Pepper rieason is nearly upon us in Southern California—planting begins in January in the southern desert valleys and begin production and cultivation as early as late April and harvest can continue to be production through November on the Central Coast and in the Central Valley.

For us, that means dedicating a large portion of our refrigerator shelves to hot sauces; specifically homemade fermented hot sauces.

We came across recipes for two different fermented hot sauces via Tasting Table last year, each with their own distinct tastes, one a short fermentation, one longer. After initially following each recipe by the book, we started experimenting, playing with different kinds of peppers for each, which gave us even more play in the heat and flavors that each recipe produced and the ability to go along with what’s in season week-to-week at our local farmers’ market.

You can view the original recipes for a Pickled Fresno Chile Vinegar from The Meatball Shop‘s Daniel Holzman and a Chile Vinegar Sauce from Michael Hung of LA’s Faith + Flower at Tasting Table. Below, we have our looser, altered recipes allowing for more flexibility on the peppers used.

Both recipes are great—the first is fermented longer, giving more of that tangy funk you’d associated with pickles or the like and can be a bit thinner; the second is more along the lines of a fermented Sriracha and takes less time to make. Both recipes originally call for white vinegar, but we tend to usually use apple cider vinegar simply because we like the taste more—white vinegar’s more neutral, but it’s also a little astringent and harsh. Rice vinegar also works well, so your call. As for the peppers used, we’d recommend doing what we did—make the recipes by the book first if you’ve got the ingredients, then experiment with other peppers, lowering or upping the heat by using different peppers and, for the second recipe, keep like colors together to make, essentially, green Srirachas with green bells + jalapeños, red with red bells + red Fresnos out the like, yellow with yellow bells + yellow manzanos, which one Hollywood Farmers Market vendor regularly has and which makes for a great, hot, fruity sauce. As you can see from some of the labels we made, we also started to play with other ingredients like fresh herbs and other spices.

Five Week Fermented Chili Vinegar

2 cups boiling water

½ cup, plus 2 tablespoons, vinegar, divided

6 tablespoons sea salt, divided

8 ounces chiles (7 large peppers each), chopped into large pieces

5 garlic cloves, smashed + peeled

In a medium pop, boil water and add 2 tablespoons of vinegar and 2 tablespoons of salt. Stir until dissolved and then let cool. Once cool, add the chiles and the garlic to a glass jar, pour vinegar solution over, and loosely cover with the lid, making sure the chiles are completely submerged; if they’re not, add a little more vinegar + water. Let ferment at room temperature for 4 weeks (maybe set a reminder, just in case).

Once fermented, drain the chiles and garlic, reserving ½ cup of the pickling liquid. Transfer the chiles, garlic and reserved pickling liquid to a blender with the remaining ½ cup of vinegar and ¼ cup of salt (note—if you’re salt averse, totally fine to omit this salting and/or lower the overall salt included in the recipe). Blend until smooth. Return to the glass container and seal. Let sit at room temperature for another week, shaking every day until homogenous.

Keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 months, using as desired.

Aged Sriracha

1 dried chile, stemmed, seeded (keep the seeds if you’re into extra heat)

1 large fresh chile, sliced ¼-inch thick

½ bell pepper, sliced ¼-inch thick

2 tablespoons roughly chopped garlic

¼ cup finely diced shallot

1 cup vinegar

2 tablespoons sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F and then roast the dried chile on a sheet tray until lightly toasted, about a minute. For an added char taste, we like to also partially blacken the fresh peppers we use on the stove’s open flame.

Combine all of the ingredients in a non-reactive mixing bowl and allow to marinate for an hour.

Transfer the mixture to a blender and purée on high speed until smooth. Place the purée in a nonreactive bowl or glass container and cover tightly with one layer of cheesecloth or a lose-fitting lid. Allow the sauce to sit at room temperature for 3 to 5 days until the sauce takes on a natural fermented aroma. Once finished, transfer the sauce to an airtight container. Keep chilled in the refrigerator. The Sriracha will last for a few months.

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Home fermentation may seem scary, but it doesn't have to be. And the payoff—Michael Hung's better-than-Sriracha chile vinegar sauce—is totally worth it.
From Tasting Table's original recipe posting.

A few months back, we were listening to KCRW‘s, Good Food, as we’re wont to do when we’re able to make the time on the weekends. If you don’t know the program, it’s a weekly culinary show that covers pretty much anything involving food—restaurant reviews, cookbooks, baking, farmers market finds, larger food trends, fair wages in food services; anything and everything interesting in the food world. It’s usually a pretty great listen; sometimes not the most-vegan-friendly, but, this being southern California, on the other side of the coin, also often super-vegan-friendly and more often than not, very vegetable-centric.

So, anyway, a few months back, we were sipping coffee on the front porch and their sandwich episode dropped. As usual, it covered an array of subjects within the show theme and featured a number of guests—bread-baking 101 with the owner of our favorite local mill; a super-charming British guy talking British sandwiches (spoiler: he adorably calls them ‘sarnies’); LA’s golden boy Jonathan Gold reviewing a great bar up from our studio, Everson Royce—but the segment that caught our ears was one with Tyler Kord, owner of No. 7 Sub, a sub shop in NYC that we’d never heard of before.

The shop, like the show, is not vegan, but has a clean love of vegetables, throwing many of their sandwiches into the vegetarian and/or vegan-ize-able categories. One such sandwich—No. 7 Sub’s Broccoli Classic—left us salivating and champing at the bit to make it ourselves.

I thought I’d just wing it, but, lo and behold, I happened across the recipe on an old WNYC post. Though it’s technically taken from a limited edition, 48-page cookbook Kord published around the time of that original WNYC post, the chef, restauranteur, and author also now has a fabulously named cookbook new cookbook out now—A Super Upsetting Cookbook About Sandwiches.

The original recipe linked to above is vegetarian already, so it was just a matter of subbing the mayo + feta; after which, we ended up with one of the messiest, most craveable sandwiches we’d ever made (note: we used ciabatta rolls; guessing using actual sub rolls might be a good deal less messy; …additional note: you might be tempted to skip the most intimidating component—the lychee muchin (pictured, right)—but don’t, it’s easier than it sounds and makes the sandwich).

Makes 2 large, messy sandwiches

1 can pitted lychees (available at Asian markets—we got ours in Thai Town), drained and quartered

1 garlic clove, minced

One 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced

1 medium shallot, finely chopped

A few drops of sesame oil

1 tablespoon sugar

2 small dried chiles, chopped (from Kord: “I prefer tien tsin chiles, available at Asian markets, or chiles de arbol, available at Mexican markets, but a teaspoon of red chile flakes will work”; we used dried, bright red Korean chili flakes)

1 cup white vinegar

2 scallions, thinly sliced on a bias

2 soft Italian sub rolls, split lengthwise or 2 large ciabatta rolls

4 tablespoons vegan mayonnaise

1 pound broccolini (we used flowering broccoli, which is perfect in southern California right now)

4 ounces vegan ricotta salata (about 1 cup—Kite Hill makes a good store-bought one; you could also make a nut-based one at home)

1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted

1/2 cup fried shallots (the Vietnamese ones found at Asian markets, but any fried onions, store-bought or homemade, will do)

In a mixing bowl, combine the lychees, garlic, ginger, shallot, sesame oil, sugar, chiles, vinegar and scallions. Let sit for at least an hour.

