Travels with Penelope

Travel, Food, Wine, Spirituality and Everything Else

Category: Food (page 2 of 4)

January 6, 2016 The Epiphany: Goose, Eggslut, Gjusta, The Rose

IMG_4440 MR

On Christmas I generally cook a goose. That I do may raise the eyebrows of some of you who know my penchant for vegan food, but I cook for non-vegans and the last thing they want, as I found out several years back, is tofurky for Christmas. In the past several years as I mentioned in a previous post, my food intake has gone from veggie to vegan to raw, to pescatarian, back to vegan with a few exceptions, eggs, goat and sheep cheeses among them. Early on in this evolution, I would moralize not necessarily vocally,  but in my thoughts about the benefits of vegetarianism to the health of humans and the planet.

During a night on the desert in Egypt in 2003 a month before the Iraqi war, my internal moralizing was deeply challenged… Continue reading

December 15, 2015 Benu





Is it worth it?

Is what worth it?

That small fortune put out for dinner last night. Continue reading

November 23, 2015 Health Benefits of Sweet Potatoes

This morning as I was working on my Portuguese journal, editing and getting ready to post more on my experience of this beautiful and under-the-radar country, a newsletter from Mother Nature came across my desktop. One of my favorite newsletters, I read it weekly. I am forwarding the Health Benefits of Sweet Potatoes. A good read, it should help our favorite tuber go down easily this coming Thursday.

Happy Thanksgiving

September 24, 2015 Waiter, there’s some plastic in my fish.

Dear Friends,

Shortly after listening to Francis address Congress this morning I received the following email from my partner. I can only imagine what the Holy Father’s response might be to this news. After reading I felt the need to share it with all of you. You may want to leave those anchovies out the Caesar salad.

University of California, Davis

September 24, 2015



Roughly a quarter of the fish sampled from fish markets in California

and Indonesia contained man-made debris — plastic or fibrous material

— in their guts, according to a study from the University of

California, Davis, and Hasanuddin University in Indonesia.

The study, published today in the journal Scientific Reports, is one

of the first to directly link plastic and man-made debris to the fish

on consumers’ dinner plates.

“It’s interesting that there isn’t a big difference in the amount of

debris in the fish from each location, but in the type — plastic or

fiber,” said lead author Chelsea Rochman, a David H. Smith

postdoctoral fellow in the Aquatic Health Program at the UC Davis

School of Veterinary Medicine. “We think the type of debris in the

fish is driven by differences in local waste management.”

‘Waiter, there’s some plastic in my fish’

The researchers sampled 76 fish from markets in Makassar, Indonesia,

and 64 from Half Moon Bay and Princeton in California. All of the

fragments recovered from fish in Indonesia were plastic. In contrast,

80 percent of the debris found in California fish was fibers, whereas

not a single strand of fiber was found in Indonesian fish.

Indonesia has little in the way of landfills, waste collection or

recycling, and large amounts of plastic are tossed onto the beaches

and into the ocean. The problem is made worse by a lack of purified

drinking water that forces its residents to drink bottled water.

“Indonesia has some of the highest marine life richness and

biodiversity on Earth, and its coastal regions — mangroves, coral

reefs and their beaches — are just awash in debris,” said co-author

Susan Williams, a professor with the UC Davis Bodega Marine

Laboratory who has worked on projects in Indonesia for the past

several years. “You have the best and the worst situation right in

front of you in Indonesia.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. has highly advanced systems for collecting and

recycling plastics. However, most Californians wash their clothing in

washing machines, the water from which empties into more than 200

wastewater treatment plants offshore California. The authors theorize

that fibers remaining in sewage effluent from washing machines were

ingested by fish sampled in the state.

“To mitigate the issue in each location, it helps to think about

local sources and differences in waste management strategies,”

Rochman said.

It takes guts

The scientists emphasize that the plastic and fibers are found in the

fishes’ guts. That means humans are likely to ingest the debris only

if the fish is eaten whole, as it is in Indonesia, or such as with

sardines and anchovies, rather than filleted. However, researchers

are still studying whether chemicals in plastic can transfer into the


The study was funded by a UC Davis Outreach and International Program

SEED Grant, the National Science Foundation’s Graduate K-12 and IGERT

programs, and the National Institute of Environmental Health

Sciences’ Superfund Research Program.

Sept. 15, 2015 Chefs on LA

Not too long ago LA was considered everything but a dining destination. With the major shift that has occurred in the past few years  I could name several places capable of pleasing the most educated palate. In a recent interview with Eater, several chefs discuss the now as well as what appears to be coming to LA.


August 30, 2015 Idyllic Paso




I generally pass through Paso Robles three or four times annually, spend a night and continue on to my destination. Over the past ten years, I have become quite familiar with the town and surrounding region. With every visit I have felt more drawn to its spaciousness, warm character and friendly people. Ancient oak and olive trees dot its terrain offering shady places to sit and sky-gaze; slopes latticed with vineyards roll and curl through endless space.

Continue reading

July 30, 2015 Breaking News!


I could hardly wait to share the news I just received from a food curator friend. Carlos Salgado does it again.


