Sunday, July 10, 2016

Summertime Blues: Regression and Blueberry Muffins

When I was a kid in the ready-mix 1970s, blueberry muffins were a major treat, made from that Betty Crocker mix that came with a tiny can of "wild blueberries." The blueberries were tiny dark and mysterious orbs swimming in an inky pool of liquid, presumably from Maine or some other exotic locale far removed from Southern California, where the only crops we could boast of were citrus, concrete, and smog.

Years later, when access to large and flavorful fresh blueberries was possible, it never occurred to me to want blueberry muffins, mainly because as a yummy superfood, blueberries are so good on their own. However, this recipe from the Zabar's recipe blog got me with its superbly lit photo of blueberry muffins, bursting with fruit. This weekend, I decided that regression would be a good antidote after the rigors of a shortened work week and fighting the scourge of a flea invasion - raccoon(s) having taken refuge under the house a couple of weeks ago, leaving their vermin-esque calling card.

I woke up today feeling as if I had been on a treadmill for nine hours - to be specific, a treadmill with a washer and dryer attached it it. I spent yesterday emptying my closet, bagging garments that potentially had fleas or eggs. I laundered everything that could be washed and have several piles of clothes for the dry cleaner. To bolster the efforts of the pest control company that sprayed inside and outside the house, I sprinkled the carpets and closets with salt, which is supposed to act as a desicant and dehydrate the fleas to extinction.

So far, it seems to be working. The itchy feeling is lessening and the fleas that I've found seem bloated and near death. It has been a terrible, unclean feeling, itching away after just having taken a shower, or even away from home, when I've found the odd flea, bloated and near death from gorging itself on my veins.

I realize these are first-world problems. But these days, even the first world doesn't seem all that safe, in the wake of evildoings and the snuffing out of lives here at home and across the globe. The Boomtown Rats' song, "I Don't Like Mondays," which was about a school shooting, seemed like a farce back in the day. Although based on real events, the idea that someone would do such a horrible thing was unthinkable. Today, flags being flown at half-mast is the new normal; I think we would stop in surprise if it was displayed aloft and proud again.

The most benign definition of regression that I could find on Merriam-Webster.com defines it as "reversion to an earlier mental or behavioral level." With all that happens today, a bit of regression probably wouldn't be such a bad thing. Maybe we could all go back to finding joy in things like the promise of unknown treasures like a can of tiny blueberries grown in a far-off place.

NOTES:

1) The "batter" will resemble more of a dough; don't be scared off, it bakes beautifully.
2) Eat with a fork - the abundance of blueberries makes these muffins impossible to handle, and wonderfully so!

Friday, July 8, 2016

GMS Heading to Foodista's International Food Blogger Conference


This month, I'm looking forward to the International Food Blogger Conference, to be presented by Foodista in Sacramento. Events include a "farm-to-fork" tour of the historic Sacramento Delta, with a look at California Endive Farms and an opportunity to watch the harvest of Bosc pears at Stillwater Orchards. Other events include talks on culinary travel writing, beverage trends, food waste, and "Putting Flavor Into Words"; a "Taste of Sacramento" fair presented by local restaurants and businesses; and a sidewalk "Farm-to-Fork Feast" near the State Capitol Building, prepared by Chef Jason Poole from Dawson's.


Sacramento was not the original capital of California; the first Constitutional Convention was held in 1849 in Monterey when the state was under Spanish and subsequently, Mexican rule. The capital was moved to Sacramento in 1854.

Despite this runner-up history, Sacramento has a rich history in its own right. Sutter's Fort, which was established by John Sutter in what is now downtown Sacramento, was used to distribute the fruits, vegetables and other resources that were found in the area to the city's earliest settlers; Sutter also built mills in the nearby foothills. It was at one of these mills - in what is now Coloma - where John Marshall, a Sutter employee, found gold in a stream in 1849. The city was incorporated that year.

