Hoshigaki Season!

Pumpkin spice/”Christian Girl Autumn” arrives here in Los Angeles without the warning of red and yellow leaves that comes elsewhere. In our house we believe in making hoshigaki in the fall with persimmons from either the market or, better yet, a neighbor or friend rather than chugging those pumpkin spice lattes. We’ve got a row of seven store bought persimmons hanging in a south facing window and plans to start more.

Here’s what they look like when completed.

If you’ve never tried making hoshigaki, a kind of transcendent dried fruit product that’s very expensive to buy, I can report that it’s one of the more worthwhile DIY projects on this blog and we’ve got directions here. EaterLA has a post on different methods and the history of the practice.

Our original post on the subject resulted in one of the more surreal episodes over the years running this blog: being invited to be on a Japanese reality show that matched non-Japanese participants with experts in Japanese crafts and arts. I exchanged emails with the producer towards flying over until a friend of ours, who lives in Japan, warned us about the sort of humiliation this particular show trades in. If you want to respond with some form of “you only live once” I’d invite you to google “extreme Japanese reality show” and see the type of thing I was worried about.

That said, get yourself some persimmons and give this a try. Maybe you’ll get a free trip to Japan.

Keep a Rye Starter!

I took a pizza class at Josey Baker Bread in San Francisco this month and picked up a great tip from the instructor, JB pizza baker Caitlin (sorry did not get a last name!). She told us the bakery keeps a rye starter. This has two advantages: rye is more active so your starter will have a higher likelihood of success and you’ll always be ready to make a rye loaf. If you want a white or whole wheat dough all you have to do is add white or whole wheat flour and a spoonful of your rye starter.

I keep a small amount, like three tablespoons of starter on hand that I feed every day. When I want to make bread I do a build overnight and the next day I’ll have the quantity I need to bake a loaf or make pizza dough. This week I switched my starter over to rye using the small amount Caitlin gave us. I’m baking a loaf today and it’s rising like crazy.

As to the pizza we made in the class it was probably the best I’ve ever had. It’s a quirky pie: the secret is a dark, almost burnt crust brushed with garlic olive oil and sprinkled with Maldon salt. They keep the toppings simple as not to distract from the cracker-like sourdough crust. They have a pizza night at the bakery every Monday from 5 to 8 in case you don’t want to roll your own.

Hobnobbing With Home-Baked Hobnobs

I have a lazy and ridiculous fantasy of picking up cookbooks at the library and handing them off to a personal chef to cook from. That will not and should never happen. That doesn’t stop me from impulse checkouts when I’m near the Central Library’s exit. Such was the case when I picked up Milk Bar All About Cookies by Christina Tosi when I really should have check out something more healthy.

Using the excuse of having a friend over for drinks, I baked Tosi’s Chocolate Toffee Hobnobs, an improved version of the popular UK biscuit. I screwed up the toffee topping but substituted a chopped up Heath Bar. If I had to quibble I’d say the toffee making instructions could have been a bit more detailed. That said, this book will make you very popular around the holidays if not sooner. Most of the recipes, including the one for these Hobnobs, seem doable and a step above the usual cookie. A lot involve ironic takes on commercial products or make use of things like Ritz crackers and Cookie Crisp cereal.

You can find Tosi’s hobnob recipe online here. Now off to find a salad cookbook and take off a few pounds.

Too Good to Go?

Too Good to Go screenshots.

While I’ve attempted to curb my internet addiction by removing Instagram from my phone, one app continues its siren call: Too Good to Go.

Launched in 2020 Too Good to Go offers restaurants and grocery stores a way to sell meals and ingredients that have gone unsold or are near their expiration date. The app let’s you specify the distance you’re willing to travel to pick up your food. When you see something appealing you reserve and pre-pay. When you show up at the store you display a code on your phone and they hand you a bag of food. You don’t get to choose, so the bag is a surprise which adds to the addictiveness of this app. In our hipster neighborhood Too Good to Go’s offerings center around cafes, so you mostly get pastries and bread but you can also find vegan groceries and Armenian flat breads.

Until recently, we would eagerly await the daily time (4:20p.m.–haha) that the illustrious bakery Tartine would release their delicious breads and pastries at a steep discount for pickup the next day. Sadly they seem to no longer participate which is probably good thing considering my burgeoning pandemic gut.

Too Good to Go operates in the U.S., Europe and Australia. When we were in London last year I was tempted to use the service but Kelly found the idea of eating food that sat around the Paddington train station all day less than appetizing.

Quality varies depending on the restaurant or grocery store. The food from chain places I’ve found to be stale, pre-packaged and of low quality. But we’ve also had some excellent bagels, breads and pizza from some of the better participating restaurants in our neighborhood at amazingly low prices, generally somewhere between $4 and $6.

I do question if we have another tech company monetizing something that would otherwise have gone to, say, a food bank, a gleaning service like Food Forward or to employees. A worker at one of the bakeries assured me that this food would have ended up in the dumpster so, perhaps, Too Good to Go is at least a neutral service. Salvaging the food waste stream is a neighborhood organizing project waiting to happen that would be nice to take away form the tech people. That said, I don’t see my Too Good to Go addiction ending anytime soon.

If you’ve tried this app leave a comment with where you live and what you’ve found.

In the Zone

I went on a Los Angeles Mycological Society mushroom foray with Bat Vardeh of Foraging and Mushroom Hunting Women of SoCal, on the 9th way up in the Angeles Forest. It was the most gnomecore thing I’ve done in a long time.

We traversed an area dramatically altered by the Bobcat fire of 2020, giving our gnomecore revelries a bit of a post-apocalypse vibe. But amidst the destruction we found mushrooms that thrive in burn zones. The fire vaporized whole trees leaving nothing but a pit where roots used to be. In fact you could follow the negative space of those vaporized roots in the landscape. Within these crevices tiny mushrooms have started the work of transforming the burned remains of the forest into a new landscape.

One thing I learned on this walk is that children are the best mushroom hunters. One particularly enthusiastic kid found the first mushroom and consistently, throughout the day, found more and more. I think it’s because children don’t have the filters on sensory inputs that we adults have. They welcome sensory chaos and don’t yet have the fully formed defenses we adults have to filter, classify and, at worst, ignore the wonder around us.

We didn’t’ find any edible mushrooms, though morels pop up fleetingly in similar burn sites. But I’m happy to look at any mushroom and edibles are just the icing on the cake.

In addition to mushrooms, the fire revealed opportunities for an archeology of late capitalism. Here a Wizard Charcoal Lighter can from maybe the early 1970s washed down from the nearby Buckhorn campground.

And a vintage Pepsi can, also from the early 70s. If only the fungi could learn to metabolize these things but I’m afraid we’re stuck with them.

More on mushrooms in burn areas.