In an oven preheated to 375 degrees, toast the sub rolls and reheat the broccoli if necessary.

Spread 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise on each of the sub rolls, then use tongs to stuff the rolls with broccoli. Top each sandwich with a little bit of the lychee muchin, followed by the ricotta salata, pine nuts, and fried shallots. Serve.

From Tyler Kord’s cookbook, Broccoli, available from Short Stack Editions.

Los Angeles has a longstanding, well-documented love of fast food. It’s waxed + waned over the years, embattled by every possible health food trend from gluten-free to all things kale. Today, though, fast food and more indulgent eats seem to be enjoying a pleasant and peaceful coexistence with more health-centric foods as the city’s eaters and culinary taste-makers embrace a love of diversity in menus and a more popular focus on fresh produce across the board.

Two current stars in LA’s nouveau fast food scene are brothers Frederick and Maximilian Guerrero—sons of chef Andre Guerrero of Oinkster fame and owners along with close friend Kevin Hockin of their own venture, Chinatown’s Burgerlords, a quick-serve burger joint that focuses on simplicity and quality with their food. We wrote Burgerlords up last fall because we were so excited to hear that they featured vegan burgers on their menu and they quickly became our favorite vegan burgers in town.

Now, about a year in, the Guerrero brothers and Hockin have announced new, monthly collaborations with local chefs (also vegan-friendly), and we took the announcement as an excuse to reach out and talk with Frederick Guerrero (pictured right, jamming) to find out more about the collaborations and the origins of Burgerlords in general.

raven + crow: So, thanks for taking the time to talk—I know you guys are beyond busy right now. Sooooooo, you guys like burgers. A lot. What’s the story, first, behind the overall obsession, then behind the Tumblr account and restaurant predecessor?

Frederick Guerrero: Hmmm….where to start? Well, my family owns a few restaurants, which includes The Oinkster. My brother Max and I helped open that and worked there up until 2013. We were always brainstorming different ideas, and he came up with the name “Burgerlords” during one of our meetings. We never really knew what to do with it, so it was just this idea we had on the back burner. While we were doing research for the second The Oinkster location, I was cataloguing tons of burger inspiration photos that I would gather online. One day I just decided to make a Tumblr called “Burgerlords” to host a bunch of it and then integrate our own content into it. Tumblr really loved it, so they promoted it all over the site and the audience grew to 200K followers.

When we left the restaurant, no one really knew what to do with it, so we decided to just turn it into the burger restaurant we always wanted to make. We thought it was funny to name such a simple restaurant after a site known for posting the most over the top burgers.

Yeah, some of those burger pics over the years were…intimidating, is the word, I think? So, alright, question for you then—NYC’s got pizza; Chicago, dogs; do you think burgers are LA’s thing? Or is it just one of many?

I think burgers and fast food are definitely LA’s thing. We grew up here and it’s such a huge part of the culture. I’m not sure how many people are familiar with the story, but fast food was invented here with restaurants like In-N-Out, McDonalds, etc… The unofficial In-N-Out biography tells a really great history about not only their origins, but fast food as well.

Yeah, no, that makes sense, especially paired with the emphasis on cars + driving here—it’s just logical, to an extent, that fast, convenient food would evolve alongside LA’s commuter culture.

Was there a specific desire to strip things down with the concept of Burgerlords (the restaurant)? You guys really seem to focus on the essentials and work to get those right, low to no frills—was that a reaction to the preciousness or over-complication the food world sometimes presents?

Definitely yes to all of that. We really wanted it to be simple and straightforward. Nowadays it seems like people are so focused on one-upping each other, that they lose sight of their original vision. We would much rather develop as we go rather than to start out big and have to scale back because of operational issues. We really learned that firsthand working in our family’s restaurants. Also, by having such a small operation, it gives room to do more collaborative projects like “Burger Merger.”

Nice segue—tell us about that. Where did the idea for the Burger Merger come from?

It’s a new monthly chef residency we’ve started. Each month we’re partnering with a new chef to come up with a special regular burger and vegan burger. We’re calling it a residency because it’ll only be served on Mondays. Our restaurant is 235 square ft, so it would be impossible for us to add anything else to the menu and serve it all month long.

You’ve got vegan options with that too, right?

Yup, part of the requirement is to have a vegan option.

I feel like you all benefitted from a decent amount of pre-opening buzz and you both come from a pretty significant LA restaurant lineage, so it strikes me that you could totally have gotten away with having a meat-only burger joint—where did the desire to accommodate vegans come from?

My brother and I are actually both vegetarian and have been since we were kids. When we were venturing off to do our own restaurant, we were leaning more towards a vegan burger concept. Having it be our first restaurant independent of our family, we were a bit nervous to start with an untested concept, so we decided to just stick with what we knew. Knowing what we know now, we probably could have done it, but we’re really happy with the way it turned out. We have something for everyone and no one is excluded or needs to feel weird about their dietary choices!

Nice. I feel like a lot of places that do accommodate vegan diets seemingly do so with the approach that it just needs to be ‘good enough for vegans,’ like that audience has a lower bar when it comes to taste level or is more accepting of sub-par food in favor of ethics and/or health benefits. It seems to me you guys didn’t settle for that mentality though.

It’s important to us that everything we serve in our restaurants is at a consistent quality level. It’s frustrating to go out to an amazing dinner, and then end it with a crappy espresso. That still happens so much, and it’s like “why not just put the same thoughtfulness into everything?” You are doing the same amount of work to make something bad as you are to make it good. It’s just changing your conciousness and approach. I think in the past chefs did have a mentality of just putting something together that would pass as “good enough for a vegan,” but I think we can really see that changing. Good food is good food, it really doesn’t matter if it’s vegan or not.

How did you come up with the recipe for the vegan burger patty—was it a long, pain-staking process for you all?

It was definitely a painstaking process. We came up with a good base recipe and then just continued to tweak it to taste. Now that it is catching on, we are still making adjustments to do them in larger batches and keep it consistent.

You recently started doing a vegan take on ‘beast fries’ too, right, “Lord of the Fries”—fries, covered with vegan cheese and grilled onions and Thousand Island?

Yeah, we had all the ingredients already, so it was just a matter of figuring out how if we could pull it off. Like I said earlier, it is easier to add things on later once you see if you can do it.

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I know your kitchen’s small, but any plans for other vegan meals or sides down the road?

As of right now we don’t have any plans to add any other menu items, vegan or not. We just don’t have the space. We’ve talked about adding shakes or soft serve, so if we do that, there will definitely be a vegan option.

