Recap: Trip to Los Angeles, CA & Crossroads Kitchen

Hello there, friends! I am finally settling back into a normal sleep and work schedule after getting back my first-ever trip to the West Coast this past weekend! Specifically, we spent 3 whirlwind days in sunny Los Angeles.

I’ve always imagined L.A. (and Cali in general, I suppose) as kind of a vegan utopia with an avocado tree in every backyard and a farmer’s markets on every corner.  I’m still not sure whether or not my vision is accurate, because the main purpose of the trip was not, for once, to stuff my face, but in fact to attend the Christening of H’s godson!

We did also manage to pack in a bunch of sightseeing and great eating too (for a spoiler alert, see the post title).  Unfortunately, I ended up not taking as many pictures as I would have liked, mainly due to the fact that my phone perpetually seemed to be on the verge of dying. I guess that’s what happens when you travel somewhere where GPS is needed 24/7!  But I did capture the main highlights of sightseeing and vegan awesomeness, so enjoy!

H and I hit the road at 3:30 on Friday morning to get to the airport for our 6 a.m. flight. It was a bit miserable, but it did mean that we got a full day in LA because we were out of the plane by 9:30 a.m. Pacific time.

The first thing we did was to check out the Santa Monica pier.
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Love the selfie photobomb going on in the corner…

It was fun and reminded me of Coney Island, except with a different ocean! We dipped our feet in the Pacific…
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…and saw some cool birds!
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Then we drove out to Pasadena to meet our friends at the Golden Road Brew Pub, which has a fantastic vegan selection! It was really hard to choose, but I ended up going with the Fried Roman Artichokes:

And the Tostada Salad (that’s jackfruit carnitas on top!):
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Plus H got to meet his godson for the first time 🙂
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How cute is he?! (The baby is okay too I guess…)

We spent the majority of the rest of the day with our friends, then we checked into our hotel and I was passed out before 7 p.m. PST.

I woke up at 4 a.m. (BOO jet lag!!!) and poor H wasn’t far behind. We decided to drive out to San Dimas for a little pilgrimage…
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Strange things are afoot…

And then headed into Hollywood to see the stars and sign.
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It was fun and I’m glad we did it even though I usually prefer WAY less touristy things.

After that we checked out the Hollywood Farmer’s Market briefly. I got a giant deli pickle!
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Then we headed down to San Pedro to meet up with H’s great-uncle and aunt at a waterfront dining spot. No pictures because my phone was dead by this point. Next it was back up to Pasadena to watch some World Cup with our friends. At their house, I opened up the gorgeous (and EXPENSIVE) dragon fruit that H and I bought at the farmer’s market.
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I love dragon fruit! I haven’t had any since I visited Vietnam in 2004 so I was extremely excited to see it for sale at the farmer’s market.

Saturday was another early night so that we could be well-rested for the main event—godson’s baptism!—on Sunday.

Well as you might expect, the majority of Sunday was spent with our friends and their beautiful new son, first at church and then at their friends’ house for a party with lots of gorgeous vegan platters!

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Roasted veggies!
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Avocado and veggie sandwiches! (Note: some of the sandwiches had a sprinkle of cheese but most were vegan.)
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BUT…I went easy on these because I was saving room for my most-anticipated part of the trip—our dinner reservation at Crossroads Kitchen!
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OMG you guys. This was just as good if not better than I imagined. Here’s what H and I had:

I had heard that the cocktails here were not to be missed. H had The Escapist and later the Moscow Mule.
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I had The Humble Braggart.
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They were so different than anything we’d ever had before, thoughtfully presented, and so delicious!

First Course
Lentil flatbread with 3 spreads (leek pate, fava bean spread, and spicy tomato banana pepper jam).
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All were delicious (and the pepper jam was spicy!) but we both liked the leek pate the most.
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Second Course
I had the Cream of Fava Bean and English Pea soup.
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H had the Spiced Chickpeas.
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I enjoyed the soup very much, and H liked the chickpeas, though we both agreed I make equally delicious chickpea dishes at home 🙂

Third Course
H had the Risotto Stuffed Banana Pepper.
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I had the Crab Cakes (made from hearts of palm).
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Both of these entrées were stunning and outstanding. The risotto was incredibly creamy, and really complemented the spicy, tart banana pepper. The crab cakes had the most perfect texture, and the beet and apple topping was, again, a perfect complement. That was one of the biggest things I noticed about everything we tried—it just seemed like an amazing amount of care and attention had gone into creating every dish to make sure that the balance of flavors and textures were just right.

We shared the Ginger Beer Float. They make their ginger beer in house!
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It was a lovely, refreshing end to a perfect meal.

I was seriously sorry that we couldn’t try everything on the menu. H even asked if I was sure I didn’t want to order one or two more small dishes to share, since who knows when (if ever) we’ll be back. But we were beyond stuffed and I think we ordered the right amount of food.

Well, after Crossroads it was time to drive to the airport for our trip home, which left at 10 p.m. (arriving back in Boston at 6 a.m. EST Monday morning). Monday was a day to catch up on much-needed sleep! Frankly, so was Tuesday…

Hope everyone is having a great week!

