Port Hueneme: A Resting Place

Let me preface by saying, this is the most personal thing I have written in a long time. I am not sure if I should post this is on my own personal blog or here, but I think it is a story worth telling. Many of you have probably heard me say that January is a very difficult time of year for me, but perhaps I have never really told you why. The truth is that I come from a very small and tight family and January is a roller coaster of emotions that every year makes me plead for February to come early. It begins January 14th and remains until the 31st, which is the culmination of everything. January 14th was my grandma’s birthday and 10 years ago my uncle, his wife, and their baby took my grandma and her partner to Puerto Vallarta in celebration of her 73rd year of life. The plane never made it back to San Francisco and ultimately Seattle. The Alaska Airlines plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Port Hueneme on January 31, 2000. I was 13 at the time and had my first experience with death multiplied by 5 and intensified by NTSB meetings, news crews, and surrounded by other grieving families. Every year since then I have made the trek to Port Hueneme to be as close to where my family’s last moments were. My mom drove down from Santa Cruz on Friday and I met her at the hotel late Friday night after going to a friend’s birthday party first. Port Hueneme is one of the most confusing towns when it comes to maps, directions, and everything else. However, once you arrive, you are greeted by the kindest people and feel right at home.

Even though I didn’t get to the hotel until 12:30 in the morning my mom signed us both up for a boat ride to the crash site. Despite being here several years neither my mom or I have ever actually seen where it happened. I feel like I often talk up Port Hueneme but every year I come here I see rainbows and dolphins. It truly couldn’t be any more beautiful. Our boat, filled with family and friends of passengers, was surrounded by hundreds of dolphins. It was overwhelming. The actual site was calm and still and we dropped orchids and roses into the water. We have always known it was near the channel islands but this was the first time we saw it up close and with all of the sea life surrounding it.

The day was emotional, which was expected. My mom wanted to just order in but I talked her in to getting out. My mom, who lost her mom and only sibling on board the flight, is a huge sushi fan so when I suggest Japanese she finally agreed. This small town in Ventura County isn’t really known for food and yet on the Yelp App I found a very high rated sushi spot called, Sushi Hanada. I loved the sign near the table that says no side of wasabi. They serve sushi in the traditional Japanese manner between the rice in the fish, never mixed with soy sauce. One of my best friends is from Tokyo and taught me well that it is, “So typical American style.” I did the ordering and OMG! We got the live scallop, black cod, eel and cucumber and shitake roll.

The service was great and the food was phenomenal. The place was filled with locals and I think both of us weren’t quite ready to get back and face reality and the impending day. We did the smart thing and ordered more. I love that yellow pickled radish that I can never remember the name to and they added it to a cucumber roll and then we got crab and avocado wrapped in cucumber. One dish was better than the next and we finished it all off with a single mango mochi.

We left stuffed and had a great night sleep before awakening to our most dreaded day of the year. It was comforting to know that almost everyone sleeping in our hotel was feeling the same way about this day, the 31st of January. The first thing on the agenda was an interfaith service at the monument. There was a Chaplin, a Rabbi, and the most beautiful prayer in Hindi. The passengers on the flight were diverse and thus their families are. I am not a very religious person but left the morning service feeling lighter and more at ease for the rest of the day.

We had a couple hour break between this service and the big memorial at 3:00pm. I suggested we buy some orchids for our family to add to their name places on the beautiful sundial. My mom and I drove own a dirt road to Hatfield’s Orchids where we met George and got 5 very different and absolutely beautiful orchids. I must say that everyone in this community is so kind to us and they suffered too having this tragedy in their backyard.

We arrived back at the monument where we have been so many years prior. The crowd was bigger than it has been in the last 7 years and it was especially nice to see all the rescue workers again. The United States Coast Guard led the event; followed by families, poems, and music.

The rest was a blur of tears, synchronistic moments, and reflections. The names of each passenger was read, a bell was tolled, and a family member placed a rose down. At 4:22 the exact time the plane hit the water a helicopter flew by, a moment of silence was had, and we all gathered in a circle and held hands. It was nice that this year’s circle was bigger. A decade marked deserves it. This year I learned some interesting things I never knew. First, Hueneme means resting place. I also learned the rainbow bridge Native American fable that said there was a rainbow bridge that connected the channel islands to the mainland and when people crossed they couldn’t look down or else they’d drown. However, it was said that if you died in the ocean your soul would be taken on by the dolphins. Being able to see the herds of hundreds of dolphins at sea yesterday was so comforting. I am glad my mom decided to get her dolphin tattoo this year. It has been 10 years, my life is forever changed, but I am now ready to share my story with you. It is too beautiful not to. While I had a great loss, this preventable crash brought about the most NTSB recommendations. Hopefully, their lives are not in vain and at the very least I have gained an emotional attachment to a once unknown beautiful town and community.  It is so much more than the place in between LA and Santa Barbara.

