Pay Day Ahi

Ahi Avocado SandwichI know it’s common practice to associate “starving artist” with poverty. And rightfully so – I mean, they call it “starving” for a reason. This is no different for me, though, as you can see in this blog I am never *really* starving. And that’s because much of my life is spent being creatively frugal with what I find. But one of the things I love most about being a starving artist is that, every now and then, all the hard work and struggle pay off. The stars align, the paychecks roll in, and suddenly you find yourself with a bit of extra cash to spend. It’s a wonderful feeling. What’s even more wonderful is when you have enough cash to catch up on your bills and still have a bit left over to treat yourself to some divine cuisine.

July has found me in this very position and true to form, I have wasted no time in making a higher end food investment. Those of you who are loyal readers should be not at all surprised to find that it is seafood. One of my best friends, whether I’m rich or poor, is Costco, and one of the things that I’ve always looked longingly at is their fresh seafood counter. A bargain, yes, but still an initial investment beyond my normal budget… until a few days ago. I made two purchases. A beautiful large whole filet of wild caught sockeye salmon for $35. And a pack of two sizable fresh wild ahi tuna steaks for $20. Honestly, considering the purchase, these prices are a steal. Hefty, but not so much that I’m going to be totally broke and have nothing to do with it. And, what’s better, because there is so much, that means I have lots more to play with. Bargain AND multitasker? The starving artist’s dream.

For this post I’m focusing on the ahi. First, because I saw no point in freezing this gorgeous fish for later use, I decided instead to cook it right away and use it over the next few days in various ways. Cooking ahi is best kept simple – super super high heat, brush with a thin layer of olive oil, sear for two minutes on each side, done. No seasoning  (that comes later), no fuss, nice rare tuna with an even sear layer on all sides. Gorgeous.

Tonight I was inspired to make a sandwich. It turned out to be one of the best things ever created. The key? Simplicity. Above you see the fruits of my labor: seared ahi tuna sandwich with avocado and wasabi spread. Are you freaking out? You should be. Here’s the run down.

  • 2 slices of toasted Ezekiel bread (it’s flourless and low glycemic – try it)
  • 3 slices of ahi, cut against the grain, seasoned with kosher salt
  • sliced avocado, seasoned with kosher salt
  • 4-6 paper thin slices of cucumber (shave it with your vegetable peeler or use a food processor)
  • wasabi spread (1 tbs soy free veganaise, 1 tsp prepared wasabi, few drops soy sauce or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, mix all ingredients thoroughly)

And that’s all there is, friends. Toast the bread, cover both slices with generous amounts of wasabi spread, layer on the tuna, the avocado, then the cucumber. Simple, elegant, and utterly divine. I won’t lie, I ate two of these, and also gave one to my roommate. It was so good that I felt he needed to experience it. And the best part? I still have another tuna steak!

Dinner in Numbers

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It’s been a really long time since I’ve posted largely because its been a really long time since anything has inspired me to write. Leave it to San Francisco to wake me up and remind me the wonders that a beautiful and bustling urban scene can bring.

Here to visit for a concert, I walked to the theatre from where I’m staying and on the way rediscovered why I love San Fancisco so much. Every block, every corner a collection of charming boutiques, cafes, small businesses, all enclosed with the picture windows and fire-escaped facades that make San Fran so…. well, San Fran.

On the same street as the theatre I encountered a myriad of dining choices, most of which were a bit too spendy for the Starving Artist’s humble wallet. On my walk I stumbled into a little scoop shop called Schulzies, which turns out was not an ice cream shop, but a BREAD PUDDING shop filled with incomprehensible combinations of bread pudding served by the scoop. I of course got the maple bacon bread pudding with whiskey sauce. Simply to die for.

As I scoped out options for some *real* dinner food (while eating my bread pudding) I noticed an annoying trend that I thought was just an LA thing. Two fun restaurants that caught my eye and that were actually in my price range were in fact counter service – dining by number as I like to call it. Order your food at the counter, take a number, and everyone is left to fight for a table. And on this night, with a concert crowd, it was indeed a fight. And not one I was particularly in the mood for.

The first place I really want to eat was The Grove, a local establishment blasting comfort food like pot pie and Mac and cheese. The problem? Dining by number. And absolutely mobbed. So on I went to Arlequin, yet more dining by number, but less mobbed and easier to find a nook to myself. I enjoyed a lovely vegetable wrap with sun dried tomato hummus. Mmmm veggies… by number…

I gotta say, I’m a little concerned that all accessible dining is moving in this direction. We’re sacrificing legitimate table service and for what? My wrap was still $10.50. And the staff is doing just as much work for way less tips. It’s true some of my favorite go to restaurants have counter service…. but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like a choice every now and then.

