I’m going to be a judge on Top Chef Masters in Vegas!

By Krista,

Life has presented some tasty morsels as of late, and I plan on devouring them with a vengeance. First and foremost, it was finally announced that I’ll be a regularly-occurring judge on season 4 of Top Chef Masters. Holy what! Do you have any idea how hard it was to keep that one quiet all this time? Considering a few years ago I was a minion at the L.A. Times showtracking the Top Chef empire, the whole deal is kinda surreal. The first episode airs July 25. Here’s hoping that I don’t end up looking like a total dope!

Secondly, I’m taking on a new role at LAist, where I’ll be resident Food Editor for the month of June. I’m stoked. Between this and my columns at Grub Street, it’s all food, all the time. Please read me over at LAist and let me know what you think.

In the meantime, happy eating!

System of a Stout: Brewing the world’s first Armenian coffee beer

By Krista,

Sip on this SoCal: As you read this dinky blog post, the world’s first Armenian coffee beer is being brewed. Just for you. And it’s going to be friggin delicious.

I wrote up a piece for this Sunday’s Times Community News/Glendale News Press on the stuff, which will be showcased at the 10th Dionicess event on June 10 at Beachwood BBQ.

The beer itself is a collaborative effort between Dionicess founder Gevork Kazanchyan, Beachwood BBQ brewer Julian Shrago, and Jeff Duggan of Portola Coffee Lab. It’s appropriately named System of a Stout after L.A.-based Armenian rock group System of a Down, and will include Armenian ingredients like cardamom, Armenian coffee, and cognac. Full details on the brewing process can be viewed in the original story linked above.

As for when you can try it, the best opp will be the upcoming Dionicess event. Says the TCN story:

“Dionicess X’s theme is appropriately named Coming of Age, and will showcase five courses (plus a few bonus rounds) of aged beers paired with dishes that feature pickled and fermented foods from around the world. Guests will get to take home commemorative bottles of the beer, as well as some of Beachwood’s house-made, barrel-aged hot sauce. Of course, System of a Stout will play a central role in the meal.”

You can buy your tickets to Dionicess X, which will take place at Beachwood BBQ in Long Beach on June 10 at 5 p.m., here. Proceeds will go to the Armenian Real Medicine Foundation. But in case you can’t make it, they’ll be releasing 10 kegs around SoCal after the event, one of which will be at Tony’s Darts Away.

Cheers, and hope to see you there!

The spoils of dining single + a poem from Daniel Halpern

By Krista,

As a single young woman that spends a good deal of time on the road, I’ve gotten used to queries as to why I don’t come equipped with a dining companion — or a husband, for that matter. My answer is usually served with a side of smugness, as most simply don’t understand the spoils of dining single: the quality people watching, a lack of awkward conversation, the moments of introspection, the extra attention from the front of the house. It surprises me that folks still look at dining alone as a punishment rather than an indulgence. My personal stance is that treating yourself to a nice meal and a good glass of wine can be just as gratifying as splurging on a massage or mani-pedi.

I addressed this issue in my recent Department of Deportment column, asserting that being a party of one can indeed be a party if done properly. And as it turns out, there’s mounting evidence that spending time alone can actually make us better people too, both cognitively and socially.

A recent Boston Globe article cited research that “certain tasks and thought processes are best carried out without anyone else around, and that even the most socially motivated among us should regularly be taking time to ourselves if we want to have fully developed personalities, and be capable of focus and creative thinking. There is even research to suggest that blocking off enough alone time is an important component of a well-functioning social life — that if we want to get the most out of the time we spend with people, we should make sure we’re spending enough of it away from them. Just as regular exercise and healthy eating make our minds and bodies work better, solitude experts say, so can being alone.”

And you certainly won’t be alone in your alone-ness. A piece in the April issue of the New Yorker stated that over thirty-one million people in the United States are living single, a fact that author Nathan Heller jokes, “may or may not prove a useful thing to know on certain Saturday nights.”

