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Photo by Michael Kretovics

Some consider Labor Day to be the end of the summer, but here in L.A. it feels like the season is still going strong. Like, really, really strong. Blazing in fact. This weekend I found myself sweltering in my apartment with no sign of reprieve (or central air), so I decided to do what any logical person would do: make myself a cool, refreshing cocktail that sings of the summer and reminds me why we wait so anxiously for this season in the first place.

Perusing my bar cart, my eyes fixed on the gorgeous bottle of Art in the Age Rhubarb that arrived on my doorstep a few weeks ago, but I’d yet to try. (Yes, I can exhibit self-restraint. Sometimes.) I popped the cap, took a whiff, and was immediately enveloped by the tart, welcoming aroma of ripe strawberry rhubarb pie. The tipple itself wasn’t at all as sweet as it smelled. It was really nicely balanced, likely because the distillers build it like a traditional colonial era rhubarb tea, blending cane sugar, beets, lemon, cardamom, pink peppercorns, rhubarb, and more. (You can watch a video on the history of this Pennsylvania-based spirit below.)

Working with those base flavors, I figured Barkeep’s local fennel bitters and the Italian blood orange soda I’d been sipping on earlier would be a natural pairing. I had picked up some fresh mint from the Silverlake market in the morning, and added that for zip and freshness too. To keep things spirits-forward (and to help me forget about my stickiness) I used Silversun’s vibrant Hedge Trimmer gin, which uses watermelon rind and citrus peels in their botanical mix.

The end result was quite a treat. This drink would be the perfect addition to your long weekend festivities too, if pre-batched and placed in a pitcher for friends. So, take this as my gift for the long Labor Day weekend. May your last few days of summer be as lovely and pleasant and cooling as this delightful cocktail. And if you have central air, even better.

 

Ingredients:

2 oz Art in the Age Rhubarb spirits

2 oz Sun Liquor Hedge Trimmer gin

1 oz Trader Joe’s blood orange soda

4 shakes Barkeep Fennel bitters

2 sprigs fresh mint

ice cubes

 

Method:

Slap the mint between your hands a few times, then add to the bottom of a boston shaker. Add about 5 cubes of ice, rhubarb, gin, bitters and blood orange soda. Stir for about 15 seconds. Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with a sprig of mint.

 

The Story of Art in the Age RHUBARB Tea from Art In The Age on Vimeo.

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In the spirit of 8 being a lucky number in China, my brother Danny and I compiled this video of the 8 best eats in Beijing. Check out this dizzying array of dumplings, street snacks, scorpions and Chinese wine! (Yes, I did indeed eat scorpions! Is that terrible for a Scorpio to do? I sure hope not.)

Be sure to check back for more videos of my favorite eats throughout China coming soon to my YouTube channel.

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It’s a shame that Chinese food has been long associated with lonely nights in and hungover dim sum brunches. The cuisine from one of the world’s most ancient societies is really quite complex, steeped in thousands of years of tradition. In fact, the Chinese are so connected with what they eat that it’s considered medicine.

A tour through China’s three largest cities — Beijing, Chengdu, and Shanghai — with my younger brother Danny on assignment for Quest Magazine showcased that directly. (And how truly useful his Chinese classes in college truly could be! Seriously, he was a life saver!)

Looking beyond the lazy Susan, I found that the cooking in the world’s most populated country is as varied as the regions themselves. I also realized that he and I could travel together internationally without wanting to rip each other’s heads off. Who knew?

Anywho, Danny and I will be releasing some videos of the awesome food I ate in the coming weeks. But in the meantime, you can read the full story on China’s regional dishes over at Quest Magazine by clicking this link, or by checking out the digital version below.

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My Cali-Mexi-India-inspired salad

Angeleno cooking seems to be all about mash-ups these days. It’s hard to turn a corner without seeing some sort of Korean taco or Filipino ube cupcake, upped with awesome local produce and Cali fusion flare. Exhibit A is an awesome little restaurant I discovered last week in Downtown L.A. called Badmaash. (The restaurant has been open for a little over a year now, but I went for my first visit during Dine LA.’s Restaurant Week. Quick slacking, Simmons!)

