cooked pork with fresh chilies and garlic cloves, it’s fried-before-your eyes noodles and coconut milk soup so spicy you might cry a little bit. For all the complexity in this cuisine, it’s really very simple. The ingredient list is short for Thai cooking, but the combination of texture and preparation mixed with years of repetition makes this food nothing if not life changing. I know I tend to exaggerate, but the meals I ate in Thailand are without question some of the best I’ll ever have.

It started in Bangkok, where culture shock is the name of the game. New country, new language, new everything – we were drowning in newness and didn’t even know where to begin. Our first meal was at a ramshackle garage-turned-restaurant. The kitchen was set up in the alley and we sat in the garage, beads of sweat dripping generously from our faces. We exchanged an awkward smattering of English and Thai words with our host and ended up with a plate presumably piled with pad thai. We guzzled it, mesmerized by this setup and even more by the $1 check. This was only the beginning.

bangkok street food bangkok street food

That night, Harley’s family friend took us out to for a “royal Thai” meal at Blue Elephant. Despite the pages long menu, I’m pretty sure we ordered one of everything. This ornate restaurant catered to the upper echelon of Bangkok locals and expats – this was no street food. We received order after order, served in extravagant spindly dishes, carved out coconut shells, and the like. When asked how much spice we wanted, we told them “Thai spicy.” Our host and waiter laughed in our faces, and continued to do so as we struggled to finish our Tom Kha Gai soup. Many many courses later, we were comatose, bloated, and sleeeeeepy.

The next morning, we were up bright and early for our flight to Chiang Mai, a busy town nestled between rainforests in northern Thailand. We didn’t know this yet, but Chiang Mai would be our favorite stop on the trip and undoubtedly the most delicious.

chiang mai  sticky rice chiang maichiang mai marketchiang mai curry  swiss lana lodgechiang mai grand canyonfried chicken chiang mai

Anxious to follow in the footsteps of OG hedonist Anthony Bourdain, we B-lined it to the street food. Chang Puak market sits just outside the stone wall surrounding the Old City and is a bustling convergence of locals, tourists and a LOT of meat. Each cart has a different claim to fame – the best ones marked only with Thai lettering, no translations to be seen. Lucky for us, we were with Jay, our guide from Chiang Mai Street Food Tours (seriously, if you wind up in this crazy city, make this tour a priority). Jay, whose catchphrase was “Oh my Buddha,” moved from rural northern Thailand to Chiang Mai because he wanted to eat more meat. In his childhood, meat was a once a week luxury. Given the savory delights we tried that night, I don’t blame him for chasing his swiney, soy-marinated dreams.

chang puak market

Jay knew this market well, and the cart owners knew him too. They were encouraged by our curiosity, and generously plied us with a spread so extravagant and spicy we could hardly keep up. With big bottles of Chang and Singha beer by our sides, we guzzled everything in sight, always just in time for the next round.

chang puak market chang singha

My all time favorite was the Kao Ka Moo – fatty, tender, braised pork knuckle that puts the best carnitas you’ve ever had to shame. Shame! A smiling lady sporting a wide-brimmed cowboy had plucks a knuckle from her homemade supply and chops it emphatically with a cleaver that screams “I don’t fuck around.” She then slops it on a plate with some steamed rice and an oozy soft boiled egg. Each ramshackle table is equipped with bowls of fresh chilies and mini garlic cloves, both of which are meant to be consumed with each spoonful of the salty pork goodness. This, friends, is not a plate I’ll soon forget.

cowboy had chang puakKao Ka Moo chiang mai

We ate Laap Moo and Nam Tok Moo with our hands, making pockets of steamed sticky rice to pick up the spicy ground and sliced pork. We picked out a frog bathing in questionably sanitary water (allegedly once ice) and watched it be chopped and wok-fried before our very (mesmerized) eyes. It tasted like the best fried chicken on the planet, with little crispy, salty bits abound. We sat curbside and chased shots of rice whisky with fried crickets and ogled at the Kanom Krok lady, making fluffy, custardy spheres of fried coconut batter in her pockmarked and battle-scarred cast iron stove. There was bright red jerky-like smashed beef and herb speckled “Chiang Mai Sausage” with a thick, snappy casing.

frog chiang mai  chang puak chiang maifrog chang puakLaap Mo chiang mai  Nam Tok Moo chiang maifried crickets chiang mai

Unbelievably, there was room for dessert (isn’t there always?) the likes of which were sticky, sweet, and bathed in pandan-infused condensed coconut milk. This description could only belong to the one, the only: Khao Neow Mamuang or Mango Sticky Rice.

mango sticky rice chiang maimango sticky rice chiang mai

We caught Thailand at the height of mango season, where trees are abundant with the ripe, juicy fruit we so tragically get the dregs of in the US. At Chang Puak, and everywhere else we guzzled this stuff, the street vendors cut through the mangos as if they’re slicing room temperature butter, quickly sliding their way through before flaying the fruit across hot, sticky rice, drizzling it with sweet coconut milk, and sprinkling the final touch of crunchy dried mung beans on top. To our chef, it’s no biggie, but every time, without fail, we watched with wide eyes and dropped jaws before destroying the stuff in just a couple gulps.

As you can imagine, this night set the bar high for the rest of the trip. It’s fair to say we peaked at Chang Puak, but our insider look into Thai street food culture mitigated our culture shock, tooling us with at least more context than we had at the back-alley garage where we blindly enjoyed our first meal.

A couple days later, after our bodies has almost forgiven us for the trauma we had inflicted upon them, we set out on wobbly, rusty bikes in pursuit of Kao Soi, one of northern Thailand’s specialties. In many places throughout Thailand, soup is a perfectly acceptable breakfast food, especially in hot weather. We were in luck – by 7AM, it was already sticky and humid, the kind of heat that slows everything down.

Everything that is, except traffic. We bobbed and weaved on our rickety bikes away from the hustle and bustle of the city toward an unmarked restaurant in Fa Ham, the spot, we were told, for legit Khao Soi. The unassuming roadside Lam Duan was the place to be, said every blogger ever.

swiss lana lodge chiang mai

We were seemingly the first patrons of the day, but they were ready for us. Before we knew it, we were presented with piping hot, seemingly bottomless bowls of opaque curried broth filled with chewy tangles of wheat noodles, pickled onions, and crispy fried noodles. We hunched over our bowls, trying to savor every moment before it was over.

Lam Duan kao soi

Chiang Mai was a playground for the taste buds, and by the time we left we had thoroughly worn them out. When we arrived down south in Railay Beach (by sketchy moonlit longtail boat, I might add), things slowed down. Surrounded by limestone cliffs, it’s a sleepy place with a Rasta vibe and not much to do beyond rock climb, sip mango smoothies, and play cards.

railay beach thailandclimbing thailand islands  climbing railay beach thailandrailay beach krabi thailand

We arrived on the heels of the rainy season’s premature grand entrance, and so were not treated to the drowsy beach afternoons we anticipated. Instead, we adventured, ate garlic and pepper fried fish, adventured some more, and ate some more fish.

In pursuit of better weather, we hopped to Koh Phi Phi, an alleged gem, though not so much a hidden one. Here, we were treated to glistening water, sunset snorkeling, and yet even more garlic and pepper fried fish. What?! We have a type!

snorkeling koh phi phi

In all reality, the islands we visited were major tourist destinations, and due to their rural nature, it’s much less easy to have an authentic experience. Most places push papaya salad and pad thai like it’s the only food in the whole country and around every corner is another person hounding you to sit in their empty restaurant. My recommendation – go after the spots with the freshest looking fish (i.e. no foggy eyes, fishy smell, nor pools of murky water) and at least a couple other brave souls to follow in the footsteps of.

Post-Phi Phi, we left the mostly rainy Andaman Coast and travelled to Koh Samui, one the largest islands, located in the apparently less inclement Gulf of Thailand. By this point, we were pooped (let’s not go there) and ready for some R&R. We spent one glorious day at Vikasa, a yoga retreat perched high above the ocean with sweeping views of the dreamy coastline. Between downward dogs, revolutionary meditations, and sea-breezed massages, we enjoyed a bougie buffet like no other. I’m almost ashamed to say (but not too ashamed to write) that after so much spice and unfamiliar flavors, I’ve never been happier to eat chia seeds in my life. The dishes were bright, mildly Thai in preparation, all cooked with locally grown produce. The local kombucha was really the fermented cherry on top of the whole shebang.

vikasa yoga retreat  bio fizz kombucha thailand

Back in Bangkok, we had but 24 hours to go before our impending return home. It was an edible race to the finish line. Dinner was in the Chana Songkhram area at Hemlock, where we went all out with spicy Panang curry, crunchy banana leaf salad, drunken noodles, et al. It was the kind of meal that was prematurely nostalgic, as we sat there recounting our adventures and already missing every last bite.

hemlock bangkok

The next morning was our last, and we were all of a sudden desperate to see Bangkok’s Chinatown before hitting the road. It was an overcrowded zoo of tchotchkes, bizarre foodstuffs, and red and gold explosions. After a few close calls with losing each other Simba-Mufasa style in the stampedes, we decided to dine at an open-air eatery packed with Chinese and Thai patrons. We shared a table with a family of Chinese tourists, who guided us through the menu and steered us in the direction of crispy pork and braised duck. By this point, we were running late, so we practically shoveled the salty stuff down our throats before regretfully leaving without seconds.

bangkok chinatown street foodbangkok chinatown

The trip home was long and grueling, if not for the abominable “egg” sandwich I found in Taipei, then for the sleepless 18-hour journey back. Even a month later, I still remember everything – the flavors, colors, and textures of Thai food are seared into my memory and the electrifying culture is forever ingrained into my worldview. Like Thai food, Thailand doesn’t have one thing that makes it special – it’s the sum of its parts that together create an irreplaceable experience I’ll forever be chasing.

