We first really took notice of Lani Trock at an opening of an L.A. pop-up some months back, where the photographer was busy snapping candids of pretty store patrons sipping rosemary-infused cocktails. As we soon learned, this
Jill Lani of all trades is a serious tour de force: art director for L.A.-based
magazine, musician, Instagram must-follow, and of course, a regular contributor to Refinery29.
So, when we found out that this local lady was also whipping up gorgeous meals sourced from her own eastside garden and nearby farmers markets, we weren't all that surprised. With the tunes of Nat King Cole and Erykah Badu wafting through the open window, Lani invited us into her sweet Elysian Valley home and shared love stories – about her doe-eyed Pitbull rescue pup, her fave cooking ingredients, and loads more – as well as tasty summer dishes that kept us coming back for seconds (and thirds!). Ahead, an interview with Lani and the cinch recipes to recreate these tasty meals. Trust, the results are almost too pretty to eat...
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Photographed by Jessie Webster
Tell us a little bit about yourself — you're such a multi-tasker!
"I am a photographer, electronic musician and art director of Bunch
. In the past, I've worked as a graphic and web designer-slash-programmer, and still do a bit of that from time to time. I love working with my hands and I'm constantly seeking ways to bring physical creation into my work. In the coming year, I'm dreaming of creating massive edible garden installations, recording music in beautiful outdoor spaces, photographing inspiring women, a collaborative cookbook and the growth of Bunch."
Pesto Pizza Recipe with Vegan Almond Pesto
1 ball of pizza dough (for Artisan Bread master recipe, below)
1/2-1 c almond pesto (recipe below)
5 crimini mushrooms sliced
1/2 japanese eggplant, thinly sliced into rounds
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 heirloom tomato
1/2 c ricotta
1/2 c shredded mozzarella
1 tsp korean chili pepper powder
small bunch of fresh basil
1. Tear off one ball of dough about the size of a grapefruit and place on a well-floured surface (pizza sheath or wooden cutting board are ideal) and cover & refrigerate the remaining dough.
2. Preheat the oven to 400º with a pizza stone or large cast iron pan on the top shelf inside.
3. Gently shape the dough into a semi-round circle, but try to handle/flatten the dough as little as possible or it won't bake up properly.
4. Make sure there is ample flour under the dough or the pizza will stick when you slide it into the pan.
5. In the following order, top your pizza with pesto, onion, mushrooms, eggplant, chili pepper powder, mozzarella, ricotta and heirloom tomato.
6. When the oven is hot, carefully slide the pizza onto the hot pan. It's helpful to run a spatula under dough to ensure nothing is sticking.
7. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until golden.
8. Remove from oven and sprinkle raw basil over pizza.
9. Serve with extra pesto.
Pizza Dough (Artisan Bread in Five Minutes, master recipe)
3 c warm water
1 1/2 T yeast
1 1/2 T salt
1 T sugar
6 1/2 c flour
1. Combine warm water, yeast, salt and sugar in a large pot with non airtight lid.
2. Incorporate flour until combined, but do not overmix.
3. Let dough rise for two hours.
Vegan Almond Pesto
1 c almonds, soaked overnight
5 cloves garlic
1 lemon (for juice and zest)
2 T organic shoyu
1 jalapeño or serrano
2 T olive oil
~1 cup water
1. In a blender, combine soaked almonds, garlic, jalapeño, lemon zest and juice, shoyu, olive oil & 1/2 c water
2. Blend on high and slowly add remaining water as the pesto combines
3. Add more water as needed and blend until smooth. Final consistency should be thick but fully blended.
Tell us the story of your love for food. Where do you think it began?
"My mom taught me to cook at a very young age and as far back as I can remember, we had an edible garden. In my childhood home, we had several giant mango trees, Reed avocado, lychee, and grapefruit — and we always had basil and tomatoes growing. I remember once I was so excited that I picked all the green tomatoes prematurely. I think my desire to cook may have developed out of a pickiness as a child. I wouldn't eat much, so I wanted to learn to make food that I loved. My mom taught me fundamentals, but also really let me learn from my mistakes in the kitchen, which is sort of necessary. I remember some disasters like pesto with a ton of rosemary (major mouth pucker and barely edible). Eventually, I began to understand what ingredients work well together and developed my own style and repertoire.
I heard a great quote recently by Ron Finley, a guerrilla gardener-slash-food activist: "Growing your own food is like printing your own money." I really wish that for everyone."
Where do you live in Los Angeles? What makes it special?
"I live in Elysian Valley/Frogtown with my love and pitbull rescue, Doctor Scientist. We've lived here a year and a half and I love it more and more everyday. We can run up to the Silverlake Reservoir and dog park, which is Doc's favorite place in the world. Our street is so peaceful, with tall shady trees, kind neighbors and it dead-ends onto the L.A. River bike path. The L.A. River is so beautiful and largely unknown to most Angelenos — I don't think I had ever seen it before living here, except driving past. This summer, they've begun offering kayak tours down the river and hosting outdoor movie screenings in the park at the end of our street."