Selected as #2 chef of 100 in America by Opinionated About Dining  for 2015. See the new  Fresh List link below. Salgado placed ahead of David Chang of Momofuki and Thomas Kellar of Ad Hoc among several other prominent chefs. Not only is he a great chef, he’s a most humble man as well. How fortunate for those who live behind the Orange Curtain!



July 28, 2015 Redbird




A week ago I dined in a rectory. Yes, a parsonage, a vicarage, the home of an ecclesiastical rector. No rector was present, but I could feel a presence. So how did the rectory of St. Vibiana’s Cathedral in downtown LA come to be a restaurant?

Continue reading

July 16, 2015 Adya



Several decades back, my partner and I lived in a small rural village near Hamilton, Ontario. One snowy afternoon as I drove through the village, I had one of those out-of-the-blue moments in which an unusual question popped into my head. “What is Indian food like?” As I pondered the question I happen to pass the local library.  I decided to stop and probe through the card catalogue, personal computers let alone Google lay far in the future, to see if I could find an answer. At the least, I could peruse Britannica’s info on the sub-continent’s cuisine.

When a cookbook of Indian recipes appeared on an index card, I knew karma had to be in play. I scuttled back among the dusty shelves where Classic Cooking from India by Dharam Jit Singh laid waiting. Published years earlier with the help of McCall’s Magazine, I had found one of the first cookbooks on Indian food to be published in the west.

I picked it up, took it to the desk, checked it out and took it home. With its help I assembled my first vegetable biryani, not difficult, but a complex dish. Preparing Indian food, like any craft, takes practice and after the initial dish I spent months doing just that.  Pickles, chutneys, curries, breads; I even made paneer. What I discovered is that Indian cuisine is highly developed, but not intricate. Preparing a festive meal is easy, but there are so many layers and processes that it can take several days.

Self-taught with help from the borrowed cookbook and a little advice from Indian friends, I gradually grew adept. I liked the quality of my food, and, to my astonishment, so did my Indian friends.  For the most part, I stopped frequenting Indian restaurants.

Until I met Chef Shachi Mehra.


Born in India while her parents were visiting, raised in Jersey with a few years in Delhi, attended college, and then the day came when Chef Bruce Johnson (a premier chef according to the New York Times) invited her to spend a day prepping in his kitchen at Trap Rock Brewery in New Jersey. At the end of the day she had found her destiny; offered a job on the spot, her path to becoming Chef Shachi began. She would do stints at  prestigious dining establishments, Tablas and Bread Bar in Manhattan, Bombay Club in Washington, DC, Boconova in Oakland,  Junnoon in Palo Alto among them. She would do a culinary tour through India, Japan and Australia.  Gentry Magazine named her a rising star. But,  moving to the OC brought the opportunity to open her own restaurant, Adya.

When I followed the advice of a friend and tried her food (she was getting great press) I tasted some of the finest Indian dishes I had had in the US. Like Salgado at Taco Maria, Mehra is among the recent generation of chefs who are bringing together the dual heritage of a root food with their background in the US, and in Chef Shachi’s case, abroad. Let it be said that ethnic food prepared in the US may reflect subtle differences from that prepared in the mother country. Ingredients, unless they are imported, come from different climates and soils. Like a chardonnay from California differs from a French chardonnay so too a dish from India may differ from one prepared in the US. It may be likened to a twin, but whether identical or fraternal is the question. A person of Indian origin is often referred to as a PIO. Though I have never heard it as such, I like the name FIO (food of Indian origin) cuisine. Mehra comes down on both sides of the world. Her food made with fresh, local ingredients is comfortable for any palate.

I love Adya’s digs in The Anaheim Packing District. Back in the day when the OC was a rural stage for citrus crops, farmers brought their fruit to the big warehouse by the railroad tracks in Anaheim. Here workers for Sunkist washed, dried, wrapped and loaded fruit on trains headed to destinations throughout the US. Adya’s location has always been a food center of sorts, but now it reminds me of the grand markets of Asia and Europe. The fact that it is ten minutes from Disneyland serves well.













Bar Seating


Outdoor Seating



Communal Seating



In Classic Cooking, Singh said, “If you would be a king, they say in India, you must eat like a king.”  Mehra’s Indian street food, tandoori’s and curries, fresh and imbued with the rich line of spices with which we identify Indian food are fit for a king and queenI never cease to enjoy observing the cooks preparing food in the tandoori ovens, or the chef tinkering over simmering pots on the large stove tops.








Chef Shachi’s menu includes classic Indian dishes, creative interpretations and daily specials.



Served on the classic thali with naan, raita, dal and salad



Two of my personal favorites watermelon chat (appetizer) complemented with fennel, red onion and lime and radish, mango, and jicama served on a papadom.






Chef Shachi’s Kaathi Rolls (wraps filled with potatoes, paneer, chicken or lamb), have become legendary. She also serves Pavs, a Bombay-style Sloppy Joe, with spiced vegetables, potatoes or lamb.



