Fat Tuesday eats in New Orleans [VIDEO]

Today is Fat Tuesday and for those in New Orleans… I’m jealous of you. For most of us who aren’t there, here’s a post highlighting some amazing food I had when I visited NOLA last year. I was there for two days and I can’t wait to go back for a proper visit. I didn’t get my po’ boy or go to any of the fancy schmancy restaurants – I”ll save that for my next trip out there. However, I did get a taste of the food, culture, and hospitality during my short stay.

I was there during crawfish season and went to Charlie’s Seafood just outside of New Orleans in Harahan. My friend did some research and found it and I was up for the adventure.

I definitely felt like an outsider when I walked it because it felt like a local place, not for tourists – I liked that! It was loud, and everyone was peeling crawfish and drinking beer. I had a feeling I would love everything I ate. First thing we ordered were a couple pounds of crawfish to share. It was crawfish season so we were there at the right time. Normally, I don’t really eat crawfish because it’s a whole lot of work for just a little bit of food. I have to admit it was the best crawfish I ever had – the meet was sweet and good.

I also ordered the Cane River Meat Pie because our waitress said it was popular with the folks there. It was amazing! It was basically like a fried hot pocket with seasoned meat served with creole mustard and pepper jelly.

For main course, my friend and I split the UN-Fried Seafood Platter that was grilled fish, shrimp, crab, baked oysters, and cornbread. The seafood was so fresh! I loved that the flavors weren’t drowned by butter which is what a lot of seafood places do which is unfortunate. Because the seafood was fresh, the butter and seasoning only enhanced the natural flavors. I’m salivating just remembering this dish right now.

For dessert we really wanted pecan pie but they had already sold out. So instead we got the white chocolate bread pudding and creme brulée. Personally, I liked the creme brulée more because I found the bread pudding to rich and sweet for me but I could see why people would order it.

When in New Orleans, it’s a must to go to Café du Monde. I had heard so many things about Café du Monde so I was more than elated when I was walking closer and closer to it. It’s a coffee shop in the French Quarter that has a lengthy history – it’s been around since 1862! When you get there, don’t wait to be seated – grab your seat and a waiter/waitress will come by to take your order. They also have a walk-up if you are going to take it to go or get some souvenirs. Also there are some other locations if you don’t get to this location. For me, I loved the architecture and the area where it’s situation.

I really didn’t need to look at the menu. I knew what I wanted: cafe au lait and beignets. They serve French-style beignets which are fried dough that is dowsed with powdered sugar. I wonder how much powdered sugar this place goes through in a week!

Be warned that when you order a beignet, you will most likely get powdered sugar everywhere. I hear some of the servers who work there carry their cell phones in plastic bags so not to end up with a powdered sugar phone at the end of their shift – smart!

So was the experience what I hoped it would be? It was better! The cafe au lait and beignets were great but what I loved is the atmosphere. I had no idea how bustling it would be in the late evening.

Here’s also a video that I shot at the Café du Monde at the Riverwalk mall in New Orleans. There’s a window where people can look into the kitchen while they make beignets! Check it out here:

Another sweet treat I had in the French Quarter were pralines! I’ve had pralines before but not like the one I had here. When I saw a sign that said “pralines” at Southern Candymakers and saw some fresh ones being made, I had to stop in.

Pralines are a southern treat – very sweet and buttery. It’s actually not hard – it’s soft and creamy like fudge. You don’t need a lot to get a good fix because they are pretty rich. When you do get a praline, make sure to smell it – the brown sugar, pecan, and butter… it’s a scent you want to bottle up and take with you.

For my final meal highlight, I took advice from someone I trust who was born and raised in New Orleans. I asked him, to recommend a place off the beaten path that’s a good neighborhood spot he went to growing up in NOLA that he thinks I would love. He directed me to Dick & Jenny’s. This place isn’t in the French Quarter, we had to take the car to uptown.

It’s a warm and cozy place – you feel like you’re going to someone’s home for dinner when you walk in. When I opened the menu, my eyes immediately went to the shrimp and grits. I was sold.

