>> Tuesday, May 25, 2010

 Guess what? You can get pretty much any book you want FOR FREE, just around the corner from where you live! It's true! You just walk right in, tell 'em what book you want and they hand it over to you. Now, you don't get to keep it forever but you do get to keep it for as long as it takes you to finish it. This free book fantasyland is called "The Library" and though it may seem like I'm being a bit sarcastic here, really, I'm not.
See, I used to spend a lot of my hard(ish) earned money on books. Books that I usually only read once and then added to the ever-growing collection in my towering, wall-to-wall book shelves. My new year's resolution this year was to STOP BUYING BOOKS. It sounds so easy but I was scared. I (shamefully) hadn't used the public library since I was about 13. Sure, I used the school library for projects and reports but for some reason I plumb forgot that there was a public library in every town I have ever lived in that was chock full of the books I was paying $14.95 a piece for! It seems totally crazy when you think about it. Last year I probably spent well over a couple hundred dollars on books. I am an avid reader, I always have a book I'm reading and I sometimes read up to a book a week. Used book stores helped defray some of the cost of all these books but really, I was buying the cow when I could have gotten the milk for free. I HAVE SEEN THE LIGHT!
I got a Los Angeles library card a few years ago on a tour of the Central Library in Downtown Los Angeles. They explained on the tour how the LA Library system is streamlined and connected to make it easy to get a book from any LA library delivered to the one nearest you so you can pick it up at your convenience. I got my card on the spot then promptly did nothing with it. That is, until this year when I mustered up the courage to go online and test out this supposedly easy system. Turns out, it was just as easy as they said it would be. I found the book I wanted, put a hold on it and checked back in a day to see if it was ready for pick up. All this from the comfort of my couch! When the book was ready at my library of choice, I swung by and walked up to the front desk where they scanned my library card (which conveniently attaches to my keychain!!!) and handed over my book with a receipt that provided me with the due date. It was that simple.
The pictures in this post are all from my chosen library, the Westwood branch.
I love this place. It is everything you expect a library to be and more. It's incredibly quiet (of course) but also just tranquil and peaceful. It has huge windows that reveal lush green tree tops and bright blue sky, it almost feels like reading in a tree house when you sit near these windows.
There is a great kids area with stunning butterfly wing stained glass windows. The building is beautifully made with interesting materials and sculptures. It has an airy, open feel but also has small rooms downstairs from the main library area for meetings and book groups.
The staff are very helpful and there is free(!!!), underground parking. The switch from buying retail-priced books to checking out exactly the books I want has been almost seamless. Sometimes a book I want isn't available or a transfer from another library to mine takes more than a few days but when you are paying 0 dollars and 0 cents, these minor inconveniences are well worth it. So far I have checked out 7 books from the library, read them all and haven't paid a penny.
If you, like me, forgot about this amazing resource, maybe now is the time to reconsider. Just think of all the money you could save! Check it out: (get it? check it out?. Punny, I know.)
PS. If you're really lucky, someone will leave little surprises in the books that you get to discover! I've found photos, notes, grocery lists and boarding passes!


