San Diego Reader’s Tacotopia 2017

There are very few things in this world that I love more than tacos, to be quite honest, tacos were over half the reason I even moved down to San Diego. That being said, I was probably way too excited to go back to Tacotopia, at Golden Hill Park, this year to help cast my vote for the Most Innovative and Best Traditional Tacos in San Diego. My friend Courtney and I spent our Saturday in Golden Hill Park eating our way through over 50 of San Diego’s best tacos!

It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it!

 

This event put on by the San Diego Reader is always extremely well-executed with various beverage companies sampling products, tons of prizes and giveaways, live music, and this time- margaritas!

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Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill in San Diego

This weekend, a friend and I left our little Ocean Beach bubble down here in San Diego and ventured over to Mission Valley for dinner and drinks at Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill. The whole experience from drinks to dinner to dessert (which we were way too stuffed to finish) was excellent. I will definitely be back to visit whenever I have meat-loving visitors in town!

Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill
7510 Hazard Center Drive #215, San Diego, CA 92108
http://www.woodranch.com

Tennessee Peach

After being seated, we followed our waitress’ drink recommendations, as we both had a hard time choosing. I opted for the Tennessee Peach which combined Gentleman Jack, peach schnapps, house-made simple syrup, mint, and freshly squeezed lemon juice. This drink was perfectly sweet and refreshing and really hit the spot. I also loved munching on the alcohol soaked peach once I reached the bottom!

 

 

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Tacotopia at the Del Mar Track

I think at this point we have well established my love affair with tacos, but just in case it was unclear, I hit up The San Diego Reader’s Tacotopia at the Del Mar Racetrack this weekend and helped cast my vote for the best taco in San Diego.

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Tacotopia at the Track
http://www.sandiegoreader.com/tacotopia-at-the-track/

This event was executed extremely well, with 40 of San Diego and South Orange County’s best restaurants and food trucks pedaling out their best work to try to win the hearts and the votes of some hungry San Diegans.

I was impressed by the organization this event was handled, it didn’t appear that any of the vendors ever ran out of their goods, the lines stayed relatively short, and there were fun little extras like a taco themed photo booth, chips and salsas provided by Salud!, and lemonade stands for a bit of refreshment on this hot day.

IMG_9565Our first taco came from Bluewater Seafood, it was the day’s overall winner and it was definitely deserving of the title. I had one taco at Bluewater before, and I was impressed then, but this taco was even better and was seriously the perfect start to the day. Bluewater was serving up a spicy shrimp taco with a white sauce, homemade tomatillo, and a homemade mango slaw. This taco was a little too spicy for my guest, but had tons of the delicious white sauce and queso fresco to help balance it out.

 

 

IMG_9574Keeping with our fishy theme, we hit up Encinitas Fish Shop who was serving up some innovative smoked salmon tacos. Now, smoked salmon is not really my thing, but this taco was seriously delicious and really impressed me. It was a touch topping/tortilla heavy for the current taco marathon I was running, but the salmon was so flavorful and I enjoyed it.

 

 

 

IMG_9582One of my absolute favorite tacos of the day was this Abeulita’s Chicken Mole Taco from Common Theory Public House. I am mole obsessed and also have a weird love for pickled onions so in my eyes this taco was actual perfection, and it was devoured in about two and a half seconds.

 

 

 

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My other favorite, which also snagged my vote for best traditional taco, was the baja fish taco from The Classic Taco. Unfortunately, this truck is based up in Orange County, but luckily I’m a frequent visitor up there! This fish taco was seriously about as good as they get, with a huge serving of perfectly crunchy fish and you could choose from so many salsas. They even hopped out of the truck to help me pick my perfect salsa, the pequin!

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Next up for me was Lolita’s, where I got the pollo asado and while this was a pretty standard take on a taco, it was really tasty with a big scoop of guacamole on top, which you will never hear complain.
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At this point I’m five tacos deep and only an hour in, and realizing that maybe I should have paced myself just a little bit, but I am not a quitter.  Next up I hit up Ah-Jijo for their fish taco. I opted for the spicy chipotle sauce on top as opposed to the tomatillo. This taco was perfectly spicy, and had probably the crunchiest little piece of fish I’ve ever tasted, which was the perfect vessel for lots of toppings.

