Monthly Archives: May 2013

Opening Up (Whole30, week 1)

rogan josh(Rogan Josh atop roasted cauliflower)

First, I want to apologize for disappearing off the grid for more than a few days – between grant deadlines, manuscript revisions, transcontinental weekend getaways (amidst tornado season) and everyday distractions, time just slipped through my fingers. On top of that I have been ill. Not flu-sick or a common cold, but a more insidious discomfort that has been growing steadily over the course of several months and has finally gotten to a point that I can no longer ignore.

eggplant with spicy meat(Fried egg with spicy meat sauce, mango and blueberries)

Funny enough, when things get a bit tough here on the ground, I tend to shy away from talking about them on the blog. I very much like a safe distance between my blog life and reality. Plus, opening up about uncomfortable things – especially here – can be downright terrifying. Despite my inhibitions, I find myself searching out other bloggers opening up about details of their life – looking for someone with whom I can relate – and the relief is palpable when I read that my experiences are not unique, that others have tread this path before me and I can follow in their stead. Seems about time to pay it forward in the same way, right?

salad nicoise(Salad niçoise – the tuna has since been banned, see soy complaint below)

A few months ago I was diagnosed with irritable bowl syndrome (IBS), which for me manifests as a low-grade persistent nausea, bloating and, at its worse, abdominal spasms. Back in March my doctor suggested that I up my consumption of fruits and veggies (ha! I thought – my CSA would cure all!) and implement a more regular exercise routine.  Maybe those changes (and a fiber supplement) would most likely do me all sorts of good.

scramble(Veggie scramble)

I started eating giant salads regularly. I severely cut back my alcohol consumption. I enrolled in a ‘Boot Camp’ class on campus (think this, but for 45 minutes straight – it is still kicking my butt 7 weeks in). But things have not changed. In fact, the nausea has gotten worse, as has the cramping. Not to mention the many pounds I have somehow acquired since my return from Paris (some of it easily explained – Taco Tuesday AHEM – some of it definitely due to ‘belly issues’, as we call them in my house). And then, after spending the vast majority of our flight back from DC curled into a ball of nauseous pain (changing ambient pressure during air travel is NOT my belly’s friend), I decided I needed to do something more.

simple (Keeping it simple – hard boiled eggs, avocado and mango)

Now do not get me wrong. I know that, in the spectrum of what I could be dealing with, I am toward the low end. I have close friends with various advanced intestinal disorders; they have to occasionally contemplate life without feet of their colon to alleviate the pain. In fact, I am sure they are reading this and smiling condescendingly right now. But I firmly believe that there is no point to not take our health into our own hands and try to better it in any way possible. I refuse to be one of those people who wince and bear it saying, “Oh, it is OK, I just get horrible, debilitating cramps regularly, they’ll pass” (because most of the times, thankfully, they do). I think that is dumb and, frankly, I’m way too much of a wimp to deal with it stoically.

czech meatballs (Czech meatballs on a bed of cider vinegar braised cabbage)

So I started poking around the Interwebs, a dubious place to start for sure. And, through a quick introduction by The Wednesday Chef (one of my all-time favorite blogs), I found the Whole30. The Whole30 is a ‘eat real food’-type regimen that focuses on consuming those foods proposed to restore psychological, hormonal, gut and immune balance to one’s system. I read, “It Starts With Food”, Dallas and Melissa Hartwig’s bestseller that introduces the program, and drank up testimonial after testimonial claiming weight loss and the disappearance of all sorts of symptoms after following their 30 day plan.

Before anyone interrupts with that knowing smirk, I am aware of how biased testimonials are – anyone will say anything for 15 minutes of fame (or their words forever etched in a book), but the more I read of their scientific justification, the more I was convinced it was worth a try. I am always game for a challenge.

egg and cabbage(Softly fried egg with this braised cabbage – so good)

And it is quite the challenge. For 30 days, eat real food – high quality proteins, vegetables and fruit. Do not eat: added sugars, alcohol, dairy, soy, legumes or grains. Eat your meals with intent, and eat as much as it takes to fill up, no more. Importantly (for my incredibly compulsive nature) – no counting calories, weighing, measuring or otherwise assessing progress besides how I feel for the entirety of the next 30 days.

