Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Santa Monica Salad

There are a number of things I miss about living in Santa Monica. One is being five blocks away from the Pacific Ocean. A little farther down the list is this ubiquitous salad. A mixture of beets, goat cheese, spinach, and other goodies makes it a fresh and flavorful creation. Most of the restaurants in Santa Monica served some variation on this salad.

LA (especially the West side) is an epicenter for trendy food. Santa Monica also hosts one of the country's best farmer's markets - which was also in walking distance of my old apartment. I liked to buy fresh local beets, spinach, and other goodies at the market each Saturday. There's also a market on Tuesdays, but the only time I could go is when I had the day off work. That is also the day all the celebrities go to the farmer's market, because I saw three different actors there that time. They must avoid the Saturday crowds.

Karen's Santa Monica Salad:

- 1 head Romaine lettuce
- ~4 cups baby spinach
- 2 golden beets and 2 purple beets, steamed and cut into sections
- fresh goat cheese, crumbled
- alfalfa sprouts
- toasted walnuts
- 1 orange, peeled and sectioned
- 4 large basil leaves
- aged Balsamic vinegar
- extra virgin olive oil

Mix and Enjoy.
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Monday, November 7, 2011

Kombucha: Adventures in Tea-Fermenting

Kombucha brewing away.
So. If you've never heard of kombucha, you should probably go to Wikipedia and get a little introduction. If you're not totally disturbed by the idea of fermented tea, read on.

Top view of a healthy SCOBY at work. Tinted pink because I used some Tazo Passion tea. That stuff stains.
After having homemade kombucha at some cafes in Thailand, I decided that it would be my project to start brewing my own kombucha after returning home. It's a really easy process, as long as you have a starter culture. After some Craigslist sleuthing, I found a woman in a hippie co-op who was giving away kombucha cultures. I picked one up and got started.

Layers growing on the culture.
Making kombucha is incredibly easy. I got a 2-gallon glass container, brewed 2 gallons of green tea, added 2 cups of sugar, and waited for the sweet tea to cool. Then I added the kombucha culture (also known as a SCOBY, or "symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast". Yum.

Another batch: Chai Kombucha
Then I waited about a week and half. During that time, the culture eats the sugar and ferments the tea, producing a mildly vinegar flavor. It's not alcoholic, although it has a tiny bit of alcohol from the fermentation process (about 0.5%).

Big batch of berry green tea kombucha, next to small batch of chai & clove kombucha
After the tea is done fermenting, I removed the culture and bottled it. Kombucha isn't supposed to come into contact with metal, so I've been using glass jars with plastic lids.

Repurposed bottles
After bottling, I waited a few more days for the secondary fermentation process, during which the kombucha can develop carbonation and become deliciously fizzy.

A glass of the good stuff
Waiting for the secondary fermentation to occur. After a few days waiting, you can pop the bottles in the fridge, where the cold will stop the fermentation process. Enjoy! Kombucha's supposed to have a host of health benefits, but at this point I'm addicted to the flavor. My favorite mix so far? Chai with clove and cinnamon.

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Monday, October 31, 2011

Sprout Update

A while ago I posted about starting to grow fresh sprouts in my kitchen. Here's an update with my sprouting successes (and failures).

I've tried spouting various seeds, but alfalfa has been the most successful by far. For some reason, garbanzo sprouts and buckwheat sprouts tend to mold really easily - EW.

These little alfalfa guys spout after one day and are ready to harvest after 2-3 days. I've been enjoying them sprinkled over salads. I even put some in an omelet. They are SUPER easy to grow, because you only have to water them once a day and make sure the excess water drains out. You don't need any special equipment - I have a 3-tiered tray that works really well, but you could use any kind of glass jar or bowl.

Happy sprouting!

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Local Business Tour: Ninkasi Brewing Company

Ninkasi is a fast-growing craft brewery, known for their top quality IPA. Total Domination is their signature ale, although they have seasonal brews and other varieties as well.

My Marketing and Management class project involves the craft beer industry and it was fascinating to tour the brewery and witness the operations first-hand.

Noticing a color theme? I love the little paint details inside the brewery.

Some kegs in the refrigerated warehouse.

My personal favorite Ninkasi brew: Tricerahops

This beautiful mosaic is on the floor of the tasting room.

These are a common sight in Eugene.

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Monday, October 10, 2011

Wine Notes: 14 Hands Hot to Trot Red Blend

Baby Grapes in Oakville, CA

14 Hands is a small winery located in Eastern Washington. They have a great value Cab Sauv that I've had many times, but this was my first time trying their blend.

