Cathy Merenda
Cathy Merenda
Cathy Merenda
Cathy Merenda
Cathy Merenda


Grain Bowl Obsession: Dream Bowl

Not sure what prompted me a few weeks ago to stop by Food on Pico.  Maybe it’s just that there was a parking spot. I was running errands during my lunch break and saw a parking spot right in front so I decided to run in and grab something to go so I could take it back to my office and eat at my desk.  Easy.

I was going to get a Caesar Salad, pretty much my go-to meal, but the Dream Bowl caught my eye.  It was the special that day.  OK.   Ordered it, bought it, grabbed it and went on my merry way.   I had no idea it would change my life.

Once I got back to my office and ate this grain bowl I could not stop thinking about it.   The next day I wanted to eat it but it was not available so I made it my mission to deconstruct and figure it out.  I did and have eaten it almost every day for about 2 weeks.  Obsessed.

It’s basically a grain bowl, with greens, vegetables, nuts and cheese with a little dressing on top.   But oh its so much more than that!!   This is a very forgiving recipe.  Add/subtract anything you want – change up the grains, the greens, the vegetables and the nuts to whatever you like and what is in season.

Quinoa & Farrow

Cabbage & Kale

Squash & Sweet Potato
(optional  Avocado, Cucumber)

Pepitas & Sunflower Seeds



GRAINS:   Cook grains according to package directions.   Mix it up if you don’t have or like these grains.
GREENS:  Make a rough chiffonade of the kale and thinly slice the cabbage (Savoy or Green).   Put in a separate bowl and toss with a a little Apple Cider Vinegar.
VEGETABLES:  Peel and cube the squash (Butternut, Kabocha, Acorn, etc) and the Sweet Potato, toss with olive oil, salt & pepper then either steam on stovetop/microwave or roast in 400 oven until tender.
NUTS:  Toss 1/2 cup each of Pepitas and Sunflower Seeds in a little olive oil and toast on stovetop until just starting to brown.   Add salt & pepper and set aside.
CHEESE:  Slice Halloumi cheese and in same pan used for Nuts grill the cheese until brown on both sides.
DRESSING:   Whisk together in bowl until smooth:

  • ¼ cup tahini
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive or coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • ¼ teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or Cayenne pepper)
  • 2-3 tablespoons water
  • salt & pepper

ASSEMBLY:   In serving bowl add in order

1/2 cup each of GRAINS
1/2 cup each of GREENS
1/2 cup each of VEGETABLES
2-3 slices of grilled Halloumi CHEESE
1/4 cup of NUTS
DRESSING to taste
Top with salt & pepper (to taste, the Halloumi might be salty), Aleppo Pepper & Zatar



Video: Comin’ In Hot

I made a music video.  Not my first one.   I’ve done the Fox Music holiday videos, one for my friend Paula’s band Lonnie Starlet and one for Eleanor Dubinsky for a song Dave wrote called “Love Is”.   The Fox videos are getting to be bigger and bigger productions every year and they are a lot of work but I wouldn’t say they were “music videos” per se.  They’re meant to be a calling card for the music department at Fox.   To highlight everyone in the department, have fun and spread the love to the world.  The Lonnie Starlet and Eleanor videos were shot in a couple of hours and done on the fly.  No pre-planning, or plan!

The music video for Sawyer Auger was definitely different than all of the others.   I’ve always wanted to do some sort of stop motion video but wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it.   I saw Christopher Rehage’s The Longest Way and wanted to do something like that.   Up close portraits with photos, not video.   I wanted to highlight Los Angeles and the song.  I went through the lyrics and planned out what I wanted to see for each line, different styles for different sections (like slow mo for the bridge), etc, etc.   I made a list of all the potential locations.

We ended up going on 6 shoots.   Two all days shoots and four partial.   But I also went out and drove up Pacific Coast Highway a few times with my GoPro strapped to the dashboard to get the road shots.  Everything else was shot on my Canon 5D MkIII using a tripod and reflector.

Day 1 was Santa Monica beach and Palisades Park.  I had the whole day mapped out for Day 2.  LAX to Malibu to Beverly Hils, to Hollywood.  We were going to go Downtown but hit a wall and re-set for the next day.  Day 3 was Downtown LA all day long.   Crazy.

I was hoping to be done with just those shoot days but after I assembled the photos (after a LOT of organizing) I realized I needed more shots.   I could have used a whole day but then just did another hour.

After more editing I realized I still needed MORE shots.   Another couple of hours including going to the beach again.

The editing process was more about pre-production.  Organizing the shots into groups and then cropping every shot to fit the dimensions of the video and lining up head and shoulders so every frame would match.  I did all of this in Adobe Lightroom.   The Lay Image option in the Loop Overlay was essential.  I chose an image that had the closest crop (despite all of the efforts to make each setup match it was ultimately all over the place) and made a transparent image of just head and shoulders that was overlayed over each imaged used to line up all of the other shots.

Once everything was organized, cropped and tweaked it was just a matter of importing into Adobe Premiere Pro and making each group of photos a composition and using those as building blocks.

The hardest part of the editing process for me was timing.  Getting everything to land on a beat.  Markers were great for that but it was still a challenge.   Ultimately I wanted to double time everything in the chorus but that was poo poo’d and I went with what I had.