GLOW Mango Curry Gingersnap Ice Cream Sammiches

>> Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I'm a blabbermouth. In school, without fail, my report cards came home with notes from teachers about how I was very bright but talkative to the point of being disruptive. My parents were mostly concerned with my grades and since those were always top notch, they never felt much need to squelch my social nature. I still talk. A lot. About everything. I have strong opinions and when I find something I like or something I dislike, people are going to hear about it.
I found something I like. I like it a lot. I think I might even LOVE it.
I found Glow Gluten Free cookies. They are not bland, or sandy or dry or earthy, or stick-in-your-teethy or off in any way whatsoever. I have tried a lot of gluten free cookies and I have not reviewed them here because one thing my parents did attempt to impart to me through my years of disruptive babbling was that if you don't have anything nice to say, you shouldn't say anything at all. So there. Even the very best gluten-free cookies were still good GLUTEN-FREE cookies. These are just good cookies. I would even venture so far as to say these are some of the best packaged cookies I have EVER had. I have to hide them from my non-G-Free Sous Chef and he is a cookie aficionado.
Glow cookies come in four flavors: Snickerdoodle, Chocolate Chip, Double Chocolate Chip and Gingersnap. I have never been a fan of gingersnap cookies but I love Glow cookies so much that I was determined to eat every last morsel of every flavor. I decided that I needed something creamy and flavorful to balance out the spiciness of the ginger. I came up with the idea of making ice cream sandwiches using the gingersnaps and homemade mango curry ice cream. The result was catastrophically delicious. I must urge ALL of you out there to not only GET THEE TO LOCALI (or go online) AND BUY SOME GLOW COOKIES but also to MAKE THIS RECIPE ASAP!

Mango Curry Ice Cream Sandwiches
- 6 egg yolks
- 2 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 1/2 cup sugar
- juice of one small lemon
- 2 tsp sweet yellow curry powder
- 2 1/2 cups mango puree (I used 10 very ripe Ataulfo Mexican mangoes)
Peel the mangoes then cut them into chunks and puree in blender or food processor until smooth.
Strain through mesh strainer if puree is lumpy or stringy. Set puree aside.
In a mixing bowl, cream together the yolks and sugar until smooth.
 Heat the cream in a saucepan to just below boiling.
Temper the eggs by whisking a cup of the hot cream VERY slowly into the egg mixture. Once you've brought them up to temperature, add the tempered eggs to the cream mixture.

Gently heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring often. The mixture will begin to thicken. Continue heating until the mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon.

Remove from heat immediately and whisk the mixture for a minute to stop the custard from cooking. Whisk in the curry powder. Strain liquid through a fine mesh strainer into a metal bowl set over an ice bath.
Stir in the vanilla and mango puree.
 Place the liquid, still in the ice bath into the refrigerator. When it's completely cold, pour it into ice cream maker and follow the manufacturers instructions.
When the ice cream is ready, scoop into a plastic container and freeze for at least a few hours to harden.

Scoop one large scoop of ice cream onto a gingersnap and place another gingersnap on top. Smoosh slightly then place in a zipper freezer bag and freeze overnight (this softens the cookie just slightly and keeps the sandwich together better when you eat it.) Enjoy with a glass of ice cold milk, soy milk or almond milk. Cry from happiness.


A Special Day

>> Friday, May 7, 2010

Five years ago today, something magical happened. A little baby doggy was born through C-section. A few months later she got on an airplane and flew all the way from Russia to California. For those few months, she was called Mishel. Then one day, I saw this picture:
 and this baby doggy was born to me.
After I saw the picture I went to meet Mishel and I knew right away that she was Violet and she was my baby. She seemed to know this too.
I took her home in a box. She peeked over the edge and kept her eyes on me the whole time.
Once I brought her home, she changed my life. She makes me laugh every single day. She likes Oysters.
She is so cute it makes want to cry and sometimes I do because I am corny like that. This is her after surgery to have a benign tumor removed from her foot.
She loves to soak up the sun and prefers to live a life of lazy leisure but...
Deep down she is a wild country dog. When she visits her great-grandparents sprawling farm in Missouri, she comes alive and bounds through grass that grows two feet above her head. She races around the edges of the lakes and streams, dipping her feet in. She surveys the land and dreams of all the fun she could have out there.
This is her dreaming.
She is my inspiration and my muse and I love her more every single day.
Even if she is getting a little white in the whiskers.


A Homemade Life: Foodie Book Club Post

>> Tuesday, May 4, 2010

*Warning* this post is being written through a fog of cough/cold medication and may be subject to run-on sentences and incoherent babbling. Ahem.

After gnawing through the gristle of "The Nasty Bits" for (never home)maker's Foodie Book Club, it was a welcome respite to dip into the tender sweetness of "A Homemade Life."

