Donabe Cookware

donabe1 I first learned about Donabe cookware about three years ago from a local blog I followed. The article talked about the cookware but it was essentially focused on Naoko Moore, the owner of The Toiro Kitchen who gives cooking demonstrations with Donabe cookware at her home in Echo Park. I registered for one of her cooking classes and spent a Saturday in her cozy kitchen learning all about how to cook rice in the rice cooker and how to cook a whole meal in the stovetop smoker.

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Afterwards all the class participants sat around Naoko’s dining table and ate a delicious Japanese meal. I was so impressed with Naoko’s enthusiasm for this cookware that is not only beautiful but incredibly versatile, I bought the Komado San rice cooker and the Donabe stovetop smoker.

The donabe cookware is made in Iga, Japan. Iga is an ancient province located about 250 miles south-west of Tokyo. Iga style pottery is considered to be one of the most highly regarded regional potteries of Japan. It is made with clay that is porous and has a high absorbency and heat retention properties. Each Donabe is made by hand and takes about 2 weeks to make.

The rice cooker makes the most delicious rice. It comes out shiny and fluffy, and it’s so easy to prepare. It tastes better than rice cooked any other way.

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One of my favorite rice dishes is one I learned at Naoko’s cooking class that I eat anytime I am in the mood for Japanese comfort food.  It is white or brown short grain rice cooked in the Kamado-san rice cooker and when it is done, leave the rice in the cooker and mix in 2 tablespoons of good butter and let it melt into the rice, 1/4 cup soy sauce and the zest of a medium orange. Stir into the rice and serve it right from the Donabe rice cooker.

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If you are looking for an interesting and unique cooking experience, check out Naoko’s website for class schedules. However I believe classes for 2015 have been put on hold because she is working on a Donabe cookbook. Her website also includes the Donabe pottery and other items like a Tofu making kit that she sells online and a fantastic library of Asian recipes.

Nudo

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I discovered Nudo when my oldest daughter gave me an olive tree adoption certificate for Christmas one year. It said that I would be receiving 3 bottles of olive oil from my adopted tree after the Spring harvest and it included a picture and story about my tree. I waited for months for my olive oil to come in the mail and right at the point when I was thinking my daughter had been duped, I received my 3 beautiful tins of fantastic Olive oil. I have since given Nudo as a gift to many of my foodie friends and I always get an enthusiastic response about what a great and unique gift it is.

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The Founders

Jason Gibb and Cathy Rogers set up Nudo in 2005 after buying and restoring an abandoned 21 acre olive grove in Italy’s Le Marche. Their love of the Italian countryside inspired their now famous adopt an olive tree program which allows people all over the world to adopt an Italian olive tree and receive its oil. The program involves a collaboration between a group of small scale, artisanal olive producers in Le Marche, Abruzzo and Sicily. Each olive farmer keeps responsibility for the care of their grove, and all the olive oil goes into the Nudo adoption program. In giving financial security to the olive farmers, the program makes viable the traditional farming methods which, quite simply,produce the world’s best olive oil.

A love of simple natural food is the starting point for all Nudo products. They are all made from 100% natural, high quality, locally sourced ingredients. Why use artificial preservatives when olive oil is one of the best preservatives there is – and the most delicious?. They also have a newsletter and blog that is interesting to read because it includes recipes and tips about uses for your olive oil. Your olive oil farmer will keep you informed about your adopted tree if you choose to renew your adoption beyond the initial harvest.

Recently I noticed that the company has branched out and is offering tea garden adoptions from India and coming soon honey beehive adoptions which is so cool. I am always looking for unique gifts for people and this one really delivers.

Epicure Imports

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If you are a Francophile foodie like Lauren and I, you should know about Epicure Imports in North Hollywood. They are a wholesale distributor of high-end specialty food items to restaurants, hotels, retail stores, caterers and chefs in Southern California. But 6 times a year they have an open warehouse sale that is open to the public.

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In addition to French gourmet food they also carry items from Italy, Asia and other parts of the world. They are the place to go for fine French cheeses and pates and hard to find olive oils, vinegars and condiments. The sale hours are from 11:30 – 5:00 and throughout the years, Lauren and I have tried different strategies to avoid the crowds.