Was having the vegan option on the new collaboration a hard sell with your first Burger Merger partners—Otium + Chef Hollingsworth—or were they game out of the gate?

Chef Tim is so easygoing and chill, that it all went down really smoothly. We had met a few months ago through mutual friends and this idea was kinda shaped around us partnering up.

Do you plan to have vegan versions for each of the coming collabs too?

Yup, there will always be a vegan version, if not only a vegan version for some. There are a few vegan chefs on our list.

Oh, hell yeah! That’s awesome. If you end up doing this long-long-term and need any ideas, let us know—we know a lot of vegan and vegan-friendly chefs.

You launched the Merger last Monday night, right? How was that?

The launch went really well. We were a bit nervous because it was the first time running it and we didn’t know what to expect. We had a really great turnout and sold out of burgers by 8:30PM. There was also a cocktail reception at General Lee’s with Otium’s Mixologist, Brian Hollingsworth guest bartending.

Yeah, we saw that—looked awesome; we’ll totally make the next one if you do it again. That reminds me though—I’m sure you likely field this a lot, but why Chinatown? I love the square and the neighborhood in general, but I didn’t really think of it as a burger destination before ya’ll moved in.

Growing up in Northeast L.A., this was always a destination for our family dinners, so a big part of it was nostalgia. There’s a really strong sense of community down here which is getting lost upon other bourgeoning neighborhoods in LA. It’s really great to be a part of that. We also saw a need for a QSR down here. A majority of the restaurants here are sit down.

Well we love having you so close to our studio. So are you able to talk yet about whom you plan to team up with in the coming months or is that top secret shit?

We’re keeping all the future chefs a secret for now. We’ve gotten such positive feedback for the project that there are a lot of chefs who are game to partner up. This is a really exciting project for us, so we’ve got a few tricks up our sleeve. There will be some big names people definitely wouldn’t expect. Best way to stay up to date is through our instagram @burgerlords. We’ll be announcing the next one real soon!

Awesome, man—we’ll be on the lookout for that.

Burgerlords is located at 943 N Broadway in historic Chinatown and is open seven days a week (11AM-9PM Sun-Th; 11AM-10PM Fri + Sat); Burger Merger collaborations are available Mondays only, and last one month until moving on to a new collaboration with a new chef/restaurant, so get em while you can.

Pictured, said Lord of the Fries and the vegan option for the October Burger Merger—the most excellent Burgerlords vegan patty with shaved carrots, carrot top pipian, avocado spread, and habanero pickled onions, around for the rest of today and only two more Mondays after that.

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That still happens so much, and it’s like “why not just put the same thoughtfulness into everything?” You are doing the same amount of work to make something bad as you are to make it good. It’s just changing your conciousness and approach.
Burgerlords' Frederick Guerrero on restaurants phoning it in when accommodating vegans.

This is a piece we did earlier this year for the return of Satya Magazine.

For many of our years in New York and even more before that, Satya was a monthly magazine that focused on vegetarianism, environmentalism, animal advocacy, and social justice. More holistically, in publisher + co-founder Beth Gould’s words, the magazine endeavored to “spotlight voices working toward a greater understanding of compassion, and ways to discover better how to utilize these lessons in our own lives.”

Nine years after the monthly edition of Satya ceased, Gould + co. published a special, book-length anniversary edition—”The Long View”—which stands as “a reflection on over two decades of activism and where we go from here.” In this studio’s infancy, Beth asked us to contribute a number of times to its pages, which we happily did.

In a February 2006 issue we used full page spreads to communicate (almost) the amount of space egg-layer hens are confined to their entire lives. Beth asked us to reimagine the piece for this anniversary edition, adding to it a fact that often goes unspoken or unnoticed—that, due to the industry standard practice of “culling”—or killing—male chicks, each egg we buy as consumers essentially also means the death of a male chick (assuming roughly 50-50 male-female birth rates with chickens); this on top of the fact that placing a demand on the egg industry causes layer hens a tragically sad, painful, hellish life of confinement.

If you eat eggs, please stop.

And yes, even “cage-free” eggs, which are a far greater boon to marketing and industry profits than they are a benefit to animals’ welfare (see also “humane meat”).

If you’ve got the stomach for it, you can find out more about the industry via PETA or The Humane Society, who also chimes in on the truth behind cage-free eggs, as does this fairly tame Mother Jones article.

Find out more about Satya and order their anniversary issue on their site.

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This past weekend, Katie + I made a quick, daylong stop at home here in Los Angeles after our trip up the California coast before heading back to New York for a long-awaited event—the opening of the new vegan restaurant Modern Love Brooklyn.

MLBK is the collaborative effort of three of our friends—sisters Erica + Sara Kubersky of MooShoes and Isa Chandra Moskowitz, a celebrated vegan cookbook author, chef, and all-around OG in the vegan community, creating and co-hosting a cable access vegan cooking show in the aughts called Post Punk Kitchen.

Isa opened her first Modern Love in 2014 in her now-home of Omaha, Nebraska, choosing a path that was far from what might be considered preaching-to-the-choir and opening in New York or LA or another metropolitan area already abound with animal-free eating. But the Brooklyn native’s roots run deep and she’s always wanted a returning to home for her cooking. Pair that with the fact that Erica + Sara, who grew up in Queens, have long sought a vegan restaurant venture in New York, and you’ve got magic—13 years after the first episode of Post Punk Kitchen aired on New York community access television, Modern Love Brooklyn opened it’s doors in Williamsburg to a crowd of friends and family of which we were delighted and proud to be counted.

All parties involved in MLBK wanted the restaurant to reflect its place and regional culture just as its predecessor in Omaha does, so the menu focuses on plant-based comfort foods, much of which has roots in the shared Eastern European cuisine both Isa and the Kubersky sisters enjoyed growing up—vegan latkes, blintzes, chops + applesauce, a Niçoise with deviled potatoes, root vegetables aplenty. But they don’t take the inspirations as rigid guidelines, allowing them to pull from other popular cuisines with a beautiful Italian lasagna that boasts handmade noodles, a take on New England chowder a surf + turf, and the ever-in these days—shishitos, which they do beautifully.

The menu will likely shift with the seasons, but even if it didn’t, everything we had was crave-able enough to keep around for good. That said, we’d recommend getting there soon in case some favorites do leave the menu—again, everything was great, but our favorites of what we had were the latkes, the truffled poutine, the grilled caesar, the hearty chops + applesauce, the mac, and the lasagna (I know, a lot). And seriously—we’re not just saying all of that because we’re all pals. We were able to come in twice while we were in town, and it’s all truly beautifully done, really wonderful food. Vegan or not, we highly recommend going. For all you celiacs + gluten-free out there, there’s a vested interest in the menu being extremely GF-friendly, with deliberate kitchen practices to minimize cross-contamination on the gluten-free menu items.

