Sunday, October 11, 2009

Apples At My Doorstep: Farm Fresh To You Organic Delivery Service

I'm pretty happy with my weekly Sunday Farmer's Market ritual for fresh fruit and veggies but when I came across the Farm Fresh To You booth at the Abbot Kinney Street Festival, I decided to give their delivery service a test run for fun. Working with a range of 6000 local family farmers growing organic fare, Farm Fresh To You is a mail-order service delivering an assortment of fruit and vegetables most in season to your doorstep on a weekly bi-weekly or monthly schedule.

The service is super easy to sign up for, and during the registration process, customers can nix any fruits or veggies they don't want to receive so although each package remains a surprise, which meant I could check off kiwifruit (which I ironically have an aversion to) so I know they'll never be included in my delivery. The multitude of package options also cover different sizes ideal from single folk or couples (Small Mix of about 8 different produce items, $23) to larger families (Monster Mix with 23 various items, $55) as well as fruit only, vegetables only and no-cooking required options. I opted for the Small Mix for my first delivery.

Several days after signing up, I came home to find my box-of-fruit'n'veggies by my door. Inside was a colorful mix of fall produce; half a dozen apples, zucchini, orange bell peppers, onions, Yukon potatoes, a couple garlic cloves, several heirloom tomatoes, button mushrooms and a punnet of strawberries, also enclosed was a sheet of paper with several recipe suggestions which complemented the items in the box (recipes also online).

Based on my package of produce, I bit into one of my crunchy Ambrosia apples while deciding to make Basque Chicken for dinner, which called for the onions, garlic, bell peppers and tomatoes I just received. I saved the potatoes and mushrooms for the 'pancetta-wrapped mushrooms' and 'mashed potatoes with cream cheese' recipes which came along with my order for another night.

The produce list varies with each delivery depending on what's freshest for the given week. Although those who like to plan can log online a couple days ahead to see what will be arriving, I thought it was fun receiving a package of surprise produce. Planning meals around the handpicked assortment of fruit and vegetables also took me out of my regular rotating roster of go-to dishes I usually cook which also made it more fun in the kitchen.

I eat out too much to sign up for the service on a weekly basis so opted for the deliveries to come every month. At $23 for the small box, you'd probably do better shopping on your own at the farmer's market, but it's not over-the-top pricey either to support and indulge in fresh organic groceries.

I received a $10 discount off my first order for signing up at the Abbot Kinney booth and have a $5 off refer-a-friend coupon so if anyone's interested in trying out a delivery for $18 (there is no commitment and you can cancel at any time,) let me know in the comments box and I'll send the discount your way!

Farm Fresh To You

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Downtown Dogs: Wurstkuche Sausage Joint

While adverse to balony, Slim Jims, weiners and other questionable 'pressed meats', I've recently become quite the fan of sausages. So yesterday, after taking a tour of downtown lofts (a fun, informative and surprisingly not-dorky way to spend your Saturday morning checking out cool NYC-style lofts hidden inside deceiving, flophouse-like exteriors in downtown LA), Ugly Shoe and I decided to hit up self-described 'exotic sausage grill' and beerhall, Wurstkuche, while we were in the neighborhood.

Wurstkucher sits on the sketchier edge of Little Tokyo in the Arts District, but it appears hipsters will brave the shadiness for their gourmet sausage. The back area's communal tables were full and the line to order when we walked in was a dozen people deep, but even with the simple menu of just sausages, I needed the entire time I was in line to decide between the 20+ various sausage options as well as which two dipping sauces I wanted to go with our cone of double-dipped Belgium fries.

The menu is separated into 3 categories; I skipped the Classics ($6; your basic bratwursts,bockwursts and hot italian), Gourmet ($6.75; the likes of mango-jalapeno chicken & turkey, sweet Filipino Marharlika, smoked chicken with sundried tomato and mozzarella) and headed straight to the Exotic dogs ($7.75); I briefly pondered the alligator, pork and smoked andouille sausage and was intrigued by the rattlesnake & rabbit (which was described as buttery but mildly spicy) but ended up going with the duck, bacon and jalapeno peppers which the guy behind the counter recommended as his favorite topped with grilled onions and sweet peppers. While our sausages were being grilled, we loaded up our table with ketchup and various mustards (yellow, spicy brown, honey, whole grain) from the condiment bar.

Although they had a couple of dozen German and Belgium beers on tap and even more bottled biers, we were headed off for some wine tasting at the downtown San Antonio Winery afterwards so I skipped the Chimay and ordered a bottle of Reed's Spiced Apple Ginger Brew from their selection of artisan sodas instead. The table of dudes across from us made up for our non-beer drinking with their monstrous, 6 liter, $250 bottle of Duvel.