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While my partner attempted to attack his ambitious plate of 3 tacos he’d collected, I decided to take a “break” and go find some chips and salsa, but on my way I was too tempted by Puesto to resist. Puesto is actually located right across from my work, I smell it all day long, and its torture. I’ve been once before and this taco was every bit as good as I remember. Puesto has figured out this genius idea of wrapping their delicious meats inside of a piece of fried cheese. Yes, you heard that right, and yes, it is basically the only way a taco should happen. Even though I knew this taco might come back to bite me later (all that cheese!) it was still more than worth it.
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Finally on my way back from my Puesto pit stop, I was able to swing by the Salud! table for their chips and salsa. I was a little bummed they didn’t have a taco at the event, as I’ve heard some amazing things, but these chips were awesome and the salsa was nice and mild.

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A while later, I caught my second wind and managed to scoop up one of these fish tacos from Henry’s Pub. Another giant serving of flaky, crispy fish, and more guac!

Lindsey, Courtney, and I trying to pull ourselves together after an all out taco binge.

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A while later, after taking a break to place our bets and check out the races, we returned to cast our votes, grabs some sweets, and hit up the Tacotopia photo booth! You can tell how excited I am about this giant rainbow sprinkle cookie (from Sammy’s Mexican Bakery), which was the perfect ending to a perfect day!

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This event was so fun for so many reasons, starting with the plethora of delicious taco options and ending with the 311/Matisyahu concert that took place after the races. I will definitely be at the next Tacotopia, shoving more delicious tacos into my mouth, on my never ending hunt for the best in San Diego.

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The Social List: Beers and Bites in Long Beach

IMG_9158While I may be a San Diegan now, my mom still lives in Long Beach and I have always loved that neighborhood and the awesome eateries that pop up there.  So when I had the opportunity to check out The Social List I jumped at it, and my foodie brother Eric was happy to tag along for some beers and delicious bites!

The Social List
2105 E. 4th Street, Long Beach CA, 90814
http://thesociallistlb.com/

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The Social List is an airy and modern spot located on a quiet corner in Downtown Long Beach that has a cute outdoor seating area, the sweetest staff, craft beers in both bottle and tap, and some really stellar food that we are still raving about. The entire experience from start to finish was one of the best restaurant experiences I’ve had, and the staff was so knowledgable and helpful in selecting beers and bites!

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Because we are two of the most indecisive people you’ve ever met, we started out with a flight of beers and went with (from left to right): Avery Raspberry Sour, Stone Farking Wheaton W00t Stout, Nom Nom Mango Hefeweizen, and – one of my personal favorites – Modern Times Black House.

FullSizeRenderWe then moved on to our three delicious appetizers! We tried the Patatas Bravas, which are crispy Kennebec potatoes in a garlic aioli and spicy bravas sauce. Our server suggested that we squeeze the lemon over them for an extra pop of acidity and it definitely put them over the top. The tangy bravas sauce was balanced out by the aioli and the lemon tied it all together while the potatoes still maintained a nice crispy exterior. IMG_9171

Our next choice was the Roasted Cauliflower, because I am a huge fan of buffalo cauliflower in basically any way shape or form, and this did not disappoint. I really appreciated that they were not totally smothered in the house-made buffalo sauce (even though it was delicious) as they were able to maintain a nice crunch, and the blue cheese added the perfect little kick without being overwhelming.

IMG_9169Our last appetizer was the Chicken and Shrimp Lettuce Wraps, which had the perfect balance of chicken and shrimp, and a light and tasty sauce that still let the proteins shine. I loved the combo of the chicken and shrimp as opposed to the typical chicken lettuce wrap, as it added a whole new dimension to a classic dish.

 

 

 

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For the entrees our server pointed us in the perfect direction of this Spicy Sriracha Pasta: linguine in a spicy sriracha sauce with both chicken and shrimp. The sauce on this pasta was amazing, and even though I was getting full and starting to slow down, I kept coming back for more, and more, and more. The shrimp and chicken both worked really well here and I once again appreciated that they used both, as it mixed up the textures and kept things feeling fresh and not one note, as pasta can sometimes be.

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For my brother, who eats red meat unlike me, the server suggested he go with the Braised Short Rib entree, served over sauteed kale, marinara, and house-made gnocchi, and he was so happy he did. Eric said that the short rib was super tender and delicious, with mild flavors that paired really well with the kale and marinara. Even though I couldn’t taste the star of this dish, I definitely stole a gnocchi and it was like a magical little pillow that I immediately wanted more of.

