Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette

After months of waiting, our Meyer Lemon tree finally has ripe lemons. I don’t know why I am so excited, but I am.

As soon as I knew that I had ripe lemons, I immediately knew it was time to make Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette, a dressing Chef Gary taught me to make when I worked for him. I had made it for Claire on Valentine’s Day, and she absolutely loved it. With having just returned from Thanksgiving and eating way too much heavy food, we were both craving a salad; therefore, on Monday afternoon I went to work.

It is not the easiest dressing to make, and as I was making it, I was trying to think how can I tell people how to make it, but here is my best shot.

  • Using a vegetable peeler, peel the skin of the lemons (four lemons will make plenty of dressing) without getting much pith (the white part), as the pith will impart a bitter aftertaste to the dressing. Boil the peel in a simple syrup for about 5 minutes. Drain and put the peel inside a blender or food processor.
  • Cut the tops off of the lemons and remove all of the pith from the lemons using a very sharp knife.
  • Once all of the pith is removed, cut the lemons into quarters. Deseed each quarter as there are a lot of seeds in a Meyer Lemon. The easiest way I have found is to cut where the middle of the whole lemon is away thus exposing more seeds. Put the remaining segments into a pan with simple syrup and boil for five minutes.
  • Pour the lemons along with the liquid into the blender with the peel and blend until smooth.
  • While the blender is on, slowly add a 50/50 mix of olive oil and vegetable oil to emulsify. I do not know how much, I just add until I like the texture and the mouthfeel. It does not take a lot.
  • Add about two tablespoons of white wine vinegar and blend.
  • Taste. If needed, add more sugar or even honey. I have also added more lemon juice if needed. Also be sure to season with salt and pepper (either black or white works great).

This dressing is very versatile. Obviously it is great on salads with all sorts of toppings. Claire and I especially enjoy it with different mixed citrus, like blood oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, along with dates and pecorino cheese (It makes for a very colorful salad as seen in the picture). It is also great with seafood, especially scallops.

Monday night, I decided to use pears, tangerines, red onions and sautéed chicken and the salad was delightful. Perfect for a meal after a weekend of too much heavy food.

Hopefully my instructions are clear enough. If you can’t find Meyer Lemons, any type of citrus will work, just adjust the sugar accordingly.

Bon appétit!

Gluttony and Feasting

This is a repost of an article I wrote last year. In letting my old website expire, I lost the ability to reference my old posts, and with Thanksgiving just two days away, I wanted to share this post with people again.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

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Thanksgiving. If there is a feast that typifies American culture, then Thanksgiving is it. A table full of more food than should ever be eaten. A plate piled so high that the individual components become indistinguishable from one another and one is left with a bite simultaneously of turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, peas…you get the idea. Then after gorging ourselves all in a matter of a few short minutes to the point where it hurts to stand up, we loosen the belt buckle, stretch out on the couch and fall asleep to football.

Trust me, I have experienced this phenomenon myself. When I lived in China, Thanksgiving was an all day affair of eating. I remember one year in particular in which it was a small group of us and between five adults, there were five home-made pies! The following day, I stepped onto my scale to find that I had gained over five pounds, and if you know me, gaining a pound is hard work. (Let me also state that Thanksgivings in China were not simply marked by gluttony. The day truly was a celebration of feasting together with food, fellowship, laughter, and simply being with one another.)

But here is my question/issue in regards to Thanksgiving: Has Thanksgiving become such a gluttonous event that we, the American culture, now tend to equate feasting with stuffing our faces with food? And to take the question a step further, what effect does this have on our spiritual lives?

We as Americans might be at a disadvantage when it comes to understanding feasting, and eating in general, because we lack a national cuisine and a food culture that grounds our eating in something more than just physical nourishment or the latest fad. Michael Pollan discusses this point in The Omnivore’s Dilemma. He argues that because America does not have culture of food, we are easily confused and tossed about by the latest scientific findings or the latest fad. Scientific findings or food fads have thus become our food orthodoxy, determining for us what we should or should not be eating. Therefore, we tend to look paradoxically at other cultures who seem to be eating rather unhealthy foods, yet remain healthier than we, most notably the French. He writes:

That orthodoxy [driven by scientific research] regards certain tasty foods as poisons (carbs now, fats then), failing to appreciate that how we eat, and even how we feel about eating may in the end be just as important as what we eat. The French eat all sorts of supposedly unhealthy food, but they do it according to a strict and stable set of rules: They eat small portions and don’t go back for seconds; they don’t snack; they seldom eat alone; and communal meals are long leisurely affairs. In other words, the French culture of food successfully negotiates the omnivore’s dilemma, allowing the French to enjoy their meals without ruining their health. (pp. 300-301)

Because we as a culture have nothing to anchor us, everything is up for grabs to the point where we rush to the nearest bookstore to buy the latest book on what the authors guarantee will revolutionize how we view food. Or, on somewhat the opposite extreme, we will make a meal out of a protein shake that is not even food. Michael Pollan continues, “Consuming these neo-pseudo-food alone in our cars we have become a nation of antinomian eaters, each of us struggling to work out our dietary salvation on our own” (p. 301).