As I bit into my duck and bacon weiner, I heard the lovely subtle 'pop' sound of the meat breaking through the casing. The menu's description didn't lie--my duck, bacon and pepper sausage was juicy and packed with flavor as promised and was better than Ugly Shoe's good but not memorable chicken-apple with nutmeg topped with sauerkraut. The crunchy, starchy fries were a delicious complement and as a condiment queen, I had fun rotating between our bleu-cheese walnut dip, 'sassy bbq' sauce and my various ketchup and mustard mixes.

While not expensive ($23 for the both of us), it's not super cheap for essentially hotdog (albeit exotic ones) and fries. Both sausages were tasty but essentially pretty comparable to the homemade ones you can buy at Whole Foods for a 1/3 of the price (and note, this is probably the first time I've ver used Whole Foods as a comparison for value). However, with its airy, warehouse-loft beerhall decor (exposed brick walls, overhead wooden beams, communal pine tables), fun and unpretentious atmosphere and a menu that boasts minced rattlesnake as an item, I'd still recommend this a downtown spot to check out. There could be wurst places to go for a spendy hotdog.

800 E. 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013 (map)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

One Summer Day Inspired from 500 Days of Summer: Downtown LA

Inspired after watching 500 Days of Summer on Friday night, Ugly Shoe and I decided to take a trip to downtown LA on Saturday to explore the locations which were so well shot and romanticized in the film. Besides the occasional trip to MOCA, Santee Alley or Staples Center, I don't wander into downtown LA that often so it was a good excuse to do some navigating around that part of city.

My favorite scenes in the film are where at the park bench Tom and Summer share on a grassy knoll overlooking downtown LA. My 'where is the location of park bench in 500 days of summer?' googling wasn't too successful but the historical self guided walking map and lady on the other line of the 24-hour downtown LA helpline were great resources. With our downtown map print out, we headed on the 10E towards Pershing Square and found a $5 pay lot between Hill and Olive right around the corner.

Although named California Plaza Park in the film, we recognized Bunker HIll and its shaded park benches immediately (on the corner of 4th and Olive.) The sloped sliver of green grass and broad-branched trees were a leafy oasis amid the dulled Historical section of downtown LA. Looking down, intricately adorned Art Deco buildings and brick highrises in all their faded glory blend seamlessly with squat blocks of parking garages, fast food joints and cracked asphalt-topped pay lots--forcing the eye to search them out amid the concrete sprawl.

Following our map, we peeked into the still impressive, chandelier-filled mezzanine of the Biltmore Hotel, strolled through Pershing Square to find they hosted summer concerts and outdoor films throughout the summer weeks, swung up to 3rd and Broadway to poke our noses through the glass doors of the Bradbury Building--home to both the last scene of 500 Days of Summer and the futuristic backdrop to Bladerunner and took photos of the old-Hollywood opulence of '30's movie theaters-turned-grand storefronts. All the while, taking the advice of the film's protaganist that its easy to miss the glamorous details at street level but all you need to do is look up; curvy crown moldings, fluted spires, mermaids, gargoyles and simple yet striking geometrical patterns perch discreetly along multiple building ledges and windows.

Unlike the awe-striking beauty of other metropolitan cities, L.A. makes you work hard to find its architecheral graces, which oddly made me appreciate what we spotted on our walk more. The one way streets and easy-to-avoid location makes downtown L.A. feel intimidating and not necessarily worth the drive just for a sit at a park and an aimless stroll along its boulevards, but stirred by the appreciative eyes of 500 Days of Summer, we spent an entertaining afternoon discovering an often-ignored, other side of Los Angeles that cost us half the price of our movie ticket.

More info on Downtown LA here and here
Historical Tour starting point at Pershing Square on 5th & Olive
Parking: $5 all day or cheaper at multiple lots or plentiful street parking

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Doughnut Forget About National Doughnut Day: Grace Restaurant's 3-Course Donut Tasting Menu

I believe I finally experienced dessert overload for the first time ever this weekend.

Always on the lookout for my interests and tastebuds, my friend J. Nash brought it to my attention that it was National Donut Day (last Friday, June 5th) and she had just the donut-filled festivities for us to honor this sugary celebration.

To commemorate this special high-calorie day, J. Nash and I made a reservation to partake in a gourmet doughnut tasting menu at the la-di-dah Grace Restaurant on Beverly Blvd. Due to the public’s high donut demand, Grace extended the doughnut-love throughout the weekend so we scheduled our donut dinner for Saturday night.

Before going, I had Willy Wonka’esque visions of servers parading around with heaping trays of assorted mini doughnut, beignets and donut holes; a psychedelic medley of shiny glazed, sugar rimmed, nut-encrusted, chocolate covered cream-filled options… Turns out doughnut tasting at Grace was a yummy yet much more civilized, white table-clothed affair.

