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Crispy quinoa salad with kale and apricots was a success. #vegan #vscocam

People are often impressed (or pretend to be impressed) when they see our garden. They think it’s because we are serious about hyper-local organic vegetables but the real reason I keep a garden is because I’m often too lazy to go to the supermarket and like the convenience of foraging for veggies in the backyard when I need to cook dinner.

Our apricot tree is just starting to bloom.  In the usual race to pick ripe apricots before the birds and squirrels get to them, I wanted a way to use not quite perfect apricots as well as a way to use the bountiful kale that’s in the garden.  I had some leftover cooked quinoa in the fridge I also wanted to use up.

As with all my dishes, I free-styled this one, so there’s not so much a precise recipe — more like a suggestion of how to throw things together.

Ingredients:

  • lacinato kale
  • 4-5 ripe but not too soft apricots
  • 1.5 cup cooked quinoa
  • almonds
  • a few sprigs holy basil
  • 1 shallot
  • orange marmelade
  • sherry vinegar
  • olive oil
  • aleppo pepper
  • ground cumin
  • ground ginger
  • salt and pepper

Instructions:

De-stem the kale, wash, and thoroughly dry. I use a salad spinner for this, but swinging it around in some kitchen towels also works.  Chop the kale roughly so the pieces are smaller than a dime. Put the kale in a large salad bowl and throw in a pinch of salt and a couple glugs of olive oil.  Now use your hands and massage the kale, making sure to distribute the oil and salt.  Don’t be afraid to squeeze the kale. After a minute of massage, set it aside. The kale will tenderize while you prepare the other ingredients.

Put a tablespoon of oil on a skillet and spread about half the amount of cooked quinoa out on the bottom of the skillet.  Sprinkle on some aleppo pepper. The quinoa should be in one layer.  The heat on the pan should be high enough that there’s a slight sizzling sound.  Keep an eye on the quinoa and toss and re-spread every couple of minutes to prevent burning.  In the meantime, in another pan, toast the almonds, tossing every few minutes to prevent burning.

Remove the pits from the apricot and chop roughly to the size of M&M’s.  Put the apricots in the bowl with the kale.

Now for the dressing. Get out a glass jar with lid to mix the salad dressing in.  Mince the shallots and put in the jar. Top with a few tablespoons of oil and 1/3 as much vinegar.  Throw in a pinch of salt and a pepper.  Put in half a teaspoon of orange marmalade, or more if you like your salad sweeter.  Put in a small pinch of cumin and a small pinch of ground ginger. Cap the jar and give it a good couple of shakes to mix everything up.

Finely chop the holy basil.

When the quinoa is toasted (took me 10 mins) the almonds should be done too. Chop up the almonds and add them to the kale.  Add the rest of the (untoasted) quinoa to the kale, and then add everything else (toasted quinoa, holy basil, toasted almonds) to the bowl. Top with the salad dressing and mix, mix, mix.  Taste the salad and add more salt if needed.  Serve and eat immediately.

I thought I had made enough to eat the leftovers for lunch tomorrow, which would also give me a chance to see how well this salad kept, but we ended up eating everything for dinner, so I have no idea if the quinoa would stay crispy or not, sorry.

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After doing a lot of research, playing around with specs, hemming, hawing, I had finally decided to call Tesla and schedule a test drive. The nearest place I could try out one of these new-fangled all-electric cars is in Costa Mesa, so a week after I called for an appointment, off I went.

On first glance, both Will and I thought it was weird that there would be a car dealership in a mall.  Technically, I guess it’s not a dealership, but more of a retail space. Kind of like an Apple store, but for very expensive gadgets.  Half an hour before my appointment, I received a call confirming that I was still showing up — yes I was.  When I got to the store in Costa Mesa mall, I was surprised to see two cars parked in there and a handful of people looking at it and taking turns sitting in the driver’s seat. I did not expect two full-sized cars in a store the size of a Sharper Image store.

