SoCal discoveries

Warning: This post contains a glut of pictures of yours truly in the act of eating. Apparently I’ve been in a narcissistic phase as of late.

Today marks the one-month anniversary of my Southern California residency. Despite the stresses of finding a place to live, starting my career, trolling Craigslist and Target for basic necessities, and hauling heavy furniture across town, life has been pretty good.

The weather has been colder and gloomier than the locals say they have seen “in decades.” I haven’t joined a gym, found a place to worship (other than at the ocean shore), or made a ton of new friends. I have also not been cooking much, unless you count assembling salads and spreading peanut butter into ribs of celery. But I’m grateful for what I have, and for the daily reminder to be patient and persistent in making the life I want to live.

That’s one thing I love about food. In the sometimes mundane rhythm of hours, food is that shot of newness into the day. It’s something to look forward to, to plan for. Whether its a perfect avocado from a new friend’s tree (I guess we do have a few new friends!), or discovering this state’s mammoth raisins, relocating has its charms. Though I definitely do not have my kitchen groove back yet (and I haven’t been since living in Syracuse!), I am truly excited about everything my new home has to offer.

The situation looked a little dire at first. We couldn’t find a little ethnic market like we had in Syracuse, and the farmer’s market seemed so much more hoity-toity than the Central New York Regional Saturday mash-up. But we’re getting there, thanks of course to Trader Joe’s (which I’ve now been fully indoctrinated by), and a small market across the street from us called Just Peachy with excellent produce prices. Then, the other weekend (thanks to Chowhound) we found North Park Produce, and its shelves of fun ingredients provided an afternoon’s worth of entertainment.

Pussy willow water, anyone?

I know I’d heard of labne, or kefir cheese before, but this is the first time I’ve bought it. It’s lower in fat than cream cheese, and much more tangy. It’s excellent spread on sandwiches, or on a cracker with some raspberry jam.

At this same market (where we procured fresh tamarind, dirt-cheap olives, two kinds of feta, and so much more) we also sampled some most delicious tamales. I might have tried a tamale or two before, but I remember them being soggy and unimpressive. These ones were wrapped perfectly in corn husks and packed with cheese and jalepenos, not to mention the perfect texture and steaming-hot fresh.

Just as I was staging this “authentic food experience” for Mark to capture  on his iPhone, two women unloading their groceries next to us started giggling at me. Feeling a little sheepish, I started explaining that I was from the East and how you simply didn’t get good Mexican there. They offered us some of their sticky-soft Medjool dates, and all was well.

Then last weekend, in L.A. for the first time, I was treated to two new food experiences. After our coffees from Intelligentsia (esteemed in the coffee community), we walked around until our stomach started growling. Though the famous Kogi taco truck was too far away to follow, we did have the opportunity to dine on fusion truck food — something the city is known for. Our truck of the moment? Calbi, which you can follow too at twitter.com/calbibbq.

We shared a kimchi quesadilla (why haven’t I thought of that?!), a shrimp and a pork taco, seasoned with Korean spices. It was all delicious, and taken in on the street of Abbot Kinney, surrounded by hipsters in their full-sleeve tattoos and fluorescent cruisers, it felt very L.A.-esque.

I guess I have been doing a wee bit of cooking. At the same North Park market where we scored tamales and olives, I also bought a can of fava beans with cumin, and whipped up thislittle stew for us last night. You saute a few cloves of garlic and onion, add 3 small eggplants, cubed, stir in cumin and oregano, and cook until tender. At the end I added the can of fava beans, fresh mint, and a few drizzles of balsamic vinegar (you could use red wine too). Try it with pita bread, yogurt, and/or feta cheese.

Stay tuned for a post with some actual recipes in it (I know, it’s been ages!), starring the fresh tamarind I found at North Park, and more musings on this state’s excellent Mexican cuisine.

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