Tag Archives: Great Food

International Cottages – San Diego, Calif.

6 Jan

You have got to go here…International Cottages – San Diego, Calif.

As a Southern California native I have been to Balboa Park many times but had never had the chance to visit the International Cottages – man was I missing out!

Welcome!

Established in 1935 the cottages were set-up to promote understanding between nations.  Today, 32 countries open their doors every Sunday from noon – 4 p.m. to give visitors a glimpse into a traditional home, a history lesson and an opportunity to strike up a conversation with someone of a different culture.

And that’s not all that is inside…every cottage offers snacks native to their country (please bring small bills as tips are greatly appreciated for these treats!) so bring your appetite!

Oh wait there is more…some countries even have activities for you to partake in!

In addition to the open houses every Sunday each country hosts a lawn program each year that highlights music and dance from their part of the world.

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It doesn’t stop there, there are also several other events held throughout the year such as an Ethnic Food Fair and International Christmas Fair just to name a few!

I forgot to mention the best part – all of this is FREE!!!  So bring your friends, bring your family and spend the day immersing yourself in other cultures.

Happy Cottaging,

Crystal

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5 Reasons to Take a River Cruise with Scenic Cruises

27 Oct

I have got to do this…Take a River Cruise with Scenic Cruises

Of course I am sure there are a million reasons why I (and you too!) should float through Europe on a luxury hotel, but I will make it easy and give you the reasons why you HAVE to do this!

Let’s do this David Letterman style:

The TOP FIVE reasons to a take a river cruise with Scenic Cruises are…

5. Make new friends.

The intimacy of the luxurious fleet of ‘Space-Ships’ gives ample opportunities to meet new people from all over the world  and share a once of a lifetime vacation.  You never know how many lifelong friends you may meet!

4. Discover hidden gems.

Do you love to find new things that most others don’t take the time to discover? ME TOO!  Well, Scenic Cruises will make this easier for you.  Go where others may not venture because you will be floating to your picturesque destinations via luxury ship as opposed to planes, trains or automobiles!  The staff at Scenic Cruises has also taken special care in selecting their destinations to make sure they are like no other!

3. Choices, Choices, Choices.

Want to spend your day on a inclusive excursion (you heard me right – all excursions are included in the price of your cruise) with an experienced guide, riding an electric bike through quaint towns, relaxing in the sun on one of the many decks?  The possibilities of what to do are endless and the choice is all yours.

2.Personal Butler.

Need I say more?  Feeling parched and need a drink – have no fear your personal butler will be by shortly with a complimentary beverage.  Think this is the only luxury you will enjoy on your cruise?  Think again!  Rest our head on egyptian cotton linens, bathe with L’Occitaine amenities, use a Nordic walking stick while you are out exploring, listen to your personal GPS tour guide , enjoy a complimentary in-suite mini bar, have a friendly customer-oriented staff at your fingertips and of course taste world-class cuisine daily…just to name a few!

1.  Experience a  sunrise is a new spot each day!

How many people can say that each day of vacation they were able to see a truly new sunrise?  The best part about this is that it comes with no effort to you thanks to the itineraries of scenic cruises .  Just lay your head down at night and while you are dreaming you will be whisked to a new destination in your luxury coach. Nothing excites me more than the fact that each morning I will start my day off with a sight I have never seen before!

OK, so who is ready to go? ME ME ME!  I can already see myself sipping tea after a peaceful nights rest waiting anxiously to go and explore each day!

