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More Food Bowl   Leave a comment

 

20180518_194306_001The Night Market, a five-day festival of food trucks/pop-up restaurants, is part of the Los Angeles Food Bowl. The entire month-long event not only appeals to foodies but is also meant to raise awareness of issues such as hunger, sustainability, food waste, among others. Some events are free, others cost as much as $150 per person. Proceeds go to help fund the above.

The Night Market features an array of food options ranging from tacos to doughnuts, fried chicken to lobster rolls, from ice cream to bahn mi. I learned it’s important to have an appetite, cash or credit card readily accessible.

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It was fitting that our first stop was Kogi food truck, the precursor of the genre, a giant leap from those food trucks once known as roach coaches that sold packaged food. The short rib taco marries Mexican and Korean flavors. Savory and sweet tender pieces of meat topped with spicy kimchi on soft corn tortillas.

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Several fried  chicken options were available. We considered chicken coated with granola, chicken with waffles and settled on a buttermilk fried chicken slider with siracha. Oh, and French fries with fried chicken bacon, cheese and cilantro.

I expected the event to be larger, both in the scope of participating vendors and attendees. This isn’t a complaint, but a selfish observation regarding the former, not the latter.

Live music, mixed drinks, beer and wine on a cool, clear, May evening created a festive atmosphere for a good cause and a good time.

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Food Bowling   Leave a comment

May in LA usually means gray days (the prelude to June Gloom) and the Los Angeles Times Food Bowl. So far, the skies have been clear and blue and my first Bowl experience more than expected.

This annual event highlights food in the City of Angels (and environs) through special events including panel discussions, restaurant deals, film and more.  Casita del Campo’s participation entitled “Dinner Dessert and a Movie” promised chocolate margaritas, Mexican chocolate ice cream and a screening of “Like Water for Chocolate.” We didn’t expect such an attentive the staff, nor such flavorful, well-prepared food.

The margarita is something I never imagined. Tequila and chocolate, really? It works. The secret was the addition of Abuelita Mexican chocolate  and Godiva chocolate  liqueur. The rim of the glass was coated with chocolate sugar. In addition  to chips and salsa, our meal included a plate of sliced avocado and three more salsas, a choice of albondigas soup or a salad, and chicken mole or chile en Nogada. All of the food was featured in the film.

It’s been years since I last saw the film; it was as equally captivating as my first viewing.  The restaurant was packed but only a few of us in the dining area for the dinner/movie event.

As if we didn’t have enough to appeal to our palates, we had a choice of flan or ice cream for dessert. The chocolate ice cream was overshadowed by the fried, cinnamon-coated tortilla accompanying it.

More bowling to come …

Casita Del Campo

1920 Hyperion Ave.

Los Angeles

Under a Swedish Mystery Spell   Leave a comment

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Swedish author Lars Kepler is actually the husband and wife team of Alexandra and Alexander Ahndoril. It’s complicated. Nonetheless, Kepler’s The Hypnotist is a 500-page avalanche of a mystery. It quickly builds momentum from one dark crime to another only slowing its pace in the final pages.

The novel spans two weeks just before Christmas. Readers come to know and appreciate detective Joona Linna’s attention to detail and unwavering confidence in his ability to solve criminal cases. Dr. Eric Maria Bark, his wife, Simone, their son, Benjamin, are the good guys with Joona and a few others.

The short chapters, each identified by day and time, enhance the tempo. The story flows effortlessly from the first crime involving the murder of three family members; the seeming lone survivor is the son found at the scene covered in blood with life-threatening injuries Despite a promise made years earlier in which he vowed to never again use hypnosis on a patient, Eric is convinced it is the only way to help the injured boy.

Meanwhile, Benjamin is kidnapped and Eric must look to his past to find a connection.

Eric and Simone are flawed characters, which only enhances the novel’s appeal. Who wants to read about the perfect couple or family? Benjamin’s serious medical condition heightens the tension the longer he is held captive.

The prospect of reading a 500-page book may be daunting, but once started it’s difficult to put down. The lure of multiple mysteries and their resolutions is thrilling.

The Hypnotist
Four Bookmarks
Picador, 2009
503 pages

Yours and Theirs   Leave a comment

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Before We Were Yours is a heart-wrenching story with its foundation in truth told as a work of fiction.

Lisa Wingate’s tale follows two women during two different time periods; it doesn’t take long to suspect the narratives will eventually intersect. The question is when and how, which is all it takes to make this a difficult book to put down.

Fact: Georgia Tann ran the Memphis Tennessee Children’s Home Society. Tann kidnapped and sold children in the name of adoption.

