I’m a pretty grumpy curmudgeon most of the time, but particularly when it comes to coffee. Truly. You don’t really know me, I know, but trust me when I say that everything from blenders (JUST GO TO ARBY’S AND GET IT OVER WITH) to music (WILL THAT JOHN MAYER CD FIT UP YOUR ASS?) make me crazy with rage; I actually drink more tea than coffee just because no one can make coffee right. And so when I say that Olympia Coffee Roasting Company is my top place to get coffee in the world? I hope you understand how serious I am.
I mean, to be fair, there are several reasons why I prefer Oly Coffee above all else. My favorite baristas work there. I don’t feel like I’m queuing up at other Costcoesque oversized mega-cafes. Also, the coffee is always perfect. Perfect. This is true.
I think much of this can be credited to the above fellow, Oly Coffee’s roaster and the man with the only surname I’ve ever jealously coveted: Oliver Stormshak. I say this with genuine respect and love, but before Oliver was there the coffee was mostly great and occasionally just good. After? Well, like I said: there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
Of course, none of this would exist without Kelly Ziniewicz, who I’m fairly certain bleeds coffee when cut. It might be the secret to their coffee, now that I think about it. I’m a little sorry that I only have this water-logged photo of her, but not too sorry. She’s at the grand opening of Oly Coffee’s second location on Olympia’s westside, and it wouldn’t be Olympia if there wasn’t a sudden downpour. Rest assured that the queue of people lined up for espresso merely tightened their ranks and ordered larger drinks.
And then there’s this guy. The less said about him the better.
There are many other people who make the coffee happen (somehow I didn’t get a single photo of Mike Elvin in focus) that I haven’t mentioned, but they’re no less vital. They just escaped my camera today.
In our last episode of Respect Your Elders, there was a recommendation to serve a perfectly good Jello salad with mayonnaise, a gesture I can’t dismiss 100% — true! — because while my Anger Burger forebrain knows that sweets and mayonnaise should be enemies forever, I cannot deny that I love mayonnaise like hippies love patchouli.
Lemme break that down for you.
1 C. mayonnaise
1/4 C. jam (you know, strawberry or pineapple)
- Melt jam.
- Mix warm jam into mayonnaise.
- Serve with fruit salads, by which we mean Jello molds.
Of course, I haven’t tried it, and I like mayonnaise on things that would gag others (rice, burritos, etc.), but I just can’t convince myself that blending it with jam makes it a dessert topping.
It happens that way sometimes. Your friends suggest that you go a restaurant because it is amazing and will change your life forever, and instead you fly back to Los Angeles. Just, make sure when you finally make it back to Seattle, they drive you, otherwise you’ll never find it. Unless you can read Chinese.
Just for informational purposes, NW Tofu Inc. is open Moday-Sataday7:am-5:30pm. With Wensday off.
It depends on what kind of risk-taker you are, but if I have one piece of advice to offer, it’s to disregard what the menu says and just order stuff. If my friends Sean and Junko hadn’t made it clear that the “salty soy milk” was where the party is at, I can assure you I not only wouldn’t have ordered it, but I would also have erased the words from my memory in order to preserve my sanity. But more on that in a minute.
The vital part of the story is here: salt and pepper tofu. Somehow, NW Tofu has managed to coat their silky, pudding-smooth made-fresh-daily tofu with a paper-thin crust, not unlike a perfectly ethereal potato chip that just happens to have tofu inside. It doesn’t look or taste like any other fried tofu I’ve ever had, but nevertheless steals the show out from under the rest. It’s like you’re sitting there, watching the ice-skating on the Olympics and thinking, “You know, I’m not ashamed to say I like this,” and then all of a sudden someone comes out on the ice on stilts with fire shooting out of the top of their head and you jump up and shout “I FUCKING LOVE THIS SPORT.”
Below here we get back to the salty soy milk. It’s a little like saying that a big pot of Irish beef stew is “cow juice”. The “salty soy milk” is a pot of a kind of soft tofu porridge, seasoned with green onions, pork, pickled Chinese vegetables and topped with pieces of what is commonly referred to as “Chinese donut,” but isn’t sweet. The fried, chewy bread soaks up the hot milk and transforms into a rather astounding dumpling-like blob, both tender and rich.