Mastering the Art of Grandma’s Cooking

mastering the art of french cooking

“People who love to eat are always the best people.” – JC

Everything I know and love about cooking, I learned from my grandma. I’m not talking knife technique or how to make a brisket. She taught me the fundamentals, like making a mess, licking the spoon, using all the butter, and not losing your shit when the sauce doesn’t come out quite right. She didn’t mean to make me fall in love with cooking, but then again Julia didn’t mean to either.

A couple months ago, I was visiting Los Angeles and my grandma pulled out a dusty copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It was her 1964 copy, with a weathered spine and pages brown the way only loved books can be. Bookmarked were some of her favorite recipes, the red-edged pages of which were scribbled with her notes in curly, barely legible cursive. She said I could keep it – she’s been making these recipes since the 60s and hardly needed a guide anymore – so I did.

julia childs cookbook

“Once you have mastered a technique, you barely have to look at a recipe again.” – JC

I read the book cover to cover, feeling a strange sense of familiarity with the recipes, the asides, and Julia’s overall approach to cooking and entertaining. Considering I knew shamefully little (bordering nothing) about Julia Child, this simpatico seemed odd. But then I realized that I had known Julia as long as I’ve been cooking with my grandma. My grandma’s playful, creative, make-it-work approach to cooking is a ricochet of learning to cook the Julia way. While I can’t say I’m nearly as graceful or intuitive as either of them are, the book – scribbled notes, splattered pages and all – pointed out that the cook I want to be is the one I grew up watching.

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” – JC

“You’ll never know everything about anything, especially something you love.” – JC

When I started talking to people about Julia, everyone was shocked and appalled that I hadn’t ever seen Julie and Julia – the Amy Adams/Meryl Streep film that tells the side-by-side stories of a quirky panicked blogger and an American living in Paris learning to cook. I watched it while pathetically nibbling on overcooked gnocchi during tooth-pocalypse 2016 and haven’t stopped doing the Julia Child voice since.

Conveniently enough, my turn to prepare team dinner was around the corner. I consulted the cookbook, recruited a squad of fellow Chewse chefs, and planned a menu that required more butter and fat than I’ve consumed in the past year. The ingredients were few – French cooking isn’t much more than carrots, onions, mushrooms, beef, wine, herbs, and butter – but the quantities were large.

pearl onionsfresh pearl onionsbraising beefmushroom bourguignon

“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.” – JC

My first attempt at these long winded recipes was for a group of 25. What’s more, we had a few vegans in the building, which is probably the dirtiest word in the dictionary according to Julia. As I ordered the margarine on Instacart, I could practically feel Julia turning in her grave. Alas, we altered a few recipes to keep our vegans far from animal products but still damn close to the indulgence we all enjoyed.

smitten kitchen mushroom bourguignon

“The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.” – JC

“If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.” – JC

chewse syssitia

The recipes I chose are a mix of my grandma’s favorites and French classics. We cooked nearly all day, first getting the mise en place assembled, then browning the meat and caramelizing onions, and finally assembling everything at the last minute. We had French Onion Soup with Gruyere toast, Niçoise salad, scallion mashed potatoes, Boeuf Bourguignon, and mushroom bourguignon.

Boeuf Bourguignon is a hearty, wine saturated braise, so while drinking at work is generally frowned upon, Julia’s orders to always cook with a glass of the wine you’re using took precedence over the rules.

i love to cook with wine

“I enjoy cooking with wine, sometimes I even put it in the food…” – JC

The night before, I was telling my grandma about my master plan to bring her old cookbook to life. Her only concern was that I wouldn’t have time to work all day (she was right) with my ambitious menu and instructed me to save time by caramelizing the onions with the boeuf in the oven, where they would “simmer and make love to each other all day.”

The meal came together perfectly – plates were full and then empty, full and then empty. The soup was sweet and comforting, infused with the flavors of day-long caramelized onions, cooked in white wine. The salad was fresh, herby, and simple – great balance for the Boeuf Bourguignon. Speaking of which, the boeuf was fall apart tender and the sauce, brilliantly silky and rich – perfect for a side of creamy mashed potatoes.

Salade niçoisenicoise dressinghard boiled eggs

“Everything in moderation…including moderation.” – JC

I introduced the meal in my best Julia voice and passed out hearts for everyone to wear a la the film’s portrayal of Julia and Paul’s Valentines Day party. Lucky for me, my company loves to eat. There were firsts, then seconds, more wine, and plenty more after that.

The meal we ate tasted like something unique to that evening – the amalgamation of hard work (damn you, pearl onions) and local ingredients – but it also tasted nostalgic. These recipes belong to my childhood – the flavors and smells bring me back to my grandmother’s house, to dinner parties where she cooked and I baked Hershey’s chocolate cake, to each special moment we’ve shared where she, without really meaning to, has helped me master the art of French cooking.

julia child valentines day

“Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.” – JC

Recipes as they appear in Mastering The Art Of French Cooking, with a few adjustments from Grandma, and a few more from me:

Soupe À L’Oignon (serves 6-8)

  • 1 1/2 pounds thinly sliced yellow onions
  • 3 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 quarts beef or vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Cook the onions slowly with the butter and oil in the covered saucepan for 15 minutes.
  2. Uncover, raise heat to moderate, and stir in the salt and sugar. Cook for 30 to 40 minutes stirring frequently, until the onions have turned an even, deep, golden brown.
  3. Sprinkle in the flour and stir for 3 minutes.
  4. Off heat, blend in the liquid. Add the wine, and season to taste. Simmer partially covered for 30 to 40 minutes or more, skimming occasionally. Correct seasoning.

Salad Niçoise (serves 6-8)

  • 1 cup vinaigrette with herbs (combine the following ingredients)
    • 1 tablespoon wine vinegar
    • Salt
    • 6 tablespoons olive oil
    • Tarragon, chopped
    • Chives, chopped
  • 3 cups French potato salad (combine the following ingredients)
    • 3 cups Yukon gold potatoes, boiled and quartered
    • 2 tablespoons wine vinegar
    • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
    • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup pitted Niçoise olives, halved
  • 2 or 3 hard boiled eggs, cold, peeled, and quartered
  • 1 head Boston/butter lettuce, separated, washed, drained, and dried
  • 3 cups cold, blanched, green beans, halved
  • 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
  1. Put it all in a bowl and toss it!

Boeuf Bourguignon (serves 6)

  • 3 pounds chuck roast beef, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 sliced carrot
  • 1 sliced onion
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 3 cups full-bodied red wine
  • 2 to 3 cups beef stock
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 cloves mashed garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 18 to 24 pearl onions, braised in beef broth
  • 1 pound quartered crimini mushrooms, sautéed in butter
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Dry the beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Sauté it, a few pieces at a time, in hot oil in a cast iron dutch oven, until nicely browned on all sides. Remove from dutch oven.
  3. Brown the vegetables in the dutch oven with the leftover oil.
  4. Return the beef to the dutch oven and toss with salt and pepper. Sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly with the flour. Set dutch oven uncovered in middle position of pre-heated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat and return to oven for 4 more minutes. Remove the dutch oven and turn heat down to 325 degrees.
  5. Stir in the wine, and enough stock so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, and herbs. Bring to simmer on top of stove. Then cover the dutch oven and set in lower third of preheated oven. Simmer in the oven for 3-4 hours. The meat is done when a fork pieces it easily.
  6. While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms. Set aside until needed.
  7. When the meat is tender, mix in the onions and mushrooms and serve!

Mushroom Bourguignon (directly from smitten kitchen)

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 2 pounds crimini mushrooms, quartered
  • 1/2 carrot, finely diced
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup full-bodied red wine
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (1/2 teaspoon dried)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup pearl onions, peeled
  1. Heat the one tablespoon of the olive oil and one tablespoon of butter in a heavy sauce pan over high heat.
  2. Sear the mushrooms until they begin to darken, but not yet release any liquid — about three or four minutes. Remove them from pan.
  3. Lower the flame to medium and add the second tablespoon of olive oil. Toss the carrots, onions, thyme, a few pinches of salt and a several grinds of black pepper into the pan and cook for 10, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
  4. Add the wine, scraping any stuck bits off the bottom, then turn the heat all the way up and reduce it by half.
  5. Stir in the tomato paste and broth. Add back the mushrooms with any juices that have collected and once the liquid has boiled, reduce the temperature so it simmers for 20 minutes, or until mushrooms are very tender.
  6. Add the pearl onions and simmer for five minutes more.
  7. Stir the flour into the stew. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 more minutes. If the sauce is too thin, boil it down to reduce to the right consistency. Season to taste.

