Day drinking and road tripping during a global pandemic

*Not at the same time.*

As people start to venture out of doors after sheltering in place, I have reluctantly tried to get some time at local restaurants and neighborhoods. For most of the pandemic, starting in early April, I was having back aches and spasms, so I stayed inside most of the time anyway. I was also a cancer survivor, so I was (and am) in a high-risk category for the Corona virus, so I didn’t take any chances while almost everything was shut down. It was all home cooking and deliveries for me.

Here in California, they opened up most businesses in May and June, just to have a huge wave of new Covid cases, and many things shut back down again. In San Diego, the restaurants are allowed to stay open, but with outdoor seating only (and other rules in place for social distancing, mask wearing, etc.).

Luckily, San Diego is a town with nice weather pretty much all of the time, so lots of places have a bit of outdoor seating already. Now the city is letting businesses build outdoor seating areas in their (already scarce) parking spots, and blocking off certain streets to vehicular traffic for several days to promote local businesses and allow them to expand into the street.

This week, since my mom informed me that she had never been day drinking before, we decided to venture to downtown San Diego and hit a couple of my favorite spots. Masks are not optional on public transportation, and we opted for gloves as well as extra sanitizing wipes.

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Aren’t we cute? In a way, it’s frustrating to have to decide between possibly getting sick and leaving your house. I was happy (sort of) to do it a few months ago, but summer weather makes it harder and harder to stay inside. I am glad San Diego found a solution most businesses can work with.

It was a beautiful day, even in a city where we have a lot of beautiful days.

And, it’s really quite ingenious the way businesses have adapted to the pandemic. This is Fifth Avenue, where several restaurants appear to have consolidated their outdoor space to accommodate some day drinking.

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So, yeah, about the day drinking. My mom has never really been a big drinker, especially with having kids pretty young and being a single mom with a lot on her plate, she basically didn’t have time to party. And while I am sure she had a drink during the day at least once, it wasn’t on the level of day drinking my girlfriends and I aspire to on a normal (non-cancer, non-pandemic) Sunday afternoon.

So we had to stop by Urban India, one of my favorite spots downtown. (You might remember them from a previous blog post when owner Surinder Singh taught me how to make Gobi Manchurian, one of my favorite spicy Indian/Chinese dishes.)

Urban India used to have the best lunch buffet in the Gaslamp District, but has taken a hit since the pandemic wiped out all buffets. They still have amazing food, even though they unfortunately had to switch from a successful buffet to a piecemeal situation with delivery apps, takeout orders, and a few patio diners. Their story is similar to millions of other restaurants nowadays.

We were only there for a while, so we ordered some samosas and some drinks. I got the boozy mango lassi.

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This is a perfect summer drink, especially when you are eating anything spicy. It’s made with yogurt, milk, fruit, and sweetener, and of course, a couple shots of vodka. You can theoretically use any type of fruit, but mango is the best, particularly for Indian food and spicy meals.

Boozy Mango Lassi

(serves 1-2)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup diced fresh mango or mango puree*
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1-2 tbsp. white sugar
  • 2 shots (or more) plain vodka
  • 2 cups ice
  • sprig of mint for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a blender for about a minute and pour into a glass of ice. Garnish with fresh mint and serve immediately.

– – – –

Day drinking, commence!

On to our next stop.  I don’t know if you guys feel like I do, but it just doesn’t feel … the same. No-touch menus. Masked servers. I like online ordering, but it seems to me that Murphy is enforcing his law extra-hard during the pandemic: anything that can go wrong is totally going wrong. We really wanted fancy hot dogs at the Dog Haus, but between their app failing, the Doordash connection not working, and the city for some reason removing the patio tables at the Dog Haus while allowing every other restaurant to expand their outdoor patio seating, we decided to scrap that plan.

We ended up at the Carnitas Snack Shack at Broadway and Harbor Drive, enjoying a local beer, a fancy burger and a slightly overcast sunset.

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By the way, that’s a triple threat sandwich: a pork schnitzel, pulled pork, delicious bacon, and fancy relish on top of a brioche bun. It’s amazing.

But it got me thinking: I am about to start a nationwide road trip. The last one I’ll ever take. Is the whole country going to be like this? Some businesses just closed, some drastically changed temporarily, some that will never be the same again? I guess there’s never a good time for a pandemic, but this seems unfair.

Come to think of it – there’s never a good time to get cancer, but dang, it really seems like this is a particularly bad time to have cancer.

I am going on this trip — like, no matter what — but I know that most of the cool things I want to do will be closed, cancelled, or cut short. It’s a shame to feel this way when thousands are dead … but this is harsh.

When I originally planned this trip as a kid, it played out much differently in my head. I planned to wait until I retire, buy a huge RV, fix it up, and go on a long, slow, mostly solo trip around the country.

