Posts from April 2011

L.A Without a Car, Gelato Baby 10 Do's and Don'ts in Los Angeles

Alissa, the Gelato Baby herself, have been doing a lot of back and forth for these 10 do's and don'ts of Los Angeles.

Today, things just fell into place.

Here are Alissa 10 Do's and Don'ts for Los Angeles.

1) DON'T rent a car. From the airport, take the FlyAway, a rapid bus service that takes passengers directly from LAX to Downtown, Westwood, or Van Nuys for $7.00 or less. It's the best deal in the city—especially since you could easily pay $60 for a cab. From there, it's easy to get on public transit to get where you need to go.


2) DO walk or take public transit everywhere you go. Los Angeles has a fantastic, if unsung, public transportation system that's clean, colorful, and reliable. The buses go just about everywhere you'll want to. The trains can deliver you to don't-miss destinations like Hollywood, Downtown, Pasadena, East L.A., Watts Towers, and Long Beach—and you won't have to look for parking.

3) Do use Metro to plan your trip.

4) DON'T go to the "Original Farmers Market" on 3rd and Fairfax expecting to find local produce or "The Grove" looking for orange-picking activities. Although a few of its stores and eateries are charming, there isn't much substance to be found at these two manufactured retail environments (although they are fun for people-watching, if you're into that kind of stuff).


5) DO go to one of the "real" farmers markets that pop up every day somewhere in the city. These are the best way to experience local culture and explore new neighborhoods. The biggest and most famous are the Wednesday mornings in Santa Monica or Sunday mornings in Hollywood. Here you'll be picking produce alongside celebrity chefs and nibbling prepared foods like pupusas and tamales alongside actual celebrities. On Thursday night there's a market at a Japanese estate atop a mountain in Hollywood L.A. City Farm No kidding. Thanks to Farmer Net, you can find all Hollywood farmers markets.

6) DON'T go looking for L.A.'s art scene at The Getty Museum. Sure, the views are impressive, and the building's monumental, but the environment (and the art) is more sterile than a hospital. This is not where L.A. art is made.

7) DO spend an entire day downtown experiencing L.A.'s real creative community. Head to the MOCA street art and graffiti show Art in the Streets (up through August). Head east to SCI-Arc , one of the world's most famous architecture schools, to see an installation in their gallery. Wander through the maze of artist spaces, hip stores, and galleries around Little Tokyo and Gallery Row.


8) At night, go to the Downtown Art Walk on the second Thursday of each month to see thousands of people and artists take to the streets.

9) DON'T go to Pinkberry. Please. I beg of you.

10) DO get your local ice cream fix at one of my favorite establishments. Scoops serves outrageous flavors like bacon cheddar jalapeno. Bulgarini has a greek yogurt flavor that will knock you off your feet. Pazzo  whips up the best farmers market concoctions like Meyer lemon sorbetto. Coolhaus roams the streets with ice cream sandwiches made with dirty mint ice cream and sea salt chocolate cookies.


Thanks Alissa for sharing.

Alissa Walker is a freelance writer who can most often be found in Los Angeles. She writes about design, architecture, cities, transportation, Los Angeles, and walking for many publications, including GOOD and Fast Company, and is the associate producer for the public radio show DnA: Design and Architecture. In 2010, Alissa was named as a USC/Annenberg Getty Arts Journalism Fellow for her writing about design and urbanism. She lives in a royal blue house in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, where she throws ice cream socials, tends to a drought-tolerant garden, writes infrequently on her blog, Gelatobaby, and relishes life in L.A. without a car.


Get Stitched Up At Roger, Don't Venture Too Far into Tsin Sha Tsui, Hong Kong 10 Do's and Don'ts

(*All photos courtesy of Gelato Baby on Flickr, all rights reserved, used by permission)

She Simmers, Wine Terroirs, Traveler's Lunchbox, My Votes in Saveur Blog Awards 2011

Before heading to California for Hospice du Rhone, I voted for a few of the people who made it to the final cut of SAVEUR Best Food Blog Awards 2011.

Check the Full List of Finalists without having to log in.


Amongst my votes:

Leela of She who Simmers, a taste of Thai (Best Regional Cuisine)

Bertrand Celce of Wine Terroirs who recently featured Hirotake Ooka, a Japanese transplant, now winemaker in the Rhone (in Best wine and Beer)

Third, A Traveler's Lunchbox, serving the world from Edinburgh.

