BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Silent Sunday: Eat Drink Vegan

Toasted Ravioli from Jayce Lab

Munchables from Plant Alchemy

The Good, The Bad, and The Unicorn Burger from Pomodoro E. Basilico

Nashville Hot Mushrooms from Donna Jean

Mushroom Cheesesteak from Word of Mouth Truck

Fried Jalapeno Grits Word of Mouth Truck

Mac and Yease from Ayinde Howell

“Bronut” (Brownie Doughtnut Sundae) from Charlie’s Brownies

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Best of the Booch

Once referred to in hushed tones, it was the health nut’s moonshine, fermented in dark cellars and secreted away from the general public. Authorities railed against its commercial production as controversies erupted over the surprisingly potent alcohol content conspicuously absent from printed labels. Kombucha, the ancient fermented tea, has finally unshackled itself from overzealous legislation and a litany of misunderstandings, bubbling over into mainstream acceptance. Now touted as a probiotic superpower, this fizzy refreshment has a lot going for it, but as far as I’m concerned, flavor should always come first.

Dozens, if not hundreds, of brands are now agitating to come out on top, and over 50 of those are located in California alone. Even for a place as big as the Golden State, that’s a whole lot of booch! Taking into account all of the restaurants offering up various blends on tap and in bottles, you’d be forgiven for losing count. What’s a thirsty kombucha devotee to do when seeking new watering holes that also serve superlative vegan eats?

It is with great pride that I present the highlights from my adoptive hometown, from the east bay and San Francisco proper, in the Kombucha Hunter‘s Kombucha Guide to California. The very best places to find the most bubbly brews just happen to be some of my favorite restaurants to begin with, so it wasn’t hard to whip up some delicious recommendations to contribute. Uncovering gems up and down the west coast, locals and visitors alike will find a bottomless glass of temptations worth traveling for.

The guide is available for free at Lento Market in Echo Park and can be shipped anywhere in the US for a donation of any amount to Farm Sanctuary. Stay tuned for the digital version, coming soon!


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Simmer Down Now

Sweet dreams beget savory cravings. Balancing out long days of baking that spill over into visions of sweets well into my waking hours, the first thing on my mind in the morning is anything but another sugary meal. Spice, zest, acidity; anything to wake up my taste buds without another saccharine treat. Syrup-drenched pancakes still beckon, as does that comforting crunch of frosted cold cereal flakes, but an innate yearning for bolder seasoning pushes me further into the pantry for alternative options.

Bleary-eyed and barely conscious, finding any shortcut for satisfying that gnawing hunger is a merciful windfall. I’m certainly not above lazily throwing a slice of bread under the broiler and calling it a day, but when it takes only a few minutes longer to whip up a truly satisfying, savory meal, why not make something a bit more special? Perusing the usual pantry options after one particularly brutal wake up call, finding a packet of taco simmer sauce was like uncovering the holy grail right in your own backyard.

Recently released by Simply Organic, their ingenious Southwest Taco Simmer Sauce promises warm notes of chili peppers, tangy tomato, rich cumin, and savory oregano, and it doesn’t disappoint. Claiming that it’s best with beef and positioned merely as a taco night aid struck me as rather shortsighted, though. Maybe it was the sleep-deprived delirium that inspired my unconventional #OrganicMoments, but all I could think about was a fresh, spicy take on French Toast.

Thickly sliced country bread takes a dip in a rich bath of coconut milk, infused with this delicately nuanced blend, coming together almost instantly. A crisp sear on the outside locks in a rich, savory custard interior, a perfectly proportional contrast to delight the taste buds. No sugar need apply for this bold new breakfast option. Best of all, such a unique palate of flavors means that it needn’t be confined to the AM hours; ideal for brunch or dinner as well, the concept easily transcends traditional mealtime boundaries.

Toppings are hardly necessary when you start with such a brilliant base, but it’s impossible to resist a few generous slices of luscious avocado, at the very least. Pepitas add a hearty crunch, and the brightness of simple pico de gallo perfects the meal for me, but the sky is truly the limit. Dream up your own #OrganicMoments with a wide range of savory finishes, such as vegan cheese or sour cream, sliced tomatoes, grilled corn, shredded cabbage, or black beans. On the other hand, simply going au naturel and digging right in wouldn’t disappoint.

This post was made possible thanks to sponsorship by Simply Organic.