In an attempt at risk-taking, we also ordered what was listed on the menu as I believe “tofu sheet hot pot,” and even though we asked our charming server what was in it, we were still startled to find it had not just tofu sheet (which turned out to be similar to Japanese yuba, or tofu skin, but was fresh and creamy-white instead of yellowish and chewy), but every single kind of specialty tofu that NW tofu makes: fried, tofu studded with fresh and pickled vegetable and the incomparable “spice tofu,” a chewy, dryer tofu strongly impregnated with five spice seasoning.
As we were leaving, our server suggested we go back and see the tofu being made.
It took me a while to understand that those buckets held the whole last batch of fresh tofu, and if you ordered a pound of it to go ($.80) (that’s EIGHTY CENTS if you didn’t catch that), they just walked over to the bucket, dug out a cube and tossed it into a plastic sack for you. I imagine it makes its way into the cooler eventually, but at 10:30 in the morning it was fresh from the bucket and still warm from being made.
This tofu below was a different kind, pressed thin and textured. I don’t know what it was used for.
They line the wooden boxes with cloth:
Drain the steaming hot soymilk from the cooking tank:
And then ladle it into the boxes where the liquid starts to drain out:
The cloth gets carefully folded over the top and the whole round starts again:
I’m leaving out some parts, but that’s pretty much how it rolls. Hot, fresh tofu made daily. I was disappointed that I couldn’t take home one of their half-gallons of fresh soy milk since I wasn’t going straight home and then had a long drive ahead of me. Of course, I was clutching my soy bean bloated belly while I lamented this loss of yet more soy bean product, but still. This is Anger Burger. It wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t at some point think I was going to die of a burst stomach.
Until I run out of them, I’m going to share with you recipes from my Great-Grandma Charlotte, who clipped and pasted recipes with neurotic precision, keeping them in a small binder so that her great-granddaughter Sunday could make fun of her long after she’d passed.
I love this woman — even having never met — and not just because she spelled macaroni “maccaroni’s” (and meant pasta) and salad “sallade”. To be fair, she was Scottish.
A caveat: most of the recipes in her book are perfectly normal. But then there are the ones that aren’t. Friends, I’d like to share with you New Wedding Ring Sallade Salad:
HAPPILY COMBINES GOLDEN CLING PEACHES AND REAL MAYONNAISE.
It’s worth noting that the recipe sounds really tasty, right up into the last sentence.
I can think of only one thing a vegan ever taught me: how to make all-natural homemade cookies taste like storebought.
Perhaps you are asking yourself, why would a perfectly nutbag vegan baker want their cookies to taste like Chips Ahoy? Hopefully you are answering yourself, too, because I got nuthin’ other than: because they taste like forbidden.
The secret ingredient, for whatever reason, is cardamom.
I swear this to be true. The next time you make chocolate chip cookies, whatever your regular recipe, add maybe 1/8th of a teaspoon (up to a 1/4, taste the dough as you mix) of ground cardamom — so little that you essentially can’t even taste it — and it’s like a magical artificially flavored fairy came along and tinkled on your cookies. I’ve mentioned this here before, but I thought I’d reiterate having just recently made my favorite Immature Style chocolate chip cookies again. I’m telling you: cardamom.
When I am in charge of reorganizing Los Angeles, I’m going to put a great deal of effort into making various Asian-Towns radiating out from a central point so that any any given time you can be a 10-minute walk away from the Asian restaurant of your deepest desire. Until then I rely on trucks like Phamish to feed me.
I think we can all be adults here and agree that there are better banh mi in Los Angeles – but not better by much, and certainly not easier to get to. In this, Phamish kicks ass.
Today’s bread was a lot crustier than it has been on previous visits, and I think I need to request extra vegetables from now on because there were only a few lonely slivers of pickled carrot and radish, but otherwise I can’t be made happier for $6. Don’t mess around with any of that grilled meat, either; kids who know go for the “Vietnamese Deli” sandwich with slices of ham and pork loaf.
It’s a little messy. You might want to eat it outside.
Phamish should also win an award for doing iced coffee right. Too many times I order ca phe sua da and am handed a giant cup of lightly sweetened coffee. Oh no you di’int. This shit should hurt when you drink it, too strong in both coffee and sweetness to be thirst-quenching, but deliciously potent enough that you can’t stop drinking no matter how bad the chest pains get. Phamish’s came halfway up a 16oz cold cup full of ice and tasted like murder, and it was worth every slightly overpriced penny.