Molly Wizenberg's book based on her blog, Orangette, delves lightly into her parent's backgrounds, her childhood, her time abroad, her beloved father's death and ends with the story of how she met and fell in love with her husband while creating the blog that these stories are culled from.  Like many blog-cum-books, this isn't heavy material. Sometimes it can feel a bit superficial as one story jumps headlong into the next but these stories are chronological and there is a loose narrative thread based around the themes of food, cooking and finding one's passions.

Molly's writing is lovely. It is lyrical yet not overly flowery or verbose as some food-based books tend to be. She uses her words wisely and well and that helps the scents and tastes float off the page.

This book is filled with enticing recipes. Before even finishing the book, I had to make Molly's stewed prunes. The way she described them made it impossible to resist and they were just as delicious as promised (even if I did take a little license with the cinnamon.)
I was lucky enough to get to meet Molly, she had a reading in LA two days after I started the book. I got to hear her read from the book and answer audience questions at Skylight Books while this cat roamed around inspecting everybody.
She was very funny and warm (Molly, not the cat. Are cats ever funny and warm?) and it was inspiring to hear her talk about going from a hobbyist blogger to a  bona fide writer with a column at Bon Apetit.

Molly's book made me want to cook. It was just what I needed after Anthony Bourdain's book made me want to punch someone and a month of illness and exhaustion made me want to sleep forever. If you have any inclination toward the kitchen, I recommend this book and Molly's blog.
Here is a recipe from her book and another from her blog. Both are absolutely delicious and unexpected. I hope you'll try them!

Stewed Prunes with Citrus (and cinnamon, if you like)
adapted from "A Homemade Life"

*I know, prunes can seem scary. They're all wrinkly and brown and they call to mind less than savory side-effects but if you look past those minor details and remember that they are really just dried plums, it's easy to understand how they can be so flavorful, soft and comforting. Be brave, make these and you'll see what I mean!
- 1 small orange or tangerine or 1/2 small orange and 1/2 lemon (I used a Cutie clementine)
- 1 lb quality pitted prunes
- 1 cinnamon stick (I left this out)
- water

Cut the orange in half from stem to tip, then slice it very thinly, peel and all.
 Remove seeds as you go. Put the orange slices in a medium saucepan with the prunes and the cinnamon stick, if using. Add just enough water to cover.  Place over medium heat. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook, adjusting so the water barely trembles, for 30 - 45 minutes, or until the prunes are tender, the orange slices are soft and glassy, and the liquid in the pan is slightly syrupy.
 Remove the cinnamon stick, cool slightly and serve. Or let the prunes cool to room temperature and then store them in a sealed container in the fridge for up to a week.
Serve over greek yogurt with honey or ice cream or oatmeal or anything!

Braised Rhubarb
adapted from Orangette
*Oh my goodness, do I love rhubarb. Growing up, we had bushels of it growing right in our backyard, nowadays I have to venture out the the farmer's market (woe is me!) The color when you cook it is like an 8-year-old-Picky-G's idea of heaven. It is PINK, man. PINK. It has the most subtle flavor and the vanilla and white wine in this recipe play it up to utter perfection. Don't fear the rhubarb.

For the wine here, I used my personal favorite, King Shag Sauvignon Blanc from Trader Joe's.

2 lb. rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 3-inch lengths
½ cup sugar
½ cup crisp white wine
1 vanilla bean, split
Set a rack in the lower third of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F.
Put the rhubarb in a Dutch oven or other deep oven-safe pot.
Add the sugar, wine, and vanilla bean, and stir to mix. I threw in the vanilla pod to give it a but more vanilla oomph.
Bake (uncovered) for about 30 minutes, or until very tender, giving the pot a gentle stir about midway through to ensure that the rhubarb cooks evenly.
Remove the vanilla pod and serve warm or cold, by itself or over something creamy. 
Also, makes a delicious fool, combined with freshly whipped cream, parfait style