FullSizeRenderI would highly recommend running over to The Social List if you find yourself anywhere near Long Beach, and I know that I personally will be returning with the rest of my family in tow as soon as I can!

Chews and Brews: San Diego Cheese and Beer Festival

San Diego Cheese and Beer Festival
http://www.cheeseandbeerfest.com/

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Sipping the day away in San Diego

There are few things this girl loves more than beer and cheese. Unfortunately, cheese doesn’t love me, so when I headed to the Beer and Cheese Festival this past weekend at the Horton Grand Hotel, I came armed with a cheese-eater who could sample for me while I sampled all of the delicious beers!

 

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This is Tanner, here with the extremely tough job of eating cheese!

First things first, this venue was fantastic, and I will try to find every excuse to return. There were four different areas with beer samples, cheese samples, art and vendors, live music and oversized games providing a perfect atmosphere to snack, sip, and dance. Upon entering the main room, there was a beautiful open air patio with tunes played by the excellent DJ.  When you continued into the next room, you found several more beers and tons of cheese, along with an exit out onto the back patio where the live music was going on, and then there was yet another room with even more cheese and beer!

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Faux Fighters

We were having one of our perfect sunny San Diego days and just loving this awesome back alley/patio space with tunes played by The Big Lewinsky (a badass 90’s cover band) and the Faux Fighters. Now onto the beers!

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Our first few beers were from 32 North Brewing where I sampled the blancdonkadonk, because with a name like that, how could I not. Following that we tried the Mountain Light from Figueroa Mountain and the Red Red Amber from Ironfire. While I enjoyed my Red Red Amber, the IPL I had a sip of was seriously good, and might be the perfect compromise for those who can’t quite handle the hoppiness of a typical IPA.

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IMG_8254On to the snacks! Now I know this was a cheese festival, but our first stop, and arguably the most important was at this table full of cannoli and the densest and fudgiest brownies I’ve ever encountered, these deserts were so rich and so delicious.  When I saw the cannoli, I made the snap decision to pop a Lactaid and deal with it because sometimes, you’ve got to make sacrifices. Also, feast your eyes upon this giant tray of delicious cheeses, that was a tough one to resist and was Tanner’s favorite cheese of the night! My favorite of the very few things I sampled, was this soft pretzel with an alfredo sauce, which took beer cheese and pretzels to a whole new level.

One fun feature at this event was Bill Travers, who was in this current season of Masterchef and his daughter who set up shop to show off their cheesy creation! They were serving up the coolest little cheese boards with fondue, crudites, and fresh bread. The presentation on these was beautiful, featuring edible flowers and they looked almost too good to eat!

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Following our search for snacks, we got back to business and enjoyed our own mini brewery hop! First was the Absolution Brewing Company’s Purgatory, followed by the Common Cider Blackberry Sangria, and the Bell’s Brewery Two Hearted. The blackberry sangria solidified my love of these common ciders, having tried the hibiscus saison at the last event, I can officially call myself a big fan!

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Next up was Jamul Brewing Porter, Left Hand Brewing Stout, and the Fall Brewing Stout. I am a huge Stout lover, and all of these did the job and made me one happy foodie, particularly the Jamul Porter, which was perfectly rich and had just the right hint of Madagascar vanilla bean.

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For our last two brews, we had some fun at 2 Towns Ciderhouse, putting on temporary tattoos and tasting the Cherried Away, which was the yummiest cherry cider and another favorite of the night. And on the quest to be a better San Diegan, I even caved and tried one IPA, and was very happy I did! This grapefruit weekday session IPA from Rough Draft was so bright and citrusy that I wasn’t even mad about the hops!

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This event was a blast, even with my cheese limitations, and I got to discover not only several new local and regional breweries and beers to love, but also this lovely little venue situated downtown. This event just goes to prove that cheese and beer are a perfect match, so the next time you’re trying to pick out wine for that cheese, try picking up some local craft beers instead!

Tipsy at the Tacos and Tequila Festival in San Diego

IMG_6415When you think of San Diego, you think of tacos, tequila, and craft beer, so when I heard there was an event that combined all three, I knew I had to check it out. The Tacos & Tequila Festival was held in the SILO at the Makers Quarter downtown, an excellent outdoor event space and the perfect spot for a fun and boozy Saturday afternoon.