I forgot to take a photo until I was nearly done.
It was my luck that Get Shaved was parked nearby as well, easily second only to the best shave ice on Earth. Azuki beans with guava and passionfruit for me, please, though afterward I wished I’d added Tiger’s Blood¹ as well. I can’t express enough how incredible it is to find someone doing shave ice correctly – I’m terribly sorry if you’ve only ever had the granular, sickly-sweet crap that gets dense and hard by the time you get halfway through. This stuff is the texture of actual, fluffy, you’re-eight-years-old-again snow. Let’s close our eyes together and think about it for a moment. Man. Now you want one and I want another one. We’re a sad pair you and I.
¹ Tiger’s Blood is strawberry-orange with a faint whiff of coconut.
Other burgers exist elsewhere in the world, but no other city did for the hamburger what L.A. did. The burger is an Angeleno, and we’ll cut a bitch who says otherwise.
In my lap, driving home in a thunderstorm.
L.A.’s transformation of the burger was magnificent and total; a crude nosh for the poor reborn, in classic Hollywood style, into a necessity for the hip and trendy. All the irritation of today’s L.A. over the scenester nature of Kogi-mania already happened double-fold in the burger-joint car culture of the 40’s and 50’s.
Tommy’s cheese is under the chili, god bless them.
And I’m profoundly disinterested in getting into a Best Burger debate — I think it’s a shame that anything topped with arugula or roasted red pepper coulis is lumped in with actual hamburgers, which means about 50% of you are now challenged to fight me.
Try to ignore what the chili does to the paper boat.
Burgers are for picking at in the late summer sun, or gulped down drunkenly in a car while your sober driver looks on in awe and disgust. I think that straying from that original soul of the burger is disrespectful – this is fried meat held between two pieces of bread so that you can eat it with your hands.
Though, the eating with your hand part becomes a bit of a joke when eating a Tommy’s burger. At Tommy’s, when you order a cheeseburger you get what you’re looking at above. A massive splat of super-thick chili paste — much more condiment than soup — over a thin, griddled burger with tomato, pickles, onion and mustard on a contradictorily tender and sturdy bun.
Unless you have Crohn’s disease, in which case your tomato-less burger gets the red badge of shame.
And when they say the chili is thick, they mean it. It sort of turns my stomach to think of eating this stuff on its own, though such activity is encouraged by the signage begging you to take home a pint. It’s made with roux, so the longer it sits the more it forms into shapes architecturally disturbing for chili.
Don’t let any of this dissuade you. Tommy’s has the potential, on any given day, to be a perfect burger. The chili is mild (oft misreported as bland) and not as Greek as I expected given Tommy’s heritage (see: Cincinnati chili), but the ratios are golden. As with almost every burger I’ve ever met, a double would be pushing it too far, though I understand that many people have the palate of a toddler and can eat piles of unseasoned ground beef without complaint.
Ultimately, Tommy’s is but one God residing in the burger Olympus that is Los Angeles. It just happens to be Zeus.
Can we briefly discuss the “express” or “15 item limit” lanes at the grocery store?
But first: I used to love the self-checkout lanes. It was so nice to be able to bag my own groceries and not talk to anyone. Misanthrope’s dream. But then I switched to reusable grocery bags¹ and discovered that no self-checkout machines are capable of dealing with your own bag. The machine preforms seppuku when you set your bag on the shelf, unable to comprehend a world where a 2-ounce discrepancy exists. Briefly at Ralphs there was an option to check “I’m using my own bags” and that option was deleted when people realized you could add a tiny stolen item to the bag at that point and the machine would ignore it. After weeks of having to flag down the employees each time to get a machine override I gave up.
There’s a humanist belief that within us each is the capacity to respect one another, and when we all understand this our world will drastically alter. Violence will stop. Hunger will stop. Great minds will work toward ending disease and poverty instead of making themselves richer.
This will never happen, and anyone that has stood in an express lane at the grocery store knows this.
