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.


My 10 Essential Burgers via First We Feast

Eggslut Cheeseburger, L.A. Food Blogyolk topped cheeseburger at Eggslut

I am incredibly happy to share with you my first editorial over on the James Beard Foundation award winning First We Feast.

My journey across our city’s culinary landscape was an amazing one. From the SGV to South L.A., I knocked out burger after burger while meeting some amazing chefs. The burger vibes were strong! It’s my hopes that this burger guide will get people jumping into their cars to explore parts of this city they may have not otherwise. I am very proud to say that 6 out of 10 establishments are minority owned, many of them by families. So many of them made me feel incredibly welcome as they shared their stories.

How many from my list have you been too and where’s your favorite spot to grab a burger?

See all my burger picks here » http://bit.ly/fwfburgers


The Powder Room, Hollywood

It’s not every day I find myself in Hollywood, but when I got word that there was a new bar serving alcohol infused milkshakes I had to see what was up. Enter The Powder Room, a cocktail dream factory with expert mixologist Luke Andes (formerly of Providence) at the head of all creations. With a stellar team that includes award winning mixologists Jayme Mandeville and Nadia Underwood, there was no doubt the cocktails would come correct + delicious. Having just bumped into Kanye West just outside the bar on Cahuenga, I knew I was in for an exciting evening and I couldn’t wait to start sipping on some libations.

The much hyped alcohol infused milkshakes were all I could think about. I took a seat on a white snakeskin stool at the glittery bar and rubbed my hands with anticipation. Out came a Strawberry Fields spiked shake, prepared with Marilyn Monroe strawberry cream vodka, blended with fresh strawberry puree, brandy, shortcake cookies and tapioca pudding. What could be any better than eating a dessert that gives you a buzz? I say eating rather than drinking because this baby was pretty thick, especially being packed with cookies. Even better was the boozy Adam’s Apple, a blended creation of Jack Daniels + fresh apples, caramelized with cinnamon, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, and vanilla ice cream. If you’re looking for an apple pie but in shake form, this is it, and you’ll be turnt! For those who like to live extravagantly, I must mention that Adrian Biggs (La Descarga) created a $500 milkshake with edible gold, Belgian chocolate, and a take-home Swarovski Crystal ring for the menu. I unfortunately did not get to try that, ha.

On the light, refined + creative side, I would highly suggest the Morning Star, my favorite cocktail of the evening. Prepared with Tito’s vodka, house made hibiscus blackberry syrup, grapefruit bitters, fresh squeezed lemon and grapefruit juice, this unique combination whisked me away to summer. It wasn’t too sweet and the flavors were diverse, yet cohesive. The sugar crusted blackberry + basil leaf were just an added bonus! I followed that with The Pink Pussycat, made with Milagro Reposado tequila, Luxardo cherry liquor, Piper Sonoma Blanc de Blanc, fresh squeezed lemon juice and strawberry puree. If you know anything about my lightweight drinking you’ll know that I was feeling loose and already a resident of tipsy town. The Powder Room is that retro chic bar you’ve been waiting for in Hollywood. The vibe is fun, the cocktails superb, and it’s that spot you need when you’re looking for something a bit extra.

The Powder Room, 1606 N. Cahuenga Blvd, Hollywood, CA 90028

The Powder Room Hollywood, L.A. Food Blog

Powder Room Alcohol Shakes

Powder Room Pink Pussycat, L.A. Food Blog

Powder Room Cocktails

Powder Room Alcohol Shakes, L.A. Cocktail Blog

Gjelina, Venice

Gjelina had long been on my list of places to eat; it’s one of those restaurants in L.A. that you hear everyone talk about and rarely are bad words spoken. When a NY friend was in town, and might I add one of the most interesting men I’ve ever met, I decided this would be the perfect date spot for us. We pulled up for lunch on a beautiful Sunday afternoon and to my surprise, our wait was only about 20 mins, though the restaurant was definitely poppin with a full lunch crowd. We took a seat, handed the menus and my date said the most beautiful words – “please get whatever you’d like, and if I may, I’d like to order us some wine.”

With these magic words spoken and me being in control of our entire lunch, I wanted to take the opportunity to order a variety of dishes, all which made for one of the most stellar lunches of 2013. It didn’t hurt that I also had such great company. From the small plates option on the menu, I selected the Grilled Peaches, Burrata, Arugula, Raddichio, + Prosciutto. Captivating in presentation and delicious with each bite, rarely anything makes me happier than thin slices of cured pork paired with fruit. The burrata was creamy and delicious, making this a great start to a moan-worthy meal. Out next was the Little Gems, Concord Grape, Crispy Prosciutto, + Blue Cheese Salad. Little Gems are some of my favorite lettuce leaves, with the feeling of soft blankets on the tongue, but still bringing an essential crunch. Again, another combination of fruit + prosciutto, both crispy and bursting with flavor.

It was now time to warm up and get a little cozy, and the Braised Pork Meatballs with tomato, parmesan and grilled bread really hit the spot. I passed on most of the bread, though tasty, as we had a pizza on its way, but the meatballs were a welcomed savory addition to the table. Following was a warm plate of Ricotta Gnocchi, prepared with cherry tomato pomodoro, parmesan and green olive oil. The delicate pieces of gnocchi had my hands in the emoji praying position if you know what I mean, each piece practically melting in our mouths. Stepping away from our pork heaven, we ordered a pizza with not one element of meat – a rare move on my part – but once you know that it was drizzled with truffle oil, I need not say more. Hot from the oven, with an exquisitely charred crust, our Mushroom, Fontina, Goat Cheese + Truffle Oil Pizza invigorated our senses with its impeccable fragrance. Thin crust pizza is my absolute favorite, and when each bite offers a diverse selection of flavor notes, I have no choice to completely surrender myself to the pizza gods. The only thing that could make my dining experience any better would be a bewitching dessert, and the universe must have listened, because when a bowl of Passion Fruit Panna Cotta presented itself, I nearly fell out of my seat, the consistency + flavor was that incredible. Hands down one of the best desserts (& meals) I had all year, and one that I have not stopped dreaming about.

