Author Archives: Lesley

For our ten year anniversary, I wanted a special trip that involved lots of warmth, lots of sunshine, little humidity, and few allergens. In April, options are limited, so I decided on Palm Springs, California. I knew enough not to go during the Coachella music festivale, but what I didn’t know is that just past Coachella is yet another music festival (a country music festival), which I discovered *after* purchasing non-refundable plane tickets. Ha! So what we saved in airfare was spent on the hotel, but it ended up being very worth it. So here are some highlights from our trip.

Palm Springs airport
Outdoor concourse at the Palm Springs airport
Palm Springs airport

We had an early flight (on a Saturday) to take full advantage of our short time. We flew directly into Palm Springs, which has an amazing airport designed by famed architect Donald Wexler. The architecture was definitely a draw for us, so it was a treat to be greeted with this lovely, airy structure.

After getting a car, we headed straight for lunch at Native Foods Cafe. California vegan cuisine was a great start to our trip. I had the sesame kale macro bowl; Mr. Eats had the Bangkok curry bowl. Both were delicious.

Native Foods Cafe

Afterward, we checked into The Wesley Hotel, which is actually a building of short-term rental units. It’s in a fantastic location on Riverside drive in the lovely Deepwell Estates neighborhood. We frequently took advantage of the complimentary bikes to explore the area’s beautiful mid-century homes. One reason I chose this hotel is that the set-up is classic mid-century hotel court: the units are in a low-slung building that surround a pool and hot tub that has views of the mountains. It also had a mini-kitchen that allowed us to have breakfast at the hotel each morning and save lunch leftovers for dinner around the pool each night.

Wesley Hotel pool

Though on our first night, we headed out to Joshua Tree National Park to catch the sunset over the Coachella Valley. It was about a 45 minute drive up to the Joshua Tree northwest entrance. We drove Park Boulevard to Keys View, which offers a spectacular view of the valley across Palm Springs and even to the Salton Sea. It was a bit smoggy as the westerly winds came in from Los Angeles, though. On the way back, we stopped at Del Taco (which we love); the 8 layer burrito for me and two Beyond Meat tacos for Mr. Eats (who hasn’t eaten beef for several years now, so it was quite a treat for him). Note: if you want to see the sunset from Keys View, get there a bit early because it gets crowded.

Joshua Tree
Vista from Keys View in Joshua Tree National Park. Looks over the Coachella Valley toward the Salton Sea.
The crowd at Keys View

On Sunday, we met friends from the LA area who drove in to have brunch with us at Lulu California Bistro, which is a bit of a Palm Springs institution (their recommendation, a good one!). The restaurant is lively and fun and the menu is classic California cuisine. After brunch, we drove around the northern area of old Palm Springs to enjoy some of the famous architecture. For fun, we also stopped in to see an open house in the area. We were very clear to the agent that we were *not* in the market for a $3M home, but he was happy to let us poke around. Everyone we encountered in the area was so nice.

LuLu California Bistro
gorgeous mid-century home (not the $3M house for sale, though)
Kaufman Desert House (across the street from the $3M house)

Later, we stopped at Tonga Hut for tiki drinks and pineapple fried rice. We also got a special tour through a secret passage to back rooms decorated in vintage tiki bar decor salvaged from tiki bars that have closed down over the years.

Pineapple fried rice at Tonga Hut

Monday, we bicycled around the neighborhood and then headed to Palm Canyon Drive to check out the vintage shops and art galleries. We had an early lunch of vegetarian nachos and a sangria flight at TacQuila followed by more exploring. Later, we had an early dinner at another Palm Springs institution, El Mirasol, though we chose the newer location in the Los Arboles hotel, which has a lovely outdoor dining area lined with tropical fruit trees such as mangos and loquats. The guacamole salad was fantastic. As was the mango margarita! In the evening, we drove down to the south end of Palm Springs to see Bob Hope’s house, but it’s gated off, so we stopped briefly (while the guard yelled at us) to enjoy the vista.

Vegetarian nachos at TacQuila
Entrance to El Mirasol at Los Arboles Hotel
El Mirasol patio
View from Southridge Drive looking north
Ship of the Desert

On Tuesday, we drove to Indian Canyons to enjoy some more of the natural architecture. We did the easy Andreas Canyon hike (Andreas Loop) that follows a beautiful creek that is lined with gorgeous fan palms and other flora. It’s a really cool contrast to the surrounding desert. Further along the road, there’s a short trail from the Trading Post to the West Fork Falls.

View from Andreas Loop trail in Indian Canyon
Indian Canyon along Andreas Loop
West Fork Falls
Indian Canyon looking north toward Palm Springs

Afterward, we had late lunch at Sherman’s Deli, which has an amazing selection of pastries and cakes. We ended our meal with a slice of San Jacinto cake that was so huge, that we could not finish it. But you know we took it with us. Later, more driving around and admiring of the mid-century “atomic ranches” and homes of the stars. And like every evening, we ended the night relaxing in the pool and hot tub.