Tacos and Tequila Festival
http://www.tacostequilafestival.com/

The Tacos and Tequila Festival featured several unique tequilas, fifteen breweries, and several restaurants whipping up tacos to compete for the best taco in San Diego! Lines were long but tequila was flowing, some amazing DJ’s and bands were providing tunes, and the tacos were well worth the wait.

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Upon arrival, we swung by Martin San Ramon to pick up a taste of mezcal topped with a sprinkle of Tajin and then were immediately roped into a very intense game of Jenga, hosted by Giant Games. We win (!!!) and then head off to find some tacos!

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Thirty seconds into our taco search, we decide to make our first beer stop and pop by Ironfire Brewing to sample their Mexican Lager, which was the perfect light and crisp sip for a warm day.

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Our first taco stop was at Tacos de Panson, which was serving up two types, a chicken chile Verde, and a vegetarian zucchini with cheese. They were both fresh and tasty, topped with a tomatillo salsa, cilantro, and onions, and served with a lime. While waiting for our tacos, a sketchy little booth with just a keg tapped cooler popped up in the corner, and we, of course, had to check it out. Turns out they were serving up ice cold Dos Equis, which while not a craft brew, was still a perfect taco compliment!

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Our next few brew stops were at St. Archer, Garage Brewing, and Belching Beaver, where we sampled the White Ale, Mango Hefeweizen, and Coconut Pineapple IPA. The Mango Hefeweizen was nice and subtle while still delivering a kick of mango with each sip, but the Coconut Pineapple IPA was the surprise of the day. I have always loved Belching Beaver but stuck primarily to their delicious stouts (they were also serving the peanut butter stout, made with Mexican hot chocolate, and if you haven’t tried it- do so immediately!). This Pineapple Coconut IPA was an IPA that could turn you into an IPA lover, they are definitely not my favorite, but this one was so light and refreshing and just hoppy enough without the bitterness I usually shy away from.

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We then made a quick stop at Fortaleza to sample both their Blanco and Reposado tequilas, and they were both so smooth and delicious! After getting our tequila on, it was time for another taco, this time from Cassanova Fish Tacos. This taco was seriously so tasty and blew me away, the sauce had a mix of cilantro and ginger and was tangy and stood up to the substantial serving of fish. Cassanova is a truck that travels around town, and I will be hunting it down, because if they can make a taco this great at an event of this scale, I can’t imagine how amazing they are straight from the source!

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Our next few beer stops were at Acoustic Ales, Common Cider, and Hangar 24, where we sampled the Pale Ale, Orange Wheat, and Hibiscus Cider. The Hibiscus Cider from Common was such a nice surprising treat; it was just the right amount of sweet, and also a pretty shade of pink!

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Our last few tequila tastings were at Sin Rival, Camarena, and Leyendas de mi Pueblo. We were in love with the bottles at Leyendas de mi Pueblo, but the stand out tequila of the day had to be Sin Rival. We tried the extra reposado, and it was seriously amazing. They also were offering up four different types and were able to provide a wealth of knowledge on each of their tequilas, taking the time to talk to each festival goer, it was clear that they are so passionate about what they do!

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Before heading out for the day, we made a couple of final beer stops. The first was for the Ninkase Citrus IPA, which, while a little too hoppy for me, was pretty damn good. The last drink of the day was Damn Fine Cider’s Black Currant. Oh my goodness am I in love with this cider! It was so unique, crisp and light and a perfect finale!

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This was such a fun event that was so uniquely San Diego, and made me so happy to live here! We really do know what we’re doing down here when it comes to tacos, tequila, and beer, and the Tacos and Tequila Festival was proof of that. The SILO at the Makers Quarter might be my new favorite event space, and I will be visiting some of the featured breweries and taco shops in the future to taste more of my favorites!

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Alex’s Whole30 Adventure

Now that we have all spent the weekend stuffing our faces with Halloween candy, lets talk about a system reset (because who wants to use the word diet). One that is much needed for many of us after the holidays and will have everyone looking and feeling great in no time.

I first heard about Whole30 when I was volunteering at Modo Yoga in LA, and I thought it sounded absolutely insane. Who wants to give up everything good? Definitely not this girl. Then recently my stomach pain had gotten out of control, I was bloated and tired, and I felt totally miserable. So I decided to give it a go. That meant 30 whole days of no sugar, no dairy, no grains, no legumes, no alcohol, no processed food, and for me, no coffee. Yikes!