Of course, there’ll be moments where you want company. But don’t be so quick to connect with a rando creepo from OK Cupid just because you’re scared of flying solo. Being alone doesn’t have to mean that you’re lonely. Just take it from poet and publishing guru Daniel Halpern, who graciously shared these off-the-cuff couplets in response to my column:

THE DINER IN THE CORNER

A table in the corner of the room, my table, 52,

beyond the new electronics, dinner alone all the way through.

For a moment.  For an evening.  If it’s true the price of fame

is the loss of anonymity, goodbye applause, goodbye acclaim,

I’m welcomed back to my seat in the neighborhood restaurant,

a plainly clad waitress and the missing maître d’,  just a pleasant

welcome back, the specials a few chalk marks on the blackboard

leaning against a badly painted wall.  Tonight it’s the grilled sword-

fish, Mussels in Cast Iron and Brussels Sprouts Carbonara.

I have the company I need – a novel and recent emails are a

Happy evening’s entertainment.  Solo, nothing to dialogue,

Only my plate and me, sustenance, some wine and monologue

Between self and soul.  It’s pretty fucking grand sitting here

In the corner at table 52, just me and me, unpardoned and clear.

Traveling to Todos Santos for New York Magazine

By Krista,

Clockwise from top left: Leatherbacks hatching; Hotel Casa Tota; Baja Bean's roasts; dulcerias in Todos Santos; lunch at Caffe El Triunfo; damiana in Todos Santos

Guess what ya’ll?!? My first travel feature for New York Magazine just got published! The piece was a detailed  5-Point Weekend Escape Plan to Todos Santos in Baja California Sur, a lazy little surf town with a whole lot of style. The region’s unique cuisine, stunning wildlife, groovy accommodations, and pristine coastline totally blew me away. And it’s just a short 2 1/2 hour flight from LA.

I went down to Baja in March with L.A.’s reverse coyote, Bill Esparza, but I have to admit I was a bit skeptical. In order to get to Todos, you’ve got to fly into Cabo San Lucas — the banana boat bro capitol of the world. But Bill has lead around the best (do the names Andrew Zimmern or Anthony Bourdain ring a bell?), so I took a leap of faith. My other south-of-the-border sherpa was Jim Pickell from Baja.com. Jim is an extensive world traveler that’s lived all over the place, so it says a lot that he and his Italian wife have decided to finally settle in Todos. He showed us all sorts of gems, from killer breakfast spots to deserted beaches and the releasing of the leatherbacks.

Bill spotted this awesome little lunch stand. Best refried beans and pork ever.

And some fresh fruit juice paletas for dessert from a stand down the way. So yum.

Huevos rancheros for brekky. Yeah buddy.

Watching the nearly-extinct leatherbacks head to sea with local nonprofit Los Tortugueros

My time in Baja California Sur was truly memorable, and totally my speed being a former Santa Cruzer. I have to admit that it’s taking every last ounce of self-restraint to not book a flight as I’m posting these photos. What I wouldn’t do for a tipple of damiana– Baja’s native anise-flavored herb infused with vodka — right about now. Or a swim with my sea lion buddies. That was one of the coolest travel experiences to date. Look at how friendly they are! I can’t wait to go back.

Swimming with the sea lions at Los Islotes

Saying goodbye to Baja, but not for long!

 

Bourbon banana bread and Old Fashioneds, a match made in heaven

By Krista,

I have a punishing sweet tooth, and last Thursday it was panging hard. As I sifted through what ingredients I had on hand, all I could think of were some frozen, overripe bananas. “Ah, yes,” I thought. “Banana bread! I can make a healthy version with some coconut oil or flax meal or something. And it has potassium.” And so the rationalization, and the cruising of the recipe blogs, began. And it ended, as it usually does, with Smitten Kitchen.

Soon as I saw this recipe for Jacked Up Banana Bread, I was ruined. Bourbon? Banana bread? Together as one? It’s on. Out came the bourbon… and the Angostura bitters… and the sugar cube. Only thing missing was the orange. So I ran up the hill in my black-and-white-striped vintage apron and pilfered one from my neighbor’s tree. Good thing the cops here in Echo Park have bigger fish to fry, because it would have felt a bit silly being caught in this thing.

