Last July, I’d traveled to Spain for the very first time, getting to spend five wonderful days in Madrid. In addition to wanting to drink a ton of dry Spanish cider—aka sidra—and try countless tapas, I was also dying to get my hands on a tall glass of traditional horchata de chufa, the predecessor to the Mexican and Salvadoran versions of horchata I’ve come to know and love over the past few decades.
I’d written about horchata de chufa for Saveur magazine many moons ago, and had made it at home, but had always wanted to try it *in* Spain. Enter Horchatería Alboraya, a traditional producer of horchata de chufa that’s been open in the heart of Madrid since 1980. There are several traditional horchaterías in Valencia that are much older—like Horchatería El Siglo (since 1836) and Horchatería Santa Catalina—but I didn’t have time to get out of Madrid, so I was extremely glad to find Alboraya, as I’d long dreamed of trying this chufa magic in its home country.
So what is horchata de chufa and what makes it different? The horchata most commonly found in the U.S. is typically from Mexican restaurants: a rice-based drink that’s spiked with cinnamon and plenty of sugar. Salvadoran versions use morro seeds, sourced from an indigenous plant, that lend a slightly sweet, subtle licorice flavor of their own. Sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, cacao nibs, and other flavorings can make their way into other countries’ versions of horchata as well, but they’re all thought to be descended from the Spanish variation, which uses chufa nuts for its base. (more…)
Last Sunday, I took a trip to the Hollywood Farmers Market with my good friend Julia with the goal of getting some produce and making a vegetarian lunch together. Funny enough, Julia and I have actually known each other since I was in second grade… about 22 years? (Jeez. Now I feel old.) There was a gap over the last decade or so, but we’d bumped into each other a little over a year ago when she happened to be working at the Hollywood Farmers Market, of all places.
Since then, we’ve bonded over food over several visits to SQIRL, which is where Julia told me she’d been making meals from the farmers market for some of her co-workers, and blogging about it to boot! Since I’ve been focusing on posting recipes inspired by recent farmers market visits, we both had the same thought and decided to combine forces and cook together!
We shopped the market for a short while, scooping up all that spring has to offer. The English peas were too good to resist, even if it did mean I’d be doing a fair amount of shelling. (A few stands sell shelled peas, but they tend to run out very early in the morning, and alas, I operate on a slightly more relaxed schedule—especially on a Sunday AM—so it was quickly decided that I was on shelling duty.)
We discussed several possible options, the first of which was going to involve pea tendrils and burrata. As time went on, plans were adapting, we didn’t know where we’d find burrata, and then we bumped into her stepmother who suggested we grab some sheep’s milk cheese from a vendor that was there at the market. Right then, it dawned on me: let’s make a farmer’s plate!
Ever since writing about the farmer’s plate at a.o.c. (which was just named the best restaurant in L.A.) for an article about things on toast, I’ve been wanting to make my own. Chef-owner Suzanne Goin’s farmer’s plate acts as a hearty appetizer, matching a few slices of toasted bread with roasted vegetables and dips that are meant to reflect the freshest produce of the season, prepared in a simple fashion. Armed with these loose guidelines and all the goodies we picked up, we knew we’d have no problem doing the farmer’s plate justice.
Spring Farmer’s Plate with Pea Puree and Coriander-Scented Carrots
Makes 4 servings
For the crostini:
1 baguette, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices on the bias
Olive oil, for drizzling
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, peeled
For the pea puree:
2 cups shelled English peas
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 medium lemon, juice and zest
1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the carrots:
1 bunch small, colorful carrots (we used Black Knight carrots)
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 medium lemon, juiced
1/4 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Additional optional components: hummus, fresh cheeses, mini frittatas, hard-boiled egg, pickled vegetables, raw or roasted nuts, crudités, etc.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Arrange the baguette slices on a sheet tray. Drizzle a little olive oil over them, making sure a little bit gets on each slice. Sprinkle a touch of salt and pepper over all of it and bake uncovered until golden and crispy, about 15 minutes. Once they come out of the oven, let them cool to the touch and carefully rub a clove of garlic over each piece. (The crispy exterior of the toast will act like a grater, getting little tiny pieces of fresh garlic on the crostini, which you’ll thank me for later.)