Last, Monica Bhide of A Life of Spice for "Does a Recipe Need to be Complicated to be Good?" (Best Culinary Essay).

Passed Salinas and Soledad, Finally Made it to 'Hospice du Rhone' in Paso Robles

At times yesterday I wondered if I would make it to Paso Robles for Hospice du Rhone 2011.

I started the day in Mountain View and took the bus from San Jose train station to Paso Robles, passed Salinas and Soledad along the way.


I arrived around 1 PM and who was waiting for me as ambassadrices but 2 young ladies, one from Duckhorn, the other from Quintessa.

They made me feel like royalty and refreshed.

Prince William with 2 Kates, just joking.

I will update you on my adventures.

(* Illustration, my snapshot of Cinnabar display at San Jose train station)

Lucca Olive Oil to Rigatino, Real Tuscany Stands Up in Mario Matassa Interview

Turning the tables on our usual practice, we run the Tuscany Contest before the Interview.

I hope you also enjoyed the rustic qualities of Chesnut Cake Alla Pistoiese Recipe excerpted from the book.

Today we serve our interview with Mario Matassa whose liner notes for Tuscany (Phaidon Press, Spring 2011) guide us through all parts of Tuscany with a conductor's mastery.

Q: Mario, even if chocolate does not fill rivers of Chocolate Valley, what are its highlights and specialties?

All of the artisan chocolatiers in the Chocolate Valley are to be highly recommended. They’re all passionate about their craft and they rely on the highest quality ingredients. However, if I had to single out one producer, it has to be Roberto Catinari. This is the man that started it all in Tuscany – at least, as far as chocolate is concerned. Being the first, way back in 1974, to open a chocolate shop in a region that was not known for chocolate, you have to admire his courage. Roberto set to work, blending his knowledge of chocolate harmoniously with the flavors of the Tuscan landscape. When I’m in the area I always look out for the rustic slabs of chocolate mixed with hazelnuts, pine nuts, almonds and dried fruits such as figs, sultanas and candied citrus fruits.  

Q: Not to make yourself enemies, pick a trio of favorites amongst the 10 regions of Tuscany?

Tuscany has it all – mountains, rugged coastline, rolling hills and beautiful historic cities – so it’s difficult to pick a favorite. If pushed, however, I have to start with an area called the Lunigiana in the Massa Carrara region in northern Tuscany, because this is where I spend most of my time. I visit nearly every weekend, from June to October, to pick mushrooms in the mountains above the town of Pontremoli. It’s not the stereotypical Tuscany of farmhouses and rolling hills, but the views are breathtaking nonetheless. The Lunigiana literally means ‘land of the moon’, and when you see the moon framed against the backdrop of the mountains, you’ll know why. This is the Tuscany of jagged mountains, fairytale castles, old stone bridges and roaring log fires.

If I were to pick a city, it has to be Florence. I mean, Tuscany is full of beautiful cities packed with art and historical treasures, but Florence for me somehow brings it all together. It comes down to that dual identity which I talk about in the book – the ability to marry the most exquisite with the most simple. It’s best seen in the cuisine. You can still order a fiorentina (porterhouse steak), one of the best steaks in the world, from practically any restaurant in the city or you can just as well cross the piazza to a nearby tripe vendor and order a humble panino (sandwich) stuffed with tripe, with a squeeze of chilli sauce. It’s wonderful that these two traditions still co-exist, side-by-side.

Finally, I’ve got to include Livorno because I grew up beside the sea and part of me, I suppose, has become genetically attached. It’s also because I’m a diehard seafood lover! I now live in the region of Emilia which is landlocked so whenever my friends and I get a hankering for seafood (quite often) we’ll get in the car and take a road trip to Livorno for a bowl of cacciucco – Livorno’s version of Italian fish soup. I mean, I’ve eaten fish soup all over Italy but Livorno’s is hard to beat. I love everything about it – the peppery chilli, the slightly stale bread they place at the bottom of the bowl and there’s always a good mix of fresh fish, some of which I sometimes have ask the waiter to identify for me (traditionally it was made with no less than 13 types of fish).

Q: You were born in Ireland, any good Tuscan brews?

