Recipe: Floral Caesar Salad

When you’re sent a box of salad dressings, you have no choice but to get sauced up. This week I played around with some Ken’s Dressings in hopes of developing a delicious yet simple recipe for Memorial Day weekend – it’s that time of year where all eyes are on what you bring to the function. You feel me? 2015 has brought a lot of Caesar Salads into my life, so I was inspired by those flavors. After some thought, and factoring in that a lot of people don’t like anchovies (I’m not one of them), I decided to switch out those tiny fish for some edible florals. Even better when they are straight from my yard!

For this go to salad, all you’ll need is the following:
+ Ken’s Caesar Dressing
+ Edible Flowers, like these pansies
+ Romaine Hearts
+ Parmesan Shavings
+ Parmesan Crisps from Trader Joes (or your basic croutons, but why you tryna be basic?)
This recipe is so easy, you don’t even need directions. Chop everything up, throw it in a bowl, give it a squirt.

Would you like to win something? Of course you do. As part of Ken’s #ByeByeBland campaign, they’ve launched a rad contest to the beautiful public. They will be choosing 10 winners to shower with gifts, so get on it! Simply scoop up a bottle of the Ken’s of your choice, use it in a recipe and share via social media. They’ve made it so easy, they have even shared their recipes here. Follow @KensDressings on Instagram, tag your photo with #ByeByeBland, say what you like most about it, and you’re officially entered.

Fans can also enter to win starting Tuesday, May 26 directly on the @kensdressings Instagram channel! Like your favorite #byebyebland recipe photo and add a comment describing what you like best about that recipe, using the #byebyebland hashtag. The contest is open through Sunday, May 31.

Ken's Dressings Caesar Salad

Ken's Dressings x NJ in LA

KensDressings

Zodiac Vodka

Thinking back, I realized that vodka was the first sip of hard alcohol I ever had. I was in Las Vegas with my family celebrating my sister’s 21st birthday, needles to say, the turn up was real. My Mom liked a vodka tonic every time we found ourselves in Sin City and I took this as an opportune moment to give it a try. To my surprise, I really liked it!

Now decades later I was given a really beautiful bottle of vodka and I found myself thinking about how I could make it delicious for myself in 2015. Having a quality product like Zodiac Vodka, which is organic, gluten-free, and made in the USA, I had to do it justice with a quality cocktail. As I often do, I looked to my very own backyard for which ingredients I could utilize in my recipe. Nothing beats fresh fruit and herbs for a nice refreshing summer drink. Lemons? Check. Lavender? Check. I had just received some strawberries in my CSA and so it all came together so naturally. Whip up some lemonade, muddle some fruit & lavender, pour some vodka over ice. Voilà!

Zodiac Vodka x NJ in LA

#buongiornoamerica

Lavazza Coffee, #buongiornoamerica

Have you ever set an alarm clock and upon waking were greeted by a handsome Italian man, located in Milan, singing you a good morning song? I can now officially check that off of my list.

I had no idea what to expect when Lavazza, the vibrant coffee company out of Italy, sent me a hand crafted alarm clock, with a specialized app, that would wake me up and connect me with someone on the other side of the planet. And now, much to my surprise and excitement, I see I have landed in this upbeat Lavazza commercial. Maybe I should start sleeping in makeup? Ha! Take a look at this super fun spec and see if you can spot the personalized “Buongiorno Natalie” poster.

Along with my beautiful alarm clock, I was sent a cool new Keurig Single Server Brewer with a variety of Lavazza coffee pods. I have enjoyed trying out all of the flavors, especially over this holiday season; the Classico Roast (pictured above) paired nicely with these dark chocolate covered pretzels that I made with my family. #buongiornoamerica

The Fare Trade // Giveaway

The Fare Trade x Natalie James

Last week I was psyched to be the guest editor on The Fare Trade’s blog and this week I am happy to announce that I am hosting a giveaway of their beautiful bounty of artisanal foods. Each month offers a whole new curated selection and November includes the following: Seafarer Spice Blend, Spicy Harissa, Blueberry Conserva, Brown & Wild Rice, Maple Bourbon Pickles, and assorted caramels. An added bonus is that they include recipe ideas in each box! I love that.

About The Fare Trade: To deliver the country’s most flavorful, hand-crafted ingredients to you each month. A re-inspired “culinary members’ club” to connect the food community at large and strengthen the relationships between consumer, purveyor, and chef.