craving fresh (Plenty of fresh salads with gooey avocado and tangy balsamic)

So, how I am I feeling? Good. I have not had any of the headaches or lethargy that some participants feel. I am not entirely sick of eggs and meat yet. Shockingly. This is good, because I’m only finishing up Day 7 this evening. 23 days to go.  My belly has calmed down, although whether that is due to lessening stress/travel or the diet is unclear. I swear my pants fit a bit looser, but I am known to have an overactive imagination.

egg and chard, spicy pork(Rainbow chard and spicy pork fry, topped with an egg)

We will see. It certainly cannot hurt. What I have interspersed my story with today are my meals from the first week. I am learning to cook all sorts of new dishes (meat!!!) and I do find myself craving those giant, fresh salads. I also find myself dreaming about cheese and bread, but we’ll ignore that for now. With each day, I feel like I am becoming more aware of when I am ‘full’ – and I have found myself stopping halfway through meals, saving the rest for the next day without any hesitation, something that I would have never done previously when shoveling dinner into my mouth unawares. I am also much more aware of what is actually in the food I consider ‘whole’ – why does my canned tuna contain soy? And why does my deli ham include red algae by-products (and wouldn’t you expect it would be the other way around)?

moroccan meatballs(Moroccan meatballs, seriously this cookbook has been essential so far)

My favorite part about the entire plan (somewhat tellingly) is the ‘self-experimentation’ at the end, when I get to add back the individual food groups, assessing how they make me feel in order to identify the possible culprits exacerbating my IBS. So, while Tuesday tacos are forbidden to me (tortillas! beans! cheese!), I am taking you all on a Whole30 ride, as I am actually quite proud of how I have adapted thus far.  And, while I have all sorts of hypotheses about what the culprits will be, right now I am focused on making it through the next 23 days and it will take all the help I can get. One egg at a time.

I am keeping track of my meals on Instagram – find me and help me keep going! @researchingsandiego









