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The dearth of upscale vegan restaurants in LA should have been a reason for me to visit Crossroads earlier, but I got put off by the distance and price.  Since we mostly go to omnivore restaurants when we want cloth-napkin food and so far, they’ve been stellar (Providence, AOC, n/naka), I didn’t want to take the risk of paying a lot for a vegan meal that was less than satisfying.  It’s funny because we both really like Tal Ronnen’s Kite Hill cheese, but not enough to try his other cooking. When I read that Ricardo Zarate was going to do a Sunday Supper at Crossroads as a guest chef, I finally decided to give it a try. I loved Mo-Chica when it was in its original location and have always wanted Will to try it.

Eggplant ceviche. Zarate does vegan at #crossroads #sundaysupper. So delicious. Wish he'd put more vegan items on the regular Mo Chica menu.

They called the first course an eggplant ceviche.  The eggplant had a wonderful charred, smokey taste and the spicy, acidic dressing did make me think of traditional ceviche.

Then we had a plantain-based cake with sauce topped with what I think was a shiitake chip that tasted like bacon.  The plantain had a chewy,  dry texture that went really well with the slightly funky sauce.

Next were grilled vegetables on a plate of quinoa, which sounds boring but these were probably the best grilled vegetables I’d had in a long time. They were still firm and crisp, but had a wonderful charred taste. Will and I always make fun of quinoa because it’s so good for you, but tastes so boring, but Zarate’s quinoa was wonderful. It was fluffy, flavorful, and interesting thanks to the crispy quinoa sprinkled throughout.

Then came both my favorite and least favorite part of the meal. I think this was some sort of bulgur or barley stew that was so rich and creamy that I couldn’t believe it was vegan.  I could have a giant bowl of this topped with pickled onions and be happy. The bad part was the meatball topping. It clashed with the rest of the dish and tasted like an Ikea meatball or one of those soy meatballs I used to get at Trader Joe’s. I’m not one who thinks every meal should have something meaty or fake-meaty, so I would have been happy with some assertive tasting vegetable on top instead of the meatball.

Dessert were these fried pieces of dough which were satisfying and chewy. They were sauced with some sort of fig reduction which while good, was a little too sweet and cloying for me.  Will had no problem jumping at the opportunity to finish my dessert for me.

I’m so glad I went to Sunday Supper when Zarate was cooking.  It was nice to finally introduce Will to his type of cooking and flavors, but now it makes me sad that we won’t have a meal like this ever again. The tangy, spicy, assertive taste of Peruvian cooking is something that we both like, but it’s so hard to find Peruvian dishes that are also vegan.

Crossroads Kitchen
8284 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90046
(323) 782-9245

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Poor Will has to accompany to places like Class 302, Fluff Ice, Blockheads and Pa Pa Walk and watch me eat delicious shaved snow.  Because he’s vegan, places like those don’t have much in the way of cold desserts for him. That’s why when I read about Snow LA Shavery, I knew we had to visit.

Fluff Ice claimed to have non-dairy shaved snow, which one would think is vegan, but what they call non-dairy still contains dairy, if you ask to read the ingredients list on their blocks of shaved snow.

His and hers shaved snow. Chocolate for me. Vegan banana shaved snow for him. #snowlashavery

Luckily, Snow LA Shavery, the K-town shaved snow spot is more accurate with their non-dairy shaved snow — going as far as calling it vegan.  Their banana snow cream is a creamy almond-milk based shaved snow with a lot of banana flavor.  Adding the banana was a smart choice because it gives frozen vegan stuff that a rich creaminess without relying on dairy.

I got the chocolate shaved snow and it was fantastic. A rich, chocolatey flavor that wasn’t too sweet and was very light and fluffy in texture.  I got mine topped with a combination of dulce de leche and chocolate syrup as well as some walnuts and almonds.  It was perfect.

I like that the place has the self-serve toppings bar, like the frozen yogurt shops so that you’re free to add as many or as few toppings as you want.  They weigh it when you’re done to calculate the total price.

On the one hand, I’m sad that Snow LA Shavery isn’t in the SGV and on the other, it’s a good thing it’s a further drive away. If it were closer, the temptation to eat shaved snow all the time would be too hard to resist.