The recipe turned out magnificent, regardless of the fact that I had to use a bundt pan instead of a loaf. And yeah, it is jacked up. Jacked up that I could not stop eating this stuff. I literally ate 1/4 of the freaking bundt pan in one sitting. (So much for that juice cleanse, eh?) The bread had a moist, cakey texture with the slightest hint of molasses and a tinge of woodsyness from the bourbon. It paired perfectly with my Old Fashioned, whose recipe I procured from Jim Meehan’s ever-so-rad PDT Cocktail Book. Added bonus: I could finally take a more detailed look at the artistry in his graphic novel-esque pages while the bourbon banana bread was baking. And have another cocktail of course.

The next day, I went over to my parent’s place to prepare them a thank you supper for being so awesome. (They might not be proud of my penchant for booze, but whatevs.) I served toasted up pieces of the bread with French vanilla ice cream and warm salted caramel sauce from Trader Joe’s. It was divine — so much so that I scarfed it down before taking a picture. Guess I’ll just have to make it again sometime. Twist my arm.

On the juice: My favorite flavor combos for juicing

By Krista,

Well, it’s official: I neglect my poor little blog. I went on and on about how energized and motivated I was after that juice cleanse, and I have yet to post some of my favorite combos. To my credit, I’ve been bonkers busy — a great thing for someone working in this god forsaken crumbling media circus. But what the heck? Who isn’t busy? I have plenty of blogger buddies who work into the wee hours of the morning just to make sure their writing gets up post haste. I rationalize my lackadaisical approach because I spend most of my days writing, and the last thing I want to do when I’m done is write more. That said, there’s a certain pleasure in writing for my own darn reasons, sans deadline. Then again, look what happens when I don’t have a deadline! Nothing ever gets done.

Anyway, to get to the point, some of you asked about my favorite combos for juicing.  Firstly, I have to admit I found out that I technically mislabeled my post. If you want to get fussy about it, what I was doing was making smoothies. Juicing would require all the plant matter to be removed. I am happy I kept all those goodies in, as I mentioned in the post, because they’ve got heaps of nutrients and fiber. But because of that fact, it’s called blending or making a smoothie. Whatever. I drank a boatload of fruit and veg for three days, and no matter how you label it, it felt good. End of story.

Or so I thought. Since then, I’ve integrated “real” juicing into my daily life.  My parents were kind enough to lend me their old juicer, which is a total war horse. We’ve had it since the 90s, and it works a treat. Energy levels are still high, and hopefully they’ll get even higher so I can actually blog more here.

In the meantime, here are some of my favorite juice and smoothie combos I’ve created over the past month. Use them as a guide, but go ahead and freestyle with what you find at your local farmers market. I’ll bet those heirloom carrots I’ve been seeing would make a fabulous mid-day juice snack!

Juices:

3 carrots, 1 granny smith apple, 1 bulb ginger (spicy!)

1 red beet, 1 carrot, 2 cups de-stemmed kale, 1/2 cucumber

1 cucumber, 1 stalk celery, 1/2 bulb ginger, 2 cups de-stemmed kale

1 bunch of dandelion or bak choi, 1 cucumber, 1 lemon, 1/2 bulb ginger

1 golden beet, 1 granny smith apple, 2 carrots

1 granny smith apple, 2 carrots, 1 beet, 1/2 bulb ginger

Smoothies, aka a juicer-free cleanse:

For this method you have to add some liquid to the mix, so I used organic carrot juice, almond milk, or coconut water. I don’t have the exact amounts of liquid, but the general rule is that you fill the blender up til half of the solid produce is covered. It’s really not rocket science. If it doesn’t blend, add more liquid. Another thing I like to do sometimes is to juice some veg, then put it in the blender with spinach or kale. I always feel like I lose so much when I juice those two greens, so it’s a nice way to have get the best of both worlds.

1 cup spinach, 1 cup kale, 1 banana, almond milk

1 lightly steamed beet (to make it blend-able), 1 cup spinach, coconut water

1 cup kale, 1 cup spinach, juice of 1 lemon, coconut water, 1/2 tablespoon cayenne

1 frozen banana, two tablespoons hemp powder, almond milk (This one is great for after a workout when your body needs protein, provided by the hemp, or whatever other protein powder you like to use.)