A Taste of Chilango Life in Mexico City

at the museo frida kahloleon trotsky museum  teotixoacan wall

“Have you been to Mexico City before?” “Why Mexico City?” “Mexico City?…interesting!” Such were the responses garnered upon sharing that I’d be spending Christmas in Mexico City. My Aunt Justine had lived there with her son for 8 months a few years ago, and was excited to return to give us the grand tour.

mexico city architecture - encaustic tiles  mexico city polutionpenafiel colmita pacifico cerveza at el califa  jesus figurines at mercado de coyoacan

Top left: Encaustic tiles in Colonia Roma // Top right: One morning’s grim weather report // Bottom left: Beverages on beverages at El Califa // Bottom right: Jesus figurines at a stand in the Mercado de Coyoacan

Family ties or not, the Distrito Federal (Mexico City’s pseudonym) was apparently not at the top of everyone’s travel bucket list. And while I can’t say I’m counting down the days until I return, the place did leave a lasting impression. Mexico City seems to be a city in transition – For all its traffic, graffiti, and poverty, it’s managed to in some places reinvent itself and in others, fully embrace its everlasting culture.

condesa parque mexico  leon trotsky museum

Stick around the hip La Condesa and posh Polanco neighborhoods and you’ll be hard put to find any sign that this city is anything but luxurious. But drive into the Zócalo and you’ll be stricken by the squalor of your surroundings. At every stoplight, we were approached by vendors and performers: men selling chicle or breakdancing in the cross walks, and in one case, a woman carrying her small child while juggling bowling pins for spare pesos. In the Plaza Garibaldi where we spent one evening at Salón Tenampa with Mariachis and the drunk audience that comes with the territory, we watched a street performer take a bite from a plate that had been already bussed.

salon tenampa at plaza garibaldi

Paddling through the filthy waters of Xochimilco, we passed tired shantytowns shoddily constructed right to the river’s edge.

Xochimilco boat  Xochimilco canals

But for everything this city perhaps lacks in elegance, it makes up for in an unshakable work ethic and fucking delicious food.

$1.50 Michelada & Tlacoyo (fried masa pocket filled with beans), cooked boatside in Xochimilco  Coffee simmered with cinnamon in TeotixoacanAl Pastor taco and salsa at El Huequito  Pulpo at Mexsi Bocu

Top left: $1.50 Michelada & Tlacoyo (fried masa pocket filled with beans), cooked boatside in Xochimilco // Top right: Coffee simmered with cinnamon // Bottom left: Al Pastor taco and salsa at El Huequito // Bottom right: Pulpo at Mexsi Bocu

Let’s start with tacos, where Al Pastor is the name of the game. Each taco spot is landmarked by a twirling cylinder of pork, Turkish street meat style. The open fire char-cooks the bright red pork and with each taco ordered, the pastor guy shaves off some meat right into a fresh corn tortilla. Most places have a host of salsas, ranging from really hot, to holy-shit-where’s-the-beer-my-tongue-is-gonna-fall-off-hot. The right way to do an Al Pastor taco is with melted cheese on top with a slice of avocado and plenty of salsa.

We hit two of DF’s most acclaimed taco destinations: El Huequito and El Califa. Both are fluorescently lit, ultra casual spots with quick service, open kitchens, and cold beer.

el huequito dfel huequito mexico city  el huequito ciudad de mexico

While El Huequito is all about the tacos and horchata, we went what some might consider “overboard” at El Califa with Queso Fundido, Chicharron de Queso, and also everything else on the menu.

el califa salsas y cervezas  el califa queso fundido

On a less greasy, lard-soaked note, we visited a few spectacular places that had the bougie foodie in me doing backflips.

Ojo de Agua is a cute café adjacent to the Parque México in La Condessa, the neighborhood I’ve labeled as “where adult hipsters live.” The walls of Ojo de Agua are lined with baskets of fresh fruit (I’ve never seen so many ripe mangos!) and the menu is just as fruity.

ojo de agua, condesa, df

I got an acai bowl that put San Francisco’s offerings to shame and we ordered fresh fruit juice like it was going out of style.

mexico city acai bowl

Mercado Roma is in Colonia Roma Norte, where conversely, all the young hipsters hang.

colonia roma df art  taller de cultivo de hongos comestibles

This isn’t your average bustling, frantic Mexican market. Instead, carefully curated stalls fill the huge space with a living wall as its backdrop and giant skylights as its light source. The stalls sell everything from carnitas to pho, and you’ll even find artisanal candles and salsas to take home. We picked up a Noche Buena, Mexico City’s favorite seasonal beer and wandered around to bask in the bougie glory of it all.

noche buena at mercado roma

There are a few restaurants in Mexico City that have put it on the map as a fine dining destination. Among them is Rosetta, a dreamy Italian/Mexican-ish restaurant in the heart of Colonia Roma Norte.

rosetta df

Rosetta is located in a tall, narrow, and olllld colonial townhome. Each floor is home to a different dining room, designed with subtle touches like hand painted wall decals, opulent mirrors, and exotic flowers.

martha ortiz rosetta

After attacking the rosemary focaccia (which we had seen baking moments earlier), we went crazy with the menu, which changes regularly with the seasons.

The pastas were a crowd favorite, especially the gnocchetti with short rib and rosemary. Other stand-outs were the fresh pappardelle with chicken liver, fennel lemon risotto, and endive salad with gorgonzola and grapefruit.

rosetta df salads  rosetta df gnocchi rosetta df quail

For dessert, we ordered pink mole, which, even for a dessert, wasn’t too sweet! Our meal at Rosetta was one of my favorites – the perfect combination of a carefully crafted setting, refined and focused menu, and impeccable service.

rosetta df pink mole

But the real food of Mexico City can’t be found on Trip Advisor or Lonely Planet. Instead, it’s inside the kitchens of locals, where hand-painted ceramic pots hold simmering stews and condiments are the name of the game.

We were greeted at Teresa’s house with a cold Leon and many kisses on the cheek. I’m not quite sure what we were celebrating, but it seemed like a combination of birthdays and Christmas festivities. Teresa is my cousin’s grandmother, and although neither she nor most of her family spoke a lick of English, we were welcomed and fed like true Chilangos (Mexico City natives).

homemade ceviche

The meal was outstanding – a spread of meats, vegetables, and tortillas like no other.

huitlacoche, nopales, mole, chicharron

When one clay pot would empty, another piping hot one would appear in its stead. Here I was introduced to Nopales (cactus) and Huitlacoche (a black mushroom like fungus that grows on the end of old corn ears). Each flavor was distinct and rich, unlike any “Mexican” food I’d had even in Los Angeles. The meal culminated with a giant chocolate cake, Matlida style. 5 hours of eating later, we waddled back to the hotel, realizing that we’ve been “doing lunch” wrong our whole lives.

The afternoon we spent at Flavia and Mauricio’s house only confirmed that lunch is in fact the most important meal of the day in Mexico. Flavia and Mauricio are friends of my Aunt Justine and graciously welcomed my entire family in for another homemade feast. Located in the heart of Colonia Roma Sur, their family’s home is carefully curated with contemporary art and photographs peppered with personal relics and collected items from around the world.

colonia roma df architecture

Bala, the family dog, waits outside the kitchen for spare taquitos.

The meal began with Mauricio’s Fideo Secco, a classic dish made with short spaghetti noodles cooked in tomato sauce. Give me a bowl of that stuff and I’ll be a happy camper. But that’s not all they had in store for us. Next came the homemade taquitos, honestly just a vehicle for salsa and guacamole, of which there was plenty. The meal meandered on, taking the afternoon with it. By the time we kissed cheeks and said goodbye, the sun was setting on yet another delicious day in Mexico City.

#dadsonphones

Oaxaca is not too far from DF, especially if you’re a witch. I can’t confirm that the mole pictured below was delivered via broomstick, but it was indeed crafted by a true bruja (Spanish for witch). As Carlos, my cousin’s dad and our host that night, explained, mole is an “enchanting dish.” Eat it and you will be stricken with good luck, possibly similar to the magical realism scene from Like Water For Chocolate, which ironically was edited by Carlos himself in its film rendition. The mole was rich and intense with a sort of heart-warming effect. This was the kind of meal that warms you to your bones and brings you to life after a long days’ work. The brown one was nutty and a little tangy while the green had an earthier flavor. The shredded chicken stirred in was the perfect host to soak up all the rich chocolaty goodness – so good that we went back for seconds, then thirds, and so on until there wasn’t a drop left.

oaxacan mole

With all of this said, there’s much more to Mexico City than its food. In honor of those sights and experiences, here’s a quick recap:

Museo Frida Kahlo is a playground for Frida lovers. Get tickets online to avoid the around-the-block line.

museo frida kahlo, photo by mark mintz

But if you must, you’re in good company – the churro guy sells his sugary treats cheap and in bundles of four, plenty to last you the wait.