One winner will be chosen at random, all you have to do is 1) follow The Fare Trade on Instagram and 2) leave a comment. It will be shipped to you and then you can enjoy all it has to offer. Easy peasy!

Night + Market Song, Silverlake

Night + Market Song, located on the busy Eastside strip of Sunset Blvd in Silverlake, is my favorite Thai restaurant in Los Angeles – if not for the คอหมูย่าง pork toro (grilled fatty pig neck) alone. Without a doubt, they are preparing some of the best Thai dishes this city has ever seen, and when it’s flavor bombs you are seeking to drop on that tongue, pull up to this pink splashed establishment and get ready for a total sensory experience. For those who might be intimidated about the spice factor you so often hear about in any conversation about Night + Market, I must report I was unphased by the heat. I should have also prefaced that by saying I was born and raised in the SGV and have Sichuan pepper corns flowing though my blood system;  my friend Ike, who was so kind enough to take me on this delicious dinner was sweating bullets on the other hand. I was quick to dig in and when I raised my head to give the thumbs up, I saw the beads of sweat rolling off his forehead. It was a beautiful culinary moment.

This is the kind of restaurant that I love most, one that is steeped in rich family history, recipes, and flavors. Opened by 32 year-old chef Kris Yenbamroong, who has no formal culinary training, but instead has life-long experience from growing up in a family-owned restaurant, he aims to bring the most authentic Thai food to the people. I am throwing up the emoji pray hands because I’m grateful for it! I loved everything we ordered, let me count the ways. And who could say no to a bright pink wall with a vintage Cindy Crawford gazing deeply into my eyes?

So what did I eat? With any Thai meal, your girl is hot for the chicken larb salad (photo directly below). While everyone was thinking the party was going up with Pad Thai at their local jawn (kinda boring y’all), yung NJ was devouring as much chicken larb as she possibly could. It’s the lime + chile combination that goes after my sweet Mexican American heart every time. The chicken larb at N+M Song was exactly what I hoped it would be – a nice pucker brought on by the lime paired with chili, and a much smoother flavor with the chicken to balance it out. May I suggest this is the perfect summer salad? Sure we are in Fall, but I’m still right. In my dream universe I’d be lime queen, sitting down with a tall glass of Vietnamese soda chanh muối  and a large bowl of chicken larb. What a kingdom that would be! I digress.

Back to that pork neck, the stuff dreams are made of. Salty like bacon and fatty just how your mother likes it, this dish is one of the most delicious things I’ve ever had the privilege of eating. Once I took a bite, although knowing many more delicious plates were on their way out, I had fantasized about my entire meal being plates upon plates upon plates of savory pork neck. Not to be neglected was the simple plate of coconut stick rice, which is a glorious vehicle for picking up the other bites. You simply tear off a piece, mold it in your hand, and scoop up whatever delicious snack you have in front of you. Rounding out the rest of our Thai paradise was a generous portion of the Crispy Rice Salad, made with soured pork, raw ginger, onion, peanuts, cilantro, chile. I love spicy and crispy so this was a no brainer. Bright notes in each bite, each one bringing you closer and closer to buying a ticket to Thailand once you leave the restaurant. Last and certainly not least, CURRRRYYYYY. The Khao Soi Gai with chicken was the move, made with curried noodles and topped with fresh cilantro, purple onion, & chili. This was the spiciest of the dishes of the night and a great way to end dinner – after everything was either eaten or boxed up to go, there were still a hint of Thai curry lingering in my mouth.

Night + Market Song, 3322 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90026

Night Market Song chicken larb, Best LA Food Blog

Night + Market Song, Best LA Food Blog

Night + Market Song porkneck, Best LA Food Blog

Night Market Song coconut rice, Best LA Food Blog

Night + Market Song, Best LA Food Blog

Night + Market Song interior, Best LA Food Blog

night + market song curry, Best Food Blog LA

Portsmouth, Whittier

When doing research for my oyster guide this summer, I finally made my way over to Portsmouth, located in Whittier. As a native SGV’er it was nice to eat this kind of meal much closer to home. I brought my mother as my date for Sunday brunch, just a few days before I left for Chile, and what a delicious meal it was. First thing I noticed was that almost everyone inside was Latina/o, which made me feel great and right at home. The vibe was welcoming and very chill, with The Smiths (a Chicano favorite) playing over head and beautiful streams of natural light flooding the restaurant’s large windows. We passed the oyster wrapped counter and took a seat at a steal picnic bench and began perusing the menu.

