Saturday, August 20, 2011

Green Goddess Dressing

I have become obsessed with this dressing.

I was skeptical of the Green Goddess when I found the recipe, but was swayed by the gorgeous picture in the LA Times a few weeks ago, all bright and fresh, little bits of green herb suspended in a voluptuous jar.  I mean, I liked the idea of the Green Goddess, all earthy and herby and sounding like Berkeley and patchouli (although I hate patchouli).  But  I'm not really a heavy-dressing person, and was worried about the weight of the mayonnaise.  Really, anything with mayonnaise kinda worries me, because while I like it and use it, too much of it to me is... gross.  Frankly, the first time I made it it was visually beautiful, but I was so concerned about having 2 jars of dressing I wouldn't like, that I scooped out a few tablespoons into a tupperware container and gave the two jars away.

When I did finally try those few tablespoons, I was sorry that I now had to make another batch all over again.  Thinned with a little milk and used lightly as I like to do, it gently coats salad greens and gives each bite a light flavor, not at all heavy like I had anticipated.  Its also a great way to use up all that extra basil in your garden.

Since I only had the few tablespoons the first time, I was forced (oh, forced!) to make it a second time.  Only now, I realized I had no spinach and no chives.  I substituted arugula for the spinach and two chopped green onions for the chives, and I think the dressing is even better with the arugula.  The flavor is more pronounced, making the spinach in the original seem bland.  I cut the recipe in half, since the original recipe made more than 3 cups; you can always double it again if you need, but the dressing will last approximately 1 week in the refrigerator.

Green Goddess Dressing
adapted from Dish Restaurant
Makes 1 1/2 cups dressing

1/4 cup coarsley chopped fresh Italian parsley (1/4 bunch)
1/2 cup chopped basil (1/2 oz)
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives (1/2 oz)  or green onions
1/4 lb fresh spinach leaves, or arugula
1/2 tbsp apple cider vinegar, more to taste
1 1/2 cups light mayonnaise
1 generous teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp salt, more to taste
1/2 tsp white pepper, more to taste
1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice, more to taste (do not substitute Meyer lemon here)

In a blender, pulse together the parsley, basil, chives and spinach, along with the cider vinegar.  Remove the mixture to a large bowl and whisk in the mayonnaise, mustard, salt, pepper and lemon juice.  Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.  It will seem really mayonnaise-y, but trust me - add a little more lemon juice and thin with a little milk to desired consistency if it seems too thick.  The dressing will keep, covered and refrigerated, up to 1 week.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Winter Garden Install

For those who have never seen my backyard, our side yard has always been an issue.  Infested with crabgrass and bermuda grass, we have had some success and a lot of failure with veggie plantings in this area.  With work and the Bug, the last two years have mostly been failure.  This year, since all of our 5-year anniversary trip plans fell through, we decided to give ourselves the gift of a professionally installed winter vegetable garden.

Our new friend Russell with LA Farmhands came out to take a look and do a soil test, which revealed that our Altadena soil is completely void of nitrogen.  For those that don't know nitrogen is only, well, VITAL to growing ANYTHING, which would explain why our melons only got to 2"'s around before the vines died, and why our tomatoes never produced any fruit (for 3 years we tried!).  Russell gave us a list of veggies he knew would grow well in our area, and we opened the side gate and gave Russ free reign.

This is the yard pre-demo.  The green stuff you see in the ground are dead tomato plants that never produced any tomatoes.

 Crabgrass and bermuda grass invaded all that space.

Russ and Walter tearing it up!  After removing what they could of the crab and bermuda grass, they laid down cardboard to provide a biodegradable barrier between the weeds and compost.

Dump truck of mulch & compost.  Yes, everything still smells...

Can you see how he has built mounds of compost and soil?  According to Russ, these "mounded" beds allow him to plant up to 25% more crop than if the soil was flat.  He laid in the drip system and the plants/seeds go inbetween.

 Baby bok choy.  Planted to the right is pak choy (I'm not sure what that is either, but I'm sure my mom knows!).  Behind it tomato trellises are waiting for fava beans to grow up them.

 Garlic bed.  We planted 6 varieties this year, including the Sonoran that we grew last year that did so well.

Sugar snap peas are seeded at the base of the trellis.  The sprouts in the front are chiogga beets, a gorgeous pink and white variety if you are not familiar with them.  Seeded around the back base of this mound are 3 other varieties of beets (yes, I really like them!).

 Lettuce bed.  The other side is seeded with baby carrots and breakfast radishes.