Mastering the art of the juice cleanse

By Krista,

So I just finished a 3-day juice cleanse. Yup, that’s right. Me. No food. Seventy-two hours. I can read your mind as you’re looking at the screen, thinking to yourself, “There’s no way I could ever do that. I need to eat.” Guys, I work as a food and travel writer. I am not one to skip meals. I eat. A lot. And I’ve never felt as energized as I did during those 3 days. Ever.

Sure, I’d done cleanses before. There were those terrible Colon Cleanse pills from Trader Joe’s that made my gut feel like I’d been sucker punched by Rocky Balboa. Or the liquid Master Cleanse, whose astringent citric acid and cayenne pepper made me feel like I had an ulcer the size of a lemon. I quit both a few days in. But with this juicing business, there wasn’t a single moment where quitting seemed remotely appealing. I could have gone for longer, in fact. That clean, green juice was like rocket fuel!

Just look at what I accomplished in three days: cleaned my entire house (I mean really cleaned, which is a rarity); filed my taxes; responded to all of my emails that stacked up from two weeks of travel, completely emptying my inbox (!!!); went through all of my paper mail; finally organized getting my car fixed; completed an entire to-do list; pitched publications I’d been meaning to for months, but put off; exercised; cleared out my closet; and most importantly, made myself feel healthy again.  Pretty amazing considering I could barely get out of bed 6 days ago.

Which brings me to the rewind. I’ve been traveling a lot lately. A lot being twelve flights in the past 4 months, 6 of which were international. I know, boo hoo, but it takes a toll on your body. After retuning home from Baja California del Sur last week, I got sick. Really sick. It wasn’t by any means the food in Baja (which was AMAZING!) — it couldn’t have been because too much time elapsed for food poisoning to be an option. Besides, I can eat in at any street food cart around the globe and be hunky dory. It was my body’s way of telling me to make a change. So as soon as I could walk again, I started juicing. And juicing. And juicing.

There wasn’t much method to my madness. I tried to base my concoctions off of what’s inside the Blue Print Cleanse, which I was turned on to at the new LA-based yoga/supper club Downward Dining. My meager freelancer budget didn’t allow for the BPC’s $65/day price tag, so I stocked up on heaps of organic kale (calcium, iron, vitamin A), spinach (calcium, iron, vitamin B, good for liver/kidney functioning), lemons (vitamin C), ginger (vitamin C), cucumbers (magnesese, potassium, helps lower blood pressure), parsley (vitamin C), beets (vitamin A, good for circulation), carrot juice (vitamin C), coconut water, and raw apple juice.  Since I have yet to steal my parents’ juicer, I just used a blender to mix all of the items together. Yes, that meant that my drinks were a bit chunky, but like I said, I have a stomach of steel. But if you’d like to donate a turbo-charged Vitamix blender to my cause, by all means… (Can’t blame a girl for trying, right? You can make almond milk in those things!)

For my three main “meals” I’d throw a few cups of the greens in the blender along with some liquid and a healthy portion of grated ginger. Blending it means that you don’t lose any of the enzymes in the plant matter. I’d add some cayenne (good for circulation and digestion) to my  mid-day drinks, and if I craved a little sweetness I’d put in a dabble of organic agave syrup (it’s low glycemic index makes it easy to process). If I needed a snack, I made a smaller juice or some green tea. And I hydrated — a lot. There were a few moments where I simply needed something solid, so I had a couple slices of cucumber or 1/4 of an avocado, per the Blue Print model.

On day two of the cleanse, I decided to pop over to one of my favorite spots, Silverlake Juice and Tea for a break in my juicing routine. They’ve got all the nifty juicing gadgetry (see: Vitamix) and organic goodies to make even better tipples, and I needed a break. Low and behold, a lovely fella behind the bar invited me to a juicing class hosted by the shop’s owner, Baba Ji, that happened to be going on this weekend.

The class was a mixed bag of folks, but everyone shared a common interest in heightening their health. Baba Ji was just the guy to share the knowledge. Several years back, he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Instead of tossing back a cocktail of pills, he decided to juice. And it worked. Fifty pounds lighter with a radiant energy, he’s the poster boy for the lifestyle.