Our reservations were at 6:45pm. While it was dinnertime—and chef Neal Fraser’s Iron Chef-winning menu offered many lovely options—in interest of our budget and saving room in our bellies, we opted for a doughnut-only dinner.

After an appetizer of some freshly baked, hot-out-of-the-oven bread served at the table, we waited hungrily for our first of 3 dessert courses.
The first—two mini doughnut brushed with a tawny gloss of salted caramel glaze—was my favorite. A perfect composition of salty sweetness and crispy softness. Accompanying the sweet doughy goodness was a scoop of homemade bourbon-laced pecan ice-cream and strawberries. Delicious.

Our second course was a larger, fluffy sugar-puff of a beignet filled with a pistachio cream with a side of chocolate buttermilk marble ice-cream and dried cherries. Not a huge fan of pistachio, I would have preferred a more traditional raspberry jam filled beignet and the homely-looking green hued pistachio cream oozing out of the donut didn’t help. However, the beignet’s yielding, pillowtop consistency and the euphoric effects of our Red Bull-like sugar high made up for the presentation and mild nutty flavor.

By the time our third and final doughnut course arrived, our blood sugar levels had already spiked and were well on their way down towards food coma. Already stuffed with a tummy full of friend dough, J. Nash and I worked hard at polishing our plates, dunking our simple, buttermilk brown butter glazed doughnut into the teacup of warm, rum-spiced milk before finally waving the white flag a couple of bites short.

Grace offered a wine pairing of various dessert wines with each course, but we just stuck to our water and rum-spiked milk.

As we rolled out of the restaurant an hour later, J. Nash and I both agreed that we love doughnuts and thoroughly enjoyed our doughnut tasting outing but probably got our doughnutty fill and won’t need another doughnut tasting for a while….or, at least until 2010’s National Doughnut Day.

Doughnut lovers out there, I would recommend tasting pastry chef, Monica Swan’s designer doughnut creations, however, in this case, less may be more; rather than downing 5 doughnut and 2 scoops of ice-cream in one sitting, I’d suggest stopping by on a Wednesday night during Grace’s Weekly Doughnut Night for a single doughnut dish. (The pistachio-filled doughnut is among a rotating selection of eight creations Chef Swan serves weekly along with doughnut-less sweets such as sticky toffee pudding with bruleed bananas and white-chocolate and strawberry tart with orange blossoms.)

Grace Restaurant
7360 Beverly Blvd, West Hollywood. 323/934-4400
Three Course Doughnut Tasting Menu: $18
Regular Wednesday Doughnut Night Desserts:$12

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Sweden is More Than Just Ikea and Meatballs: Global Tennis Showdown

Always gravitating towards 'only in LA' activities--or, in this case, 'only in LA or Sweden'--I jumped at the chance to tag along with my friend Jimmy and girlfriend Greta visiting from Sweden to The Global Tennis Showdown charity tennis match & fundraiser to benefit the Swedish School of Los Angeles. The headlining match featuring 80's tennis Swedish tennis star, Mats Wilander and Will 'Anchorman' Farrell (who's married to a Swedish wife and has a couple of half-Swede kids attending the Swedish School.)
Although the match wasn't sold out, the showdown attracted a pretty decent crowd of curious Will Farrell fans and apparently a who's who of the Swedish celeb pack. My Swedish friend Jimmy pointed out Swedish supermodel and former host of 'Sweden's Next Top Model' Mini Anden and Swedish hip hop Grammy winner, Adam Tensta (who later stepped out onto the tennis court for a surprise Swedish-rap performance) in the stands. Prior to the game, famed Swedish stand up comedian Bjorn Gustafsson pepped up the crowd before launching into a stand up routine which made it clear English was his second language. He could very well be side-splitting hilarious in Swedish, but the translated humor was so awesomely bizarre that when I looked over to Jimmy, he reassured me that "This is for real, Bjorn REALLY is a big time comedian back home!"

Haphazardly umpired by comedian sidekick Andy Richter, the showdown adopted the ping pong point system (first to 15), which kept the game flowing quickly. The first half was a decent game of baseline hitters, volleys and occasional aces from Mats Wilander's end. Just when I was thinking I was basically watching a backyard game of tennis between Will and his celebrity fans, they started to change up the game.

A couple of leggy (as in, on stilts) blondes joined in as doubles partners for a point or two before they began handicapping Wilander by having him hold hands with a gaggle of Swedish school-children as he ran around the court.
Still holding strong, Will then brought out his big guns and hit a couple of forehands with an oversized racket.

Finally, at 14-14, the final showdown point came between Mats and his tag-a-long kids vs. Will saddled with another Swedish kid piggybacked to him. Will Farrell--not a bad tennis player.
Funnyman and piggybacked blondie wins! Farrell 15, Wilander 14.

