31 August 2015

What I am doing (or, why no blog posts lately)

I had a conversation with a friend and writing mentor this weekend, which basically went like this:

Her: "I've got this blog..."

Me: "You have a blog? Me too!"

Her: "Wait, you have a blog?"

Me: Sheepishly, face turning pink. "I do. But I haven't written in it forever."

Her: "Me too. Why haven't you written in yours?"

Me: "Well..." (Mumbling, thinking of a good excuse. Muttering.)

And then she stepped in and saved me, explaining that she'd just closed out her own blog, because the theme of it had changed. In fact, her story had gone from point A to point B, and frankly the journey was complete.

Now, I'm not exactly ready to put the kibosh on Amy Dishes. But I can tell you (and you probably know) that what once was such a passion has become something less. It's not that I don't love to cook - I do. It's not that I don't love to eat - I very much do. And before you go thinking I've stopped posting because I don't like to write, don't think it. I've actually been writing more lately than I ever did when I first started the blog so many years ago.

It's just that the subject matter and the way I'm processing words have changed.

I took a children's writing course a few years ago at UCLA Extension. I've had an idea for a picture book for a decade, and when my friend (the one with the blog, above) mentioned she was taking this course too, I thought it was just the incentive I needed. What I didn't realize would happen is my creative floodgates finally opened. For years I'd scratched my head, wondering how my husband could be so creative and prolific with his fiction ideas. The UCLA course changed all that. When I started the class, I had one idea for one story. When I finished, I had a dozen or more starts of other picture book ideas. Today, I have a growing list in my phone's notepad with ideas and concepts and sentence fragments. I'm now the person who has to rise out of bed to jot down an idea before it flies away. One of those ideas was the premise of a novel, which I've been slogging away at for the past couple of years.

I've thought about how to turn this blog into something that features snippets of what I'm working on, but it's a different kind of writing, the kind I can't easily wrap into a tidy and digestible blog post. And, frankly, I'm not ready yet. There are many words (70,000+ of them), but I don't think they're ready for primetime yet.

I may be back. (It seems every time I assert that I'm "definitely not" going to do something, inevitably that idea swirls around in my head, calling like a siren, tossing me about in a tempestuous sea until I succumb.) But I can't promise how soon.

Please be patient!

07 March 2014

Cooking Ottolenghi

It seems I've remembered that I have blog. For those (small amount of) followers out there who keep tabs on me, you may have noticed a few posts appear this week. They're new but backdated - I found a bunch of old drafts in the queue that I never published because I was waiting for photos, but never got around to it. No more waiting - just publish.

To swing the pendulum the other direction, this post has many photos! I've been working my way through Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's Jerusalem cookbook over the past few months and posting pics of the adventures on Instagram. Here's what I've cooked:

Mejadra - Eh. Two hours for lentils & rice? Not worth it, to me.

Root Vegetable Slaw - Only used beets & carrots because I don't love kohlrabi (Here's the deal. A lot of people will say you can't truly test a recipe if you don't make it exactly as written. But, I find that BS. If you don't like an ingredient, there is no need to cast off an entire recipe or suffer through it. Just swap, sub, or omit!).

Spiced Chickpeas and Fresh Veggie Salad - I was particularly pleased with this one as it came out just like the photo in the book. Add labneh for a more robust meal.

Shakshuka - Eggs in tomato sauce. Yes. Do it. For dinner.

Spicy Beet, Leek & Walnut Salad - I want a do-over on this one. I liked the beets and it photographed well, but it wasn't my favorite. I'm not sure why.

Clementine Almond Syrup Cake - This cake is tops! It is one of the first recipes that caught my eye when I first checked out this book from the library. I'd been waiting for an excuse to make it, then waiting out a no-sweets period. Note that I didn't use clementines as the store didn't have them, but I subbed in Valencia oranges.

04 March 2014

Ode to Bibicaffe

Any of you who know me in real life know I’m always super- caffeinated – an addict of the bean.

A double-espresso over a hint of water or ice is my go-to drink, though I also enjoy an occasional sweet treat – maybe a caramel macchiato or iced vanilla latte or mocha. On tired days, I’ll hit up the French press for a real jolt.

I first attempted to get into coffee drinks in college (how trite) during late-night cram sessions for finals. Rather than focus my mind, one particularly potent espresso shake left me jittery and nauseous and up all night – not so good for studying.

