Saturday, October 30, 2010

Today: Día de los Muertos in Santa Monica

If you're looking for something to check out: the largest Día de los Muertos Festival is running at Edison Language School from 1-5pm today. Below is a reprint of my article that ran in the Santa Monica Observer this week. Check it out and help a good cause!

Día de los Muertos

This Saturday October 30th from 1-5pm both the Hispanic and non-Hispanic community will come together at Edison Language Academy to honor the dead. Edison, Santa Monica’s dual language elementary school, will hold their biggest fundraiser of the year. This fair includes such traditional Día de los Muertos events as altars, decorated by their kindergarten through fifth grade students, that honor those who have passed away and Sugar Skull creating and decorating. Along with these cultural events food lovers of all different demographics will enjoy such treats as homemade tamales made by the school’s PTA and a Cakewalk, the equivalent of musical chairs involving cakes. All this, along with live music, crafts, games, and a Halloween haunted house, makes it the largest Day of the Dead Festival in Santa Monica.

Edison Language Academy is one of the longest running dual language immersion programs in California, and one of only a handful in the United States. At Edison ninety percent of Kindergarten and First Grade are taught in Spanish to both Spanish and English speaking students. The school focuses not only on Spanish language skills but also on cultural holidays from the Hispanic culture, and Day of the Dead is one of the granddaddy of all events.

“The day of the dead is very significant in the Hispanic culture,” explains Lisa Mead, mother of two, third and fifth grade respectfully, Edison Language Academy students. “Some people might look at our Festival and think of as Halloween event, but it’s much more than that.” “While the holiday falls near Halloween, it is a very different,” explains Lori Orum, Principal of Edison Language Academy. “What we know today as Día de los Muertos has its roots among indigenous peoples in modern day Mexico and Central America and goes back 2,500-3,000 years. Traditional belief was that over several days in November, the lines between the world of the living and the world of the dead blur so that the souls of loved ones could come back for a brief annual visit. Where this holiday is observed, families will often decorate a table in their homes with pictures and the favorite foods of the family’s departed members, clean and decorate graves. And sometimes hold vigils and celebrations in the cemetery.”

“It’s a really important ritual in Mexican culture to celebrate and honor their ancestors and relatives who have died recently. It’s a joyful thing in the Mexican culture, something that can sometimes be hard for us Protestants to wrap our heads around,” jokes Lisa Mead. Principal Orum notes that Edison’s observance of this holiday is rooted in the fact that rituals for remembering the dearly departed can be found in nearly every human culture. “People burn candles, sit shiva, display photos, take flowers to the cemetery, observe anniversaries, name children after departed relatives, etc.”
The most impressive part of this annual event are the massive altars that the 460 students of Edison Language Academy help create that fill the entirety of the school’s Cafeteria. “Our commemoration of Día de los Muertos includes the custom of the household altars,” states Principal Orum. “In our case, each class decorates a table with offerings to remember people (and sometimes pets!) That were special to the children in that classroom.” There are so many different types of offerings. You may see food and water, candles, works of art, notes, and Marigold flowers on the altars. Traditionally many families will also offer big bottles of tequila to their male ancestors, but naturally the school isn’t so down with that part of the tradition since the event involves elementary students.

Each classroom creates a unique altar having the kids bring pictures relatives who have a passed away. “It is really a great way to do genealogy in the family,” explains Lisa Mead. “Through researching their relative’s histories the kids learn something about their ancestry. In the past Michael and Jackson have brought in pictures of grandparents and great great grandparents. I had a nephew who passed away over the summer and Michael, my oldest, wants to bring in picture of him for his class’ altar to honor him.” But the altars don’t always have to honor people that the students personally know. “Sometimes the displays are dedicated to people who are not family members but whom we want to remember,” explains Principal Orum. “Particularly that year victims of a flood or earthquake, victims of war, people who have been great inspirations to others, etc.”

But Edison’s Day of the Day event is not just about honoring the dead; it’s about bringing out the community to enjoy the moments of being alive. “The Day of the Dead festival is really for the whole community,” notes Lisa Mead, “not just for those connected to the school.” The festival offers a variety of opportunities of learn and enjoy more about traditional Hispanic cuisine. The Thursday before the Día De Los Muertos Festival, the PTA mothers and fathers come together for a Tamalada, where they make all tamales for the festival. The Hispanic moms who traditionally make Tamales teach the families that aren’t so well versed on the subject.

