BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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The Final Final

It’s a familiar, if vexing routine. Intense stress of a difficult semester becomes condensed into the span of a few days, complete with a mountain of busy work that will never serve any purpose in the real world. Study, lose sleep, slave away on essays, and ultimately jump over another hurdle. Pause for a few weeks and repeat, ad nauseum. The relentless cycle of schoolwork and deadlines holds scant appeal these days, after a lifetime of compulsory education followed by an extended part-time approach to earning a degree. Still in the throes of this final wave of exams, I’m ready to get off this hamster wheel once and for all. This is my final round of finals.

Hard to believe that relief is in sight, at long last. Many years went by when I couldn’t even say for sure if I was a Sophomore or a Junior, graduating in 2015, 2016, or just graduating, period. Working online, separated from a physical campus by hundreds of miles, I was completely in the dark; there was no light at the end of the tunnel at all.

No one could have predicted what a crazy, twisting path lay ahead, nor how the journey might shape my life, far beyond basic intellectual enrichment. Pulling me across the country to this foreign land that I now call home, it may not be paradise and sunshine every day, but it sure is beachy-keen compared my once hermit-like existence.

Once the very last wave of grades crashes ashore, I can’t say for sure what the future might hold. Heck, I can’t even say what I’ll eat for dinner tonight! All I know is that there’s still so much more ahead, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to have built my nest here in California to see it through.

That’s all to say, please forgive any blogging interruptions until graduation! Your regularly programmed posts will return shortly.


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Ay, Chihuahua!

Inspiration is often found in the most unusual places. In the case of my new favorite cornbread formula, it came in the form of a four-legged, two pound pup known throughout the entire bay area as Strummer. This darling little dog truly has a fan club, famous both for her size and sweet, loving nature that could melt even the iciest of hearts. When this pup speaks, the world listens. To deny her anything would constitute an act of unthinkable cruelty.

Thus, as a notoriously picky eater, the temptation to spoil the old gal with human foods is a constant temptation. While her dietetic, all-natural, “premium” canned slop sits in her bowl, slowly crusting over, the urge to push all remotely viable foods her way becomes absolutely maddening. I know very well what dogs should and should not eat, but ever since I learned that tortilla chips are one of her favorite treats, well… Let’s just say I always just happen to have a bag on hand when she comes to visit.

On her most recent sleepover, Strummer and her brother were having a raucous good time, play fighting with each other and rearranging all of the blankets and towels within their reach, when the tiny princess grew suddenly despondent. Hours passed while she hid beneath a tangle of pillows, that bowl of healthy food remaining completely untouched. There was nothing that could convince her to eat.

And so, I was forced to break out my secret weapon. I couldn’t let my beloved Strummer go hungry, after all! The trouble is that now in her golden years as a senior dog, her teeth aren’t quite what they used to be, nor as numerous, truth be told. Scheming up a way to feed my finicky house guest, it was that strange source of inspiration that led to the creation of tortilla chip cornbread.

No cornmeal need apply. The chips themselves provide a surprisingly full-flavored toasted corn taste throughout, making the formula perfect for those days when the pantry isn’t entirely accommodating. Designed for mass appeal, humans can enjoy these treats just as heartily as the canines we love, should they be so lucky to steal away a few bites. Such a simple formula may look suspect at first glance, but the results speak for themselves. Their soft, moist crumb can rival the very best baked goods, no matter the intended audience. Just try to share a few morsels with all of your friends- even those who can only woof quietly in approval.

Tortilla Chip Corn Muffins

4 Ounces Yellow Tortilla Chips, Finely Ground*
1 Cup White Whole Wheat or All-Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
1/2 Cup Plain Vegan Yogurt
2 Tablespoons Coconut Sugar or Light Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 Teaspoons Coconut Oil, Melted
1 1/4 Teaspoons Apple Cider Vinegar

*If you’re making these to share with your four-legged friends, I would recommend seeking out low- or no-salt chips. For humans, I happen to love the super-salty chips and think they really make these muffins pop!

Preheat you oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a medium muffin pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the ground tortilla chips, flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Mix well to distribute all of the dry ingredients throughout. Separately, whisk together the non-dairy milk, yogurt, sugar, melted coconut oil and vinegar until smooth. Pour the wet ingredients into the larger bowl of dry goods and stir gently, until just combined. Don’t worry if there are a few small lumps remaining.