According to Pitaru a web site that explains the meaning of Hindu names, “Adya” a Sanskrit word, means “the original power from which all five senses originated.” It is said that Sanskrit not only names, but that the meaning of what it names is in the sound of the spoken word itself. Om, the example par excellence. If I repeat Ad…Ya slowly over and over, the vibration goes to my palate and down the throat. Soon, I am hungry. Time to head to my Indian go-to!



July 5, 2015 North Left

The following may be a bit of a geographical stretch for some readers, but with Disneyland, its gorgeous beaches, Catalina Island, vital museums and more, the OC continues to be a magnet. If you go, consider the following.




One evening about a year ago after my partner and I had dinner at a hole in the wall in downtown Santa Ana, the east end to be precise we decided to take a stroll. An interesting factoid: In 2011 Forbes named Santa Ana, the county seat, as the fourth safest city in the nation with a population over 250,000. Over the past ten years, the old downtown has been gradually coming back to life. Happily, the town parents are renovating old structures rather than tearing down, and, with its thriving Hispanic-Latino culture, the city scintillates. The quality of  restaurants and pubs along with the new 4th Street Market is turning old downtown into a dining destination.

During our walk, we happened on North Left. Save for a chalkboard sign on the sidewalk, we could easily have missed it; due to its non-descript front with no signs or menus posted on doors or windows.




Old readers, note the manhole covers!




I would have passed by, but because of a friend whose palate I respect had given it a great recommendation, I peeked inside.

Dark walls, high tables with heavy metal stools, nothing pretentious, small table area off to side, a gastro pub or so I thought.










A video of colorful ethereal images played on an unobtrusive screen. As I looked about I recalled having been to the space earlier when it was under a different name. I liked the changes; the old space, a hip teenager, had become an adult. A casual perusal of the menu revealed brews and no, not burgers, but what appeared to be some very sophisticated plates.

Shortly, we returned for dinner.

Since that initial forage, with a dozen plus meals under my belt, North Left has become another one of my go-to’s. When I am in the OC, I have to have Chef Aron Habiger’s food at least once a week. The menu offers options for carnivores to vegans at affordable prices. Were North Left in San Francisco, they would double. Several plates to share are an option.

After culinary school, Habiger spent his time in an assortment of places notably Forage in Salt Lake City before moving to OC.  Now, happily, he is in a place where he can show off his sophistical talent and craftsmanship. Ashley Guzman, the pastry chef, puts out desserts that are as creative as the rest of the menu. She changes and tweaks the dessert menu daily.

The brussel sprouts are sine qua non, the best I’ve found anywhere. First, de-leafed, then sautéed in brown butter, reducing some of the bitterness characteristic of brussel sprouts, the leaves turn chewy, but with the brown butter they maintain a hint of a melt-in-your mouth texture. Massaged in finely grated San Joaquin Gold, a mild cheddar-like cheese from Fiscalini Farms in Modesto, CA, they are finished with chunky roasted hazel nuts. I have done several brussel sprout runs up and down the left coast, but honestly when I want the sprouts my heart takes me back to North Left.




Habiger impressed me with his recent addition to the menu, Breakfast Radishes. That first bite, a chomp into a delicate, slim radish, bathed in a swirl of bee pollen flecked buttermilk, finished off with crunchy, candied sunflower seeds awakened my sense of the divine. A delightful sequence of mixed textures, the preparation came off as one, simple taste. I commented to Habiger that “the dish was so elegant yet so simple,” he returned, “the simple is the most difficult to execute”. I agree. Grilled steak, generally a sure bet in the right hands, but radishes? Never thought I’d see the day when I could hardly wait for another go-round with radishes.  Not bad for my diet, either!







The steel cut risotto done with oats instead of rice, included escargot sans shells, manchego cheese, mushrooms for added depth, chives and edible nasturtiums. Kale salads are a must on most current menus. Chef adds beets, quinoa, goat cheese, dried cranberries all pairing beautifully, but it’s the fresh horseradish dressing that generates the lingering taste bombs.

At the time of this writing, two entrees, steak and a fish are available. We went for the trout. Sided with gentle potatoes and escarole, zinging with capers, served in an iron skillet, taste and texture perfect, we had enough leftovers for a second meal.

Recently, Habiger has been running a kind of pop up on Thursday evenings complete with tasting menu. Shopping the Farmer’s Markets, along with using his own rooftop garden above the restaurant he collects the most seasonable ingredients, but on Thursdays the menu is spontaneous depending on what’s available. In another creative vein, instead of taco Tuesday, he’s known for oyster Tuesday.

Rooftop Garden:




Steak, pork n skrimps, ham and biscuits, chicken nuggets, poutine; all on the menu as well, and prepared in a way that will satisfy the most educated palates. On one occasion, the chef surprised my partner and me with a plate of scallops. Encircled in mint flavored squid ink, highlighted with finely diced chips of green watermelon, it gave me pause. Umami? I am still reflecting.




Aside from the food one of the things I love about this place is the crew.




When I arrive, they greet me warmly and often share their enthusiasm about some dish on the menu. Habiger with his outgoing personality is generally out on the floor welcoming and interacting with diners. When I eat at North Left I feel like I am having dinner in the home of close friends.





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