Another Day of the Dead tradition to be experience at the festival is the creation and decoration of Sugar Skulls. Sugar Skulls traditionally represent a departed soul, can have the name written on the forehead and was placed on the home Ofrenda or gravestone to honor the return of a particular spirit. Students make them, or buy them at the Hispanic bakery on Oceanpark, and colorfully decorate them. Sugar Skull art reflects the folk art style of big happy smiles, colorful icing and sparkly tin and glittery adornments. Festival goers can sample is the Pan de los Muertos, a sweet egg bread, similar to Challah, with a figurine of a Saint stuck in the center. Another fun food event is the Cake Walk. Similar to musical chairs participants walk around in a circle to music with donated cakes in the middle. When the music stops, if you are in front of a cake you win it.

The economy being what it is, it’s a given that school budgets are tight. Along with being an event for the community the Día De Los Muertos event is also the largest fundraiser for the Edison Language Academy. This is especially true for the 5th grade class, who are traditionally in charge dessert and drinks for the Day of the Dead event. The profits from the festival raise money allowing the fifth graders to visit Catalina Island for 3 days in the Spring where they are able to experience nature in action and study such subjects as marine biology.

So if you’re interested in seeing how the Hispanic culture honors their deceased loved ones, seeing how you fair at decorating a Sugar Skull, or just want a chance at winning a homemade cake in a Cake Walk, mark you’re calendars for this Saturday from 1-5pm.

Admission is free, with a fee for some events. Edison Language Academy, 2425 Kansas Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90404,

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Food Event, the Recap

“Yum and Yay!”

My little Sis’ comment pretty much sums up last Sunday’s outing at L.A. Mag’s The Food Event 2010 at Saddlerock Ranch in Malibu. There were tons of amazing restaurants and wineries to sample along with a demonstration tent and a conversation lounge.
In the consuming department the Thomas Girls’ personal highlights included:

** Blue Hubbard Squash Custard with Pomegranate Relish and Bacon Apple Strudel by Palate Food and Wine in Glendale (my number one dish of the event).

** Red Velvet Truffle by the Bread Basket Cake Company. (This one was my little Sis’ top) described as a “unique blend of rich Chocolate Ganache, Red Velvet Cake, and a hint of Brandy it was pure heaven (and totally a great idea to keep in mind for the holidays!)).

** Qupé Grenache “Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard.” (A biodynamic wine (Hello!) whose spicy cherry flavors are intense to the point of almost being racy).

** Sweet Rose Creamery’s mini Ice Cream Sandwiches (We tried both flavors: Old Fashioned – Chocolate cookie with Vanilla Ice Cream and Ginger Lover – Gingerbread Cookie with fresh Ginger Ice Cream).

** Quady’s Essenia Orange Muscat. (I brought this last year to Thanksgiving dinner and it was an awesome compliment for all those autumnal desserts).

** Susan Feineger’s STREET’s Street Food (Don’t ask me what was in it… all I know it was a fusion of a ton of different cultures and was healthy… and it was Frakin’ awesome).

And it wouldn’t be a stellar food event if I didn’t learn a thing or two:

I was able to check out Rory Herrmann’s demonstration of Bouchon Beverly Hills. Rory was giving a lesson on Braising and this is what I was able to glean:

** The reason you carmelize meat at the start of braising is to lock in the juices. When carmelizing meat don’t even bother taking the skin off garlic cloves. Just cut them in half and toss them in (this protects them from becoming bitter).

** The great thing about braising is that you can do it all in one pot and the longer you cook it the better it tastes (every guy looking for a great date meal please take note).

I also caught the Wine and Cheese Pairing event with Ian Blackburn of and Andrew Steiner of Andrew’s Cheese Shop. Sure this talk was amazing b/c of the shared plethora of knowledge between these two men and learning how to pair their two specialties better, but really we were both blown away by how amazingly good the wine and cheese tasted. Some fun Factoids from this event:

** Andrew Steiner, who started cheese service @ Patina, credited the Atkins Diet with starting L.A.’s cheese revolution. “Everyone was skipping dessert and started choosing cheese.” He noted he can stay slim, even though he eats about a ½ of cheese a day, by eating cheese and only cheese (none of those fillers like crackers or bread…)

** Steiner also noted if you’re planning a dinner party and you come to his store looking for Big Cheeses to go with your Big Wines like Barolos and Cabs he’ll try and steer you in the other direction. “You should have a very simple wine with a Big Cheese. Look for wines with acidity to feature a cheese such as Champagne or Prosecco Sparkling goes with every cheese!”

** Or beer! Steiner does a Grilled Cheese and Beer night that sells out every month. “Beer is an amazing pairing with cheese.”

** There is an art form to pairing cheese and wine: 1. Take a small nibble of cheese. Enjoy. 2. Take a sip of the wine. Enjoy. 3. Put a small piece of cheese under your teeth and swallow the wine to check the pairing. Enjoy the absolute heavenly balance of the sweetness of wine and the saltiness of cheese.

