Monday, September 29, 2008

Mourning Lost Cafes

Seeing a closed restaurant -- especially if it was popular -- similar to a death in its finality. There's an experience that you wished to have but now can't, people you wished to meet that you are now unable. My latest sad moment was driving through Hollywood and passing by LA Doughboys Bakery and Cafe -- and seeing it boarded up.

I had often seen this Hollywood restaurant packed to the windows with artistic and tattoed souls desperate for their morning bagel, and sworn that I would go there when I had time -- and now I can't. Call me a bit sentimental, but I get attached to those familiar landmarks in my daily life; they keep me sane when I'm in traffic.

This artsy scene has now morphed into a no-name cafe, a place without roots that has to build a history -- not become a part of mine.

I like to have places that I know I can go to -- where the cashiers know me. I can be sure that my chai latte doesn't scald my mouth, the pastries are fresh and I don't have to fear a third-world quality bathroom. I like being able to pass by these places on the street and know that I have a group of safe havens. LA Doughboys was supposed to be one of those places. And now it's gone.

In the last two years, a different cafe (one of my faves) has gone through several owners -- and with each change of regime, the name changes. It's almost as annoying as Puff Daddy changing his name to P. Diddy -- and now he's just Diddy. Maybe next year he'll just be "D."

The cafe formerly known as "Cubby's" became "Synergy" and is now just "The Spot." Synergy's sister cafe became Vinoteque, a wannabe miniature disco in a Culver City neighborhood known for children, dogs and an ice skating rink as old as Jesus.

I could be a bit melancholy tonight, but this foodie wishes for a bit of stability in her palate.

Is that too much too ask?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Fall Foods and Musings

The first thing I said when I logged on to Pirouette today was, "God, I've missed blogging!" My faithful readers have probably been wondering why I have been MIA. I only have one thing to say in my defense -- I've wandered into the morass of quick and lazy cooking. I decided to escape last night, realizing that my palate was slowly dying of boredom. More on that later.

Fall is here. Fruits like pears and apples are beginning to adorn food websites. I am tempted with a childish delight to crunch every fall leaf (the few that I see -- I am from LA) and kick every cone on the ground.

But I am also thinking about the recent changes and decisions in my own life. I made one in particular while huffing on the elliptical trainer at 6 a.m. this morning: I am going to spend more time on the things that are important and a little less on things that are urgent. Important things are defined as that "life to-do list" -- making that creme brulee recipe you've been dying to try, sending a thank-you note vs. an e-card, taking the time to kiss and spend time with your kids vs. checking the mountain of email newsletters that are piled up in your inbox. As I am a perfectionist with a million things on her to do list at all times, this will be no easy task.

But I am willing to try.

Here are a few that I thought about (in no particular order):

1. Laugh more, worry less.
2. Cook meals that take contemplation and time.
3. Start the novel that's been brewing in my mind for the last few weeks.
4. Escape the quick-food rut -- which I did by making roasted chicken with grape tomatoes, cilantro and garbanzo beans last night.

The weeks of summer heat and reluctance to turn on the stove to 450 faded away as I lovingly massaged the spicy garbanzo bean mixture, adding a little extra garlic because it is my personal belief that garlic makes darn near anything taste good.

Gone were the summer days of salads (and only salads) because of the elusive tone that I am determined to see in my upper arms.

And gone were the days of speeding through the organic food market and silently wondering what cooks the fastest.

I explained to someone today that good food is all about experience -- taking the time to include the things that are important, yet not urgent: flavor, texture, color and presentation.

He laughed.

So here's my personal urge for important cooking, in a little less highbrow language: If it ain't pretty, don't eat it.

Roast Chicken Breasts with Garbanzo Beans, Tomatoes and Paprika:
(Adapted from Bon Appetit)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, pressed
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspooon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1/2 cup plain yogurt (I prefer Greek yogurt)
4 chicken breast halves with bones
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans
1 12-ounce container cherry tomatoes
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Preheat oven to 450F. Mix first 5 ingredients in medium bowl. Pour 1 teaspoon spiced oil mixture into small bowl; whisk in yogurt and set aside for sauce. Place chicken on large rimmed baking sheet. Rub 2 tablespoons spiced oil mixture over chicken. Add beans, tomatoes, and 1/2 cup cilantro to remaining spiced oil mixture; toss to coat. Pour bean mixture around chicken. Sprinkle everything generously with salt and pepper.

Roast until chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup cilantro. Transfer chicken to plates. Spoon bean mixture over. Serve with yogurt sauce.