31 August 2009

The Westside Local

This place has "local" right in the name, so it was promising right from the start. I decided to have my birthday dinner there last weekend and try it out for the first time. I liked the looks of the logo, the name, the website - I was delighted to find that I liked the actual place, too.

in the beer garden

We dined al fresco that night; it was lovely weather. And we happened to encounter some friends in the beer garden and shared their end of the long communal picnic table. The proprietors at The Westside Local hope that "these communal seating areas make for an interactive dining experience, encouraging chance meetings, networking, new friendships, and even love." I'd say it kind of worked.

The food proved to be as pleasant as the ambiance. I had deviled eggs, which came with pea shoots (and I love LOVE pea shoots), and a Musser's tomato salad with heirloom tomatoes, both dressed exquisitely with citrus vinaigrette dressing. And then a vegetable gratinee that was far more interesting and complex than it sounded. The menu says "thin potatoes" but it doesn't tell you that they are creamy soft wafers that melt in your mouth; the menu says "local sautéed vegetables" but it doesn't tell you one of those veggies is kale. (Fortunately the server clued me in, and boy am I glad she did.) The entire dish was topped with arugula and when I told the server it was good she told me that they get it from a farmer just down the street. I said who, Lew? She didn't know the farmer's name; but I did.

beer and localities

Despite having ordered and consumed a beer of sizable proportions, in addition to the other fantastic food, I managed to save room for the Mojito Blueberry Tart for dessert - a clarifying and rich combination of lime, mint, and berry. And a charming cap to the lovely birthday evening. I can't wait to go back.

The Westside Local on Urbanspoon

25 August 2009

My Birthday

Sunday was my birthday - it was the big 3-0. Not that I give too much extra credence to the ages that are divisible by 5; I did celebrate "the big" 2-8 and "the big" 2-9, and next year's prime 31 will surely be big. Nonetheless, this was intended to be "big." So I began celebrating early, to make this birthday as big (long) as could be.

Soup and mimosa at Happy Gillis. And Christy drew me a cake. This "30" begins with an E.

I started last Thursday with happy hour at JP Wine Bar and I got the best gift right off the bat: a book of notes from friends & family, past & present - Sergio has spent months secretly soliciting handwritten messages from so many people, all saying such warm, fuzzy things to and about me. And our dear friends made the whole book so beautiful.

Es - and the book is my favorite shade of blue

Day 2 of birthday - Friday - I had some lovely gifts (an owl and a scarf, some of my favorite things) and wishes from friends. Day 3, my pre-birthday, was lovely - after the farmers market, Pilates, and a great brunch that Christy made (with potatoes in a spicy homemade salsa) - we went to the Tivoli to see a matinée of "In the Loop" - we laughed heartily and were intrigued by the absurd impact of political rhetoric. After that we had snowcones from Fresher than Fresh and in the evening we enjoyed the Farmers Table at Blue Bird Bistro.

Sunday - the "big" day - I went to church and received many happy hellos. Then Sunday brunch was soup, a sandwich on a bialy, and a birthday brownie at Happy Gillis and in the afternoon we saw a great photography exhibit at the library called Red Desert, Blue Sky, Green Prairie - an interesting collection of assorted glimpses into the landscapes and townscapes of the West/Midwest. Dinner Sunday night was a new place called Westside Local (more on that presently).

Then, on Day 5, I figured it was all over - the dreaded August 24, always one of my least favorite days of the year. The day was uneventful (sigh) and I figured today would be, too. And then - just when I thought all the birthday fun was over - I got two gifts two days late: a lovely basket of garden fresh tomatoes from my manager - a welcome sight amidst spreadsheets on my desk.

And from Sergio (who was already carrying a balance in the gift giving column) I got one last great gift tonight: a big, beautiful, powerful pressure canner.

Yes, We Can

The birthday may be over, but this is only the beginning.

18 August 2009

Taking the Curcurbits for a Spin

Today I read an article (thanks to a fellow locavore's tweet) called "Zucchini and Corn Fritters Rule the World" in which The Crisper Whisperer, the newly appointed columnist on seriouseats.com explains vegetable world domination in the form of plentiful CSA produce. This charming tale conveys precisely what it feels like when you get such a daunting amount of one or another vegetable. But fear not; the author, Carolyn Cope, suggests that we can "wrest control from the arms of summer abundance."