** Stichelton Blue Cheese will blow your mind! Stichelton (the original name for Stilton) is an aggressive English Blue Cheese with earthy components. Plus its unpasteurized (as cheeses should be in my opinion) so you can serve it to your lactose intolerant guests.

And to finish off the event we took pics with Chaz the coolest camel I’ve ever hung with!
The Food Event 4

Thursday, October 21, 2010

"Toast of the Coast" Review Session

Checked out LGO’s (La Grande Orange’s acronym) “Toast of the Coast” on Monday night in Santa Monica (I posted it as a “Something to Check Out” item last week) and had an absolute blast! (the pic for this post really represents it all: Fun, Colorful, and a little more than fuzzy…)

This event is definitely the only game in town for Santa Monica when it’s held (so far every other month on a Monday night). Total deal. Total way to get schooled.

For those who missed the Math Lesson: 25 wines (unlimited) for $25 = an absolute deal (and you don’t have to check your totem on this one, it’s definitely real.)

For those who missed the Geography Lesson: “Toast of the Coast” featured wines from up and down the West Coast: Santa Barbara, Santa Maria Valley, Monterey, Napa Valley, Sonoma, Willamette, and Columbia Valley. (The quality level… well let’s put it this way, there was a whole table of Justin offerings (Sauv Blanc, Chardonnay, Cab (yummy yummy), Justification (Cab Franc and Merlot Blend), and Obstuse (Port style)))

For those who missed the Home Ec Lesson: Mini Sliders (With Homemade Buns, Fraking Amazing), Sushi (Spicy Tuna and California), Edamame, Blisted Padron Peppers, and Tempura Green Beans
So now that we’ve had our Review Session I suggest next time you hear about LGO’s Toast of the Coast (or read about it in my amazing amazing blog) you actually check it out.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Something to Check Out: Toast of the Coast "Fall Finds" hosted by LGO

LGO (or La Grande Orange for those who don't live within walking distance of the Santa Monica local) is hosting a "Fall Finds" edition of their monthly Monday night Toast of the Coast event.
The math is really simple:
$25 = 25 (unlimited) Wine Tastings + Signature LGO Hors D'oeuvres
The "Fall Finds," happening this Monday the 18th @ 6:30PM, will have imbibers tasters an assortment of fall varietals from Santa Barbara straight up the west coast to Oregon and Washington (without even having to put on a raincoat, and believe me I was in Portland last week, you need to). Plus for those who like equation wine + education (which, Nerdling that I am, includes me) there will be wine connoisseurs on hand from different vineyards to chat about each varietal (allegedly to divulge the alchemy of each boutique varietal).
So if your interested Sushi and Slider, along with a heck of a lot of wine options check it out. The Deets are below.
Toast of the Coast "Fall Finds" @ La Grande Orange October 18 @ 6:30 2000 Main Street.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Food Event

Hey Guys, if you’re looking for a fun time involving food and wine (and who isn’t) you’ll get both (and an amazing amazing view) at the Saddlerock Ranch in the hills of Malibu on Sunday, October 24 from 1-4 pm so look no further than LA Magazine's 5th Annual "The Food Event: From the Vine". The day features unlimited food and alcoholic beverage from more restaurants and wineries then I can type (although there’s a Short List below). It also includes Chef Demos by Philippe Chow (Philippe), Mark Gold (Eva), Rory Hermann (Bouchon), Walter Manzke (formerly of Church and State), Mark Peel (Campanile), and Laurent Quenioux (Bistro LQ) in the Snyder Diamond Sub-Zero/Wolf Kitchen (one of the sponsors). There’s also panel discussions all day long with topics including: TOP CHEF MASTERS moderated by Los Angeles Magazine Dine Editor Lesley Bargar Suter and WINE AND CHEESE PAIRING with’s Ian Blackburn and Andrew’s Cheese Shop’s Andrew Steiner.