The shrimp was sweet – not overcooked – and the savory sauce was well seasoned. This was the first time I had grits and I thought it worked really well with the goat cheese that was mixed in. At the end of the meal my eyes wanted more but my stomach was full (unfortunately!).

If this post doesn’t inspire you to visit New Orleans, I hope it’s motivated you to cook up some southern food at home!

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My first malasada at Leonard’s Bakery [Hawaii]

In December, I was in Hawaii for a friend’s wedding. I decided to use the opportunity to extend my stay a few days and make it a vacation. I’ll be posting some of my Oahu highlights in the coming weeks. But right now, while I’m at home recovering from my sprained ankle I can’t help but have cravings for food I can’t have because I’m not mobile.

I blogged about Hawaiian shave ice last week and right now as I’m laid up on my sofa, I’m craving malasadas from Leonard’s Bakery. Leonard’s is a neighborhood treasure to Honolulu locals and also a place tourists flock to. They have everything from cookies to Hawaiian sweetbread. But it’s the malasada I crave.

Malasadas are actually Portuguese and are deep-friend dough and covered in granulated sugar. Sounds simple, right? Like a donut? But what’s special about this is the dough – the soft and fully dough that melts in your mouth. It actually has relation to beignets at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans.

My friend and I got to Leonard’s right after the morning rush and before the noontime crowd. When I was in line, I met someone who lives close by and she said I made a good decision to stop by for malasadas. I ordered the regular malasada and the woman taking my order recommended I also get the custard filled on – how could I not! First, I tried the regular malasada.

You can get the malasadas rolled in sugar, cinnamon, or li hing mui sugar – I went the original route and got the sugar. My malasada was fresh out of the frier. I had to weight a few minutes to cool down so I can eat it – it was the hardest few minutes! When I took my first bite, my teeth smoothly sank into the sugar fried exerior into the doughy bread. It was heaven.

Here’s a short video where I take a bite of a custard filled malasada. Sorry for the bad quality of video but it was on my old camera that was not HD. Still trying to see if video works with my blog so please be kind. 🙂

Leonard’s Bakery
933 Kapahulu Ave
Honolulu, HI 96816

Daytripping: Sights from Salton Sea

Here are some pictures I took when I went to film at the Salton Sea last year. It’s a couple hours outside of Los Angeles and a decent detour if you’re in Palm Springs.

The Salton Sea is idyllic from afar. The water is still and seems to stretch as far as the eye can see. The mountains cradle the body of water. But as you get closer and turn all your senses on, you realize that something is off.

Even though the word “sea” is in the name, it’s actually more like a lake. Salton Sea is known for their yearly fish die offs in the summer. However, I were there in March and saw some dead fish near Salton Sea City. And yes, there are residential property along parts of the lake. I do wonder how they get used to the stench of the rotting fish.

When you walk along the shore of the lake, you think you’re walking on sand but when you crouch down and look more closely, it’s actually fish bits and bones that have collected over the years. Most of the fish that you see in these photos are Tilapia. You’re probably wondering why there are so many dead fish. This is a natural lake, actually the largest lake in California, but in 1902 man disrupted the path of the Colorado. The story goes that the Salton Sea used to be known as the “California Rivera” but now with the high salinity and farm run-offs and pollution, it’s far from the Rivera.

But not all of Salton Sea looks like this. When you drive to the other side, it’s a completely different look and feel.

When we drove to Bombay Beach, it’s how I imagined a post-Apocalyptic world. There were some residents living in mobile homes and small houses and lots of open lots but when you walk closer to the water, it’s desolate. Silent.

There were more people inhabiting this area but in the 70s there it was flooded twice. This is what’s left.

Photographers love the Salton Sea – at each turn there is something to capture. I also recommend the Salton Sea to sound designers because there are thousands of birds and the sounds they make during the golden hour is pretty amazing if you have some high frequency mics – the flapping of the weeks, the bird calls, the flitting in the water – it’s an audiophile and photographers oasis.

Driving my first boat in Newport Harbor!