Fiction: The five Foss siblings are removed by force from their family’s Mississippi River boat and taken to the Children’s Home. Their names are changed, and, except for Rill and Fern Foss, the siblings are separated. Rill Foss, who become May Crandall, recounts the past. Avery Stafford a young, professional woman, provides the present day voice after a chance encounter leads her to learn more about her grandmother, Judy Stafford’s, past.

Alternating voices provide vivid images of the abuse endured by the wards of the Tann’s employees with Avery’s quest to answer questions she had never before considered. Set in Tennessee and South Carolina, Wingate’s ear for colloquialisms is true without being demeaning or exaggerated. Her descriptions of the once-happy Foss family and the elite Staffords are engaging.

The only false note,  perhaps because it is too predictable, lies in the relationship Avery establishes with Trent, a handsome young widower. His grandfather knew May and Judy; Avery and Trent want to know why. So does the reader!

Before We Were Yours
Four Bookmarks
Ballantine Books, 2017
342 pages

Sitting in Awe, Not in Judgement   1 comment

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I read Tattoos on the Heart several years ago. Gregory Boyle, the Jesuit priest who founded Homeboy Industries (HBI) in Los Angeles, wrote about his experiences working with gang members. Each chapter left me in tears at the heartfelt stories Boyle shared of those attempting and often overcoming daunting challenges of their life circumstances and poor choices.

Barking to the Choir, Boyle’s new book, is more introspective. It has plenty of heartbreaking vignettes of homies facing incredible odds, but its pull on the heartstrings is looser. In both books an abundance of joy fills most pages even in the direst situations; but this time Boyle’s messages about hope and acceptance are tempered with his interpretation of understanding God’s word. This isn’t a bad thing.

Simple acts of kindness, not just from Boyle, but among the marginalized he writes about are moving. Major leaps of faith, again, not just from the author, but among those populating his world are thought-provoking. I’m left to consider blessings in my own life and the positive choices I’ve been able to make because of the family environment I had.

Father Boyle injects a healthy amount of humor while recounting events of those who pass through HBI’s doors. He isn’t preaching, or barking, but he certainly leaves the reader with much to consider. Two ideas, in particular, in the book resonate with me: awe and judgement. The former is what we should aspire to in our interactions with others; the latter is, unfortunately, more prevailing.

Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship
Four Bookmarks
Simon & Schuster, 2017
210 pages

The Intersection of Fate, Life and Death   Leave a comment

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Fate and the power of suggestion collide in Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists. It’s 1969 and it’s in the midst of summer’s heat and doldrums when siblings Varya, Daniel, Klara and Simon Gold need a distraction. They seek out a woman known to foretell the exact date on which one will die. The children are 13, 11, 9 and 7, respectively. This seemingly-innocent adventure profoundly and ultimately affects each of their lives.

The narrative then jumps to the late 1970s. Each chapter focuses on one of the Golds, their interactions with each other, the choices they make and how that long-ago visit to the psychic is embedded in their lives.

The fortune teller, along with Eddie O’Donoghue, a police officer turned FBI agent, are characters who move in and out of the story through often unlikely scenarios. They alternately represent good and evil. Their presence is unnerving if only because they’re initially perceived as simply passing through. Yet, it becomes clear that the author doesn’t want the reader to relegate them to cameo appearances.

The Immortalists
Four-and-a-half Bookmarks
G.P. Putnam’s sons, 201
346 pages

Food, Families and Fate   Leave a comment

The Comfort Food Diaries

Emily Nunn knows food. She wrote about it as a staff writer for The New Yorker and Chicago Tribune, among other publications. She also knows heartbreak and self-damaging behavior, which she shares in The Comfort Food Diaries.

A description of her seemingly-ideal life in Chicago where she lives with her boyfriend, dubbed “the engineer” and his lovely daughter, “the princess,” fades quickly. After Nunn learns that her brother has committed suicide she begins her own self-destructive tailspin through alcoholism and ending the romantic relationship.

Nunn reveals her backstory as she seeks to find balance in her life. The loss of her brother, her parents’ dysfunctional marriage – and ultimate divorce – her relationship with other siblings, relatives and friends fill the pages. At the suggestion of a friend, she embarks on a “comfort food tour.”

The direction of this tour is different than what I anticipated. Rather than a road trip around different parts of the country in search of consolation fare, Nunn sojourns to the places of her past and the role of food in her past and present. This isn’t a one-food-fits-all look at comfort, it is only about Nunn and her perceptions.

My family, for example, has dishes deemed “classics” in lieu of comfort foods. Not because they are universal, instead because they’re unique to us. Nunn, with her family and friends, has her own.

In addition to narrating her quest, Nunn shares recipes with her memories and new experiences. Her writing style is conversational and honest. She also knows how to whet the appetite.

The Comfort Food Diaries: My Quest for the Perfect Dish to Mend a Broken Heart
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Atria Books, 2017
310 pages