Badmaash serves both updated and traditional Indian food in an ultra-hip-yet-laid-back modern gastropub setting. There are things like Punjabi pork belly and chicken tikka poutine on offer, but they also do traditional dishes too, like chaat, baingan bharta, and a ridiculously delicious version of saag paneer made with freshly chopped spinach and the fluffiest paneer you’ve ever tasted.

The thing that’s great about Baadmash and other modern Cali fusion spots like A-Frame and Escala is that they also really pay attention to freshness and quality produce. No one is claiming they’re “authentic.” It’s just good, fun food with some international flare.

And to be honest, that’s how I like to cook at home. I travel a lot, and love taking those international influences and bringing them into the kitchen so I tap into those sense memories when I’m not on the road. The quick little salad I whipped up did just that.

The flavors I used are a little bit Indian, a little bit Mexican, and a whole lot of California. (Admittedly I haven’t been to India yet, but it’s at the tip top of my travel bucket list and gosh darn it, I will get there within the next year. Gotta manifest that!)

As a typical California kale nut, I’d usually opt for that as my greens, but I discovered a new addition to TJ’s salad aisle called Cruciferous Crunch, which is made up of kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and green and red cabbage. It’s pretty darn tasty!

This salad is even better if you allow it to sit in the fridge for an hour or so because the acid breaks down the cruciferous veggies making them less fibrous, but you can also eat it right away if you’re feelin’ hangry.

Here’s how it’s done:

Ingredients:

*serves 4 as a side, 2 as a meal

3 cups shredded greens (I used TJ’s Cruciferous Crunch mix)

1 can organic black beans

1 cup crumbled cotija cheese (you can use feta if cotija isn’t available)

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1 avocado, cut into cubes

2 tbsp mint cilantro chutney (I used Mirch Masala)

4 tbsp olive oil

1 lemon, juiced

 

Method:

Whisk together lemon juice, chutney, and olive oil in a small mixing bowl and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, add in greens, beans, cheese, and tomatoes. Pour in dressing and toss, then add avocado. Toss making sure not to bruise the poor avo, then serve.

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I just got back from my first trip to China with my brother/videographer Danny Simmons, and I can’t wait to share some videos from the cooking classes I took, along with the story on regional Chinese cooking I’m writing for Quest Magazine.

While we put those how-to videos together, I thought I’d tide you over with a recipe for kung pao chicken.

I learned to make this traditional Sichuan dish at the Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine, along with another local staple, mapo tofu. The kung pao we made couldn’t have been more different than its sad takeout stepsister in the States. The bright, ginger-studded version we made was much less goopy, with a delightful crunch from fresh peanuts and fried chills.

Here’s a recipe for how it’s done.

Ingredients:

2 boneless chicken breasts, with or without skin (about 2/3 pound total)

3 cloves of garlic and an equivalent amount of fresh ginger

5 scallions, white parts only

2 tablespoons peanut oil

a generous handful of dried red chiles (at least 10), preferably Sichuanese

1 teaspoon whole Sichuan pepper

2/3 cup roasted unsalted peanuts

 

For the marinade:

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons light soy sauce

1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine or medium-dry sherry

1 1/2 teaspoons potato flour or 2 1/4 teaspoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon water

For the sauce:

3 teaspoons sugar

3/4 teaspoon potato flour or 1 1/8 teaspoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon dark soy sauce

1 teaspoon light soy sauce

3 teaspoons Chinkiang or black Chinese vinegar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon chicken stock or water

Method:

1. Cut the chicken as evenly as possible into 1/2-inch strips and then cut these into small cubes. Place in a small bowl and mix in the marinade ingredients.

2. Peel and thinly slice the garlic and ginger, and chop the scallions into chunks as long as their diameter (to match the chicken cubes). Snip the chiles in half or into 2-inch sections. Wearing rubber gloves, discard as many seeds as possible.

3. Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl — if you dip your finger in, you can taste the sweet-sour base of the gong bao flavor.

4. Season the wok, then add 2 tablespoons of oil and heat over a high flame. When the oil is hot but not yet smoking, add the chiles and Sichuan pepper and stir-fry briefly until they are crisp and the oil is spicy and fragrant. Take care not to burn the spices (you can remove the wok from the heat if necessary to prevent overheating).

5. Quickly add the chicken and fry over a high flame, stirring constantly. As soon as the chicken cubes have separated, add the ginger, garlic, and scallions and continue to stir-fry for a few minutes until they are fragrant and the meat is cooked through (test one of the larger pieces to make sure).

6. Give the sauce a stir and add it to the wok, continuing to stir and toss. As soon as the sauce has become thick and shiny, add the peanuts, stir them in, and serve.

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South and Western Australia are two of the country’s lesser trodden states, where isolation and nature afford not only stunning vistas and incredible sea life, but also some of the most bountiful food and wine the world has to offer. I went to check in on my favorite destination for Quest Magazine, it ended up being the cover story for their recent print issue.

From stargazing to wine tasting and foraging wild foods, it was an incredible adventure.

You can read the full cover story here.

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Scottsdale, Arizona is often thought of as a resort destination with little more than golf courses and luxury properties, but there’s a strong undercurrent of creativity in this Sonoran desert city that’s fueling a diverse food scene. The same energy that brought Frank Lloyd Wright and Paolo Soleri is inspiring a vibrant cadre of chefs, artisans, and purveyors to use the bounty of the region to make some seriously good eats.

And the weather is perfect for a visit this time of year. I’m still daydreaming of the smell of orange blossoms in the warm desert breeze — and the fantastic food from restaurants like Virtu and F &B.

Here are my top 10 spots for desert dining in and around Scottsdale on Gothamist Getaways.

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One of the greatest parts about living in Los Angeles is that you really can feel like you’re traveling without having to step foot outside of our city limits. There are so many wonderful resources for international food here, including serious supermarkets and specialty stores.

It wasn’t always so easy to find goods from around the globe, which is how many places like Artesia’s Little India and Little Saigon got started; they were originally the only resource for immigrants to procure supplies from their mother land. But the ease of transport has made it much easier to import goods, meaning they’re not only accessible but more affordable.

I love shopping at international markets not only because it allows me to take a journey with my tastebuds and experiment with new ingredients, but also because it’s cheaper. Granted it’s not necessarily organic or sustainably raised, these stores sell produce and protein for an incredibly affordable rate.

Here are some of my favorite places to shop around Los Angeles.

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Being a culinary travel writer is a dream gig for sure. But maintaining a balanced, healthy lifestyle while being constantly on the go is a real challenge.

I’ve been an athlete my entire life, and really find it critical to plan ahead to make sure that I’m keeping myself  in good health while on the road. It’s not easy. Especially since I wrestled with body image issues (like many women, and men for that matter!) during my teenage and young adult years.

Fitness professional and trainer Rob Dionne invited me onto his Open Sky podcast to talk about this and other things earlier this week. It was a real treat to share some candid insight as to how to implement a whole, healthy lifestyle while being a career woman on the go.

You can listen to the podcast below. And be sure to check out their other amazing interviews on the Open Sky Fitness site here.

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Mount Gay Rum is a staple in the rum shacks around the island. We got a tour through the sugar cane fields, and I even got to harvest some myself and eat it fresh!

You might know I’m the Food Editor at LAist, but did you know that our parent site just launched Gothamist Getaways? I’m contributing all sorts of culinary travel stories to the site, including my new column called The Traveler’s Dishlist.

In all my globetrotting, I found that there was a real lack of one definitive resource to see what the absolute must-trys are in a region. Enter The Dishlist. The whole idea of the column is to tell you what the top 5 local dishes are for a given region, how to say it like a native when necessary, and where to find the best. To kick it off, we’re starting with the ultimate snowbird location, Barbados.

You can read the full story there.

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