For me, in the last few weeks, that abundance has been cucumber; one after the other in the CSA share. I eat a reasonable amount of delicious cucumber sandwiches, but the cukes keep coming and I begin to feel powerless.

So today, Christy was our Crisper Whisperer. She found a recipe for Cucumber Soup and slaved over a hot stove - er, uh, a fast blender - to make a perfect summer dinner tonight. With garlic, onion, sour cream, and broth, it's a much richer soup than one might think. And of course, this soup is served cold. Cool, you might say. Cool as a--well, you know.

Cucumber Soup, Toast, and Watermelon Water

To accompany our soup, Christy made something called toast. No, no, no. Not that kind of toast.
German "Toast," which refers to open faced sandwiches, cooked in the oven, and intended to be eaten with a knife and fork. Christy says you can use anything on these "toasts" - for ours tonight she used mustard, apple, tomato, onion, arugula, and cheese. They were like lovely sandwich pizzas, warm and light and perfectly paired with the soup. And in keeping with the theme of blended curcurbitaceae, we had Watermelon Water to drink.

And best of all, we're down to a much smaller army of cucumber in the fridge. Until the next pick up, that is...

Cold Cucumber Soup

4 cucumbers, unpared
1 lg. sour cream
1 med. onion
1 clove garlic
1 can vegetable broth
2 drops Worcestershire sauce
Dash lemon juice
1 tbsp. thyme & oregano
Generous handful fresh parsley, removing most of stems
Salt & pepper to taste

In blender/food processor, combine in small batches the cucumbers, garlic, onion, both soups and parsley. (Pre-chopping makes the first 3 ingredients blend better.) Pour into large bowl and add Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, spices and sour cream. When all pureed, mix and taste. Adjust according to your palate. Chill before serving. Garnish with a few chopped chives, parsley, a slice of lemon, or a couple of the above. Keeps well. Yield: 2 quarts.

Watermelon Water (Agua de Sandía)
2 cups diced seedless watermelon, with rind removed
6 cups water
1/2 cup sugar (or to taste)

Place one cup diced watermelon in blender, along with two cups of the water. Blend until liquified. Pour into a pitcher. Place remaining cup of watermelon in blender, along with two more cups water. Blend thoroughly and pour into pitcher. Add remaining two cups of water and sugar. Stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Chill thoroughly before serving. Pour into tall, ice-filled glasses and serve.

17 August 2009

Tomatoes for Later, Pasta for Now

I spent a lot of time in the kitchen yesterday. A lot. Most of the day in fact. I processed an estimated 55 pounds of tomatoes for canning and freezing. It took approximately 7 hours - give or take an hour. (I lost track in the haze of steam.) But not to worry, I had a friend near by to help make the time fly and we breezed through our tomatoes relatively quickly considering our inexperience. We lost some time trying to figure out the food mill. But tossed it to the side and went on with our sauce, seeds and all.

I bought a new food mill for my tomato extravaganza.

steam from the water bath canner

spaghetti sauce

We ended up with 5 quarts of tomatoes (plain, halved), 7 half-pints of tomatoes (crushed), nearly 6 pints of spaghetti sauce (yum), 1 small ziplock back of oven dried tomatoes, and lots and lots of tomato juice ice cubes - all destined for some delightful wintertime meals, if I can muster the patience to wait. That spaghetti sauce is awfully tempting.

But, what is not tempting today is the kitchen. Too much of a good thing yesterday. I went to bed tired last night. And aching. And smelling of a pizzeria. So today I am not interested in another long haul in the kitchen. My legs are too tired and quite frankly, the pots and pans look tired too.

So what to eat? Pasta Verano. You know - like Pasta Primavera ("spring") which I always make in the summer, so I've renamed it - Pasta Verano. Oh, I have another name for it too - "What's-Left-in-the-Fridge Pasta." This is another Tuesday/day-before-the-CSA-pickup meal. (Or Monday, as it were.) It tends to work with whatever happens to be left.

Pasta Verano

olive oil
arugula, spinach, basil - or other green
assorted quantities of left over veggies, including but not limited to:
cherry tomatoes
green beans
summer squash
bell peppers

Chop all the veggies except leave the cherry tomatoes whole. Place on a cookie sheet for roasting - paint with olive oil. Roast at 375 degrees. Delicate veg (squash, tomatoes, beans, peppers) stay in for 15 minutes; hardier veg (carrots, eggplant) can stay in for nearly 30.