Happy Cruising,

Crystal

Portobello Rd. Market – Notting Hill, London

12 Oct

You have got to go here…Portobello Rd. Market – Notting Hill, London Do you ever plan on visiting something just to check it out and then are completly blown away by what you discover?  Well, that is exactly what happened to me when I took my first steps into the Portobello Rd. Market.  I will foerver be thankful to the Londoner who told us about this spot! (Which brings up a good point.  If you want to truly find the great spots in the city – talk to the locals!) Follow the signs... The market is located within walking distance from the Notting Hill Gate underground station.  Just follow the signs…you can’t miss them! Notting Hill Gate One of the coolest things aobut this market is the energy.  The flow of people heading towards this gem was amazing…it just felt like everyone was happy to be outside together enjoying the sunshine (we were lucky enough to get some.)  As I turned the final corner on my way to the market all I could see were beautiful brightly-colored buildings and vendors for miles. OMG look at everything!Artsy Train...Thank goodness for the signs! We went on a Saturday (the market is open every day but Sunday and different goods are sold on certain days) so the streets were full of antiques, new goods, produce and my favorite FOOD!  The smells were intoxicating and my taste buds were so happy that they got to sample some of the freshest food I have ever eaten. No matter what you are craving they have it here! Fresh ProduceTreats for all. Donuts!!! Best Bruschetta EVER! As I kept wandering I discovered more markets down little alley ways that were full of more food, more goods and music.  Do yourself a favor and take it all in, see it all – you never know what you might find! And…since you’re already here, why not explore Notting Hill a little more?  It is full of history, there are tons of cool things to do and I am not sure if you know but a pretty famous movie was filmed here so feel free to scope out the locations it was shot at (lol)! George Orwell Whatever you decide to do, I highly recommend hitting the streets at the Portobello Rd. Market.  It is a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture and really get the feeling of what it would be like if you were lucky enough for this to be your local market. Happy Portobello Roading, Crystal P.S. – Bring cash!

The City of York – York, United Kingdom

21 Sep

You have got to go here…The City of York – York, United Kingdom.

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I knew nothing of the city of York when my tour operator (who thankfully for me specialized is a UK Destination Specialist) Across the Pond Vacations suggested it as somewhere to visit on our first trip to the United Kingdom.  Being the type of person who likes to find hidden gems and get advice from locals, I didn’t do too much research in regards to what to see.  This was both good and bad.  Had I known how much awesomeness there was I would have stayed longer.  BUT our favorite things about York turned out to be places that were suggested to us by our innkeeper.

So, I am going to fill you in on my favorite spots, but of course I won’t tell you about everything…you need to go and discover new things too!

Let’s start with where we stayed.  I am sure that there are many lovely places to stay, but I am not sure that you could get better hospitality than what I received at the Alcuin Lodge. Darren was such a great host.  He met us personally when we arrived and spent time giving us tips on what to do in the short amount of time we had to explore.  Just an fyi – every amazing place in this blog was as a result of a Darren giving us the inside tip.  (I know what you are thinking…he is probably just referring you to the touristy places.  This was not the case, most of the spots he sent us to where off-the-beaten path and places he frequents as a local.)  Not only did we love Darren, but we loved the lodge too!  Super clean, very modern for being such an old home and we had an amazing breakfast cooked for us the next morning.

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While the lodge ins’t inside the city walls, it is just a short and beautiful walk through an historic neighborhood, ancient ruins and a magnificent park to get you to the city center.

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OK, so we literally had 24hrs in York and if I had to do it all over I would visit these four places again:

1. York Cocoa House

Really Chocolate??? Yes, really!  York has a history rich in Chocolate so I had to try some of the goods.  The trip here was well worth it.  I had the best hot cocoa and chocolate milk that I have ever had in my entire life.  Don’t judge me, yes…I went twice in 24hrs!  No pre-packaged mix here, only fresh real chocolate went into these drinks.

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2. National Railway Museum

I have been to several train museums in the United States, but nothing like this.  It is huge and full of so many amazing train cars and history.  OH and it is FREE!!! Donations however are accepted if you feel so inclined!  I highly suggest you pay the small fee and ride on a steam train like we did. In no way is this museum just for kids either, there is plenty of things for the whole family!

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3. The York City Walls

I don’t know about you, but this was the first time I walked on something built by the Romans and I was so excited.  These walls line the outside of the city center (only some portions still exist so get a map when you arrive) and are FREE to roam and offer a lovely view of the city.  You know by now that I am big kid, and there was truly something magical about taking the same steps that ancient soldiers took as well.

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4. Trembling Madness

What is Trembling Madness you ask?  Only the best pub I visited while on my trip to the U.K.  Located above a unique and very expansive liquor store sits a small and intimate pub that serves delicious food and drinks.  The ambiance is fantastic; I really felt like I stepped back in time.  This is the perfect place to meet locals and relax.  I also have to thank Trembling Madness for introducing me to the most yummy cider my lips have ever touched.