Taco Tuesday – Carnitas Snack Shack

carnitasCarnitas Snack Shack has been on my “must try ASAP” from the moment I stepped off of that transatlantic flight six months ago. A new darling on the restaurant scene, the Snack Shack serves locally sourced, pork-centric tacos, sandwiches and small plates from a window-front stand at University Ave and Oregon St. in North Park. They also stock plenty of local craft beer, so if you are not in a rush after ordering, settle into the picnic tables set up around back, admire the garden beds, soak up some sun and stay awhile.snack shack earlyI snuck out of work a bit earlier than usual a few weeks ago to meet friends here to finally taste what the buzz was all about. I arrived a bit early – they had pups to pick up at home, as the Snack Shack patio is extremely dog friendly. There was no line when I got there – around 5:30 or so – and I was able to order a Green Flash Trippel to tipple while I waited in one of the few tables still getting direct sunlight in the garden and sunshineOnce the rest of the crew arrived, we worked out a plan to try as many things on the menu as possible. I ordered the carnitas tacos (of course!), M ordered the specialty of the house, the Triple Threat sandwich and H rounded out the main courses with steak flautas. Additionally we agreed to split the pork belly appetizer and an order of fries. I am getting the idea that my friends delight in having this blog as an excuse to order almost everything on the menu (we did skip a vibrantly colored and delicious looking beet and goat cheese terrine).back gardenWe were lucky in our timing – within about 10 minutes of putting in our order, the line outside of the solitary window to pork-goodness started forming and snaking rapidly up the street. While we waited we helped ourselves to water – both in glasses and in a graciously provided doggie bowl. Thankfully, our food was also first out of the kitchen and it was not more than 15-20 minutes before we had a steaming, smoky feast set before our eyes (and watering mouths), while the newcomers watched with hungry anticipation.salsasThere was no order to the service – our pork belly and fries came delivered with everything else, and we immediately started to divide things into threes such that we could all get a taste. H had also noted that the Snack Shack purchases locally crafted salsas, which were available upon request (and were delivered quickly). We started to pass the plates around and the universal indication of tastiness – silence – settled around our table.carnitas2First, the tacos (it is Tuesday). There is a reason that the entire restaurant is names for this dish alone. The carnitas themselves were incredibly tender, smoky and moist, but retained that spicy crust from a high heat sear along the outside edges that provides a satisfying crunch before each bite melts in your mouth. The tacos were piled high with meat and garnished simply with fresh avocado, a heaping scoop of homemade pico de gallo, lime and a side of corn slaw. Together, the flavors created what is now my favorite carnitas in San Diego – it really is that crispy roasted outer edge that gets me every time.  The serving was more than enough to fill my belly, but with four more dishes on the table, I had to keep tasting. Yup, life is hard.flautasAlthough we tried to love them as much as the tacos, we all agreed that (despite being talked up by the man behind the ordering window) the beef flautas were our least favorite of the bunch. The steak was cooked medium-rare and had great flavor, but compared to the slow roasted pork in the other dishes that melted in our mouth, the somewhat chewy hunk of meat took an immediate back seat. The fries were also not necessary – not in the scope of our meal, certainly – but also in general. They were great fries – thin, a well-balanced combination of crunch and steaming soft potato –but given what the Snack Shack does so well (pork), there is no reason to order anything else.triple threatSpeaking of which, let’s get back to the pig. Our collective tie for first place was split down the middle (one vote for each and me, undecided) between the Triple Threat and the pork belly appetizer. The Triple Threat sandwich is a study in absolute excess, featuring pulled pork topped by schnitzel topped by bacon, with a schmear of house aioli and a pickle/pepper relish, all sandwiched between a buttery bun. I think, before tasting it, we all expected it to be too much – too rich, too fatty, too much everything. It was definitely rich and over the top, but not grossly so. In fact, the meats harmonized much better than I expected and the crunch and vinegar heat from the relish went a long way through cutting through the heft. It was, simply, super – not at all a gimmick, but a seriously good sandwich that I would not hesitate to order again (and encourage others to do the same).pork bellyThe pork belly was a completely different type of decadent. Seemingly somewhat out of place on a menu of finger foods, this slab of pork belly had clearly been braised for hours and was served coated in a thick sweet-spicy glaze and tart apple lemon slaw. The tender meltiness of this dish put even the carnitas to shame and the sauce, possibly a bit too cloying at first, grew on us until we were dipping the salad greens in it as well, so none would go to waste. We all devoured the belly immediately after its initial tasting – there was an instinctive competitiveness, even among friends, because we all knew without saying that if you didn’t get your fork in for another bite now, you would be left behind (and belly-less). Both M and H went in for the last bite at the same time and there was some very careful negotiation to decide who would actually taste victory.puppiesCompletely stuffed and leaning back in our chairs, we took some time to digest, catch the last of the sunlight and comfort the dogs who looked up at us with such longing that it was clear they knew exactly what was going on table-side. After groaning our approval and commenting on our bulging bellies, M and I were shocked when the server returned, cleared our plates (and remaining fries) and plopped down a foil-wrapped surprise in the familiar shape of an ice cream sandwich. H had ordered it behind our backs and he unwrapped it with the excitement of a little kid experiencing the ice cream truck for the first creamSandwiched in between two chocolate wafer cookies was vanilla ice cream studded with toffee and bacon chips. The server assured us that it was made by  a visiting guest pastry chef and that it was not to be missed. I am, oddly, without a sweet tooth or a fanatical love of chocolate, so I do not think I would go as far as claiming this cookie confection to be an essential component of a Snack Shack meal; but it was a pleasant, cool, salty-sweet treat that rounded off the meal nicely.snack shack lateWe departed shortly thereafter, letting the dogs say goodbye to the neighboring tables and skirting the line that had continued to replenish throughout our meal, now stretching halfway up the block. Restaurants that serve food as fresh and tasty as the Snack Shack make it incredibly difficult to branch out and try something new  – I am already looking forward to the opportunity to drag The Bat & Co. here for a late afternoon Sunday supper. In the local scene, what I am saying is nothing new and I am only adding my voice to the chorus of Snack Shack lovers, but it is always worth sharing a place worth your time, taste buds and hard-earned dollar.