“It’s not brain surgery. What you put in your body, that’s what you are,” he says, taking a Brillat-Savarin approach to the whole thing.

But there are a few rules that Baba abides by without fail. The first is to drink your juice within 5-7 minutes of producing it so that the enzymes don’t break down, oxidize, or separate. Second is to buy organic, especially if you’re doing a cleanse. Do you really want to be mainlining pesticides into your liver? Didn’t think so. Most importantly, he advises avoidance of anything with sugar before noon. For breakfast, he recommends going straight for his signature juice: a refreshing mix of dandelion (good for liver functioning), cucumber, lemon and ginger. After noon is time for sweeter juices, like a mix of orange, ginger, and lemon, or a beet-based juice. Like most things in life, it’s all about the timing. And of course having fun! Don’t worry about being rigid with proportions of apples to oranges, just tweak things as you go. You’ll figure it out. As for materials, Baba’s favorite juicer is the Omega 330. And if you’re want to stimulate your mind while you work on that bod, take a peek at Deepak Chopra’s “Ageless Body, Timeless Mind.”

Now, Baba is not a big fan of this whole “cleansing” business per se. He believes that your body does that on the daily, so if you’re treating it right — especially in the morning — your liver, kidneys, and other organs should be functioning just fine. But if you did want to do a fast for a few days, be sure to ease your way out of it. Don’t shock your body immediately with chicken fried steak. Ween yourself back onto the solids with things like greens, steamed veggies, whole grains, and small doses of lean protein.

It shouldn’t have to be a big production though. I was amazed at how people consoled me when I’d explain why I was turning down ‘ritas at El Chavo or lattes at Intelli. “You don’t need to lose weight! Why are you juicing?” It’s so not about that. It’s about feeling better. Living better. Being better. Try it. You’ll see.

Chicago, the out takes

By Krista,

A few weeks back my story on Chicago’s flourishing cocktail scene was published in the Los Angeles Times Travel section. The piece was so well-received that it was the in the top 3 most emailed stories on the entire LA Times website! Apparently the readers found the Second City as inspiring as I did, which completely validifies the damage I did to my liver during those two long weekends of “research.”

I think all of the indulgent boozing and dining finally caught up to me, because I’ve been sick as a dog the past few days. On a positive note, being pent up indoors means I can finally post on some of the unsung gems that didn’t make it into the story. Above you can see a stack of just a few of the menus I aquired from round 2 of investigation — evidence that there’s just too much ground to cover in a 1,400 word piece.

One of the out takes was the Drawing Room, a literally underground speakeasy-style bar and restaurant in the Near North Side whose bartenders take on a decidedly gastronomic role. I was really lucky to have round 2 coincide with Chicago’s renowned restaurant week, where chief mixologist Charles Joly’s culinary-style menu really shined. Joly (pictured above) uses house-made tinctures, grenadine, and shrub, a fruit-based drinking vinegar, in many of his cocktails. My favorite drink of the night was the Eve’s Answer, made with Olmeca Reposado, Seedling Farms cider, spiced raisin syrup, mezcal mist, and cinnamon– a seasonal, spicy little tipple that was a nice accompaniment to my first of many meals in Chi Town. Each dish on the three course tasting menu was paired with cocktails rather than wine. They even sent out amuse bouche cocktails, a nice little Midwestern touch to tease the palate. For ultra-curious cocktailians seated in the dining room, the restaurant offers table side cocktail service via an antique bar cart — a unique chance for diners to get an up close look at how the drinks are built.

It was hard not to get up close and personal at the Matchbox over in River West. Situated at the intersections of Milwaukee, Ogden, and Chicago Streets, this sliver of a bar is about as intimate as they come. It’s wide enough to house a wooden bar and some stools, and that’s about it. But the cocktails are solid, and they make a perfect Manhattan that lives up to it’s name. Can’t be mad at that. Even if you’re not a diehard fan of a dive bar, it’s worth stopping in; the place has been around for over 75 years!

