Wendy’s Word

Not your mama’s blog….

Homegirl Cafe May 14, 2011

Filed under: Food — wendy @ 8:29 pm
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Father Gregory Boyle has been getting alot of press here in L.A. lately, with the recent publication of his memoir, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, and the good sales of Homeboy Industries chips and salsas now appearing in grocery stores.  Homeboy Industries is a social service organization founded by Boyle that works with former gang members, helping them with tattoo removal and mostly by employing them.

This is a good excuse for me to finally blog about Homegirl Cafe, which has been a favorite of mine for the past few years.  Homegirl Cafe, a division of Homeboy Industries, is a training program for girls who are at risk or who have formerly been involved with gangs, teaching them how to cook in and run a restaurant.  They even have their own garden.  But that’s a side benefit for me.  I go to Homegirl because the food is terrific, and I like the atmosphere — brightly painted, original artwork, always bustling.

I’ve only been there for lunch, which features Latin-stye salads, sandwiches, and tacos.  I was once there on a weekend and was pleased to see it just as bustling as on the weekday.  My favorites are roasted corn (sweet, creamy, tangy, and spicy all at the same time), the fruit salad (mango, jicama, orange, and avocado with a hibiscus dressing), Ana’s salad (because it features the roasted corn, along with queso fresco, roasted poblano pepper strips, jicama, and avocado), and I recently tried the tofu salad (soft tofu mixed with mint, red onion, jalapeno, and lime) which has now been added to my list of favorites.  Although the salads are my favorite, the sandwiches and tacos are good too.  I can rarely resist the drink called Angela’s Green Potion, a limeade with spinach and mint.  Very refreshing.  The coffee is good too, made with cinnamon and orange peels.

I am lucky enough to have Homegirl Cafe reasonably close to my office.  It’s one of my “go-to” places when I’m meeting friends for lunch.  I get a delicious lunch that happens to also be healthy, and am supporting a good cause at the same time.  Ideal!

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Smoothies May 9, 2011

Filed under: Food — wendy @ 8:31 pm

The weather warmed up (temporarily) just when Whole Living magazine published a bunch of smoothie recipes.  Here’s one that I love:

Carrot, Mango, and Herb Smoothie

1 c. carrot juice

1 c. orange juice

2 c. frozen mango chunks

handful of fresh mint

about 4-5 ice cubes

Blend until smooth.  Yum.


 

Book Update May 3, 2011

Filed under: Books — wendy @ 8:25 pm

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about books, and as a result, I’m starting to forget what I’ve been reading.  Part of my original motivation to start a blog was to remember (and share) what I read!  So here are my brief synopses.

Dragon Tattoo series (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, The Girl Who Kicked Over the Hornet’s Nest), by Steig Larsson.  My husband brought home the first movie and I watched it just to humor him.  Now I’ve read all three books and saw the first and third movies.  They are compelling.  The setting (Sweden) is so different from what we’re used to – the landscape, the customs (they are constantly drinking coffee!), and country characters – that it seems exotic.  The protagonist, Lisbeth Salander, is unusual for her combination of aloofness bordering on hostility and superior hacking and self-defense skills.  The sexual mores of the characters are looser than typical American books.  But mostly, the action keeps you reading late into the night.  There are flaws.  The tone can be sanctimonious and preachy.  There are actually footnotes about Swedish politics.  The overarching message is that men are mostly all misogynists, using sex as a weapon against women, yet the author uses sex as a ploy to keep us reading.  The third book was utterly boring until about page 250.  Yet the series was a good read.  The movies stay true to the books.  I had no problem following the first movie without having read the book (in fact, it helped me keep the characters, with their unfamiliar Swedish names, straight when I read the book), but I don’t think you’d be able to follow the later movies without having read the books.

American Wife, by Curtis Sittenfeld.  A fictionalized version of the lives of Laura and George Bush.  An interesting story that made me want to read up on Laura Bush, to see what events were real and what were made up.

Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Affect Our Lives, by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler.  What our friends do affects what we do.  Not really that surprising.

Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, by Anne Lamott.  This book starts out, “On my forty-ninth birthday, I decided that all of life was hopeless, and I would eat myself to death.  These are desert days.  Better to go out by our own hands than to endure slow death by scolding at the hands of the Bush administration.”   My first thought: oh, she’s an older writer.  My second thought: Crap, I’m going to be 49 this year – she’s my age.  Next thought: Please!  A little less self-dramatizing.  Bush has come and gone and we’re still here.  Next thought: But if you’re going to end it all, eating yourself to death is a pretty funny way to do it (reminds me of the wonderful French movie, La Grande Bouffe).  This was pretty much my thinking all the way through the book.  Anne Lamott is annoying – she’s so self-righteous with her extreme liberalism.  But she’s funny about it.  She’s well aware of her insecurities and neuroses and laughs about them with us.  Her writing is beautiful and touching.  The situations that she writes about strike a chord, particularly when she writes about the perils of raising an adolescent.  Can relate.  You need faith to raise an adolescent while keeping your sanity!

Oh The Glory of It All, by Sean Wilsey. A memoir of a kid with rich and famous parents who go through a nasty divorce.  Wilsey gains an evil stepmother, is shuttled from school to school, gets in a lot of trouble, and comes out the other end as a writer and editor of McSweeney’s.  The book is incredibly moving at the beginning and end (yes, that was me, crying on the exercise bike as I was reading), but the middle gets maddening.  Wilsey is so bad that I wondered why I was bothering to read his book.  How many times can you steal your mother’s car and expect to get sympathy from your readers, bad childhood or not?  Wilsey redeems himself just in time.  The book was so good that I passed it on to a friend.

The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion.  Heartbreaking.  This is Joan Didion’s account of the year in which her husband unexpectedly dies and her daughter and only child is in and out of the hospital, comatose for part of that time, with what started as pneumonia and turns into a full-body infection.   I can’t imagine anything worse.  That Didion can write so beautifully about such a horrible year is a testament to her strength as a person and talent as a writer.  The book stayed with me, and I was talking about it to a friend.  The book is vague as to what happens to Didion’s daughter.  My friend told me – wait: SPOILER ALERT!  — that Didion’s daughter died after the book was completed.  I can only repeat, heartbreaking.

Offshore, by Penelope Fitzgerald.    Winner of the 1979 Booker Prize.  This novel is about a group of people who live on barges in the Thames river.  Anyone who chooses to live on a barge is likely to be an interesting character, as are Fitzgerald’s characters.  There’s Nenna, a single mother with two daughters struggling with the desertion of her husband, Richard, the super-competent leader of the barge-dwellers who’s socially awkward and has his own marriage problems, Willis, the down-and-out artist, and Maurice, with his less-than-reputable career.  Together, they’ve created their own society.  But it’s hard to maintain their marginal lifestyle, as they learn.

The Last Town On Earth, by Thomas Mullen.  It was interesting to read this book after Philip Roth’s novel, Nemesis, about the polio epidemic.  I guess I’m a sucker for public health-related fiction!  (My day job.)  This novel is about the 1918 flu epidemic, and is based on true experiences.  A small town decides to quarantine itself from the flu — no one goes in or out.  Of course, this is almost impossible, and when a soldier approaches the guards and refuses to leave, they are faced with a dilemma that ends in gunfire.  This happens at the beginning of the novel, so I’m not giving anything away.  What ensues from that incident, as well as how the town copes with the effects of the quarantine, drives the story.  The protagonist is a gentle half-boy, half-man, who struggles with his guilt over not being able to enlist in the army because of a physical disability and the moral dilemma that guarding the town poses.  You don’t have to be a public health nerd like me to love this book.

 

Noodles – Part 2 – Japanese April 10, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — wendy @ 6:50 pm
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Continuing my Asian noodle adventure from my last post, I’ve had some wonderful ramen in a few places.