MLBK is located at 317 Union Avenue right by the Metropolitan G and currently open Wednesday to Sunday, 530 – 10PM. They’re serving dinner only right now but brunch should follow shortly; then a lunch service soon after.

All photos by our gracious + talented friend, Justin. Below, Erica, Isa, and Sara; Seitan Chops + Applesauce—rosemary breaded seitan, gingery sweet potatoes, pink applesauce, seared brussels sprouts; Mac + Shews (gf)—creamy cashew cheese, pecan-cornmeal crusted tofu, BBQ cauliflower, sautéed kale, tomato vinaigrette, spiced pecans; Surf + Turf—glam chowder, herb grilled seitan, seared radish, wilted mustard greens, popcorn cauliflower; Grilled Caesar (gf)—grilled romaine, garlic caper dressing, polenta croutons, peptic parmesan; Blistered Shishitos (gf)—edamame mint hummus, frisee, parsley oil; Zaatar Pretzels—baba ganoush, chili oil, preserved lemon, sumac; Wild Mushroom Blintz—buckwheat crepe, smashed beet relish, almond ricotta, kasha arugula salad; our friend Agatha + Erica; and us looking tough in front of the MLBK mural.

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The whole concept of Modern Love is a vegan translation of traditional food with whole ingredients and make it even better. I think, where the locations are, they influence us.
Isa Chandra Moskowitz to Paste Magazine earlier this month.

Yesterday, on our southward journey back from a stay at the very lovely Stanford Inn, we got a chance to check out Amy’s Drive Thru, the all vegetarian, very vegan-friendly take on American fast food by Amy’s Kitchen.

Though now ubiquitous with its convenient, vegetarian, organic meals, Amy’s started out small, with husband and wife Andy + Rachel Berliner starting the company in 1987 and running it from their home and barn (they named it after their then newborn daughter, Amy). After their signature vegetable pot pie shot to grocery store stardom, Andy + Rachel expanded their line to include soups, beans, chili, sauces, and millions upon millions of frozen burritos, with an eye toward combining heathy living with convenience.

Last year, Amy’s opened Amy’s Drive Thru in Rohnert Park, California, just north of San Francisco, and we’ve been meaning to stop by ever since. The concept—convenient, health-minded, vegetarian and vegan food that’s competitive with the non-veg fast food market—is an easy extension of Amy’s Kitchen’s core concept and, we have to say, from our experience, it’s a huge success.

First off, prices are great—single-serving pizzas for $6+; sides of mac for $4+; burritos for $5; vegan and dairy shakes for $4; and the signature double-patty veggie burger, The Amy, with (vegan) cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, and spicy or non-spicy special sauce, all for just under $5. And everything’s still made largely on-site using organic ingredients.

And the space itself reaches for new heights in über-eco-ness—tables are made from old automobile brake drums, wood used is either recycled or culled from off-cuts, tableware is recyclable and compostable, and the roof sports both a rainwater capture system and habitat-creating, naturally cooling drought-tolerent garden.

Maybe most importantly of all—the food tastes fucking great. Everything we had hit that perfect taste point of classic fast food that many of us still hold in a nostalgic place in our hearts but wholesome and clearly better for you, while still retaining the crave-worthiness—we seriously started craving The Amy mere hours after leaving the Drive Thru.

Between Amy’s, San Francisco’s already formidable vegan food scene, and The Stanford Inn’s all vegan offerings not too far north, we’re already planning our next trip up the coast.

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Amy's Drive Thru is returning to the roots of American fast food, serving lovingly handcrafted food to nourish hard-working citizens, busy families and road-weary travellers.
Amy's Drive Thru

A friend and colleague of ours was recently traveling up the California coast and reached out to us to ask if we knew about “this vegan eco resort” in Northern California.

Woefully, we have not made nearly enough time to explore our new coast—sure, we’ve spent a good bit of time in Sonoma and Big Sur and Joshua Tree, but we have yet to make it down to San Diego in these past three or so years or up to that crazy Danish-looking town or to majestic Yosemite or even up to San Francisco (one of my favorite American cities) since we moved to the West Coast! I know, despicable.

We’re working on remedying that, but, given that neither of us has ever been south of Portland, Oregon or north of San Fran, suffice it to say that we’ve never been to Mendocino, home to Stanford Inn by the Sea, a coastal sustainably run eco resort that includes a canoe + bike shop, wellness center + spa, California certified organic garden, and an all-vegan restaurant. Stanford Inn is run by Joan and Jeff Stanford, a vegan couple dedicated to bringing the magic of Mendocino to all that stay at the Inn.

We have every intention of making what’s sure to be a beautiful journey up the coast to visit the Inn, but, in the meantime, the whole operation piqued our interest so we reached out to Jeff Stanford to find out more about how two people came to run this earth-friendly, animal-friendly establishment for over 25 years. Jeff was kind enough to oblige, giving us the low-down on how he and Joan came to be innkeepers in the first place, farming organically without the use of animal products, their favorite dishes at Ravens Restaurant—their award-winning vegan restaurant, and how the doctor from Murder She Wrote happened upon a mystery of his own.

No, really.

raven + crow: You’ve got a quote on your inn’s home page by J. Hamrick that greets visitors—”In my dreams I walk on fog-enshrouded cliffs through wild flowers dancing in the wind with the sea booming below me, the mist wrapping about my ankles. And longing fills me, settles over me like a soft summer rain. And I know that I must go to Mendocino.” Who’s J. Hamrick and what’s the origin of the quote?

Jeff Stanford: Joan and I had heard Kate and Anna McGarrigle’s rendition of Linda Ronstadt’s “Talk to me of Mendocino” in the mid 70’s and we found ourselves drawn to this then unknown place. Hamrick embodies the feeling of quiet, fog, the special place that Mendocino is.

We found the quote in a book, years ago. We used it in print brochures and then on the internet. I just googled the quote to find information about the writer and, instead, found one of our fellow innkeepers also uses the quote. Wonder where he found it.

I hope to be mysteriously quoted one day. So, we’ve never been north of San Francisco or south of Portland on the west coast—can you give us an idea of what makes Mendocino so special?

You’ll have to come north to find out. Mendocino is an experience. It is personal! The facts of the place are that it is out of the way; the roads to it are beautiful, winding along cliffs bordering the Pacific, through redwood forests, or through wine country valleys and ridges. The roads are gateways, visitors in a sense earn their experience of Mendocino. The town of Mendocino is an archetypal coastal small town that evokes in some the sense of community as it might have been at some long ago time.

I think you two moved to Mendocino in 1980 or so—where from? What your lives before that and what brought about the move/shift?

We came from Carmel. We had moved there during the recession and economic chaos of the 1970’s. I was an academic and Joan a youth worker. We wanted to live on the West Coast. The way to do it was to help run a small inn.

Where does that fundamental interest in and reverence for the land and environment come from for the two of you?

From meditation—the recognition that “land and environment” are not different than us; they define us as much as we define, describe, enhance or harm them.