For a musical reprieve before the doubles match, the forementioned Swedish, hip hop artist, Adam Tensta performed his hit single, "Dopeboy (Do I look Like I Sell Drugs)" Again, I glanced over to Jimmy for reassurance this was wonderfully for real. "Tensta REALLY is very popular back in Sweden. But even for Swedish people, this is a pretty weird event."

For the doubles match, they brought out a UCLA alum and Venus William's former doubles partner, Justin Gimelstob and tennis partner, Rainn Wilson (who, like Farrell, was surprisingly agile and decent at tennis for a slightly doughy comedian.)

The charity match also included a post-match BBQ and silent auction and a performance by the Dan Band for those who paid higher priced tickets ($75) but since we only paid for the cheap seats ($25) we pretty much just perused through the display of brightly hued Bjorn Borg underwear before calling it game, set, match for the day.

The Global Tennis Showdown: $25

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Etsy-Heaven: Unique Los Angeles Shopping Event

My first blog of 2009 is a little belated but nothing like experiencing an event featuring Swedish tennis and Scandinavian rap stars (to be fully explained in my next posting) as well as some awesome bargain shopping all in one weekend to get me back on the blogging bandwagon.

This weekend was the 2nd Unique Los Angeles shopping event at downtown L.A.’s Californai Market Center (the first, which I wanted to go to but missed was in December, 2008.) This two-day bargain extravaganza is Etsy-heaven; dozens of hand-crafted apparel, jewelry, accessories, stationary goods, baby gear...even plush toys shaped like slabs of meat all by independent designers. And many items up to 50% off.
After easy parking (there was ample street parking, but I parked in the underground lot) and a short line to buy an admission ticket ($5, half of which goes to a local charity), it was time to get my shop on.

Being the experienced/anal power shopper that I am, I had checked out Unique’s vendor list the night before and jotted down a few labels I definitely wanted to visit so I could quickly get in, buy and get out. With over 250 open market-style stalls spread across the penthouse floor of the CMC, I explored each individual aisle like I was at Ralphs armed with my handwritten list of 'must see' vendors.

On a bit of a birthday gift shopping mission—as well as to replenish my sad collection of unmatched single earrings—jewelry was my big focus of the day. And there was plenty of it (maybe close to a quarter of the stalls featured some sort of jewelry.) My first stop was at Melinda Lawton Jewelry, where a simple pair of fuschia-hued teardrop gemstone earrings—and their $15 price—caught my eye (especially marked down since the majority of her stuff online sells for over $150.) In comparison-shopping mode, I made a mental note to come back for them later after perusing what other bargains could be had. My wanderings led me to Ofina Jewelry, where I picked up a pair of gold-filled hummingbird earrings ($10) and an initial necklace on a 14K gold chain which I’ve been on the hunt for over a year ($25). It looked exactly the same as an “S” necklace I’ve been eyeing on Abbot Kinney since last summer for $80.

On my way to Portland-based Amy Olsen Jewelry, I passed by 11:11 Enterprises’ set up of vinyl passport, credit card-holder and condom covers in cool prints. In need of a new credit card holder ($10), I was thisclose to picking the ‘slabs of raw bacon’ print but ended up on featuring a map of L.A. Perfect, as my Thomas Guide in my car is from 1995.

So far, 3 items for me, 0 for my three Gemini friends I was supposed to be shopping for.

Other jewelry vendors worth mentioning included Dark Yet Sunny, Flea Market Girl and Emily Tyrie Collections. I finally picked up a couple of b’day presents before heading to my last jewelry stall on my list. Nous Savons. They didn’t have any necklaces or earrings I liked for my last b’day friend KK, who’s also a big gardener. Luckily for me, the jewelry label also bizarrely sold plants. Hard-to-find absinthe plant. Done.

I traced my way back to Melinda Lawton Jewelry only to discover my fuschia earrings dangling on gold posts just got sold to the customer before. However, Melinda awesomely offered to take apart the remaining silver pair and rework the fuschia stones onto gold posts. All for still $15.

There were way too many cool stores to mention; among them, the most fantastically unique…Knickerockers’ seductive granny panties, Sock Monkey Ghetto's um street-cred enhanced sock monkeys and Mincing Mockingbird's strange bird humor paintings). In addition to finding interesting, decidedly un-mall-like items at wallet-friendly prices, it’s nice to be able to support local designers just by shopping. I definitely recommend going for some retail therapy when the next Unique Los Angeles event rolls around.

Parking: $6 or street
Event: $5
One necklace, 3 pairs of earrings, a credit-card holder and an absinthe plant: $96
Unique Los Angeles