In remembrance of my family. My little grandma Jeannie who gave me an early appreciation for all of the world’s cuisines and made me sample it all in her kitchen and beyond. To my Uncle Bob who was a South San Francisco firefighter with the greatest sense of adventure as a rock climber, paraglider, and Three Stooges enthusiast. My 4 month old cousin Emily who was the youngest passenger on board. Also a big nod to my mom, who encouraged me to not only write but also post this. She has an incredible book on her own journey with grief after sudden loss and the legacy of my amazing family called, The Long Nights of Mourning.

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International Wine Fest: Hollywood Style

There are times when I simply love my job: bringing this blog to you. Last Saturday was one of these days. After my Sri Lankan food crawl with friends, I decided to venture out of traffic on the 101 and head into Hollywood. I got my nails painted and paid double what I normally pay ($8 instead of $4). It was on Melrose so I endured the street mark-up. Plus they offered me a beer and perhaps the longest time since a nail has chipped, so it was worth it. After this indulgent day, I gave my leftover Sri Lankan food to a homeless man because of that annoying new Kesha song, “‘Cause when I leave for the night, I ain’t coming back.” I knew it would be awhile before that food hit a fridge. I stayed in Hollywood and went to the International Wine Fest thrown by Drink:Eat:Play. Since I was without Josie I hit the wine extra hard until running into some of Dan’s (the event thrower) friends that I met at his Party Bus Birthday. If you know how to throw a great birthday then you know how to throw great events, which is why we try and make it to all of Dan’s shindigs. One of Dan’s friends, Louise, made sure I made the switch from white to red and was my party companion from the night. So, what wines were great?

The one that we all loved and were entering the name into our cell phones, as to not let our drunk selves forget, was Calcu. It was a Chilean blend made of 65% Cab. If there is one thing in life I truly love, it is a fab cab. This was it. Another wine that I enjoyed, but didn’t have the masses behind was a wine called Festivo, an Argentinian Malbec. It was so mild and perfect. No strong aftertaste. It was funny because my makeshift date for the night was Louise, who is quite the fireball. She was loving the spiciest and peppery wines and I was doing something I never thought I, a UG, would do. I was drinking and dumping. I finally understand, if you want to taste, sample, and critique as many wines as possible then you can’t be that drunk. The best thing about Dan’s events is that he always plans ahead. He had K & L Wine Merchants who had more than 4 tables brings wine. What does this mean? It means anything you like you can easily buy only a few blocks away.

Aside from the regular Renaissance Hollywood Hotel food spread there were some unexpected treats. One thing I loved were these delicious one bites from our new friend Adam at Viva La Foodies and some sweets from Bittersweet Treats.

Just like Sake Fest and the Speakeasy that came before, this event was a complete win.

After the event ended I was feeling a little tipsy and hung around with Dan passing out flyers for free cover and a drink at the exclusive Boulevard 3 on Sunset. Dan and I grabbed a bite at Lucky Devils and I consumed my first sloppy joe in probably 15 years. It was bomb. Dan, who has hosted the Gourmet 5 Year Old party with lobster mac n cheese, has a special appreciation for comfort food done right.

We were serenaded to a great rap song on Hollywood Blvd. while we waited for the car and met up with Josie at Boulevard 3 where Dan had the hook-up.

Truth has it, neither Josie or I are Hollywood club girls. Sure we have been to Le Deux but we stay away from such places on weekends. Boulevard 3 was without question our best club experience in Hollywood. We were escorted to our (Dan’s) table and treated completely like VIPs (unusual for us UGs). We had some free drink flyers but forget about that, everyone (including the commoners, us on a regular night) gets free tacos and chocolate fondue all night. Plus there were dancers on the stage that we could all watch. Not just cute girls but men…hot men with incredible bodies. This lead all of us ladies to ask the question: Why don’t more clubs do this?

A huge thanks to Dan and Boulevard 3 for expanding our palates, whether it be with wine or the Hollywood club experience, and for making us feel like VIPs instead of UGs, even if just for a night!