And where did the desire to open an inn come from then? Or was it more wrapped up in the land and the working of it?

We didn’t open an inn. We purchased an operating motel. We did this mostly with borrowed money for the down payment and we were able to do so because a number of people believed in us. We knew how to operate and enhance the motel, converting it to an inn. The desire was simply to live, work, raise our family, explore life in one place, grow within a community much of which we had to create for ourselves. Best part of this place, then called Big River Lodge, aside from the energy here, was that there were no owner’s quarters—we didn’t have to pay for them—and we moved into a unit. We eventually took over a second room, added on a small reception area, and operated that way for eight years. We did not have to pay rent—only lost the deprecation on the part we lived in.

Was everything pretty much in the state it’s in today when you took the property over or did the two of you end up putting a lot of work into it?

The lamps were bolted to the night stands, the nightstands bolted to the walls. There were sliding aluminum and glass doors and windows, and shag carpeting. There was one deck everyone shared, providing access to the rooms and a view into them—not private. We began making changes: First, we unbolted lamps and furniture to show that we trusted our guests (and also to provide more room on bedside tables). Second, we removed baseboard heating and replaced with fan-forced resistance heating, dropping our utility bill. Third, borrowed more money and ordered furniture. We received a $20,000 loan from good friends as a “kicker” and they helped us contract for furniture. Fourth, began putting in wood burning fireplaces, seeded the pasture on which the motel had been built and began general landscaping.

Wow. Were the gardens, restaurant, spa, or canoe/bike shop already part of the land or did you develop those over time too?

None were here. Catch A Canoe had been started in 1972 and was no longer operating when we purchased it in 1983 with help from the realtors who loaned us the down payment. It was a necessary purchase to protect the inn from the potential shopping center that zoning allowed. The property which is a part of Catch A Canoe is in front of the Inn.

As mentioned above, we began landscaping when we bought the inn. First we purchased fuchsias which we hang from eves of the building, and then planted flowers, trees, and bushes as we could afford them.

In 1986-88 we brought in different bike lines and changed the name of Catch A Canoe to Catch A Canoe & Bicycles, too! which we adapted from “Tippecanoe and Tyler, too!”

In 1985 we expanded our “landscaping” into areas that we had no money to improve and began organic farming. Originally a friend and I dug five beds and began truck farming, but it soon grew to many more beds. We were guided by the work of Ecology Action and John Jeavons, not knowing that they had relocated from Palo Alto to Willits, an hour away from the Inn. We now partner with John to promoted small scale farming as a response to climate change.

How did all of that work affect how you all thought about the land and the whole venture?

There’s a strong spiritual component to our lives here. We found ourselves living within it. It was here before we were and rather than fight it—I don’t think we could—we try to understand its movement and its movements toward us. It was not until trees fell that we expanded. They came down not during a storm, but unexpectedly on two sides of the property and I suppose others might have taken the falling as just random; having not experienced this before, we took it as having meaning. When Joan wanted a better view for the rooms, literally trees fell down creating the view. This was 35 years ago and she still refers to this as an important awakening for her—the interrelationship and lack of fine distinctions between us and our environment.

I’ve personally moved around a lot in my life, but I could see having spent so long in one place—especially a place as special as this seems—being formative and impressive. It seems like you have a lot of staff that’s been at the inn for a pretty long time too; many of your employees are full-time as well, I think—is all that purposeful or key to the idea you have for the business, providing a larger, long-lasting relationship with your staff?

It is purposeful. It is based on how we would like to live and be treated if we worked for someone. Plus, the energy here is life-affirming. It is amazing and although many may not be aware of it, they work here because of that intangible.

I know you use some pretty specific methods in your garden beyond just run-of-the-mill organic gardening—can you talk about those a little bit?

We use the techniques developed primarily by Jeavons and his somewhat philosophical predecessor, Alan Chadwick. We also use our own approaches based on the micro-climate here.

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I was talking with a friend recently with regards to veganism as it impacts organic farming and vice versa. His point was, if, in ideal world, someone championed a lifestyle of no animal use whatsoever, organic farming wouldn’t be an option and you’d need to rely instead on chemicals to fertilize the plants one grows for food. I just wonder if that’s something you all have ever tackled in terms of the philosophy of running an enterprise that’s both very vegan-minded and very organic-minded.

They are wrong and the science is there to establish that. We have been vegan farming for years. We don’t use animal products—none of those allowed in organic process. The idea is to create a growing soil, one replete with the “soil bacteria” that humans evolved with. Animal product used as fertilizer can kill the bacterial. We compost and the best way is to form layers of plant materials above fallow beds. Sometimes there are weeds, but it all decomposes to create healthy soil.

Steiner’s method is based around cows—Biodynamics. We use use a process developed by Alan Chadwick and refined by John Jeavons and his Ecology Action combining French Intensive and non-animal biodynamics in regard to timing, planting techniques, and so on. Check out Jeavon’s How to Grow More Vegetables, Eighth Edition: (and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine.

In the future a “sustainable movement” will have to measure true organic production by the bacteria and other microorganisms present in the soils in which crops are grown. Need a soils scientist for this, but organic growers would be rated on the basis of the health of their soil. Most people do not recognize that soil should be the emphasis. All micronutrients, all the components of the plant are manifested through the action of bacteria, funguses, and viruses that make them available for plant uptake. See for example, Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World by Paul Stamets.

A bit more on biodynamics—there are people in Britain that are working to create vegan ‘potions’ to address the cow-part potions used by followers of biodynamics to realign or align energies. Making potions is about bringing awareness to perceived distresses in the garden and the potions focus intent to realign garden energies. The process is about awareness and intent to heal the garden and this is all energy. Energy is motion and movement and doesn’t need to be mediated by cow or plant parts. This is one of the great realizations achieved in full-on awareness, choiceless, sensitive, and acute observation. What I am writing is that what’s important is awareness of the garden, it’s energies, its movements or lack of movement—impediments. The solution is in the awareness of the garden and our intent to align with its energies. Everything else is simply ritual—a method of bringing attention and intention into the garden.

That’s a lot to take in, but thanks for clearing that up. It’s something that’s bugged me since I heard it as it didn’t add up in my head, but, lacking the background in farming (despite my surname), I couldn’t really make sense of the reality of the situation. I read that your garden provides produce to your restaurant and others in the area then?

It did. We now use most all of it and the rest goes to staff.

Your gardens aren’t the sole source of ingredients in your restaurant though are they?

No. We estimate about 20% of produce, not including citrus.

Why was it important for you to create a vegan dining experience for guests with Ravens Restaurant?

We are vegan. Selling anything other would disconnect us from ourselves; cognitive dissonance. We don’t want to live with that—plant-based or no restaurant.

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Did you get any pushback from either the community or friends with that move? I know a lot of environmentally minded people who don’t necessarily see a strong connection between the ecological sustainability and veganism.