If Michael Pollan is correct in his observation about the American food scene (and I think he is), we are a culture then that has no clue what it means to eat, let alone what it means to feast. I would argue that this has implications, especially for Christians, in regards to our spiritual life. Take for example Jesus’ words in The Gospel of John:

Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. (John 6:53-57)

I don’t know about you, but when I read these words, I am tempted to think that I want as much of Jesus as I can possibly get. Therefore, more books, more Bible studies, more classes, more prayer groups, more hours spent in ministry, and more spiritual disciplines will all lead to a richer experience of Jesus. To use the metaphor of the Thanksgiving plate: a plate piled so high with religious activities that I cram myself full of in hopes of an experience of God. These items can foster a richer experience of Jesus, but my temptation is to look to them to cultivate a feeling/experience of Jesus rather than simply be with my Savior. Through this, I can become a spiritual glutton through a lack of understanding just as I can become a glutton with food through a lack of knowledge of what it means to truly eat.

St. John of the Cross warns us against spiritual gluttony in his work The Dark Night, Book 1, chapter 6. His basic point is that all Christians, at one point or another, will turn to spiritual activities for the latest and greatest experience of God. He writes:

All their time is spent looking for satisfaction and spiritual consolation; they can never read enough spiritual books, and one minute they are meditating on one subject and the next on another, always hunting for some gratification in the things of God.

We are tempted to use spiritual tools to cultivate a feeling of God rather then use them as a means to be in a relationship with the personal Triune God. I will stuff myself full of what I think is Jesus thinking that this will satiate my spiritual hunger. And when something stops giving me that feeling, I will simply move on to the next thing, as there seems to be no shortage of options for Christians today.

But what if this is not what Jesus meant when He commanded us to eat his flesh? What if, dare I say it, the French have it right? That I am meant to linger for hours with the One whom I love, not engaged in a frenetic pace of life, always doing, always eating alone. But rather maybe I am meant to simply be in the presence of Him who gave his life for me, like two friends enjoying a bottle of wine and some cheese.

I sometimes wonder what would happen if Christians began to think holistically and robustly about what it means to physically eat and the impact that would have on how we relate to God. And I wonder what would happen if we took a serious look at our spiritual gluttony and the impact that would have on our physical gluttony.

As a friend pointed out to me after I sent him a draft of this post, I do not discuss what feasting should actually look like. He does have a valid point—I don’t simply want to address what is wrong; I do want to point people to a better alternative. But I guess that discussion will have to wait for another blog post.

More Lessons from Fruit Trees

Anyone who has lived in Southern California knows that with the Fall comes Santa Ana winds—dry, warm and powerful gusts. A week or so ago, we had a few nights where the wind was just howling. Online, weather websites were saying that gusts were around 50 miles per hour, although listening to the gusts rattle our windows and trees, I might be inclined to say that the gusts were more powerful than 50 miles per hour.

Waking up the next morning, I was anxious to see how our fruit trees had fared through the night. I was more than a little worried that I would discover unripened lemons and oranges laying on our lawn. Months of anticipating fresh lemons and oranges would be all for naught because of a couple nights of strong wind.

But what I actually found surprised me.

Not one piece of fruit had fallen. All of the lemons and oranges were still there. However, our tangelo tree still has some over-ripe/dead fruit on it, and those were actually blown off. But again, none of the still-ripening lemons and oranges.

The week that followed was a rough week for me, especially at work, where some less than ideal circumstances had left me questioning a lot. At one point, while I was driving to or from work, I asked Jesus, “Are you holding me during this time?” Shortly thereafter, I found myself meditating on the fruit trees and the wind.

As I mentioned in a previous post about fruit trees, I feel like I am in a stage or ripening/waiting. It is not easy. It can be quite painful and frustrating. But if Jesus is the True Vine to which I am attached, I can be confident that Jesus has a firm enough grasp on me so that I will not be thrown away during the “wind-gusts” of life.