Now it’s so different: it has to be now. Like, right now. I am a ticking time bomb and could get sicker at literally any moment. The RV has to be small and (hopefully) relatively fuel-efficient. I’ll need travel companions; both for general safety and also because I don’t know when or if I will get too sick to be on my own.

And since I will still need to come back to San Diego frequently for doctor’s appointments, scans, and picking up prescriptions – not to mention that all of my erstwhile travel companions probably can’t be on the road with me for more than a couple of weeks at a time – I will have to have multiple short trips (2-3 weeks max) instead of one huge, year-plus-long trip around the nation.

For the first short trip in late August, I plan to go to Montana. I am going to drive north to see some people in the Sacramento area and the Bay Area, and then I will go through Idaho and into Montana, then, if I have time, to the Dakotas and to see Mount Rushmore and the Badlands. I want to go to the cold northern states before winter hits, then when the weather is colder I can go south. I don’t have a specific itinerary – I just want to see everything – but I have a lot of people I want to visit.

Kicking the bucket is hard work.

Hopefully I will be buying my RV this week … I am still searching and I know that the perfect vehicle will present itself at the perfect time.

In the meantime, if you’d like to help me on my bucket list trip, you can donate to my GoFundMe here.

Boysenberry Baby Back Ribs and Planning for the trip of your life

I have just under 30 days before I vacate my apartment and hit the road in an RV — which I technically do not yet have.

I have given away most of my clothes, I have packed up half of my apartment, and I have organized an insane amount of schwag. I pick up some cool promotional things from just about every 5k, festival, fun run, concert and foodie event I attend, which leads to a truly astounding array of can koozies, cup coasters, hats, lighters, posters, ticket stubs, race medals, and other random accoutrements.

And don’t even get me started on my collection of cookbooks. This is maybe half of it.

I have, of course, had my mom here to help me. She was in my apartment before I was even discharged from the hospital (see previous post), and has been here since, helping me with cooking, cleaning, laundry, and all sorts of other things, while my broken back heals.

I have also had other family to come cheer me up and help out; my sister and her partner came from Texas, and my brother came from Ventura county with his wife. It has been wonderful to spend some time with them all, especially since I don’t know how much longer I’ll be around.

Aren’t we all adorable?

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To make a very long story very short, my brother and I, for reasons beyond our control as children, didn’t meet each other until we were adults. Since then we have developed a truly wonderful relationship, but it’s kind of a bummer that we weren’t given the chance to know each other for our whole lives.

Regardless, we are making up for lost time, in the best way ever: with BBQ.

Big brother writes a blog, too, check out his theme park blog at Park Journey. Because he goes on so many trips to theme parks, I get the benefit when he shows up with things like a big bottle of boysenberry concentrate from Knott’s Berry Farm.

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I made the most awesome Boysenberry Baby Back Ribs! (See the end of this post for the recipe.)

We also went out with another friend to check out some RV sales lots, so I can get an idea of what type of vehicle I want. I don’t have a truck (or even a car) so I don’t want something I have to haul, and I need something with a standard bed, i.e., not one I have to climb a ladder to get into, or unfold from a table or something. It’s too hard on my poor broken back!

Anyway, I think I narrowed it down to the type of Class C RV I need for this trip.

I will continue to update as I prepare to take off on this amazing trip of a lifetime. I do not yet have an itinerary; nor do I plan to have one. I have a lot of people I would like to see, and there are a lot of monuments and national parks and just beautiful areas of the country that I’ve never seen, and now that I am running out of time, I am very excited to see. I even splurged and bought myself the best travel gift ever: a brand new, spiral-bound, Adventure Edition road atlas!

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This baby even has a full section on all of the national parks! I probably won’t be driving to Alaska (although you never know), but other than that, I really want to see all of the national parks. This will be so fun!

And, yes. I am excited. I have something truly life-changing and amazing to look forward to. I know it might seem weird, in fact I got a few comments and messages about how happy I seem to be about a bucket list road trip. All I can say to that is, I learned a lot from when I had breast cancer before; and I learned a lot about control.

When you have cancer, it’s easy to feel like you have no control over your life … you’re told what to eat, what medicines to take, what horrible treatments to do to your body. You feel like your own body is betraying you; like no matter what you do, this cancer is the one in control, not you. And to a certain extent, that is true.

But.

But.

You always have control over your own reactions to things. Sure, you can be a jerk to the nurse treating you, and probably nobody would blame you, because you have cancer and you’re in pain or you’re sick. But being a jerk isn’t going to make you feel any better. It certainly won’t make your treatment any easier.

A positive attitude, sometimes, is all you have.

I’ve always been a happy person. Sure, I have problems like everyone else, but I am generally happy. I have (had) a great career, a house on the beach, a great boyfriend, a wonderful family, amazing friends .. I don’t have a lot to be angry at the world about. And I am sure not going to let cancer take anything else away from me.