I made an impulse Groupon purchase at the end of last year. I don’t know what came over me but I bought an hour-long boat ride in Newport Harbor in Orange County. I completely forgot about the purchase until I got a reminder email saying it was going to expire. I made a few calls and one of my friends said she’d take the ride with me. We parked at the Balboa Fun Zone area and got to Marina Boat Rentals to get our boat tour. We found out that we got our own boat and were supposed to drive it ourselves in the harbor! We got into the boat and I immediately took a right and ended up getting caught in fishing lines. Oops!

After we got untangled, here’s the view we had of the harbor. And yes, that’s me driving the boat!

I have to admit that the coolest thing about being out in the water was the peace and quiet. We heard the faint sounds of the Fun Zone rides but as we got farther into the harbor, we just heard the humming of our boat motor and our squeals.

We tried to stay away from the big boats and tried to steer towards the center of the harbor (you’re not allowed to leave the harbor into the ocean).  But the most amazing sight we saw were the sea lions that were hanging out by the docks near the residential homes. On our way back to dock the boat, we even saw one of the sea lions swimming beside us.

After the ride, we saw someone eating a burrito (it smelled amazing!) and asked her where she got it. She told us to go across the street to Great Mex. The place is tiny – just a few tables and a place to order your food. I ordered the breakfast burrito with chorizo… take a look:

The burrito was the perfect size and had great flavor. The tortilla wasn’t soggy – I could tell it was lightly toasted on the grill. The chorizo had a nice crisp layer which I like and it was served with eggs and cheese – it was a no frills kind of burrito. I added a little bit of hot sauce for some extra kick. This meal was very filling and satisfying.

Afterwards, we had to get some Fun Zone sweet treats.

I saw a kid buy the snow cone and I was very tempted by all the colors and the refreshing look of the gigantic cone.

My friend and I decided to end the day with a traditional fair food… funnel cake! We found a bench near the ferris wheel and ate our funnel cake and looked out into the harbor. It was nice to blow off weekend errands and just have fun. I’m looking at these photos and thinking to myself that I need to do that more. Don’t you agree?

Pilgrimage to Pizzeria Bianco – Phoenix, AZ

Before I start packing for a trip, I like to get some background on my destination. The question I like to ask often is: If I have time to eat at one restaurant in the city, where should it be? In this case, I was off to Phoenix for work and the answers I got back was unanimous: Pizzeria Bianco.

My first reaction was… Pizza? In Phoenix? Really? Granted, I knew this place was highlighted in magazines, newspapers, and the Food Network. But I wondered — isn’t this obvious? Couldn’t they be wrong? I soon ate my words.

When I arrived to Phoenix, it was a blistering 110 degrees in the afternoon. I had been warned about the long wait at Pizzeria Bianco so I called ahead to see when the down time would be – she said between 2-4. I really didn’t want to wait in line in the desert heat. I got some work done and nibbled on trail mix – I had to make sure I didn’t get full off the filler food. At 2:00 I walked into the heat to find the famed Pizzeria Bianco. The restaurant was just a few blocks away according to my map but in the desert heat, it felt like miles. When I reached it,  I thought it was a mirage because it was an unassuming brick building in the Historic Heritage Square.

When I walked in the door, my face was red from my body overheating in the sun. I staggered to the bar and sat myself down immediately. I got there a little before 2:30 and it was half empty. When I opened the menu, I couldn’t decide what to get but I looked at the guy next to me and saw he was able to split his pizza order – so I copied him.

I ordered a half order of Margherita (tomato sauce, mozzarella, basil) and half order of Sonny Boy (tomato sauce, mozzarella, salami, gaetta olives).

The basil on the Margherita was fresh and flavorful and complimented the tomato sauce and mozzarella. You can taste each individual ingredient before it melts together into one. The elements of this pizza is simple but not all pizzerias can do it well.

The other half of my pizza was taken up by Sonny Boy. This pizza was amazing. The savory salami was so good that I made sure I ate every little piece of it on my place. It wasn’t overly salty – there was just enough salt for me to lick my lips wanting more. The olives also added to the savory flavor. When I finished this side of the pizza, I wished I had a second stomach so I could order another one.

The pizzas are cooked in a wood-burning oven. The orangey glow makes the restaurant feel intimate and cozy.

