Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Saturday, September 27, 2008

One year anniversary of The Hunt in Santa Monica

This fall marks my one year anniversary as a resident of picturesque Santa Monica, which means I have started to become a creature of Santa Monica habit. I am a coffee shop regular at the place that makes the best cappuccinos. I feel shame when I forget to carry my re-usable grocery bags. I take pictures for tourists along my jogs on the bike path. When I notice couples, or parent and child duos, split up and awkwardly posing for one another-- I can't help but intervene.

"Can you get the sunset in?" they plea. "Sorry to interrupt your jog."

Power cyclists swerve around them (dangerously), as they review my photography. I delay my workout for one more moment as they confirm they have appropriately captured the memory of basking in the California sunlight. I tell them to have fun and am almost certain they will end up eating at someplace like Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. on the pier later that night. A moment of remorse makes me consider whether I should have devoted more time volunteering local suggestions about the farmer's markets or my favorite nearby taco shop-- but then reason that if I prolonged my stops endlessly, I might never break a sweat. If only they knew I paused a mile before to aid the couple from France, the family from Mexico.

Aside from my spontaneous ambassadorship, the truest joy of the Santa Monica local life is the bustling farmer's market culture we are able to enjoy. When I have a Sunday off from work, I always attend the Main Street Farmer's Market. Perhaps the sweetest treat, among all of the food vendors, is the chocolate and almond paste croissant from Culver City's Cafe Laurent. I know I have shouted out to Cafe Laurent before, but I thought it worth mentioning that they will start serving dinner on October 3rd as a part of "Cafe Laurent LaNuit." Word on the street is that entrees are half-priced for the big opening night, and there will be French music-- according to the folks at their farmer's market stand. Bubba Gump could imagine no finer a setting!

And if you're in the mood, there's a comic book store just a few minutes walk away on Overland (because nothing goes together like French food and graphic novels?). I suggest nibbling on your dessert while glancing at the pages of Craig Thompson's "Carnet de Voyage", a travelogue diary for all you wanderlusting types.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Boulangerie Mystery

Is it at all possible that the pages of both my Magnolia Bakery Cookbooks are scented?

I could swear that a sweet bakery-like scent is emanating from both the Magnolia Bakery Cookbook as well as the 'More From Magnolia' Cookbook.

I really need some reassurance on this one, as this isn't something that has happened since I read my last scratch n' sniff book at age 5.

p.s. thanks to the Rice Family, who recently gave these aromatic books to The Great American Bakery Hunt.

I'm going to get to the bottom of this!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Mani's bakery offers gluten-free diets some friendly options

After a visit to El Carmen and a stop for a ham and gruyere croissant at the Little Next Door, my friend and I (who recently moved to the Fairfax area) wandered down to Mani's bakery. To my pleasant surprise, this bakery has rare late night hours and even better, offers gluten free, sugar free, and other specialty products for people with special diets. Since I am friends with many individuals that are often searching for these options, I was thrilled to see that Mani's offers a warm, inviting bakery experience with the thoughtful touch of clearly listed ingredients and a variety of options. I have heard wind of or visited only a few bakeries on the West side that cater to special diets (including Jamaica's Cakes, which offers vegan products, among other things). What I liked about Mani's is that any person working there that night could tell us what their favorite product was and why-- they really seemed to take pride in what they were delivering to the bakery consumer. The bakery, at around 10:00 on a weekend night, was crowded and full of conversation and life-- bakery culture at its finest, if you ask me. I'm looking forward to another visit to this bakery and would definitely recommend it as a place to try in LA. On a sidenote, the ham and gruyere croissant from the Little Next Door was also delicious, and a good place to visit if you find charm in French accents.

In keeping with the spirit of specialty product discoveries, my friend April recently visited Bob's Red Mill during a family trip. Because the people of Milwaukie,Oregon-based Bob's Red Mill were kind enough to speak with her about gluten free products, I have included an excerpt below about her experience there when she just so happened to meet Bob himself:

"Bob’s Red Mill has been processing whole grains for 38 years and is proud to offer many gluten free products, a line they continue to develop each year. Recently they have also dedicated part of their warehouse where only gluten free products are milled. I was so excited when my family mentioned Bob’s Red Mill was based in Milwaukie, OR, just a few miles from my aunty and uncle’s house! We had to visit! As we were eating breakfast on Saturday morning, sitting right behind us was Bob Moore, founder of Bob’s Red Mill! Of course, I couldn’t let a good opportunity pass... He also introduced me to Lori Sobelson, Program Director of Bob’s Red Mill. Lori is their gluten free expert in many ways. She is very knowledgeable about all things gluten free, puts together recipes, does cooking classes, and is even presenting at the upcoming annual Gluten Free Culinary Summit! Lori took about 45 minutes to share gluten free knowledge, show me different products, tell me about leading gluten free authors, cookbooks and new GF research/discoveries. She has also offered her contact information to us if we have questions that she could answer or help us in other ways."
If anyone knows of other gluten free or specialty bakery products for other diets, please support the Great American Bakery Hunt and send me an email about your discoveries. I would love to pass these resources along to people I know!

Reflections on camp culture and a sincere thank you to our friend in the West Indies

When I'm not bakery hunting, I spend my time working at a camp for children with various medical conditions. While I work very hard at what I do, I also have the privilege to work in an environment where I do something I really believe in. And on top of all the inspiration, I also experience unpredictable, often humorous, and often charming situations in my professional setting that most people would never dream of.

For example, after recently being trained to wrangle rattlesnakes at our campsite, I caught my first rattler this Saturday. (Skill acquisition my professors never warned me about when I was earning my degree in child development.) I am sometimes called on walkie-talkie under the guise of talking to my boss, only to then be "sneak attacked" by ten children with silly string and confetti. And then there are the days of mustache and unibrow missions : camp culture often dictates that if a female staff member enters a younger boys' cabin, they are required (under the jurisdiction of the cabin contract) to receive Sharpee mustaches and/or unibrows without resistance. What makes this even funnier is the fact that it takes strong-willed scrubbing for this to wash off. What with the fast paced and busy nature of camp life, employees go from Sharpee attacks to conference room meetings and escape any sort of judgment that would haunt a person in the real world. It's a pleasure to be surrounded by people who have a sense of humor about themselves-- imagine, if you can, 60 member of our staff performing a choreographed dance to Abba's "Waterloo" on the beaches of Malibu. Stories like this, while perhaps bizarre to other people, are for me, surprisingly not few and far between.

The other thing that comes with the territory is the charm and positivity I am able to experience due to being surrounded by a plethora of creative, genuine, and thoughtful people. This summer, when I was experiencing seriously mouth-watering cravings for Dining Hall dessert alternatives, I received a heaven-sent cheesecake in the mail from Meera, a thoughtful bakery hunter who I befriended when she volunteered at camp. (In theory, this was heaven-sent, in practice, she sent it while studying in the West Indies.) The fact that someone would take the time and effort to send a cheesecake while investing their time in a undoubtedly busy and intense medical school semester abroad is unbelievable to me! It's just one more reminder that the Great American Bakery Hunt is lucky to be surrounded by people who are more 150% more thoughtful than the leading brand.

Thanks Meera, once again, for supporting the bakery hunt, from Cincinatti to the West Indies and wherever you are. While it's taken me awhile to post a thank-you, just know we've been thinking of you this summer as we were wrangling snakes, getting Sharpee mustaches, and greeting bus-fulls of children as they entered the gates of camp. Take care out there.