SnowLA Shavery
3470 West 6th Street #2B
Los Angeles, CA 90020

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Ferberizing, attended cry it out, progressive waiting, no matter what you call it there are those who claim any form of cry it out is tantamount to child abuse.  After a week of sleep training Robin thru the Ferber method, all I have to say is, “What was I afraid of??”

For the first five months of her life, Robin slept in bed with us.  It was easier on all of us when we co-slept. At around four months, she ran into sleep regression. How she could regress in sleep when she never progressed in sleep is beyond my understanding. Anyway, she would half wake-up and fuss every hour or hour and a half and want to comfort nurse. The only way to keep her happy would be to pop a boob in her mouth, which meant I was waking every hour or so the whole night for four weeks. It was not sustainable, especially since I was also working full time during the day, so it wasn’t like I could nap when she napped.

We first tried some techniques from the No Cry Sleep Solution book, but for us, they were all More Cry Sleep No-Solutions. Everything seemed to wind her up and make her cry more. She would get mad at us for not giving her what she wanted: to comfort nurse.  I was apprehensive about progressive waiting aka the Ferber method, since it seemed like a huge jump for Robin to from sleeping with us in our bed and nursing every hour or so to sleeping by herself for long stretches of the night. It didn’t seem possible without days of crying and screaming from her, but by then, I was desperate for anything that would give me more than two hours of sleep at a time.

Being an engineer, the Ferber method appealed to me. There were clear instructions to follow and logically, it made sense.  We modified it so that during the comforting part, we would pick her up. So I guess our sleep training was a combination of the Ferber Method and Pick Up / Put Down.

The first night, we used the 3, 5, 7, 10 minute intervals.  Robin cried for about 25 minutes (with us checking in between intervals for 1 minute), then fell asleep.  She woke up to nurse once during that night, I put her down in the crib and she went right back to sleep for 2 hours. After that, she woke up, nursed again, and wouldn’t calm back down when we put her back in the crib, so we brought her back into bed with us at 4am.  Although she didn’t sleep as long as I had hoped, I was amazed that she slept as well as she did.  If that first night hadn’t gone so well, I probably wouldn’t have been so enthusiastic about continuing the sleep training that way. As it was, I was paranoid that it was beginner’s luck!

The second night, she fussed a few minutes, babbled, and then fell promptly asleep. Woke up before 12, ate, then slept for more than 7 hours straight! In the morning, I had to wake her up because I was worried she’d gone too long without eating.

The subsequent nights went roughly the same, with us increasing the waiting intervals each night up to the 15, 17, 20 minute intervals.  While Ferber recommends going longer, that was about as long as I was willing to let her really cry.  Overall, we didn’t let her cry for more than an hour (with check-ins). It seemed like if she didn’t wind down after that amount of time, she wasn’t going to wind down at all.

The improvement wasn’t at all linear. For example, she did great the 5th night and cried only 5 minutes before falling asleep, but on the 7th night, she cried hard for 15 minutes, Will went in to comfort her, and then she cried for another 15 minutes.  I read somewhere that sleep training is like a dance: a few steps forward, a few steps back.  That’s an accurate way to describe it. On the 8th night, I put her into the crib and she didn’t cry at all and went promptly to sleep! The same had been happening after her middle of the night feedings.

That’s not to say the Ferber method is for everyone.  Every baby is different.  If Robin hadn’t responded so well the first night, we probably would have tried something different. But with the extra sleep she was getting, she seemed much happier in the morning when she woke up on her own. Because we were flexible about the entire plan, willing to comfort her early if she was crying really hard, it turned out okay and we don’t feel guilty at all about it, like I worried about going into this.

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Sometimes, what you’re looking for is right in your backyard. In this case, what I was looking for was right in my parents’ backyard and had been for years.  Since the winter heat wave, I’ve been craving the refreshing acidity of good ceviche.  An internet search yielded El Pollon, a Peruvian shack a stone’s throw from where I grew up in Montebello.

I met up with my cousin and we coordinated about what to order from the menu. We both agreed that the ceviche and lomo saltado were musts.  She mentioned a seafood chowder she had when she went to Machu Picchu and we found something similar on the menu, so we ordered that as well.