Sherman's Deli
Cakes at Sherman's Deli
lovely home in Deepwell Estates neighborhood with San Jacinto mountains to the west
Another home in Deepwell Estates

I scheduled a late flight out so we could enjoy our last day, so we had brunch at Elmer’s after just a bit more bicycling around the neighborhood. Elmer’s was a request of Mr. Eats, so I didn’t look it up; turns out, it’s like a western Shoney’s--ha! But he enjoyed it and it had a great patio with a spectacular view. It was a nice way to end our trip.

View southward from Elmer's patio (includes the end of Ocotillo Lodge)
Elmer's restaurant with Ocotillo Lodge in the background

A few additional notes:

We got a few recommendations to visit some places we didn’t get time to squeeze in. Tropicale got several recommendations as did the High Bar at the top of the Kimpton Hotel. It’s also a “thing” to have a date shake since the Coachella Valley is the date capital. We didn’t know this and opted for a Dole Whip instead. Oops.

We opted for the Dole Whip instead of the date shake. Oops.

We didn’t take a guided tour of celebrity/interesting homes, but we did stop by the visitors center and purchased a map for $5 to guide us. Many of the homes are difficult to see from the street (and guided tours don’t provide special access except during Modernism Week), so I don’t think we missed out.

We rented a car, which was nice to have to get to Joshua Tree as well as Indian Canyons and just for driving around town through various neighborhoods. There’s lots of free parking on Palm Canyon Drive and Belardo Rd so you can park and walk around. Gas is expensive (of course), but otherwise, food and drinks were surprisingly reasonable (cheaper than Nashville, really) and it was easy to get in everywhere we went (April is the end of the season for the winter residents since it heats up during the month).

If you’re interested in partaking in California’s, um, newly-legal pastime (let’s say), the place to visit is California Safe Access, which has been in business since the time that only medicinal use was legal. It’s a great place for people who have lots of questions and are new to all the different products offered. It's like a high-end cosmetics store.

It was a short but relaxing trip with lots of scheduled downtime and I’m already ready to go back. And I wish I had $3M to buy that fab house on Vista Chino Drive! If you want to see (and read about) more homes, check out this piece on Palm Springs architecture. I took a lot of the same, exact photos as the author--even of houses that weren't noted on maps (just really cool).

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It's been exactly a year since my last post. I've still been blogging...ish. Mostly, I've shared my thoughts on Instagram, where I'm pretty active. But recently, I was looking for a recipe and realized I'd never published it. I didn't have a good picture to go with it, so I just never posted. I have little natural light in my house now, so my food pics are even worse than ever. And I feel the pressure to have at least one good photo on a post.

But more about why I want to blog again. I have things to say! I have recipes to share (and save)! I want to get my money's worth out of this website I'm paying for!

And now for a bit more about why I stopped blogging. I didn't just stop blogging here. I also stopped blogging (after almost six years) for the Nashville Scene's Bites blog around this time last year. I hit a wall. I had things to say, but became unable to type out coherent thoughts.

I was exhausted. The restaurant scene in Nashville exploded during that time and I found myself writing the easy posts about new restaurants rather than writing thoughtfully about food. Though I wrote a few things I'm really proud of, including a series on school lunches (here, here, and here) and a piece on carp. I wanted to write for the audience, but I became less and less interested in all the new restaurants and unsure of exactly what readers cared about. Based on web traffic, my posts were still interesting to readers (well, some of my posts), but reader engagement really fell with a new comment system a while back, so I lost a valuable method of feedback. It's a shame that this post about coconut oil no longer includes the 200-ish comments from people who took it way too seriously. Or the comments from those who didn't get the humor in Nashville's most vegetarian un-friendly restaurants.

Also, with all the new restaurants and the attention Nashville was getting nationally, the camaraderie among food writers was turning into something less amicable. Though I was never interested in breaking news, there was competition among others and a tenseness I didn't enjoy. There's also (is or was; I'm not sure because I stopped paying attention) a boys' club in Nashville of writers, bloggers, and chefs that was just so tiresome. I don't care about meat, barbecue, hot chicken, whatever and all the back-slapping and glad-handing that came along with their discussions. Not to mention that they all think making fun of vegans and vegetarians is cute/clever/funny. It's not; it's uncreative and shows an inferiority complex. Cooking meat is easy (I know; I did it for almost ten years and I can still perfectly sear a scallop and braise a pork chop); cooking vegetables and making them taste great is a lot more difficult. Side note: most of the best restaurants in Nashville are led by women. They are generally too damn busy to care if they're being written about.