Every single time I ago there are two distinct people:
The cheater is almost always an affluent person in a kind of faux-rush, an absent-minded twat with their car keys in their hand as though a scenario where their car will need to be started without warning is imminent. They are guaranteed to have about 20 items in their basket. They will, when the checker asks “Did you find everything ok?” answer sincerely that they did not. Anecdotal case-in-point: the girl who whined “I looked everywhere for Tapatío hot sauce and I couldn’t find it,” after which the checker sends a bag-boy off to the hot sauce isle to find the giant display of Tapatío. Meanwhile 400 people in the check-out line grow old and die.
THE INDIGNANT LOSER
If your blood pressure isn’t raised by the Cheater, then the Indignant Loser will surely do it for you with their passive-aggressive sighing and attempts to assault with mere eye contact. Occasionally they will talk to you in an effort to gain solidarity, “Can you believe this?” (“Yes.”) and even more awkwardly might scold the checker, “This lane is 15 items or less, right? Why are you allowing her to be in this line?”
I fall into an amorphous third category wherein I start out as being an Indignant Loser and then once I see other Indignant Losers I lose all my steam and fall into an atheistic funk involving fantasies of secret compounds and gun hoarding. And in the event that neither of those are in front of me in line, it’s almost certainly some batshit crazy loon buying a single packet of soy cheese slices while paying with a sack of pennies.
I hesitate to offer a solution since I know it won’t be entertained, but here it is: have a lane called a “Luxury Lane,” and that alone will draw off all the people who also rent “Luxury Apartments” that are really just low-quality ant farms with faux-granite countertops and stainless steel fridges. So, the Cheaters, basically. This will leave the other lane, which will be renamed the “Budget Lane” to people with only a few items but who actually have their cash out and ready to pay. You’ll also have to install a simple coin-counting mechanism into the register for the batshit sack-o-pennies, but that’s pretty easy.
Ugh. Now I have heartburn.
¹The RuMe bags are by far my favorite – they have long handles, long enough to actually hoist over your shoulder even when the bags are full, and they have squared corners and bottoms. When I first went shopping for reusable bags year before last I was surprised to discover they all had seams on the bottom, which makes the packing of groceries stupidly harder. It’s seriously like these people have never packed a bag of groceries before in their lives, which now that I think about it they probably haven’t. The RuMe bags also fold up and seal with velcro, which no one else was doing. Everyone else either folded up into large, sloppy pockets or had little separate, loose covers, like, I wonder how long it would take to lose them. Ten minutes? Five? AND RuMe makes an extra-large “macro” size so that you can have bags for those awkward toilet paper superpack buying rampages at Target.
So there I am, digging through my recipe archives¹, looking for something to do with the rest of my quart of buttermilk when I remember that Smitten Kitchen did a buttermilk cake a while back and off my fingers flew.
Unsurprisingly, the cake is amazing. It’s perfect. And as it took 30 minutes to assemble and 30 minutes to bake, an hour after starting I was rewarded with a lovely, fragrant cake that I had little intention of sharing with anyone.
The downside is that the recipe re-fired an old irritation I have for the whole “milk + lemon juice = buttermilk” wives tale. And it pains me to see Smitten Kitchen trooping along with it — it causes such a hitch in my giddyup to see my beloved bacteria-laden buttermilk impostered so poorly with acidified milk. You see, milk and lemon juice together does not make buttermilk. It makes, as mentioned one sentence ago, acidified milk, which is not really the same at all.
A fair comparison is to say that thickening milk with gelatin is the same as making yogurt. Sure, it looks similar, and all it’s missing is that critical fermentation process. Additionally, some of the more authentic buttermilks (like Knudsen) add small flecks of butterfat to the milk to boost flavor, making it a lot more like the actual stuff you would theoretically get from the making of butter (hence the name – buttermilk is actually the residue from making butter) (or rather: used to be, it isn’t any more). You might even be able to find honest-to-goodness real buttermilk if you have a local dairy representin’ at your farmer’s market.
This isn’t to say that milk and lemon juice together don’t make an interesting product — they do — it’s just that I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t just use buttermilk instead. An even better substitute would be mixing equal parts plain full-fat yogurt to whole milk, but again, what is this, the Cold War? Is there a ration on buttermilk? The stuff keeps forever in the fridge, why not just buy a pint?
Still, that’s life, I guess. Some people care about human rights. I care about buttermilk.
(Seriously, this recipe is great. Go get it.)
¹A pile of print-outs and unlabeled lists of ingredients.