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Believe me when I say that these few places I visited are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to things to see and do in York.  I didn’t even touch on the Abbey destroyed by Henry VIII, the boat trip and the amazing shopping.  Do yourself a favor and make York part of your trip if you are ever in the U.K.

Happy Yorking,

Crystal

simplethings sandwich and pie shop

17 Jun

 “I am beginning to learn it is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.” – Laura Ingalls Wilder

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In the crazy, hectic, rigamarole of life it truly is in the sweet, simple things that we find happiness.  And if you want to find a place that lives into that philosophy, you only have to look as far as 8310 West 3rd Street in the heart of Los Angeles at a place called, quite appropriately, “simplethings.”  simplethings (no capital) doesn’t have five pages of menu items or thirty different desserts.  Instead, they focus on two things – sandwiches and pies, and they do those two things well.

It starts with fresh, local ingredients put together in combinations that make your taste buds dance and it goes from there.  From the mouth-watering Italian Meatloaf  to the new L.A.mbwich, they offer about 18 different varieties of sandwiches that will satisfy any palette.  Focusing not on traditional deli offerings (although you can find a reuben on their menu), they instead look to take the sandwich to a new level.  To go with it, they offer the kinds of food you would expect – soups, salads, potato chips, and even some mac & cheese.

But what will be sure to catch your eye are the pies.  Yummy, scrumptious pies in serving sizes you can eat by yourself.  Or share with a friend or three.  From the cutie pie to the simple pie to the BIG PIE (24 hours notice please), they offer a different variety everyday.  And they even bake custom pies.  Just call and tell them what you’d like and they’ll make it for you.  Andy Paxson, co-owner of simplethings, said that no one has ever really asked for anything outrageous, but one person did ask for a French Silk Pie… hold the crust.  “This one guy called up and asked how much would it be basically for a big serving bowl of just the filling, so we did it for him.”

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Andy graciously shared some of his thoughts about this amazing restaurant.

Why the name “simplethings?” – The name came from the first meeting with Ryan (Handel – co-owner with Andy).  We wanted to start a better ingredient sandwich shop and serve basic things that Americans really enjoy.  Simple.  We wanted to go with something off the word simple like in the phrase “the simple things in life.”  We wanted it to be a neighborhood place, a non-pretentious food experience.

Why do “simplethings” as one word? – A design choice.  We wanted people not to think of our food as “simple things” because we really wanted to focus on the better ingredient sandwich, but hope people associate our restaurant with a concept.  Instead of serving “simple things” they would instead have this association between our name and our food.

What was behind the philosophy of your place? – Well, again, we wanted to do a better ingredient sandwich concept and felt people were really ready for it.  The way the culinary world is around here, people want that experience but it’s still a fast-paced town.  With sandwiches, it was something people are already familiar with – comfortable, easy, not pretentious – and something they could talk to their friends about but all with better ingredients.  We wanted simplethings to be a neighborhood place that you know your sandwich was worked on with human hands.  It tastes good, not super heavy, and maybe something different.  Like our new L.A.mbwich and we’re planning on rolling out a Chorizo Sausage Sandwich soon.

Third Street seems to be a burgeoning mecca of food, was the location purposeful? – This being our first location, it’s not an easy thing (to pick the right place).  So much competition!  It’s quite a process for a young company.  You just have to wait and be willing to see what happens.  We looked all over the city for a long time, but always liked 3rd Street.  It has that New York feel in a sense – walking around town, restaurants and retail – few streets have lots of character, but this was one of them.

With so much competition, were you concerned? – Joan’s (Joan’s on Third) has been popular forever and then Toast is just down the street, but we considered that a good thing.  It brings people to the street, and we’re almost located exactly between the two.  We went into this place intentionally knowing it was a walking street.  We wanted to be part of that community.  Since the time we opened in 2010, the area has really taken off – Magnolia Bakery coming from New York, Mendicino Farms…it’s a legitimate culinary scene in L.A.  Overall the street works as a whole.  Similar concepts but each brings their own brand.