One of the sales reps checked me into the appointment, got my driver’s license number to make sure I was a valid driver, and asked that I wait for another rep to come and take me for the test drive. The wait was longer than expected because another sales rep had mistakenly taken both sets of key fobs for both cars on the test drive they were on, so my sales rep and I had to wait for them. When we finally walked down to the garage, it turned out my rep had picked up the fob for the wrong car (I wanted to test drive a setup closer to what I would purchase) and had to go back up and switch.

When I finally sat behind the steering wheel, I was a little surprised. The car was parked in a tight spot that would have been pretty hard to back up out of had there not been parking sensors and that fish-eye rear camera. I wonder if that was intentional. Backing out of that was easier than I thought, but if I were the sales rep sitting in such an expensive, scratch-free car, I’d be biting my fingernails the whole time.

My first impression of the car was that it was wider than what I was used to and not as quiet as I was expecting.  My regular car is a Prius and that’s already plenty quiet, so maybe I was expecting complete silence in a Tesla. Maybe because the roads were still wet with rain, but I could definitely hear driving sounds.  The handling was also a bit different because acceleration was so much better and smoother than the acceleration in a Prius.  Because of the way the car was weighted, turning was more responsive or twitchy and probably something I’d have to get used to.

When we got to the freeway onramp (after a pretty sharp turn!) the sales rep said I should probably stomp on it to get up to freeway speed and I did and WOW, that sold me the car right then. I was at 75mph before the onramp even ended and it was not a long onramp! What impressed me the most was how smooth acceleration was. Maybe it’s the lack of gears shifting, but I barely felt it.  The instantaneous throttle makes it very easy to get to a high speed without even realizing it.

After deciding that I would like to purchase the car, I was dreading sitting for the next few hours getting it finalized.  If you’ve been to a traditional car dealer, you know what I’m talking about. I was unprepared for the Tesla soft sell.  The sales rep asked if I wanted to go over any of the different configurations or options and I declined, saying I already went over them on the site and I knew what I wanted.  We sat down to confirm the specs I wanted, he explained some add-ons that I had questions on but wasn’t pushy about it at all. He even agreed with me about the silliness of some of the options. After what seemed like only half an hour, he put in my information on the Tesla site, confirmed again that it was what I wanted, I gave him my credit card for the deposit amount, and then we were done!  He then disappeared to get us some “special gifts” for buying the car and returned with a folder of orientation and confirmation paperwork, two Tesla hats, and we were done!

It was the easiest, best, car buying experience I’d ever had.  I’m sure part of it was that I was buying an expensive car, but I was so happy not to have to deal with pushy sales people or hidden fees.

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There used to be a strange sounding Chinese restaurant bearing the word “Denmark” in its name and serving steak on their menu. I wasn’t ever curious enough to try it out but when it shuttered and a new Hunan place sprung in its stead, I was game.  If there was going to be a good Hunan restaurant near my house, I wanted to be the first to know.

On my first visit there, the restaurant was a little disorganized.  I saw that the table seated next to me got an interesting fish dish that I wanted to try too, but when I attempted to order it, the waiter admitted that they couldn’t make another serving because they couldn’t defrost the fish quickly enough.  When I asked if the corn in the corn and pine nuts dish was fresh, he said of course it was fresh — they get a fresh bag of frozen corn with each produce order.  The waiter was amazed when I told him it was possible to buy corn by the cob.

Although my conversation with the waiter left me a little apprehensive, I ordered food anyway.

Hunan Spicy Taste

The star of that meal was the hot and sour stir fried tendon.  Its rich, savory flavor was heightened by the powerful chili peppers and slight dash of vinegar.  The tendon itself was not melt-in-your-mouth soft, but had a satisfying chew.  I ordered this medium spicy and it had enough kick to give me pause.  By the time I got halfway through this dish, I was in pain but couldn’t stop eating it once the heat in my mouth died down.

