mundane food adventures, pt. 1

Sunday I went to the Hollywood Farmers market for the first time, forgetting my camera of course.  I once boasted, without ever coming to this market, that the OC farmers market was bigger and better, because, well, how couldn’t it be?  For all the things I hate about Irvine, the farmers market escapes being one of them, despite it’s location in the…despicable! yes despicable “University Town Center,” and of course the horrendous real housewives of Orange County.  And the possibility of running into a fellow graduate student, which, even if I like them, is not fun at 10am while hung over.

ANYWAY – Hollywood.  I’m in general curious about this whole ‘center’ part of LA where a lot of people live.  I figure there must be some particular and awesome reason that they live there, and I keep hoping to find out what this is.  But then I sometimes had similar thoughts about areas like Russian Hill in San Francisco (answer: doughnuts).  The farmers market might be a good reason to live in Hollywood.  First of all, it’s huge!  I mean, as far as farmers markets go, it’s really big, with two axis, one for produce, and the other for prepared food.  I didn’t try the prepared food, and I don’t really understand the idea of having prepared food next to a farmers market, but it was popular.  Anyway, the market itself seemed to have no lack of quality food.  There was a tomato fest going on that was pretty amazing – 10-15 different types of tomatoes on display, for eating.  I ended up with some herbs, chard, two expensive and crazy delicious tomatoes, pluots (of course), and, because I had recently seen Bobby Flay cook some up, squash blossoms.

Because of the price of the tomatoes (those two were $5), I almost regretted getting them, until I tried this bagel with basil leaves, cream cheese, salt and pepper.  They were (to again use food-network level of critical eloquence), insanely delicious.  They were like truffle oil tomatoes, in the sense I didn’t have to use a lot for things to taste really good. They are called ‘mango’ tomatoes, perhaps because of the color, but they are also really sweet and little tangy, and the flavor is very concentrated and intense.  It would probably be impossible to make anything using these tomatoes taste bad, unless you were intentionally trying.  This is why learning to cook in Italy is so easy – ingredients!

Anyway, after asking around on facebook, I decided to go for what is apparently a standard preparation for the squash blossoms: filled with ricotta (and in this case, mint), battered (in a beer batter with no eggs) and deep fried (in grapeseed oil).  It took a while, but they were really fantastic.  I served them (to myself) with Mark Bittman’s yogurt recipe (basically just yogurt, salt, pepper, garlic, lemon juice).  I also braised the chard using Deborah Madison’s recipe, and it was characteristically excellent.  Sorry, my food blogging photo skills leave something be desired, but you get the point:

Anyway, an excellent meal, and I still have a lot of produce left.  I think I’m actually going to make a tomato sauce with the other tomato!  I know you are supposed to eat really good fresh ingredients raw, but I like pasta more than salad, and I feel a simple sauce made with this tomato and the fresh basil will be…um, insanely delicious?  Very good.  Me like taste.  Something like that.


Hibernating Excrement

Friday, my friend Vicki came up from Irvine to spend a day in the big city.  Given that it was already the afternoon, we decided not to go to the Huntington library which will have to wait for another day.  Instead we went to Griffith park, which was nice but/and predictable, despite the terrible/normal pollution that limited visibility.  The real highlight of day occurred after when we went, sans camera because I’m an idiot, to Guelaguetza, a Oaxacan restaurant in Korea town that I had been hearing so much about.

So I’m realizing that Los Angeles is a great food town – better even than New York (especially if you’re on a budget) and San Francisco – because of its size and diversity.  I haven’t been here that long, and certainly have just started to explore the ‘food scene’ (?) here, so it’s probably terribly uncritical of me to fully accept Jonathan Gold’s thesis on why LA is the best food city in the country, but I do.  I’m probably most convinced by the fact that almost anything I get in this city, whether it’s at a nice-ish restaurant or eggs at an ordinary breakfast place, is really really good.    This was driven home by my recent trip back to Denver, where the food is not so great (my mother’s cooking aside, of course).

I’m also realizing that I am or am beginning to be a foodie.  I feel a little insecure about this because I grew up as a fairly unadventurous eater.  I was exposed coincidentally to south Indian cuisine, but was otherwise a high fructose corn syrup-eating suburbanite.  I liked the peanut-butter milkshake at Applebees and the fried shrimp at Red Lobster (but that was weekend food).   I certainly didn’t learn the secrets of my mom’s cooking.  It was only after I studied abroad in Bologna, Italy, that I developed a strong interest in food (and wine).  And even that’s a cliche.  And then I’m a vegetarian, which I feel holds me back from being a real foodie, though I have no interest in meat.

ANYWAY: Guelaguetza.  The decor wasn’t especially fancy; the place looked like an average taqueria.  The menu was pretty meat centered, as I knew it would be.  Vicki and I shared a three-tamale appetizer, one of which was corn with a hot sauce, one of which was made with black beans, and the third which had some kind of meat and mole.  Those were delicious, along with the chips which came with a thick, almost creamy, and pleasantly spicy red mole and queso fresco.  I ordered the empanada with huitlacoche.  Wikipedia defines huitlacoche as “smut disease” and adds this note concerning the etymology of the word: “Some sources give the etymology as coming from the Nahuatl words cuitla (“excrement” or “rear-end”) and cochtli (“sleeping”, from cochi=”to sleep”), thus giving a combined meaning of “sleeping/hibernating excrement.”  Yum!

Actually, it was yum (sidenote: if professional food writers can get away by describing food as having “bite” or “crunch” or being “good,” I think ‘yum’ is of comparable eloquence.  Just sayin’).  It sort of tasted like cooked greens but with more heft, a sensation of fullness that one gets from cheese.  I suppose this is called ‘Umami.’   The empanada of course also had chesse, actual corn, and grilled onions, and it was huge.  This was complemented by a pink-purple and white Horchata that had bits of sweet melon and cactus and was topped with walnuts.  Well, it was supposed to come with cactus, but maybe it was just cactus syrup, because all I could taste were the melons.  The nuts were a great addition as well, though the drink was a bit cloying towards the end.   Vicki and I were both extremely full after our meal.

Our night did not end there, though perhaps it should have.  But I’ll save that for another post.

they say an end can be a start…

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