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 11.06.17 PM

Portrait of Frida Mintz

While you’re down in San Angel, stop by the Tostadas Coyoacan stalls in the Coyoacan market for a tostada. You can’t miss the bright yellow signs and heaping plates of seafood, meat, and chicken.

tostadas coyoacan mexico citytostadas coyoacan mexico city

Head to the edge of Mexico City to Xochimilco and find colorful painted boats with long picnic tables awaiting your arrival.

xochimilco boats

Your captain will push your boat through the murky canals of the infamous neighborhood, past family gatherings, organic farms, and plenty of other boats selling treats, meats, and even live Mariachi ballads.

xochimilco boats organic farmsxochimilco boats micheladasxochimilco boats micheladas  mexican coke in xochimilcoxochimilco boats

After our boat ride, we wandered right through a Chinelo parade. Chinelos are costumed dancers with pointy chin masks and bouncy steps. Their performance began with the blending of Catholic and indigenous cultures and is particularly popular in the Xochimilco neighborhood. The song they marched to will be forever stuck in my head.

xochimilco christmas celebrationsxochimilco chinelos

Stroll through Chapultepec Park on your way to the Anthropology Museum, a can’t-miss if you’re in town as a visitor.

For shopping, enjoy a curated selection at Fonart, or head to La Ciudadela for artisanal tchotchkes galore.

In the Zócalo, you’ll find a massive church, sinking under its own weight into the water Mexico City was built upon.

mexico city metropolitan cathedral   mexico city metropolitan cathedral

Wander through the Palacio Nacional, where Diego Rivera has sprawling murals you could lose an afternoon to.

palacio nacional diego rivera

And if you have the time and a mode of transportation, you can’t miss Teotihuacan, the town that’s home to a largely undiscovered ancient civilization.

Teotihuacan sun pyramidTeotihuacan sun pyramid

Above: The view of the Sun Pyramid from the top of the Moon Pyramid // Below: Police officers survey the ruins from the steps of the Sun Pyramid

Carb up at any of the zillion neighboring restaurants before climbing the narrow steps to the top of the Sun and Moon pyramids. Chilaquiles anyone?

Teotihuacan chilaquiles

In such a short period of time, I really got to know this place. To leave a city so vast and unfamiliar with any sense of understanding is remarkable. Even more so is the authenticity of our experience – a taste of local life here, a nibble of tourism there, and so on. All that’s left to say is wow, I’m full.

christmas eve Sep's Restaurante

This Birthday Takes The Cake

trader joes cheese

I couldn’t have asked for a more delicious birthday. Here’s what was on the menu:

On Wednesday night a few co-workers and I sipped bubbly wine, nibbled on charcuterie, and viciously attacked some pizza at The Market. If you ever doubted that a grocery store would be a wonderful place to hang out, get yourself to this place immediately. And by immediately, I mean between the hours of 4pm and 7pm daily for the oyster happy hour of your dreams. Kumamotos for $1.50? I’ll take the lot!

Later that night, Harley and I had our first glasses of orange wine at Alta CA, a hip little restaurant with a wrap-around bar right on Market Street. Orange wine is my new favorite. The grapes are fermented with the skins on, making the wine refreshing and crisp like a white, but funky and musky like somethin’ else!

alta ca sf

Birthday day started with a climbing session and a Blue Bottle cappuccino. That first sip of cappuccino is just about my favorite thing in the world. (And at about $0.50 a sip, it’d better be!)

mission cliffs sf

The workday was sweet, especially because one of my restaurant partners, Guerilla Catering, came by to give us a churro bar. We’re talking fresh churros, hot dipping chocolate, dulce de leche, sprinkles, coconut flakes, walnuts…the works. Yum is right.

guerilla catering sf

For happy hour, @barry_sandwich himself made egg white Bee’s Knees cocktails and Harley and Kate made all my cheesy dreams come true with a literal cheese cake! (see above)

@barry_sandwich

That night, my spirit animal, Dan, cooked a Pantry Raid themed feast! We ate brown butter and rosemary gnocchi, Bacon’d Brussels, roasted squash and cauliflower, and pork belly. Kinda like me, the meal was mostly vegetarian. For dessert, there was Bavarian Cream Cake from DeLessio Market & Bakery, which was basically just a giant cylinder of frosting and I’m not mad about it.

On Friday, my Dad came to San Francisco! We started the night with drinks at Terroir, which is a SoMa wine bar that feels kind of like your cool friend’s living room, but if your cool friend had even cooler more attractive live-in sommeliers to educate you about grapes but also offer you fine cheese and charcuterie. Are you on your way there yet?? Dad ordered an all-too-sippable Pinot and I was still on my orange wine kick and ended up with another dreamily funky pour.

Next stop was ICHI Sushi + Ni Bar, my all time favorite sushi spot in San Francisco. Tucked right on the border of Mission and Bernal Heights, you’d be surprised that it’s almost impossible to get a reservation here. Luckily, we scored a spot at the sushi bar with a front row view of our awesome sushi chef at work.

ichi sushi sf

All night, we sampled fish I couldn’t possibly name now. My favorites though, were the ocean trout nigiri and uni taco (yes, uni taco!). There’s no soy sauce here – each piece of fish is scored and doused with its accompanying marinade or sauce. The experience is so fun and interactive without a sniff of pretension. Please don’t eat sushi anywhere else if you can help it. I’m serious!

sf uni

The gluttony continued on Saturday at Mission Chinese – one of the restaurants I work with at Chewse with one of the coolest stories. This no-name Chinese restaurant partnered with chefs Danny Bowien and Anthony Myint for a pop-up. The two began churning out re-invented Chinese dishes (like Shmaltz Rice, Kung Pao Pastrami, etc.) until the place became so trendy that they were allowed to stay for the long haul. Mission Chinese has since become an SF (and NYC) food staple, and one I was excited to share with my Dad, since he’s recently become obsessed with New York’s Chinese food scene (shoutout Joe’s Shanghai!). We elected not to sprinkle our Mapo Tofu and 3x Cooked Bacon with the gratis MSG, but I’m sure we got our fill anyway. That said, I wouldn’t know…their food is so spicy that my taste buds have hardly recovered.

mission chinese mapo tofu

That night, we had a bonfire on Ocean Beach, but you can read about that here.

ocean beach bonfire

Sunday afternoon was spent with family at my grandparent’s home, nestled between the quiet hills and deer-filled forest in Woodside.

woodside ca

Dessert was a winner – Banana Cream Pie from Mission Pie. That flaky crust, springy custard, and rich whipped cream make for a treat that’s both decadent and light at the same time. Science, man. How do they do it?

mission pie banana cream

Looking back, I’m not sure how my body survived it, and I think it may be time for one of those gnarly juice cleanses. At my age, you gotta be careful what you eat. Wait, what’s my age again?

Eating My Way Through Spain & France

I always try to be a little uncomfortable. With comfort comes stagnation and with stagnation, lack of growth. As a routine-oriented person, even the idea of this makes me uneasy. So when an old friend asked me to hop on a plane to explore the Costa Brava for a week, my internal alarms sounded.

A month later, I was driving my first ever rental car (a sexy lil VW Polo) north from Barcelona to Llafranc.

vw polo spain

I could tell you all about the color of the Mediterranean Sea, and how it’s a more stunning shade of blue everywhere you look.

llafranc spain

I could go on about the narrow, winding cobblestoned streets of the Born neighborhood in Barcelona, or how small I felt during an early morning thunderstorm in the French Alps. But that’s a different story. This one, as you may have guessed, is about the food.

I landed in Barcelona at 7AM, sleepless and disoriented. After a day of light tourism, a travel hangover nap, and a sabered bottle of cava, we ventured to the water where some crazy good paella awaited us at Elx. This stuff was packed with fresh seafood and the rice was sticky and chewy just like it’s supposed to be.

The first of many

the first of many

The next morning in Llafranc, we were greeted at our Airbnb by a refreshing mold smell, a delicious view of the ocean, and a basket of fresh veggies from a local farm. As I tend to do when presented with assorted vegetables, I made ratatouille, served alongside squid ink rice and even more cava.

llafranc spain

Greetings, Llafranc!

On my morning run (of which there was only one), I ran along the coastal trail to the neighboring town, Calella, an equally peaceful and charming place. Tragamar’s chalkboard menu and wooden tables caught my eye, so that night, we returned for what would be my favorite meal of the trip. Located right on the water, but without all the tackiness that usually comes with that real estate, Tragamar has traditional Spanish food, locally sourced, and with an emphasis on seafood. I couldn’t get over the grilled octopus, served in pieces over buttery potatoes with spicy chili oil. Octopus is usually tough and rubbery, but this was fork tender. The crunchy bits of the tentacles soaked up all the butter and spices and I think I died and went to heaven.

tragamar

Back in Barcelona, I stayed with my cousin and her boyfriend at their cathedral-adjacent dream house.