This last weekend we lined up outside waiting for them to open and we shared a basket so that one of us could stand in the long checkout line while the other perused the warehouse shelves and collected the yummy samples. While we were standing in line this time, we remarked how improved their checkout system has become.

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When we first started going to this sale, none of the items had prices marked on them so you didn’t know if you were selecting a $3 item or a $40 item which resulted in some sticker shock once you got to the cashier and they started adding up your basket. Now they have everything priced and they have many more cashiers and computers to tally up your order.

Not everything at Epicure is a great discount. But I would say the cheeses, pates, sausages, sparkling French juices, Valrhona chocolates, olive oils, flavored vinegars,  specialty sea salts and wonderful Panetonne from Italy are particularly a good buy compared to getting these items at high end grocery stores.

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If you’re a cook, a baker, or anyone who loves to eat fabulous food, this is the sale for you!

Preserved Lemons

If you have a lemon tree, like me you may wonder – what do I do with all of these lemons? Try making delicious Preserved Lemons!

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Preserved lemons are the culinary gift to the world from Morocco. Useful in so many ways, they do not seem that familiar to many home cooks. YET. Here’s how I made them and some of the many ways to use them.

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freshly squeezed lemon juice

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wide-mouthed glass jars, run through the dishwasher and dried

Stand a lemon stem side down on a cutting board and cut down through it to almost the bottom, leaving it intact about 1/2” above the stem. Turn the lemon and make another cut down, again leaving 1/2” above the stem but essentially quartering the lemon. Hold the lemon over a bowl of salt and pack in as much salt as you can. Put the lemon in the jar and continue filling the jar with the lemons, pushing them in as much as you can. Fill the jar with lemon juice until full and cover with the lid. Put the jars in a dark place (pantry or cupboard) and turn the jar daily to redistribute the salt for one week. The lemons can be stored this way for about 4 months or up to about one year in the refrigerator.

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Using Preserved Lemons:

Rinse the lemons under cool water before using. Many recipes call for using only the chopped rind, but I often like to use the pulp as well. Taste them before using and let your imagination go!

Grain Salads: add anywhere you would add lemon zest or juice

Salad Dressings or Sauces: use in dressings (rind and liquid) or sauces, including pesto

Grilled Fish or Meats: a perfect pairing – think salsa verde

Salsas and Dips: hummus, guacamole, salsas, tapanade

Vegetable Dishes: brightens almost every vegetable

Pasta Dishes: pasta and cous cous

Tagines and Stews: traditional

Drinks: bloody marys

Desserts: creatively in places that call for lemon

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Little Saigon

Little Saigon in Orange County, California is the oldest and largest Vietnamese community in the United States. There are 189,000 Vietnamese inhabitants in Little Saigon and 368,000 in the greater Southern California area.

Little Saigon includes the towns of Westminster and Garden Grove. The main street of activity in Little Saigon is Bolsa Avenue. For a first time visitor, a good place to start is the Asian Garden Mall (Phuoc Loc Tho).

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Inside the mall there are a variety of clothing and jewelry boutiques, gift shops, small eateries and even a place to worship.

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After visiting Vietnam this summer, I was interested in exploring Little Saigon and especially trying to recapture some of the wonderful food flavors I experienced in Hanoi and Hoi An. Based on some limited research and location, I had lunch at Pho 79 in the Asian Garden Mall.

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I tried the very popular dish of fresh spring rolls with pork and shrimp. They were beautiful but less flavorful than I was hoping for. The peanut based sauce that accompanied the spring rolls was very different from the vinegar, sugar and fish based sauces that were consistently served in northern and central Vietnam.

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I had high hopes for the chicken pho, hoping for memories of the chicken pho we had in Hanoi! Not close. Same experience when I tried to make it at home several weeks ago. What is the secret? The fried spring rolls were pretty but also just okay. I’m wondering if you can ever recapture flavors from another country in this country without the particular ingredients, climate, sounds, smells and textures?

A critical stop for me in Little Saigon was the ethnic supermarket. On this trip, I visited  A Dong Supermarket. I was overwhelmed by the fresh rice noodle aisle. I have never seen so many varieties of fresh rice noodles, sold in such large (5 and 10 pound) quantities.

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They also had some more unusual ingredients, including blue crab as well as snails that are used in the Vietnamese snail soup.