What is even more amazing is that Jesus will never let me go. There will be periods where pruning and trimming are needed, but He will never discard me.

Even as I write this, I feel my heart questioning the truth of the above. The truth of Jesus’ love and care for me takes a while to reach into the depths of my heart…just as fruit does not ripen over night.

“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”

PS – As you can see from the pictures, our lemons are almost ready. I actually picked the first five yesterday!

Chef Gary Menes at Test Kitchen Los Angeles

I do not know how I first heard about Test Kitchen LA, but since it first debuted in August of this summer, the restaurant and concept have received rave reviews. But then again, why would it not considering the restaurant has had some of the best chefs in Los Angeles showcase their talents there?

From Test Kitchen’s website, here is the concept:

Test kitchen is the product of many people’s efforts, but the concept of Bill Chait and Brian Saltsburg.  Test kitchen is a showcase for chefs by restaurateurs and allows for experimentation and testing of new ideas and concepts.  Visiting chefs will be serving dishes they are working on for future restaurant projects.  Mixologists provide innovative pairing opportunities and avenues to express their craft.  Each chef will be working alone or in consultation with Ricardo Zarate, who is currently finalizing his own restaurant.

I had been wanting to go and experience the restaurant firsthand, but the opportunity had never really presented itself, until I learned that my former boss and friend, Chef Gary Menes, executive chef at The Hall at Palihouse Hotel, was going to be doing an eight-course vegetarian tasting menu on November 8. Considering that the dinner was a few days after my birthday, it would be a great way to celebrate turning thirty. My parents also joined Claire and me.

amuse:  faux tuna belly ceviche: The bite consisted of watermelon, lime, cilantro, which was fresh and lively. (Sorry for the graininess of the picture.)

1st course: japanese sweet potato and leek veloute, endive, yogurt, asian pear: The two other times I have had Chef Gary’s cooking, his soups were always amazing – smooth, rich and complex, and this offering was no different. Japanese sweet potatoes are not as sweet as the type we normally associate with Thanksgiving, so the soup was not overly sweet. The endive was presented as a marmalade that added a vinegary component to the dish, while the yogurt added a creaminess. We all used our fingers to get as much soup as possible.

2nd course: carrot, bloomsdale spinach, purple artichokes, preserved lemon: The carrot was cooked sous vide, making the carrot very tender, but not mushy, and preserving the flavor. The spinach added a great nuttiness to the dish, while the preserved lemon sauce added a brightness to the dish.

3rd course: cauliflower roti et puree, apple, mustard seeds, brussels sprouts, vinaigrette aigre doux: Cauliflower was presented in both a roasted form and pureed, which was rich and creamy.

4th course: fennel, orange, pernod, baby broccoli, forbidden rice: This was probably my least favorite dish of the night. There was nothing wrong with it; I simply did not find the fennel very interesting, although the use of orange in the dish really helped to brighten the dish. However, the forbidden rice was quite tasty.

5th course: tahitian squash, wheat berries, grapes, dandelion greens, pickled shallots: This was my favorite dish of the night as I loved the combination of flavors: the sweetness of the roasted squash and grapes to the tang of the pickled shallots.

6th course: parsnips, stone ground grits, trevisso, garlic, parsley: The best way to classify the overall impression of this dish was bitter but in a good way between the parsnip and the trevisso, with the grits adding a nice component to the dish. I just wish there were more grits. (Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of this course.)

7th course: “petite pois francaise”, snow peas, smoked pearl onions, potatoes, hearts of romaine, jus d’onion: One could call this the meatiest of the dishes presented, especially the sauce, which was so incredibly rich and nuanced, I would have sworn that there was some sort of meat in it. I was tempted to pick up my plate and lick it clean it was so tasty. The dish was presented almost as a hearty stew, yet without the mushy, clumsy feel that sometimes accompanies a stew, added by the fact that Chef Gary cooked every component separately, yet still managed to have all of the flavors combined. Amazing.

8th course: quince, vanilla bean, mascarpone, black pepper, vincotto: This dessert was a great way to end a fabulous meal. The spiced cake along with the mascarpone and quince simply screamed fall.

This was a great meal in all respects. We all left quite satiated, and not missing meat at all. It reminded me of the bounty of produce and the beauty of vegetables. Too often I simply try and find a vegetable so that I can have a balanced meal, but here Chef Gary reminded me that vegetables can shine given the freshness and the preparation.

Thank you Chef Gary for another wonderful meal!