My youngest daughter recently did a history project on Japan and one enterprising mother took a group of girls to Little Tokyo after school.  I met them for dinner at Daikokuya in Little Tokyo.  We each ordered a bowl of ramen and an order of gyoza to share.  Plus, the other mom and I ordered sake – hey, she had just spent an afternoon with a group of adolescent girls and I was coming from a long day at work!

The gyoza were like none I’ve ever seen.  Long, almost like crepes, and steamed.  I’m not quite sure what was inside.  At first, we thought they had brought us the wrong thing.  They were good, but I don’t think I’d order them again.  The ramen, however, was wonderful.  Delicious broth, with pork, egg, and Japanese veggies.

 

 

 

And then there’s Ramen Jinya.  Ramen Jinya is in the same mini-mall as the Marshall’s that I frequent (a little too frequently), so it was only a matter of time before I tried it.  Terrific!  It has become my daughter’s and my standard Saturday lunch place.  The ramen is as good as the ramen at Daikokuya in Little Tokyo, if not better.  There are several types of broth and all the ones I’ve tried so far have been fantastic – flavorful and cloudy without being overwhelming.  The pork chashu is so tender, it melts in your mouth.  There are also greens, pickled something or other, and standout noodles.  My daughter and I always share a ramen and an order of roll sushi, and if they come at the same time, the waiter tells us to eat the soup right away so the noodles don’t get soggy.  I love that they instruct us how to eat so we get the most out of the food.  When I met Jonathan Gold a few weeks ago (this exciting event was chronicled in a recent blog entry) and he learned I lived in Studio City, he asked if I had been to Ramen Jinya.  Or rather, he said, “you’ve been to Ramen Jinya, I’m sure…”  to which I could happily say, “of course!”  Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos (of the ramen, nor do I have any of Jonathan Gold) because I’m too busy eating and sharing a lovely experience with my daughter to take pictures.  All right, I keep forgetting.  But trust me, the ramen is fantastic.

 

Noodles – Part 1 – Korean

Filed under: Uncategorized — wendy @ 6:00 pm
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Perhaps my favorite thing about LA is the ability to find all kinds of ethnic food in authentic settings.  My Asian noodle experiences are a good example.

One Saturday, I had to take my daughter to a volunteer event in Koreatown.  If I had to wake up early on a Saturday and drive to Koreatown, then you better believe I was going to plan a food excursion to make up for it.  I scoured the blogosphere and found three good options for Korean noodles.  I’m sure there are many more – in fact I know there are, because I’ve been to other places but don’t remember their names or precisely where they are located.  So the blogosphere it was.  I called the three top candidates to make sure they were still open and they answered in Korean.  Either they did not understand my questions  (Are you open for lunch today?  Where are you located?) or I couldn’t understand their answers, but I hung up the phone from all three with no idea what they said.  I took that as a good sign.

We ended up at Olympic Noodle.  To say that it was a nondescript storefront would be to play up its curb appeal.  As we walked in, we were greeted by a friendly Korean woman who seated us.  We were the only non-Asians in the place.  We ordered dumplings and soup.   There were pots of kimchi and pickled vegetables on the table.  While we waited for our food, a Korean woman at the table next to us took some of the kimchi and vegetables from our jar and put it on a plate and encouraged us to try it.  I guess she figured we needed teaching.  I was delighted to be taken in hand.  The kimchi and pickles were delicious.  Then our food came.  The dumplings were divine.  I love dumplings so I often order them, but I have high standards for dumplings.  These were crispy on the outside and filled with flavorful and juicy meat and veggies.  Although we promised to bring our leftovers home for my younger daughter, we made a pact to tell no one about the dumplings since there most certainly would be no leftovers.  The soup was good.  Steaming, with hand-cut noodles and chicken.  The portions are huge – we shared one bowl and we couldn’t finish it.

When we were paying the bill, the woman at the table next to us who had helped us with the kimchi asked the waitress to ask us if we liked the dumplings.  Yes we did!  We left Olympic Noodle with full stomachs, leftover soup, and a feeling that we were super-cool to have discovered this authentic hole-in-the-wall with terrific food.