I did end up shooting some video – which I had preplanned in my prep.  Shot at 60 fps and using Twixtor to blend the frames they were pretty good.  I think I could have used an iPhone on some of the shots and had equal or better results.   The slo mo portion of the bridge portion of the song was fun.  Basically we sped up the song to double time and shot that then played it back at half time and the image matched what was being sung/played.   So fun!  I’d like to do more of that.

The lip synch photos were challenging.  I didn’t end up using most of what I shot. It was just too hard to match what was being sung to what was on the screen.  Oh well.

Overall I am happy with the quality of the photos.  Unfortunately, some were taken without a reflector and would have benefitted greatly if we had it with us (long story).  But some of them are amazing quality and I can’t believe I actually took those photos!

I am also happy with the end results of the video.   We used 4200 images in the whole thing.  That’s a lot of photography.   Hope you like it.

Mendl’s Courtesan Au Chocolat Experiment

The Grand Budapest Hotel is certainly on the list as a favorite Wes Anderson film (up there with Fantastic Mr. Fox,The Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom).  There are just too many great ones to choose a real favorite.   Anyhow, I have been obsessed with the Courtesan Au Chocolate pastry from the film’s bakery Mendl’s since I saw it.   Lovely little choux pastry profiteroles filled with chocolate pastry cream, one stacked up on top of another forming a miniature tower of sweetness.    So delicate and special that it comes in a special box and the guard in the film would not cut it open on inspection.

So I wanted to attempt to make them.   Attempt!

There is an instructional video on how to make them which I found to be very helpful.   I had made pate a choux when I went to pastry school a long time ago.   It’s very easy to make and easy to pipe.   Make sure your eggs are room temperature.  It will be easier to incorporate them.

The chocolate pastry cream was also easy and kind of like a chocolate pudding.  Use very good chocolate* and cocoa powder to get a strong chocolate flavor.  Make sure it is cool before you pipe into the profiteroles.

The icing is super simple.   Powdered sugar, milk, vanilla, coloring.   Just experiment until you get the right consistency.  Not too runny so it thins out but not to thick so it won’t cover.   I used gel food coloring and of course I used way too much so I had to throw out 3/4 of the icing then add more sugar/milk to get it to the right paleness.    For the white decorating icing I did not add vanilla as it would make it too brown.

I would recommend chilling the balls after they have been iced and decorated and before they are stacked.   This will help them stick together.

Mine definitely did not come out like Agatha’s by any stretch.  That said, they were very delicious.  If I made them again to serve I might just skip the stacking and keep even sizes on the balls.   Then again…

IMG_6574_edit IMG_6575_edit IMG_6582_edit IMG_6576_edit

There are tons of recipes and attempts out there on the interweb.  The first one was on BUZZFEED.  It’s a good version.


1 cup plain flour, sifted
1 cup fresh water
1/4 lb (1 stick) butter
4 eggs beaten in a bowl
A pinch of salt
A larger pinch of sugar

Bring the water, butter salt and sugar to a boil. Remove from the fire and quickly mix in the sifted flour. Return to heat for a few minutes, stirring, and cook until the dough forms a single lump. Allow to cool just enough to keep the eggs from cooking and stir in very gradually with a strong wooden spoon.

Cover your tray in parchment and pipe the dough into spoon size dollops. You will need small, medium, and large size pastry balls (large tablespoon, teaspoon and hazelnut size dollops) to make a courtesan. Bake in the oven at 350F(180 C) for about 25-35 minutes. The smaller pastries are best put on a separate tray as they will cook more quickly.

Remove from the oven and discreetly make a small piercing in the choux to allow the steam to escape – this will be where you pipe in the chocolate.


1 1/2 cups whole milk
6 ounces dark chocolate*
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 tablespoon flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch to thicken

Heat the milk gently and add chocolate, stirring to melt into a rich, almost-steaming chocolate milk. Whisk egg yolks, flour, sugar, cocoa and a few spoons of cornstarch into a smooth mixture. Add half of the hot chocolate milk to the bowl, a little at a time, stirring constantly. Then add this mixture back into the rest of the hot milk, stirring over gentle heat for a few minutes until the mixture thickens to a custard. Remove from heat and chill.


Once cooled, spoon the chocolate crème into a pastry bag and pipe into the large and medium pastry balls.

Prepare sugar icing of confectioner’s sugar, a dash of vanilla and enough milk to achieve the desired consistency. Separate into 3 small bowls and add food coloring to each – one pink, on lavender, one pale green, one bright blue and one plain white.    The blue should be a little thicker.

To assemble a Courtesan, dip a large ball of filled pastry in the pink icing (to the midline) and place icing side up on a small tray. Repeat with a medium pastry into the lavender icing, and place it, iced side up, atop the first ball. Press it gently so it sticks in place. Repeat with the smallest pastry in the green icing. Decorate with filigree of white icing as desired. Place a cocoa bean atop the tower as a garnish.

Serve fresh.

*Good quality chocolate at 62% or better.  Tcho Fruity, Scharffenberger 62%, Vahlrona Caribe are my fave chocolate and Vahlrona cocoa powder.


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