Friday, June 20, 2008

The heat is on

I slurp steaming bowls of Japanese noodles at the best ramen joints in LA during the spring, fall and winter.

But when the weather turns hot and humid (or "mushiatsui" as the Japanese say), sucking down a bowl of ramen is about as appealing as chugging hot sake on a blazing beach. That's when my favorite Japanese chill-out lunch becomes a basket of cold soba (buckwheat) noodles with a cool dipping sauce.

I first ate cold soba noodles two decades ago on an August visit to Sado Island, the home of the venerable Japanese taiko group, Kodo. I trudged 2.5 miles from my tiny minshuku into town and ordered the same hand-made soba for lunch five days in a row.

When I joined two friends from A3m (Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches) in Little Tokyo for lunch last week, I felt like I was back on Sado Island. We wilted as we walked three blocks in triple-digit temperatures to the restaurant at the Kyoto Grand Hotel (formerly the New Otani). Once we arrived, the choice was easy. I ordered the cold soba noodles with a side of gooey, grated mountain potato (yama imo).

Besides being a cool, tasty treat, soba is a nutritional gold mine. Unlike nutrient-poor ramen and udon noodles, soba is packed with protein, iron and fiber.

I found these great instructions for preparing soba with dippping sauce from "just hungry," a Japanese ex-pat living in Perth. The most important thing I learned was to bathe the noodles in cold water to reduce the temperature and to get rid of pesky starch.

"Just hungry" is far more ambitious than I am on a hot summer day. (Heck, she's more ambitious than I am on ANY day.) She makes her own dipping sauce from homemade dashi, a rich seaweed stock. I settle for the stuff in a bottle, available from Mitsuwa or Whole Foods Markets.

I served my noodles on the bamboo basket trays my friend Carol brought back from Japan last summer. With a side of dipping sauce, a touch of wasabi, finely chopped green onions and slivers of dried seaweed, I'm one cool customer.

What's your favorite chill-out lunch?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Unhappy Hour

I made a date to meet a friend at NeoMeze for happy hour last night.

Neomeze's quarter-page ad in the Pasadena Weekly boasted that they were "PASADENA'S BEST HAPPY HOUR" with half off alcoholic beverages. This sounded promising because, as everyone knows, cheap drinks are the backbone of a good happy hour. Throw in some good grub, and I truly am happy for at least an hour.

The ad went on to list the restaurant's happy hours, Monday through Friday from 4:30 pm to 7:00 pm. My friend and I met at Neomeze on Monday at 5:30 pm, and their doors were LOCKED.

We walked a few doors down for $4.00 sangria and $5.00 tapas at BarCelona.

I called NeoMeze today and was told that their PR company must have made a mistake. I wonder what their PR company would suggest for turning an unhappy hour customer into a happy one.

(Please let me know if you have a favorite Pasadena-area happy hour spot.)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Hangin' with my Homies at the Homegirl Cafe

Did you know that it's possible to do good and eat good (er, well) at the same time?

A group of my Homies and I took the Gold Line from Pasadena to the Chinatown Station to pay a lunchtime visit to the Homegirl Cafe, an offspring of Homeboy Industries. The nonprofit organization "assists at-risk and formerly gang-involved youth to become positive and contributing members of society through job placement, training and education. " The org. opened the Homeboy Bakery in 1998 and the cafe in 2004 in Boyle Heights and then moved to its current Chinatown-adjacent location in October 2007.

Since Homeboy Industries is in a gritty, industrial part of town, I wasn't expecting much.

The view from the Gold Line Station

But the architecture of Homeboy Industries, home of the Homegirl Cafe, could hold its own in downtown LA.

I was in for an even bigger surprise once we entered the cafe. Original artwork, fresh flowers, granite countertops and glass tile gave the cafe an upscale, not an in the 'hood, feel.

But the biggest surprise was the menu, consisting of traditional Latina cuisine with a contemporary twist. For example, Angela's Green Potion, lemonade with fresh spinach and mint, sounds disgusting and looks questionable, but tastes wonderfully fresh and delicious. And the nutrient quotient puts an Arnie Palmer to shame.

Looks like pond scum, tastes like yum yum.

The salads are filled with interesting, fresh ingredients, such as roasted corn, julienned apples and jicama or mangoes and come with a choice of zesty dressings (citrus, chipotle or cilantro).

Ana's Salad Martha's Salad are just $6.95 each.

And there's an impressive roster of creative tacos, including my selection, a salmon taco with jalapeno pesto and pico de gallo.

Tacos are just $2.45 each or three for $6.50.

My salmon taco and side of Frijoles Negros (black beans with sautéed garlic, onions and cilantro, topped with queso fresco) came to just $4.45.

Of course, when you add in the $2.50 for the parking meter, $2.50 for Gold Line passes and a $37 parking ticket, my lunchtime excursion cost me $48. OUCH!

Lessons Learned:
- Don't take the Gold Line from the Del Mar Station in Pasadena. Parking is not free.
- If you do attempt to park at the Del Mar Station and it's full on the Raymond side, try the entrance from Arroyo Parkway.
- Do NOT under any circumstances park on the street because you won't be able to make it back in two hours.
- Do take time to purchase some fresh baked goods from the Homeboy Bakery.
- Do also take time to visit the Homeboy store, where you can purchase merchandise with Homeboy mottos. I want a "Jobs Not Jail" T-Shirt.
- Do allow time for a leisurely lunch. This is not a fast food restaurant.
- Do arrive early for lunch. You're in for a 10 to 15 minute wait if you walk in at noon.
- Do consider returning for breakfast.
- Do keep checking the website. The latest endeavor, Homeboy Press, will publish a literary magazine in 2008.
- Do tell your friends. It's a treat to find good eats and good deeds under the same roof.

Homegirl Cafe
130 W. Bruno St. (at Alameda St.)
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Tel: 323-526-1254 ext. 301

Monday, June 9, 2008

Citrus Solar System

Who needs Styrofoam balls to create a solar system when citrus fruits come in at least eight different sizes, from a Mercury-sized lemon to a Jupiter-worthy pomelo.

Left to right: lemon, tangerine, orange, pink striped lemon, Meyers lemon, grapefruit, pomelo.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


It's that time
of year again when our fruit trees are heavy with avocados, oranges,
Meyer lemons, grapefruits, pomelos and plums. We'll soon have hundreds of apricots for savoring and sharing.

Since noone in our family is a fan of the pomelo, an oversized citrus that looks like a grapefruit on steroids,
I invited members of the localCooperative Food Exchange of Altadena to help themselves. Three local pomelo fans came by and harvested the last of the ripe fruit.

One of the harvesters brought fresh zuchinni from her garden in exchange
for the citrus. I like to think of the
Co-op as the best "swap meet" in town.
This morning I found these treasures waiting on my front steps. They're a
gift from another grateful pomelo harvester.

Alpine strawberry plants, pink striped lemons and recipes using pomelos

A closeup view of the pink-striped lemons and recipe for "spice market pomelo salad
with grilled shrimp and crispy shallots" Doesn't that sound yummy? Who knows.
I may become a fan of the giant citrus after all.