Being sick; I can’t control that.

But I can control how I react to it.

I choose not to be afraid.

I choose not to be angry.

I choose to be happy despite the pain.

I choose to make every moment count.

I choose to live my life as I want to live it.

I choose to end it the way I want to end it.

I am going to ride out on the greatest bucket list trip ever. Hopefully I will see everything I want to see, live another five years, and write a great book about my adventures. Maybe I will have to cut my adventure short if I get too sick or am in too much pain. But I will ride as long as I can and see as much as I can for as long as I can.

It’s gonna be so rad!

 

Boysenberry Baby Back Ribs 

(Instant Pot Recipe)

Ingredients:

  • Two (2) baby back rib racks
  •  about 1/2 of 1 bottle of Knott’s Berry Farm Boysenberry Punch Concentrate, separated (you can purchase online here)
  • 1 cup water
  • 8 oz. tomato paste
  • 3 tbsp. brown sugar
  • about 1/2 diced onion
  • 1-2 heads of crushed garlic
  • smoked salt* and fresh cracked pepper

To prepare:

  1. Place a rack in your Instant Pot inner pot. Add approx. 1/4 of the bottle of boysenberry concentrate and the water to the pot.
  2. Coat the ribs with salt and pepper, and arrange on the rack in the Instant Pot. Set on high pressure for between 15-25 minutes, depending on the thickness of the meat. (Don’t overcook, or the ribs will fall apart before you can eat them; more than 30 minutes will have all the meat falling off of the bone no matter how thick the ribs are.)
  3. While the ribs are in the Instant Pot, sauté the diced onion and garlic with the olive oil in a small pot on the stove. Once the onion is translucent, add the tomato paste and the brown sugar, as well as smoked salt and pepper.
  4. Whisk in about another 1/4 of the bottle of boysenberry concentrate VERY SLOWLY as the sauce simmers. Do not let the sauce get scorched.
  5. Allow the Instant Pot to depressurize naturally, which should take about 15 minutes, at the same time that you allow the sauce to gently simmer.
  6. Once the Instant Pot has depressurized, remove the ribs, coat them in the sauce, and place in your air fryer or under a broiler for about 5-7 minutes until the sauce gets caramelized. Serve and eat immediately.

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*Note: I do not believe in using Liquid Smoke, and smoked salt is an excellent substitute for actual smoked meats, etc. If you must (gulp) use Liquid Smoke, go easy on it.

 

 

 

Starbright’s Adventure

(Sorry, this is a long post. Bear with me.)

This is it.

It’s really happening.

A few weeks ago, I had every cancer survivor’s worst nightmare. I had been suffering from back spasms and backaches that would not go away after weeks and weeks. The pain kept getting worse. After two days of agonizing spasms, constant pain and being barely able to move, I finally asked a friend to take me to the ER.

A hospital under Covid-19 precautions is a crazy thing. They allow no visitors or outsiders of any kind. I arrived wearing a mask (this was just after Memorial Day 2020 when masks were required in most places) and they gave me a new one to wear. They asked a series of Coronavirus-related questions before getting to the reason why I was there.

I explained that my back had been hurting for weeks and the aches wouldn’t go away. I said that I was a breast cancer survivor, and sarcastically added that as a survivor, of course every time I get a stomach ache, I think it’s a tumor.

You gotta appreciate my follow-through. Even in pain, I am still making bad jokes.

They first did an EKG test; I also had chest pains, probably as a result of the spasms in my back, but they determined I wasn’t having a heart attack. They wheeled me into a slot in the emergency room. I was still having involuntary back spasms every few minutes. The doctors and nurses, who were amazing, explained that they would get me in to a CT scan as soon as they took my blood and did other various tests. They gave me a mild pain medication for my back, which was great since my attention was on my arms … since I had lymph nodes removed when I had breast cancer, I can’t have any blood draws, IVs, or pretty much anything, on my right arm.

That leaves my left, which after months of chemotherapy five years ago, is pretty shot. They literally stick me 3-4 times before finding a “good” vein (one that won’t collapse) – one of those tiny ones in my hand -to get an IV set up.

 

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A few minutes later, another technician comes in, and explains that the CT scan needs to include injections of contrast dye, so they will need a better vein, one higher up on my arm. The technician is packing an ultrasound machine, which she says she will use to locate a good vein in my arm, then she will use an extra-teeny needle, all to give me an IV with minimal discomfort.

 

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I get wheeled into a CT scan. As soon as they (very painfully) move me on to a slab for the machine, they realize that the extra-teeny needle is TOO teeny for the contrast dye, so they are sending me back to the ER for another IV.

Only I am running out of real estate on my arm, what with two IVs, several sticks for blood draws, and space needed to take blood pressure, etc. The doctor comes into my barely-concealed area of the ER to check out my arm and see where else they can put an IV. I jokingly (again, with the jokes) suggest that he find a good vein in my toes, like I saw on TV once.

