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WP_20130628_002We West Valley-ers have long had to make the trip to Studio City, Sherman Oaks or at the very least Encino to find a restaurant that offers something a bit interesting, innovative, and stylish for our dining experience. Could it be that those days are coming to an end? Perhaps not in the near future, but there is hope in a new Woodland Hills establishment, “The Local Peasant.”

In a large, open, warehouse-like space, with the entire front wall open to the street and outdoor seating, the atmosphere is that of a lively, urban pub. In a nod to the current cocktail culture, the drink menu is divided into pre and post-prohibition cocktails. It’s nice that they give as much attention to the classics (sidecar, negroni) as to their own innovative concoctions, our favorites being the “Gordon’s Cup” and the “Basil Pepper Martini.”

The food is a modern spin on your typical bar fare- homemade salt & vinegar crisps, cheese fritters, meatballs, and porkbelly with pickled watermelon rind and tamarind. The “Bacon & Eggs” pairs deviled eggs with brown sugar chili applewood smoked bacon…mmmm! There are gluten-free and vegan choices, such as the standout edamame vegetable salad with corn, roasted peppers, jicama, and avocado- a perfect choice if you want something light and healthy after pigging out on porkbelly! There are also more substantial dishes, such as pizzas, chicken stew, salmon and lamb shank. We haven’t been here enough times to try all of it yet, but we will definitely be working on it.

The Local Peasant was a very welcome surprise for us here in the West Valley. It’s a fun, stylish restaurant with innovative food and drinks that would definitely hold it’s own in West Hollywood- but we’re glad to have it here in Woodland Hills. And I dare say, if you are living in West Hollywood, it’s well worth a trip over the hill!

The Local Peasant :: 22901 Ventura Blvd, Woodland Hills

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     This was my second LA Marathon and my third marathon in all. I had high hopes for my performance this year- dreams of qualifying for Boston and all. Training had been going very well and I was right on track for a 3:25 finish. Of course, it didn’t all go as planned, but what does?

Tracy likes Campari and Dean likes St. Germain.  How to make everyone happy with the same recipe?  Scouring the internet and using some other recipes as inspiration, I came up with this recipe, which pleased everyone and is really delicious.  The St. Germain cuts the bitterness of the Campari, making it more friendly to a wide variety of palates.  It also seems to bring out a slight grapefruit flavor in the Campari, which was unexpected and distinctive, yet subtle.  Here’s the recipe, prepare to swoon.

TracyDean

2 parts gin, 1 part fresh lemon juice, 1 part Campari, 1 part St. Germain, 1 dash simple syrup, shake with ice, strain into cocktail glass, garnish with lime twist.

M83 released their new full-length yesterday and in case you were wondering, yes, it’s epic.  This is the video for “Midnight City,” which is great, but not the best on the release.  For M83 in all of their reverb-soaked melodrama, check out “Wait,” “Intro,” and “My Tears Are Becoming A Sea.”

 

 

Some people like to browse the bookstore after a dinner out- that’s what John & our son wanted to do after dinner last night. I’d rather browse a liquor store.  It’s kind of similar, really…especially if you’re in my favorite aisle, “Liqueurs and Apertifs.” Each bottle, like a book, has a story to be told- wars between families, secret recipes, descents into madness, prohibition-thwarting underground tunnels. The best part about these stories though, is that you get to add your own chapter. Luckily there is a liquor store right next to the book store.

All of my usual friends were there to greet me- Pimm’s, Lillet, and of course Campari.  One bottle jumped out at me however.  I’d always wanted to try Aperol.  Aperol is Campari’s sweeter, gentler cousin.  It’s flavors of bitter orange, rhubarb, gentian root and cinchona bark definitely present a similar flavor profile to that of Campari.  Aperol though is lighter, sweeter, and much more orangey.  It would be great in the summertime by itself over ice but mixes well with vodka, gin and prosecco.