If you’re in Phoenix, be sure to call and find out the best time to go because you can’t reserve a table and you can’t afford to be waiting in line in triple temperature heat. Since the place now opens for lunch, you should try to schedule a late lunch and let me know how you like the pizza here.

I can definitely see why this place is often named best pizzeria!

Pizza Farm Tuesday in Stockholm, Wisconsin!

A couple years ago when I was living in Minneapolis, my friend Sanden invited me to his birthday party at the Pizza Farm. The first image that popped into my head was a field of pizzas sprouting from the earth. I was snapped into reality when he said the farm was a couple hours away in the town of Stockholm, Wisconsin and the pizzas were made in a brick oven with ingredients from the farm. Brilliant, right?

When you drive to the Pizza Farm, you have to appreciate the scenery. The landscape from Minneapolis to Stockholm changed dramatically in the hour and a half drive. We went from flat plains to rolling hills and plentiful fields of produce.

Be forewarned that the Pizza Farm is open only on Tuesdays from 5 to 9. I recommend you get there early because there will be a line and it will take some time for the pizzas to bake. They aren’t open  yearlong – they close up shop when fall sets in and open again in late spring.

After you park your car on the dirt road, you begin to hear the voices behind the trees and you come upon this…

Get in line and don’t waste time – order your pizza immediately! Take your number and then walk around – pizza is priority.

After we ordered our pizza, we walked around the grounds to kill some time. Here are some of the sights from the farm.

But after the walk, we needed to check on our pizza. Here’s the brick oven that the Pizza Farm is known for…

We waited almost two hours for our pizza but it was well worth it. We ordered a vegetarian pizza and also one with the homemade sausage. Both were served on a thin crust and I could taste each ingredient because it was THAT fresh. I admit, the most memorable thing about that Tuesday summer night was the adventure of getting to the Pizza Farm and waiting around for the food. This was one of those nights when the experience was on par with the food that we consumed. Thanks, Sanden, for having a birthday at the Pizza Farm!

Quick Tips:

  1. Bring your own napkins, plates, utensils, and beverages (water, sodas, wine… etc). They ONLY sell pizza and some granola (if there are any left!). Most importantly, clean up after yourself and don’t leave a mess.
  2. Bring a blanket or a foldable chair while you eat because it is just you and the open land. Some people even bring their own foldable poker tables!
  3. Bring board games. You can walk around the farm but if you get bored, it might be fun to bust out some Bananagrams to pass the time until you get your pizza.
  4. (Optional) If you end up getting there late, bring a flashlight. Our group got there an hour before sunset and by the time we got our pizza, it was pitch black. Fortunately we did have our cell phones but it would have been nice to have a flashlight.
Pizza Farm is located at:
N2956 Anker Lane
Stockholm, Wisconsin 54769
Phone: 715-448-4802 

Scenes from Joshua Tree: The Integratron

My friends and I decided to drive two hours east to Joshua Tree a couple months ago. Here’s the first post on what we did during our 36 hours in the land associated with Gram Parsons, hippie artists, and Joshua Trees.

One of the reasons I wanted to go out to the desert was to get away from the city and relax. From LA, you can travel 1-2 hours and be in a setting completely different from where you left from. After you past the suburbs (takes about an hour) then another 45 minutes past the outlet and the wind turbine farms, you end up in Joshua Tree. Our trip to Joshua Tree centered around the Integratron. No, it’s not a ride, it’s more of an experience. The place is about 30 minutes from Joshua Tree’s city center.

Since 1953, meditation sessions have been happening here. Musicians often find their way to the Integratron because of the awesome acoustics inside the dome. It’s common for musicians to rent this place to record. To find out the history of the Integratron and it’s claims to communicate with UFOs, go here.

I’m not sure about all the alien and UFO stuff, but we went to take a sound bath to relax. I had no idea what I’d be in for but from others, I heard it was a relaxing and memorable experience so I was open. When you walk in, you see that the dome is actually two floors. The first floor is cozy and has articles and tidbits of what the Integratron is about a well as instruments.

Above is one of the operators of the Integratron telling us about the construction and background of the building.