The doctor chuckles. Then he has an idea! “Hey, we can put one in your neck! I do that all the time!”

“Paaaahahahah, yeah, that would be HILARIOUS!” I exclaimed. Damn, this doctor really knows how to take sarcasm and run with it.

But no. The man was serious.

“Just lie back and relax,” he said to me, as I am lying on my back, which is literally spasming violently and uncontrollably.

By some miracle, he manages to get the IV into me – yes, sticking out of my damn neck – and I get into (again, painfully) the CT scan machine.

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Once I am finished, they blessedly give me more pain medication. I call my mom and text my sister and my boyfriend to let them know I’m OK. My mom is already crying and I don’t even know what is wrong yet.

I am trying to calm her down, telling her it is probably a pulled muscle or something minor; they just did a scan but as soon as they come back with the results they will probably give me some medicine and send me home.

I hang up when a doctor walks into my curtained-off area with a social worker and another nurse. They have the results.

The doctor tells me that my cancer has come back.

They can’t tell yet if it’s my old breast cancer that has spread to my bones, or if it’s a whole new type of cancer. Regardless, my back is riddled with tumors, and one of them broke a vertebrae, which is why I was in so much pain. They admit me to the hospital and call my oncologist.

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I call my family back to let them know. I text my boyfriend to take care of my cat. I haven’t really comprehended what all of this really meant for me, because I was still in so much pain, and then I was so heavily medicated.

For the next four days, I went back and forth between extreme pain and extreme medication.

I wasn’t allowed to have visitors, not even family. Not even my boyfriend who is a registered nurse. My family was going nuts not being able to see me. The (masked) nurses and technicians were my only human companionship. I was able to do some FaceTime calls and Zoom meetings, but I was so woozy from drugs and tired and in pain … it just wasn’t the same. In between vital sign checks and doctor pop-ins, I was very, very alone.

Well … I was allowed to have flowers. For a few days.

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And the food wasn’t even that ridiculously terrible.

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FYI, this is what happens when you ask for “just some fruit.”

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Anyway, I had multiple MRIs and biopsies. I had a procedure where they injected bone cement into my shattered vertebrae to repair it. I had a port installed in my chest because it was so painful and difficult to get IVs and blood draws in my arm. I had lots and lots of painkillers, both oral and via the IV in my neck. I had shots of medicine to make my bones stronger, and chemotherapy shots to stop the tumor growth.

The tumors are too small and too populous to attack via surgery — my doctor said it looks like someone tossed salt over the floor. Tiny specks everywhere.

Finally, after 8 days, I was discharged. When I went into the ER, I thought they might keep me overnight or something, so luckily I had the foresight to bring a few things from home and pour out extra food for my cat. But I never thought I’d be away from home for so long.

When I finally made it home, my mother had arrived from Tennessee and cleaned up my house (of course). My mother also makes these cheesy scrambled eggs that have magical restorative properties, so that was my first breakfast back at home.

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Once I was able to see my family, pet my cat, sleep in my own bed and eat some good food, I felt a million times better. My kitty was very happy to have me back at home. She wouldn’t leave my side for days.

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Over the next few days, I was able to spend some good quality time with friends and family, and my health has improved exponentially. My chest has healed over my installed port.

As I sit here typing this, I have been back at home for a little over a month. My broken vertebrae has healed and my bones feel stronger. I am still moving around slowly, and I won’t be breakdancing any time soon, but I can get around my house without my walker, and walk pretty far with my walker to support me.

After the cement procedure, my back began to heal, and I have recently been able to switch to milder, non-narcotic painkillers only.

I should also mention that while my back was hurting so much, I wasn’t able to wash my long hair as much as I normally would. I didn’t wash it at all in the hospital – they gave me some dry shampoo that made my hair into one giant dreadlock, and it was pretty icky. I got my boyfriend to buzz it all off when I got home, and it was the best decision I have made all year.

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The “after” photo:

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My doctors have told me that my life expectancy is about 2-3 years maximum, but that is also assuming the cancer hasn’t spread any further. If it’s in my bones, chances are it has spread to other organs. No scans have shown any further spread, but if there is a tumor hiding out in my brain or my pancreas, my life expectancy will shoot down to like six months.

So what is left to do? Fight cancer, of course.

But I only have a small amount of time left on this earth. I better make it count.

Since I was a little girl, I have wanted to go on a nationwide road trip. I had originally planned to work 20 more years or so, retire, buy an RV, and travel the country. Now, I have to step my game up. I need to do it now.

Basically, I feel like a ticking time bomb.

I have been approved for permanent disability. I’ll never work again.

My brother will be adopting my beloved kitty.

I’m moving out of my apartment. I’m selling all of my stuff.