Oysters were priority ($2.50 each, $1.50 happy hour) and we quickly ordered up a selection of their freshest babies, including Naked Cowboys out of NY and DD Cup, Malpeque, & Dark Beach out of Washington. My mother and I both share a love for seafood so we found ourselves tickled at the menu options – ceviche, lobster, crab, shrimp, we started foaming at the mouth. After much consideration, we thought it would be criminal not to order the brunch favorite: Puerto Nuevo Lobster, with chorizo refried beans, rice, salsa and homemade flour tortillas. I must admit, lobster isn’t my typical go to, but it came highly recommend by our server and we could not deny its beauty as well.

My favorite dish was the Seared Salmon Ceviche with pickled cucumber, red onions, arugula & jalapeño vinaigrette. The flavors were vibrant and crisp, I loved every single bite. As I write this I’m starting to dream of its incredible taste; this is one of the best ceviche dishes around. This is what Mexican food tastes like! After eating my way through various Mexican cities over the past couple of years, I now have an understanding of fresh Mexican cuisine, especially when it comes to the realm seafood. Portsmouth totally gets it.

Portsmouth, 13103 Penn St, Whittier, CA 90602

Best Food Blog, Portsmouth Whittier, Best Travel Blog

Portsmouth Whittier, Best LA Food Blog

Portsmouth Oysters, Happy Hour Oysters LA, Best LA Food Blog

Portsmouth Ceviche Tostada, Best LA Food Blog

Portsmouth Brunch, Best LA Food Blog

What Have I Been Up To?

NJ in LA, Natalie James

Motivation and inspiration to blog again has come over me. So what have I been up to all year? Here’s a recap of some highlights, adventures, and all things NJ. I’m trying to put together a couple more trips before the end the year. If you want me to visit your country, hotel, wherever – holler at ya girl.

+ In January I started volunteering at the Downtown Women’s Center, located in Downtown L.A.’s Skid Row. I’m there every week helping women build résumés, look for jobs, open up email accounts, and facilitating typing classes.

+ I finally made it to SXSW in Austin, Texas. There was an app (WannaGo) I was consulting for who set me up with a mostly-expenses paid trip. There might just be some content I have to share. Annnnnd Pusha T was so good!

+ The photo above is from a trip to Santiago, Chile that I took this Spring – which happened to be their winter, because hello equator! I took a journey on a bus into the snow covered Andes, where I hiked with some beautiful dogs. It was freezing and I could barely see AND I LOVED IT. I chose this photo because it was one of the happiest moments I had ever experienced in my life. Me + Dog + Snow + Andes = perfection. I was so excited to be alive. I took this journey solo but not once felt alone, it was an experience I’ll never forget! I have Chile posts lined up for y’all.

+ I finally went to Mexico City, albeit for 14 hours, but they were some of the best 14 hours of my life. I decided to take a long lay over on my way to Chile. This was my first time there, but I memorized from reading tips on the internet exactly how to walk out of the airport, get on the Metro, and straight to the Zocalo. I cannot wait to share with you all that I saw and ate! I walked the entire 14 hours alone – again, what an amazing experience. This photo will give you a glimpse of the greatness.

+ In September I made my first trip to Quintana Roo and the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico. My family and I stayed in Playa del Carmen and spent time in Tulum, Valladolid & Cozumel. This was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. I climbed Cobá, the tallest pyramid in the Yucatan, among many other things. Hands down one of the best trips of my life! I cannot wait to write all about it. Just look at this road side chicken I ate!

+ Back in May, something REALLY EXCITING HAPPENED! I woke up to an email and DM from Instagram saying that they had chose me to be a suggested user. I was unbelievably psyched that out of millions of accounts they chose mine. They said they loved my photos and how I interacted with my community; I felt unbelievably honored. Tears of joy fell from my eyes as I read their words, all my hard work was being recognized and it felt great. I could practically taste satisfaction and let me tell you, the flavor was delicious. This lasted for about 2 weeks, and during that time my following jumped to over 50,000 followers. I’m currently at 49,555 but I know soon enough I’ll be at 100,00. Then a million. Why not? You can follow me here.