Ceviche mixto from El Pollon hit the spot.

The ceviche mixto was a hearty serving of lime-cured fish, shrimp, squid, one mussel, and maybe some scallops.  This dish could stand alone as a meal. They even helpfully included cooked sweet potato for those who want some starch to round out a meal.  The seafood tasted fresh, the marinating liquid was tangy and salty, and the crunchy corn bits and sliced onion added a nice contrast to the dish. I loved it.

Lomo saltado from El Pollon. So savory and garlicky!

The lomo saltado is probably enough to feed two people.  It comes with a healthy mound of garlicky rice to go with the soy sauce and spiced strips of beef.  In case the rice doesn’t have enough carbs, there’s also a bed of once-crisp fries on the bottom of the beef to soak up the sauce from the stir fry.  I thought this dish was fine, but I’m no lomo saltado expert.

Seafood soup with coconut milk and a poached egg. El Pollon.

The chupe de camarones that came out really sealed to our gluttony. It was a soul-warming stew of shrimp, a poached egg, and rice.  The milk in the broth gave it a satisfying creaminess but wasn’t overly rich thanks to the spicing in it.  I could imagine downing a giant bowl of this in cold weather.

The star of the meal was definitely the ceviche, but the other dishes were tasty as well.  I’d come with a couple of friends though, because I said, the servings here tend to favor those with healthy appetites or people who are sharing.

El Pollon
5100 E Beverly Blvd
East Los Angeles, CA 90022
(323) 265-1500

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Disclaimer: I have never had the traditional version of this soup, so I don’t know if this tastes legit or not. What I do know is that it tastes good and is a welcome spin on the usual kale and potato stew that I’m a little sick of having.

Vegan caldo verde and broccoli romanesco from my garden.

With a few hours gained back while we sleep train Robin, Will and I started watching the latest season of Top Chef again.  In one episode, Emeril Lagasse surprises the contestants, who are returning from a hard day in the kitchen, by making them caldo verde for dinner.  It’s a Portuguese kale stew that usually has chorizo in it.  Since I love kale and I love chorizo, I thought I would veganize it for dinner one night.

The hardest part about making this vegan is the chorizo part. Since it’s Portuguese, I’m assuming the proper thing to use is Spanish chorizo, not the Mexican kind, but good luck finding a vegan version of Spanish chorizo in stores.  I approximated by buying seitan shaped like crumbled or ground meat and that was already seasoned with garlic and onion powder.  I wanted it to have more of a Spanish chorizo flavor, so I sauteed it with half a chopped onion, lots and lots of Spanish paprika, a healthy dash of cayenne pepper, ground aleppo pepper, ground sumac, more salt, and a glug of sherry vinegar.  When I tasted it, it still didn’t taste like Spanish chorizo, but hey, one can only go so far, right?

The soup also contained sliced onions, 2 cloves garlic, 3 chopped yukon gold potatoes, and kale. Lots and lots of kale. I may have gone overboard with the kale, but hey, it’s winter and kale is in season! I used a mixture of laccianato kale from my garden and redbor (aka purple) kale.  The redbor kale had such a fantastic texture in the stew.  Both crunchy and tender at the same time.  I bought it from “The Beards” at the Sunday Hollywood Farmer’s market — that’s not really their farm’s name but I can never remember. They always have fantastic produce: sweet, ripe cantalope in summer, and tender, fresh kale in winter.

The soup only took about 45 mins to make and most of the work was me tweaking the taste of the vegetarian chorizo.  After the soup was done, I tasted it and thought, “Well, it’s good, but it’s not as good as I wanted it to be and certainly not as good as if there were real chorizo in it.” But when I got to the bottom of my bowl, maybe because the broth had a chance to cool off and the flavors melded more, but I liked it better.  It’s rich, spicy, smokey, and hearty — just what I wanted in a kale stew.

And if that wasn’t enough brassica for the meal, I served the stew with a side of broccoli romanesco mainly because I needed to harvest them from my garden before the heads started to bolt. I served them plainly steamed and tossed with a quick dressing I pounded in the mortar and pestle. The dressing was: preserved lemon, garlic, cilantro, salt, paprika, olive oil.