For me, I knew the hardest part was going to be sugar, as I don’t really eat grains or dairy anyways, but I have a mean sugar addiction. The first week was brutal, with a headache that wouldn’t quit, but after that passed I had a renewed energy, clarity, and strength that I hadn’t felt in months.

There are a few tricks to success with Whole 30, and the biggest two are adequate prep and keeping it simple. I ate mostly the same thing each day, mixing it up just a little here and there.

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Breakfast was usually an egg white omelette full of veggies and greens, and topped with avocado, and a bowl of berries or a banana. This is a great start to the day that basically hits every food group, and fuels you through to lunch without the need to snack, and it’s delicious to boot. I paired it with tea, which I found to be enough to power me through the day without reaching for coffee desperately at some point in the afternoon, though coffee is totally allowed if you are one of those crazy people that drinks it black.

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Lunch was definitelymy biggest struggle, with long work days and a tendency towards snacking and not wanting a whole meal in the middle of the day. I usually veered towards a bunch of raw veggies and olives. I also usually had a mini lunch or post workout a few hours before that was an apple with almond butter or some sweet potato fries as a little treat to power me through.

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Dinner was another tricky one, because I’m a pretty lazy cook and was usually tight on time. Then spaghetti squash saved my life. I went through so much spaghetti squash this month it was unreal. It is so easy to roast, just slice it in half and scoop out the seeds, add some olive oil, salt and pepper and roast squash side down for 30 minutes at 400 degrees. One squash usually got me anywhere from 3-5 meals, and I’d add some grilled chicken, tomatoes, kalamata olives and sometimes avocado. Seriously satisfying and you can almost pretend its pasta! Sweet potatoes baked in the crockpot were also a huge lifesaver, I mixed up what I topped them with, but it’s such an easy base for so many toppings, and so easy to make!

IMG_8884Suffering through guacamole with no chips and margarita. Ouch.

So all in all, totally doable, if not a lot of work and a little bit boring if you don’t mix it up every few days, but the results are so worth it!  I’d definitely recommend giving it a go, the whole30 website has awesome meal guides, shopping lists, and recipes that guarantee success!IMG_9221

Final results!

While I would definitely do it again, I also really enjoyed my home brewed apple cinnamon kombucha, pumpkin bread, pumpkin hummus, and tons of halloween candy the second I was finished!

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Homemade pumpkin hummus and pumpkin cranberry crisps to celebrate the end!

IMG_9252Successful home brew of apple cinnamon kombucha!

(This is what your face looks like after 2 beers when you haven’t had alcohol for a month)

If you decide to give it a shot, I wish you the best of luck!

Alex’s Home Brewed Kombucha

So I’ve been told I’m a little bit of a hippie, and while that may be true, the one thing I know for sure is that I am obsessed with kombucha. Now when kombucha first came to my attention, I was kind of stressed out by the whole thing, but as someone who has an extremely cranky stomach, I thought maybe it’s probiotic powers could help. The rest was history; I got totally hooked and began spending ridiculous amounts of money on it every day. Then everyone started talking about home brewing, and telling me how easy it was, and my curiosity was piqued. So when my friend Kelly told me one of our students at the yoga studio, Michelle, had given her a scoby and some lovely hand written brewing instructions, I knew I had to join!

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Here is Kelly with our batch, ready to go into a dark place for two weeks so the magic can happen!

The instructions are simple enough, brew tea with a gallon of filtered water, and 8-10 green or black tea bags, whichever you prefer. Add one cup sugar, and then let the tea cool completely. The scoby doesn’t like metal or being refrigerated, so make sure to keep that in mind. Once the tea has cooled completely, remove the tea bags and pour into a gallon glass container sterilized with vinegar. Make sure you have clean hands, and remove your scoby from its original jar and place into your brewed tea (it’s gross, but not nearly as gross as taking it out, I promise you.) Then place a paper towel over the top of your jar, secure with a rubber band, and place the covered jar in a dark place for 7-10 days. This can vary a bit from brew to brew, we allowed ours to sit for 14 days, which added the fizziness often associated with kombucha and were very happy with the results.

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Then comes the second stage of brewing, which is the flavoring process, and that’s where the real fun starts. We had initially decided on lemon-ginger-blueberry but then changed course and settled on strawberry-mint. This was a killer flavor combo and I highly recommend it, it’s sweet and super refreshing and definitely worth a try. To flavor, add your flavors to a new separate airtight jar (or two if you’re sharing with a friend) and pour the tea in, leave about one inch of tea in the original jar, along with your original scoby and the “mother scoby”, and save for your next brew!

