Monday, October 22, 2012

Late-Blooming Peanut Butter Sandwich Love

In the last year, I've come to enjoy nut butter more than I ever did as a kid. I thought peanut butter & banana sandwiches were weird then. In college, I enjoyed the Nutella & banana combination, but I was always just as pleased without the banana.

Now, I can go through a jar of peanut butter in two weeks.

I think there's some correlation with the amount of time I've been spending outdoors, rock climbing and car camping. And because one of my friends has been arriving at our web series film shoots with a snack of peanut butter and celery. Peanut butter is easy. It feels healthy. In addition to its sweet and snacky uses, it can also be used for savory dishes like gado-gado.

My favorite variation on the PB&J lately is this:
Plump blueberries up close.
Eastern Sierra in the background.
Something I've always found irksome about the PB&J is how the jelly or jam or banana tends to make the sandwich slide apart. During my last camping trip, I inadvertently resolved this issue for myself: I didn't have any jam, but I wanted a fruity element, so I threw on some of the dried blueberries I'd brought for my oatmeal. The slivered almonds were unnecessary ('twas an experiment). I would have used a slightly thicker layer of peanut butter if this hadn't been the very last that I could scrape out of the jar.

Advantages of using dried blueberries instead of jam or jelly in a peanut butter sandwich:
  1. The chewiness of the dried fruit gave me more to sink my teeth into, which made the 'wich more satisfying.
  2. Dried fruit is lighter than a jar of jam and can also be used in oatmeal or as a snack in itself. Scooping up a handful of jam when you need a sugar boost is not very convenient.
  3. No need to worry about getting peanut butter in your jam or vice-versa.
  4. The sandwich does not slip apart. 
  5. Nothing got drippy. 
I imagine this would be just as good with most other dried berries, but I'll probably stick to these dried wild blueberries from Trader Joe's. A dash of cinnamon is always a good idea. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

Leftover Salmon? Avocado? Bread?

Avo-toast with extra protein. Salmon is great cold, so it's worth making more than you can eat in one sitting-- as long as you don't over cook it. Just-done-enough salmon tastes much better (I think), and will taste better the next day if you decide to re-heat it. 
Lots of freshly ground black pepper, a pinch of salt, and a squeeze of lemon.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Skyline to the Sea Menu

Photo by Caroline Le.
I recently went on a backpacking trip along the last 12 miles of the Skyline to the Sea Trail, starting at Big Basin Redwoods State Park and ending at Waddell Beach. When I learned that I would have to create my own meals, I panicked for a second, intimidated by the prospect, and proclaimed that I would probably live on dried fruit, nuts, and oat bars. My friend then offered to double up on her own menu and showed it to me. And I realized I was being silly-- I just had to plan out two breakfasts, three lunches, and two dinners. Not a big deal at all!

Considerations of preparation, weight, and space had to be made, but all it took was to think about it for a little while.

What I brought:

Breakfast (all days):
oatmeal with cinnamon, raisins, dried cranberries, and slivered almonds
yerba mate tea

Lunch (all days):
baby Gala apple
English Cheddar with caramelized onions
whole wheat naan

Dinner 1:
Trader Joe's boil-in-the-bag Saag Paneer (in the canned good section)
whole wheat naan
chamomile tea

Dinner 2:
Trader Joe's boil-in-the-bag Channa Masala (?)
whole wheat naan
chamomile tea

Snacks & Goodies:
5 oz dried apricots
3 dark chocolate oat bars
1 Ritter Sport dark chocolate with whole hazelnuts

Can you tell I did all my shopping at Trader Joe's?


- Packed way too much oatmeal and ended up consuming at least 2 portions each day. Oops. Measure 1/2 cup servings out next time. Packed oats with raisins, cranberries, and cinnamon already mixed in, a small amount of almonds in a foil packet. Brought 4 yerba mate tea bags. Considered bringing instant coffee, but decided the mate would be better/less fuss. Ate the oatmeal out of the pot both days.

- Whole wheat naan was a great idea: hearty, could handle potential squishing, went well with both cheese and Indian fare. Stayed soft even at room temperature, and was even better when I let it steam on the Jetboil lid.

- The English Cheddar with caramelized onions gave my simple ploughman's lunch an appetite-sating savoriness. Since temps were only in the upper 60s to mid-70s each day, I didn't have to worry about the big chunk of cheese going bad without refrigeration. Baby gala apples were just the right size.