I’ve had a few artisan beers in Tuscany, some of them very good indeed, but having grown up in Ireland, I still need some convincing. Whenever I go back to Belfast one of the first points of call for me is always the Crown Bar and to be honest with you, it’s not for a glass of wine. Similarly, when in Tuscany, I take advantage of what they do best – wine!
Q: Am I correct to understand that Pistoia is one of the rare places in Tuscany where cheesemakers use raw milk?

The reason I singled out the cheese makers of Pistoia is because they are a group of shepherds and cheese makers that still stick rigidly to traditional artisan methods. Their cheese isn’t as famous as the pecorino di Pienza in Siena (which is also excellent). However, this small group of cheese makers deserve recognition because they’ve remained faithful to century old methods and recipes. Cheese making with raw milk is becoming more of a rarity in Italy, but you can still find artisan producers (mostly small family run enterprises) that still stick to traditional methods. In my view, they are well worth the effort of seeking out! 

Q: What is the big difference between 'formaggio freso' and 'abbucciato'? Which cheeses from Pistoia are easiest to find in the Us and the UK?

The best cheeses from Pistoia are all pecorino cheeses, in that they are all made with ewe’s milk. Formaggio fresco is usually aged for between 7-20 days. Abbucciato is aged for at least 35 days but usually no more than 60. The cheese you’ll most likely find from Pistoia in the US and the UK will be a pecorino aged from 3 months to a year, referred to sometimes as pecorino da asserbo. The best way I’ve eaten this is served at the end of a meal accompanied with a Tuscan acacia honey and small (blini-like) chestnut flour pancakes hot off the griddle.


Q: The photo of Venanzio Vannucci and his Lardo di Colonnata striked me with their ancient ways and authentic look, what makes this Lardo special?
Lardo was the poor Italian’s cured meat. In Colonnata, it was the local marble quarryman’s staple food. In the morning it would have been boiled and drunk like a broth to ward off the cold and at lunch it was packed between pieces of bread. What makes it different from the lardo made throughout Tuscany and other parts of Italy is the method of production. The technique is completely natural – there are no artificial preservatives or additives. Added to this, the pork back fat is cured in large porous white marble vats – the marble coming from the local mines. The microclimate of the caves in which the meat is cured no doubt adds to its distinctive flavour, making this a product that cannot easily be replicated. Lardo has been produced in this area using the same family recipes for centuries. 

Q: David by Michelangelo and the marble of Carrara and its quarries, can you share the history?

Anyone who has travelled south from the northern reaches of Tuscany’s Massa Carrara region will almost certainly have noticed the gaping white marble quarries of the towering Apuan Alps from which the famous Carrara marble is excavated. The stone has been excavated from the mountains since Roman times and has gone into the construction of some of the world’s most recognised landmarks – such as Trajan’s column in Rome and Marble Arch in London. Carrara marble is said to have been Michelangelo’s favorite stone. His statue of David, a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture, was created between 1501 and 1504. It’s as much by luck as it was design that Michelangelo came to sculpt David. The commission to sculpt the statue was originally given to another Florentine sculptor, Agostino di Duccio. But for reasons unknown his association with the project came to an end in 1466. Subsequently another sculptor, Antonio Rossellino, was commissioned to carry out the work. Again the contract was terminated and for 25 years the block of marble was left untouched and exposed to the elements in the yard of the cathedral workshop. It wasn’t until August 1501 that Michelangelo was finally awarded the contract to sculpt David. Today it sits in the Accademia Gallery in Florence. A replica is now situated outside the Palazzo della Signoria, where the original was located until 1873.

Q: Tuscany now has a trendy image with celebrity spotting. Many recipes and dishes in the book are rustic, peasant fare, how do both cohabitate, what is the real Tuscany?

That’s a good question. Tuscany is ‘the’ place to be in Italy these days and let’s hope that in the future that does not take anything away from the real Tuscany. As I have been at pains to stress in the book, many of the Tuscan dishes now famous throughout the world are descendants of cucina povera – ‘peasant cuisine’. Ribollita, the famous Tuscan soup, papa col pomodoro (a tomato soup), the various crostini, the slow cooked stews were all formerly dishes of the poor. The irony is that today these same dishes are served in high-end eateries. But in the countryside, I’m pleased to say, the traditions of Tuscan cuisine still hold firm and true. That’s because, good food remains good food, no matter how fashionable it may be at any given time.    
Q: I was surprised by the 'look' of Maremma cattle, what's their origin? Can you also tell us a bit about 'Butteri' the local cowboys?