Savory Tex-Mex French Toast

3/4 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1 Packet Simply Organic Southwest Taco Simmer Sauce
1 Tablespoon Arrowroot
1 Tablespoon Nutritional Yeast
4 – 6 (1-Inch Thick) Slices Hearty Country Bread

To Serve:

Sliced Avocado
Pico de Gallo
Toasted Pepitas

In a large, shallow dish, whisk together the coconut milk, simmer sauce, arrowroot, and nutritional yeast. Once smooth, dip the first two slices of bread into the mixture, allowing the pieces to soak for about a minute before flipping them over to the opposite side. You want to saturate the slices without having them disintegrate into the liquid.

Meanwhile, begin heating a large skillet over medium heat. Use nonstick or lightly grease any other material. Once hot, gently place the saturated bread onto the sizzling surface, and let cook, undisturbed, for 3 – 4 minutes. Peek to check on the underside; if it’s nicely golden-brown, go ahead and give it a flip. Cook for another 3 – 4 minutes on the opposite side.

Transfer to a serving plate and top with as many of the suggested garnishes as desired. Repeat with the remaining bread, and enjoy!

Makes 2 – 3 Servings

Printable Recipe


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3 AM

No one willingly starts the day at 3am. Insomniacs toss and turn, searching for that elusive moment of respite from the waking world that seems only a myth. New parents bolt upright at the siren of a newborn’s shrill cry, sounding like an alarm in the night. Bakers and bus drivers and newscasters alike pound the snooze button on the alarm clock for just 5 more minutes before accepting their fates, duty bound to begin the daily hustle. 3am is an hour foreign to blissful sleepers comfortably immersed in a sea of dreams, swaddled in blankets, and fully unaware of the progression of time. It’s a blessing to never see those numbers glowing from the digital readout, one often taken for granted by the waking world.

4am turns greater numbers out of warm beds, thrust into consciousness with similar discord. Business begins to grind forward, travelers hustle to catch early flights, students lace up sneakers and set off on long commutes to class.

By the time 5am rolls around, life is in full swing. The sky begins to warm with the first signs of color, blushing red and pink before blossoming brightly to greet the commotion below. Coffee rouses millions more slumbering souls, perhaps more gently and easily now, convincing the sleep-starved that a few drops of caffeine might help make up. the difference.

It’s a new day by 6am. Those torn from comfort hours ago face the rapidly advancing clock with weariness; a weathered understanding that there’s still so much more time left to fill, even after so much had already come to pass. Turning to the sky, the sweetness of that sunrise, the one they watched grow from a pure black void, tastes far more satisfying than any breakfast could. Sometimes that’s the only morsel that continues to propel them forward.


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Blue Monday

Conventional wisdom has taught us that few colors are less appetizing than blue, owing to its scarcity in nature, and especially on the dinner plate. Intuitively avoiding foods that might be moldy, poisonous, or otherwise contaminated, centuries of visual training are hard to deny when confronted with foreign fare. And yet, precisely because such comestibles are so rare, we find ourselves impossibly compelled by these vibrant sights. Splashed across Instagram like edible sapphires, blue eats and drinks dazzle as much as they confound the casual voyeur.

Blue matcha is the culprit behind this azure trend, although the name itself is rather misleading. Made from powdered butterfly pea flowers, it’s an herbal, caffeine-free tisane that shares only a similar brewing method and comparable similar notes of delicate green tea. Far more restrained than the sometimes bitter green brew, the flavor may disappoint matcha aficionados but delight those looking for a less abrasive midday pick-me-up.

Raw food crafters in particular have taken a shine to this blue-hued fairy dust, stretching scant supplies to dye scores of unbaked cheesecakes and other sweet treats. What it lacks in bold flavor, it makes up for in vibrancy; a small pinch can go a long way as a natural food coloring agent.

Applying heat or acid creates a variable situation. Particularly acidic environments will coax the typically cerulean hue to shift toward a the purple family, which can be a fun party trick, but less desirable for a true blue treat. Double up on the dose, avoid citrus pairings or yogurt-based batters, and keep oven temperatures on the down-low for the most royal results.

Sweets and snacks are not the only striking applications for this brilliant blue pigment. Thais have been staining white rice with the raw blossoms since the beginning of recorded history, long before their lavish dishes could go viral on social media. Taking a hint from tradition, one of my favorite ways to elevate the average noodle is now my signature “blu-don bowl,” a bold new spin on the popular bowl-in-one, topped with any variety of vegetables, proteins, and sauces I can pull out of the fridge. It all magically tastes good together, no matter what odd assortment is on hand, tied together by the beautiful strands of chewy udon that shine with an otherworldly teal tint, all from a quick dip in boiling blue matcha tea.