Yes. First we were vegetarian. We didn’t know about what happens in dairies and certainly knew nothing of hatcheries. When we learned, we became “vegan” or as we rather put it, “plant-based and thoughtful/scientific.” What that means is that some products (non-animal) are better than plants. Example—the production of cotton, organic included, wrecks havoc on the environment. Using a petroleum recyclable material such as microfiber is more environmentally friendly. Some people don’t like using non-plant fibers. Hemp may someday replace cotton—thus far it hasn’t been widely used.

And with regard to to those “who don’t necessarily see a strong connection between ecological sustainability and veganism,” they are missing the point. First, science fully establishes that the most ecological action a person can take is to adopt a whole food, minimally processed plant-based diet. Second, the disconnect between claiming to be sustainable and continuing to eat animal products is simply damaging to one’s psyche as he or she twists together rationale to support eating animals. That twisting impairs growth. It ties up energy.

Agreed, agreed, and agreed. Back to the restaurant, does the menu there change a lot based on seasons or over time from year to year?

The menu changes in subtle ways as availability of ingredients change. Larger changes are usually thematic: Last year we had theme of haute Mexican. Now we have a theme of a widely varying ethnic fusion menu. We offer special menus for Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, mushroom season and crab season (like crabless cakes).

I have no idea when crab season is, but I’m going to look that up and start planning travel around it. And you’ve got a cookbook now too, right? Was that fun to put together?

Work. The recipes are from nearly 20 years and had to be tested and photographed. We use a co-creative model to develop the menu and recipes. Everyone can contribute to recipe development—prep cooks, line cooks, serving staff. Final decisions are made by me who serves in the role of executive chef. We now have a position which is “chef instructor and creative chef” whose primary job is to teach cooking classes and work with SidGarza-Hillman (our kitchen director and nutritionist) and me to refine recipes. Many of the ideas come from experimenting in Canada where Joan and I are free to play around when we are on vacation.

No, we have many friends who’ve written cookbooks and I certainly don’t envy them the time and work that went into them. How long have you two been vegan and what brought you to making that life choice?

I injured myself in early 1985. During the prior 4 years, Joan and I had been working long days, 7 days a week. Our two children were born at the Inn and we were trying to make the Inn into a true destination. We didn’t stop. I did not take vacations. Cracking my hip, I had to slow down. I reflected on chicken and ethics and became vegetarian. I “realized” that I would not kill a chicken to eat it and that I was wrong to ask someone else to do it for me. It was that simple. My family quickly followed. None of us had any idea about the practices within hatcheries and dairies and almost 20 years later, the Humane Society of the United States (if I remember correctly) designated the Clover Stornetta Organic Dairy as the most humane in the US. I knew owners of the dairy. Their children went to school with ours. I read their website which I found damning and became vegan. That was 12 years ago—the end of 2004. At the time the restaurant was ova-lacto vegetarian, as it had always been.

By 2007 we had converted dinner service to vegan and all morning recipes to vegan as well. We still provided eggs and dairy on request.

We didn’t like the slowness of the change. There were reasons we went slow, however the reasons did nothing to assuage our cognitive dissonance. We had to move a large staff and guests away from casomorphins and eggs without further damaging our ability to pay our mortgages. I don’t believe there were any full service hotels that were vegetarian when we opened the restaurant in 1996-97. Former guests actually yelled at us then for making the change. Breakfast was always vegetarian and we hadn’t served dinner until then. In 2007, we were still recovering from the dot-com crash. The principle source of our guests—the San Francisco Bay Area—was undergoing a huge real estate bubble and many of our guests no longer traveled to us. They stayed home to pay for increasingly expensive mortgages and rents. Adjusted occupancy went from nearly 80% to the mid 40’s.

In 2012 we quit providing dairy and egg options. We still suffer the harpoons thrown by those who don’t want to be reminded of the choices they might better make. Literally, not having eggs or half-and-half sticks in some of their craws.

I can only imagine. Hopefully the longer you’ve done it, the more accepted it’s become and the more you attract a specific set of visitors (like us) who are willing to travel further because of the changes you’ve made though. So what’s your all’s favorite menu item?

Joan’s favorite is our ravioli. Mine is potato salad. We have sea palm strudel, a wonderful barbecued portobello, paella (which I learned to make in Spain), and others. But it is potato salad. We don’t serve it all year, but when we do, I enjoy it. The dressing recipe was created alongside Lake Winnipeg in the tiny community of Matlock in Joan’s cottage.

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Well I hope to be able to try it myself. And—obviously we have to ask this—where does the name for the restaurant come from?

On May 31, 1995, 5 months before we broke ground to build the restaurant and additional rooms, a pair of ravens showed up perched on top of a dying Grand Fir, behind our main greenhouse, which encloses the pool. Nearly 2 months earlier, we were visiting my Dad and stepmom in Carmel, when my Dad told Joan that he felt a special affinity to crows (we didn’t know the difference between them and ravens then). He said, when he died, he would return as a raven, pointing to an opportunistic raven on the pavement in New Monterey. He died in May and two weeks later the raven pair appeared in Mendocino. We had been here for 15 years and had never seen ravens here. There are now hundreds that often soar above the gardens and land in fruit trees to knock down pears and apples.

Well, that’s lovely. Do you have any other favorite vegan or vegetarian restaurant around the US?

We don’t travel often except to Washington DC and to Manitoba, Canada. We have found a few vegan restaurants that are just fun, such as peacefood cafe in NYC—their fluffy quinoa salad and chocolate cookie—and Hangawi in NYC—their appetizers are creative and unique. Our daughter recommends Vedge in Philadelphia—we haven’t made it yet. Boon Burger in Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada offers a variety of different vegetable-based burgers. Sanctuary Bistro in Berkeley, California.

Joan and I prefer to eat at restaurants where we can learn something, but we avoid stressing staff. This means we check out fine dining restaurants when we travel and, if they have even interesting side dishes, we will eat at them.

Ah, Hangawi’s one of our favorites in New York. And I haven’t been to peacefoods in years, but I have fond memories of it. I know you all allow pets at the Inn and have had some interesting ones (Vietnamese pot belly pigs‽)—are you two big animal people (besides the whole vegan thing)?

We have two horses—a pinto and bay quarter horse—that were “rescued” in the sense that they had to be moved from land that could not support them, literally—the horses broke down the soil causing it to go into a protected waterway.

We have two rescued miniature donkeys. Seems that people like to buy them as pets, find them like a dog, and then hand them over to a donkey sanctuary which then tries to find homes for them.

Three male llamas live on the land with us, still cared for by the breeder who bred them, but living here. Four cats and two dogs and 4 geese round out animals that live (sort of) with us.

That’s a veritable ark. Any interesting pets in the Inn stories you can share?