In the interim between 1849 and 1854, several other cities served as California's capital for a short time, including San Jose, Vallejo and Benicia. Sacramento's proximity to rivers that led to San Francisco and other ports allowed access to the state's growing economy by both land and sea. And as the original site of the Gold Rush, the city had a certain cachet.

One can certainly strike gourmet gold in Sacramento, whose foodie town potential is bolstered by the local agricultural industry and the innovation of the skilled, imaginative, and ambitious farming and culinary community. Watch this blog for my adventures in the Capital City later this month!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Game of Cones: I Scream for Ice Cream

My default home freezer dessert is Talenti Gelato -  they are one of the manufacturers who use the fewest ingredients in their product (all ones that I can prounounce), and gelato is lower in calories because of its lower cream and air content. Gelato shops were a hot moment in the early 2000s, but ice cream appears to be enjoying a real renaissance, with more artisanal and homemade choices and flavors that Baskin-Robbins never even dreamed of. Here are some new and longstanding faves:

Kansha Creamery, Gardena

Matcha, matcha, man: High tea with a scoop of
oatmeal cookie caramel at Kansha Creamery.
New kid on an old school block of Western Avenue, in a strip mall with several Japanese restaurants, next to The Local Place, an outpost of King's Hawaiian. Kansha's ice cream is made fresh daily on-site; they are known to  close early when flavors run out. When I finally made it over there, they had Lupicia Select Matcha (clean and not unpleasantly soapy taste of high-quality green tea) and something called "Mr. Universal," which was flavored with crumbled oatmeal cookies and a sweet but non-sticky caramel swirl. The vibe is hip young Asian, but not-so-hip,  middle-aged Asians (me?) are welcome too. A taste of their mugicha flavor reminded me of the tall, cool pitcher of barley tea that is in Jolene's fridge all summer long.

Atticus Creamery, West Los Angeles

I've been going to Atticus Creamery since its first store opened about a year ago, conveniently across from the Westside Pavilion. Don't let the somewhat cliched DIY decor fool you - this small batch shop has created some intensely inventive flavas like Brown Sugar Apple Pie (my personal favorite), Honey Honeycomb, and Lemon Lavender. Their mini pies are also incredible, made from scratch with fillings like Earl Grey and Strawberry Pistachio.

A new location recently opened at The Grove, but I like the neighborhood feel of the Pico shop, with its tiny strip of Astroturf across the threshold and proximity to many great restaurants, whose one shortfall - happily for both Atticus and me - is dessert.
Picture-perfect cone at Atticus Creamery

Saffron & Rose, Westwood

Even if you've never had food from the Arab regions of the Mediterranean, you get the idea while driving down Westwood Boulevard between Wilshire and Pico that the Iranian, Lebanese, and other expatriates that have made this area flourish, take their cuisine very, very seriously. While patronized by a good cross-section of Los Angelenos, the many cafes, bakeries, and stores are supported by a tight ethnic community that takes great pride in its culture while welcoming outsiders.

Ice cream is the universal language spoken at Saffron & Rose, where friendly staff don't just offer tastes of this or that. Shiho and I actually had a sort of ice cream sommelier serve us the other day, pressing actual pairings upon us as we hemmed and hawed before his freezer case. Faced with the staggering array of options, we actually liked what he suggested: the eponymous saffron with pistachio and white rose for Shiho, and espresso and medjool date for me.

Saffron & Rose has been a venerable institution on Westwood Boulevard for as long as I can remember, and was featured in The New York Times this spring in one of several articles about the traditions of Nowruz, the Persian New Year. The distinct and sometimes flowery flavors are a great foil for the robust and aromatic tastes in Persian cuisine, and can even seem like a sort of calorie-laden aromatherapy with choices like orange blossom, fresh ginger, cucumber, and saffron with orchid. There are plenty of more traditional flavors like strawberry, mint chip, and cookies and cream. But when in Tehran...

Just mad about saffron... and rosewater... And date
and espresso. Flavor pairings as served up at Saffron & Rose.