BitterSweet

Sweet Musings with a Bitterly Sharp Wit


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Not-So-Secret Supper Club

There’s no sign out front. No two menus are ever the same. Walk-ins are not accepted. One would be hard pressed to call this arrangement a “restaurant” by the traditional definition, and yet the chef plays to a rapt audience, selling out tickets for almost every dining session. Bay area natives will likely know this poorly kept “secret” supper club well, striking up the band with Sound & Savor for over 13 years now. My first experience in this elusive underground establishment left a lasting memory, filled with the warmth of community as well as good food, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Attending dinners and classes almost as often as they’re offered, Chef Philip Gelb and I became fast friends in the process.

Known as much for his confidence with spice as his finesse with more delicate flavors, Phil has a style that doesn’t fit well into any predefined category, unafraid to cook to his own beat. Now he’s sharing that same approach with voracious eaters abroad, with the release of Vegan Underground: Improvisations on World Cuisines.

The contents transcend superficial cultural boundaries, seamlessly merging the defining characteristics of multiple distinctive cuisines into a brand new culinary adventure. Venturing boldly into unexplored territory, these recipes remain approachable, familiar for their original roots, recalling all the best flavor notes from high to low.

From Trinidad doubles to fiery mapo tofu, crispy fried okra to pistachio-walnut ice cream, the diverse range of delicious options promises appetizing options for all palates. Ramen remains a particular favorite of mine, and it’s a true pleasure to finally see other perennial crowd-pleasers like the green gazpacho and polenta peach cake in print.

Capturing the photos for this fresh compilation, I was lucky enough to experience these meals in person, as cooked by the master, but I can vouch for this home cook’s translation as well. Since not everyone, locals included, are lucky enough to snag seats for these limited engagements, I’m absolutely thrilled to give away a copy of Vegan Underground to four readers! Enter through August 10th by commenting below: Have you ever been to an “underground” restaurant, or have you dreamed of starting your own? Tell me about your experiences and ideas! Log your submission on the official giveaway page, and find additional ways to improve your odds there, too.

For as many cookbooks flood the marketplace every year, there are none that can match the creativity and sheer passion found within these pages. You won’t find Vegan Underground in mainstream bookstores or on Amazon.com, so don’t miss your chance to own a copy today.

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Bowl-ed and Beautiful

A hoarder by trade but a minimalist at heart, bridging the gap between these disparate impulses can be a herculean task. Dishware stacks up in towering piles on every shelf of my small living space, populating the cabinets and drawers, overflowing into the outdoor shed, and still it’s a strain to find homes for every odd garnish. A riotous collection of colors and shapes, few pieces match a full set, but each one can command equal attention in the right scene. Such is the struggle of the average food photographer, forever adding to the archive of possible plating options. Particularly unusual or unique finds hold particular allure, but truth be told, it’s inevitably the simplest options that get the most play.

Everything looks good on white, setting off any food in sharp contrast like a bright spotlight, allowing the recipe itself to shine. Clean lines draw the eye smoothly around the composition overall, comfortably guiding a visual path back to the “hero” of the moment. Bowls like these are invaluable because no matter the theme or concept for any given assignment, these supporting actors always play a crucial role, without breaking a sweat.

Quality whites are essential even if you aren’t building a feast fit to photograph. The gentle plunging rims of these cereal bowls are an ideal example of form meeting function. When Sweese approached me with the opportunity to share this set, I couldn’t believe my (and hopefully your) luck. I’ve found myself using them for daily meals as well as more fanciful composed photo shoots. Win your very own set of four 28-ounce porcelain bowls by leaving me a comment about what you would serve in them first! Log your submission by following this link to the official contest page and find more ways to enter while you’re there. You have until July 25th to throw your hat into the ring; don’t miss this chance to make a bowl-ed statement!

Winning may not help control the overzealous prop shopper, but at least your place settings can look perfectly orderly and uncluttered.


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Sugar, Spice, and Everything Rice

Rice is life. The original “ancient grain,” rice in some form has been around since the beginning of recorded history, flourishing in every cuisine across the globe, the very foundation of civilization itself. The word for “rice” in Japanese is the same as the word for “meal,” which succinctly demonstrates just how essential this basic cereal has been for many millennia of cooks and eaters. Boasting well over 40,000 different, wholly unique varieties, one could easily eat rice every single day for their entire lives and never grow bored. Today, I’m talking about basmati, but not just any basmati; Texmati, the first of its kind to be grown in the US.

In collaboration with RiceSelect, I’ve plunged head-first into these tender, subtly nutty grains, relishing their versatility in both sweet and savory applications. Remaining firm and chewy after cooking, it’s particularly well-suited for stir-fries, soups, fried rice, pilafs, and stuffings, but to really highlight this whole grain, I wanted to take a less conventional approach.