Carnitas without the Fat

With it being my 30th birthday and all, Claire thought it only fitting to have a party for me. I liked the idea, not only because it was my birthday, but also because it would allow us to have people up to our house.

As we discussed what we wanted to serve, I thought tacos would be a great idea considering people could make them how they wanted and we could hopefully feed everyone without going broke. We settled on carne asada and carnitas, which would be accompanied by a slew of sides, including homemade red salsa, roasted corn salsa, guacatillo from Cardenas Supermarket, homemade Mexican pickles, cheese, lime wedges, guacamole, onions and cilantro. (Sadly, I forgot to take a picture of our lovely table with all of the great food.) The only issue remaining was how to make carnitas without slow cooking them in lard.

I found a recipe in Cocina de la Familia by Marilyn Tausend with Miguel Ravago for carnitas that looked good, so I decided to give it a try. The carnitas turned out amazing. The pickled jalapenos provided a nice vinegary component to the dish, while the coke and orange juice gave it a little sweetness. I decided against making them to spicy figuring with salsas and such people could make them as spicy as they desired. The recipe is quite easy – the most tedious part being breaking down the pork into cubes.

Thus, I figured I would share the recipe, because who after all does not enjoy some tasty pork tacos every now and then? The only adjustments I made to the recipes were after boiling the pork, I shredded it in the food processor (a great suggestion by my wife), and I left out the orange peel.

Bon appétit!

Carnitas (from Cocina de la Familia, pp. 116-117)

  • 4 pounds boneless pork shoulder, butt or meaty country-style ribs
  • 2 white onions, quartered
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano, preferably Mexican
  • 2-3 canned whole pickled jalapeno chiles
  • Sea salt
  • ¾ cup Dr. Pepper or Coca-Cola
  • ¾ orange juice
  • Zest or peel of ½ orange, cut in narrow 1-inch-long strips (a vegetable peeler works great for this)
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Trim off much of the excess far from the outside of the meat but leave the thin inner strips. Cut into irregular chunks approximately 1 ½ inches square.

Place the meat in a wide, heavy pot, such as a Dutch oven or cast-iron skillet, with a lid. Cover with water by ½ inch—no more. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and skim off any foarm that may rise to the surface. Add the onions, garlic, oregano, chiles, and salt to taste. When the water begins to boil again, lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, about 1 house, until the meat is almost tender. A bit more water might be needed if the pork is still tough. Stir occasionally. If there is liquid remaining in the pan when the meat is ready, turn up the heat and boil until it is all evaporated, but watch the meat so that it doesn’t scorch. (Andrew’s note: a lot of the water remained after an hour and the meat was tender. I decided to shred the meat in the food processor, and while shredding, I reduced the liquid and poured that onto the meat as well as the orange juice and soda.)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Remove the chiles from the pot. Add the soda pop, orange juice, zest, pepper, and any needed additional salt, and mix well with the pork. If the meat is not in a single layer, it should be put into a flatter pan so that it can brown evenly. Bake, uncovered, about 30-40 minutes, until the meat is crispy and glazed with syrup. The meat will have to be stirred often because the sugar in the soda and orange juice will burn easily.

Turning 30 & The Decade that Was

I turn the big 3-0 tomorrow. And with this milestone has come a certain amount of reflection on what all has occurred in my twenties. What have I done? What have I learned? Highlights? Lowlights? Regrets? So I figured I would share with you the highlights of the past ten years.