I won’t see the age of 45.

Starbright’s Kitchen will now be Starbrights’s Adventure. My blog is reborn.

I am working now on acquiring an RV. I have set up a GoFundMe campaign and started my plans in motion. I don’t know exactly where I will be and when.

All I know is that I HAVE to go.

I will update this space periodically with my preparations for the Great American Bucket List Road Trip. After I hit the road, I will be posting pictures, videos, live posts, tweets, Instagram stories and posts, detailing every step of my adventure.

I hope you’ll join me.

How can you join?

  • Check out my (very often updated) photos and videos from my trip. I will upload them to Google Photos, here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/28AoTVEYwq2xcNBT8
  • Donate to my GoFundMe campaign, here: gf.me/u/ycg4kt
  • Follow this blog
  • Follow me on Instagram (hillarystarbright)
  • Follow me on Twitter (starbright619)
  • Follow me on Facebook (starbrightskitchen – they will change it soon to starbrightsadventure and I will update it)

 

Chillin at Jimmy Carter’s

I think I have found my new favorite Mexican food spot, you guys. They’re authentic, they’re classy, and they’ve got lots and lots of soups. What more could you want?

This past week, I finally got to check out Jimmy Carter’s Mexican Café in the Hillcrest/Balboa Park neighborhood. It’s been there for decades, but I am behind; I know. I had no idea what a great place I was missing. The service isn’t just great; the servers treat you like you’re a guest in their home … because you practically are. Most of Jimmy’s employees have been working for him for decades. It is quite apparent that everyone there loves their jobs, and loves Jimmy himself.

The food is ALL homemade. It is ALL authentic. It is ALL Jimmy Carter approved. But for me, the best part is the soup list.

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Albondigas (meatball soup)

There are four soups that are on the permanent, daily menu – Creamy Black Bean, Chicken Tortilla, Albondigas, and Chicken Pozole.

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Green chicken pozole

There is menudo every weekend.

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But that’s not all! Every day, the chef picks 2-3 more soups to have on special that day (Check out Jimmy Carter’s Instagram page for daily special announcements). There are over two dozen rotating soups, from calabaza y elotes and caldo de res, to Mexican clam chowder and spicy pork guerrero.

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Chicken tortilla soup

Their soup list is INSANE. I managed to escape with their internal soup list, which details the ingredients and garnishes for each one.

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I mean, right?! And this is just the soup list.

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I’ll take one of each!

You could eat here every day for a month and never have the same meal twice. I love it!

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In addition to the albondigas and green chicken pozole, I also checked out some delicious wet tacos (above) and some mini quesadillas (below) stuffed with chicken and carnitas.

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I also would be remiss if I didn’t tell you about their sauces.

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Every item on the menu can be topped with one of their handmade and super-authentic spicy sauces.

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I got to try them all, and I think the Tlaquepaque is my favorite. I see why it’s the most popular … it’s creamy and spicy and good on literally everything.

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There is literally nothing I would not like to eat with this sauce, but Jimmy himself recommends the cheese enchiladas with this gorgeous stuff on top.

Don’t forget the drinks and dessert! In addition to a super-huge menu of authentic Mexican cuisine, Jimmy Carter’s offers a fun assortment of cocktails and other drinks. As you know, I recently discovered the beauty of the tequila mule for myself, so I sampled JCMC’s mezcal mule.

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Outstanding!

And, although I was definitely slowing down by this point (those soups were so good I was licking the bowl), I had to sneak in a few tastes of the coconut flan.

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All in all, I am so glad I finally visited. I will definitely be back to try more of those amazing soups and sauces.

Instant Pot Mexican Food Night

If you have an Instant Pot, you probably already know about all of the amazing things it can do, and all of the ways it makes cooking for your family a little bit easier. My boyfriend had a special request for dinner last week, so I used my IP to make it happen.

First, being that we both live in San Diego, we eat tons of Mexican food. There is a taco shop on nearly every block in this town. But, since my beloved is allergic to most kinds of beans, it totally cramps our taco shop style. So I decided to make him some refried beans with navy beans – the only type that won’t make him sick. This recipe can be adapted for whatever type of beans you prefer or are not allergic to. 🙂

Refried Beans

  • 4 cans beans (I used navy beans but you can use any type)
  • one onion, chopped
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2-3 tbsp. of (concentrated) tomato paste
  • 3 cups of GOOD vegetable stock*
  • salt and pepper
  • garlic powder
  • paprika
  • oregano
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • one jalapeno pepper, minced (optional)

Directions:

Put your IP on the sauté function and add the chopped onion, garlic, jalapeno (if applicable) and olive oil. Cook for 4-6 minutes or until the onions are somewhat translucent. Turn off heat.

Open the cans of beans, drain and rinse them, and add to the pot. Add the tomato paste and spices, and mix well. Slowly add the vegetable stock* and put the lid on with the valve closed.