 

Hamentaschen 2011 March 26, 2011

Filed under: Food — wendy @ 4:59 pm

The LA Times has redeemed itself.  Over the holidays, I baked (and blogged about) a cookie recipe I got from the Times that was not worth the effort.  But the hamentaschen recipe that was recently published was a different story.  Two years ago, I blogged about my family’s standard hamentaschen recipe that we bake every year, but which is imprecise and difficult to work with.  A friend turned me on to a different recipe, and lo and behold, it was published in the Times this year.  I had to try it.  The results were great.  The dough was easy to make, easy to work with, and was delicious.  Best of all, the hamentaschen didn’t turn soft the next day — they retained their texture better than others I’ve made.

 

Wendy’s Word Meets Jonathan Gold March 13, 2011

Filed under: Food — wendy @ 6:44 pm
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I can’t believe I’m saying this and I’ll never say it again, but I hope Jonathan Gold is not reading this blog entry.  Because I’m going to fawn embarrassingly like a pre-teenager fawning over Justin Bieber.  Brace yourselves readers – I met Jonathan Gold today!  It’s as exciting as the day I shook Bill Clinton’s hand!

It all started with cupcakes.  I went to a potluck party today at Santa Anita racetrack and a woman brought cupcakes that looked like Hostess cupcakes except these were homemade, with rich, bittersweet chocolate icing and light, not-too-sweet whipped cream inside.  I happen to know that there’s a recipe for these cupcakes in the City cookbook, because I have made them before and they are labor-intensive enough that I never made them again.  I spoke to the woman who brought them, and sure enough, the recipe did come from City and they were indeed labor intensive.  This started a long conversation about food in which it was revealed that she works with Jonathan Gold and that he was supposed to be coming to this very party.

For you non-LA or non-foodie readers, Jonathan Gold is food critic for the LA Weekly, and was previously the restaurant critic for Gourmet magazine.  He has written a book, Counter Intelligence, on where to eat in LA, compiled from his columns, and has won a Pulitzer prize for his food writing.  My excitement about meeting him was only surpassed by the nervousness of my 12-year-old aspiring food critic daughter.

I spied Gold from across the party.  He is easy to spot – he is a large man and was wearing a t-shirt with an octopus on it under his jacket and has wild reddish-grayish hair.  My husband got to him before me and was chatting him up – hubby is quite social.  Jonathan Gold spoke to us for a long time and was very modest – just like you’d chat with anyone at a party.  We talked about restaurants we liked, City restaurant and other Milliken/Feniger (aka Border Girls) restaurants, writing, music, and our kids’ school.  If Jesus Christ himself was at a party and had school-aged kids, we’d end up talking about our kids’ schools.  Parents just can’t help it.  I tried not to fawn too overtly, and not to reveal how much I knew about him, since I had read a profile of him in the New Yorker magazine a year or so ago.

Gold brought tacos to the party – soft tacos with different fillings – potato, beans, and meat with two salsas, which he got from someplace in Highland Park.  I, to my great chagrin, brought Trader Joe’s bagged Caesar salads.  Which would have been mortifying except that Jonathan Gold came to the party late and the salad was gone by that point.  I actually didn’t see him eat a thing.  It would have been more embarrassing if I had made something good because then I would have been tempted to get Jonathan Gold to try it.  That could have been extremely awkward!

There was one point when we were talking about how one becomes a food critic, this for the benefit of my aspiring 12-year-old food critic, and he talked about food blogs.  I revealed that I have a food (among other topics) blog and he asked what it was called.  I froze for an instant.  Jonathan Gold is asking what my blog is called!  I was tempted to email him the link at once and beg him to read it.  At the same time, I was tempted to give him the name of a well-known food blog, so as to not seem lame.  I realized that he was asking not because he wants to check it out but because he wants to see whether it’s one he knows.  I sheepishly gave him my blog name and we immediately moved on to other topics.  In my fantasy, Jonathan Gold has filed this information in his memory bank and will check out the blog as soon as he gets home.  But hopefully, he’ll miss this particular entry!