During courtship with my now husband, we spent a lot of time in cafes -- he a barista wooing me first with steamed milk, then slowly working me into espresso masked by rich caramel and thick foam.

I’ve long pegged Nate as the one who really got me hooked on the taste of coffee.

But I recently remembered. Long before college, long before Nate, there was Bibicaffe.

Do you know it?

I first tried these at the Nordstrom espresso bar at Northgate mall in Seattle on shopping trips with mom (I’m sure she needed a break from my tween angst and wanted a cup of coffee). I always used to get Italian sodas – fruity flavors like raspberry. You know the ones: a stiff pour of thick, sweet syrup, a splash of soda water, and cream over ice.

Bibicaffe was the more graduated version – an Italian coffee “soda” of sorts. It came out of a chic small glass bottle. And, like its fruity counterparts, was served best when poured over a tall cup of ice and topped with a heavy hand of cream. It was a delight. I thought it was a Nordstrom exclusive (much like those chewy Nanaimo bars).

Once I graduated to hot coffees and lattes, I forgot all about Bibicaffe.

Until we moved into our house in Seattle’s Maple Leaf and discovered CafĂ© Javasti. There in the refrigerator, amidst the buttery rich house-made pastries, were bottles of Bibicaffe. I later came to discover that the founders of Javasti met in their days as Nordy’s baristas – so it only makes sense that they would bring this treat to their shops.

In recent years, Bibicaffe began disappearing from Javasti. I finally found some, to purchase by the case, at Seattle’s PFI in the Sodo district.

I'm jonesing hard for a Bibicaffe. It’s all I can think about. Anyone know where can I source this locally in LA?

14 August 2013

Gluten-free “tabbouleh”

I get these ideas. Sometimes, they work out – other times, they’re not perfect, but there is a fraction of an idea that’ll be even better on a second try. This gluten-free “tabbouleh” recipe is one of the latter!

For several months, I've been trying to stick to a gluten-free diet. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice to say my stomach is happier than it’s been it’s whole life. (I should also preface the rest of this post by saying I’m really gluten intolerant – not full-blown celiac. So the following recipe/guidance and anything I ever post on the GF topic should be taken in that vein… Listen to your body and adjust accordingly!)
Rather than focus on what I can’t eat, I’m exploring options of how to adapt my favorite foods to meet my new lifestyle. This is how I approached vegetarianism for years, too – it just works better for me, and this approach as proven especially helpful as a gluten-free eater… I can’t tell you how many blogs and articles I’ve read that encourage a potential gluten-freer to buy a food scale, weigh and convert everything from cups and tablespoons to pounds and grams…It’s like one giant math story-problem. Personally, I want nothing to do with math in the kitchen. To me, cooking is more art than science (I know someone - ahem, mom! - might disagree with me!). Instead of fussing over these calculations, I said screw it and began baking and cooking with gluten free ingredients as though they were “regular” ingredients. And in all honesty, I hardly notice a difference…

Today, I made a gluten free “tabbouleh” salad. I am using quote marks because this is not traditional tabbouleh using bulgur as a base. Instead, I swapped in some leftover mejadra – a spicy lentils and rice mixture from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem cookbook. (To be fair, it took nearly two hours to make that dish initially, and honestly I’m not sure it was worth it. I think any lentils & rice mixture would work – I just happened to use what was in my fridge.) Then I proceeded to make a tabbouleh as I always would – a base of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, and flat-leaf parsley  to fleck the grain/legume mixture. I also finely chopped some fresh spinach with the parsley, for extra greens. Because why not? Then I tossed the whole thing with a good dousing of freshly squeezed lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil, and seasoned with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper.

It’s easy, it’s tasty, it’s healthy, and it’s gluten free. Best of all, I barely thought about it – and I definitely didn’t think about what I was missing.

Life shouldn’t be lived in a deficit, but full and wholeheartedly (thanks, Brene Brown, for Daring Greatly - an excellent book on this subject.

So carry on. Cook what you like.  Swap what you need to. Just enjoy!

13 January 2013

Cleanses and clean eating

It's January. A time of renewal and cleaning out the old. At least in Los Angeles, this often includes the digestive system. I am squeamish to even give that too much thought (I'm not one for bathroom humor), but it is a fact that in nearly every conversation I've had with friends in LA recently, the word "cleanse" or "juicing" or "clean eating" has come up.