Carnitas Snack Shack

2632 University Ave. 

San Diego, CA 92104

619.294.PORK (7675)

Weekly Photo Challenge – Pattern

kelp tank(Kelp Forest)

After my work trip up in the San Francisco Bay Area ended a few weeks ago, The Bat and I decided to make a road trip out of the return. Rather than hop on a commuter flight and zoom back to San Diego, he and his brother journeyed north, picked me up, and we spent the next four days working our way down the state, seeing the sites, friends and family along the way.leopard shark(Leopard shark – a common sight in several tanks – and aptly named)

Our first stop was Monterey – only a few hours out of SF – and home to one of the best aquariums in the world (not to mention some amazing food and a great Comfort Inn). Photos from the Monterey Bay Aquarium seemed a fitting submission to this Week’s Photo Challenge from The Daily Post.

This week the theme is “Pattern” and nowhere is the effect and functionality of patterns more apparent then when seeing animals in their (semi-) natural habitat. Patterns can act as camouflage, to attract mates or distract predators. Only in the extraordinarily unique environment of an aquarium can we see those patterns that set apart the creatures of the sea.

EelsThere were several species of eel on display, all of which were blatantly patterned – better to hide within the rocky nooks and crannies, I suppose.  sand eelseel1eel2

Sea Dragons: There was an extensive seahorse/sea dragon exhibit. The sea dragons in particular captured my attention and imagination. Covered in fins and protrusions that looked more like kelp than animal, they were mesmerizing to watch.seadragonseadragon2seadragon3

Jellies: My favorite exhibit, without a doubt, was “The Jellies Experience”, which was one of the most complete jelly collections I have seen, all set to some pretty rad disco funk. I could honestly watch jellyfish for hours – moving at different speeds, in haphazard directions. Several species were heavily dotted or striped, I would guess to mimic the reflection of the sun. Seeing all these creatures close up really drives home how nature finds a way to fend for herself, often in beautiful and unpredictable ways. jelly1jelly2jelly3jelly4jelly5

French Friday – Bateaux Mouches

bateaux mouchesClichés do not become such without reflecting some truth, right? This is certainly the case when it comes to seeing the sights in Paris. It may be exhausting to wait in line and wade through crowds, but can you really say you have ‘done’ Paris if you skip out on the Louvre, Notre Dame or the Eiffel Tower? There are just some places and views that need to be seen for oneself.pont alexandre and grand palais (Grand Palais and Pont Alexandre III)

I had always taken the “eh, it’s for tourists” attitude when it came to the Seine river cruises. These barges boats, filled with hundreds of tourists, zoom up and down the river day and night, dodging bridges, commercial vessels and lighting up the city with megawatt spotlights after the sun goes down (never stare directly into the light – trust me). Several of the companies even offered multi-course dinner cruises for (what I considered) extortionate prices – not only had I heard that the food was utterly mediocre, but I also couldn’t fathom sitting inside a boat, facing a table full of food when the perfectly lit skyline of Paris zoomed by alongside you.under the pont alexandre (Pont Alexandre III, from below)

However, as my time in Paris was growing short this summer and I was deciding what things I could not miss before leaving, several friends reassured me that taking one of these rides – either at dusk or after the sun went down – was a must-do. It is such a different perspective, they told me, to see the city from the river – to view it as a bustling port of sorts – and realize how central the Seine is to the identity and function of the city itself. houseboat(Houseboats moored on the Seine)

I had my chance when family came to visit in late July. After (too) many hours standing in line for the Eiffel Tower (something else left for those last days), it was wonderful to get on our barge-like motorboat, soak in the last rays of late-afternoon sun and see the city as I never had before. We chose to stay away from any variety of dinner cruise (because of the aforementioned price and distraction) and decided on the Bateaux Mouches based on personal recommendations. We were not disappointed – it truly was a different, even more beautiful city when seen from the Seine. Especially as the sun dipped deeper into the sky and the clouds spread out around us.assemblee nationale (Assemblee Nationale)

For a fun Friday frolic, I’m including an armchair tour here. Enjoy! orsay(Musée d’Orsay)

louvre(Louvre spotting)

waves(Waving from the tip of Ile de la Cité)

pont neuf(Pont Neuf, from below)

notre dame front(Notre Dame, from the front…)

notre dame back(…and from the rear)

quai front(Paris quai-front housing)

dancers(Dancers practicing river-side)

hotel de ville(Hôtel de Ville)

paris plage(Late afternoon Paris Plages – the summertime ‘beach’ next to the Seine)

another(We are not alone – a passing Bateaux Mouches in front of Pont des Arts)

invalides(Sun setting as Les Invalides peeks over the railing)

eiffel tower(And, of course, we end with the monument to rule them all – the Eiffel Tower)