More soon dear readers.

Britain in Santa Barbara

Toad in the Hole
Toad in the Hole realness

At least a year ago I was watching Diners Drive-Ins and Dives on Food Network (aka starving artist porn). Guy, in all his frosted California hair ridiculousness, had landed in Santa Barbara at a place called Mac’s Fish and Chip Shop. As you might guess, they serve fish and chips, but not just any fish and chips – real authentic BRITISH fish and chips. How do you know? Because the owner/chef is legit from England, and let me tell you, he knows what he’s doing. Ever since seeing this episode I have wanted to go up there to try it, and the week my parents came was when it finally happened.

Now it’s always an… uncertain thing when one jumps aboard a hype train such as DDD. I mean, of course it’s bound to be good, but can it really live up to the glittering presentation that Food Network gives it? Can it really be THAT good? The answer is an emphatic yes. The restaurant, right on the main drag in Santa Barbara, is actually rather small, just a few tables, and set up like a real seafood sort of joint – counter service, with a flare of 50s chrome and a smattering of British flags. Being there for an early weekday dinner, we pretty much had the place to ourselves. Immediately I was in love with the girl behind the counter with her frizzy red hair and her unflinching cheery responses to a myriad of questions about the food, the menu, her life, her taste in men, etc. Totally down to chat the entire time we were there – THAT is customer service you can’t fake.

Now you might think that the obvious thing to do at a fish and chip shop is to order fish and chips, but there was something else I had in mind that I had seen on that fateful Food Network show: Toad in the Hole. A yorkshire pudding filled with mashed potatoes, covered in gravy, and topped with two sausages. I’m sorry, what?? As much as I love fish and chips, where else could I possibly get such an absurd creation as this? I ordered it with the mushy peas (another British tradition) and I was in heaven. I will probably never order it again just because it was way way too much, but everything about it was outstanding – one of those things you have to do at least once. God those Brits sure know how to make mashed potatoes. I recommend splitting it with a friend… or three…

I did of course try the fish, which was made with fresh cod, my absolute favorite. I’m not normally a huge fan of battered fish (I like a flour coating), but I have to say this was expertly done. Crispy, light, well-seasoned. And at $10.50 for a full portion, it’s a starving artist homerun (not that I have ever played baseball in my entire life).

Though I had some very faint trepidation, I’m delighted to report that Mac’s truly delivered on the promises Food Network delivered. If you find yourself up in SB in need of some seriously good fish with equally good atmosphere, Mac’s is your place.

And ps – if you’re still in need of convincing, check out their website below. It’s hilarious.

Mac’s Fish and Chip Shop
503 State St.
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
www.macssb.com

Click here to see my review on YELP.

Birthday Raviolis

Homemade RaviolisThose of you who know me know that April 24th was my 30th birthday (same birthday as Barbra – we’re bffs). If there’s one thing I’ve learned about birthdays, it’s that if you don’t make a big deal about it, no one will. And come on, it’s your DAY – why not make a big deal?

This year my parents came to visit, making the entire week a celebration… and lord did we celebrate. There’s so much I have to report from this week. Some of it you’ve already heard about from me. Like the ridiculous pancakes we had on Tuesday at the Griddle Cafe or the life-changing gnocchi for my birthday dinner at Osteria Mamma. And let’s not forget my favorite chocolate birthday cake. Some of it warrants separate blog entries, like the remarkable fish and chips with mushy peas I had in Santa Barbara or the unexpectedly delicious and refreshing Ahi Tuna Lettuce Wraps I ate in Palm Springs. Oh and there was the OTHER favorite birthday cake I had for the first time on my actual birthday. Dear god….

But today is not about cake or pancakes or fish and chips. Today is about raviolis. HOMEMADE raviolis. My grandmother Emma, god rest her soul, the one famous for her Easter Pie, was also famous for her incomprehensibly thin and delicate raviolis. Both of my parents learned from her and have continued the tradition with the rest of my family. They all gather and make them together, then freeze them and divvy them up amongst themselves. Shockingly, I had never been present for one of these parties and hence never had the opportunity to make them at all. Criminal! So of course when my parents were here I declared that this just needed to be fixed. And, being the only child birthday boy, it did. ::halo appears over my head::

Emma’s recipe is simple:

  • 4 cups of flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cap full of vegetable oil
  • warm water
Making Ravioli Dough
Mom kneads the ravioli dough.