+ I managed to write a few things this year for Complex Magazine, First We Feast (James Beard Award Winner for best food blog), Foodbeast, & SBE’s new lifestyle blog. Check them out:
- 10 Essential L.A. Burgers, First We Feast
- A Guide to Eating Vegan & Vegetarian, Complex Magazine
- A Guide to Fried Chicken in Los Angeles, Complex Magazine
- L.A. Oyster Guide, SBE
- A Visit to Hyde Cocktails + Kitchen, SBE
- How to Eat Your Way Through L.A.’s Little Tokyo, SBE
- L.A.’s Third Wave Coffee Movement, SBE
- Tapatio Spiked Sorbet at CoolHaus, Foodbeast

+ & big thanks to Buzzfeed for naming be one of the best Instgram accounts in L.A. and Domaine Home for naming me one of the “Top Foodies to Follow.”

That is just a glimpse of some things that happened in my life this year. As I was writing this, I couldn’t help but be mad at myself for any of the funks I had experienced along the way. I am truly too blessed to be stressed, and even though I made very little money this year, I have managed to experience more than I ever have! Deciding to only do things I want to do, surrounding myself with people who have my back no matter what, spending as much time with my amazing parents, and staying on top of my community work – this has made it one incredible year! Feeling grateful for everything.

Godiva Summer Fling | Giveaway

Godiva Trufflelata

Do I have any chocolate lovers out there? I am psyched to announce I have teamed up with Godiva in celebration of the launch of their new Truffelata and soft serve. They were so kind to send me a box of their Truffelata Truffles so that I may get a taste of what is to come in their incredibly decadent shake, which I am excited to try next week at their summer fling! They have six luscious flavors and I am currently eyeing their OREO Trufflelata, which is made with white chocolate, OREO cookies, and Godiva Cookie Dough Truffle, topped with fresh whipped cream and crushed OREO. And rumor has it, there is a truffle in every sip!

As a way to show love to all my NJ in LA readers, Godiva has given me 10 x $25 gift cards to give away! Now you can get a taste of all their chocolatey goodness this summer. All you have to do is answer this question below for a chance to win. If you decide to Instagram your sweet treat, tag it with #GODIVAsweeps to be entered to win an even bigger prize.

So tell me, what was your most memorable summer fling? If you are too shy to share, tell me what your favorite thing about summer is.

L.A. Oyster Guide for SBE

Best Oysters in Los Angeles

I am now a contributing writer over on SBE’s new lifestyle site, and I am really happy with the work I am producing there. Take a look at some of the best oysters in Los Angeles in one of my most recent guides! Did your favorite spot make the cut?

Read Here › http://bit.ly/1jSd5mz

Real Talk: Why I hit pause on blogging

I am back to blogging. Why did I leave in the first place? My heart had been broken.

I was really on a roll in the Fall | Winter of 2013, I had been frequenting tastings, events, all things food – and blogging about them. Something had changed in my life, for the first time, I had a man in my corner who pushed me to be the best person I could possibly be. Never had I met someone from the opposite sex who embraced my strong will, encouraged my work, and inspired me every time we texted, talked on the phone or hung out. There were days that started with the sun out and ended with the moon shining bright, just straight hanging, goofing, and always, lots of eating.

This was not a romantic relationship, though it did start off with a Tinder connection. Did you just laugh out loud? Because I did. I wasn’t even feeling this guy when we first met, but he was a chef, so duh, I was intrigued. Months later he hit me up again to hang out, and we did, for about 4 months straight. What developed was something stronger than any relationship with the opposite sex since post break up with my long time boyfriend. A real friendship blossomed, with what I thought was a strong foundation. It was such a different feeling to have a man genuinely open up to me and happily say that I was his best friend. He was kind, courteous, charming, caring and eventually, as the tide had turned, incredibly handsome. This could be a really long story but I am not going to make it one. Maybe it will make it into the book?

I must not forget to mention that my girlfriends (smart women they are), sister and mother,  had started to warn me about this friendship. They saw something I obviously didn’t and repeatedly told me this friendship was becoming inappropriate. I think it all started when I mentioned that he fed me cake with his fingers.

Did I mention he has a wife and girlfriend? Go ahead, grab a glass of water. An estranged wife, and the girlfriend came after we were besties, AND after he told me he wasn’t looking for any relationships. Hilarious. This is all character building for me, don’t worry. I should’ve known there was a major problem when he was FaceTimed one evening and he wouldn’t tell his girlfriend he was driving around with me. My gut feeling warned me, but I didn’t listen. I must admit that when it comes to love, I have been naive.  When you grow up with an amazing father, who shows love and respect, like I did – well, let’s just say, I had faith in my friend, trusted him and believed his words, even when he was lying straight to my face. I didn’t understand why someone who said they cared about me so much would act otherwise.

