Carl’s Pantry

Carl is an LA-based design, architecture, and food enthusiast in an eternal struggle between the urge to bake bread and dessert every day and maintain some semblance of fitness and nutrition. When he isn’t covered in discarded sourdough starter or grease from a searing hot wok, he is hiking, surfing, or attempting to learn (in his mid-30s, unsuccessfully) to skateboard. You can keep up with him @carlseeno.

What’s the herb situation in your kitchen?

  • Cilantro. Living in Los Angeles, my partner Nick and I put cilantro on literally everything, from mashed avo (duh), stir fries and fried rice, in/on breakfast burritos and breakfast tacos, and in margaritas. 
  • Rosemary. My go-to dish for rosemary is an adaptation of a David Tanis weeknight stew recipe consisting of a can of white beans (or chickpeas, or any beans really), good olive oil, red pepper flakes, and garlic simmered on low and served with a side of crusty (preferably) homemade sourdough bread or if we are feeling indulgent, a giant country loaf from Tartine Bakery in Santa Monica or Lodge Bread Co in Culver City. 
  • Thai Basil. Before the pandemic hit, Nick and I took our first big vacation together abroad to Thailand. We are both huge fans of local LA Thai eatery Night+Market and my sister-in-law (and fellow foodie) Christine gifted me Night+Market’s cookbook a couple Christmases ago. While quarantined we’ve been working our way through the cookbook, but one of our go-to dishes is Gra Pow topped with a ton of Thai basil and served with a steaming mound of jasmine rice, and a runny egg. Pure Thai street food goodness.

What spices could you never live without?

  • Red Pepper Flakes. Similar to cilantro, we put red pepper flakes on literally everything in this house: eggs, toast, pasta sauce, sometimes even in cocktails.
  • Cinnamon. My reliance on cinnamon kind of came as a shock to me. I didn’t realize how much I use it, but checking my spice cabinet just now I have like five jars sprinkled throughout and they are all open. Besides the wintry staples, baked goods like apple/fruit crumbles, and warm drinks (hey, it gets chilly here in LA .. sometimes), I’ve been obsessed with Christina Tosi’s Grandma’s Oatmeal Cookies from her most recent cookbook, “Milk Bar Life”. They are so simple to make and no raisins are harmed in the making of these particular oatmeal cookies (and I don’t miss them one bit. Not hating on raisins, these cookies are just so good they stand strong on their own!).
  • White Pepper Powder. White pepper powder just adds that missing zip and tang to most Asian and Thai dishes. You can’t substitute it with black pepper (just doesn’t work). Throw a dash into the wok  at the end of a pad see ew or even a super fried omelette and it just brings it all up a notch.

What about your main pantry staples?

  • Rolled Oats. I never ate oats growing up, mostly because I don’t think my parents knew what to really do with them. Also, I grew up in the 90s which was the height of the ultra-processed sugary cereal empire (I wish I could justify a bowl of Reese’s Peanut Butter Puffs right now, but I just can’t. Sigh.) Now I use rolled oats for everything: homemade granola, protein bars, flour for healthier-ish baked goods, savory oats for a lazy dinner, everything.
  • Fuji apples. I have a distinct memory of my dad in the early 90’s bringing home a giant box of Fuji apples and explaining how they were a delicacy in Japan (unclear if he actually knew that or if he was making it up to get my brother and me to eat more fresh fruit, but hey, it worked). I remember my first crisp bite and I was instantly hooked. During a trip to Japan, I paid like $30 for one and I still don’t regret it. Nothing beats a chilled, sliced Fuji apple with all natural peanut or almond butter.
  • Good coffee beans (never pre-ground). Ok I’m a coffee snob, as much as it makes me cringe to spill that particular Tee. I’m not a big souvenir guy, but when I travel I try to map out the local cafes and if I’m lucky, coffee roasteries, and pick up a bag of local beans to bring home. Sipping a cup of warm joe using beans from a trip is probably my favorite way to savor past journeys. When I drove across the country from the east coast to LA, I made a point to only stop at local cafes/bakeries and collected bags of coffee from nearly every one. These lasted most of my first year in LA and sipping coffee made from each local bean/blend helped solidify my move West.
  • My sourdough starter, Kylo Rye. “Let the past die, kill it if you have to.” This iconic Star Wars quote from villain Kylo Ren from The Last Jedi (One of the best Star Wars movies, don’t @ me) is what I now say to myself when I’m discarding 80% of my beloved sourdough starter every morning. I originally started Kylo Rye back in 2015 (Sheridan (@saltsumac) was intimately involved in baking and consuming the very first sourdough loaf!) and while the starter has died a few times over the years, Kylo Rye always comes back better than ever. What does death really mean in Star Wars anyway?
  • A bottle of chilled rose. Southern California  is hot, rose is cold. It is what it is.