Horchata, the greatest form of rice milk known to humankind, is arguably just as important to the evolution of society. Creamy but still light and refreshing, cinnamon tints the icy-cold beverage lending its gentle spice to the blend. It’s hard to improve upon something so brilliantly simple, so infallibly satisfying… Which is I didn’t try to in the first place. Instead, I took that inspiration and turned it into an entirely new treat, in the form of soft, decadent cookie bars.

More flavorful than plain white rice and more toothsome than typical basmati, Texmati Brown Rice truly shines in this new sweet sensation. Falling squarely between cake-y and chewy, these blondies manage to strike a delicate balance that’s only improved when served thoroughly chilled, just like a tall glass of horchata itself.

When the formula is so uncomplicated, every last ingredient counts, which is why I want you to taste these horchata blondies the right way: With Texmati rice. RiceSelect and Mambo Sprouts have generously offered to equip one lucky reader with not one, but two containers of Texmati Brown Rice, plus a bonus tote bag to flaunt around town. To enter, just hit the giveaway page here, and don’t forget to leave me a comment! This giveaway will run until April 19th, and the winner will be notified shortly thereafter.

Horchata Blondies

1/2 Cup Vegan Butter
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup Aquafaba
1 1/2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Almond Extract
1 Cup All-Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Cooked and Cooled Texmati Brown Basmati Rice

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line an 8 x 8-inch baking pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Lightly grease and set aside.

Place the vegan butter and sugar in a small saucepan and set over medium-low heat. Cook gently until the butter is melted and the sugar has fully dissolved.
Turn off the heat and stir in the aquafaba, vanilla, and almond extract. Let cool for at least 10 minutes.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Incorporate the cooked rice, tossing to evenly coat with flour. This will help prevent it from simply sinking to the bottom as the bars bake. Once equally distributed, pour in the liquid mixture and stir with a wide spatula, just until the batter is homogeneous. Transfer to your prepared pan and smooth down the top.

Bake for 22 to 28 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool completely before slicing.

Store the blondies in an airtight container for up to 3 days at room temperature, or for up to a week in the fridge.

Makes 8 – 12 Bars

Printable Recipe


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Keep Calm and Shop On

The array of online retailers available for 24-hour, worldwide, no holds barred means all of your shopping whims can become downright dizzying after just a few cursory searches. Such a wealth of options should be a boon to the average consumer, seeking the best deals and widest selection, but the incessant promotions seem to pull in all directions at once. Overwhelmed rather than empowered, I find myself simply closing my browser and walking away more often than not, too frazzled to make a purchase for even the simplest of needs.

Seeking to filter out the extra noise, I’ve found true solace in the less celebrated, smaller virtual retailers, offering only items that meet a higher standard for quality. That means only vegan products can make the cut, to say nothing of the longevity, versatility, and visual appeal of the items themselves. She Is Worth It is a rising star in this field. If you haven’t yet surfed over to this shining outpost of cruelty-free goods, get ready to watch your wish list grow.

Offering products that are kind to the animals and your wallet, She Is Worth It features just three focused categories of top notch products: Cosmetics, bags, and sunglasses. For the indecisive or merely undecided, this selection makes shopping for a loved one with discerning tastes easier than ever, since you can’t go wrong with any of the options.

Don’t forget to treat yourself while you’re there! As my travels demand a wider variety of bags, I’ve indulged myself in some more stylish carry ons, which is why I was irresistibly drawn to the gorgeous quilted faux-leather backpack above. A rotating selection of items means that this particular option is no longer available, but even more dazzling purses, clutches, and handbags have been added to take its place.

As a special holiday treat to readers, She Is Worth It and I have joined forces to offer a mini shopping spree to one lucky patron. The winner can select either one beauty product or pair of sunglasses, just for giving this new online retailer a shot. Please visit the GIVEAWAY FORM HERE to log your entry, and don’t forget to start shopping now! The holidays aren’t too far away, after all…


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Smooth-Talker (With a Matcha Giveaway!)

Making the leap from blender to bowl, smoothies are no longer strictly liquid nourishment. Morning, noon, or night, it’s time to put away the straws and break out the spoons. Acai bowls paved the way for this natural evolution, but smoothie bowls are entirely unique creations, free from the constraints of the typical toppings or construction. Browse through instagram for a few seconds, and you’ll see a full spectrum of colors, layers, textures, and sometimes even actual glitter fill your screen. These run the gamut from austere to more indulgent than chocolate custard, so as with most other edible art forms, the real struggle is finding a happy balance between the two.