What about California inspires you? How does California (and the places you have lived before!) influence your relationship with food, ingredients, flavors?
"I've lived in California for just over half my life and I suppose what I've taken from here, above all else, is an ability to go with the flow... to accept what is given with grace and appreciation, for both the challenges and the blessings and especially the moments of calm in between. I walk the line between feeling like a hippie child and a control freak (especially in the kitchen), but I think the general feeling of living here has helped me find balance in between those two extremes. One of my middle names translates roughly to "feet on the ground but always dreaming." I try to keep this idea with me when tackling days that feel like an uphill battle.
Growing up cooking here really solidified my appreciation of organic produce. My favorite place to procure starter plants is at the Sunday farmers market in Hollywood from Peter Lee. He has all kinds of unusual varieties like lemon verbena, pineapple heirloom tomatoes, mizuna, kabocha squash and Japanese eggplant. He grows everything in his apartment! That is California to me."
Lani loves this Artisan Bread in Five
recipe because it's great for all kinds of breads, and you can keep a batch of it in your refrigerator to use all week long.
Summer cooking calls for colorful ingredients!
Where can we find you on any given L.A. weekend? What is a perfect Saturday for you?
"I'm happy to get off my computer and outside somewhere beautiful. There's a beautiful hike to a waterfall at Eaton in Altadena and I love wandering in Griffith. Abbot Kinney is excellent for street-style hunting and I love visiting farmers markets. I'm quite adventurous in my head, but in real life, you will find me wandering my neighborhood trying to steal lemons or working in my garden."
Tell us a bit about each of these dishes we are featuring today.
"I've made this pizza since I was little and it's always been a favorite. It uses the Artisan Bread in Five
recipe for the dough, which I nearly always have on-hand in the fridge. I chose to make these salads because I love to squeeze as many veggies in as possible and I find their multitude of colors to be so lovely. I love my mandoline and use it daily. For me, enjoying raw veggies is so much about varying delicate textures and shapes. The pesto dressing used for the salad and the pizza ‘sauce’ I have made my entire life. It is also excellent for wraps or burritos and on pasta. The figs with ricotta are delicious, require no cooking and take five minutes to assemble!"
This vegan pesto sauce with a spicy kick is a real recipe workhorse — in addition to pizza bases, Lani also uses it on salads, pasta, and tacos.
What are your favorite "game-changer" ingredients that people need to know more about?
"1. Korean chili powder: I use this on everything. Subtle heat, depending on the pepper variety and a vibrant, red hue, this is a favorite new discovery thanks to my mom. Amazing roasted with eggplant, sweet potato and coconut oil for tacos.
2. Coconut oil: Coconut oil has a higher smoking point than most oils so it is excellent for roasting/frying at high temperatures. It also raises good cholesterol, smells and tastes delicious, and is miraculous for the skin. I use it daily in and out of the kitchen.
3. Miso: Most only experience miso as soup, but I use it in salad dressings, marinades and dipping sauces. I usually have at least two kinds in the fridge. Try yellow miso for a more mellow flavor or red for more intense flavor."
What about your favorite "under-the-radar" ingredients that you love and think deserve more attention?
"1. Eggplant: I feel like most people only experience eggplant as a soggy mess, and get turned off immediately. Roast cubed eggplant with sweet potatoes, coconut oil & Korean chili powder at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Add to black bean and brown rice burritos or on a salad and prepare to swoon.
2. Nutritional yeast: A remnant of my hippie-child health food upbringing, this is amazing on air popcorn or on a salad. I use it because I like the flavor, but it's meant to be a nutritional supplement for vegetarians.
3. Kabocha or Butternut Squash: I'm not sure how new these are to other people, but I've always been sort of intimidated by hard squashes. Now I love them. Marinate them in miso and roast with a little coconut oil for a delicious addition to tacos, or add to Thai curry for a sweet balance."
If only photos could register scent! Though, perhaps it's best they don't — no other lunch could compare to this beaut!
Colorful Sectioned Salad with Pesto Dressing
2 c mixed greens
1/2 beet, mandoline sliced paper thin
1 c red cabbage, mandoline sliced
1 avocado, cubed
1/2 hothouse or Japanese cucumber, mandoline sliced
1/2 c almond pesto
Thinly slice and prepare all veggies in a big bowl and separate into color piles if desired. Serve with almond pesto (recipe found on Slide #2) on the side or spooned over veggies.
What do you think the food world could use more of? Who are some people who you think are doing amazing things in the industry?