Set on high pressure, and cook for 1-3 hours (the longer you cook it, the more the flavors will marry and get stronger, but cook it for at least one hour). Use natural release.

* About that vegetable stock… homemade is definitely best. Since you already have an Instant Pot (I assume, or you wouldn’t be reading this), I recommend doing this part first. Take all of the vegetable scraps that you have left over from a week of cooking … the ends of herbs and celery, the tops and peels of onions, the seeds from inside gourds, carrot tops and zucchini tips. Save them in a big baggie or mason jar. At the end of the week, empty that bag or jar into the IP, cover it with water, then add ANOTHER 2 cups of water, and cook on high pressure for at least 3-4 hours. If you open the lid and the stock doesn’t seem dank enough (you want it good and dark!), go for another 2 hours. Strain out the leftover vegetable scraps, and there you have some amazing vegetable stock. If you cannot do this, storebought is also OK. But honestly, the stock is where these beans get their flavor.

Of course, one cannot survive off of beans alone, so I also made some delicious chicken tinga … based on one of my favorite Del Real Foods recipes. I based it off of the recipe from A Pinch of Yum, but adapted it to a quick cook in the Instant Pot. This cooks up really fast, even using chicken that isn’t pre-cooked.

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Chicken Tinga

  • 2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  •  1 head of garlic, chopped
  • 1 10-oz can of crushed tomatoes
  •  3-4 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  •  salt and pepper
  •  1 tbsp. cumin
  •  1 tbsp. dried Mexican oregano
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  •  1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock (see above for tips on how to make the best vegetable stock)

Put Instant Pot on sauté setting and add onions, garlic, and chipotle peppers. Once the onions are slightly translucent, add the chicken, stock, and spices. Make sure the chicken is covered. Switch to high pressure and cook for 35 minutes, with natural release. Shred chicken and serve immediately.

We made the chicken into a bunch of different dishes … enchiladas, tacos, burritos, even nachos.

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Don’t forget the cocktails … a couple of weeks ago I went to Fred’s Mexican Café in Old Town, and had my first tequila mule (they call it a Donkey Punch). It changed my life.

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So, for our homemade Mexican food night, I subbed my usual whiskey mule for a big tequila mule.

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Pour a generous shot of tequila over ice and add ginger beer or ginger-lime Boochcraft high alcohol kombucha, then add a shot of bitters and a squeeze of lime.

Salud!

 

 

 

Saturday at H Mart

This weekend I finally got to check out the newly-opened H Mart on Balboa Avenue (the one on Mira Mesa is still there, but this second one just opened in early June).

The second H Mart is considerably larger than the older store, and boasts a huge food hall with tons of amazing food.

After perusing the baked goods (that are waiting for you as soon as you walk in the entrance), it occurred to me: one must never go grocery shopping while hungry.

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Luckily, there were plenty of options.

First, I tried some kimchi fried rice from Bann Korean Cuisine. The kimchi was delicious but the dish itself was a little TOO packed with green onions for my taste.

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The busiest part of the food hall, by far, was the Myungrang Hot Dog stand, which features delicious sticked hot dogs coated in a tasty rice batter (and in some cases, squid ink, cheeses, or potato), then you have the option to have them rolled in sugar or coated in any one of a variety of yummy sauces.

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And, of course, you can’t go wrong with the hot dog coated in cheese.

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It was quite interesting … I expected them to be crunchy but I wasn’t prepared for the chewiness of the dough. Also the sugar topping was a great addition, despite how it sounds – the sweetness of the sugar balances perfectly with the saltiness of the hot dog.

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After a quick perusal of the grocery part of the store, and picking up a few essentials – sesame oil, Korean pancake mix, Korean BBQ sauce for grilling later (see below) and some ginger candies – I headed across the street to Cross Street Chicken and Beer for some after-shopping sustenance.

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There was a short wait … but it was worth it.

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I tried the soy garlic wings and the spicy corn poppers, plus a nice flight of IPA beers. I usually drink IPAs, but the beers here were specifically selected to complement the chicken and other dishes.

This place is a gem.

I kept the party going when I got home …I smoked some chicken legs and pork belly using that Korean BBQ sauce …

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… and I used smoked meats, that oniony kimchi fried rice, plus homemade sticky rice and savory Korean pancakes, as my meal prep for the week.

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AYCE Sushi FTW

This week I was a guest of the fine people at Onami, an all-you-can-eat Japanese seafood and sushi in the Mission Valley mall. I’ve seen this place a hundred times as I walk past on my way to the movie theater, but this was my first time eating there. And what an amazing meal it was!

Right when you walk in, you’re greeted with friendly service and a huge buffet table covered with salad fixings and every type of sushi roll you can imagine.