A. Cook for Five Years

Today marks five years since I published my first blog post.  When I first started, there were only a handful of vegan blogs out there, which I read religiously. Some of them (Chocolate Covered Katie and Happy Herbivore, for example) are still going–with amazing success!–while others have sadly fallen away. My own blog has been somewhere in the middle (between “still going” and “falling away,” having never attempted nor approached the amazing success thing).

Now, of course, there are 63904850398 vegan food blogs and it’s overwhelming to think of how much our little lifestyle or movement or whatever you want to call it has evolved and spread. Combined with ridiculous advances in technology and information sharing, it’s no wonder that so many people have taken to the free media of blogging to share their passions.

Believe it or not, though, I didn’t set out to write a recap of the years or to wax poetic about veganism and technology.

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Warm and Spicy Kale with Shiitake Mushrooms by Maria Guadagno (click for recipe)

Even though I’ve been prone to long blogging absences (I’m looking at you, 2010), I’ve thought of this website almost as a diary these five years. It means a lot to me to be able to look back at old posts. The memories that they evoke go far beyond the actual food that was eaten to remind me of wonderful times shared with family and friends. Even my bar exam posts are enjoyable for me to read, safely positioned as I am, two years removed from that hell.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s not any big deal that it’s 5 years for this blog. This blog is very unassuming. I use a free blogging service and I don’t have any fancy software for photo editing, nor do I engage in more than the bare minimum of food styling or background design.  I take photos on my point-and-shoot digital camera (or, more recently, on the iPhone).  I’ve never tried to promote the blog to sponsors or do anything with it other than give credit to some of the wonderful recipes and products I’ve encountered and show how fun and exciting a vegan diet can be, and how accessible, even fit into a very busy lifestyle. At the end of the day, I blog for me.

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Caesar Salad with Avocado and Chickpeas by Isa Chandra Moskowitz (click for recipe)–LOVE THIS RECIPE

It might seem like the majority of my posts are about going to restaurants or making food from other people’s recipes, and that is accurate in a way. The truth is, I have thousands and thousands of recipes, in cookbooks obviously but mostly ones in electronic format that I’ve scoured and pooled from all corners of the Internet. Finding new recipes just happens to be super-exciting for me (nerd), and often times after I see a beautiful photo of a recipe on a blog, I get tunnel vision and just want to make THAT recipe immediately.

Nevertheless, I have learned so much about cooking since the inception of this blog. This is the one message I really want to convey in this post.

It started out with a simple lesson from my dad: the basis for any good dinner is onions and garlic sauteed in olive oil. Dad taught me to heat the oil a little, add garlic first so that it can infuse the oil, and then add the onions and cook until they’re a little translucent and a little browned. But I’ve since learned that with some meals, it isn’t as good to add garlic first, because it gets too browned/burnt by the end of the cooking process. For example, when I cook leafy greens or asparagus now, I like to warm the oil and add the veggies first, then the garlic once the veggies have started to soften. I’ve also learned that all veggies, especially leafy greens, taste amazing finished with a splash of lemon juice.

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Banana Cupcakes from Chloe’s Kitchen by Chloe Coscarelli (these were later topped with Lemon Icing)

Things like this aren’t groundbreaking, but my current grasp of them is a testament to my growth over the past 5 years, and the process that all of us as cooks undergo.  Somehow, without studying the actual science behind the chemistry of cooking, we come to understand it.  I know that, even when making something as simple as a stir fry, certain ingredients have to go in earlier because they take longer to cook (onions, broccoli, carrots) and others have to go in at the very very end because otherwise they will reduce to nothing (mushrooms, bean sprouts).  Fresh herbs ALWAYS go in last. It’s second nature by now.

Over the years, I have learned to recognize when vegetables are done cooking by looking at them.  I know how to get a great sear on a piece of tofu or tempeh.  I know how to cook perfect brown rice and recently I’ve started doing it with add-ins too (most often with sliced shiitake mushrooms).  These things were learned over time.  Cooking from the recipes of others helped with this education. I am grateful for it and most of all, I truly love it.

Finally, I have learned about so many new foods and uses for foods since becoming vegan and since starting this blog. And I am still learning!

For example, just recently I tried jackfruit for the first time. I only learned about it in the past few months and now after making it I’m not really sure how this thing hasn’t exploded more forcefully in the vegan world. I mean, look at it:

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It may be hard to totally tell from the picture, but in person this stuff looks exactly like pulled pork or chicken.  Like, weirdly so.

I made Jackfruit Carnitas (click for recipe) from Made Just Right, the Earth Balance blog, and enjoyed them the first night as tacos.

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Served on corn tortillas with a dab of Mindful Mayo, some vegan slaw (I went with Summer Slaw from Happy. Healthy. Life.–click for recipe), and fresh cilantro.

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The Summer Slaw:

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The next night I had the leftover jackfruit as a BBQ “Pork” sandwich. Just…look.

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With the addition of barbecue sauce it truly takes on a pulled pork texture. I could see myself eating this at every barbecue from here on out. Again, amazing that I could have just discovered a brand new food!

Anyway, this post has gone on for long enough and I think I have made my points, but in closing, I am truly looking forward to continuing my journey as a cook and as a blogger!