"I really admire David Chang and Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar. Tosi started as an office assistant for David Chang and started making completely weird but delicious deserts and bringing them into work. Eventually, he asked her to bake something to serve at the restaurant. Now she is taking that adventurous spirit to new heights and making crazier still deserts in her own space. We featured Christina in the second issue of Bunch. One of my favorite quotes from her: "We quickly learned that boundaries and limitations breed creativity." Also, I'm so inspired by Ron Finley and Robert Egger
, Thank you for Coming
and Joy Wilson
, aka Joy the Baker. Joy inspires me everyday to be a bad-ass business lady and helps me overcome my fear of baking."
Your Instagram feed is a dream. What is your relationship with social media?
"If I'm not careful, [social media] can become positively addicting and suck me out of the real world and into virtual reality. It's so easy to live with my head bent, ignoring the beautiful world surrounding me. In total honesty, this is a constant struggle for me. It's difficult to live in the moment while trying to catch fleeting moments in photos. That being said, Instagram has played an integral role in my development as a photographer and most certainly in my career. I have gotten work through these photos, which still blows my mind. For me, following someone online says, "I connect with your visual style and respect what you choose to capture." Must follows: @adoredvintage @kevinruss @sweetthingblog @hokatokay @johnstortz @skinnybmel @dabito @dearleila
What is your philosophy on cooking?
"Fresh, local, organic, and uncomplicated. Eat a rainbow. I try to include as many colors in a meal as I can. Also, as many raw or lightly cooked vegetables as possible. The more raw veggies I eat, the better I feel. Enjoy the process. I'm a slow cook and I really enjoy everything about preparing a beautiful meal... chopping, stirring, sautéing, everything. Cooking is a sensory experience for me."
Marinated Kale and Rice Salad with Miso Dressing
1 c cooked short grain brown rice
10 stalks purple kale, chopped
1/8 red onion, mandoline sliced
3 T toasted sesame seeds
2 T miso
1 T peanut butter
1 T sesame oil
1 T Sriracha
1 T Shoyu
1 T local honey
juice of 1/2 lemon or 2 T brown rice vinegar
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp ginger, grated
1-2 T warm water
1. Combine miso, honey and peanut butter with warm water until it becomes a loose paste.
2. Incorporate shoyu, sesame oil, sriracha, lemon juice, ginger and garlic until blended.
3. In a large bowl, combine brown rice, kale, red onion and sesame seeds.
4. Spoon the dressing onto the salad a tablespoon at a time, mixing as you do, until lightly coated. Cover and let salad marinate for about 20 minutes. If you let it sit longer, the acid will further soften the kale.
What do you think are the ingredients for a lovely meal with friends?
"We don't have space for a dining table at the moment, but I hope one will find me this summer to put in our yard. That would be a beautiful addition. For an meal with friends, I think easy dishes that you can prepare ahead are key. I've spent way too many evenings sweating in the kitchen instead of enjoying company. This is where my slow cooking habit can be problematic. If most of everything is made ahead, then I am free to relax, drink some wine and enjoy good olives, cheese, fruit and fresh bread."
Brown rice adds weight to this salad, making it a great meal on its own.
You love to cook — but when you're in the mood to eat out, what are some of your favorite spots in L.A.?
at Santa Monica & Gardner (best Thai curry in L.A.!), Yang Chow
in Chinatown, Vito's
for pizza and Gingergrass
Delicious, crunchy texture, and a zesty kick: A trifecta of things we love in any dish!
Spiced Ricotta Figs
1/2 c ricotta
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp sugar
juice of 1/4 lemon
1. Slice cleaned figs in half.
2. In a small bowl combine ricotta, pumpkin pie spice, sugar and lemon. Mix.
3. Spoon ricotta onto fig slices and garnish with fresh herbs if desired (pineapple sage pictured).
How does that photography impact your relationship with cooking and eating?
"This relationship is a complicated one, especially with food. When I'm photographing people, the process is much more spontaneous because the moments are fleeting. With photographing food, things move much more slowly, much to the dismay of whoever is sharing the meal. Often we eat a separate serving while I'm photographing the plated version. Otherwise it can be rather torturous. Also, sometimes the most delicious meals are not pretty, which can be frustrating. Recently, I've been dreaming of creating a cookbook using only images I've taken on my phone — going back through my favorites and deriving recipes from photos I've published online in the past year."
These ricotta-topped figs only look fancy — they're actually a snap to make!
Serious bite-sized perfection.
Voilà! Your arsenal for impressing and delighting taste-buds all summer long.
What's next for you? Any awesome new projects you are working on?
"We have been preparing to release the third issue of Bunch while developing stories for the fourth, and we are working on a series of interactive lookbooks
that I've really enjoyed. Doing this work really lit a fire in me to design and create more items for print. I'm developing a few collaborative book concepts, featuring the work of other artists and photographers I admire. I'm also collaborating with an incredible writer on a project celebrating the lives and work of inspiring creative women that is scheduled to launch mid-summer. Somewhere in between, I hope to create more music. It's taken a bit of a backseat in my creative life these days, but I'm feeling that stirring return to my roots."