Shower Thy Coworker with Banana Nut Bread and Thou Shall be Pardoned

I was at work minding my own business when WET’s version of the trench coat mafia, Jason, came busting through the door with about a dozen white boxes. An avid baker and food enthusiast, Jason, loves to routinely tease me with pictures of his creations on his Facebook newsfeed. Today he came in and whipped out two small loaves of banana bread for four of us and distributed them around our design garage. We all looked at each other in disbelief and wondered, “Was it Be Nice to Your Coworker Day”? It wasn’t. Jason was just being nice to us. The WET folks have been primed to expect such nice things from Jason now. Ahhh… He even stamps everything with his own brand, Baked By Baldwin. I think he moonlights as a baker.

Here’s the Epicurious recipe he used for this banana nut bread. Yum! It’s got no butter but lots of creme fraiche.

When I asked him what the impetus to this bake-off was he responded by saying, “I had 24 bananas in the freezer that would not stay and I couldn’t close the door so …” Jesting aside, according to KPMG “the traditional neighbourhood support networks are being replaced by those we spend most of our time with – our co-worker. The fact that people are more likely to befriend a co-worker than their neighbour speaks volumes about the way we now live our lives.” Take for instance Carina and I. We spend almost every waking moment of the day communicating and well, we kind of share a brain.

Our Hot Picks with Big…Smiles: Hot Foodies in LA

If you care about food and good looking men in LA then you probably know the guy on the left. It is Chef Ludo, who is not only hot but has a French accent *swoon* and is one of the most creative chefs in the world. All of last month, I was obsessed with the Eater LA Sexiest Chef in LA contest. Ludo was a top contender but it was Danielle Keene of Bittersweet Treats who took the (cup)cake. She is the so-called Megan Fox of the LA food scene. Since, Josie and I are boy crazy girls we thought we would attempt to dig a little deeper to find the hottest men in food, drink, desserts and events in LA. If you look at the first pic, we want you to move your eyes to the man on the right who deserves some credit and who takes our first award of the post.

Hottest Cookbook Author: Eli of Freshman in the Kitchen.

Hottest Bartender: Skyler from Tony’s Saloon

Hottest Food/Alcohol/Dessert Event Thrower: Dan of Drink:Eat:Play

Hottest Chef You Don’t Know About: Ben of the Jonathan Club Beach

Hottest Drinking/Traveling TV Host: Zane Lamprey of Three Sheets

Since Josie and I are not men, we have no interest in blowing our load all at once. We want to make this a regular series, a “Hunk of the Month Club” if you will. We think that this will allow us to continue to meet hot men in the LA food scene and we need your help. Who must we meet? Gentleman, should we include some babes?

A Little Sri, Love, and Minty with my Lankan Crawl

I have never truly indulged myself in one of The Minty’s famous crawls. I went to the Japanese dessert crawl but I believe that one was also thrown with SauceLA and, well, I was high on pain killers after having my wisdom tooth removed. I was texting Yelpers asking what stop they were at next but by the time I figured out how to get there they had already left. I ended up having a solo crawl and hit up a few stops on my own. Since then, Minty has become a close friend and after her choosing of some fabulous dining options in the last few months, I was stoked to join her Sri Lankan Crawl last Saturday. My experience with Sri Lankan food is very limited, in that, I have only eaten it once in my hometown of Santa Cruz. That was such an Uncouth Gourmand occasion. I brought my 90 year old Jewish Grandpa, his trainer (that’s what he likes to call her), and my mom to this cute little restaurant and after we arrived in separate cars we noticed they were closed. My mom, a Jewish mother with guilt has her middle name, explained to the owner who was just there to change a lightbulb that her daughter (me) was in from out of town and her father is old and we were all looking forward to lunch. She kindly let us in and cooked us a feast. The food was great, but I felt bad because the whole time my grandpa was complaining about the lack of customers despite how many times we told him the restaurant was supposed to be closed. Back to Saturdays crawl, Josie was working and I was so happy that it wasn’t stormy out that I bathed for too long and dressed in a blue dress. I looked cute but was freezing and late. Thankfully, when I walked in to the first stop, Priyani Ceylon Cafe in Northridge, there were these beautiful appetizers waiting for me.

The ball was fish, the rod was beef, and my favorite was the empanada looking thing with chicken and potatoes. I made myself at home. Took someone’s iced tea and began chowing down. I had no idea what had already been ordered but I was so busy talking to these foodies strangers at a big table in this tiny restaurant that I didn’t care. I could have spent all day talking to my new favorite climbing couple (ClimingDancer and ClimbinChiro) but I was at the other side of the table and it was nice to meet new people. I believe there were 13 people in total. The next thing served was something unlike I have ever seen before it was like a nest of rice noodles. Since so far I have been horrible with technical names, and describing things in terms of shapes, I will attempt to get all foodie technical on your ass….listening to Dr. Dre as I type this. Apparently these things are uniquely Sri Lankan and are called String Hoppers, I swear, technical name. If you want to eat traditional Sri you eat with your hands and these vermicelli nests are what C. Thi Nguyen of the LA Times call, “possibly the greatest tool for eating with your fingers known to man.” They were awesome served with coconut sambol, dal, and some curry chicken.