 Potato "tower."  This is serious genius.  There are potatoes growing in that thing, which will eventually become a potato tower.  Apparently when they are ready to harvest, we'll give the top growth a good tug and all our potatoes will simply tumble out.  Seriously.

 This is broccoli, yellow onion and red onion on either side of our compost bin.

So in my little 300 square feet of space, we are now growing: 6 varieties of garlic, salad greens, 2 types of head lettuce, baby carrots, baby radishes, fava beans, sugar snap peas, bok choy, pak choy, black kale, swiss chard, 4 types of beets, 2 types of broccoli, red and yellow onions, cilantro, parsley, several varieties of potatoes, and purple tip turnips.

I cannot even describe the difference in our yard.  The man is a gardening guru.  In addition to having a veggie garden full of things I never would have planted myself, with more crammed into this area than I ever thought possible, we have made a new friend and learned so much about gardening in the last two days.  I cannot speak highly enough about our experience with Russ and LA Farmhands; if you are interested in putting in a garden of any type and size, in the ground or raised beds, you should check out their website at and give Russell a call.  He won't steer you wrong!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Cheese Store of Pasadena: Why Its Not Worth It

A few weeks ago, while having an indulgent solo lunch at the burger joint The Counter in Pasadena, I noticed that The Cheese Store of Pasadena was opening in a little store front across the alley, next to the newly (well, in the last year) opened Wine Detective.  All these stores are in a little alley behind Lake Ave, The Counter having taken over what used to be an Indian Restaurant next door to Green Street Cafe, which has been in Pasadena forever. 

The shopping center it is set in is most noticeable to me, for what has failed in those now-empty storefronts in the last few years.  Back in the day (meaning when I was in high school), the Crocodile Cafe occupied the Lake Ave front shop, and several shops catering to Old Pasadena money (aks stodgy and expensive) occupied the central plaza area.  In the six years since we moved to the top of Lake Ave, most of the central plaza shops have closed, the coffee shop became two more coffee shops before finally closing, the Crocodile Cafe has become Cafe 140 (with the exact same menu), and Michael Chiarello's Napa Style store (which only ever had 4 people in it at a time) closed within 2 years.  The only thing that has lasted is the Williams-Sonoma store, no doubt held up for a period of time by my wedding registry.

The cheese store we usually frequent is Say Cheese in Silverlake.  We like it for several reasons: they have a great cafe with good sandwiches and salads, even if the service is a little slow.  It is across the parking lot from a Trader Joe's, which is great for picking up a par baked French baguette or a par baked mini ciabatta loaf and some tomatoes for slow roasting.  They often have imported white anchovies from Italy, which my husband covets, even if they are $80/lb.  They are great about tasting and recommending cheeses and accompaniments, and best of all... they are not pretentious.

But we don't often want to travel to Silverlake and struggle with parking, especially now with a 16-month-old toddler you can't exactly let loose in a cheese store with wine displays.  So I was rather excited to see the Cheese Store of Pasadena opening, no less, 3 miles down the street from my house.  I bought a french baguette, and with a craving for a good white cheddar, W and I went to check out the new cheese store.

Its a lovely store.  Its bright and clean and the displays are beautiful.  To the left are shelves of gourmand goodies, accoutrement for your cheese experience.  To your right and near the corner of the tasting counter are large glass jars of several different olives, cornichon, walnuts.  Behind the tasting counter is what can only be called a huge, glass-walled room of cheese. 

Here's my problem with it:  its cold.  Its cold and pretentious.  On the marble tasting counter were soft cheeses on the left counter, hard cheeses on the right.  There were people at the soft cheeses, so we made our way to the other counter.  There was the big closet of cheese behind the woman there, filled with large wheels of cheese, but there were no signs, nothing to tell you what kind of cheeses they had.  What kind of cheeses they were.  Same for the olives, which I would have purchased had I been able to discern what kind of olive each jar held without asking someone.  The woman at the counter made some chit chat, and I mentioned that I was looking for a good cheddar.  She happened to have a French cow's milk and cut sliver for us to taste.  It was excellent. 

She asked what else we were looking for.  W said maybe something soft - our cheese plates usually consist of a soft cheese, a blue, and a hard cheese, maybe a cheddar or a manchego, or something new we've tried at the Say Cheese (they have an excellent Whiskey Cheddar, btw).  I had mentioned to him that I had a blue at home already, and we had some heirloom tomatoes, some grapes, some prosciutto.  The cheese woman asked if we had ever tried a Brillat-Savarin and scraped a little out of the center of a wedge.  I picked up a cracker to scrape it off the edge of the cheese blade - it was extremely soft - and she recommended that we just scrape it off with our fingers to better sample the cheese.  I have to admit, I found this disturbing.  Who else had scraped something off this cheese knife with their finger?  Did they lick it off and then scrape/try something else off this same knife?!?!  I was a little grossed out.