Santa Maria del Mar

The view of Santa Maria del Mar from my room!

On my first night back in the big city, they took me to La Paradeta, a pay-per-kilo fish shop where you can take your loot raw, or ask for it grilled or fried.

la paradeta

One of everything, please.

We got “un mano” of tiny octopus-looking creatures, a ton of mussels, and some big slabs of squid. This spot was no-frills, no-bullshit, and definitely no-salad. Eat your fish and get out is the name of the game, which is exactly what we did.

All fried everything.

The next morning, I ventured out to find Satan’s Coffee Corner, but not before getting caught in an aggressive rainstorm that forced me into a Barcelona equivalent of Dunkin’ Donuts.

barcelona rain

The pretentious foodie in me was throwing a temper tantrum, but all was well when the clouds parted and I found the nondescript little café tucked into a secluded nook in El Born. Surrounded by street art, Satan’s Coffee Corner has floor to ceiling windows and a black and yellow color scheme. Its countertops feature avant-garde art magazines, chia seed bowls, and espresso drinks in all shapes and sizes. Their menu’s footer reads “No wifi. Fuck Trip Adviser. Fuck Yelp. Aussies keep it down.” It was douchey in all the right ways and felt just like home.

satan's coffee corner

Not quite Valencia, but close enough….

My cousin, Raphaella, had a few friends in town that night, and the 4 of us checked out Mosquito, a new Asian fusion tapas spot in her area. After a short 2-hour wait (spent at El Soplo with wine and snacks), we dined on more dumplings than I care to admit and I took a short break from cava to sample some local beer.

El Soplo

Tiny pickles and tiny bubbles.

mosquito

I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.

After a final afternoon in Barcelona spent wading through crowds of patriots celebrating Catalunya National Day, I hopped a plane and landed in Nice, where I was greeted by Lucy and her little friend Luna.

sospel

That’s Luna.

Lucy and Olivier recently moved to a town called Sospel in the French Alps by way of San Francisco to start a biodynamic farm.

sospel france

Welcome to the Alps!

The next morning, we biked into town to collect ingredients that we later spent the afternoon transforming into all sorts of tasty stuff.

french tomato harvest

We whiled away the day nibbling on a riverside picnic of goat cheese with olive paste, pastries, and Moroccan coffee followed by a lot of tomato harvesting, roasting, and sautéing.

Lavender Lotus Farms is still in planning mode, so I got to see their beautiful property pre-farm. It’s currently overgrown with wild thyme, olive trees, and the biggest fig tree I ever did see. These two have some big plans up their sleeves, so I can’t wait to watch them transform their special place into something even more magical.

lavender lotus farms

My quick visit to the Alps ended with the loudest, wettest thunderstorm I’ve ever heard. I swear the mountains were shaking as Lucy drove me back to the airport. A few delayed flights, a lot of sprinting through airports, and 24 hours later, I was back home in San Francisco amazed at how much I saw, how much I learned, and of course, how much I ate in the past 10 days.

P.S. If you ever find yourself in Barcelona, also check out:
Federal Cafe
Elsa y Fred
Casa Lolea
Nomad Coffee Lab

Pintxos, Pork & Pizza Please

Last week, I learned that pork skin is magical, pizza is my love language, and tofu really isn’t the devils work. Here’s the deal:

aatxe pinxtos

Monday started off strong when Southern bell/badass Shaina and I shared a Basque feast from Ne Timeas Restaurant Group’s newest spot, Aatxe. It’s important to be skeptical of any and all establishments located on Market St., but this place broke the trend of mediocrity. We were tucked into a corner of the bar overlooking the grill, and more importantly, the garlicky octopus on its surface. We didn’t miss much of the menu – stand-outs included the housemade chicharones with whipped cheese/butter craziness, the pork belly paired with poached peaches, balsamic reduction, and crunchy toasted peanuts, and the small but mighty rice pudding with orange meringue and dark chocolate. Food aside, the service was spectacular. Each person we interacted with felt like a genuinely kind, more-food-informed-than-you-but-not-in-a-pretentious-way, old friend. Add it to your list!

aatxe rice pudding

Tuesday night was a stay late at work eating chocolate and drinking beer while talking about the future of your company kind of night. Our CEO, Tracy, and I camped out with a bar of salted cherry dark chocolate from Charles Chocolates and a big ol’ bottle of Saison Dolores. The rest of the night is a secret, but keep an eye out for some big news!

charles chocolates almanac beer

On Thursdays, the Chewse crew eats dinner together. This Thursday marked the first meal in our new office, which remains a large concrete box coated in a light layer of dust. But alas, all the better to order pizza and play Twister in! We ordered a bunch of pies from Pizza Hacker, which, no kidding, might be the best I’ve had in San Francisco. How pizza that’s crossed town can be so amazing is beyond me, but what’s even more impressive is the yolks on The Rocket Man that stay perfectly runny beneath a nest of crunchy arugula. This za is described as “arugula, garlic, fresh Mozzarella, farm egg, lemon juice, chili paste, and Grana Padano.” Wondering what my Love Language is? That’s it.

In case you haven’t caught on, this was a week of BLADing. BLAD stands for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and is a made up term intended to justify my eating all meals at the office. BLADing is fun, especially when it means you get to share amazing meals with people who make you happy, but it also means the lines between work mode and life mode get real blurry. And with that, I decided it was time to take off for Los Angeles!

chewse offices

Scott and I hopped in my car on Friday night and headed south on the 5 freeway. It wouldn’t be an SF>>LA road trip without a pit stop in Kettleman City for some In-N-Out. In lieu of eating Cowschwitz meat (yes, In-N-Out’s meat comes from that massive cow prison along the 5), we opted for grilled cheeses. Pro tip: Get your bun extra crispy, ask for extra lettuce, and for the love of god order it animal style.

in-n-out kettleman city

On Saturday morning, I woke up to dad’s special smoothie, a delightful mix of whatever healthy stuff he decides to throw into the Vitamix. That afternoon, we headed to Pine & Crane, an equally hip and authentic Taiwanese restaurant in Silverlake. The Mapo Tofu (served with pork because #yolo) was the stand out dish, with bamboo salad coming in at a close second. The tofu is a light-you-mouth-on-fire kind of dish that will make you re-consider all the terrible things you ever thought about tofu.

pine and cranepine and crane dan dan noodles

The saga continued first at Dinosaur Coffee, a quintessential Silverlake café serving Four Barrel Coffee because they know what’s good for them.

dinosaur coffeefour barrel coffee

Then, we stopped by the farmer’s market and picked up some Lion’s Mane mushrooms, which, when fried, have the exact same consistency as chicken tenders. This is not a trap!

lions mane mushrooms

The night ended on a high note with Pizza Night, a tradition at Casa di Mintz that is never to be overlooked, even during the most last minute of visits. Papa Mintz pulled out all the stops, with homemade pizza sauce for the OG Mintza.

eastside digs

We’ve been making this za – with fresh motz, crispy prosciutto, caramelized shallots, and a reduced balsamic drizzle – for years now.

mintza

The Pesto Perfecto, another classic, is truly god’s work. This one’s got homemade pesto, assorted sautéed mushrooms, and fresh burrata dolloped on top at the very end.

pesto perfecto

Pizza Night is by far my favorite night of the week, and has truly been the inspiration for why I so value meals at home. Without much time for home-cooked meals in SF these days, it only took one Pizza Night to set me straight. I can’t book it to LA every time I have a busy week, so maybe it’s about time I started learning Dad’s dough recipe. On second thought, Pizza Hackers not too far from home!

Stay Delicious, San Francisco!

Cooking is great. There’s nothing quite like taking a bunch of stuff, and turning into other, more delicious stuff. But sometimes life doesn’t let you cook. And lately, life hasn’t been letting me cook much at all. Luckily, I live in San Francisco, and not having time to cook just means I get to eat lots and lots of tasty things. Let’s talk about it.

Monday started off strong with Ethiopian like you wouldn’t believe. Moya, the latest addition to the Chewse family, prepared a feast of stews, greens, and stir fry. I’m still dreaming about the Kik Alicha, Moya’s yellow pea stew that’s all at once creamy, spicy, and just a little crunchy.

That night, I returned to Burma Love, the iconic Burma Superstar’s sister restaurant in the Mission. There’s nothing to wash away a case of the Monday’s like honey jasmine iced tea, tea leaf salad with extra fried garlic, and pull-apart, greasy platha bread.

The team stuck around late on Tuesday night, triggering my inaugural Caviar experience. We ordered Wasabi Rice Bowls from Pacific Catch, a fish lovers dream come true. In between obsessive post-it brainstorms, we scarfed sesame poke, pickled seaweed, sushi rice, and salad topped with wasabi dressing that puts your favorite Japanese house salad to shame. Shame!