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There are more than 4,000 businesses in just 3 square miles of this Vietnamese-dominated community. In half a day I was able to explore only a few but got a good feel for the area and what it has to offer. I also bought a beautiful Vietnamese ao dai, the traditional Vietnamese national costume consisting of a colorful silk tunic worn over pants. I have no idea where or when I will wear it, but I couldn’t resist!

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Fixing Tech Mistakes

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Since I am an iPhone and Mac user and spend a lot of time each day on both, I was so happy to discover these tips to undo my most frustrating tech mistakes.

How to Un-send an Email in Microsoft Outlook
While not as foolproof as Gmail, Outlook does allow you to recall messages that have previously been sent. You can either delete the message entirely (for those who haven’t already opened it) or replace it with an error-free email (typos, begone).

To enable Recall, go to “Navigation Pane,” then “Sent Items.” Open the message you want to recall or replace and on the “Actions” menu, click “Recall This Message.” Then “Delete Unread Copies of This Message.”

How to Un-send a Text on an iPhone
Though you can’t un-send a text once it’s gone out, you can stop one that’s in the process of being sent (i.e., the little gray bar is still loading). Here’s how to do it: Once you notice your flub, immediately put your phone on Airplane Mode. When the text fails to deliver, delete the message. (Warning: This only works for texts sent through iMessage and for texts that are sending particularly slowly.)

To enable Airplane Mode, go to “Settings,” then “Airplane Mode,” then switch to “On.”

How to Redo Typing on an iPhone
Accidentally erased something you just typed? To undo, just shake the phone. To redo, shake it again. Simple, huh?

How to Undo Typing on a Computer
Behold the powers of Ctrl-Z (Command-Z on a Mac). This genius keyboard shortcut deletes the last sentence you typed in one fell swoop.

How to Refresh a Tab in Your Browser
In a deep Google search and accidentally closed all of your tabs? No sweat. Hit Ctrl-Shift-T (Command-Shift-T on a Mac) and the pages will pop right up again. (This works for all browsers.)

How to Lighten or Darken Sections of a Photo on Your iPhone
Before you click the photo look at the picture in the frame and any place that is too dark hold your finger on for a second and it will lighten. Similarly if it is too light, hold your finger on the area you want a little darker.

A Blog to Tell Your Friends About

imageI wanted to share with you this great new website/blog that I get daily feeds from. It is called PureWow. Here is how they describe themselves.

PureWow is a digital publication dedicated to finding ways to make your life more interesting, beautiful and manageable. Our motto, “Elevate the Everyday,” drives us to deliver irresistible discoveries to our readers every single day.

We cover the breadth of women’s lifestyle: fashion, beauty, home, arts and culture, tech, food and travel. Best of all, we do the work for you. We know you’re overcommitted and would rather let someone else do the digging. Lucky for you, it’s our calling.

And if you want even more fun finds (30 swimsuit options are always better than three), PureWow.com is your place for gorgeous fashion guides, entertaining slideshows and an original How to Wow video series that brings our best ideas to life.

Think of PureWow as a savvy friend who knows the next book you should read, the must-have jeans that fit and flatter, and the purse that holds your keys and charges your phone. (Trust us, it’s a lifesaver.)

I did a little research about the company and it is listed as a media company with about 3 million in revenue and over 300,000 subscribers. Ryan Harwood founded PureWow last year after leaving his Wall Street job. It went through an initial round of funding by a venture capital firm in conjunction with the company WowoWow, a company and website started by some high profile women like Candice Bergen, Leslie Stahl, Whoopi Goldberg, Marlo Thomas, Lily Tomlinson, among others. And like PureWow that website targets influential women.

The Iliad

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One of my favorite places to go shopping is … no, not Bloomingdales … not the mall … it’s used book stores. And a very good one in my part of town is The Iliad.

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The Iliad is located on the corner of Chandler and Cahuenga Blvd in North Hollywood. It has been in this location for about 8 years, but has been around for over 20 years. The collection at the Iliad is fairly robust and the organization and cleanliness of the store is superb. In addition, the book lovers who work there are very knowledgeable about their collection and helpful. I went to the Iliad last week to get some Brodart book covers for my cookbooks (plastic protection sheets like they use for library books) and on my way out I decided to just peek in the cookbook section for a minute or two. Ninety minutes later I was dragging myself out of the Iliad with almost 10 books in tow!