Taco Tuesday – Tacolicious (SF)

tacos   (From L to R: carnitas, bistec, 2x short ribs)

During a very quick work trip up to the San Francisco Bay Area last week, I only had time to travel into the city for one meal. Thankfully my dinner companion knew of my affinity for tacos, and we made a beeline for Tacolicious as soon as I arrived (after 90 minutes of excruciating traffic up from the South Bay – ick). The hour wait for a table was easily passed while having a Paloma at The Chapel, a dark, quiet, classy bar next door. And, as it was the first time meeting my knitting buddy in person, we had more than enough to catch up on.palomaBlogging is a funny thing – putting pieces of you out there, wondering if anyone will pause long enough to watch, listen and interact. My initial motivation to start ResearchingParis (the precursor to this blog) was to transport my friends and family in the US into my day-to-day adventures half a world away. Although it is still a wonderful way to keep up with loved ones flung far and wide, ResearchingSanDiego feels bigger than that – a place where I am challenging myself to open up, write often, cook locally, and push my limits creatively. I am only just now feeling comfortable enough in this space to start reaching out into the blogging community to connect with other likeminded people. Thankfully, the first time I did, I connected with Mere.patioI’ve written before of how Mere’s blog has inspired me to consider each day an opportunity to make something new, set fresh goals and recommit to myself, without getting bogged down in missed opportunities of yesterday. It was in this vein (and due to unflagging kindness and optimism that radiated through her words), that I contacted her in late February to see if maybe she’d want to cross “join a knitting club” off of her life list by working on cooperative monthly knitting projects in a virtual knitting club with me. From our first few email exchanges I knew I had found a kindred spirit and was thrilled that we were going to connect when I traveled north. adviceAs it turns out, we did not discuss our knitting once. Not one sentence about Honey Cowl progress (tomorrow, I promise!) or possible May projects. Instead we shared stories of international travel, younger brothers and relationships gone both horribly wrong and wonderfully right. I felt immediately comfortable seated across from her and that trust was not misplaced; by the end of the night I returned to my hotel reinvigorated and motivated to get back on the blogging bandwagon, with at least 5 new projects in mind.taco menuThere was only one stretch of silence throughout our evening and it came when we were seated on the candlelit patio of Tacolicious enjoying the first bites of dinner that had just arrived, piping hot from the kitchen. To start we ordered the queso dip. Steamy, spicy and gooey, this queso was everything you wanted from the traditional cheese dip. We followed that up with a taco combo platter (4 for $14!) – 2 braised beef short rib tacos for Mere; 1 carnitas and 1 bistec adobado with pickled onions for me – and housemade refried beans. The meal was served with three salsas of increasing hotness, the vibrant red, yellow and green of the sauces lending a festive atmosphere to our table.quesoThe quiet of us savoring our tacos was quickly broken by exclamations of their deliciousness and insistance that we trade and try each other’s chosen combination of fillings. The carnitas were very good, rich and savory, served with white onions and fresh cilantro. The bistec (marinated steak, cooked medium) was tender and juicy, the pickled onions lending a nice tart, sour crunch that cut well through the heft of the meat. The stars of the show, however, were the short rib tacos. Unexpectedly (to me), the sweet-ish braising liquid paired well with piquant onions and spicy salsa. The meat itself had clearly been simmering for hours and all but melted in my mouth with each bite. When (not if) I return, it will take all my self-control to branch out beyond their deliciousness.salsas Despite the traffic, wait for a table and (irrational) worry of potential awkwardness meeting an “Inter-friend”, this was one of the best evenings I have had in a long while. I was out, exploring a new city, getting to know a new friend and eating amazing food. It truly does not get much better than that.

Tacolicious, Mission Location

741 Valencia St. (at 18th St.)

San Francisco, CA 94110

(415) 626-1344

Reservations not taken for parties less than 12. There will be a line. That’s ok, tuck in at the bar (or at The Chapel next door). It’s worth it. 