On Wednesday, I finally checked Al’s Place off my SF restaurant bucket list. Tucked toward the end of Valencia street, this spot resembles a cool guys’ rent-controlled living room. Natural light, tasteful succulent incorporation, and an understated baby blue Birchwood color scheme make it feel both cozy and elegant. We went for the Family Style meal, which though promised wasn’t an exorbitant amount of food, left me wishing for a dolly to wheel me out. It started with “Snackles” my favorite of which were the “chickpeas a la catalan.” These pillowy chickpea fritters were melt-in-your-mouth fluffy with all the bold flavors of your favorite falafel. Also unforgettable was the grits dish, served with goat’s milk curds, green tomato, crispy corn, and padrón peppers. It’s all you want on a chilly night, which, thanks to Karl, was a shoe in.

On Thursday, spirits were high in the office, and so were the SSISSO bibimbap bowls that we piled with the likes of salty japchae, harissa cucumbers, sesame-soaked beansprouts, and spicy pork. Not a leftover was left over.

That night, the team piled into Lyfts and made our way to the Dogpatch, where heaps of meats and cups of mac ‘n cheese awaited at Magnolia. As the sun set over the lesser explored side of San Francisco, we sipped house-brewed beer, slathered pork butter onto sweet buns, and fought over every last bit of brisket. Dares were made and executed. Kamikazes were had. Hangovers, from beef and beer alike, were inevitable.

magnolia brewing companychewse syssitia

Friday night ushered in a weekend of edible adventures, which commenced in Oakland with a 5-pound durian. Durian, for those lucky enough to not know, is a tropical fruit that looks a lot like a porcupine’s body and is filled with clumps of mucus-like flesh. Durian is known for smelling like rotten garbage, which at first, seemed like a gross exaggeration. After an hour or so in the same room as the stuff though, I realized it was just gross. I went from being Durian’s new spokesperson, to literally wiping my tongue with a napkin to remove the taste. But it’s not so much the taste of Durian that’s so nauseating. Just like you experience a smoky flavor rather than taste it, Durian’s flavor affects you so deeply that taste is irrelevant. I was so traumatized that I deleted most of the photos of the thing from my phone, for fear of a relapse at the sight of it.

durian fruit

Saturday was better, but just as slimy. Natalie and I hiked Mount Wittenberg in Point Reyes before driving up the coast to Hog Island Oyster Company for a post-trek treat. Unbeknownst to us, Hog Island is quite the destination, and all hopes of sipping rosé and slurping mignonette-topped bivalves were squashed by the apparent 4-month reservation wait time. Instead, we bought a dozen Kumamotos, a lemon, and some Tapatío. We borrowed an employee’s glove and knife and sat in the back of my VW shucking oysters, arms dripping in seawater, until the bag was empty. The grand total – $16. You can keep your mignonette for that price!

hog island oyster company

That night, I put our CSA to work and kneaded up some purple potato gnocchi. Stay tuned for a post about how you too can eat purple pasta!

After a classically “grounding” yoga class on Sunday morning, my Birkenstocks and I headed to Flowercraft, where we swooped up some summer treats, the likes of which have turned my back porch into a little slice of heaven. A watched pot never boils, but you know I’ll be staring at those little strawberries, padron peppers, and basil babies all summer long. The first basil leaves were picked and topped on thick slices of bright orange heirloom tomatoes, drizzled in olive oil and sprinkled with flaky salt and Parmesan cheese.

noe valley garden

We spent what was left of the weekend sprawled out in Dolores Park with a baguette, some homemade caponata, a bottle of rosé, and probably a lot of illicit activities that I was too blissfully unaware to notice. The sunset that night was enough to make you religious and was the perfect farewell to the weekend behind it.

dolores parktwin peaks san francisco

It was a week filled with old favorites, new flavors, and a little homemade goodness. Weeks like this make me feel honored to live in a place where great food is always a stones throw away, keeping me calm, happy, and very very full.

Kitchen Scenes, Senses & Stories

I was a sophomore in college when I started writing The Pantry Raid. This meant that I was living in the dorms, which sequestered me from easy access to a kitchen. I started a cooking blog while home for the summer, forgetting that I might not be able to keep up with myself when I returned to the world of extra long twins and shared bathrooms. Although I’ve graduated from dorm living (and from college in general, woohoo!), I’ve managed to maintain nomad status all the while. The food I’ve made in each kitchen is defined by the space in which it was created. The taste of turkey burgers will forever be associated with home, just as Carbonara is with my wacky Roman apartment. Trader Joe’s anything tastes like my first big girl apartment, as Chicken Tortilla Soup reminds me of the best best friends in the world and crunchy fruit crumble screams my first summer in San Francisco. The kitchens I cook in rarely get much attention on this blog. Considering how friggin’ important they are to the existence of this blog, I think they finally deserve a little attention.

My story (like all of ours) is a collection of places and flavors. I recently wrote about the myriad food phases I’ve gone through since 2011. These are the times and places where I learned, grew, and ate my heart out. If I’ve cooked with you or for you in any of the below kitchens, thanks for being a part of my life and my exploration of food. I hope it was delicious!

Casa di Mintz (Hollywood, CA)

Casa di Mintz, or ‘Mintz House’ for those of you who don’t speak Italian, is where I grew up. The kitchen, which sits smack dab in the middle of the house, is where The Pantry Raid began. After a lengthy remodel, the grouted white tile countertops are gone, the warped wood butcher block has been discarded, and the Drawer of Death has, finally, died. Even in its new, sleek white slate ensemble, the kitchen has remained the centerpiece of the house, a beaming white beacon surrounded by antiques and creaky wood floors. No matter which other kitchens I pack up and leave behind, this one will always be mine to come home to.

Tastes Like: Dad’s Pizza Sauce, Turkey Burgers, Watermelon Salad, Orange Chicken

Sounds Like: Prosciutto sizzling and spitting hot swiney oil while my dog’s nails pitter patter on the floor

Smells Like: Pizza!

Feels Like: Home

beachwood canyon ca

Emerson Dorms (Boston, MA)

I was given one rule when I moved to Boston for college: Don’t go to Dorchester. This, a piece of sage advice from an older and wiser native, was completely ignored the second school began. My roommate and I needed to go to Target, so we hopped in a cab that dropped us off on the front steps of the Dorchester branch of Target. My big-ticket purchase was a ten dollar frying pan and a 99 cent set of 5 wooden spoons. Never mind that there was hardly enough room for the three of us in room 610, and that our expertly outfitted kitchen consisted only of a microwave and an iron. This frying pan was gonna be my ticket out of the same old same old dining hall slop. Though the common rooms in the Little Building, where I lived, had an equally minimalistic kitchen setup, I was determined. With a grocery bag full of who-knows-what from the Prudential Center Star Market and my frying pan and cavalry of spoons in tow, I absconded to the Colonial Building, a much newer and ‘high tech’ dorm. While I was staving off infections and wondering about the mysterious stain on my carpet, Colonial residents were living a life of luxury complete with single rooms, better Wi-Fi, and kitchens on every other floor. We’d navigate the staircase looking for a free kitchen, often resolving to share, if we had to. These kitchens were sterile feeling, like most rooms in new dorms. The fixtures were nondescript, the stove – electric, and the oven was splattered with burnt banana bread batter (my bad). No matter how flimsy my frying pan, how splintery my spoons, or how sub par the food probably was, I was cooking. It wasn’t my kitchen, but it was as close as it was gonna get.

Tastes Like: Shrimp Scampi, Libby’s Pumpkin Pie, Banana Bread

Sounds Like: Vampire Weekend and whatever college freshmen talk about.

Feels Like: Better than the dining hall.

 

46 Park Vale (Allston, MA)

A boyfriend with a kitchen is just about the best thing you can hope for when you’re a college girl with a food blog. 46 Park Vale was home to three crazy dudes, a particularly epic 19th birthday party of mine in which one of the guests dislocated her leg while dancing, and the cutest darned kitchen you ever did see. The tiny square room was peppered with tiles etched with tiny dancing Italian chefs, a tiny breakfast table squished between the fridge and the (gas!) stove, and an equally tiny window, which looked out onto the rusty fire escape that ran down the side of the brick building. The kitchen was small, and it was the kind of dirty that only three 20 year old guys can make happen. Yet it was my favorite escape from school. Matt and I cooked steak, shrimp scampi, and probably a lot of bacon in that kitchen because that’s what adults do!

Looks Like: A recycling center dedicated to empty Rolling Rock bottles.