- Boil-in-bag Indian Fare: I took them out of the boxes and wrote abbreviated instructions on the bags themselves. Hope Sharpie chemicals didn't leech too much into the water. Instructions say to let sit in boiling water for 3-5 minutes, but I put the bags in the water (which other folks were boiling for their Mountain House meals) from the beginning, and by the time the water boiled, the food was plenty hot. The downside is that you end up carrying that liquid weight around until you eat it.

Each packet was a very healthy size serving for me. I was pretty impressed with the flavor and spice level. Those with more sensitive stomachs will want to pass on this for camping food, though. Unless you don't mind potentially hanging out in (sometimes gawd-awful) pit latrines or hovering over catholes for a long time.

- Dark chocolate is always a good idea. Always.

I've had a tendency to overpack food, and I wanted to make sure this time was different. When I finished the last of my food during our lunch stop on the 9.5-mile hike back, I felt sweet, sweet pride.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Opening Oysters in Santa Barbara

My friend Mary Rose introduced me to the joys of buying fresh oysters from the fish market, then taking them home and opening them ourselves. Popping the blunt point of a knife into the hinge, then carefully slicing the attachment from the top of the shell. 

A squeeze of lemon is all you need (and maybe not even that). Salty, creamy, fresh. Though I love the way they do them at Hama Sushi, with ponzu (?), green onion, and a little roe, the satisfaction of prying the shells open myself and then slurping down the flesh is hard to beat.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Project 365 Abandonment // Chilaquiles de Catalina

The first time I ever had chilaquiles was during a student leadership conference in high school. We were at UC Santa Barbara, where we got a taste of dorm living and commons eating. And those first chilaquiles have always stuck with me. During a trip to Catalina Island last year, I decided to try my hand at making them myself:

Leftover tortillas, eggs, cheese, leftover salsa.
And I've decided to abandon my 365 project, at least until this period of transition and absorbing new surroundings is over. I'm still cooking, eating, and growing, and it is all delicious.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Project 365 - Day 12 // My Favorite Khmer Dessert

It involves durian. I don't understand what the fuss is about regarding the supposed scent. Durian has never smelled foul to me. I guess I'm missing that gene? While I didn't always like the texture of fresh durian as a child, I hardly reacted to it the way so many people in popular culture do. 

My favorite Khmer dessert dish involves durian, sugar, coconut milk, and glutinous rice:

The Khmer word for it is something like "sohn-schia." At least, that's the best I can do to anglicize it. The sauce is creamy and sort of aromatic. My mother knows I swoon when she makes this. It's definitely a comfort food for me. One of these days I'm going to attempt it myself. Glutinous rice intimidates me. I'll have to get over it. The older I get, the more I realize I have to really start learning how to cook Cambodian food myself, or I'll have to depend on restaurants whose food will never be quite like (or quite as good) as my mama's.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Project 365 - Day 11 // Tomato Legacy

This picture of last year's tomatoes is blurry, but I don't care because they were amazing. They were so good that people were devouring them like mad.

I was quite proud of these because they were so tasty; they actually impressed my parents, which is no easy task considering how well they grow things. For some reason my tomatoes came out much sweeter than theirs last year. This year's tomatoes have a lot to live up to.

To be honest, these tomatoes grew from seeds I saved from grocery store tomatoes, so I'm not sure whether they're genetically modified, but the difference is that these were all allowed to ripen on the vine rather than picked while green and gassed to redness.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Project 365 - Day 10 // The Park's Finest-Glazed Catfish

I love catfish. I love The Park's Finest barbecue sauce. They were meant to be. 

I took a catfish filet, massaged some of the sauce into it, then pan-roasted it. Delicious with brown rice and a pseudo-succotash.

Read about The Park's Finest BBQ: BBQ That Hits Home:

Overall, The Park's Finest serves up damn fine BBQ, and it's almost a relief that the food lives up to the moniker. Because at a time when even food trucks have well-oiled public relations machines, you can't help but want to root for a truly homegrown place, like this one, that unabashedly posts up homages to labor leader Philip Vera Cruz at its entrance, serves its own version of soul food and digs deep into its own roots to potentially become a neighborhood safe space of sorts.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Project 365 - Day 9 // Do You Polish Your Blueberries?

My friend Claire's favorite way to eat blueberries is to carefully wipe them, one by one, before popping them in her mouth. She was passionate about the difference it makes. It's true!
Shiny blueberry, shiny rings.
Loving effort makes food taste better, or at least more satisfying. This reminds me of the way I used to eat bananas: I'd nibble away the first layer of flesh, then chomp down the center, which I'm convinced is much sweeter. Bananas' center has a nicer texture. While eating them this way may look weird, it makes Cavendish bananas taste much better. The small Asian bananas taste better, too, but their texture is so good and they're so sweet that the difference isn't as significant.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Project 365 - Day 8 // My Apple Tree at 14 Months

The apple tree lost nearly all of its leaves over the winter, and I thought it was a goner.
I was wrong.