Those historical joints aren’t hard to come by in Chi Town, and I talk about that enough LA Times piece, but that doesn’t mean things are stagnant. In fact, there’s a lot for the city to look forward to. Lauren Viera’s recent (and very controversial) piece in the Reader asserts that Chicago’s cocktail scene is “too midwestern” and that its “bartenders must be everything to everyone,” leaving it lagging behind New York city and the rest. I disagree — and so do Paul Mc Gee, Mike Sula, and Julia Kramer. I found the lack of pretense endearing, and there are plenty of establishments and educated bartenders pushing the scene forward.

A glimpse into the future takes us to the soon-to-open bar/restaurant La Sirena Clandestina, located across the way from Grant Achatz’s progressive culinary cocktail bar, the Aviary (their cider is pictured above, and more deets are found in my story). I was tipped off to the whole deal by Justin Anderson, one of the La Sirena’s managing partners who will be creating a cocktail menu to compliment the nuevo Latino chef John Manion‘s cuisine. Anderson was working behind the bar at  Branch 27 the night we met, but he can also be found mixing up drinks at the Bedford.  He’s originally from sunny San Diego, but like so many of us was drawn to the uniquely historic cocktail scene that Chicago has to offer. The man also happens to make a mighty fine Old Fashioned, my benchmark for judging the legitimacy of a bartender. I can’t wait to come back to check out the new spot once it opens later this year.

Perhaps I’ll have to organize my own #ChiTownChowDown, which a few of my blogging brethren — L.A. and O.C. Foodventures, Gourmet Pigs,  Wind Attack and Hey Hey Scenesters — did this past weekend. Until then, cheers!

Recipe: Coconut rice pudding

By Krista,

There are times when I think I’d do quite well on Top Chef, simply for the fact that I’m a G when it comes to turning a seemingly empty pantry into treasure trove of edible goodness. Friday night was one of those moments. My sweet tooth was itching, bad. So I whipped up some Southeast Asian inspired rice pudding post haste. This simple dessert has the power to transport me straight back to Thailand, where my daily meals consisted of som tam (spicy papaya salad) and mango sticky rice 99% of the time.

For this recipe, I played it safe with skim milks. Of course, if you’re feeling ultra indulgent you can use full cream and whole coconut milk, but sometimes it’s good to exhibit some restraint, eh? Here’s how it’s done.

Ingredients:

2 cups cooked jasmine rice, cooled

1 1/4 cup light coconut milk

3/4 cup 1% milk

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp cinnamon

sliced bananas and mangos for garnish

Combine all these lovely ingredients in a saucepan and simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes. Make sure to stir it so the pudding doesn’t caramelize (or burn!) on the bottom of the pan.  Spoon it out into small bowls — like the ones above that my friend Alex got me from Anthropologie for my birthday — and top with small slices of banana, mango, or toasted desiccated coconut if you’ve got it. This is a thick pudding that will make four small servings, or two if you’re a coconut freak like me.

 

I heart you, Australia

By Krista,

Well, I’m back in L.A. after two weeks in Australia. It was quite the whirlwind adventure, with 7 flights in a mere 15 days! Needless to say, I’m a big jet lagged, but it was well-worth it. One might think I’d be bored with AUS by now; this was, after all, my third trip Down Under. But come on, the place is freaking huge–the size of the continental US in fact!

The truth is, I could go back to Australia a bazillion times and never get sick of it. It’s become such an integral part of who I am. On my first trip I went as a backpacker, WWOOFing my way around the country, working on wineries, apiaries, and dairies for over a year. That experience led to my first food writing gigs back here in L.A. Some time later, I was sent back by my editor for my first international assignment for the Los Angeles Times to write about the booming truffle business in Western Australia. Each visit the country opens my eyes to so many things, and I always come back inspired by their lust for life and passion for their province.

That said, being able to partake in Australia Day festivities in Sydney was really a special experience, as was attending one of the country’s biggest sporting events, the Australian Open. It’s hard to pick a favorite though, with all the sailing, squidding, drinking, and eating (and eating, and eating, and eating…) that I did on the trip.

Instead, I’ll give you the abridged version in photos. I have hopes of writing some longer features on my adventures, so this general overview will have to do. Here are a few of my favorite snapshots from each stop:

Melbourne, Victoria

My last night in Melbs, I got to check out the Australian Open, where 19-year old Australian Bernard Tomic (serving above) took the victory over Alexandr Dolgopolov. I’ve never attended a pro tennis match before, so this was pretty special.