FullSizeRender We let our flavors brew for one week, until the tea was super fizzy and had a nice amount of sweetness to it, and then removed the flavors by hand. FullSizeRenderThe whole process was so easy and something I can see myself continuing to do over and over again, the best part is that after every brew, you have a new scoby ready to go for the next one! Our next flavor combo will be peach-basil and we are so excited about it!

If you can get your hands on a scoby, give it a shot, get crazy with flavors, and pour yourself a glass!

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Cheers!

Crazy for Crawfish: Long Beach Crawfish Festival

Long Beach Crawfish Festival

http://www.longbeachcrawfishfestival.com/

With an entire weekend off and no idea what to do with my time, I found myself hopping into my car and driving out of sunny San Diego up to LA for a visit, and when my mom told me they would be at the Crawfish Festival in Long Beach on Saturday and had an extra ticket, I knew I had to tag along. Now, I’m not a huge fan of steamed crawfish or any steamed shellfish really, solely due to the fact that I am lazy and don’t want to work that hard for my food. Luckily, I had a plethora of other down south specialties to choose from, and because I don’t love making choices, I basically just ate everything.

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My huge and ridiculously strong margarita was placed in my hand upon arrival after over an hour in traffic, so refreshing on a 100-degree day, and it did its job almost too well.

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Mom decided that we needed to “take a lap” to check out all of our options, her new husband (Congrats mom and Mike!) told us to bring something back to snack on before he went and picked up his giant bucket of crawfish, so off we went. We wandered a bit before coming to a screeching halt upon reading the words “fries etouffee.” I became etouffee obsessed when visiting New Orleans, and I love fries topped with basically anything, so these guys did not disappoint. Crispy and substantial fries were the perfect base to hold the rich and saucy etouffee, with a little crawfish tucked into each delicious bite.

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Our other choice was the catfish nuggets, because duh, you don’t take a girl to a festival rooted in southern food and deprive her of catfish. Crispy on the outside, perfectly tender and flaky fish on the inside and almost too easy to just keep popping into your mouth, these certainly didn’t last long.
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I couldn’t leave you hanging without proof that there actually was steamed crawfish at this event.  A whole bucket of crawfish was included in the ticket price for only $4 over the general admission price. What a steal! My stepdad Mike is creole, a huge fan of crawfish, and seemed very happy with his giant bucket of crawfish, red potatoes and corn.

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Somehow, I made room for dinner after our little appetizer party, and chose tilapia that was breaded in cornmeal and had the most delicious crunch. I was so full, but could not stop eating and washing it down with my delicious mango/strawberry margarita.

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As we relaxed to the sounds of zydeco music and watched everyone fill up the dance floor, we were treated to the most beautiful sunset over the water. It inspired me to walk to the lit up ice cream truck at the edge of the water for one last treat. While I might be sort of lactose intolerant, I will literally never turn down ice cream and am a total sucker for rainbow sprinkles, so this made me the happiest girl in town!

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The Long Beach Crawfish Festival was such a lovely way to spend an evening, and after attending the Long Beach Funk Festival last year, I highly recommend any event. The city certainly knows how to offer up a great time!

Acqua Al 2: A Taste Of Florence in San Diego

When I was offered the treat of a chef’s choice tasting at Acqua Al 2 in the Gaslamp Quarter of downtown San Diego, I was quick to abandon my “no carbs, sweets, or booze until mom’s wedding” plan, because lets be honest spanx were invented for a reason.

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Acqua Al 2
322 5th Ave.
San Diego, CA 92101
619.230.0382
www.acquaal2.com

Acqua Al 2 and it’s sister restaurant located in Florence share an identical menu, and according to our waiter, the entire staff is very passionate about keeping things as truly italian as possible. The location has the most charming appeal, with customer decorated plates lining the walls, and a rustic Italian feel that makes you want to book a plane ticket as soon as you can.

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The meal began with a chef’s choice tasting of five signature pasta dishes, each cooked to a perfect al dente and smothered in the most decadent sauces. Pasta and I have a pretty complicated relationship, as I’ve abandoned it for years, but after this experience I vow to never make that mistake again.