Who or what is influencing you in the kitchen these days? 

Another pantry staple is homemade kombucha. It’s super easy to pull together and given some patience and testing, tastes as good if not better than the expensive bottled stuff at the corner bodega or Whole Foods. Living in LA, I’ve used fruit “foraged” on evening runs, including local oranges, grapefruit, lemon/mint,  fresh figs, and even a neighbor’s passion fruit to sweeten and flavor homemade kombucha. 

Speaking of kombucha, I’ve been using kombucha in place of  water or plant-based milks in my morning/post-workout  protein shake. I love the slight carbonation and extra zing the kombucha adds to the shake, which can help ease the taste of powdered protein (if you’re using it) or temper the sugariness of other added fruit. It also makes it feel more like a “potion” and the extra carbonation can help make the shake a little more filling. On the flip side, substituting kombucha for seltzer/soda water/tonic in cocktails is kind of everything.

Do you have any dietary restrictions that influence your cooking?

I don’t consume any dairy, minus greek yogurt and ice cream (If you’re on the West coast, go immediately to Salt & Straw and try every flavor). This means I always have a milk alternative in the fridge, usually almond, but sometimes cashew or oat (yay rolled oats!). I honestly put it in everything, even baked goods, and usually can’t tell the difference. That being said, don’t even try to give me plant-based yogurt. No ma’am. 

Tell us about the best meal you’ve had in recent memory. 

My sister-in-law Chrisitne is an incredible chef and makes the best Japanese Shabu Shabu. The day my brother and I arrived in LA after driving across the country, Christine prepared a gorgeous shabu dinner al fresco in their backyard. The sun set on my first day on the West coast while we tucked into steaming hot bowls of shaved pork and beef, vegetables, mushrooms, tofu, and noodles over rice. There was also chilled rose and maybe Sapporo.  It was perfect. 

Do you have any go to or favorite food literature? 

Obsessed with anything from David Tanis (“A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes”, “Heart of the Artichoke”, “One Good Dish”) as well as Guy Turland’s “Bondi Harvest” and Balance cookbooks. Big fan of the Minimalist Baker food blog. I also have the New York Times Cooking App on my phone’s home screen and probably peruse it near daily. 

Does your family have any food traditions? 

I come from an Italian family, so our lives and conversations mostly orbit around food. For Christmas, we usually do our own version of the Italian feast of the seven fishes, though we are inclusive of all seafood: homemade crab cakes, garlic fried fish, various types of shrimp, calamari, king crab legs, you name it. Afterward we smell like a Sicilian fish market and are tripping out on enough protein to lift trucks, which is perfect for making a public appearance at a Christmas Eve church service. Another night around Christmas we make homemade pasta, because obviously.

Do you have a go-to hosting trick or tip?  

Always have something sweet, no matter the occasion or time of day, and it doesn’t have to be fancy. My favorite go-to easy hosting dessert for any occasion is Smitten Kitchen’s Brown Butter Crispy Treats. These come together in minutes, you don’t have to turn on the stove (which is perfect for LA summer), and alongside sweet-salty melted marshmallows they’re packed with the perfect dollop of American  elementary school nostalgia. I’ve made these countless times over the years and people, as if on cue, always lose their minds. I dare you: bite into one and tell me you haven’t actually died. They are infinitely adaptable and work for any meal or snack or midnight trip into the kitchen.  And don’t forget the Maldon sea salt: it’s key. 

“Let the past die, kill it if you have to.”

What do you have playing in the background when you’re in the kitchen?

I’m a podcast junkie. Current favorites while cooking:

  • Ologies
  • Radiolab
  • All Songs Considered
  • Overheard at National Geographic
  • The Daily
  • My Dad Wrote a Porno
  • RuPaul What’s the Tee?
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