The seats were right in front of Bernie’s buddies, who had come up with countless choreographed cheers to motivate their mate. They were almost as entertaining as the match itself!

I spent a good portion of my time in Melbs exploring their robust coffee culture. This is a flat white from one of my favorite coffee shops,  St. Ali. This mug size is what they call a “bachelor,” which is basically a competition-sized glass. I thought it was pretty cool how the latte art stayed put, even when my flat white was finished.

Another one of the highlights of Melbourne was the Hidden Secrets alley and laneways tour. Duck down any one of these tiny corridors, and you’ll find heaps of unique shops, quirky restaurants, and amazing cafes. We popped out of one alleyway and came to the  Royal Arcade, whose mosaic floors you can see here.

Adelaide, South Australia

My first stop after touching down in Adelaide was the Adelaide Central Market. I was insanely jet lagged from being up so late for the tennis, but the sight of this giant rock lobster was enough to wake me up. (Well, that and the dozen local oysters I ordered.)

Instead of doing the typical Barossa Valley trip, I ambled over to the Adelaide Hills and McClaren Vale.  There’s a heckuva lot of interesting wines/beers coming out of the region (more on that in those features I was speaking of). These grapes here are cab sauv from a fabulous estate called the Lane.  Really spectacular wines coming off that vineyard. 

The final stop on our wine country adventure was to taste Vale Ale Dry at it’s home in McClaren Vale. The beer, which won a gold medal at the International Beer Challenge, was perfectly balanced and an ace to end a warm summer day of touring around.  They also were pouring tastes of their Belgian whit, a limited seasonal release. I wish they could get this stuff in the States! So good…

Kangaroo Island, South Australia

On board the Lady Eugenie, we sailed down to Kangaroo Island. The Vale Ale they had on board really helped with the wicked sunburn I got from laying out on the deck. Being the crazy Yank that I am, I had to take in the sunshine. Bad idea.

The captain and I went squidding, and I caught two! Later that night we cleaned them, fried them up, and had the most delicious calamari ever.

After fishing we ate, and then ate some more. Look at the gorgeous appetizers prepared by the crew on the Lady Eugenie! I want to be back on that boat right…about…now.

Launceston, Tasmania

I spent most of my time in Tasmania near the Tamar Valley in a town called Launceston, This little gal became my best friend. Not only is she the most ADORABLE baby goat in the whole wide world, but she also will one day contribute to the excellent goat’s cheese at the husband-and-wife-owned Yandover Dairy.

Driving around the island in my little pink Nissan, I felt like the Tassie’s Angeline. I paid a visit to the estate of Edd Carr, who just won the prestigious Australian Winemaker of the Year Award for his Arras sparkling wines. God bless his bubbly.

This is a Tasmanian cheese plate that I noshed on for lunch at Bay of Fires. Seriously, the dairy–like the water–is some of the cleanest, purest product in the world. And that Roaring Forties stuff from King Island is just the beginning…

Somehow I managed to snap a shot of a bumble bee in flight at the Bridestowe Lavendar Farm. Lucky day, I guess.

Sydney, New South Wales

I woke up extra early on Australia Day to check out the harbor. It was pretty darn rainy this year, but there was a break for a good hour or so around mid-day.

Lamingtons are a tradition for Australia Day, as well as for citizenship ceremonies. Maybe one day I’ll meet a cute Aussie and get to eat one for the latter purpose. But I digress…

I was only in Sydney for Australia Day (see lede photo for my favorite snapshot of the festivities), and I just had to kick it off with some Vegemite and toast. It’s a good thing I got my fix then, because the airport security stole my stash on the way in. Apparently it was over 100 ml, but that stuff is solid as a rock–certainly not a liquid! I’m aware that most people think it tastes like napalm, but seriously, I had no intention of harming anyone with it. What the heck?!?

It was time to say goodbye to Sydney and the rest of AUS, but I did it in style on Qantas. Look at that view! Would you believe that the food was actually good?!? The unlimited Shiraz didn’t hurt either. I can’t wait to go back!