When I was a guest at the City of Hope for nearly a month last year, eating became an arduous chore. Open mouth, insert fork. Chew. Repeat.
It took me more than an hour to polish off a bowl of Cheerios. I could turn a plate of tuna fish on crackers into a two-hour lunch (without the martini). Five-course dinners at the French Laundry have been known to take less time.
Even though I no longer enjoyed eating food, I developed an obsessive, intellectual appetite for the stuff. I talked endlessly about food with anyone who entered the room. I even tried to talk the cleaning lady into smuggling in her homemade tamales (contraband for stem cell transplant patients). I watched the Food Network during half of my waking hours and spent the other half perusing food sites and blogs.
And I made countless lists. Lists of San Gabriel Valley banh mi restaurants, dim sum eateries, tea shops and LA County ramen joints. Lists of restaurants I wanted to visit, recipes I planned to try and parties I wanted to throw.
I think Wandering Chopsticks was responsible for at least half of the items on my lists. (I recently got to meet her when she came to my house to gather fruit - Open Mouth, Insert Citrus.) On the day before Independence Day, I followed one of her recommendations and headed to Tito's Market in El Monte for empanadas.
It seemed that everyone, from the LA Times to Chowhound to Yelp!, agreed with WC that these were the BEST empanadas in So. Cal. How could I miss?
Tito's is located on Garvey Ave., just east of Rosemead Blvd., on a stretch with equal parts Asian and Latin restaurants. I was able to cross off two items on my list by stopping at Baguette City for a $2.00 vegetarian banh mi sandwich before heading to the Argentinian Market.
The line for takeout food was snaking out the door, but the service was friendly and efficient. In less than five minutes I was placing my order for 8 chicken and 8 ground beef empanadas. They lived up to all the hype and, at $1.25 each, were worth the drive from Altadena to El Monte.
I served them with a pitcher of homemade Sangria, which we consumed before walking down to the Altadena Town and Country Club to see the Third of July fireworks.
Susan's Sassy Sangria
6 oranges (+ 2 sliced oranges for garnish)
4 large Meyers lemons
1 cup simple syrup
1 bottle red wine
1 cup brandy
Make the simple syrup by combining 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water in a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil and simmer until the sugar is completely dissolved. Let cool.
Squeeze the juice from the lemons and oranges into a pitcher. Add simple sugar, wine and brandy. Garnish with thin slices of orange.
Sangria is best made at least two hours before drinking so that the flavors can combine. This drink is easy, delicious and refreshing on a hot summer day, a balmy evening or. . . well, just about any time.
So. . . what's on your food list?