Oh and did I mention they have horses, llamas, and zebras (Hello! The ultimate date events always includes Zebras.) Below is the Short List of Food and Wine offerings and the Deets on how to check it all out:

FOOD: Akasha Restaurant Bar & Bakery, Beso Hollywood, Bulgarini Gelato Artigianale, Coast Restaurant & Bar, Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village, Kate Mantíliní, ¡Lotería! Grill, Malo Cantina Suavecita, Michael’s Restaurant, Noir Food And Wine, Palate Food + Wine, Rosa Mexicana At L.A. Live, Susan Feniger’s Street, Sweetsalt Food Shop, The Foundry On Melrose, The Penthouse At Huntley Hotel, Tra Di Noi, Barbix, Bread Basket, Cake Company, Café Habana Malibu, Eva Restaurant, Gotta Have S’more, La Mill Coffee, Magnolia Bakery, Matteo’s La, Mo-Chica, Onsunset Restaurant, Public Kitchen & Bar, Rosti Tuscan Kitchen, Sweet Rose Creamery, Takami Sushi & Robata Restaurant, The Lobster, Tierra Sur At Hertzog Wine Cellars, and Westside Tavern

WINE: (Ian Blackburn & is the winery curator for the Food Event.) Aldelaida Cellars, Ampelos Cellars And Vineyard, Cantara Cellars, Cellers Melis, Coho, Coquelicot Estate Vineyard, D’anbino Vineyards & Cellars, Dutcher Crossing Winery, Farella-Park Vineyards, Fontes & Phillips, Hope Family Wines, J&J Cellars, Millesime Cellars, Quady Winery, Rosenthal-The Malibu Estate, Semler, Star Lane Vineyard, Sweeney Canyon Vineyard, The Malibu Vineyard, Zaca Mesa, Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards, Ahnfeldt Wines, Casa Dumetz, Cielo Malibu Estate Wineyards, Colcanyon Estate Wines, Malibu Cornell Winery And Tasting Room, Dierberg Estate Vineyard, Écluse Wines, Flying Goat Cellars/Ynot, Herzog Wine Cellars, Hoyt Family Vineyards Malibu, Jaffe Estate, Niner Wine Estates, Qupé/Verdad, Saddlerock Solsticio, Surfrider Wines, Tercero Wines,The Paring

THE HOW TO: Tickets are $95, $100 with a L.A. Mag subscription, and $110 at the door (this includes all demonstrations, food, beverages, parking.) It’s 21+ with absolutely no infants, children, or pets (Ah, you gotta love LA, that they even had to say that you can't bring your Rhinestone wearing Chihuahua… ) allowed.

To purchase tickets and for more information:

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Wine with the Ultimate View

Wrote an article for the SM Observer on the new restaurant at the Santa Monica Place Sonoma Wine Garden. 

Wine with the Ultimate View

There are now almost ten new restaurants at the two month old Santa Monica Place 2.0, and of all them Sonoma Wine Garden has the best view, hands down.  From brunch overlooking sparkling ocean waves to drinks at sunset to dinner during the lighting of the iconic Santa Monica Pier, this is a restaurant that will always be busy based on the view alone.  (And since the market for ocean view restaurants isn’t that big in Santa Monica to begin with I can definitely see it giving The Lobster and Casa del Mar a run for their money on Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve).

Now, with a name like Sonoma Wine Garden you know that fermented grapes are definitely meant to be imbibed.  This is a wine garden (read casual yet sophisticated) (but definitely not as casual or sophisticated as a beer garden… at least according to most wine drinkers).  The list has a few California offerings but definitely sides on that of a global passport with choices from Italy, France, New Zealand, and Austria (Executive Chef Roman Petry’s homeland).  And also, with the one of the best sunset ocean views in Santa Monica you know you’ll be paying top dollar for those fermented grapes.  On the wine by the glass list there is nary a glass under ten dollars with some of them going as high as $19 (although, I have heard that the bottle list was a little bit more reasonable). I started out with Assyritiko Sigalas Santorini Greece, which was congenial, but would have be positively delightful if it had been ten degrees warmer (it was during our super chilly summer, before we got into this heat wave of an autumn).  Luckily there was a fire pit right behind me so this lack of warmth was not a truly pressing issue.  My dining companion went for the Malbec Navarro Correars Alegoria Mendoza Argentina, an earthy cherry and plum flavored wine that was definitely more deliciously weather appropriate.
Now, all you have to do is look at Petry’s resume to understand why the wine list reads like United Nations roll call.   Roman Petry, executive chef of both Sonoma Wine Garden and Ozumo Santa Monica (another one of the restaurant choices on the third floor of Santa Monica Place), was born in Erding, Germany.  His culinary career started in his native Germany as student at the Bavaria Hotel Management School in Altoetting, which led him to a training position at the established Alois Dallmayr in Munich.  From there Roman went on to work at some of the top restaurants in Europe such as the Two Michelin Star rated Obauer in Werfen, Austria and Tristan in Mallorca, Spain.  During that time he acquired the skills and experience needed to form his own creative style so at the young age of 20 he became the Executive Chef of the One Michelin Star rated Christian`s Restaurant in Kirchdorf, Germany. During his tenure there he was awarded 2nd place in a national competition as Best Young Pastry Chef in Germany.
Driven by his passion for Japanese food and culture he joined the renowned Zuma Restaurant at London`s Knightsbridge in 2005. In 2007, Zuma selected him as Sous Chef of the opening team for the company’s first opening outside of London at Zuma Hong Kong. Within its opening year Zuma Hong Kong was voted to 99th place on the list of the Top 100 Best Restaurants Worldwide.  In 2008 Roman joined Roka Akor as Executive Sous Chef to establish the first American counterpart of London’s award-winning Roka in Scottsdale, Arizona.  During Roman’s time as Executive Chef at Roka Akor, the restaurant was voted as one of the Top Ten Spots for Sushi in the United States by Bon Appétit magazine.   Petry then joined one of the Bay Area’s foremost contemporary Japanese Restaurants: Ozumo.  So when Ozumo decided to open another location at our fair two-month-old mall, Petry jumped on board and decided to create Sonoma Wine Garden to boot!
Petry’s culinary philosophy is using only the best products and letting the flavors speak for themselves (but really what chef would argue for the opposing viewpoint of this?) and it is prominent for on the menu.  He enjoys restaurants which are relaxed and serve as informal gathering points (and I can happily note that Sonoma Wine Garden is both of these, which definitely not always the case when you’re working with a view).   With that in mind, naturally Sonoma Wine Garden has an extensive (but not overwhelming) choice of Cheese, Charcuterie, and Oyster for their wine (read smaller) plates.