But here's the kicker: hey cheese lady, when I say the Brillat-Savarin is a little too tangy for my taste right now, I don't need the little snide look that says I clearly don't have the ability to appreciate a fine French cheese.  I - probably unlike the only other 3 people in this snooty shop - actually know who Brillat Savarin was.  I also don't need your entire attitude to change because I say I want something a little less sharp today, perhaps a little more mild.  Did you notice I'm 16 months pregnant and should maybe regulate my intake of unpasteurized snooty French cheeses?  Oh, and btw, I also don't need you to get even more cold and pretentious because when I did decide to take some of the more mild brie you finally brought me (saying the word "brie" with the same disdain as Alice Waters might say "iceberg lettuce") I wanted a smaller piece than the HALF WEDGE you tried to sell me.  It is also not my fault that when I asked for a small wedge of the cheddar, you cut the top to the right size and then widened the slice as you brought the knife down, so in the end the slice of cheese was almost twice the size of what I had asked for.  And I made you re-cut it.

I truly had not meant to write this much about my 15 minutes in the Cheese Store of Pasadena, but clearly, I am long overdue for a rant.  Needless to say, we were disappointed.  I had high hopes, there are well enough foodies and gourmands in the Pasadena area to make a cheese store successful, but I won't be going back.  Maybe it works for the blue-haired old Pasadena money, but I'd rather go to Say Cheese in Silverlake, or make random selections of cheese I can actually see in my hand (not through a glass closet door) at the Whole Foods.  At least there are labels on the cheese at Whole Foods so I know what it is.   And I'd rather debate Alice Waters about the merits of iceberg lettuce than talk to the snooty cheese lady anytime.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

He Does it to Himself, I Swear

If you saw my son recently, you might think we beat him.

We don't, I swear.  But since the Bug went from toddling to full steam running in the 3 week period surrounding his birthday, its been Bug Gone Wild at our house.  Convinced he is steadier than he really is, he runs from one end of the living room to the other, narrowly avoiding coffee table corners and walls (sometimes).   He will trip over his own feet.   In his excitement last week, he tripped and fell headlong into the corner of the armchair, resulting in a cut on his eyelid.  Currently is bearing the following war scars: the pink spot where the eye scab came off, a bruise on his right cheek (don't know where that came from), a bruise on his right mid-shin, a bruise on his left ankle, and a cut on his left wrist (no, also not us, I swear).

Last Saturday, I took him to the park to meet our weekly mommy group.  We had done a "kiddie potluck" to try to exchange new foods for our picky eaters.  Not only was my kid the only one not interested in food, he insisted on charging through the middle of the blankets and food and mommies and babies to make his way to the playground, where he could happily stand near the playset underneath bigger kids who might fall on him, sucking on a bink covered in mulch (yeah yeah, we're working on breaking him of the pacifier, too). 

He loves the swings.  This particular park has one particular baby swing that is a big, hard plastic seat, designed for babies who may not be sturdy enough to sit up without back support, in addition to all those filmsy rubber swings.  The Bug, seeing a kid jump out of the baby seat, broke free of my struggling grasp and ran towards it.  Unfortunately, the thing was still swinging, and before I could reach him, the plastic seat had swung forward and smacked him in the mouth, knocking him down. 

Screaming ensued, and while I picked him up and soothed him, I realized every parent at the park was looking at me like I had just invoked Satan and beat him with a stick while speaking in tongues.

He does it to himself, I swear.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Start of Harvest

I was looking up an old post on my recipe for Thai Chicken and Coconut Soup and realized how long it has been since I put fingers to keyboard on this blog.

After we came back from Hong Kong, things just got lost.  I attempted working from home with the baby, which was unsuccessful to say the least.  CJ was just beginning to scamper around pretty quickly on his hands and knees, and he needed too much attention.  Inevitably, the phone would ring while I was trying to feed him, or he was crying, or we were cleaning a poopy diaper.  I took him to the office with me at least 3 times a week, when I would go in to pick up and drop off paperwork, and my co-workers would get less work done as we played pass-the-baby, and runs to the office always had to be scheduled around his nap times.  Two weeks after I started to "work from home" I hired a babysitter/part-time nanny.