For me, that means going green, but not in the predictable way. Kale, spinach, and collards alike are mainstays in my meals, but not in my blender. The green smoothie movement is one that i could never fully embrace, simply because I couldn’t rationalize adding ingredients that didn’t contribute positive flavors to the mix, but rather, unfavorable tastes that would need to be covered up or otherwise compensated for. Green is great, but when it comes to smoothies, matcha is always my favorite source.

Enthusiasts will agree that there’s no wrong way to enjoy this verdant powdered tea leaf, but many are missing out on matcha’s full flavor potential. Did you know that there are numerous different grades of the emerald superfood, which vary greatly in flavor and potency? Separated into three distinct categories, it may be difficult to suss out when it’s best to employ ceremonial matcha, culinary matcha, or any of the shades of green in between.

Contrary to my first naive assumption, it turns out that culinary matcha is not actually of lower quality, and in fact contributes a stronger tea flavor to baked goods, as it’s better suited to withstand the heat of the oven. Ceremonial grades possess greater nuances, best to sip, savor, and carefully contemplate. Each one tells it’s own story, so carefully calibrated through every step of processing, that no two batches will taste precisely the same.

If you’ve never experienced the glorious green joy that comes with the full spectrum of matcha, you’re in luck. Matchaworks offers three wholly unique options to keep you steeped in good taste from morning to night- Or whenever the caffeine wears off. Picking between the trio might seem like an overwhelming decision to make, but today, you may not have to. Matchaworks has generously offered to send one lucky reader a bundle of all their tasteful teas: Japanese ceremonial grade, ceremonial grade, and culinary grade.

You must be a resident of the US to be eligible for this gift, and don’t forget to get social! Interact with Matchaworks on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, and then hop on over to the OFFICIAL GIVEAWAY PAGE to make your entry count.

No matter how your brew or blend it up, green is always good when it means matcha!


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Keep Your Cool

There are certain world records that no one wants to break. No one would be proud to claim the title of World’s Most Accident-Prone Person, or boast of sporting the World’s Longest Nose Hairs, for example. Unfortunately, the world itself has been officially awarded the unfortunate record of World’s Warmest Year, as of 2015, and we’re right on track to continue that winning streak for 2016.

Some of us have it worse than others. Living in the sheltered weather bubble that is the bay area, protected by a perpetual blanket of fog, it’s hard to imagine the crushing heatwave smothering the east coast right now. I don’t say that to brag- It’s with both awe and sympathy. I genuinely don’t know how you folks manage to survive yet another round of unprecedented heat and humidity.

No doubt, ice cream must help. It’s the only real relief that I would fully endorse on any day, and in any climate, for that matter. Even though temperatures around here rarely break the 80-degree mark, I’ve fully indulged in more than my fair share of frozen desserts this summer, thanks in large part to So Delicious. Their soothing cashew- and coconut-based treats are guaranteed to take the sting out of the most brutal days of summer sun. Short of churning your own, quite frankly, there are no better nor more diverse mainstream brands out there.

Although it’s tempting to hoard all of this frozen goodness for myself, I know there are many hungry ice cream-lovers out there suffering far more than I am this season. That’s why I want to share the wealth, and offer a FREE So Delicious product to two lucky readers! Anything your heart desires is up for grabs, but of course, I can’t recommend the ice cream highly enough. To enter, head on over to the giveaway page here, and don’t forget to leave a comment about your favorite ice cream flavor. You have until August 10th to enter, so get to it! I wouldn’t want anyone to sweat through the whole summer without a bite of cold comfort.


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Read My Lips (Lippy Girl GIVEAWAY!)

Makeup, hair, wardrobe, and modeling by Melisser Eliott.

Makeup is far from my field of expertise. Though fascinated by it from an early age, that intrigue never translated into successful application, and my skills remain limited to the basics. Luckily, lipstick is one cosmetic option that even I can handle, which is why finding brands that are ethical and non-toxic has been imperative. Master makeup artist Melisser Elliot gets all the credit for hooking me up with Lippy Girl, and flaunting their “Son of a Brick” Vegocentric Organic Vegan Lipstick so stunningly in the above photo shoot.

Without resorting to carmine and beeswax, add a bold splash of color to your own ensemble with shades to match any outfit, no matter how avant-garde or conventional. In case you’re not feeling quite so daring, rest assured that many shades are quite sheer with buildable coverage. Which lipstick color would you choose from the vibrant, variegated options? Let me know in a comment and you could win it, along with a tube of Extra Virgin Lip Gloss! Don’t forget to hop over and log your submission on the official giveaway form, and find more ways to rack up entries for a better chance to win big. This giveaway is open to residents of the US and Canada, and will run until Thursday, May 14th. Good luck!