The Maremmana breed of cattle is a descendant of the bos Taurus Macroceros, a long-horned cattle which can be traced in Italy back to the Etruscan era. They once populated the Maremma area of Tuscany in enormous herds but with the reclamation of the marshlands, their numbers dwindled. Interest in the breed is currently being revived and their numbers are once again growing. The butteri, Tuscany’s answer to the cowboys of the American Wild West, once served to control the movement of the vast herbs of cattle. Their skills were legendary and the story goes that in 1890, when Buffalo Bill brought his Wild West show to Italy, the butteri challenged the legendary cowboy to a contest of skills and won!  Today, however, with the advent of modern farming methods, their function is mainly decorative and ceremonial. 

Q: What's so distinctive about olive oil from Lucca?

The olive oil from Lucca is renowned for its delicate flavor. It’s noticeably less aggressive than other Tuscan olive oils and that’s because of the high concentration of Frantoio, an olive variety that has a particularly delicate and mild taste. I find it works well in dishes where you don’t want the olive oil to overpower other flavors.  

Q: Rigatino and rabbit, what flavors come out?

Rigatino - a type of Tuscan pancetta (cured pork belly) – has a more intense flavor than traditional pancetta. The pork belly is dusted in a coat of pepper and chilli pepper when cured which imparts a spicy flavour to the cured meat (bacon). The milder flavour of the rabbit combines perfectly with the more pronounced rigatoni, so it’s an ideal combination.

Q: Does Testaroli compare n texture to French 'galettes de ble noir'?

No, not quite. There are a few important differences. The first is in the ingredients. ‘Galettes’ are made with buckwheat flour, which differs in flavor from the wheat flour used to make testaroli.  Moreover, testaroli are much firmer in texture compared to ‘galettes’ as no egg is added. The batter for testaroli is simply flour and water. Finally, ‘galettes’ once made are generally stuffed and eaten immediately. In contrast, testaroli, once made, require re-cooking.  The pancake is cut into diamonds and boiled, as you would pasta, before being dressed in a sauce (usually a basil pesto) and served. Surprisingly, even when boiled, testaroli, to an extent, maintain their original firmness and texture.
Q: Last, name the best dishes at Trattoria Mazzoni?

I’m a firm advocate of eating local traditional dishes wherever I go in Italy. This way you get to taste the best, in every sense, of what the region has to offer. Arezzo is famous for small holdings with ducks, farmyard animals and small game such a rabbit playing a large part in the local cuisine. So if you want to try something very typical of the region at Trattoria Mazzoni try the tagliatelle alla nana (tagliatelle with duck sauce) or the pappardelle alla lepre (pasta with hare sauce). When you’ve finished eating, don’t forget to pop next door to the family-run grocery shop which stocks all manner of local specialties which you can take home with you.

Thanks Marco for sharing your intimate knowledge and love of Tuscany.

6 Hour Delayed Flight to San Francisco, Will I Head Back to NY Tonight, Miss Hospice du Rhone?

My first visit to Hospice du Rhone has been weeks in the planning, plans gelled only in past few days.

My Virgin America flight scheduled to depart at 7:30 PM (and others from other airlines I am sure) taxied and taxied and finally took off at 1:30 PM.

Blame it on the weather with stormy weather pounding the East Coast.

Problem is the car that was going to take me to Paso Robles for event had to leave with the 2 French guests of event who had a meeting there.

One thing that works perfectly today is Gogo Flight Internet on the plane.

I really needed it. After the experience, I could become their brand ambassadeur,

It allowed to find out that finding a 1 way car rental is nearly impossible from San Francisco Airport.

I like trains but Amtrak is sold out for today and tomorrow all they offer is bus service between Oakland and San Jose for which you need to have a train segment of travel.

Buses, Greyhound does not leave until tomorrow and I would get there late.


Now in the air over Nevada on my way San Francisco, I received a message of hope from the West Coast head for Chateau de Brigue whose Taste Tube Rose Wine i reviewed the other day.

So clouds might be lifting on my day.

If things don't work out I will be heading back to the East Coast with a bohemian look.

My travails are not much in the grand scheme of things, no Tsunami here just a tired white middle class baby boomer guy caught off guard by the weather.

I will keep you updated.