1. Farfalle Alla Zucca: a bowtie pasta smothered in a creamy butternut squash, garlic, and rosemary sauce, this was both my friend and my favorite of the night. The sauce had a surprising little kick that came through, thanks to the garlic, and the butternut squash gave the sauce a rich flavor and smooth consistency that had would keep me coming back again and again.

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2. Lumaconi Al Broccoli: shell shaped pasta in a creamy broccoli sauce finished with parmesan. I have never been a giant fan of broccoli, I’ll tolerate it if need be, but this dish would have me ordering it willingly. The perfect amount of broccoli flavor and a creamy sauce similar to an alfredo that I am still dreaming about.

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3. Fusilli Corti Agli Spinachi: corkscrew pasta in a light and creamy spinach sauce. All of my distaste for broccoli is made up for my love of spinach, so it came as a surprise to me that this was not my standout. Still cooked perfectly, sauce containing just the right amount of spinach flavor, this is a killer choice if you’re staying on the green side of things, and can almost trick you into feeling like you’re not eating a giant plate of pasta….almost.

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4&5. Two different pastas with red sauce; the first a fusilli with a light and tangy red sauce that had a peppery kick and had a traditional and familiar flavor and the second a rigatoni pasta in a more rustic tomato sauce that had a zesty lemon finish that was so unexpected and served to brighten up the dish in a brilliant way.

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After making our way through some of the most delicious pasta I had ever encountered, we were struggling to figure out where we were going to fit our tasting of entrees. Acqua does an incredible job of catering to restricted diets, and was so willing to change up their tasting menu upon finding out my guest and I don’t eat red meat. Our three entree tasting included:

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Controfiletto Al Peppe Verde, traditionally served with a hand carved New York steak, our substituted with chicken version of this dish remained our standout. The creamy green peppercorn, brandy and dijon mustard sauce had a unique flavor, and it was such a star I imagine it could shine on any protein.

Petto Di Pollo Al Funghi Porcini, served in a porcini mushroom, white wine and garlic sauce, is reminiscent of chicken marsala. Unfortunately the first chicken choice was such a star that this one felt a little less special, although still delicious.

Petto Di Pollo Alla Grilla, though this is typically a chicken dish,  ours was served with salmon as a substitute protein. Now, I’m a fan of fish, but I adamantly have stood by my distaste for salmon (this makes me quite the unpopular Jew whenever lox enters the conversation) for my entire life, until I tasted this. Served on a bed of arugula with grape tomatoes and lemon, the crisp and salty crust of the fish turned me into a believer. Although it was a touch on the dry side, the combination of flavors had me coming back for more even after I was stuffed beyond belief.

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And then there was dessert…. a tasting of their four favorites and the most perfect end to what had been a weird 80 degrees with thunderstorms type of day. The selection included mini tiramisu, panna cotta with a blueberry compote, ricotta cheesecake with a walnut crust and raspberries, and floureless chocolate cake. Though I could probably never choose a favorite dessert, the ricotta cheesecake made me moan out loud, which is always a pretty great sign.

Acqua Al 2 is a stellar choice for a romantic date night, celebratory dinner, or end of week wine and pasta binge, and should not be missed. The entire chef’s choice tasting was rich, decadent and reminiscent of Italy, and had me moving Acqua Al 2 to my list of reasons to venture downtown…..or to Florence ;).

Margaritaville: El Agave in San Diego

San Diego: home of sunny skies, blue beaches, and the best mexican food you can get your hands on north of the border. Since the area is so heavily saturated with incredible mexican restaurants, and Tijuana is just a short drive away, eateries are needing to step their game up in order to stand out. El Agave does just that, and stand out it did, with elevated seafood dishes, unexpected menu items, and twists on old favorites this Old Town gem rises above the rest.

El Agave

2304 San Diego Ave

San Diego, CA, 92110

619-220-0692

www.elagave.com

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From the moment we walked in, I could tell this would not be my typical Old Town experience. El Agave is home to a tequila museum that houses over 2,000 tequilas, and as we were lead to our table I was in awe of the bottles lining the wall. So much tequila! Being a margarita lover, I made the easy choice of a house margarita and after injuring my food earlier that day, it was exactly what I needed to take the edge off.