This red blend is predominantly Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Petit Verdot.

First impression: heavy on the spice and oak.

1) Color: Rich, dark purple
2) Nose/Aroma: Blackberry, blackcurrant and spice
3) Mouthfeel/Taste: Jammy, peppercorn, and clove. The finish was lacking strength and the spice and oak opened too strongly, leading to an underwhelming and unbalanced experience.
4) Score: 75. This wine was not particularly structured or accessible. I tried it both alone and with a hearty Italian dinner, and it was not remarkable either way. The blend was clumsy and it really needed a better finish to balance the powerful spice.

Here's the scale that I'm basing my score on:

Wine Spectator’s 100-Point Scale:
95-100 — Classic; a great wine
90-94 — Outstanding; superior character and style
80-89 — Good to very good; wine with special qualities
70-79 — Average; drinkable wine that may have minor flaws
60-69 — Below average; drinkable but not recommended
50-59 — Poor; undrinkable, not recommended

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Cooking Class: Tibetan Breads

One morning in Dharamsala, when Dana was feeling a little under the weather (note to fellow travelers: don't eat the samosas sold at the bus station at 6am), I decided to take a Tibetan cooking class.

From K - India I

Sangye's Kitchen is run by a 32-year old Tibetan exile living in Mcleodganj. He runs cooking classes 6 days a week, and there are three different classes to choose from: Tibetan breads, Tibetan momo dumplings, and Tibetan noodle soups.
From K - India I
I took the Tibetan bread cooking class, where we learned 2 types of steamed bread (tingmos), a fried cookie, and the famous Tibetan brown bread.

Below: Sangye slicing the dough for the fried cookies:
From K - India I
After slicing, we cut a slit in each strip of dough and turned them inside out.

From K - India I

From K - India I
After frying. These cookies were crispy and rich but not sweet - I think they only had 1 or 2 tablespoons of sugar in the entire batch.

From K - India I
This is the base of the steamed bread: we mixed mustard oil, turmeric, and garlic and spread it on the dough before rolling it up and cutting it like cinnamon rolls.

From K - India I

From K - India I

From K - India I

From K - India I

From K - India I
Finally, my favorite: Tibetan brown bread. It's a basic yeasted whole grain bread, and it can be cooked in a skillet or in the oven. It is sweet and very satisfying.

Sangye was a skilled cook and he was very friendly and open - he told us about his experiences escaping from Tibet, traveling on foot with a group of exiles through the Himalayas, through Nepal, and into India. His story was heart-wrenching and hearing it transformed the already-interesting cooking class into an extremely memorable and meaningful experience

From K - India I

Monday, October 3, 2011

Wine Notes: Seven Hills Planing Mill 2008 Red Blend

Although I don't consider myself to be a particularly creative person, one thing that does spark my imagination is wine tasting. Sipping different wines and attempting to describe the many layers of aroma and taste is like trying to solve an enjoyable puzzle.

As I've slowly developed a bit of knowledge about wine production and tasting, I've started to take notes on the wines I try. At this point, I don't have a favorite type of wine and I'm fairly open-minded about trying different varietals and wines from regions around the world. I've found that overall, I prefer new-world (Oregon, California, Austrialia) over old-world (France, Italy). I also prefer drier wines over the more saccharine (sauvignon blanc, rather than riesling).

As chance would have it, I think I became interested in wine in college, when I started mistakenly receiving Wine Spectator each month in my school mailbox. Each month, the behemoth magazine would be shoved in my tiny mailbox, addressed to someone no longer enrolled at the school. I don't know what kind of 21-year old subscribes to the $100/yr lifestyle wine publication aimed at affluent Americans 35 and older. However, I felt bad throwing the magazine immediately in the recycling bin, so I started poring over the articles and wine reviews, discovering a whole new world of poetic, nuanced descriptions. I started buying the magazine's recommended value wines, which can often be found at Trader Joe's for $10-15. A new passion was born. Wines have personality, and my intuitive and analytical sides enjoy interpreting a wine and attempting to translate the flavors into a coherent description.

Here's a wine I tried recently:

2008 Planing Mill Red Blend
Seven Hills Winery, Walla Walla, WA

Blend: 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Syrah, 7% Malbec, 7% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc

Mostly cabernet sauvignon and syrah, the first thing I noticed about this blend was the punch of ripe plum and the toasty spice of oak. My fist impression was that it was warm and inviting without being too bold. It would stand up well to a hearty meal, but it was also drinkable on its own.