The next main dish up was the kotthu roti it was like cut up chow fun noodles with chicken and veggies. It was probably my favorite. The main picture was the other main entree and I took one glimpse at it and said, “This will be my favorite.” I am a sucker for raisins in everything and if I did see Raisin in a Sun, I’d say my fictional idol’s line:

Leo Markus: And my deepest, darkest secret is that I don’t like any food with raisins in but I do like raisins.
Grace Adler: See we already have a problem. I love raisins in everything. I even went to see “A Raisin In The Sun” because I thought there would be raisins in it!

As good as that second dish was the cashews, chicken, raisins and rice it was the roti was the winner.

By the way, I have done a horrible job explaining this. All of these plates you see had a twin match on the other side of the table. Not only that but like my first experience eating Sri Lankan all the food was made by our server. To make it even more impressive it was all made by Priyani herself! We were all stuffed and took boxes to go. None of us quite grasped that the crawl had just begun. Minty went easy on us and let us go to a Sri Lankan market in between to let our tummies rest. We drove to Sri Lankan Delight, a small ethnic grocery store. I shockingly bought nothing. We then walked the 6 blocks to our next stop, Curry Bowl in Tarzana, which was a Sri Lankan buffet. I was already full and this buffet was luke warm and nothing to write home about. It was 1/2 the price of Priyani ($10 a person versus $22) and less than half the quality. Oh well, ours standards were raised high in the first stop. Here was my buffet plate:

I was so excited about my leftovers at the first place, but after I left the crawl I got my nails painted and headed to the International Wine Festival so I decided to give my delicious food to a man down on his luck in Hollywood. He was thrilled and the Sri Lankan Crawl continued on. Here’s more on Priyani from The Minty, Pleasure Palate and the LA Times! Check it out, dine there, and then tell us what you think.

And So There Were Four

Photo Credit: The Daily Beast

So my partner in crime, Carina, was unable to make it to the Fancy Food Show in SF last week, but luckily the boys and girls of The Daily Beast were. (Their food section is called “The Hungry Beast” and well, the name alone brings tears of joy to my eyes.) They made a good list of the Top 10 Food Trends for 2010 and here are the trends that most arouse us:

Coconut water is the new water: Everyone’s been going Lady Gagas over coconut. My friend, who’s an avid athlete, drinks this stuff like crazy. Furthermore, I was surprised to see the very same water at Bikram yoga the other day. And despite the high caloric content of coconut, the health nuts seem to be taking it in like brown on rice. However, I will admit, it’s pretty damn good.

Try your exotics!: Your exotic citruses are usually crisp and clean in flavor. The UGs most enjoy blood oranges, guavas, passion fruits and kumquats. Not to mention that my best buddy, Carina, won’t eat frozen yogurt without her lychees. So go on and expand your culinary horizons and, if you haven’t already done so, visit your local Asian or Mexican market; the selection of exotic fruits is vast and you can’t beat the prices. We love these local fav’s: King’s Market in Altadena and Guerrero’s in Highland Park. You may just surprise yourself. Go on and try something different – we dare you! 😉

Well, pickle me stupidPickled anything (now don’t be vulgar, that’s our job) is a UG obsession that we both share. Everything from Kosher pickles, kimchi or ginger highlights any meal for us. In fact, I’d run over anyone who gets between me and a good sauerkraut. I’m just sayin’.

Two words: Bacon Sweets: Ever tasted bacon dark chocolate with Pop Rocks? Enough said.

The top pick went to organic chocolate. Now were not fans of organic anything and, in fact, I have to agree with Mr. Bourdain that it all seems like a crock of sh!@ agenda fueled by a market-driven empire. I hope I’m wrong, but really… four times the going rate for vegetables… I just don’t get it.