I’m sure I’ll spend some time experimenting with Aperol and various other liquors, but for now I wanted to find a basic Aperol cocktail- something that showcases the bitter orange flavor and -quite honestly- gives a little bump to the meager 11% alcohol content.  There are many Aperol cocktail recipes out there, most consisting of either Vodka or Gin, lemon juice, sugar, and perhaps some bitters.  When faced with the choice of Vodka or Gin, I always choose Gin, so here is tweaked version of several recipes I found.  If you still haven’t made friends with Gin, don’t worry.  It adds a nice botanical flavor to the drink, but doesn’t give you the overwhelming pine flavor you remember from the cheap-ass Gilbey’s you drank in college.  Enjoy!

Aperol Cocktail

1.5 oz Gin (please, not Gilbey’s…Hendrick’s, Bombay Sapphire will do), 1.5 oz Aperol, 1 oz Fresh Lemon Juice, .25 oz (or just a dash) simple syrup, a couple drops Angostura Bitters

Shake ingredients over ice, strain, garnish with orange peel.  For more drama and nuance, garnish with a flamed orange peel.

The Holidays – whichever ones you enjoy- are a time to come together and celebrate the joys and successes of the past year, or with the help of a glass of your favorite Holiday cheer, resolve to move on from the failures.  In these times of war and economic uncertainty, we can all benefit from the support and comfort of feeling we are part of a community.  So what better time than now to reconnect with members of your own community?  The neighbor lady you wave to, the man who walks his dog by your house every morning, the people you know had a baby, but never see.

In our neighborhood, we just had our fourth annual “Holiday Progressive Dinner,” and as usual, it was a well-attended, lively evening of good drinks, great food, and the wonderful company of our diverse community.  We are “out on the block” quite a bit at our house but even so, there are people I never see except for at the Holiday Progressive, so it’s a great opportunity to check in with everyone and have some fun.

We divide the evening into four courses- appetizers/drinks, soup/salad, main course, dessert- that take place in four different homes with one hour spent on each course.  It’s not a pot-luck, rather the homes hosting each course take care of everything for their allotted hour.  Because there aren’t any guidelines on theme, food, or specific holiday, you really get to experience your neighbor’s home and entertaining in a very personal way.  You learn something about the host family and what celebrating means to them.  Also, since  different homes host a course each year, it’s a fun opportunity to see the inside of your neighbor’s houses.  Who doesn’t like that?

My favorite part of the event though is actually the transition from one house to the next.  Someone keeps time and a bell is rung after the hour is up and then shouts ensue that it’s time to go.  In a few minutes there we are, 50 or more of us in a big throng, from infants to octogenarians, making our way down the street in the cold, on to the next house- laughing, talking, drinking from a flask, holding the kids hands, and helping the older ones along.

So, why not start one in your own community?  It could be just on your block, in your apartment building, your condo complex- whatever the boundaries of your community are.  Start small if you like.  Get with those one or two neighbors that you know, be the first hosts and invite everyone else.  It could be just two homes the first year, but likely it will grow.  Everyone loves a party and you’d be surprised how eager people are to welcome neighbors into their own homes.

The Holiday Progressive Dinner is something in our community that we have all grown to love and look forward to each year.  And it’s something that reminds all of us that life doesn’t just happen in our own homes, one next to the other, but that we are part of something greater.  Try starting one in your neighborhood and see if it doesn’t change the way you feel about the place you live!

One by one I’ve been working my way through the classics (and I don’t mean “A Catcher in the Rye”- although a Sazerac with Rye will do nicely).  Some, like the Baronial were pleasant enough, but not warranting further exploration.  Others though, like The Sidecar which I had never tried before, assert themselves immediately and quickly work their way into my short list of go-to drinks that are the liquid that drips from the alcohol-soaked fabric of my life- or my shirt, if it’s been an especially lively evening.