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Warm and crispy chips arrive quickly with a trio of dips and a couple of rolls dotting the basket, and while all of the salsas are delicious, the black bean dip was so unique with just the right amount of spice and I could not stop eating it. My guest Heather couldn’t decide between salmon or quesadillas (duh, salmon) so we also got quesadillas to start, and out came the cutest little mini quesadillas in 4 different varieties. There was of course your classic cheese, mushroom, poblano, and chicken, all served with a tangy chipotle creme-fresh; the only problem was trying to restrain ourselves so we had room for the main event!

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As a former picky eater, I have a habit of menu browsing before I eat anywhere, so I already had my mind made up on the Seabass Mac Cumm Negro.  Upon asking the waiter which seabass dish he would choose, he didn’t even hesitate and my decision was made. Seafood and I have a relatively new relationship, and after this seabass I would say we things have gotten serious. Cooked and served in a sauce with pasilla chili, bell peppers, and spices and served with warm plantains, this dish disappeared from my plate too quickly and left me wanting to pour the rest of the sauce straight into my mouth. It was hands down the best fish dish I have tasted, elevated and refined, and certainly not your average mexican restaurant fare.

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Heather chose the Salmon Natas, a pan seared salmon medallion served with dungeness crab meat and sabayon and finished with a red natas mole. While I’m not a salmon eater quite yet, I did sneak a bite of the crab and sabayon off the top and was surprised with a fresh and exciting combination of flavors. This was also described as one of the best salmon dishes she had ever had, so I’ll take that as a confirmation that the entire dish was equally delicious.

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Stuffed beyond belief and still savoring the insanely delicious meal I had just finished, we decided we would be foolish to skip dessert and soldiered on. Although every choice provided by our server sounded delicious, the mexican chocolate creme brulee seemed like the obvious way we had to go. It was a perfect end to a perfect dinner, with the spiced chocolate melting in your mouth and the perfect amount of crunch from the brulee.

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If Old Town is on your list of places to visit, I highly recommend you skip the strip of touristy and overcrowded restaurants and head around the corner to El Agave for a dining experience you will not soon forget and all the tequila you could ever want!

#TravelTuesday: Adventures in Israel!

Shalom!

After exploring the beautiful country of Israel for 10 days on my recent birthright trip, I come home with two major takeaways to share with you.

Israel

#1. Gummies

Israel knows how to make gummies. Forget everything you know about candy, these are on a whole new level. Every shuk you visit has booth after booth full of overflowing bins of gummies, and the best part is most of them just let you put on gloves and grab!

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We were obviously not that excited
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Moving on.

#2. Falafel.

I have never been a big falafel person, I also had never really been big on hummus. Israel has righted both of these wrongs while simultaneously ruining them both for me at home. I made it my personal mission to find the best falafel in Israel, and let me tell you, I succeeded. A couple of falafel guidelines: you never want to get falafel from a place that has it ready you want it popped straight out of the fryer and into your pita, and yes, you want ALL of the toppings,  trust me. Also, the best way to go is with laffa instead of pita, although I alternated, laffa guarantees you a perfect falafel to salad ratio in every bite which is pretty crucial.

The best falafel in Israel is very likely at Ram Bam Falafel in Tel Avv.

I honestly don’t have a picture of the food because I shoved it into my face in about 3 seconds flat, but this man is a genius.

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We were led here by our fearless leader, Gooey, after demanding he take us to the best falafel in Israel, and it did not disappoint. Hidden inside of a shuk, and tucked away into a corner, this was a spot that could easily have passed us by. The falafel itself barely even had time to touch a bowl before landing in my pita, and it was layered to perfection, equal distribution of falafel  and toppings in every single bite and the best choice of sauces.  Coming in second place is Falafel Bar in Jerusalem, mostly due to the fact that they have four flavors, FOUR! The spicy falafel was absolutely everything, they let you try every flavor if you ask nicely, and they made us a gigantic fresh batch of all of them. I was pretty sure I was going to turn into a falafel by the end of the trip, and it wouldn’t have been the worst thing, because I would have been delicious.

Hiking on day 1, blissfully unaware of my impending falafel binge.

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If you do make it to Israel and happen to find yourself in Jerusalem, proceed directly to Marzipan bakery, purchase as much rugalach as possible and eat it all. It will change your life and make your dreams come true.

Marzipan on the left, Mahane Yehuda Shuk in Jerusalem on the right.

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Apart from all of my delicious foodie findings, I fell in love with the country and all of it’s people and I plan on heading back very soon.

Maybe I will see you there!