  • I turned 20 while attending Biola University, making amazing friendships.
  • Studied the Bible in depth as a Bible major.
  • Travelled to Greece and Italy on a three-week study program with Torrey (highlights including Corinth, swimming in the Mediterranean, Rome, Athens, and a lot of beautiful artwork).
  • Moving into my first apartment with some guys.
  • Watching Placido Domingo sing the lead in an opera on September 10, 2001.
  • Waking up to the horrors of 9/11.
  • Taking road trips with friends during Torrey Bible Conference and Missions Conference.
  • February 3, 2002 – hearing the Holy Spirit’s not so gentle nudging that I was to go to China on a two-week short term mission’s trip.
  • Living through the pain of a family member fighting bi-polar.
  • Feeling called to go back that Summer in which the whole trip was paid for without having to raise any support thanks to the generosity of people from the first trip.
  • Not being able to sleep during one of my last weeks in China, and finally listening the Holy Spirit and feeling called to return after I graduate from Biola to serve as youth pastor for MKs.
  • Watching my older sister, Beth, get married to James Shank (August 24, 2002).
  • Applying and being accepted to go to China through the EFCM/EFCA-IM/ReachGlobal.
  • Graduating from Biola University summa cum laude in May 23, 2003.
  • God providing my support in miraculous ways that summer so that I could leave on September 7, 2003.
  • Hitting the ground running once I got to China.
  • Remodeling two youth centers.
  • Being mentored by Tom Kimber, who has taught me A LOT about love.
  • Celebrating Christmas in China with my family.
  • Having an amazing community in China who loved me a ton and who I loved a ton!
  • Travelling to Thailand, which including scuba diving in Phuket.
  • Finding and setting up my own apartment in China, including paint colors, picking out furniture, decorating, designing my kitchen, buying a piano. This apartment was my first real home.
  • Travelling to Lhasa, Tibet with Mr. C.
  • Losing 4 grandparents in a period of 2 years, all while living in China.
  • Grieving as a school when Mr. C. suddenly passed away.
  • Leading village trips in which the Holy Spirit always surprised me in how He worked, including a powerful foot washing ceremony.
  • Having the privilege of being the best man in Erik and Mary Youngdale’s wedding, who by the way just had their first son!
  • Having my best friend Tyler Hoad visit me in China.
  • Establishing some great guy friends while in China.
  • Teaching world religions and introduction to Christian Thought to seniors at the school I worked at.
  • Having my first serious relationship while in China, which taught me a lot about myself. Very painful, but looking back I don’t think I would change it.
  • Making the very difficult decision to move back to America.
  • Being honest about my struggles with sin.
  • Being accepted to ISF.
  • Realizing that there is more to Christianity than just head knowledge and that for too long I had neglected my heart/emotions.
  • Readjusting to life back in America, which was a lot harder than adjusting to life in China.
  • The birth of three amazing nephews and niece – Matthew, Zachary, Eliana.
  • Buying my first car without the help of my parents – Ford Focus.
  • Starting classes in ISF. After the first day of classes, I went home and cried, realizing that I was not going back to China.
  • Prayer projects from ISF which forced me to deal with a lot of my shit.
  • My first 48 hour solitude retreat.
  • Developing a relationship with my Grandpa for the first time through food. I love you Grandpa!
  • Drinking a little too much when I would make dinner for Grandpa (note: cheese and 6 bottles of wine for dinner for three people can lead to a not so fun night, that is once you stop.).
  • Discovering my love for food/cooking.
  • Being able to visit China and realizing that China was no longer my home.
  • My Feasting Retreat in a beautiful beach house in Redondo Beach.
  • Developing community at ISF and with others, especially Tyler Hoad.
  • Visiting Notre Dame and watching a football game live in South Bend.
  • Personal therapy.
  • Deciding to take the leap and start culinary school sooner rather than later.
  • Wrecking my Ford Focus on November 1, 2008.
  • Dining at Palate Food + Wine for my birthday, which lead me to ultimately getting a job at the restaurant.
  • Dropping out of culinary school to work full time at Palate.
  • Quitting Palate to work at Forest Home.
  • Making a list of what I would love in a home in Forest Falls, and God providing such a place.
  • Growing in confidence in my cooking ability.
  • Saying “YES” to a blind-date from the Costillos whom I had not spoken with in like two years.
  • Throwing out recipes and experimenting with a cheesecake.
  • Falling in love with Claire Allan.
  • My first kiss.
  • My Three-Week Retreat in January.
  • Experiencing Jesus’ love for me in deeply profound ways.
  • Asking Claire to marry me on March 13, 2010.
  • Planning a wedding.
  • Graduating from Talbot with High Honors.
  • Finding a new home with Claire, complete with fruit trees.
  • Getting married on August 21, 2010.
  • Honeymoon in Breckenridge, CO.

And this list is just but a snapshot of the past ten years.

As I look over the list, I see a lot of surprises – events, people, places that I could never have dreamed or planned for that matter. There are also events of great joy and great sadness. It would be easy to just remember the great times, and try and forget the times of deep pain, like losing grandparents, feeling very unloved, moving, saying too many good-byes. But I have come to realize, especially on my three-week, that those events all served a purpose in shaping and molding me to be the man I am today. A man more fully aware of God’s love for me than ever before and from that place being able to love others, especially Claire.

I have no clue what lies ahead in the next ten years, but I have some dreams and hopes, but if this past decade is any indication, I would be wise to hold them loosely, as Jesus has a way of surprising.

But the best thing: realizing that I am no longer alone. I got Jesus. I got the love of my life, Claire. And frankly that is more than enough.