The Sidecar, although mentioned in many cocktail books I’d read over the years, only really came into my awareness about 2 years ago.  I was relaying the tradition of cocktail parties in my neighborhood to a client who said, “I can just see you all out on the patio, sipping sidecars.”  Since she is a woman of remarkable taste and style, I filed the sidecar away as something I planned to serve in the future.  The recipe passed in front of me the other week when I was trying to decide what to serve to some thirsty guests I was expecting that evening, so I gave it a closer look.  Rather than a mega-rich rapper with a diamond-studded grille, I am a modest suburban dad with invisaligns, so I’m sure you can forgive my unfamiliarity with the world of Cognac.  That and the call for sugar-rimmed glasses really gave me pause.  But I am not afraid of making adjustments to a recipe to ease the workload of a party, so I thought I’d sugar some lemon twists instead of rimming glasses, as well as make a vat of Sidecars to chill in my metal martini pitcher in the freezer.  My day ended up busier than I thought, so I also didn’t have time to squeeze fresh lemons.  You can see where this is going.  The drink just didn’t have the level of refinement I was hoping for.  And I left the pitcher in the freezer too long, which made the citrus go cloudy.  That meant I had to sneak around with a spoon, stirring drinks when guests weren’t looking.  So much for making my life easier.  Although not a success, the drink had a nice flavor that had me wanting to try the real thing, made properly.

I should have done this before serving it a party, but I took some time to look at different recipes and try to decipher which one was the classic, with the correct proportions of each ingredient.  I got fresh lemons, a plate of sugar to rim the glass (I still will never do that for a party of more than 4) and set forth with my shaker to experience a sidecar the way it should be.  What a difference!  The base flavor is that of the deep, oak-y cognac which is a perfect compliment to the tart, refreshing lemon.  Cointreau is the sweet, easy flavor that brings the other two together.  The whole thing is perfect with the added sweetness of the sugar on the rim of the glass.  I can see this being a great drink for the summertime party on the patio that my client spoke of, but I know it’s going to be something I turn to all year round.

Following, is the recipe I feel is the best, but for people who like less alcohol, you can increase the amounts of lemon juice and Cointreau relative to the Cognac.  Learn from my mistakes and enjoy!

 

Sidecar

2 oz VSOP Cognac, 1/2 oz Cointreau, 1/2 oz fresh lemon juice.  Shake all three in ice-filled shaker, strain into sugar-rimmed cocktail glass.

The Vesper

For the past few years the world of cocktails has been dominated by ever more innovative recipes involving herbs, savory flavors and infused liquors.  I’m no stranger to infusions and the muddler – my cucumber jalapeno margarita is pretty tasty!  At some point though, I felt like I was getting ahead of myself and really needed to learn the classics and basic mixing techniques.  It’s not that I’m giving up innovation, but there’s such a history to cocktails, their origins, the evolution of recipes – I find it fascinating to read about them and very enjoyable to try and perfect them.  The more I learn, the more I realize that the smallest details make the largest difference in the quality of a drink.  For instance, many drinks that I’ve been shaking, really ought to be stirred.  And how are you going to stir a drink until the shaker is cold on the outside when your OXO shaker is double walled?  Alas, the tools are very important as well.  At least I’ve finally found a channel knife that is sharp and precise enough to do a nice lemon spiral.

Armed with said channel knife, the drink of the evening is the Vesper.  This is in the Martini family, and hence a drink with pretty simple, yet nuanced flavors.  I would recommend this for those who find a gin martini just a little too harsh, or don’t like so much of the gin flavor.  Vodka tempers the herbaceous qualities of the gin, without taking away any of the potency.  Lillet Blanc brings a slightly sweet, orange flavor that makes this cocktail – while not a thirst quencher – just a little bit more refreshing and approachable than a straight-up Martini.  Try it and see if you don’t agree!

Vesper

2 ounces vodka, 1 ounce gin, 1/2 ounce Lillet Blanc, lemon peel for garnish

After pouring the liquids into a cocktail shaker, fill with ice and stir until outside of shaker is cold  (sorry, OXO – you’re on the way out).  Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon peel.  Enjoy!

There are maybe a few albums a year that I can’t stop playing.  Eric Berglund of the popular “The Tough Alliance,” whose music I like ok, has a solo album, “White Magic” under the guise of “ceo.”  This is one of those albums.  It’s perfect, sweet, melodic Swedish pop and like I said, I can’t stop playing it.  Here is one of my favorite tracks from the album, “Illuminata.”  If you are on a mobile device, you probably can’t access the stream…sorry!  Come back when you are on your computer.  You can purchase the album here.