We had to walk up the ladder to the second floor without our shoes for our private sound bath. You can also go to a public session in the afternoon for a lesser cost. When I reached the top of the steps, I turned around to see this…

The massive dome gave way to some amazing acoustics. When you went to the center of the room and spoke, you could hear the sound bounce back and you were in stereo sound. I tried to get a recording but it’s something I couldn’t replicate – it’s something to experience yourself. Below, Joanne is setting up the sound bath. During the session, she places these quartz bowls that each make a different sound. It’s very soothing. By the end of the session, I felt like my brain got a massage through the vibrations.

Outside, you can see that there’s not much out there so it’s easy for the stress of daily life to melt away out here. In the evening, you can see endless stars twinkling in the sky because there’s no light pollution. If you want to check out this place and make a reservation to go, here’s the info: The Integratron.

(Night photo by Vahan Baladouni)

San Francisco morning treat!

I admit when I go to San Francisco, I have it easy. I have friends who have lived there for years who have an affinity for good food. But most importantly, they love to share their favorite places and explore their city with out of town friends… like me!

One morning, we had a craving for donuts and came across a place called The Jelly Donut in the Mission. I liked jelly donuts so went in. The case was full of fresh donuts ranging from old fashioned to bear claws to jelly. The sweet fried smell in the tiny shop was very satisfying on that cold rainy day.

I asked the guy at the counter which donut I should order — I assumed he would tell me to order one of the flavored jelly donuts but to my surprise, he said the cake donut. So I got the cake donut but my friend ended up buying the jelly donut too. It only seemed fair to get a jelly donut at The Jelly Donut shop. I admit that I appreciated the honesty of the guy behind the counter because the cake donut was the right choice. Sometimes a cake donut can be overly dry, dense, and oily but this one was moist and cakey and had a nice sweetness from the crumbs it was bathed in. Take a look.

I felt less guilty eating that donut because I was walking around while munching. That justified, right?

Island of Lanai: lunch time!

On my short stay on Lanai, I had one meal and random snacks like the icee I previously blogged about. Yes, your dear foodie had just one complete meal. It was a simple lunch at Blue Ginger Cafe in Lanai City and it was a good one.

I got the mahi burger with regular fixings (lettuce, tomatoes, tartar sauce) and a side of fries. I know it sounds and looks plain but the thing is, it’s the best mahi burger I’ve had so far. Why? Because the fish was seasoned just right and super fresh. When you cook with fresh ingredients, you don’t need to cover it up by frying it or covering it with a bunch of spices.

And after lunch, I had to finish it off with dessert. When you walk into the cafe, you’re welcomed by a fresh platter of baked goods. I tried to fight getting dessert at first but when my colleague said she would split something with me, I couldn’t say no. With no hesitation, I requested the blueberry turnover that I saw when I walked in.

The soft flaky exterior was light and sweet and the blueberry wasn’t overly sugary. I could have eaten an entire platter of these if I could. If I find myself in Lanai again, I’m going to start and end everything with this pastry.

Island of Lanai: Dis ‘N Dat Store + Video

I was on Lanai for work but after we finished getting our last interview and footage for our sustainability series, my colleague and I wandered into the Dis ‘N Dat store to look for some souvenirs. It’s a cute little shop with a car in front – it’s hard to miss.

Just steps before you even get into the shop, you hear the wind chimes coaxing you inside. You look up and to the side, and every inch of this place is covered with stuff. I admit it was a bit overwhelming to sift through the selections of souvenirs from jewelry, wood carvings, and wind chimes but it felt magical. For a second, I thought the Mad Hatter would walk through the door because there was definitely whimsy in this place.

I asked where the owners were but they weren’t in. I figured owners of a place like this must have a good story. When I read about them online, looks like they are from Florida and bought this little shop. You can find out more here.

You’ve now seen what the place looks like. Here’s a video so you can hear the chimes and my take on it. My apologies for the poor video quality – I think it may be time to upgrade my camera. Regardless, I hope you enjoy the sounds and my clumsy ways in this video. 🙂

Special thanks to Adriene Hill for filming this for me.