I moved it from the spot by my door where it received 3-4 hours of full sun to a spot where it received 6-8 hours of full sun, and it loves it. 

I'm so glad the tree is doing so well; I'm afraid of whether it will survive my transient lifestyle, and I'm also wary to leave someone with the burden of caring for it. But my parents are good candidates.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Project 365 - Day 7 // Deadly Cute Basil

I had a late start with spring planting this year. Meaning I didn't plant anything, just watched as seeds from last year's fallen tomatoes sprouted up, then died from lack of care. I admit it; having a full-time job does take energy away from being able to garden. Especially when the garden's in an area like mine: outside of my apartment, downstairs in the parking lot, where perils abound.

So, I've taken most of my gardening indoors. This was also necessary since I'm afraid of the seedlings drying out too quickly and dying. 
I've never planted Greek basil before, and I squealed to myself when I saw these sprouts first pop up. The cotyledon leaves are so adorable, like something out of a cartoon. (These aren't the seeds I gathered; these are bought. I thought it'd be nice to have a variety of basil. Those are rolling about my apartment somewhere... my poor roommate.)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Project 365 - Day 6 // It's My Birthday & I'll Cook If I Want To

I turned 27 this year. It felt like a good time for a change; meaning, instead of my parents cooking a birthday meal for me, I cooked for them. It felt only right to thank them for bringing me to this sweet life where there are so many delicious things to eat. Also, mothers are always dubious about whether you can actually cook for yourself even if you tell them that you do it all the time.

The birthday dish I concocted was a massive amount of salmon (I bought enough for about 8 people when there were only 4 of us), and about a quart of spinach, cooked. 

Salmon, spinach, sesame seeds. 
I baked the salmon in a sort of pseudo-teriyaki sauce: 2 parts soy sauce, 1 part sugar, three or four cloves of minced garlic, and a tablespoon or so of grated ginger. The spinach I just washed, tossed in a pan with a little extra water, and let it wilt down, adding a pinch of salt. I piled the spinach in the center of a big plate, then splayed the salmon on top. Sesame seeds to garnish just felt right since I was already channeling Japan. 

My parents made the rice; I didn't feel the need to prove that part. And of course, because I have the reputation of impoverished artist/community-person in my family, they sent me home with all the leftovers. Salmon and spinach and sesame seeds for days. I didn't complain. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Project 365 - Day 5 // I Need More Cubans In My Life

This is the Cuban sandwich and french fries I had at the Trolley Car Diner when I visited Pennsylvania in 2009. 
The roast pork was oh-so-good. I wonder whether it's still as delicious. I don't remember whether I used Yelp in 2009, but it has good reviews there

I want fries all the time. All the damn time.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Project 365 - Day 4 // Overcrowding Does Reduce Growth

My pot of who-knows-how-many chamomile seedlings is a fine example of overcrowding inhibiting growth. After a year, they were still tiny. The small container probably had something to do with it, too.
I finally re-potted them and one of the plants seems to be taking off a little bit. Once it fluffs up a bit more, I'll post a picture of that, too.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Project 365 - Day 3 // Tangerine, Neat & Clean

A year or two ago I got into the habit of peeling my tangerines & clementines in a sort of star / flower petal pattern.
I like starting at the flavedo end. There's something so satisfying about having that star-shaped peel in my hand at the end.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Project 365 - Day 2 // The Pea that Didn't Make It

Ah, Pea, we hardly knew ye.

I neglected this poor, sweet pea plant during our February heat wave. Alas, Los Angeles.

I want to plant another in a pot indoors but I know it's too warm and I'd just be setting myself and the seed up for another heartbreak.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Project 365 - Day 1 // Gua-cado

The goal: to post a photo a day until June 14, 2013. Today's as good a day to start as any.

Guacamole made in an avocado. A byproduct of how hard I try to avoid washing dishes.

Chopped red onion, salt, lemon

Chopped serrano chile

Mish mash mosh, nosh.
Previous avocado post here.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Art of Leftovers // Shortrib Taco

Inspired by a combination of my mama (who is the champion of making leftovers new again) and Roy Choi.