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I don’t know about you, but one of my least favorite things about sushi dinners are trying to decide what to order. Every selection means you get 6-10 pieces of whatever roll you choose. But AYCE sushi is the best because you can just grab a bite of whatever you feel like, and you don’t have to commit yourself to an entire roll.

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My favorite was the tuna tempura roll. Super spicy and stuffed with two kinds of tuna!

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Onami also has an amazing selection of hot food, like miso soup, tempura, stuffed mushrooms, teriyaki chicken, sautéed vegetables, and a delicious spicy tofu with eggplant.

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The seafood was also impeccable … try some crawfish, some crab legs, or some icy oysters on the half-shell!

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And don’t forget dessert!

Onami has a full fruit and dessert bar, with traditional Japanese flavors as well as good old American chocolate cake.

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All of this amazing food is also surprisingly reasonably priced … I don’t think I’ve ever spent less than $20-25 for a sushi dinner, and they definitely weren’t customized and all-you-can-eat. This can all be yours for $15.99 for lunch, $22.99 for weekend lunch, and $26.99 for dinner.

Onami is located at 1640 Camino del Rio North, in the Westfield Mission Valley mall.

I am told that Onami will soon be adding a “Lobster Day” special all weekend long. Be sure to check back with Starbright’s Kitchen for updates.

Mardi Gras and ShamROCK

Being a food blogger and influencer is a great gig in San Diego! Almost weekly there are amazing events for foodies, from tasting tours to brewery fairs to block parties.

Coming up on the 16th of March, there will be an amazing ShamROCK St. Patrick’s Day block party in the Gaslamp District in downtown San Diego. Last weekend there was a 20-restaurant food and cocktails tasting tour in the Gaslamp for Mardi Gras. And we even got to preview both parties last Monday!

The preview party was a three-stop tasting party; it started at the Dive, where we sampled banana whiskey and banana whiskey mules …

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.. then we moved on to the Smoking Gun, where we sampled Hurricane cocktails and these AAAHHHHmazing lemon pepper chicken drummettes.

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I think these may be the tastiest chicken legs I have ever had in my life (and that is  BOLD STATEMENT). They are topped with a housemade ranch dressing and a spicy, herby wing sauce.

Unfortunately, on the actual date of the Mardi Gras party, I planned to hit the Smoking Gun last, but they were out of chicken by the time I arrived. It was brutal. Luckily I managed to distract myself with lots of beads and posing for pictures with my friends.

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I told you this was brutal.

The preview party finished up with a fabulous whiskey and green beer-tasting at the Field … who also participated in the Mardi Gras tasting with this spicy and creative (but definitely not gumbo) “Irish Style Gumbo.”

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It wasn’t bad, but it would never fly in NOLA.

I think my favorite food item from the Mardi Gras tasting (since I was denied another chicken leg) was the blueberry and brie waffle from Brian’s 24. It was my first time at Brian’s, and I loved the waffle (not too sweet, and the brie was whipped and blended with the cream cheese) as well as the ’57 Chevy cocktail they were making fresh at the bar.

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Speaking of cocktails, Ambrose whiskey was a major sponsor, so almost all of the establishments participating in the tasting tour offered some sort of cocktail made with Ambrose banana whiskey. I am a huge fan of whiskey and whiskey mules, but I did not care for the banana flavor.

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I understand from the company rep that they hired a chemist or scientist to find out a way to make whiskey taste like bananas, yet only use natural ingredients. I am glad they managed to do this without anything artificial … but, why? You really hired a guy just to find a way to make whiskey taste bad? What did it ever do to you?

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Anyway, I will have to find a way to make a boozy banana shake or bananas foster to use this whiskey.

Obviously, since it was a Mardi Gras themed tasting tour, there was a lot of jambalaya, gumbo, and Cajun-spiced dishes. Among the best were the chicken and andouille sausage jambalaya (with a Hurricane) at Suckerfree:

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… or the Southern shrimp n grits from Tin Roof:

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… or the Cajun mac and cheese from Henry’s Pub:

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… and the chicken and sausage gumbo (and martinis) at the Dive:

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There were also some amazing fish dishes, like the ceviche (and jungle juice cocktail) from the Rockin Baja Lobster:

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… as well as this amazing ceviche de pescado and seco de res (rice dish) from Machu Piccu.

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This is the second time I have been to Machu Piccu for a tasting tour, and it is very tasty. The service is wonderful, too.

Are you psyched for the ShamROCK party yet? I will be giving away a pair of tickets to the greenest party of the year in the next week, so check back soon!

 

 

Toast of Gaslamp 2018

The holiday season got kicked off right here in downtown San Diego last weekend … most of the tasting walking tours you generally get tickets to in this town are small bites of food only, and the Toast of Gaslamp is one of the few where you get food AND cocktails.