When you live 100% your actions let it be known. Something had changed in me and I couldn’t keep it to myself. A couple months in, I had developed very strong feelings for my best friend. It wasn’t planned, but those things rarely are. I didn’t want to disrespect his other relationship, so not once did I act inappropriate or cross the line. And if you know how aggressive I am, then you know how difficult that was for me. Instead it culminated in very intense, tear filled (on both sides) conversation in my car, just down the street from Beard Papa’s on Sawtelle, where we were about to go eat cream puffs. I broke down and was straight up, and told him exactly how I felt. It was a really proud moment for me because I had finally learned that when it comes to love, honesty is number one. I gave him the chance to totally crush me, I said “just tell me you don’t have any feelings for me and that you just want to be friends.” In all honesty, I was ready for the quick blow and I knew I could get over it, it would be easier this way. Instead, the person sitting across from me, with tears in his eyes replied “but I can’t tell you that. I don’t know what the future holds for us.”

Needless to say, this only made things more difficult for the both of us. I was now unhappy that someone who had feelings for me couldn’t actually be a grown ass man and do anything about it. And he was unhappy because I wasn’t going to put up with this lack of backbone and was most definitely feeling the heat from his girlfriend who was bothered by all the time we spent together. He was going to have a girlfriend and it wasn’t going to be me, I had to deal with that. But why was I hearing all the things in his life that were meant to be shared with a significant other? Taking the high road, I told him I wished nothing but the best for his life and that all the time he was spending with me, he could now spend with his girl. I needed to be out of the picture because well, I don’t like to torture myself, and I have no interest in making someone else’s life more difficult, AND, I would never want to get a man that way. I’ve listened to enough Keyshia Cole to know better. I had more respect for his girlfriend than he did, but she would never know that.

I said it was best that we didn’t talk anymore, in any way, that I needed to just go away. Wished him well. Now if only he could’ve respected that.

Things took a turn for the worse in January 2014, which in turn became an extremely difficult month in my life. Without saying too much – if you only knew how short of a story this actually is in comparison to real life – I received a couple emails verbally assaulting me from someone I didn’t even know, from the girlfriend of this former “best friend”. He was cc’d on both of these emails, calling both of us out, but mostly telling lies on me.

It ends like that. The person who once called me his best friend, who asked me to push him to do better, who said he’d never had a friendship like this, said not one single word. I called him, he didn’t pick up. I texted him, there was no response. I was being called outside of my name, and there was not one peep from him. It was truly devastating. My heart was completely crushed, my spirit saddened. I didn’t leave the house much that month because when I did, my friends were so concerned about how much I wasn’t myself. If you know me, then you know my energy, vibes, loudness, everything. It was gone, but only temporarily.

I view things in life as either a blessing or a lesson, and this was a bit of both. It’s not difficult for me to say I still think about him, because whenever you’re lucky enough to get a piece of my heart, you’ll always be in my thoughts. Because he was the one really pushing me with my writing, attending tastings with me, and believing so much in me, when shit hit the fan, I simply didn’t want to write anymore. In fact, it even took awhile for me to attend tastings again. I had grown so accustomed to him joining me and giving me his invaluable feedback as well – I mean, he did work at what was ranked one of the top restaurants in L.A. – that now eating without him or having him cheering me on, made me really, really sad. It was a major loss in my life.

With any kind of struggle that comes my way, it doesn’t take long for me to address the situation and then thrive better than ever! What had knocked me down truly put perspective into my life. I began to think about how I spent my time, who I gave energy too and who truly deserved to be in my tight circle of friends. Like one of my best friends Jasiri said, I needed to be with people who deserved my blessings. I had decided what was most important of all was self love, which I always knew, but obviously needed to find new ways of practicing it – my life changed for the better because of this. I began volunteering again, which I’ve been doing since the beginning of the year. I promised myself I would spend more time with my parents, adoring them like they deserved to be. And I had decided that I simply wanted to stop buying things, wasting time, and use any money I earned to just travel the world. All I truly want is to eat delicious food, travel the globe and serve my community – when I get a TV show where I’ll be able to share that, even better.