SoCal Foodie Delight

My first trip to California. Yes, really. I’m 29 and the furthest West I’ve been is Arizona. Well, no longer.

Flying to the West Coast in February had even more allure than I thought – namely because it was 30 degrees when I left my home in Illinois and it was almost 80 degrees when I landed in Orange County. What better way to fight the Midwestern winter than with sunshine?

What’s the best way to see a new city? To eat.

Sure, Hollywood Boulevard is important, but my stomach is always growling. Luckily, when you roll with a fellow foodie, your priorities are always the same. Here are some of the stops we made over the course of my brief weekend in SoCal. (all addresses are in LA unless otherwise noted)

* In & Out Burger – My first ever! Thanks to local assistance, I knew to ask for both burger + fries “animal style.” Next time will ask for Neopolitan shake.

* Mashti Malone’s ice cream – 1525 N. La Brea – So many wild flavors here .. I chose Rose Saffron

* Olocuilta – 3958 W. 6th – Homemade Salvadorean pupusas here, oddly enough – in Koreatown. The abuela in the back seriously know what she’s doing.

* Cafe Tropical – 2900 W. Sunset Blvd – guava and cheese empanada. Yeah, you heard me.

* @ an undisclosed location – street tacos! $1 a piece and right on the money.

* Lynda Sandwich – 15380 Beach Blvd, Westminster -  banh mi’s for the beach.

* Egg Heaven – 4358 E. 4th Street, Long Beach – outrageous breakfast. Do not miss the super browns loaded breakfast potatoes. I died.

* One of the many Farmer’s Markets for superior produce & snacks – my first brush with an ojo blanco (less acidic grapefruit) and the best oranges I’ve had since Spain.

Other fun stuff
Skylight Books – 1818 N. Vermont Avenue
Griffith Park Observatory -2800 E Observatory Road
(check out their free public star parties!)
Watts Tower – 1761-5 E 107th Street
Dodgers Stadium – 1000 Elysian Park Avenue

Tasty wines
Babble wine (wins best label), Khroma (wins fancy label and cheap local red), Carpe Diem (stole my soul & that of NYTimes winos a few years ago).

Thank goodness for Los Angeles, and Natalie :)

Moooove over, Indy

The Year of the Dairy Cow.

Indiana State Fair logoNo, not a Chinese zodiac reference (I’m a PIG anyway). This is the theme of the Indiana State Fair, starting next Saturday, August 3 and first held in 1852. The American Dairy Association of Indiana is sponsoring this endeavor, and a beautiful bovine named Buttercup is playing host to adults and kids alike at the fairgrounds. Last year was the Year of the Soybean … sorry I missed it.

According to the Blue Ribbon Blog: “There are more than 1,500 dairy farms in Indiana housing 176,000 cows. These farms produce about 3.5 billion pounds of milk, accounting for nearly $500 million in milk production each year. Indiana also ranks second nationally in ice cream production.” That’s a lot of dairy.

I just missed my chance to enter the Big Cookie Decorating contests co-sponsored by the ADA and Ellison Bakery. A 6-inch cookie canvas and milk to motivate the artists? Brilliant. But I will NOT miss the goods at Cowtown USA: a chance to milk a cow, carve some cheese, and chow down. Think about all the glorious things made from dairy products: milkshakes, butter, grilled cheese sandwiches, ice cream. I love this fair already and I’m not even there yet.

Having never been to a state fair before, I have some preconceived notions that I must confess:

* There really are blue ribbons awarded to competitors
* Produce can win prizes; one of these must be for Biggest [insert vegetable here]
* Some sort of eating contest must take place
* Small children showcase their animals for bragging rights
* There should be a tilt-a-whirl or a Ferris wheel
* All food is fried, from cookies to corn dogs
* Somewhere among the livestock is a beauty pageant, and reigning royalty
* The scene is wholesome by day, and shitfaced by night
* A spider lives in the eaves of each pig stall and spins prophetic webs after dark

blue ribbon

photo credit: priesters.com

Ok maybe no E. B. White characters, but some photo-worthy moments to be sure. I also have some outrageous secondhand stories floating around in my memory about cow-patty throwing and pig-calling, but I remain open minded. What I did not expect was a long list of entertainers at the fair, from Barry Manilow to Journey to Blake Shelton. Mat Kearney is playing on the same stage as Train, but one ticket ranges between $50-75, which I am not paying. I should add that MC Hammer is also on the schedule. I hope they put a cow in parachute pants.

General admission is $10, but you can find discount tickets ($7) at local Indiana stores like Walmart, CVS, and others. There is a $2 Tuesday admission, sponsored by Turkey Hill (more dairy, obviously). Tuesday is also the night of “Taste of the Indiana State Fair” but that’s a long haul for me on a weeknight. Nonetheless, promises of food from “corn dogs to deep fried oreos; pineapple whip to ears of corn; fried cheese to a chicken parfait” are very enticing. I also stumbled across a significant list of savings opportunities online for Indiana state employees, car-poolers, seniors and more.