We decided to start out with a couple of oyster tastings. The Fanny Bays, hailing from British Columbia, were meaty and smooth with is supposedly a cucumber finish (my oyster palette just isn’t that refined yet…).  By contrast the Lunas from Carlsbad were delicate and sweet, more of a dessert oyster, which paired great with the temperature thrown aside Assyrtiko.   Our oyster choices came with cocktail, horseradish, and grilled lemon but not Mignonette sauce (sigh, my favorite).  Another choice foray into the seafood small plates was the Chilled Wild Prawns from Baja California served with a selection of Champagne Vinaigrette, Sonoma Cocktail Sauce, or Mustard Grain Aioli.  The prawns were ginormous and cooked and chilled to perfection, for there is nothing worse than a totally overcooked shrimp (other than an overcooked scallop…)


As I said before Roman Petry hails from Austria and its apparent in details of a good amount of dishes on the menu.   Some details are big, one such example is the Liptauer, a petite jar of Austrian cheese spread made of soft cheese, paprika, and caraway seeds served with artesian bread.  According to our server, this dish is quite popular both in Austria and at Sonoma Wine Garden.  So maybe I’m in the wrong but for myself, and my dining companion, the taste came off as strange, almost hodgepodge like.  Other details are smaller, such as the meat friendly Nectarine and Burrata Salad with Brentwood Farms Corn was served with Prosciutto (but really where is Prosciutto not on the menu these days when wine is featured).  But my personal favorite is of the five cheeses offered at Sonoma Wine Garden one of them (the cow based Oma) is made by the von Trapp Family in Vermont (yes it’s totally the same singing and dancing Austrian von Trapp family you’re thinking of).
There’s something about the energy of a new restaurant.   Sure everything isn’t perfect, but that’s okay because everyone is so excited and their enthusiasm makes up for their foibles. The night we were there we met both the GM and Wine Director of Sonoma Wine Garden both were nothing but effervescent.  Our server Ryan when talking about the purveyor of carnivore options for the restaurant, with the complete earnestness a modern day Jimmy Olsen, blurted out “our Butcher is totally Rad!” (Yeah he really did use the word Rad, it was really cute). 
Our next round of wine, by this time now viewing the illuminated lights of the Santa Monica Pier’s roller coaster, included the Pinot Noir, Littorai, Sonoma Coast (ironically the only offering on the Wine by the Glass list actually from Sonoma).  This wine was super super smoky, but paired great with our two dinner entrées: a Prime Rib Eye Steak, crusted with garden herbs, Russian River sauce, and parsley potatoes and the Maccheroni with braised rabbit and asparagus. The latter was the standout dish of the meal (I absolutely adore rabbit).  It had perfectly round flavoring and was hearty without being heavy.  I also absolutely adored the side dish of Truffle Fries.  Yes, I know they are now offered on many many (many) menus these days, but I still ate every topped with Parmesan Cheese and garden Parsley one of them.
Sonoma Wine Garden sophisticated, casual, lovely.  Cause really there’s no worry that a glass of wine, an amazing view, and the use of late 1990s catchphrases couldn’t replace with a smile. 
Kat Thomas is a writer who eats food and cooks food.  You can check out her out more at her blog, the