On a clean, floured surface, one forms the flour into a pile with a well in the middle and cracks the eggs right in. After adding the vegetable oil, one scrambles the eggs with the fork and then begins to fold in the flour and mix it all together while another person begins to drizzle in warm water until a dough is formed. After 15 minutes of kneading, the dough sits for 30 minutes. During this time you make the filling, which is simply 1 large container of ricotta cheese, 2 eggs, 2 tbsp fresh chopped parsley, 1/2 cup of grated romano cheese, and a pinch of salt and pepper, all mixed together and refrigerated until ready to use. The rested dough is divided into four portions, then, using a well-floured rolling pin on a well-floured surface, one rolls out the dough until as thin as possible – borderline see-through. Then, one dollops the filling out in an equidistant line on the dough and folds it over. Using a glass, you cut out circles around the now covered dollops of filling and voila – raviolis.

For being such an impromptu session and with neither of my parents having made them in over a year, I say we did pretty damn good. The picture above shows them served with a butter sage sauce (just melted butter and fresh sage). You simply boil the raviolis until tender (about 3-4 minutes when fresh) then cover them in the sauce. Of course homemade red sauce would be equally divine, but the butter sage is simple, quick, and fresh. Nothing better. Emma was notorious for keeping count of the raviolis she made and would take a tally of everyone’s intake, making sure every single one was accounted for. We were not quite so ceremonious, but of course we joked about it. I tell ya, of all the eating and celebrating we did that week, this event was perhaps the most special, and clearly the most delicious. Food and love – what more could a starving artist ask for?

Now as mentioned above, usually the raviolis are made then immediately frozen for later use. Since we were looking to eat them right away, we cooked a batch of them fresh and froze the rest. Some of you might be raising your eyebrows at the thought of freezing fresh pasta. Let me tell you they are still equally delicious when boiled directly from the freezer. In fact, the ones that were in my freezer may already be gone….

Deep Breath

Scale for BootcampHello, friends. Yes, I am still here and I still have much to share. Today, I want to update you on my journey of weight loss. Many of you had been following this vein of my blog with great interest back when I was in the thick of bootcamp, battling through numbers and frustration as I slowly crept towards my goal. Since then a lot has transpired….

When we last left off, I was approaching the end of my 10 week stint and had dropped down to 205 pounds. If you remember, my goal was to get below 200 pounds before my 30th birthday, April 24. Back in January/February, such a goal seemed like it would be a no brainer – in fact, I projected I would far exceed it. Did this happen? No. The lowest I saw my scale was 202, which occurred in the second week of April. At the time I was excited for boot camp to end. No more being held to a 6am start time, free to make my own work out schedule… But within two days of finishing boot camp I reverted back to my old ways. It was quite alarming – like a recovered alcoholic slipping back into the drink after years of sobriety. Now granted, I had planned to have a week of indulgence for my birthday, but let’s face it: it wasn’t my birthday week yet. And even if it was, it was still way too much.

Though I knew I was going really overboard, I just sort of let it happen. I’ve been here before: I wanted to remind myself how terrible I feel when I eat in such extreme excess. Let myself spiral downward until I feel so awful that I finally just snap out of it. The last weekend in April I was on the scoring stage with Thomas Newman at Fox. They keep a huge array of food out for the musicians – a cornucopia of empty carbohydrates and self-loathing. For two of my three days there this included an entire table devoted to Porto’s Bakery. I ate cookie after cookie after cookie and then went to the green room for the lunch buffet. When I used the alcohol analogy earlier, I wasn’t exaggerating – it is that level of addiction. Clearly not the food table’s fault.

By the time the first week of May rolled around, all the birthday hubbub was over; the cakes gone, the candies and treats cleared out. As I began to get back in touch with my life, I realized that (at least at that point in time) I was unable to take control of myself, therefore I needed a structure. I needed to regain a focused effort on a goal. I needed boot camp. Though I convinced myself I was ready for a break, in truth I was not even close. My ultimate goal was to be in the 180s and at 202, I still had a ways to go.

So, on Thursday May 2, I was back on the bike at 6am… and it felt amazing. In my last stint I wrote about many times where I felt frustrated. As much as I was working hard, I was also allowing myself to give in to poor states of mind: “oh it’s just sometimes impossible for me to get in at 6am” and “this diet is not really sustainable” etc etc. This time around, I am in a state of zen. I don’t think about the time, I don’t think about the food that I am eating or want to eat or wish I was eating. I just simply do it. Who cares if it’s early? Who cares if I hit a few road blocks? The time away from bootcamp was so necessary: it taught me that not only is intense exercise good for me, it makes me a better me. In many ways, I need it. And I am grateful that the ladies at RPM are affording me the opportunity to go at it once again.

On Thursday I was 214 pounds. This morning, 6 days later, I was 209. A good start. Just need to keep it going. Deep breath…