The Midway appears to be an expensive affair – up to $25 for a wristband. The Indiana State Fair website advertises big savings at local Walmarts, where you can buy a wristband for $18. There are several early bird opportunities, but I’m not sure I can handle roller coaster action at 11 a.m. Free parking does exist at a nearby mall parking lot 4 miles from the fairgrounds, with shuttle service running every 20 minutes from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Affordable $5 parking is also available near the main gate, or a short distance away.

My camera and I will be in attendance on Saturday, August 4: “Ball State Day.” Stay tuned for tales from the fair!

Mad about #Madison

Three cheers for friends in cold places.

Kelli & Piercen recently relocated to the Frozen North, giving Holly and I a grand opportunity to uproot our Midwestern selves and go forth to über liberal and devastatingly awesome Madison, Wisconsin.

beef-a-roo

Beef-a-Roo: Roadside cuisine

A five hour schlep from Springfield, IL the directions are simple (as ever): turn left, keep driving, arrive at your destination. Sure enough after traveling on flat, straight, Illinois roads we arrived at the state line and Beef-a-Roo. Don’t worry, we opted for the Subway instead. Upon arrival we dined on homemade pizza and caught up on life, having not seen each other for several months.

Saturday dawned cloudy and cold, but the thrifting team of Kelli and Holly was not to be deterred. We saw two huge thrift stores – organized, clean, gigantic. The most stunning find was a wooden house from the Moravian College collection out of dear old Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Holly snapped it up for her office for less than $1 and we smiled about the coincidence.

We toured the University of Wisconsin – Madison campus, which is widespread and beautiful. A quiet weekend for students, the cold driving them indoors. After sifting through bright red Badger wear in the University bookstore, we stepped out onto State Street and I lost my mind.

insult candy

it's not you, it's me

Between the Urban Outfitters, American Apparel and the Gap sit tiny ethnic eateries, various pubs and independent bookshops. After being stranded with Walmart in Charleston, I was wide eyed and eager for some city living. State Street, as you would expect, leads directly to the Capitol building – dome and all. We dipped into a sweet shoppe, with insulting sweets (see photo) and gourmet cupcakes. We marveled at the outrageous amount of popcorn produced in several stores advertising toppings on their windows: WARM CHEESE! I tweeted a wonderful quote from the door of a bookshop: “Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?” H. W. Beecher

After the required photo in front of the capital, we detoured to a coffeeshop: Michelangelo’s – reportedly one of “the oldest coffeehouses in the Midwest.” We didn’t know this at the time, but our desire to be in a warm place with a cup of coffee steered us in the right direction. Black Forest Mocha Cherry Magic Something or Other really hit the spot.

anthology

Anthology

A specific store shouted to us from it’s perch on State Street, and with all the paper goods visible from the window, I could not ignore the call. Anthology is a small but mighty shop brimming with colorful pieces: handcrafted art, posters, jewelry, paper, you name it. From Great Lakes art to political posters – this shop is #1 in my book. I also made the great / grave discovery of the owner’s Pinterest page .. and only recently emerged from the depths.

Of course I have food recommendations for you from this beautiful city: a Himalayan / Nepalese restaurant, a local vo-tech community cafe and a perfectly delicious ice cream stop.

  • Chautara is a restaurant promising Himalayan / Nepalese cuisine, located on State Street. We went all out and made our way through appetizers (fried this, battered that, vegetable something) and came to the realization that dahl is soup, and not bread (we were thinking of naan). Everyone had an equally delectable entree and we could barely move by the time the last diner had surrendered their fork. Lamb, pork, fish .. you will not be disappointed.
  • Ironworks Cafe, located at the Goodman Community Center, is run entirely by teenagers. I understand that this might induce panic, but restrain yourself. As a function of the local high school’s vocational-technical program, a group of teens works to bring fresh, local goods to the table and learn about the restaurant business in the meantime. We had breakfast here .. scones, tea, a ham & gruyere sandwich that I’m still thinking about, and huevos rancheros that dominated an 8″ plate.
  • nutrition facts

    you want nutrition? eat carrots.

    Arguably the most important in “America’s Dairy Land” is The Chocolate Shoppe – home to Wisconsin-Made Ice Cream. Why I like them? Mainly for their straight forward nutrition facts, pictured here. A hand scooped pint of Hailey’s Comet (chocolate, vanilla, caramel, happiness and joy) was approximately $4. The next time I’m in town, I plan to high-five a cow, as I hear they are marginally responsible for the magic that is this ice cream.

For a breath of fresh air, brilliant company and some civilization – Madison really takes the cake. I am already plotting my return (you know, when it’s warm.)