My daughter and I became interested in used bookstores while in the small town of Julian, CA on a weekend trip to Anza Borrego State Park. As we were wandering around, we came upon an intriguing used bookstore in an old cottage and experienced so much joy poking through the eclectic collection. My daughter discovered the “Choose Your Own Adventure” book series here and became a collector.

From that point on (well over 10 years), we take advantage of walking into just about every used bookstore we come across. For us it’s like a treasure hunt, probably similar to how some people scour for antiques. Unfortunately, used bookstores are becoming fewer and far between as are bookstores in general. Sad but true. But some still exist if you are willing to look.

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In downtown Los Angeles, a uniquely decorated used bookstore in an old bank building is The Last Bookstore. A fairly new and large store with a growing collection, I found it to be interesting however not nearly as well organized or specialized as The Iliad. There is also Skylight Books in Los Feliz and several stores on Brand Blvd in Glendale. If you’re interested in cookbooks like myself, there is a used bookstore that specializes only in cookbooks – Janis Jarvit’s in Pasadena, CA. Her collection of cookbooks is enormous.

Another good resource for used books is your local library. Many branches hold used book sales at least monthly to raise funds for their foundations. We also donate our used books to libraries that we have become affiliated with.

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In addition to all of the reasons I’ve alluded to already, another benefit to buying used books is that they can be a great deal. Here’s one of the books I purchased on my most recent visit to The Iliad, “Ekiben, The Art of the Japanese Box Lunch.” After having recently visited Japan, I fell in love with this beautiful picture book of the artistically beautiful bento box lunches that are represented by region in the train stations throughout Japan. I received hours of joy viewing the beautiful pictures and reading about the regional food specialties. All for $5.95 – a steal!

I’ve purchased hard-to-find or out-of-print collections of books as gifts for family and friends. Books are my favorite gifts to give for all occasions. If you’re a book lover like me, I highly recommend you search for used book sales in your area. You will not be disappointed!

Who’s Behind Those Warby Parkers?

 

warby-parkerI was never an expensive sunglasses kind of gal until my daughter gave me a gift certificate for Warby Parker.  They are an eyewear company originating in New York with a fantastic customer focus and website.  You can order 5 different styles of glasses or sunglasses to try on and they will send them, you try them on, pick the pair you like and send the rest back or send them all back within 5 days and if you want to, order 5 more styles to try on.  Or the other option and the one I like the best, is you can upload a full on face photo of yourself into their website and see what different styles look like on.  Another great feature is you can include your eyeglass prescription for corrective lenses or just indicate what reading strength you would like for your sunglass or eyeglass lenses.  I ordered sunglasses with lenses that have a 2.75 reader strength.  So now I don’t have to constantly switch between my sunglasses and eye glasses when I want to read something, like the text messages on my I Phone.  Their eyeglasses start at $95.00.  My new sunglasses came quickly and cost less than $150.00.  They also donate a pair of glasses to someone in need for every pair you purchase and they have a very interesting blog (as if all you have to do all day is read blogs).

 

I love my Warby Parkers so much I think I will order another pair

 

Love in Cold Storage


Harvey

In a big city like L.A., it is rare to find someone like Harvey Gus. He is my butcher and I learned about him from one of my teachers in Culinary School. Harvey has been known throughout the culinary world as owning one of the best meat companies in Los Angeles. Harvey started working full-time for his father’s business, GUSS MEAT COMPANY and in 1966 his father retired and left the business to Harvey and his brother who became partners. Harvey took over the entire business in 1994 and focused on bringing back the “boutique” aspect of the meat company. He lives down the street from the company and works 4 days a week fulfilling orders that have been left on the phone and attending to walk-ins. Harvey is always there when I go in to pick up my order and in between answering phones and making sure deliveries are sent on their way, he personally cuts my meat or wraps up my order that was cut somewhere else. My orders usually consist of special cuts of meat, Willie Bird turkeys and veal stock bones (which are hard to find in grocery stores). Everything is outstanding quality and absolutely worth the extra expense of getting it from a butcher rather than the meat counter in a local market. When asked if he will ever retire, Harvey says he wouldn’t know what to do with himself if he did. For selfish reasons, I hope he never does because I love having my very own butcher.