The situation: Leftover shortribs from my roommate's Memorial Day barbecue, toasted sesame seeds, my mama's home-pickled mustard greens (home-grown by my papa), sriracha sauce, and tortillas that desperately needed to be eaten.
I chopped the shortrib into little pieces and tossed them into a hot pan to get those crispy edges I so love a la carne asada. I threw the bones into the pan, too, in hopes of getting some marrowy flavor out of 'em.
Toasted the tortilla directly on the gas flame until tender and just barely starting to char, added chopped meat, chopped pickled greens, sriracha, and sesame seeds. And didn't even have to log on to Twitter, drive anywhere, or stand in line. Nom.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Harvesting Basil Seeds

Plants are amazing. Once the basil flowers dry and turn brown, the little black seeds can be harvested for later.

So rewarding. And basil sproutlings are adorable. These photos are from last year. Now, where did I put those seeds...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

All Green Everything

A fun box from my personal CSA a few months ago. Those are the bitter melons that went into the Southeast Asian roomie soup. So pretty.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Garden Update: Parsley Loves Chilly Weather

While the tomato plants were on their last gasps and the basil plant clung on for dear life (and the swiss chard just kept doing its thing), the parsley started to go wild. My previous parsley-growing experiences were far from successful, but maybe that's because I started in the springtime. This photo was taken about a month ago; now it is pretty much a parsley bush. A friend says that parsley pesto is her favorite. I'll have to give it a shot before the parsley goes completely out of control. Wildness!

In other news, I planted about 10 "Packed for 1999" carrot seeds and at least three of them sprouted! Along with some beets and some errant tomato plants. I'll plant sunflower seeds by the end of February so that this year's tomato plants will be able to hang onto their tall stalks. Hopefully the bees do okay so I'll have fewer empty shells this time around. And my friend Claire will have a bigger home-grown sunflower seed bounty to nibble on.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Mycologist Needed

Spotted these pretties growing around a patio in Downtown Los Angeles. Wonder if they're edible. 

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Five Things Learned in 2011

1. Salsa verde and chile verde are amazingly easy to make. And extremely delicious. Peeling the papery skin off of tomatillos to reveal their sticky, smooth, green skins is so satisfying. Just throw them in a pan with some pricked jalapenos, stick them under a broiler until their skins are dark brown, then throw them in a blender with some onions, garlic, chile, and salt. It's magic. Tomatillo salsa! Then brown some chunks of pork shoulder, pour off the excess fat, and add tomatillo salso to just barely cover it (add water or broth if necessary), and simmer for a couple of hours, or until tender. This is how I ate mine:
Corn tortillas, chopped red onion, chopped red cabbage, queso fresco, and Cholula (not yet applied).
2. I can make my own half-and-half. Why this did not occur to me before confounds me. I mix milk and cream in a little jam jar so that I can shake it up before adding it to my morning coffee. My home-kitchen version of homogenization? The advantage of making half-n-half instead of buying it is that I always have both cream and milk on hand. The disadvantage is that I always worry about one or the other spoiling. But since I make my own chocolate syrup, I can just guzzle hot chocolate with whipped cream in case of an emergency...

3. Toast steel cut oats in a dry pan first to make them cook a little faster and taste a lot better. Well, it tastes better if you like your oatmeal with a nuttier flavor. I sometimes soak steel cut oats in a jar overnight if I need to cook them quickly in the morning, and I found that if I don't toast them first, the finished product is too oozy and almost slimy. I just gently toast the oats (in a little butter if I'm feeling sassy) in the pan until I can smell the toasty-oaty aroma, then add water and simmer for twenty or so minutes. The other day I forgot about the pot on the stove. The edges were burnt and dry, but the 1/3 of a cup left in the middle was salvaged with some jam, almond butter, and cinnamon.

4. Dried sour cherries and dried tart cherries are very, very different. I bought sour cherries from Whole Foods and they were delicious; sticky, sour-sweet, and plump. The next time I went, there were only "tart" cherries. I snuck a taste and it didn't taste exactly right, but I got some anyway. When I got home and tried to eat a few more the next night, they were almost bitter, a bit dry, and miles from the lovely sour cherries that I'd had a week earlier. I was so disappointed in them that I actually went and returned them. Now I will wait until I see dried sour cherries in the bulk section. And I'll taste more than one. Shhhh.

5. Homemade cookies make people happy, even if they're mediocre. At least, I thought that most of my attempts were mediocre at best, but my friends and officemates seemed to enjoy them. I tried out apple cinnamon oatmeal bars, cherry chocolate chip almond oatmeal, and oatmeal chocolate chip almond. None of them had the crisp edges and chewy centers that I want in a cookie, so I guess I have to keep trying. Baking is the area in which I am least confident because I'm not very disciplined with my measurements-- except with brownies. They are forgiving. They do not intimidate me in the slightest. Brownies and I have an understanding that cookies and I have not yet reached. Maybe in 2012.