Who turned out to be fabulous (no you cannot have her name until CJ goes into daycare full time).  But my little house is so small, we couldn't all be here together.  It was too distracting for CJ to see me around the house, but out of reach.  It was too distracting for me to try to get work done while CJ was nearby.  It was making it too difficult for the nanny to deal with CJ while I was around.  Two days after I hired the part-time nanny, I started to pack my work files, binders and laptop and head to Borders Books while she was here.  I had to work somewhere, and I needed a wi-fi connection!

In any case, since I last wrote, we've had a few milestones:

I discovered CJ likes popsicles. 

He crawled into and fell out of his toy box.  A few times. 

He learned to wave....

And then to stand...

Today, my husband plucked these gorgeous berries from plants I put in the ground last spring, before the CJ was even born, and they were just as sweet as they look!  

Two weeks ago, we pulled our first batch of homegrown garlic from the ground, and tonight, my son took two solid steps by himself before falling on his knees and crawling away.  In eleven days he will turn one whole year old, and after 6 years in this house, my old tangerine tree is dripping with fruit that is finally sweet and tart, just like life itself. 

I'm harvesting an abundance of blessings.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hong Kong Phooey, Part 3

Dumplings at the Din Tai Fung in Hong Kong.  Caleb can eat at least one whole one, and he especially loved the spoon in the kiddie set they gave him.  If you don't yet know the pleasures of a good xiao lung bao, please call me so we can arrange to have lunch at the Din Tai Fung in Arcadia.  Seriously.

Hong Kong - long known in Asia for making movies since the early 1930's, but probably best known in the west for its genre of cop movies in the 80's & 90's - has its own Avenue of the Stars along the waterfront in Kowloon.

Temple Street Night Market.  Every night, about a mile of Temple Street is closed for this market, which has little tented vendors selling everything from tchokes to knock-off clothes (I loved the Paul Frank pj shorts, in which the monkey is winking), to purses, baby clothes, golf bags, cell phone accessories... you name it, you can bargain for it here. 

There are also these little open-air "restaurants" (and I use that term loosely) where you can choose fresh seafood and watch them cook it in a wok right there on the street.  Seating is these little tables and kid stools.  It means you take turns eating while one of you holds the squirming baby (the aisles of the night market are too narrow for a stroller - Wil has strong arms), but on a warm night, the atmosphere of the crowded market, some spicy flash fried shrimp and a cold Tsing Tao feels like the essence of Hong Kong.

And lastly, this is why I now know what the inside of a hospital in Hong Kong looks like.  Two days before we left, CJ began running a low-grade fever.  We battled it with the Motrin I had brought with me for his teething, but it hoovered around the 100 degree mark, occasionally spiking as high as 102.5.  One night I wound up in a cool bath with him at 2am.  I was nervous about trying to get on a 12-hour flight home with him like this - in Hong Kong as you are leaving the airport, the last thing they do after you clear customs and immigration and are headed for a taxi/subway, is this: a man in scrubs and a paper face masks shoots your baby's forehead for his temperature before they let you out (hey, this is a country where SARS started, after all).

We couldn't get the fever down and I was running out of Motrin.  Apparently, ibuprofen is not sold over the counter in Hong Kong.  I didn't want to risk 1) not being let on the plane and 2) his fever spiking over 102 while on the plane, so we jumped in a taxi and headed to St. Theresa's, which is probably the nicest hospital I've ever been in (just in case you are ever in HK and need a good hospital!).

So that was the end of our trip.  He just wouldn't be my kid if we didn't get to tour the hospital too!

Hong Kong Phooey, Part 2

The view from Victoria Peak.  In the back you can see the Kowloon side of the harbour.  Unfortunately it was an overcast day when we went.  This is clearest picture I took.

We also took a short half-day trip to Macau, the "Las Vegas" of Asia.  Well, it started off as short, ended as long when the Turbo Jet bringing us back to Hong Kong stalled trying to get out of the dock.  We had to disembark and get crammed onto another Turbo Jet.  It was a long day and CJ was not happy, which resulted in some close-quarter screaming on the jet.  Only mildly horrifying.  This is the facade of St Peter's Cathedral.  Its actually all that remains of the original structure.

This is the view from the facade.  Its funky, you walk up this cobblestone lined street filled with shops and crowds of people, and all of a sudden at the top of the street, you are greeted by the base of the facade.

Caleb and his Great Grandmother.

This is the day the rest of my family left for Taiwan, and we had 2 more days alone in Hong Kong.  Everybody naps.

View of the Hong Kong side from the Kowloon harbour.  This is the same view from our hotel room, which is only slightly less overcast in real life.