Why pies? – That idea also came from our first brainstorming meeting.  Sandwiches was the first focus and we thought let’s pair it with ONE dessert, not a dessert menu.  And pie is America’s dessert.  All these questionnaires asking what’s your favorite dessert and pie would always win.  But it always seemed there were hurdles to get a pie.  You either needed to buy a whole pie or order a slice of pie and right now quick grab and go desserts are popular.  Frozen yogurt, cupcakes, gelato – but no one had done it with pie so there would be a market for that, so we came up with the Cutie and Simple Pie.  It wasn’t a hard thing to decide to do.

What’s your favorite pie? – Either banana cream or key lime.  Key lime is not an easy pie to get the right combination of sweet and sour and banana cream has that cookie crust.  Both are great but they’re all terrific.  Everyone seems to love the mud pie.

What’s next for simplethings? – Well, we’ve always wanted to share our food all over L.A. and Southern California.  It’s such a great area and we’re full steam ahead in finding a second location.  Nothing to announce yet, but we’re looking for that next best thing.  The reaction of people to this first location gives us the confidence that this would work!

If the taste of their pies and other great offerings is anything to measure their success by, then simplethings is going to be around for a long time.  This is one of those places you’ve simply got to go there.  And bring a cutie pie home with you.

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simplethings sandwich and pie shop

8310 W 3rd Street, Los Angeles, CA

323.592.3390

simplethingsrestaurant.com

Andy Paxson – co-owner

Find Craig Yoshihara  regularly over at his blog Disney Nerd.  

Sidecar Doughnuts & Coffee – Costa Mesa, Calif.

9 Jun

You have got to go here…Sidecar Doughnuts & Coffee – Costa Mesa, Calif.

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Do you love doughnuts?  Well, then I have the place for you…

Located in Costa Mesa, Calif., Sidecar Doughnuts & Coffee, in my humble opinion, has some of the best tasting delights that my lips have ever touched.  Made fresh every day without preservatives, these doughnuts will have your taste buds dancing.

When you enter this charming cafe make sure and check the flavors of the day.  I warn you though, it will be hard to choose so why don’t you just try them all like we did?

Flavors!!!
Doughnuts-Yum!

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Here is what we sampled: Cinnamon Crumb, Huckleberry, Birthday Cake, Maple Bacon, Bavarian Cream and Green Eggs and Ham!  YES, I said Green Eggs and Ham and let me tell you it was DELICIOUS!  The combination of the savory ham and eggs with the sweet doughnut was enough to send you to heaven.  My other favorites were Maple Bacon ( I honestly have to say that I have tried many different varieties of this type of doughnut and Sidecar’s is by far the best) and Birthday Cake (look for the fun surprise in the middle).

The flavors change every week so be sure and check out the rotating variety so you can sample them all. OH and every Thursday there is a Vegan option and on Friday feel free to try a Gluten Free creation.

So obviously the treats make this place, but there are some other very cool things about Sidecar.  The people are so friendly and there is a great vibe.  I love the way it feels like a community, a place where you can listen to classic music on vinyl and where you are always told to have a nice day!

Have a nice day!

SidecarMusic for the soul.

OK, now you have been told…this place has amazing doughnuts.  Grab your friends and family and put a smile on their face like I did with a trip to Sidecar.

All smiles!!!

Happy Doughnuting,

Crystal

Little Italy Mercato – San Diego, Calif.

11 Nov

You have got to go here…Little Italy Mercato, San Diego, Calif.

Who doesn’t love a good farmers market?  I am here to tell you that in my opinion the Little Italy Mercato is the best farmers market I have been to in Southern California…

…and here’s why (in no particular order)…

Best view! Located just a few blocks from the ocean, it is blessed with an amazing spot to call home.

Samples!  Come hungry because there are tons (more than I have ever seen) of amazing fresh samples to delight in.

Local Products!  I know this may be obvious – but the variety is top-notch and so unique.

Music!  What a pleasant way to shop while listening to the sweet sounds of local artists.

Fresh fruits and veggies!  I would not be doing the market justice if I left out that fact that of course they also have hundreds of different fresh fruits, flowers and veggies to offer shoppers.

Fun (my favorite part)!  This market provides a perfect way to spend a day doing something fun with your friends and family.

With over four city blocks of fresh product, the Little Italy Mercato is somewhere you have got to go.  So, next Saturday between the hours of 8 a.m. and 2 p.m., grab your besties and head to San Diego.  May I suggest making a day of it?

Happy Mercatoing,

Crystal