For the pea puree, place the shelled peas, garlic, lemon juice, zest, and 1 tablespoon olive oil into a food processor or blender. Pulse until well combined. This should be the consistency of hummus; adjust with additional olive oil or water if necessary or desired. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Remove the tops from the carrots. (Don’t discard them! You can use them to season homemade vegetable stock, in an interesting spin on pesto, or you can toss some of the thinner topmost fronds into a salad. If you can’t use them, toss them in the compost bin.) Using a mandoline slicer, carefully slice the carrots into thin ribbons. If you don’t have a mandoline, you may also just cut thin carrot “coins” on the bias with a chef’s knife.
In a dry skillet, toast the coriander, stirring over a medium flame until fragrant, about 2 minutes. (Don’t walk away as this can go from toasted to burnt in seconds.) In a large bowl, toss the carrots with the toasted coriander, garlic, lemon juice, parsley, and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Plate the crostini with the carrot salad and pea puree. Arrange any extra accouterments you’d like to snack on, but try to keep it seasonal and simple! We topped the crostini with the sheep’s milk cheese, and got some crisp breakfast radishes to smear with a pat of cultured butter and a pinch of big flaky sea salt. Farmer’s plate complete!
* Check out the recipe for Suzanne Goin’s farmer’s plate from a.o.c,, which she calls “a vegetable antipasto through a Southern California lens.” It’s made with roasted vegetables, burrata, and a Middle Eastern red pepper-walnut dip called muhammara.
* Check out Julia’s post about our farmer’s plate, which includes notes on the pea tendril frittatas she made to accompany the meal for her co-workers.
Today’s visit to the Downtown Glendale Farmers Market was unique in that I didn’t walk over by myself! I was joined by Kimberly Beck, a new friend who I brought on as a personal assistant a few weeks ago. Personal assistant? Yep. For as much stuff as I’ve managed to crank out these past few years, I have to admit that I’m painfully unorganized and it’s begun to affect both my productivity and my level of satisfaction with my work. (It’s not that I’m not happy with my work, but it’s all too frequently borne out of last-minute chaos rather than actual planning and intention. So… enter Kimberly!) It’s been very part-time, which works well for both of us, and she’s been a great help to me thus far! I can’t wait to see how working smarter will benefit me in the long run! (more…)
A thousand pardons… you’ve caught me in the middle of a quandary.
Though I suppose the same sentiment could be expressed at any given time. I’m finding that I’m a very cerebral person, for better or for worse. Am I on track to become one of those tortured writers? Maybe. But I don’t think so. I think I’m pretty happy, but I suppose it could be interesting to see if I go downhill from here. I honestly don’t think I will, though.
So, here’s what I’m up against… I feel like I’m at a precipice. Like this is the point where I decide if I want to be a writer or if I simply want to write. Perhaps that sounds douchey to you; to be honest, I’d venture to say that it would sound douchey to me if I read it on someone else’s webpage. But here I am… trying to deliver a message that doesn’t particularly have a message behind it. Simply that I’m going to actually be a writer.
But I’m already a writer, you might say. Technically, yes. I write. And I have written. And I’m fortunate enough to have gotten paid for said writing. But even still… it’s very strange. (Rest assured, this is no complaint. I’m unbelievably grateful for any and all opportunities I’ve been given!) Have you ever heard of impostor syndrome? So sayeth Wikipedia:
The impostor syndrome, sometimes called impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome, is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.
My buddy Tim originally told me about it when he first began teaching music classes; as a lifelong student, it was difficult for him to accept a new role as a teacher. “But isn’t this what you prepared for?” Yeah, I suppose. I mean, I’ve been writing now for close to a decade, but I didn’t ever think it would be something I’d call a profession. Yet, here I am, collecting a comfy little check for royalties on three cookbooks every six months. What do I do with that? I mean, duh, it goes in the bank… but what does it mean?