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When people talk about the future of books and adding interactivity like videos to ebooks, I’ve always been skeptical.  What’s wrong with the existing way people interact with books — turning the page for new content?  I’m a happy owner of a Paperwhite Kindle and have read hundreds of books on it without complaint.  I don’t think I’d appreciate all the distractions an interactive ebook would pose — sometimes I just want to unplug a little and read a book like I would a dead-tree book.

That was my thinking before downloading the Sunset Magazine iPad app.  I’d been subscribed to it ever since Will gifted me a a subscription two or three years ago. I think early in the subscription, Will tried getting the digital copy online and it was a terrible experience because we had to get it through some third party app and it just wasn’t worth it.

Recipes and tips

Fast forward a year or so and now there’s a standalone app and it’s wonderful!  While I may not want my regular books to be interactive, I can now appreciate how useful it is to have a magazine be more interactive.  The pictures and design are gorgeous on the iPad’s retina screen, but best of all is how intuitive the app is.  Swipe to change articles. Scroll down to read more of the same article. There are boxes and bubbles I can tap to view more information. It all just works so well.

Letters To Sunset

The only thing that doesn’t work so well are the ads, which sometimes are displayed jarringly because they were sold to be the size to fit in a physical magazine, but look out of place on their own in the app.  I’m sure they’ll work it out once they figure out how to sell different ads in the iOS version of the magazine.

After using the Sunset app, when I went back to using the Harper’s Magazine app, the difference was jarring.  Sunset illustrates how a digital magazine should be. Harper’s illustrates how it shouldn’t.

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Will and I had our first experience with Gracias Madre in San Francisco.  At peak dining time, the restaurant was packed and we had to wait fifteen minutes for a table in the chilly outside patio.  When he read that the restaurant opened a location in Los Angeles a few months after, we decided to make the trek out of suburbia to West Hollywood and give it a try.

A pomelo margarita and a pineapple and guava agua fresca. Both were good.

The decor of the West Hollywood location is straight out of a Pinterest design board. Large windows let in plenty of light while white tiled tables give the place a vaguely ethnic flair.  Hanging air plants, rustic light fixtures, and a large outdoor seating area to enjoy the sunshine make the restaurant a welcoming place, despite the line of beautiful, fashionable people in designer sunglasses waiting for seating.

Gracias Madre is a completely vegan restaurant serving Mexican food.  There’s not a lot of these in LA, so it there was a novelty factor in our coming here.

We shared a very good cauliflower appetizer.  Florets of cauliflower were seasoned with cumin and other spices and then deep fried, not to golden perfection, but close enough.  Dipped in their table-side red salsa, it was a promising start to the meal.

I ordered the entree tamal, which had some sort of squash stuffing and came with a side of black beans. The tamal was decent and the squash wasn’t overly sweet like I was fearing.  The accompanying pickled vegetables were in a bad place between unrefined and rustic.  The sad spoonful of pico de gallo looked and tasted out of place. The beans were quite good smeared on a bite of tamal.  This dish was okay, but for $13, I wanted more than ‘okay.’ I know that the price of the dish reflects the localness of the ingredients, paying the servers, rent, etc. but I do wish it were more exciting than “one tamale and a side of beans.”

Will had the chilaquiles, which weren’t bad.  They weren’t the best chilaquiles I’ve had, and not even the best vegan version I’ve had.  They also came with a side of those tasty black beans.

For dessert, I had a rich, custardy house-made flan. Impressive for a vegan dessert. It tasted more of vanilla than caramel and best of all, didn’t taste vegan.  Will had an apple cobbler with house-made vanilla ice-cream that was large enough to share.  I’m usually not that excited by apple desserts, but even I have to admit this one was good. Just the right amount of spice, tartness, and restrained sweetness.

When Will went outside after the meal, some passerby’s asked him if the food was good. He said something along the lines of  ”The food is good if you’re vegan and you want Mexican-type food and you don’t mind paying a lot for it.”

Gracias Madre
8905 Melrose Ave
West Hollywood, CA 90069
(323) 978-2170

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