1) Color: Deep purple-red
2) Nose/Aroma: Ripe plum and anise
3) Mouthfeel/Taste: Blackberries, black pepper, oak. Moderately balanced flavors of fruit and spice. Supple but soft, with a prickle of heat. The mouthfeel was drying and a bit sour.
4) Score: 82. This wine was pleasant and warm, but it wasn't the best value. I think it retails for about $20, and there are better red blends at a lower price point. The blend was heavy on the cab sauv, but the presence of the other varietals was more confusing than complementary.

Just for reference, here's the scale that I'm basing my score on:

Wine Spectator’s 100-Point Scale:
95-100 — Classic; a great wine
90-94 — Outstanding; superior character and style
80-89 — Good to very good; wine with special qualities
70-79 — Average; drinkable wine that may have minor flaws
60-69 — Below average; drinkable but not recommended
50-59 — Poor; undrinkable, not recommended

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Famous Blackberry Cobbler

For as long as I can remember, my mom has made this blackberry cobbler each year when the wild Oregon blackberries ripen in September.

I thought of this cobbler while traveling through Asia. When we arrived in Dalat, Vietnam, and saw piles of fresh blackberries for sale at the produce market, I knew what I wanted to request as soon as I returned home.

in Dalat:
From K - Hoi An & Dalat

From K - Hoi An & Dalat

Inside a cupboard in our kitchen, there's an old, fraying recipe card with a handwritten blackberry cobbler recipe. It says it's from Gourmet Magazine, but I think the recipe must be from the '80s, and a recent search of the Gourmet website didn't reveal this amazing recipe.

My recommendation: use this recipe, also from Gourmet. I think it is almost exactly the same as the one I use. However, disregard the "1/2 cup cold lard" and substitute butter instead. You'll thank me. Who wants to eat lard?

You should do yourself a favor and make this before blackberry season is over for good. Remember that a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream on top of the warm cobbler is not optional. It's mandatory.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Himalayan Paradise

Although it's been over three weeks since returning to the USA after my 3-month tour of SE Asia and India, there is one place in particular that is hard to shake from my memory.

From K - India I

Dana and I spent the last ten days of the trip relaxing in Mcleodganj, a small town in the foothills of the Himalayas. We were surrounded by the Tibetan exile population. We were also surrounded by mist, rain, yoga studios, fresh yogurt, fruit, and vegetables, and a host of eccentric Western tourists.

Among the unique travelers was Brad from Australia, a long-haired, bearded, linen-pants-wearing New-Ager. He told me about his prophetic dreams and his thoughts on reincarnation as I attempted to finish Murakami's Kafka on the Shore over cups of jasmine green tea and vegetable momo soup at Om Cafe.

[Side note: Om Hotel and Cafe was one of my favorite places we stayed on the trip. The hotel was on the edge of an enormous hill, providing beautiful and unobstructed views of the valley. See below]

From K - India I

Anyway, Brad shared some nuggets of wisdom with us. Although he was preoccupied with his search for the Grail (which, according to him, extends into his multiple reincarnations and lifetimes), he managed to find some time to tell me about his prophetic dreams. Apparently a large earthquake will be striking the world, probably the West coast of the US, in the coming months. Now, I've heard (from scientific, reliable sources) that there is a pattern of major earthquakes hitting the Western US every few hundred years. So I guess it's not a completely improbable prediction. However, it's unlikely that it will happen so soon. I just thought I'd put it Brad's prediction out there. Don't say I didn't warn you.

All kidding aside, Mcleodganj was a perfect place for self-reflection. Nearing the end of our travels, it was nice to be in a calm place with cooler weather, high above the frantic chaos of Amritsar and the other Indian cities I had previously visited.

From K - India I

From K - India I

These pictures were taken on our first night in Mcleodganj. After arriving and eating a salad (my first vegetables after arriving in India), I watched the sunset on the balcony of Om Hotel while talking to one of the hotel's employees, a 32-year old former Tibetan monk.

From K - India I

Quite possibly the best part of traveling is meeting people with varied and unique lifestyles and histories. I would venture to say that my life experiences are almost diametrically opposed to those of Keso's, but it was powerful to talk to the exiled Tibetan and learn about his time in the monastery and his decision to leave his life as a monk. After visiting Tibet in 2008, I fell in love with the place andthe spirit of the people. Despite immense oppression and hardship, Tibetan culture is one of the the kindest and most peaceful on the planet.http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif

Here's to Tibet. May the Tibetan people soon be free of the injustice that leads to horrible events like this: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/27/world/asia/two-tibetan-monks-set-themselves-on-fire-in-protest.html

From K - India I