Guests booked for Christmas three years ago. Just before the holiday they called again and asked if they could bring two pet geese, Snowflake and Cupcake. We said, “Yes.” They then asked if they could leave them in our pond because they were going to be traveling beyond Mendocino and past the holidays. We said, “Of course.” Snowflake, an Embden goose, is still with us. Cupcake, a Toulouse goose was killed by a fox. To provide Snowflake with company, we adopted three younger geese, one Toulouse and two Embden. Now we don’t know which is which Embden. We haven’t had geese for many years with the exception Cupcake and Snowflake. Geese serve as excellent alarms at night. By the way, we have arranged our fencing so that the geese can get to water if a predator gets into the area, which is always possible. Cupcake was only 20′ from water, just enough distance that the fox got her.

Other potential predators reported along the coast include raccoons, skunks, opossums, bobcats, and cougars. The larger cats don’t like that we have many dogs and dog smells. Our pet policy has protected our donkeys, horses, and llamas, as well as our pets—cats and dogs.

It’ll never cease to amaze me how wild the West Coast is as compared to back east in so many ways. How about in general—you two have run the Stanford Inn for over twenty years? What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened under your watch?

Seems to me that most of what has happened that’s crazy shouldn’t be repeated. At least those are the ones I am remembering.

I want to note that we have been here going on 37 years. One story that’s not crazy and describes the nature of some guests’ experience was 20 years ago. A well known public relations executive stayed with us with his ten year old son. Here, he experienced an epiphany. He wrote us to tell us about it and suggested that we tell people that the Inn is a place of amazement and growth. I replied that we were aware of the changes that occur for some, but noted that the experiences behind them should not be expected—not anticipated. He tacitly agreed that raising expectations might not be a great idea.

The most unusual story but not so crazy that Joan could remember concerns an actor in a detective television series who was in Mendocino taping. He came to the Inn’s Catch A Canoe and wanted to rent a solo canoe. We always warn a solo paddler that the conditions on Big River can change and that it is a great idea to have someone along to help paddle. He assured us that he was an experienced outdoors man. He went out, alone. He had been told that we close at 5:00. At 5:30, the time staff actually leave, I became worried. It was summer. The sun would not set until between 8:30 and 9:00 and I decided to give him until 7:00 to return. At 7:00 I went to the dock to launch a boat to go looking for him. I didn’t have to. He pulled up in his canoe and laid out clothing on the dock deck.

I went down to the dock. He and I went trough the “treasure.” Shorts and underwear and t-shirts for a man and woman, two pairs of shoes (if I remember correctly), and an envelope with a small amount of change. On one of the t-shirts was brown stain that could have been blood. He had found all this in a paper bag that was hanging from a branch of a tree whose trunk was embedded in the bottom of the river. We called the sheriff who took a report and took away the clothing and money. The actor was William Windom who played Doctor Seth Hazlitt on Murder She Wrote.

Oh, and the prosecutor from To Kill a Mockingbird! Wait, Jeff, is that the end of the story‽ Was foul play afoot? That’s a bit of a cliff hanger there!

And so it remains a cliffhanger. This is what I think happened—a couple was out camping and hiking along the river and had brought along lunch. Because no one reported seeing or hearing about naked people, they were probably camping on higher ground nearby. This is a very rural area. They were eating and lounging on the river beach and decided to swim, and placed their gear in the bag where their lunch had resided. They swam as the tide brought up the water level and launched the bag, which they were then unable to find. The bag became hooked on a skag and was found by our canoeist perhaps even a day later.

OR Doctor Seth Hazlitt didn’t see them skinny dipping nearby and inadvertently punked them! That’s so Doctor Seth Hazlitt.

Wait, I almost forgot to ask—what’s the story behind the logo for the inn?

It is a stylized fuchsia. The first plants we bought for the inn were fuchsias. An artist rendered them and they became our logo. When we redid our website 10 years ago, we adopted a more stylized single fuchsia.

I see it now! Well, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us. Hopefully we’ll see you all soon!

Visit the Stanford Inn’s site to find out more, see photos, watch videos, and book your visit.

Video by Rystar Productions; photo of Jeff + Joan courtesy of Gathering Green; all other photos, Stanford Inn.

"Land and environment" are not different than us; they define us as much as we define, describe, enhance or harm them
Stanford Inn Co-Owner Jeff Stanford on their connection to the land.

There’s a new vegan bang mi in town, people, and it is fucking good.

If you know us, you may well know that we love a good vegan bahn mi (please see Blue Window; please see Urban Radish around the corner; please see Brooklyn’s Toad Style; please see the bahn mi champion, Hanco’s also outta Brooklyn). The shiitake one at Urban Radish is good and nearby, but we’re pretty big fans of a good, plant-based-protein one too that approximates a traditional chicken bahn mi.

Last week, on our way to pick our copy of the anniversary issue of Popeye at the local Japanese Bookstore, Kinokuniya in Little Tokyo, we stopped in our tracks as we noticed a menu taped up at a luncheonette featuring—you guessed it—a vegan bahn mi.

The story goes that downtown LA’s very modestly and conspicuously named Sandwich Shop—located at 6th + Grand—opened a second location just late last month in the very same complex as Kinokuniya (and awesome Japanese supermarket Marukai).

And the verdict on the bahn mi? Impressively large, scrumptious, and craveable, with a superb showing of the sandwiches characteristic combination of spicy, fresh toppings and savory, rich proteins and spreads, all stuffed into the perfect example of that monstrous, crunchy French bread that totally, lovingly shreds the roof of your mouth as you eat it. The shop uses a Vege USA/Vegetarian Plus style vegan soy chicken (the kind you can get in the freezer section of good Thai markets) that’s fried and coated in a ginger marinade. And in addition to the traditional cilantro, jalapeño, pickled vegetable toppings, they use a Whole Foods brand vegan mayo on the bread, which most non-vegan restaurants (Hanco’s included) don’t bother to do.

So if you’re in Little Tokyo or our nearby neighborhood of the Arts District, stop by the Sandwich Shop—123 Astronaut E S Onizuka St #108. And yes, that is an awesome street name. If you’re further west in the downtown area, their original location’s at 531 W. 6th Street.

And according to the shop via Twitter, you can sub in the vegan chicken in the miso salad too.

New favorite work lunch spot—check!

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One of our favorite vegan restaurants in Los Angeles right now is Matthew Kenney’s Plant Food + Wine in Venice. We don’t usually make it that far west very often, but, when we do, we end up there 80% of the time (the other 20% of the time belongs to Gjelina, who does amazing things with vegetables). The restaurant opened up not too long ago after Kenney shuttered his old nearby Santa Monica outpost M.A.K.E, which was equally impressive and raw, which is saying a lot in our book (you can see 2014 write-up of M.A.K.E. here on the journal).

A little while back, PF+W announced that they’d be doing an eleven day pop-up of Matthew Kenney’s Asian-inspired Belfast, Maine culinary incubator project, Arata. Our friend and Director of Culinary Operations, Scott Winegard, had been hard at work at the Maine project, so we were somewhat aware of what they were doing. As they put it: “Arata, which is Japanese for fresh and new, offers plant-based ramen noodles, steamed buns, small plates, desserts inspired by Far East flavors, and an original cocktail and organic wine program.” All of that’s right up our alley, so, despite the truism-ism of east-siders never traveling west and west-siders never coming east, we’d been meaning to buck the trend and come by since the July 28th opening.