I went to the event (after giving away a pair on my Instagram page) with an awesome foodie friend, because of course you need an awesome foodie friend for an event like this one. Luckily, most of the participating restaurants were on Fifth Avenue or very close.

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First, we were all supposed to dress in festive holiday outfits. In contrast to the previous few days when the weather was FREEZING (read: San Diego “freezing,” which is about 40 degrees), Saturday was sunny and warm. Definitely the weather you want when you are doing a walking tour, but not when you’re wearing festive winter hats.

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So, this cute ensemble didn’t last long. (By the way, these gorgeous purple couches are at Side Bar downtown, where we also enjoyed a lovely taste of a cauliflower tempura dish.)

I think my only complaint about this event (other than the weather, which is hardly anyone’s fault), is that the tasting ticket all the participants were given also said what the tastes and sips were, and some of them turned out to not be correct.

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For example, the first entry, American Junkie, supposedly offered chipotle bacon mac and cheese with BBQ pulled pork garnish (!!) and crispy rock shrimp. The mac and cheese unfortunately was not really there, but the shrimp with sweet aji Amarillo sauce was delicious, as was the watermelon mule.

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Because it was a holiday theme, lots of the food samples offered were sweets, like this gingerbread spread on plain bagels at Spill the Beans

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Or these delicious New Orleans-style beignets at The Dive

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I think one of my favorites was the chicken and waffle bite at Tin Roof, although their “Yule Mule” was a little too sweet for me.

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Although most of the non-dessert food samples turned out to be some sort of ceviche — luckily, all of them were quite delicious, especially the shrimp ceviche from Bar Vie and the house ceviche from Machu Picchu — there was also some ultra-smoky pulled pork and coleslaw from Gaslamp BBQ

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Stay tuned for more next year! 

Smoke a (meat) fatty this weekend

There are a million amazing things you can make in a smoker, mostly involving meat. It’s a time-honored tradition now to coat a nice piece of protein in a spicy dry rub, perhaps inject it with some moisturizing, tenderizing marinade, and slow-smoke it over low heat for hours until the meat has reached perfection.

That’s one way to do it.

Another way take a little bit more hands-on work, but it’s an amazing smoked dinner that you can have on the table in half of the time it takes for your average brisket or pastrami or beer-can-chicken. One of the best things about smoked meats is that it takes very little work prior to smoking … you generally coat and/or inject your meat (as per above) and then the next few hours is hands-off, and you can enjoy a few beers while your meat cooks itself. A fatty takes a few additional minutes of prep time, but then you only need half of the smoking time.

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In a nutshell, you make a fatty with three main ingredients: 1) bacon; 2) ground meat; and 3) a stuffing of some sort. I have seen breakfast fatties with eggs inside; a Big Mac fatty stuffed with pickles and special sauce; and all sorts of other variations stuffed with mushrooms, cheese, vegetables, sauces … you name it.

This Thanksgiving, I decided to create two different Thanksgiving Fatties, both made using ground turkey, one stuffed with homemade cornbread stuffing and the other with some super-cheesy homemade mac and cheese. I think the mac and cheese version was better, mostly because (as you can imagine) the stuffing dried out the finished product — just slightly, but it was definitely dry. That isn’t to say not to make it, but just make sure you serve it with extra gravy.

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Mac and cheese on the top rack; mac and cheese-stuffed fatty on the bottom.

The mac and cheese version  -especially because my homemade cheese sauce tends to be extra saucy and cheesy – was very moist and flavorful. (See the end of this post for my homemade mac and cheese recipe!)

The procedure itself is very simple:

Step 1, make a bacon weave over a piece of plastic wrap:

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Step 2, cover the bacon weave with ground meat (make sure it is seasoned well):

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Step 3, add whatever stuffing you are using (this is the cornbread stuffing):

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and Step 4, roll and smoke.

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I smoked mine for about 3 hours over wood chips at approx. 300 degrees. The rack I used is actually for grilling vegetables, but it isn’t really necessary; it works just as well to use a bit of aluminum foil.

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As promised, here is my recipe for the most amazing homemade mac and cheese you will ever have:

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Starbright’s Kitchen Homemade Three-Cheese Smoked Mac and Cheese

  • 1 1-lb box of macaroni noodles, cooked to package directions
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup chicken broth (* or use vegetable broth to keep it vegetarian)
  • 2 tbsp. flour
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
  • 1 cup grated Asiago cheese
  • 1 pinch nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • salt and pepper
  • panko crumbs or cooked bacon for topping (optional)

First prepare a white sauce by mixing butter and flour over low heat, then SLOWLY whisking in milk and stock. Once the mixture has become a thick sauce, add the cheese and spices.

Simmer for an additional 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until the sauce is thick and creamy. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary.

Add the cooked noodles and mix completely. Add any optional toppings. Transfer to smoker-safe dish and smoke for 2-3 hours over low heat.

Happy smoking!