As the year we’ll never forget wound down and we slipped (hopefully, cautiously) into 2021, my heart needed a break from the computer screen.
For this month’s column, I took stock of some of the local treats I enjoyed in 2020 despite the pandemic. Without the hustle and bustle of in-person events, I was forced to cherish the simpler things in life – those that require us to use our senses.
Eat with your fingers
Our local chefs put their whole hearts into the food they serve us. Whether we’re able to dine in, al fresco or just grab takeout in 2021, I look forward to supporting our restaurants (and my family’s bellies) no matter what.
With so many different cuisines to choose from, I’ve especially enjoyed seafood boils and Ethiopian food during this time because you have to eat with your fingers. It’s easy to make your own seafood boil at home, but when in a pinch I swing by The Little Jewel of New Orleans or Hot and Juicy Crawfish to answer the crustacean craving.
And when it comes to wrapping some savory lentils in a bed of tangy injera, Rosalind’s Ethiopian Cuisine is one of my fave spots in Little Ethiopia. My husband laps up the Yebeg tibs, little cubes of lamb sautéed in seasoned butter with onion and jalapeños. My favorite is tikil gomen, cabbage and potato cooked with carrot, onion, jalapeño and garlic.
Food just tastes better from the fingers.
Just before the new year, my husband and I drove to the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Gardens to enjoy some quality time. Walking through the gardens never grows old. With nowhere else to rush off to, we slowed down in each section, poring over plant names and histories, taking a special delight in the bonsai collection, which The Huntington reports as one of the largest public bonsai collections in the U.S.
Literally translated, bonsai means “planted in a tray,” and according to Bonsai Empire, any tree species can be used to grow one. So, while you’re contained in your crib, this might be a good time to explore the trees and bushes in your yard and try your hand at the art of bonsai.
In the meantime, my husband picked us up a lovely specimen in Downtown L.A.’s Flower District. It came with a little lake, a house nestled in the rocks and a little old man who appears to be meditating.
My own meditation practice is just beginning – thanks to this prolonged quarantine. And I’m eyeing the hedges in my backyard, contemplating my own bonsai experiment.
At this point, I’ve walked my neighborhood streets so much that I can tell you which houses have dogs, cats, children or all three, and which ones will be cooking up something delicious-smelling around 5 p.m.
These walks – my me time – also have given me a chance to learn more about neighborhood trees and plants, including the paperbark trees that line the sidewalks as I climb the hillier areas. The bark on these giant trees is soft and spongy and peels off like paper. According to the San Diego Zoo, you can distill the leaves to make tea tree oil. Australia’s indigenous people once used the bark for bedding, bandages, fire starters and food wraps.
I’ve seen saucer-size mushrooms growing out of the bark of another tree species and thought of a friend’s memoir about urban foraging. When I read Ava Chin’s “Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love and The Perfect Meal” a few years ago, I was inspired to go into the urban wilds of L.A. and forage for mushrooms and dandelion flowers, but I never got around to it. This quarantine has me thinking back to the adventures, insights and recipes Chin included in her book.
There are foraging groups galore in L.A., and it’s easy enough to look for virtual opportunities, check out books and watch videos. I enjoyed watching forager Christopher Nyerges. “Los Angeles is a good place to forage,” Nyerges says in a documentary on Great Big Story’s YouTube channel. At his School of Self-Reliance, he teaches city folk how to identify edible plants in alleyways and even alongside our freeways.
You can’t get more basic than that.