Elementary school lead me to middle school, which prepared me for high school, which was hellbent on getting me into college, which in turn would assure me a job in the system. Something to keep the wheels turning at the prescribed time. But I knew deep down that I wasn’t built for such a job. So here I am, having built a sizeable enough reputation for my writing, but still unable (or unwilling) to accept myself as a professional writer. What’s not professional about me? Is it the fact that I still tell/enjoy dick and fart jokes? Or that I don’t take every single thing seriously? Break it down, Randy. You get paid to write. Someone somewhere enjoys your writing, and more importantly, YOU enjoy writing. And what’s more important than that?
WRITE. Never stop writing. When you look back on the past NINE years that you’ve been writing, all the while, you’ll find supporters along the way, and at this point, it bears asking: “What the hell have you been waiting for?!” Obviously, there’s at least one person that sees things your way. And judging by your own reading habits, it bears mentioning that your entire worldview has been entirely uplifted and changed for the better by reading other peoples’ writing. So why can’t your writing provide the same opportunity for others? It’s obvious that you think differently than most, so share that shit. Sorry if this sounds pompous, but this is what’s been going through my head for the past few weeks/months/years, and I’m finally taking the time to scribble it down in a massive stream-of-consciousness dump.
So what am I going to do? Well, perhaps you’ve noticed that I’ve already started posting one recipe a week that I create spontaneously from a farmers market visit; I’m also going to try to post a recipe review from a different cookbook each week, and I’ll hopefully have some kind of mental outpouring such as this. And maybe you’re thinking: “What’s the big deal? Share what’s on your mind! It’s your blog!” But reflecting on my upbringing, I feel as though I was raised to be polite… maybe even slightly complacent… unless I felt there was some kind of injustice going on. And even then, I was only to speak up if I felt there was some difference I could make.
Sounds awfully arbitrary, no? I agree. So, am I reactionary or am I proactive? Shit, I don’t know. What kind of question is that? I’m just me. Yet through whatever extraordinary set of circumstances, there are a number of people that look to what I say as guidance. And whether that number is one or one million, it’s a number, and I need to treat that with the utmost of respect. Rest assured that nothing I post here will ever be facetious or contrary to my personal moral compass/beliefs. I’ll continue cranking out recipes and the occasional mental unload… and while you may or not agree or like what I have to say, know that I’m only sharing it because I felt as though by not posting it, I was disrespecting my reason for living. I want to be a writer… so I’ve chosen myself because nobody else would.
I accept this responsibly proudly and humbly, and assure you that I’ll never do anything to betray your trust. Anything I present to you that may seem insensitive or unintelligent, I assure you, comes from a place of love and perhaps misunderstanding. I guarantee I’ll be misinformed at times, as any of us would be, if only because we’ve never experienced anywhere near all there is to experience. With that in mind, I hope you treat my thoughts, and your own, as an exchange of possibilities. There may or may not be a grand architect that rules this universe, but in case one does, I’m keeping it civil… sharing my ideas in the hopes of having them corroborated or improved or disproven. Whatever the case may be, I’ll die knowing I spoke my mind and instigated a conversation. There are some crazy ideas in my brain that I sincerely hope will bring about positive change in our world… and I’ll share them soon enough, but for now… you’ve been warned. I’m gonna be speaking my mind on this website from time to time.
Unsubscribe… or forever hold your peace.
Last week, I headed over to the Studio City Farmers Market to pick up some organic produce for a video shoot I was doing at my friends’ house as part of an oral history project for the Chinese American Museum‘s newest exhibit, “L.A. Heat: Taste-Changing Condiments“, which focuses on art inspired by Sriracha and Tapatio, two divine hot sauces made right here in Los Angeles. (I’m honored to be on the advisory board for this exhibit, which runs now through July 12!)
The videographers asked if there was somewhere we could go that inspired me, and I immediately suggested we head to the farmers market. Walking in with no real idea of what I was going to make—other than knowing I’d be using Sriracha in my recipe—I was struck by the beauty of these purple Brussels sprouts. I’d never tasted them before, let alone seen them! The kind woman at the produce stand told me they were similar in taste to regular Brussels sprouts, but with a slightly sweet note. With that, I couldn’t wait to try them!