Fill the prepared muffin tins with batter, about 3/4 of the way to the top, and bake for 20 – 25 minutes. They will be lightly golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the middle of the muffins should come out clean. Let the muffins cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

Serve warm or at room temperature. The muffins can also be made in advance and stored in the fridge in an air-tight container for up to 1 week.

Makes 8 – 10 Muffins

Printable Recipe


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Ravishing Radishes

Pungent, peppery little orbs hidden beneath crowns of unruly leafy greens, the humble radish is all too often overlooked both in the garden and on the plate. Offering so much more than just fodder for antiquated garnishing techniques, these root vegetables were once so prized by the ancient Greeks that gold replicas would be crafted in their form. Though considerably less valuable but far more delicious, the plain old red radish deserves just as much reverence today.

Best when picked small and eaten moments after brushing away the soil that they grew in, nothing is needed to dress up the bright, spicy flavor concealed within each tiny tuber. The average supermarket radish is sadly so far removed from it’s original glory that it’s no surprise few people share any amount of enthusiasm for this once prized vegetable. Decapitated in the field, denuded of their glorious greens, and shrink wrapped to preserve shelf life, I wouldn’t want to do much more than carve these tasteless marbles into silly sculptures either.

Even if you’ve turned up your nose at radishes in the past, I implore you to give them another chance- Fresh, full of flavor, and treated with respect.

Tossed simply with a bold dressing highlighting its not-so-distant relative, the horseradish, the complimentary flavors sparkle across this crisp salad. Utilizing the whole vegetable, greens and all, this raw preparation comes together very quickly, ready to start off any springtime meal on a high note.

Totally Rad Salad

1 Bunch (About 3/4 Pound) Red Radishes
2 – 3 Persian Cucumbers
1 – 2 Tablespoons Fresh Grated Horseradish
1 Tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
1 1/2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Fresh Dill Leaves, Fronds, and/or Blossoms
1 Scallion, Thinly Sliced
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Trim off the spindly tips of the radishes and remove the greens. Rinse and reserve the leaves. Thinly slice both the radishes and cucumbers and place them in a large bowl. Combine all of the remaining ingredients in a separate dish, making sure to break up all of the horseradish so that it’s not ultimately clumped into one bite. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Pour the dressing over the sliced cucumbers and radishes, tossing thoroughly to evenly coat the vegetables. Arrange the reserved leafy greens on salad plates and top with the dressed veggies. Serve immediately.

Makes 2 – 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Snap Into Spring

Snow peas used to be the only podded legume for me. Thin, delicate green planks that erupted across the miles of twisting vines that proliferated in our otherwise sparse garden, its sheer abundance meant there was never any reason to venture beyond this glorious green bean. The snow peas were always the first vegetables to emerge, welcome each new spring season, heralding brighter days and more bountiful harvests to come.

Now that garden of my childhood is thousands of miles away, sounding like little more than a dream. Farmers markets have come to replace those homegrown goodies, shaking up the standard bill of fare with their comparatively endless, irresistible range of fresh temptations.

Graduating to the thicker, juicier, dare I say, meatier podded delights known as snap peas, I relish snacking on them raw or simply seared. Tossed in a blistering hot pan with a splash of oil and a pinch of salt, their inherent sweetness truly shines through after a scant minute on the fire.

Inspiration to turn this simple concept into a more coherent dish struck while idly browsing through my favorite discount grocery outlet. Fancy pastas, typically out of reach and far out of budget, beckoned from a top shelf, boasting shapes I’d never before seen in semolina format. Though formally dubbed Foglie d’Ulivo, translated as “olive leaves,” I immediately saw noodle incarnations of my beloved snap peas. The two simply had to meet; it would have been criminal to walk away from this particular impulse buy.

It doesn’t take a recipe to explain how simple but satisfying this quick dinner for one turned out. One glance at the photo is likely enough to discern the formula, but in case you need addition reassurance, here’s the full rundown: Seared snap peas tossed with pasta, chickpeas, orange zest, and a handful of cilantro. Garnish with nasturtium blossoms for an extra peppery bite, if you crave a bit more embellishment.