Prepare pasta according to directions. Drain past. Add arugula to hot pasta to wilt. Or add fresh basil on top of pasta. For large quantities of pasta, serve with vegetables on the side.

12 August 2009

Summer Squash Soup with Salsa

Golden Summer Soup served with bread/tomato salad on the side (Visit The CSA Chef for that simple and rewarding salad recipe)

Nothing says summer like a yellow soup. This recipe works best for color if you use yellow bell peppers and yellow summer squash. But if all you've got are a green pepper and a zucchini, not to worry. You can peel the zucchini if you want to but there's no need. It will still taste wonderful and feel summery no matter what shade of yellow it turns out to be.

Golden Summer Soup with Salsa

1 med onion chopped
1 yellow bell pepper chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
4 cup veg broth
1 lb (3 cups) yellow summer squash
1 large (1 lb) russet potato peeled and diced
1 c corn kernels
1 Tbsp thyme
Salt & Pepper to taste

1) in a large pot over med heat, sauté onion and pepper in oil until wilted - 3 min
2) Add stock, squash, potato, and corn. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered until vegetables are tender - about 30 mins. Let cool.
3) Puree the soup in a blender or food processor; pass thru a food mill ( opt ). Return to pot and add salt and pepper. Serve soup with one spoonful of salsa.

for a fresh salsa ...

1 med tomato seeded and diced
2 scallions chopped
1 t cilantro
1 t lime juice
Dash Tabasco

for a cooked salsa ...
Thanks to Chef Christy for guiding the way!
approximately 4 tomatoes
approximately 9 tomatillos
2 small onions
5 cloves of garlic
2 - 3 jalapeños
small amount of vegetable broth paste or vegetable broth (optional)

Roast the peppers, onions, tomatillos, and tomatoes on an open flame, until they blacken. When they're roasted and cooled, remove the stem ends of the peppers, and remove the cores of the tomatoes. Put all ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend. Add salt and broth to taste; add sugar if it's too spicy.

We used barbecue skewers which quickly caught on fire, even though they had been soaked; we wished for stainless steel skewers (or just an open grill outdoors) but opted for fondue forks ultimately. This whole procedure made the apartment smell, according to Sergio, like a little pueblito in Mexico.

On the plate: everything roasted! In the reflection: Chef Christy loading the blender.

The finished product is a beautiful big jar of an earthy brown salsa with flecks of black charred veg. It's a little bit spicy and perfect.

09 August 2009

Family Vacation in Los Angeles

Big Vacation No. 2 this summer (only a few days after No. 1) was to Los Angeles to attend a wedding on Sergio's mom's side of the family and to celebrate the milestone birthday of Sergio's dad with his side of the family. Which means we had quality time with lots of folks from far away in just five short days, in addition to seeing the sights in southern CA. We stayed in Pasadena first and visited Hollywood and the Griffith Observatory. The wedding was in Pasadena as well and it was big, beautiful, and fun. The day after the wedding we went to the "Inland Empire" to see the other side of the family and with them headed back out (outland?) to the coast to visit the beach and to tour the Queen Mary. Oh, and back at Sergio's aunt and uncle's house we ate the freshest oranges I've ever had. They were from the tree in their back yard. Oh, California, you temperate climate you.

All of the pictures are on Flickr; below are just a few...

These oranges traveled 1500 miles in my suitcase.


playing with The Nina

hooray for Hollywood

the whole gang at the wedding

Family Vacation in Washington, DC

This summer's Big Vacation No. 1 was with my family, 12 of us total, in the nation's capital. We stayed in Foggy Bottom in a beautiful four bedroom condo that overlooked the Potomac and was full to the brim of books. We enjoyed a special tour of the Library of Congress and of the Capital; we saw the White House from afar and the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights up close. We experienced monuments and memorials, shopped at Trader Joe's and the farmers market, ate delicious food, saw interesting exhibits, watched Night at the Museum at the museum, walked an average of 8,000 steps a day, almost mastered the fare card system at the metro stations, and had a very good time indeed. It pained me to leave at the end of the trip (Sergio and I left a day before the other 10), but we were off to Big Vacation No. 2.

All the pictures are on Flickr; below are just a few...

in the corridor of the big beautiful condo


from the Library of Congress to the Capital

a view of the Washington monument

The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States

the gang at the Hirschhorn