Our current speed is 411 mph, 135 miles to go till San Francisco, Altitude 36200 feet, Temperature is 73 degrees Fahrenheit...All that overlaid on Google Map on screen in front of me.

I have to say the flight crew has done all they could to keep us comfy, kudos to them.

I am a guest of Virgin America on this trip, my first time using the airline.

I did not expect all this excitement.

Stand by Beaujolais, Curry and Carmenere, Open London Wine Fair on May 17

They have not yet started to pour a glass of Beaujolais Village to airline passengers on stand by even though it might calm some frazzled nerves.

What I allude to here with Strand by Beaujolais is one of the regional options offered on first day of London International Wine Fair (May 17-19, 2011).

I also noted in must check list Curry Favour with Carmenere at Chile Pavillion which illustrates how Carmenere can be a good fit with spicy foods.

A visit to Wines of Lebanon is also needed.


As for twin exhibit Distill covering spirits, it should call for a couple hours time.

As I write this, my presence at London International Wine Fair is still with a question mark.

Waiting to hear from my travel sponsors.

Hipster Hippos, When in Doubt Eat Chocolate from Patisserie Pain de Sucre, Paris

Adding to the Animal Farm of Easter chocolates besides small fish and the usual rabbit, Patisserie Pain de Sucre went Hippo with trio of Hipster Hippos pondering the state of the world (below).


Technical notes: Dark chocolate cover pure Caribbean and for Milk chocolate, Jivarra...

For past 7 years, Nathalie Robert and Didier Mathray create sweet dreams at Patisserie Pain de Sucre located 14 rue Rambuteau, Paris 3ème.

They are closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Opening hours are 10 AM to 8 PM (7 PM on Sunday ).

Thanks to Meg Zimbeck of Paris by Mouth for pointing these hippo hipsters to us.

(* Photo from Facebook page of Patisserie Pain de Sucre)

Slow is Better at Foire de Paris 2011, April 28- May 8

On a brief Twitter visit, I noticed that slow man Carl Honore was on his way to Paris where he will be lifting the curtain on Foire de Paris 2011 which decided to take it slow.

Event director Marie-Josee Prost writes that with everything from transports to life being more faster, they decided to revamp Foire de Paris and offer spaces to visitors where they can rethink their living quarters, open themselves to the world and its cultures, focusing on well being.


There is a tension between slowness and a big event with big crowds.

I do wish them success in their endeavor and give Marie-Josee and her team an A for Effort.

(* Foire de Paris website is in French only)

100 San Francisco Bike to Work Banner Messenger Bags, Get 1 before May 12

With all the preparations before my flight to San Francisco for Hospice du Rhone on Thursday, I thought I had missed Bike to Work Day 2011 when message from Timbuk 2 rolled in announcing their limited edition San Francisco Bike to Work Banner Messenger bag.

Only 100 were made from recycled banners from previous events.

Off the $100 price tag, $50 goes to the San Francisco Bike Coalition.


I did not miss Bike to Work Day 2011 by the way.

In San Francisco, Bike to Work Day 2011 is on Thursday, May 12.

Check Program for Details.

I could use a bag for my new laptop.

Should I collect banners from Hospice du Rhone 2011 on Sunday morning and drop them at Timbuk 2 door before boarding my return flight for my own special edition carry on?

One can dream.

P.S: I don't know if it's a coincidence with May being National Bike Month in the U.S yet I have noticed a number of bicycle themed books in the upcoming titles list of various publishers.

(* For full disclosure, I don't own a Timbuk 2 bag, this is not an ad, just a nod to a neat creation)

RIP Poly Styrene, 53, As You Stated 'Que Sera Sera'

I posted news of the passing of Poly Styrene at age 53 after a battle with breast cancer on a media list I belong to and someone got message truncated and thought I was mentioning Phoebe Snow who also passed away (age 58).

Lady who got that truncated message had no clue who Poly Styrene was.

Call her a punk icon if you will circa 'Oh Bondage up Yours'.

She made girls wearing braces look cool.

She had attitude, brains and soul.

Since I passed the 50 years mark, it always feel odd when someone who was part of your world when you were growing up passes away while younger than you.

Leaves a whiff of sadness behind and a sense that life is too short not to be lived.

Generation indigo

Poly Styrene latest album Generation Indigo produced by Youth (Killing Joke) was released late March 2011.

Rest in peace, Poly!