Gjelina, 1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, CA 90291

Gjelina Prosciutto, L.A. Food Blog

Gjelina Little Gems Salad

Gjelina Meatballs, L.A. Food Blog

Gjelina Gnocchi

Gjlelina Pizza, L.A. Food Blog

Gjelina Panna Cotta

Thai Food Fest, Los Angeles

This Fall I had the opportunity to attend L.A.’s first very Thai Food Festival. Like whoa, I couldn’t believe our city hadn’t been hosting these for years! I was especially psyched for this festival because I live for all things bold, bright + flavorful, and in my life, a little spice goes a long way. Hosted by chef Jet Tila and the Thai Trade Center, this afternoon of culinary wonderment was packed with all the delicious Thai food one could eat, Singha Beer, flower offerings and complimentary massages. Sounds like a little piece of paradise, doesn’t it? Here’s hoping there will be another one next year!

Thai Food Fest MB Post, L.A. Food Blog

Thai Food Fest Lukshon, L.A. Food Blog

Thai Food Fest shrimp donuts, L.A. Food Blog

Thai Food Fest

Thai Food Fest Los Angeles, L.A. Food Blog

Thai Food Fest

Thai Food Fest carved fruit

Monkey’s Cafe, Fair View Heights, Los Angeles

This weekend I spent some time with one of my best girlfriends, Whitney Jeffries, learning all about her family’s tradition of baking monkey bread for the holidays. It was a cold + rainy day in View Park (near Baldwin Hills if you are unfamiliar), and nothing sounded better than cozying up in the kitchen with friend baking, and of course, eating some fresh bread out the oven. Watching Whitney, under the tutelage of her mother, was quite the beautiful experience. Seeing each intricate step of the monkey bread making process had me even more eager to try the finished product, and I must say, I was blown away. If you have never experienced the richness of such a bread, do yourself a favor and rectify that sitch asap. Monkey bread is moist and puzzle like, with each piece easily being plucked apart and ready to eat! Not only is it delish, but it’s also fun.

Fortunately for us, the Jeffries’ family has Monkey’s Cafe, their very own monkey bread business, bringing smiles to all who get a taste. They have 3 incredible flavors to choose from: original, lemon, and garlic herb. It’s hard to decide which one is my favorite, though I must admit, the herb had me begging for more. If you love good bread, then you will absolutely love this. Passed down from generations, nothing tastes better than a perfected recipe.

Make your holidays brighter + order a batch at Monkey’s Cafe!

Monkey Bread View Park, L.A. Food Blog

How to make monkey bread

Monkey Bread Whitney Jeffries

Monkey Bread Los Angeles, L.A. Food Blog

Monkey Bread, L.A. Food Blog

Monkeys Cafe MonkeyBread

Tagine, Beverly Hills

Tagine is the ultimate date spot. Located in a very low key area off Robertson Blvd., this modern Moroccan restaurant offers a delicious hideout for those seeking a little spice + romance. Some know this place as the vision Ryan Gosling helped bring to life with Chef Ben, but celeb status or not, this establishment is a real gem among the usual in Beverly Hills. I had the privilege to enjoy Tagine’s tasting menu this fall, and it’s a dining experience that won’t soon be forgotten. For $71 per person, you can enjoy a six course meal, cozied up with Moroccan pillows, soft lighting and a good mix of indie rock.

Our meal started with a delicious amuse bouche consisting of an asparagus, baby zucchini, + carrot soup, paired a sauteed vegetable stuffed filo dough and a goat cheese spread topped with dates. Following that was the Moroccan Mezze, served with hummus, marinated olives, a tomato + cucumber tartare and a sauté of eggplants. Everything about the mezze spoke to my culinary desires; it was incredibly vibrant, fresh and the warm pita bread was nice touch. Out next in a cast iron skillet was a flavorful rendition of Black Tiger Shrimp, encrusted in herbs, and served with mini zucchini, mini squash, and spinach. Crunchy and light, this vegetable rich creation is ha perfect example of eating something healthy and incredibly flavorful. Much to my enjoyment came the Sea Bass Tagine, pan roasted and placed a top a bed of sauteed vegetables with a carrot puree. Delicate and moist, I gently pulled apart layers of the fish and swirled it in the tiny drops of liquid spice lending each bite a burst of flavor. The show stopping Lamb Chops concluded our savory portion of the tasting, and were so soft and rich, they practically fell off the bone. I didn’t want to waste time with a fork, so I coddled my chop with my fingers and began to gnaw on it. Any chance that I have to call upon my animal instincts, I will. Marinated in 7 different spices, these grilled chops played quite a number on my senses and I loved it.

Last but certainly not least, a unique dessert that I have never seen on a menu before: Chocolate Soup. Warm chocolate served in a carafe then slowly poured over a scoop of vanilla ice cream, sounds incredible because it tastes just so. Maybe not the most beautiful thing in a cup, but the sweetness was just right and paired with a piece of baklava, made for quite the finish to an already stellar meal.

Tagine, 132 N Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90211

Tagine Beverly Hills, L.A. Food Blog

Tagine Mezze Plate

Tagine Beverly Hills Tasting Menu

Tagine Sea Bass

Tagine Lamb Chops

Tagine Chocolate Soup Dessert