I also grew tired of dealing with the daily onslaught of emails from PR reps. It was so voluminous that I was missing emails important to my actual life. I wasn't managing that well at all. They're just doing their jobs, but so many of them were not doing them well. I got way too many pitches about meat-heavy restaurants and events. Y'all, it's not hard to learn a little bit about me.

Anyway, I hope I will get back to blogging regularly. Share some of these recipes in my drafts folder even if my picture is unusually terrible. Maybe update you on the handful of things my child will eat other than bean and cheese burritos. Maybe even tell you about some of the new restaurants in Nashville that I've actually visited!

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Once in a while, I get the itch to try something new in the kitchen. I’d probably act on that itch a little more if someone else would clean up after me, but whatevs. I finally decided to give  aquafaba meringues a chance after seeing them pop up on some vegan food blogs. I’m not vegan, but I do love a chance to try something interesting. I’m also not a huge fan of eggs (the traditional base for meringue), so this was a perfect experiment for me.

First: aquafaba. It’s just a fancy name for bean juice. You can make your own by soaking and cooking dried beans, but the easiest thing to do is to spend a buck on a can of chickpeas and drain the juice into a container. Any bean will do, but chickpea juice is a) nearly flavorless and b) nearly colorless. Cannellini or white beans are good alternative. A black bean meringue is probably going to be very bad and very ugly, though. Learn more about the science of aquafaba here.

Anyway, get y’self a can of chickpeas, drain the juice and then set aside the chickpeas for something else, such as hummus, lemony chickpea stirfry, roasted chickpeas, or just toss them into a salad as is.

You just put your ⅔ to ¾ cup of chickpea juice into your stand mixer bowl (gotta be a stand mixer for this challenge) with some cream of tartar (or arrowroot powder, if that’s what you have), whip, then add sugar (vegan sugar if you want it to be vegan) and flavor, whip some more and 15 minutes or so later, you’ve got meringue! It’s that easy. And super safe to eat without cooking. Here’s the recipe I used that was based on one from The Kitchn, though I’ve made some notes and also filled in some steps that they missed.

Aquafaba Meringue Cookies
yields 4 to 6 dozen cookies, depending on size

Ingredients

¾ cup aquafaba (the juice from 1 15oz can of low-sodium garbanzo beans/chickpeas

¼ teaspoon cream of tartar or arrowroot powder

½ cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or other flavor--see notes)

Arrange 2 racks to divide the oven into thirds and heat to 200°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Place the aquafaba in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add the cream of tartar and beat on medium speed until very foamy, about 3 minutes.

While continuing to beat, gradually add in the sugar (about a tablespoon at a time so it is fully dissolved) and vanilla. Once all the sugar and flavor has been added, increase speed to medium high (I put it on 7 on my KA mixer). Beat until glossy and to stiff peaks, about 7-10 minutes longer. You can stop and check for stiff peaks with a spatula. When you scoop a bit out and hold it upright, it should maintain its shape instead of falling.

Transfer the meringue to a piping bag fitted with a star piping tip. Pipe the meringue onto the lined baking sheets into 1-inch rounds (and 1-inch or so high). You can also scoop the meringues onto the baking sheets in tablespoon rounds or use a sandwich bag with the corner cut off.

Place both sheets in the oven (or you can do one at a time). Bake until completely dry to the touch, about 1 hour. Larger meringues with require 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Remove the meringues from the oven and cool completely before using or storing.

Notes: You might be tempted to use almond. I did that and I don’t recommend it. The flavor doesn’t bake out right at the lower temperature, so it retains some of that metallic almond taste that’s so common in almond emulsions and extracts. YMMV. To save the almond ones I made, I added a bit of cherry-flavored Stur, which made them tolerable. They’re the pink cookies in the photo.

For a second batch, I used a ½ teaspoon of lemon extract and a ½ teaspoon of vanilla and I *loved* that flavor. But, as you can tell from the photo, I didn’t whip them long enough, so they did not retain their shape as well. That’s really the only issue with not getting the stiffest peaks: not keeping their shape. They still tasted great.

Also, try to use two baking sheets at a time if you can. After an hour of sitting in the fridge, the leftover meringue needs to be whipped again to stiffen up and over-whipping may make it break down. That is true for eggs, at least. I didn’t really have that problem, but it was a concern.

You can also make thicker and bigger cookies and they’ll have a bit of a marshmallow texture on the inside. Try it, you might like it.

Another cool thing is that a ½ cup of sugar only has 387 calories, so even a small yield of 4 dozen cookies (I actually ended up with something like 8 dozen because mine were small), they calorie count is very low. You’re eating mostly flavored air. You can also use aquafaba to make a meringue topping or a pavlova. Pretty cool!