Alas, packed schedules and snarling traffic delayed our westward venturing up until the very last night of Arata’s Venice residency, this past Sunday. But we finally made it over, and, man, are we glad we did.

Winegard and company have taken traditional Japanese and pan-Asian dishes and transformed them using bright, vibrant, ultra-fresh local farmers produce and a shit-ton of creativity. The result’s almost as satisfying to adoringly behold as it is to eat. Another aspect of this menu that Scott pointed out to us when we were there—this is one of the first times a Matthew Kenney restaurant has employed soy, in this case in the form of fresh tofu + tempeh from a Bay Area organic soy farm.

The starters were our favorites—two sets of soft, fluffy buns (or bao), one filled with smoked king oyster mushrooms, cashew hoisin, scallion, and cucumber, the other with grilled tofu, mustard miso, pickled chile, and napa cabbage. Then we got kimchi pancakes with sesame-chile sauce and some really fucking great crispy fried maitaki (sometimes known as hen-of-the-woods mushrooms) with a sweet soy dipping sauce.

The noodle dishes and bowls were pretty great too though, with the ramens employing a lighter, thinner broth to showcase and highlight the vegetables used in the soups. We ordered Chile Ramen—smoked tofu, charred chiles, and red pepper purée—and the Spicy Udon—a broth-less noodle dish that actually used flat rice noodles rather than rounded wheat udon noodles and was far from spicy but really good nonetheless, tossed with a sichuan tempeh, radish slices, and a creamy cashew sauce that struck us as almost linguine-esque. We got a good look at (but didn’t eat) the Arata Ramen too, which was chock-full of pulled mushrooms, bak chop, dulse seaweed, and accented by a corn purée.

Sadly, as mentioned above, the short-lived pop-up has now left the west coast, but who knows—maybe they’ll seek a repeat performance given the response. Or maybe we’ll make it to Belfast, Maine some time?
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Arata, which is Japanese for fresh and new, offers plant-based ramen noodles, steamed buns, small plates, desserts inspired by Far East flavors, and an original cocktail and organic wine program.

We’re in the midst of both peak pepper season and peak tomato season here in southern California and it really shows on our weekly visits to the Hollywood Farmers Market. They’re so plentiful and so beautifully enticing, it’s been a war of the wills every Sunday not to walk away with armfuls of each.

For the peppers, we’ve gotten really into homemade hot sauces (more on those later); and for the tomatoes, you name it—heirloom tomato + cucumber salad in olive oil, fresh tomato sauces, roasting on the grill, eating them whole + raw. One farmer—a new one on the southern-most side of the market whose name I have yet to take note of—offers up more varieties of cherry tomatoes than I thought possible, all of which are sweet and fresh and irresistible.

This past Sunday, I came away with more than my fair share of these cherry tomatoes and was hit with a sudden craving for fresh pasta lasagna. What we ended up with was a simplified, deconstructed take on the traditional mainstay that was truly craveable. What’s more, it was really pretty easy to make and nice in terms of not having a giant tray of left-over lasagna a week after the initial cooking.

We’ve been trending towards writing up less strict, measured-out recipes of late on these pages and more just walking readers through the general concept of a dish and leaving the particulars to taste and individual creativity—this is no exception.

Not including the pot I used to flash-boil the pasta, I actually did this as a single-pan dish. Everything was farmers’ market sourced with the exception of the flour and tempeh (both of which actually would be options at our market, now that I think about it).

For the fresh pasta, first off, I assure you, it may seem daunting, but it’s really very easy to make and is so, so good. Many modern recipes don’t even incorporate semolina and instead just use fine quality white flour (we like King Arthur). The Kitchen has a good recipe that walks readers through it all pretty thoroughly; the only caveat for fellow vegans would be to bring in the ‘flax egg’ to sub in for the chicken eggs, detailed on this previous post. So, in the case of this recipe, we halved it for a recipe for two (and even then, ended up with about twice as much pasta as we needed), so it was 1.5 flax egg (1.5 TBSP ground flax + 4.5 TBSP warm water, chilled). Following that pasta recipe, you can make that ahead of time and set aside for 30+ minutes at room temperature and even fridge if you want to do it way ahead of time.

Once that was done, I sautéd half a sliced sweet onion in olive oil on medium-high heat in my small cast iron skillet, letting it brown and caramelize only for a few minutes before adding half a block of tempeh, sliced thinly and then crumbled up by hand. I browned that and then added a little salt, pepper, smoked paprika, and fennel seed before lowering the heat a bit and carefully adding about a cup of homemade vegetable broth. Then I let that reduce and thicken and set aside, scraping as much out of the pan as possible.

While that was going, I blended up a homemade cashew cheese. It’s kind of different every time, really, and you can read a little more (and get an actual recipe via a chef friend) on a previous post, but I’d say the general keys are soaking the raw cashews the night before when possible (for maximum creaminess), having a really good blender (especially if you don’t soak the night before), using some nutritional yeast and a decent amount of salt, and, if possible, getting a little cheese-like funk in there via some brine, ideally some that’s homemade and, thus, a little more subtle (I like using homemade Swiss chard stem brine).

While that was blending and after I’d scraped out the skillet, I halved my cherry tomatoes—kinda the more, in terms of quantity and variety, the better—and peeled and sliced five or so cloves of garlic, adding it with a generous amount of olive oil to the skillet, and cooking under the broiler, watching carefully to make sure tomatoes are cooking to the point of bursting but not overly blackening. I then scraped that out into an empty dish and set aside.

Now back to the pasta—we don’t have a pasta maker; I like to do it by hand. So, in my case, I took the ball of dough and cut it in half and then rolled it out on a long cutting board with plenty of additional flour to prevent sticking. In this case, I made one big, long noodle—maybe 1.5′ x 6″. Then I cut that in half length-wise so I ended up with two long, rough-hewn noodles. I then took my first noodle and placed it in boiling water for all of one minute, until it started floating at the top of the water and looking more cooked than…not cooked. I gently removed the noodle from the water, placing one end—about 1/5th of the length—in that same skillet with a little olive oil in the pan’s bottom and gently laid the remainder of the noodle on an adjacent cutting board (see the photo to the right). Then I repeated for the second noodle.

Then it was a simple matter of adding alternating layers of fillers—tempeh mixture + cashew cheese + tomatoes—and folding over the length of the noodle; filling, fold; filling fold, until you’ve run out of noodle. So like an accordion noodle pasta—one sheet, folded over and over again. With most of the layers, I wouldn’t do all three fillers for the sake of stability, but you do you. One tip—end by topping with first cheese and then the tomatoes, then carefully roast under the broiler until the cheese has browned well. Then top with some cut fresh basil.

Enjoy! And get to those tomatoes while they’re good, California!

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