A Gourmet Celebration: Ruth Reichl and the Legacy

I came back from my trip to NorCal on Tuesday. I drove in a storm and followed a police car that went 5 mph through a giant puddle. The reason for my return in this storm was the talk at Skirball with Ruth Reichl, Jonathan Gold, and Laurie Ochoa. I had a food filled weekend with the Tasty Awards and the Fancy Food Fest that the storm kept me away from in SF, but it was LA that had the real food event I was looking forward to. I greatly admire all three of these people. I made it off the 405, an hour before the event. I changed my shirt in the car and met up with our friend, Kane, before Josie arrived straight from work. When the event started was when I knew that Evan Kleiman would be the moderator for the evening. I was thrilled. I met Evan when Josie and I volunteered to work the cookbook table at Taste of the Nation LA, she said one of the wisest comments I’ve ever heard. Josie and I gave her our business cards and she said, “Why does a blog need a President and a Chief Creative Officer?” Josie responded, “Well, it’s kind of a launchpad to something bigger” Evan didn’t skip a beat and said, “Honey, life is a launchpad to something bigger.” Truer words have never been spoken.

Evan put everyone at ease and the conversation flowed beautifully. Ruth, Jonathan, and Laurie came into Gourmet Magazine as renegades. They brought the idea of conscious food to the forefront, branched food out of the high-end restaurant/hotel world, and kept the literary excellence and journalistic integrity that Gourmet Magazine has always been famous for possessing. The night was inspiring and heartbreaking at the same time. The magazine that had contributions from such writers as Maya Angelou,  David Foster Wallace, and F. Scott Fitzgerald closed with no dignity. Ruth had the December issue all ready to go with January, February, and most of March completed. These issues never saw the light of day and the magazine was closed with zero warning. However, this night was a celebration but the loss in all of our food lives could not be ignored. The video below was one of my favorite moments of the evening and the whole night can be seen and heard on Zocalo.

For me, the most uplifting part of the night was when an audience member asked what the legacy of Gourmet Magazine will be. Laurie Ochoa responded by saying that they never talked down to their readers. I loved that. In a world of oversimplifying and 30-minutes meals, it is nice that integrity is still held. Jonathan Gold made a joke about “Paula Deen’s Gourmet,” which gave everyone a chuckle and a genuine worry. I loved that neither Jonathan Gold nor Gourmet magazine ever gave restaurants a star rating. It is so much more than that; it’s a story. Pulitzer Prize winning Jonathan Gold loved being able to write 3,000 words on a single restaurant review in the magazine. He even told this great story about how at Gourmet you had to visit more than 8 times to write a review and at one of the later visits at Alain Ducasse’s restaurant in NYC he had an worm in his salad. He played with it. The staff went crazy and someone tipped off the NY Post but he shrugged it off saying, “Look, I am from California, I understand. It means it’s organic.” This story was the perfect example of an Uncouth Gourmand and got me thinking a lot about Josie and myself. As most of you know, Josie and I bonded during a trip to Europe where the idea of the UGs was born. We spent more money than we spent on all of our hostels for 3 weeks on a $500 lunch at Le Louis XV in Monaco, also an Alain Ducasse restaurant. It was at this time when we put together the words uncouth and gourmand. We realized that sometimes a Doner kabob at 5am is just as good as a 5 star meal and that the dining experience must be a fun one.  The first time we met Jonathan Gold and said that we were the Uncouth Gourmands, he said that is who he has been his entire career. It is true, he is an idol of ours.

As much as we love him, it was Ruth that was the star of the evening. What a career and what a genuinely thoughtful woman. She sat on the floor and spoke with everyone afterward. We were waiting in line next to Teenage Glutster and Gastronomy Blog (photographed with us) and it was nice to see how excited they were to meet her. I know some people believe it is the fast paced blogging world and tweets that are putting an end to the print business but that doesn’t make the two things enemies. Bloggers are also thoughtful and have ethics, integrity, and “intellectual rigor” that the WSJ tributes to Gourmet Magazine. At the same point, Ruth talked about how much she was looking forward to the future technology for Gourmet magazine and enjoys reading blogs. In fact, when I met her I told her that I live in Pasadena, which was home to what she claimed was the best egg salad (the place was Euro Pane and I totally agree). I knew this information from her Twitter and I also read on her Twitter about the end of Gourmet magazine from the source. What I am trying to say is that clearly the medium has changed but the legacy that Gourmet pioneered lives on and I am thrilled it is so prevalent in my fellow LA bloggers.

I knew I wanted to write this post today, but there was one problem. I was hungover and starving. I remembered that Ruth said that the recipe collection is still on the Gourmet site and I felt compelled to make something. I woke up this morning dreaming of perfectly roasted chicken and found a recipe on their sadly no longer updated site. Even better it was in the easy to make category. I made the Chicken and Parsnip “Fries” with Spicy Vinegar recipe from the Gourmet site and I photographed it with my new camera. Look at that, I am upgrading my photo equipment. I am really not trying to use a Melvin Udall line but Gourmet Magazine and Ruth Reichl make me want to be a better Uncouth Gourmand, writer, cook, food photographer, and person.