Tastes Like: Apple Pork Pasta, Bacon & Eggs

Smells Like: Rolling rock…

Feels Like: The first kitchen in which I ever felt like an adult (I was 18)

allston ma

via Nomentana 225 (Rome, Italy)

I had a panic attack before I moved to Rome. Standing in the doorway of the kitchen at Casa di Mintz, I whined to my dad, “I don’t know how to cook, how am I going to survive??” Yes, you did the math correctly – I did already have a food blog at this point. We’ve already covered the fact that I was a major poser, okay?! Little did I know that one does not need to worry when moving to Italy without a meal plan. You could get away with eating only pasta, and no one would say, “That’s so college” years later because it’s Italy and that’s what you’re supposed to do! The kitchen at via Nomentana 225 was weird. There was the tiny fridge that seven girls managed to share, the oven that featured nothing more than an ‘on’ switch (okay, maybe we just couldn’t figure it out), the washing machine (?), a cabinet that doubled as a display case for our collection of empties, and a giant table, around which we sat hunched over fried potatoes at 5AM on most weekend nights/mornings. The kitchen was the scene of family dinners, where we’d invite our friends over for real adult dinner parties. No one told us that you weren’t supposed to pass around a 3 euro liter of vodka at dinner parties or that each guest wasn’t supposed to consume an entire bottle of wine. Most of what I cooked in Rome was tomato sauce pasta, springy arugula salad with the sweetest tomatoes on the planet, and strangely, udon noodles. Occasionally, I’d stop by the warehouse market near the train station and pick up a salmon steak and later cook it on the itsy bitsy stove that you had to light with a match. If we’re being honest though, most of what I did in that kitchen was eat potatoes and drink wine.

Tastes Like: Carbonara, Fried Potatoes, Arugula Salad

Sounds Like: “What’s that weird pool of red stuff at the bottom of the fridge?” “Let’s get gelato.” “Can someone please make potatoes??” “Whose laundry is this?”

Smells Like: Garlic frying in olive oil

Feels Like: A dream

cea study abroad rome

The Mermaid Lounge (Brookline, MA)

When I moved into my very first apartment, I was stoked. My grandma got me the KitchenAid mixer of my dreams and I could now officially cook whenever and whatever I wanted. The room was a narrow rectangle, leaving very little passing space and a max capacity of about 1 1/2 humans. The plastic imitation granite countertops were often cluttered with oils, spices, and cooking wines. The counter didn’t quite extend to the edge of the old stove, leaving a clear pathway for the mice that haunted our apartment to wreak and squeak havoc. I’d later discover a mouse stuck to a landlord-placed sticky trap. I screamed and ran away until the groundskeeper removed it and “set it free.” It was here that I fell head over heels for Bon Appetit magazine, almost started a massive grease fire with some botched pot stickers, and ate my way through the entire Trader Joe’s frozen food aisle inventory. Here I learned about quinoa and chia seeds, pork chops and custard. I’m pretty sure I spent the entire summer of 2013 either in this kitchen or at Magazine Beach. Though I was desperate to leave by the time our lease was up (#roommateprobs), I was sad to leave behind the first kitchen that I considered mine.

Tastes Like: Nam Pla Pork Chops, chia seeds, 3-buck chuck

Sounds Like: The deafening fire alarm screeching throughout the building at the slightest hint of smoke

Smells Like: Roasted chicken

Feels Like: The first kitchen that was mine

sienna mintz

The Bunghole Bungalow (Allston, MA)

Any sadness associated with packing up the Mermaid Lounge kitchen was superseded by my overwhelming excitement for my new home and new kitchen. I moved away from Boston University biddie territory and into Allston Rat City with my best friends. Our house, dubbed The Bunghole Bungalow (get your head out of the gutter), was what dreams were made of. It had a porch, a washer & dryer, creaky wood floors, mantelpieces galore, and, of course, a kick ass kitchen. Well, it was less of a kitchen and more of a collection of kitchen-like things along one wall of the living room. But hey! We had granite countertops, a dishwasher, and a gas stove. I was living the dream. The drawbacks of having a kitchen wall as opposed to a kitchen room (counterpace, storage space, didimentioncounterspace) were immaterial. Our split-5-ways IKEA butcher block created a smidgen more prep space and the random alcove across the room served as our makeshift pantry/barware storage. The stove was often sprinkled with burnt quinoa, the countertop crevices caked with weird mold stuff, and behind the fridge there was a broken bottle of mayo from the previous tenants and the mouse droppings to go along with it. It was college. Here I became a cast iron skillet aficionado, a French press addict, and a serial 3 AM popcorn maker (the stovetop kind – what kind of monster do you think I am?). When I got a job in San Francisco soon after graduating, I wrapped up my cheap crystal wine glasses, assorted Anthropologie plate ware, et al, in sweaters and scarves galore. Little did I know I’d need those for my first summer in the Bay…

Tastes Like: Frittatas, Cornish Game Hens, Bread Crumbs

Sounds Like: The Girl From Ipanema & Hipster Halloween Pandora playlists

Smells Like: Cats

Feels Like: The best home away from home I’ve ever called home

allston apartment ma 

Syd & Justine’s House (San Francisco, CA)

If there’s another kitchen besides the one at Casa di Mintz that really feels like home, it’s on Juanita Way. I spent that first summer in San Francisco living with my aunts, Sydney and Justine, and cousins, Gabe and Mateo. Without knowing me much beyond holiday chitchat and family vacations, they took me in and made me feel right at home. Unlike at the Bungalow, their Tupperware drawer was organized (a lesson I had to learn the hard way) and the cleaning solution under the sink actually got its fair share of use. The countertop is speckled black and brown granite and the shimmery tile backsplash changes color depending on the time of day, first purple, then silver, then somewhere in between. Here was a real deal stovetop equipped with pots and pans that didn’t come from Target OR craigslist! I remember making my first omelet here and being shocked at how evenly cooked the egg was. No burnt spots! Everyone, go out and buy a Scanpan, I’m tellin ya. In this kitchen, I learned about real California cooking, the drought, and that wooden spoons (99 cent or otherwise) do NOT belong in the dishwasher. Sorry Justine!

Tastes Like: Mint Tea, Buttery Pasta, Kale Salads

Sounds Like: The tea kettle screaming, sage advice, Gabe’s Vine feed

Smells Like: Fresh garlic and rosemary

Feels Like: Comfort, cleanliness, peace, family

 san francisco latkes

Bobcat Ridge (Watsonville, CA)

The kitchen at Bobcat Ridge Avocados, where I began my WWOOFing adventure, was madness. Spacious, yes, but this place was jam packed with cookbooks, mason jars, cutting boards, clean dishes, and dirty ones. This place was a lab, where homemade cream cheese hung from a makeshift cheesecloth sling and dripped whey into a mason jar, where that whey was used to make overnight wheat bread in Ken’s bread machine, and where I learned that being a vegetarian wasn’t so hard after all. The fridge was plastered with holiday cards, family reminders, and photographs and the cupboards were filled with jars of mysterious powders and beans. The fridge was packed with whatever was picked the day before and Tupperware upon Tupperware of leftover ratatouille, artichoke almond spread, and homemade yogurt – you name it. Aside from the time I tripped over a scalding hot oven rack that I’d (in genius style) placed on the ground, I have nothing but good memories from this kitchen.

Tastes Like: Almond Artichoke Spread, Lentil Samosas, Cucumber Avo Salad, Kale Chips

Sounds Like: Rosie asking me to play “store,” Ken going over the next day’s farm chores

Smells Like: Fresh whole wheat bread at sunrise

 bobcat ridge avocados

Chattanooga Street VRBO (Noe Valley, San Francisco, CA)

I shared my first San Francisco apartment with none other than my grandmother. Her two-month sublet overlapped with my first two months of “real life” and she was lovely enough to ask me to join her. Our apartment was long and skinny. The narrow hallway let off into bedrooms and bathrooms, emptying out into the kitchen. As with many VRBO’s , this one was outfitted with IKEA things and the stuff left behind from previous guests. In just a few trips to Costco, Rainbow Grocery, and Whole Foods, Savta (grandmother in Hebrew) had stocked the fridge and cupboards with the nicest healthiest foods you could dream of. I’d come home sweaty from my hilly bike ride to the wafting smells of teriyaki salmon and find her casually cooking up a feast for us. It wasn’t a perfect kitchen – the dishwasher was across the room from the sink, the knife blades would frequently separate from their handles, and there was no natural light to speak of, but that’s not the point. The point was that I got to spend two whole months cooking and eating and catching up on 22 years of not much time spent together with my grandmother. We sat around the splintery wood table in the crappy IKEA chairs dipping French bread in Amphora Nueva olive oil more times than I can remember and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Tastes Like: Fresh bread and olive oil with Parmesan

Sounds Like: 22 years of catching up

Smells Like: Soy Vey Island Teriyaki sauce

Feels Like: Comfort, love

 

Chewse HQ (SOMA, San Francisco, CA) 

Unless you work at a restaurant, it’s not often that your office’s conference room is actually a kitchen. I guess it’s also not often that it’s not actually a room at all, but a sectioned off section of a work loft stuffed with 15 twenty-somethings. Chewse, the amazing place I get to work at every day, is an extraordinary place for many reasons, but the kitchen – and how often we use it – is one of my favorites. The birchwood table in the center of the room is our conference table as much as it is our break room table, our serving station, and our prep area. We sit around it every day for lunch and every Thursday night for a feast cooked by one of our own. The kitchen itself is another wall-installment like the Bungalow, and just as dirty. The counter is home to a hodgepodge of things, including, but not limited to, a drying Chemex and a complimentary “I’m pretty sure we partied” mug, a potentially hazardous toaster, a collection of Sriracha and other hot sauce things, some stray Furikake, and probably a few dirty mason jars. It’s not as glamorous as it sounds, but it’s a real kitchen. You won’t find any passive aggressive notes or Kuerig coffee machines here. There are no crappy paper cups, nor obligatory bowls of snacks no one eats (we keep those in the cupboard). This is a real kitchen where real people cook real food. At work! The kitchen isn’t the only reason, but it plays a big part in feeling like I’m coming home every morning when I get to work.

