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.


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.


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.


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)


  • 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.


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.

Easy Yellow Curry with Clouded Judgement IPA

I’ve been cooking up a storm in my new Instant Pot … it makes dishes with that slow-cooked flavor in a fraction of the time!

I was asked by Bitter Brothers Brewing Company to help them create a delicious yellow curry recipe that would pair with their new Clouded Judgement IPA, so I figured my Instant Pot was up to the job!

By the way, I also have instructions at the end of this post on how to make this without an Instant Pot in your slow cooker … but you should really get an IP if you’re able. They are so awesome.

This is my favorite kind of curry or stew – lots of chunky, fresh vegetables, lots of meat and lots of flavor. I use fresh kale and mushrooms in addition to more hearty chunks of onion, carrot and baby corn, but feel free to substitute your favorite hearty greens (chard or mustard greens would be great in this dish).

You can also omit the chicken, and replace the chicken stock with vegetable stock, to make this dish vegetarian or vegan. It’s also gluten-free and paleo/keto friendly (without the beer pairing, of course).

Speaking of beer, this delicious IPA is what they call a “hazy” IPA – which are minimally filtered, if not totally unfiltered. They also often have a distinct citrus flavor, almost like a Hefeweizen. The Clouded Judgement IPA is one of Bitter Brothers’ anniversary beers, and has a great citrusy flavor as well as (not surprisingly) a slightly bitter aftertaste.

It’s perfect to wash down a slightly spicy, chunky curry!

This recipe is fragrant and rich and spicy – but it’s not hot, unless you add the optional chili-garlic paste. I think all of the spices together, as well as the heaviness of the chicken and kale and the slightly sweet creaminess of the coconut milk, come together to pair perfectly with the hoppy haziness of the Clouded Judgement IPA.

Yellow Curry and Clouded Judgement IPA

Easy Yellow (Instant Pot) Curry

(yields approx. 5 servings)

  • 1-1 1/2 lbs chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 10-12 large mushrooms (whole or cut in half)
  • 4-5 stalks red kale, roughly chopped
  • 3 large carrots, diced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, diced
  • 1 tbsp. ginger paste
  • 1 tsp. curry powder
  • 1 tsp. garam masala
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. coriander
  • 2 tsp. turmeric
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 can of baby corn
  • 1 can of coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp. chili-garlic sauce (optional)
  • Cooked rice (or zucchini noodles for a low-carb alternative)

Put your Instant Pot on the “Sautee” setting and let it warm up. Add the onion, garlic, ginger, chicken, and kale to the pot, and stir slowly until the chicken gets brown and the kale and onion starts to wilt.

Add the rest of the spices and make sure everything is evenly coated. (If you are adding chili-garlic sauce for extra heat, add it at this time.)

Chili-Garlic sauce is awesome but optional!

After the vegetables are slightly wilted and the chicken has browned (approx. 10 minutes), turn off the Instant Pot and add the chicken stock, the mushrooms and the baby corn.

Put your Instant Pot on the “Pressure” setting for 10 minutes, with the steam valve closed. After the time is up, allow the pressure to release naturally (which should take about another 5-10 minutes). Add the coconut milk and mix well. Serve immediately over rice or zucchini noodles.

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Slow-Cooker Directions:

Warm a large saucepan with olive oil or coconut oil. Add the onion, garlic, ginger, chicken, and kale, and stir slowly until the chicken gets brown and the kale and onion starts to wilt. Add the rest of the spices and make sure everything is evenly coated. (If you are adding chili-garlic sauce for extra heat, add it at this time.)

After the vegetables are slightly wilted and the chicken has browned (approx. 10 minutes), remove from heat and place all of the ingredients into the slow cooker. Add the chicken stock, the mushrooms and the baby corn.

Set on the “low” setting and simmer for 6-8 hours (or more). Add the coconut milk and mix well. Serve immediately over rice.

Curry 101: Gobi Manchurian and what I learned about cooking Indian food

The more I learn about other cultures, the more I learn how similar we all are. Food is one of the best ways (if not THE best way) to get to know another culture. And as always with this blog, I am trying to experiment and broaden my own horizons as I try to share with my readers a different way to approach a new recipe.

The latest fabulous step in my culinary adventures took place a few days ago when my friends at Urban India in downtown San Diego agreed to let me hang out in their kitchen for a little while to learn the basics. Co-owner and occasional chef Surinder Singh promised to show me how to cook one of my favorite dishes, and to give me the lowdown on curries and sauces.

I should point out that the entire time I was there, I never saw anyone measure anything. Surinder made it clear that it wasn’t necessary. But as we went along, I noticed striking similarities with the way Indian food is cooked and the way … well, the way everyone cooks.

“So, start with some oil or some butter in the pan. Add spices, and add some onions and garlic.”

I nodded. He was speakin’ my language. This is how billions of dinners worldwide begin every day.