I'm still working out exactly what that means for myself. In addition to bathroom humor, I also don't like dieting - the word nor the act. I'm of the mentality that I can eat mostly what I want (within reason) so long as I workout to counteract it. And workout I do, hard, at least 4 times per week. (Last year I was averaging 5 days a week, but my body just couldn't handle it. Too many nagging injuries and lingering sicknesses... my sweet spot is 4.)

So my immediate reaction to cleansing - a practice very commonly consisting of a liquid/juice-only diet, for a few days or even a couple weeks - is to bristle.

However, the notion of drinking my veggies, as a complement to solid foods, is appealing. It's where I am right now, trying to add a few juices to my routine once or twice a week.

I'm also integrating more super foods and "clean eating" items to the diet. Today's lunch was a bed of lettuce topped with warm red quinoa, steamed (but cold) broccoli, a handful of cashews, and a drizzle of Annie's Goddess dressing. For a snack, I'm currently waiting on a pot of fresh banana chia pudding to come out of the fridge (almond milk, smashed banana, and chia seed); I may top it with some walnuts.

In 2013, I will try to avoid as much wheat as possible - not for trendiness or resolutions' sakes, but for health. I was diagnosed a few years ago as wheat-intolerant, so I'm going to try it. In its place, I am subbing in almond meal wherever possible. It's alot like flour and has more protein - something my body will surely enjoy.

How do you "cleanse" or eat "clean"?

16 October 2012

Meals, in pictures

I know, I know. Once again I am starting an entry sheepishly, having been absent for so long. Our first full SoCal summer was fabulous - freetime meant head to the beach, not post a blog. And the truth is, my creative inspiration continues to come in pictures, not words. Tonight I finally took the time to upload a wealth of photos from my phone onto the computer, and it inspired me to at least share what I've been eating. Here's a walk through my gastro-summer:

Tender Greens - Tuna Nicoise salad + the spiciest ginger brew I've ever tasted. I could eat this meal at least once per week.

Portabella mushrooms, steeped with homemade pesto, baked, then sprinkled with cheese (gorgonzola for me, parmesan for Nate) and broiled. Not much to look at, but divine on the tastebuds.


Blooming rose salad from Soleil - Westwood. Simple, fresh, delightful - and absolutely huge. I was stuffed before my entree arrived.

2 shots, 3 ice cubes, a splash of milk. 

800 Degrees - Westwood: Before

800 Degrees - Westwood: After

Apple Pan - Westwood. Pecan pie and homemade whipped cream + a side of buttermilk. 

"Crazy water" - base for acqua pazza. A recipe we just tried this weekend, and which will become a staple.

03 July 2012

No-chocolate desssert

I've long said I don't feel I've had dessert unless it contains chocolate. It's kind of a rule of mine. Now, before you talk to me about pies, you must know by now that I'll eat them for breakfast just as easily as after dinner. So that hardly counts as dessert.

Last week, though, things changed. Inspired by a partially scooped tub of mascarpone still in the fridge from dinner (see this recipe for mint-walnut-gorgonzola pesto), I crafted what may be my new favorite dessert. It's simpler than pie, and rich enough that it left me satiated. Best of all, it's malleable to your tastes and the season.

no-chocolate dessert (C) AmyDishes

Here's the basic idea:
  • Set out a martini glass (no, not for a drink - but if you need that, set out two glasses!)
  • Gather some fruit (in this case, I used a frozen berry medley of blueberries, raspberries, and cherries - set them in the fridge for about an hour to thaw slightly but still retain their shape). Sprinkle with grated orange zest. Add the fruit to the martini glass, about 2/3 full.
  • Sweeten some mascarpone (for each serving, softly fold 2 Tbsp of the mascarpone with 1 tsp powdered sugar. For a subtle kick, I also stirred in 1 tsp Grand Marnier. This helped loosen the texture a bit). Dollop the mascarpone atop the fruit.

As I said, this recipe seems easy enough to adapt on a whim - try Kahlua or cognac or Tuaca in the mascarpone. Scoop it over fresh strawberries, peaches - maybe even nutty granola? The possibilities seem endless.

If you come over to my house for dinner this summer, expect this for dessert. BYOC (bring your own chocolate) - if you must!