Hunan Spicy Taste

Will ordered a few modified-to-be-vegetarian dishes that were decent.  The sliced tofu stir fried with green pepper was simple, but good and with a moderate amount of heat.  The stir fried napa cabbage with chili peppers was surprisingly good even though it sounded boring.  The fish-fragrant eggplant was supposed to be made vegetarian by omitting the meat, but it came with ground pork on it anyway.  Even with the pork, it didn’t taste that good.

Hunan Spicy Taste

The second time I visited, I ordered another round of the tendon, also medium spicy and it was even spicier than the first time.  As usual, I couldn’t stop eating it even though my mouth was in serious pain.

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Because we had more diners at the table, I was also able to order one of their specials: steamed fish head.  It was gigantic, with a good amount of meat on the head.  Picking the tender, perfectly spiced meat off the bones reminded me of eating tender fall-off-the-bone baby back ribs.  If there’s more than 3 people in your party who likes fish, I would recommend getting this dish.

For the vegetarian at the table, we got the stir fried cauliflower with chili peppers.  The florets were tender but still had a little bite to them and the chili gave it a different flavor than I’m used to when eating cauliflower. I thought the spice went well to cut down on the slightly stinky sulfur taste of cauliflower.

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We also ordered the water-boiled preserved bamboo, which had a good flavor, but was a little tough to chew in some spots. I don’t know if some of the bamboo was too dry or if the dish was supposed to be that chewy, but the pieces that were tender were pretty good.

Hunan Spicy Taste

Then there was the marinated Hunan noodle, which came with one type of noodles the first time I ordered it, and then came with a different type the second time.  I preferred the noodles from the second time because they were a bit thicker and had a chewy al dente texture that highlighted the cold, tender slices of braised beef laid on top.  If I were dining on my own, I’d probably just order that dish for a comforting lunch.

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There were some inconsistencies amongst dishes the two times I’ve visited Hunan Spicy Taste, but it’s close enough in the neighborhood and new enough that I’m willing to give them some leeway.

Hunan Spicy Taste
120 N San Gabriel Blvd
Ste C & D
San Gabriel, CA 91775
(626) 285-2966

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It may be presumptuous to say I’ve tasted the best burger of 2014 and it is Bel Campo’s cheeseburger, but hey, if I end up tasting a better burger, it will be a good problem to have.

This burger was the best I've had in a long time. Bel Campo knows how to make a good patty.

This $12.50 burger without fries was well worth it.  Happy, until humanely killed for their flesh, cows do taste better.  The patty was a loose, chopped patty that held together very well, but still managed to taste light.  The cheese enhanced rather than distracted from the beef flavor (I’m looking at you, Father’s Office blue-cheese-bomb burger).  The bun was airy but solid enough not to fall apart halfway through the burger.  The whole thing was juicy without being greasy (like an Umami burger).

In the guise of eating something more healthy, I ordered the spicy fried broccolini, which were the best broccolini I’d ever had.  The green was deep fried so the floret was crispy but the stem was still tender.  Tossed with an assertive, lemony and spicy dressing, it was the perfect foil to a perfect burger.  I didn’t even miss not having fries.

The only bad thing I can say about Bel Campo is that it makes choosing another sandwich from the menu or  anywhere else to eat in Grand Central Market very difficult.

Belcampo Meat Co.
Grand Central Market
317 S Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90013

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Disclaimer: LA Weekly is comping me 2 general admission tickets.

Tacolandia Flyer

Do you like tacos? Yes? I do too. That’s why I will be at Tacolandia in June.

Who: LA Weekly Tacolandia
What: 40+ Taco vendors.
Where: El Pueblo de Los Angeles (DTLA)
When: 3-7pm on June 28th
Why: Because tacos are delicious.

Some of the vendors I’m looking forward to:
Chichen Itza, Colonia Taco Lounge, Coni’Seafood, Mariscos Jalisco, Rocio’s Mole De Los Dioses.

General Admission tickets: $25
(Use the pre-sale code NAKEDSUSHI if you’d like to purchase tickets as early as Tuesday the 22nd.)

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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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