“Ok, and then, depending what sort of dish you are making, add some spices. Here’s salt, pepper, turmeric and spices. That last one is a bunch of spices the chef blends together every day. A house blend. These four go in pretty much everything; just in different amounts.”

Clockwise from bottom right: pepper, salt, turmeric, and house blend of spices.

I kept nodding. This is what I’m talking about. Everyone has a house spice, right? (If you don’t, get one. You probably already have 3 or 4 spices you use in nearly every dish you cook. You’re halfway there.) Surinder wouldn’t divulge the contents of his mystery house spice that goes into every dish, but my nose told me it involved caron, coriander, cumin, mustard, thyme and possibly anise or clove.

From that point on, the specific spices, levels of heat and ingredients for each recipe greatly diverge, so we started making my favorite Indian dish: gobi manchurian. Due to religious restrictions – about 90% of India’s population is Hindu or Muslim – it’s nearly impossible to find a beef or pork dish on an Indian menu. All of the meat dishes involve chicken, lamb or goat, and the vast majority of Indian dishes have no meat at all.

Not that you’d miss the meat when it comes to dishes like this. The cauliflower is fried, but using chickpea flour, so it’s perfectly light and delicate … then it’s tossed with sautéed vegetables and a spicy sauce … so you get the heat and spice, the punch of fresh ginger and the tang of the tomato and vinegar, the almost al dente texture of the cooked cauliflower, and the crispiness of the light batter. It’s wonderful.

Gobi Manchurian

(all of the measurements are approximate)

  • 1 medium head of fresh cauliflower, florets sliced into bite-sized pieces
  • about 2-3 cups of chickpea flour
  • 2-3 tablespoons each of carom seeds, whole coriander and corn starch
  • handful of various sliced bell pepper, red and/or white onion, fresh crushed garlic and ginger root, all to taste (see below)
  • dash of water, soy sauce, white vinegar, lemon juice, ketchup and tomato sauce
  • cilantro or parsley for garnish
  • the four spices you see above: chili pepper, sea salt, turmeric and various herbs and spices

Start by slicing the vegetables you plan to use. Surinder works in a fully stocked kitchen, so he already had all of his vegetables prepared, but he used (about) the equivalent of one half an onion, about 3 cloves of garlic and a 1/2-inch chunk of ginger root, and sliced them all together with a few chunks of red and green bell pepper. This was enough for a large dish made with a medium-sized head of cauliflower.

Get your veggies ready to cook and then start with the batter. Mix the four spices, corn starch, chickpea flour and whole herbs together and add water …

… very slowly, only a few tablespoons at a time, and blend with the flour mixture until the batter is thick and there are no lumps.

Coat each piece of cauliflower thoroughly and drop into hot oil.

While the cauliflower is frying (about 5 minutes), start sautéing the sliced vegetables, ginger and garlic, with some good oil and a dash of cumin. Cook over high heat until the vegetables are tender.

Flames optional.

By this time the cauliflower should also be golden-brown.

Remove from the oil (drain slightly if you don’t have a basket in your fryer) and drop the florets into the pan with the sautéed mix.

Then add about a 1/3 cup of tomato sauce, a dash of ketchup, a splash of soy sauce, a glug of vinegar and a shot of lemon juice (you know, approximately). You want enough liquid so the cauliflower is coated but not soaked. Continue to toss all ingredients together and make sure the florets are coated thoroughly.

Dress it up on a plate, garnish with cilantro or parsley, and serve hot.

This is truly an incredible dish. You can adjust the heat to your taste, and even if you are a hard-core meat-eater, you won’t be lonely for meat when you eat this hearty, spicy, crispy but soft, delectable dish.

As you can tell, I really love Indian food. Even the spicy stuff. Living in the South for a long time gave me a great appreciation for the proper use of extreme spice and heat. To me, when you fry a chicken wing and instead of, you know, seasoning it, you just literally drown it in a vinegary hot sauce, it ruins the whole thing. Why impart all that heat for no reason? If I am going to finish the second half of my meal with a tissue in each hand, watery eyes, runny nose and singed taste buds, I want to taste it. If that heat and spice comes with actual flavor, I am all for it. If it’s just there to burn my face off and disguise the fact that you can’t cook, you can keep it.

Sambar soup is a great example of a helluva spicy soup, but it has so much soul, texture, depth and flavor, you won’t mind, even when your eyeballs start to sweat. It’s another amazingly adaptable vegetarian dish, but if you like you can also add meat. The idea is to blend together certain spices and then add whatever vegetables you have on hand. At Urban India, Surinder purchases a sambar soup spicy mix (like this one) and packs the soup full of lentils, potato, carrot, cauliflower, onion, garlic and more. From what I understand, very few people mix their own spices for this particular soup, but the soup mix from Matta’s contains Redgram dal (lentil) powder, salt, coriander powder, sugar, rice flour, tamarind concentrate, red chili powder, cumin powder, fenugreek powder, mustard powder, curry powder, turmeric and cinnamon.

It’s spicy, but it’s amazing.