Weekly Travel Theme – Dance

Besides dancing it out in my own living room after an exceptionally good day, there is not much dance in my everyday life. So, when Ailsa challenged her readers with this week’s travel theme of “Dance”, I was genuinely stuck for a moment. My first reaction was to lament that I’d not reviewed the theme over the weekend, so I could have gone out and found dancers (taking new photos based on these weekly themes, rather than digging through the archives is the next step in this process of bettering my photography). My second impulse was to wish my nieces and nephews were just a bit older, because there is nothing more fun than crazy toddler dancing. Then I started digging – turns out the archives are not as dry as once thought… Let’s Dance:

father daughter discoMy time in Nepal was full of dancing – from this father-daughter dance at the reception of the wedding I was attending (isn’t the bride’s sari amazing?!), to these children dancing in the streets to the sounds of another wedding party walking to the bride’s home in the traditional ceremony of Janti.happy childrenother nepali wedding

Weddings are great venues to catch dancing, in general. These are photos of the first dance from two friends’ weddings I attended recently – the first in Dade City, Florida; the other in Washington, D.C (look at her shoes! I’m still in awe).first dance macaronfirst dance DC

There is nothing more French than doing the Can-Can under the Eiffel Tower on Bastille Day – right? can can

And no one, given the chance, would turn down the opportunity to dance with Dropkick Murphys on stage at L’Olympia in Paris…dropkick murphys

Lastly, there’s this guy. Dancing solo while a clarinet busker tries to make the most of his day in the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris. He doesn’t appear to care about anyone else (especially the stranger with a camera) – he just needs to dance. solo dancer montmartre

Sunday Brunch – Fig Tree Café

benedictMy favorite meal of the day, without a doubt, is brunch. Granted, I don’t do brunch on a daily (or even weekly/monthly) basis, but every once in a while it is a great way to kick off a lazy Sunday. Conveniently, we live in one of the few truly walk-able areas of San Diego, and on a sunny weekend morning there is nothing better than taking a casual stroll around the neighborhood that culminates in sitting down for a tasty meal.fig tree signThere are several places in Hillcrest that specialize in brunch. Our favorite, thus far, is the locally owned and operated Fig Tree Café. Fig Tree started out as a popular breakfast joint in Pacific Beach and only recently opened its second location on University Ave. It is definitely smaller and less well known than its local brunch competitors, but after sampling our way through the area, we both agree that the quality of the food and service (not to mention affordability) pushes Fig Tree to the top of our lists. bloody marysOne particular Sunday The Bat and I slipped in before the rush, grabbed a table for two and settled in for a meal we ended up terming Blinner, as it was filling enough to take us through the entire day (breakfast, lunch and dinner). We both started with Bloody Marys, spicy. What arrived was perfection – thick, vegetal, strong and peppery, with plenty of bite. The Bat is a sucker for Eggs Benedict, especially if a seafood variation is involved, so he settled quickly on the Crab Cake Benny (with avocado on the side). monterey scrambleI, on the other hand, took my sweet time. I am not a sweet breakfast person typically, which is good when it comes to the excessive choice on the Fig Tree menu – at least I could immediately disregard the French toast/pancake options. After much debate between everything else, I finally decided on the Monterey scramble – eggs scrambled with scallions, bacon, Ortega chilies and Monterey Jack cheese and served with avocados, tomatoes, black beans, Spanish rice and tortillas. Breakfast tacos!breakfast taco Our food was, to put it bluntly, scrumptious. The Eggs Benedict was cooked perfectly, the yolk mingling with Hollandaise, avocado and chunks of real crab. The side of breakfast potatoes, normally an afterthought, almost stole the show, heavily seasoned, crispy and tossed with rosemary. My scramble was chock-full of chunks of bacon, strips of roasted chili and gooey pockets of melted cheese, perfect for layering with the smoky black beans and rice for tacos. The service was impeccable and, despite the relatively small space filling up while we were there and a line forming outside, we never felt hurried or rushed to collectionI am looking forward to returning for soon – the evening specials, written by hand on the roof-to-floor chalkboard adjacent to the bar sounded tremendous – braised meats and handmade pastas constructed from seasonal, locally sourced products. Not to mention the extensive wine list and great Happy Hour deals  ($6 wine flights! $5 pizzas!). Last, but certainly not least, I must return to order their specialty – “Man Candy” – thick-cut bacon candied with brown sugar and paprika. How can that possibly be anything other than delicious?