Tastes Like: Candied bacon, sweet tea, Pinkie’s sandwiches, Maldon salt

Sounds Like: Goofy Friday mornings, grinding coffee, long discussions about sandwich sogginess, longer conversations about sandwich dryness.

Smells Like: Freshly ground Sightglass/Ritual/Verve coffee

Feels Like: Productivity, procrastination

chewse san francisco

In case you’re still reading, here are a few more significant kitchens and what they taste like:

Honorable Mentions:

Grandma’s House @ Encino Village (Tarzana, CA)

Tastes Like: Caesar salad, chilled grapes, tri tip

Grandparent’s House (Woodside, CA)

Tastes Like: Fried turkey, spiral cut ham, tequila shots

The Mezzanine on Rugg Road (Allston, MA)

Tastes Like: Liguica stew, Bacon Salad

Joelle’s Apartment (Allston, MA)

Tastes Like: Broccoli Pesto Spaghetti, white wine

Emily’s Apartment (Beacon Hill, MA)

Tastes Like: Sheppard’s Pie, Buttery Popcorn

Vermont Airbnb (Middle of nowhere, VT)

Tastes Like: Steak & potatoes, quiche, Dam Sours

Matt’s house (Ossining, NY)

Tastes Like: Mexican breakfasts, moussaka, bacon

Rachel’s Apartment (The Castro, San Francisco, CA)

Tastes Like: Kombucha cocktails, vegetables 

The Snuggery (Noe Valley, San Francisco, CA)

Tastes Like: Aged Gouda, green coconut curry, quinoa

Phasing In & Out (but not In-N-Out)

This blog has done a lot of growing up over the past years. The transition from “.blogspot” to “.net” was perhaps the first milestone. The style switch from ‘lemme-show-you-ALL-the-pictures-I-just-took’ to a more refined approach to food documentation, another. Yet again, my brief foray into organic farming threw the blog a curveball, introducing a whole new section of the oft-overused idiom, “food for thought.”

Recently, The Pantry Raid transcended from being just another mess of recipes and photos to become a *real* food blog. That’s right folks, we’ve got a recipe index! For you, my loyal recipe skimmers and food porn fiends, this means that your scrolling days are over. You can now easily find exactly what you want, where and when you want it.

For me, this meant reliving the memories of each and every recipe I’ve ever posted here. I’m a firm believer that food is one of the best ways to make memories. Taste is so fleeting – once the food is gone, it’s gone. But it’s also infinite, for the aftertaste of your experience (the food, whom you were with, where you made it, what you talked about) sticks in your brain like the most stubborn Skittle plastered to your molar.

So, as I looked back at all the meals I’ve shared, recipes I’ve adapted, pictures I’ve taken, and people I’ve met, I was impressed to see that certain themes emerged. Food has been my proclaimed passion for five years now, but that passion has taken on many forms. In case you’re curious, here they are:

Gimme Some Suga’

When The Pantry Raid began, I knew little more than the recipes I’d made from books I’d read or made under the watchful eye of my parents and grandparents. I knew I liked food and I had a feeling it was important. But, in order to start my journey, I had to begin with my favorite ingredient: refined white sugar (can you see where this is going?). The first phase was a scattered mix of stolen-from-the-internet baked goods recipes (no one had yet told me about calories) and stolen-from-my-family meals that looked pretty through my camera lens. These edible training wheels are funny to think about, considering my current (and probably temporary) food philosophy.

banana dana bread

Bon Appétitification

The obvious next step of my foray into comestibles was a magazine subscription. When Bon Appétit first arrived in my mailbox (thank, Mom!), my eyes widened. Here was a collection of stories and recipes that were totally doable, not counting the frequent grocery story runs for obscure ingredients. I dog-eared the pages like it was my job and lapped up all the knowledge I could from the Prep School section. My adapted Bon Appétit recipes, like the Nam Pla Pork Chop and the Strawberry Basil Granita were the foundation for my being comfortable with cooking. I inserted myself into the Bon Appétit world, taking on its persona as my own, and hence, totally jumped the gun on adulthood at the tender age of 19. If I were gonna get anywhere near a can of beans, it was only to throw together Cast Iron Linguiça & Cannellini Stew, damnit!

My recipes boasted lengthy ingredient lists and time consuming steps, probably with the goal of impressing my readers and friends just as much as myself. Is my Only Child showing?

The roasted chicken was huge. My success here meant that I was no longer a copycat or fair weather cook. Roasting a chicken takes skill, I thought, and the fact that I could do it symbolized my transition from able-to-follow-directions to a real life cook.

nam pla pork chop

“Health”y

With this confidence came a sense of duty. I began to realize the power of food, not only as a memory maker and an expression of love, but as a form of sustenance. My recipes began featuring words like Omega 3, protein-packed, and superfood. I touted the benefits of each, though I admittedly was only sharing what I’d just learned, not imparting age-old knowledge from my mental Rolodex. The recipes from this phase reflect my personal shift to becoming a more conscious consumer. I’d yet to consider where my food came from and how that affected me, but I felt a deeper connection with my food, as a way to make myself feel good, not just satiated.

ogunquit maine

Californication

The second I moved to San Francisco, things started happening. First of all, I was intimidated as hell. In Boston, I knew more about food than anyone in my circle. I was abreast of the trends, the healthy options, and the best burger in town. Though, here I was a rookie. I didn’t even know that there were multiple types of kale, for goodness sake! I’d never thought about the benefits of eating organic, or remotely considered that meat might not be an excellent choice.

What had begun as an unfounded desire to be healthy became a fascination and an unquenchable curiosity about where food comes from and what goes into its production.

My first Chez Pannise experience was extraordinary – here was a damn fancy restaurant that served the most simple, yet exquisite, dishes. As a guest, I didn’t feel gypped – for one, because I wasn’t paying – but mostly because the quality was so evident in the simplicity of the food. I realized that delicious food doesn’t have to be a robust combination of flavors. It need only be made of a few select ingredients of the highest caliber.

The shift to simple “California Cuisine” certainly made things easier. I stopped religiously reading Bon Appétit in favor of visiting farmers’ markets and grocery stores to pick out what looked best – and only then translating it into something of which Alice Waters would be proud.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

In Too Deep

In the wise words of Phil Dunphy, I wanna go back. I wanna go back to the days of Farmer’s Frittatas and Hurried Curry. To the times when the most complicated question I’d ask myself in the grocery store was “chicken or pork?” I want to go back to loving Trader Joe’s more than anything and finding no greater pleasure than cracking open a bag of salt & vinegar chips.

But, alas, I’m in too deep. I’ve learned about GMOs, pesticides, monocropping, and the impact of the industrialization of farming on our climate, our population, and on our health. I’ve learned about animal husbandry, animal slaughter (both “humane” and inhumane), the insane amount of materials and money that goes into making meat. I’ve observed our national, and even global, addiction to meat and processed foods, while witnessing our unwavering indifference towards all of it. I’ve planted, read, raised, listened, and killed – all to learn more about where my food comes from.

flipjack ranch

What I’m left with is a lot of confusion. I can’t eat anything without wondering where it came from, who suffered to cause my momentary pleasure, how it’s affecting my body, and the impact that my food choices have on the environment. The answer is that, short of homesteading, which is entirely unfeasible for the majority of the population, there’s no way to be 100% “good.” I can choose to abstain from meat, but what about the raspberries grown in Watsonville and picked by hunched over, underpaid, and overworked immigrants? I can choose to eat meat that I can trace back to an ethically run family farm, but what about the fact that most animals have to be shipped (and, hence, traumatized) to a slaughterhouse if the farmer wants to sell commercially? I can choose to eat only organic, but what about my favorite restaurant that definitely doesn’t give a shit?

I’m grappling now with a heightened awareness and an ongoing philosophy that food is a vehicle for storytelling and memory making. Should I abstain from the garlic roast chicken I was practically raised on at Versailles in LA? How about Sticky Fingers at my all time favorite – B-Star? To me, the answer is “no”. Food is a nostalgia and pleasure trigger. Sure, I can enjoy organic veggies day in and day out, but so much of my food experiences are built around non-organic, non-local, non-traceable food. So, I’m currently struggling to strike a balance between awareness and happiness. It makes me sad that I’ll never enjoy a steak the way I used to. But I guess that’s just growing up.

My recent recipes have, and continue to be more conscious, more vegetarian, and more simple. The phase I’m in now feels unfaltering and permanent, though I’d bet that I’d have said the same thing back in the day when Bon Appétit was my bible.

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