As the days grow warmer though, I look to this cool blue powder for a more cooling experience than the typical hot preparation might provide. Blended ice, blueberries, and a tiny touch of mint form the base for a truly refreshing frappe, far more appealing than anything Starbucks might churn out. Lighter than a milkshake yet more substantial than a mere iced latte, it navigates the fine line in between with grace. Though blue matcha is still something of a rarity on the mainstream market, if the current trends are any indication of its popularity, the powder should soon be staining a brave new world of sweets and savories near you.

Blue Moon Frappe

1 Teaspoon Blue Matcha
2 Tablespoons Warm Water
1/2 Cup Vanilla Non-Dairy Milk
1/4 Cup Blueberries
6 – 8 Ice Cubes
2 – 3 Teaspoons Light Agave Nectar
1/4 Teaspoon Peppermint Extract

Whisk together the blue matcha and warm water, stirring vigorously until the powder has dissolved. Pour the mixture into your blender along with all of the remaining ingredients, adding more ice or sweetener based on your preference. Puree on high speed to crush the ice into a velvety smooth blend, with no lumps or chunks remaining. Serve immediately before it begins to melt!

Makes 1 Serving

Printable Recipe


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Short and Sweet

Good things come in small packages. Navigating the world as a vertically challenged person, this particular truism is one that I hold close to heart. Height, or lack thereof, should never be viewed as an obstacle, but rather celebrated for all the unique benefits it provides. Leg room is never an issue when flying, even on a cut-rate coach ticket, for example, and it’s effortless to slip in (or out) of a crowd. I’d like to think that a smaller size means that all the good things inside are merely condensed and intensified to fit, amplified into a more pure form. Although that can’t be said for all people, that’s certainly the case for strawberry shortcake.

Modern interpretations of this sweet biscuit sandwich stretch the definition, often towering higher than a modest layer cake, but at its core, the concept remains short and sweet. Today, I’m here to push the boundaries further, albeit in the opposite direction. Flattening out the assembly into one thin plank, this confectionery rendition measures less than a centimeter tall, dazzling with flavor rather than lofty aspirations.

Encased in darkly caramelized toffee, crispy quinoa stands in for cake or biscuits, adding just the right cereal note to support the star players. Strawberries, dried and sliced, are both beautiful and flavorful; removing the excess water creates a far sweeter treat than fresh fruit, while simultaneously extending their shelf life to suit any season. Whipped cream is out of the picture, handily replaced by a luscious drizzle of white chocolate instead.

Although shortness often carried negative associations, like being short-tempered or getting short shrift, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t celebrate the more compact things (and people) among us. There’s no need to drone on and turn this into a long post; let’s keep it short and sweet, starting with a morsel of strawberry shortcake toffee, shall we?

Strawberry Shortcake Toffee

1/2 Ounce Freeze-Dried Strawberries, Divided
1/3 Cup Crispy Quinoa Cereal or Crispy Rice Cereal
3/4 Cup Vegan Butter
1 Cup Demerara or Turbinado Sugar
1 Tablespoon 100% Grade B Maple Syrup
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

3 Ounces (1/2 Cup Chips or Finely Chopped Pieces) Vegan White Chocolate, Melted

Line an 8 x 8-inch baking pan with aluminum foil, lightly grease, and sprinkle half of the freeze-dried strawberries along with all of the crispy cereal over the bottom, as evenly as possible. Set aside.

Grind the remaining dried strawberries down to a fine powder in a coffee or spice grinder. Combine it with the vegan butter, sugar, maple syrup, and salt in a medium-sized saucepan and set over moderate heat. Stir just to moisten all of the sugar, and then keep your spatula out of the mixture until the very end. Instead, swirl the pan gently to mix the contents, which will help prevent premature crystal formation.

Allow the margarine to melt and sugar to dissolve before clipping a thermometer to the side of the pan. You’ll want to bring the sugar to a steady boil, until it turns a deep amber brown color and reaches 300 degrees, which is also known as the “hard crack stage” of candy making.

Turn off the heat, carefully stir in the vanilla as it may sputter angrily, and immediately pour the mixture into your prepared pan. Try to pour it evenly over the goodies within so as not to displace the goodies at the bottom.

Let cool completely before snapping into more manageable pieces. Drizzle with melted white chocolate, and let set once more before handling. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature.

Printable Recipe