Snappy Snap Pea Pasta for One

3 Ounces Olive Leaf-Shaped Pasta (Foglie d’Ulivo) or Bowties
1 Teaspoon Olive Oil
2 Ounces Snap Peas
1/4 Cup Cooked Chickpeas
1/4 Teaspoon Orange Zest
Salt and Pepper, to Taste
1/4 Cup Fresh Fresh Cilantro Leaves

Cook the pasta to your desired state of al dente; drain and set aside.

Heat up the oil in a medium skillet over high heat. Toss in the snap peas, cooking quickly on all sides until the pods are bright green and lightly blistered. Immediately stir in the pasta, chickpeas, orange zest, and salt and pepper. Season to taste before turning off the heat. Toss with fresh cilantro right before serving.

Makes 1 Serving

Printable Recipe


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I ♥ Nalo

Some things never change, like the soothing rhythm of the ocean, day in and day out, as waves lap against the shores of Oahu. Every visit seems to pick up right where the last left off, as if the whole island had been put on pause in my absence. There’s a timeless quality about the majestic rain forests; the towering mountains and their plunging craters; the flora and fauna buzzing, chirping, and making merry throughout it all. There’s a certain comfort knowing that no matter how long it takes me to return, Hawaii will remain as enchanting a place as the day I first met it.

And yet, in my heart, I know that this is a consolatory lie. Imperceptibly, without conscious intention, everything changes. You can never truly go home again if you’re expecting “home” to align with questionably maintained memories. However, in the case of Honolulu’s evolving food scene, this is a very good thing indeed. One of the newest and most buzzed about establishments to take root in the past six months is Ai Love Nalo, an unassuming outpost on the far-flung coast of Waimanalo. Housed in a former gas station, it would be easy to drive right on by without a second thought, as nothing from the outside hints at the culinary treasures within.

Despite the fact that it’s a considerably trek for city-dwellers, factoring either traffic or bus schedules into the equation, or both if you’re particularly unlucky, it’s a journey always worth taking. Hit Hanauma Bay along the way and make it a day trip; the only way to top those dazzling sights is to follow them with a stellar meal.

Boasting a menu composed of locally-sourced produce and entirely vegan options, you’ll want to take a number of friends for the best experience. Heck, get out there and make some new friends! Join one of the long communal picnic tables out back and introduce yourself; there are no friendlier folks on earth than those living in paradise, as far as I’ve seen.

That said, if there was only one dish to order, it would have to be the Oh WOW Laulau. Wow, indeed! No where else on earth have I found vegan laulau, let alone such a stellar rendition. Traditionally consisting of fatty pork and/or fish steamed in taro leaves, this version eschews the meat in favor of hearty root vegetables, adding creamy coconut into the mix for richness. Not to be overlooked is the Tofu Poke provided on the side, claiming to be spicy but really bearing just enough warmth to taste perfectly balanced. This was easily my personal favorite from the small sampling of dishes provided, but it’s a close call when all the options are so good.

Another front runner is the BBQ Portobello Sandwich. Mushrooms marinated in a bright, smoky barbecue sauce practically sing between two whole wheat buns. Coconut slaw tops off the assemblage with just the right amount of subtle sweetness to contrast the deeply savory flavors within.

Simpler but no less spectacular dishes include the Roasted Veg Platter and Roasted Veg Avocado Sandwich. The way that the vegetables are treated with respect, from the moment they’re harvested from nearby farms to the care taken when they reach the kitchen is evident with every bite. Cooked with care and proffered generously with each serving, even the basics make the trek out here worthwhile. I’m still trying to recreate that impossibly umami gravy offered on the side. It’s one of those things that are so astoundingly, inconceivably delicious, it’s impossible to deconstruct.

Each entree promises an ideal amount of food; satisfying diners without over-stuffing them. That said, you’ll still want to make room for dessert, especially when you see the towering bowls full of Outta This Swirled Soft Serve. Cool, naturally sweet spirals of banana-based soft serve are dressed to the nines with cacao sauce that hardens much like magic shell, granola and coconut flakes tumbling down the mountainous terrain, and fresh fruits that vary based on local availability- Expect papaya always to be in ample supply, based on the thriving papaya trees on premise. Each order is abundant enough to be a considered a full meal in and of itself.

Although it’s foolish to imagine that anything would remain impervious to the inevitable current of change touching all corners of modern life, Ai Love Nalo is one thing I hope will still dazzle in the same place, in the same ways, next time I come back.

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