Sunday, March 22, 2015

Saint John's - A Place for Hope and Dreams

Tiffany and Michele Steeb, CEO
Tiffany has a gorgeous, sunny smile and bright, clear eyes. She is gloriously happy, perhaps for the first time in years...or maybe even her life. She has a roof over her head, her son with her, and a bright future. This is in stark contrast to just six months ago when she and her son were living in her car and she was (and still is) dealing with custody battles with her in-laws. She had been homeless for over a year, living in her car and on friend's couches. Tiffany represents the growing number of homeless families in Sacramento and her happy smile is due to one thing - finding help at Saint John's.

Saint John's Program for Change is a charity that was founded in 1985 on the footsteps of St. John's Lutheran Church. It's mission is to help women in crisis come to grips with their lives, battle their demons, and through education, assistance, and a job program, lead them to a new life of independence, productivity, and self sufficiency.

I had recently been asked to come to one of Saint John's guest chef dinners, which we'll get to later. I had been to the dinners before and have ready many posts and articles about them. I wanted to know more.  I wanted to know about the program leading up to the Plates Cafe and to the success stories that come from Saint John's.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Must visit: Koko Head Cafe in Honolulu

I stayed for a week in Honolulu for my vacation in January. In that week I went to Koko Head Cafe three times for breakfast.  It's that good.

Located a few miles from Waikiki in the Waialea neighborhood, Koko Head Cafe  calls itself an "Island Style Brunch House". It's become one of the most popular breakfast destinations on the island for the locals and word has spread enough to attract tourists as well. In fact, while I was there I watched Japanese media filming the place. It's tucked in just off of Waialea Avenue in a nondescript building, but inside it's bright and cheerful with a number of booths and counter seating. The staff are just as bright and cheerful too.

I went three times because the menu is so diverse and so enticing. It also demonstrates what I love most about Hawaiian cuisine, true fusion of American and Asian in a way that only the islands can achieve. Like our own Bacon & ButterKoko Head Cafe only serves brunch from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. While you can find pancakes and eggs on the menu, they will be treated with a Hawaiian touch. For instance, Hawaiian style pancakes are made with a ricotta batter and don't need any syrup because they are sweet enough with their topping of chopped island fruits of pineapple, mango, and/or whatever is in season.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Quick Review: Ninja Sushi in Roseville

I am no fan of Yelp.  I hate the negativity of the bad, sloppy reviewers that you have to read through to get to good, insightful reviews. 

Yet Yelpers do seem to get the Top 100 list right. Recently the 2015 Top 100 Restaurants reviewed on Yelp came out. (I like to make clear that this is a list compiled from Yelp data.  Just like I wish people would realize that the Top 100 list on OpenTable is only of OpenTable restaurants and not ALL restaurants.) Anyway, the point is that two Sacramento area restaurants made this year's list and one was Ninja Sushi and Teriyaki in Roseville. 

Disclaimer:  Ninja reached out to me asking me to come by and check them out. I told them that I would have to come unannounced in order to do an honest review. They did send me a gift certificate to pay for my meal. But that in no way is what is influencing this review since I truly do see the reason they have such great reviews on their own.

Ninja is located just off of Highway 65 at Pleasant Grove Boulevard on the west side of the freeway. The complex has a lot of restaurants, including the new Chando's Tacos Roseville and the Brazil churrascaria restaurant, Flame and Fire. I went with a friend on a Sunday night to find that every table was occupied and there was a wait. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

3 Ways to Juice on Sunday for the Whole Week

I am no juicing expert, but I have gotten into juicing — in a rather convoluted way. You see, I'm a bit of a tightwad and so I see no sense in paying a juice store to do something I can do for far less money on my own.  The irony is in how much I've spent on actual juicers.

I started out with a Breville centrifugal juicer. When it busted I got a Ninja Bullet. Then when the Ninja busted (from me cramming too much into each jar) I went for the big bucks and got a Vitamix so that I could emulsify and keep the fiber.  But I got tired of so much fiber and so I went out and got an Omega cold press juicer to keep all those nutrients.  Finally, I received a free, new Ninja Auto IQ Blender, which I fell in love with.  Yes, I've spent a lot of money on juicers for being a tightwad.  

When I say that I'm not an expert, it's mostly because I don't make a variety of good tasting juices that I switch up each day. No, I keep things simple. I know that you should have mostly vegetables because fruit adds calories, so my juices are pretty green and veggie filled. My routine consists of going to the farmers market on Sunday morning, washing my purchases, then juicing or prepping for the entire week's worth of juices. 

Yes, my juices pretty much taste the same all the time, but I don't care.  I'm getting my nutrients. What do I put in?  Typically I go to the farmers market and buy the following (1 bunch each):  kale, cilantro, carrots (including the greens), celery, parsley, sometimes mint, a few cucumbers, green apples, sometimes kiwis.  At home I'm lucky enough to have a giant grapefruit and lemon tree to take care of the citrus. Citrus is important to cut that green, leafy taste. I'll also add the following at home, varying upon my mood: chia seed, tumeric and coconut oil (they need each other to work), cayenne pepper, pineapple, and ginger. As you can see, my juice is veggie heavy. 

I juice on Sundays and have juices every day for the rest of the week. And I don't lose much nutritional value because I freeze everything. 

Over the course of the last year I have developed three different methods for doing this.  Each has its own merits. Sometimes it's a matter of how lazy I am and sometimes it's a matter of if I want a lot of fiber or do I just want the juice. The common denominator is that I'm not interested in taking time every day to juice and clean juicers.  I'd rather clean up the whole mess just one time.

1. Mason Jars

Mason jars can be put in the freezer because the glass is so thick. The key things to remember is that you must use the wide mouth jars and you must leave an air gap because liquids expand. Forget the air gap and the freezing liquid could make your jar crack or explode in your freezer.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Hawaiian Baklava

Last month when I was in Hawaii I tasted some extraordinary honey.  It's from the ohia lehua flower and the honey has a tropical sweetness unlike any mainland honeys. Then last week I had a bit of inspiration on using some of my macadamia nuts. Why not make a Hawaiian baklava with macadamia nuts, coconut, and Hawaiian honey? Not only did it make perfect sense, but it made delicious baklava!

Roasting the macadamia nuts

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  Scatter about 1/2 pound of macadamia nuts on a cookie sheet. Roast in the oven for 10-15 minutes or until the nuts are a golden brown.  Remove and cool.  Chop finely for the recipe

Hawaiian Baklava

1 (16 ounce) package phyllo dough
2 cups chopped roasted macadamia nuts
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut flakes
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup water
1 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup Hawaiian honey

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F(175 degrees C). Butter the bottoms and sides of a 9x13 inch pan.

2. Chop nuts and toss with cinnamon and coconut flakes. Set aside. Unroll phyllo dough. Cut stack to fit pan. Cover phyllo with a dampened cloth to keep from drying out as you work. Place two sheets of dough in pan, butter thoroughly. Repeat until you have 8 sheets layered. Sprinkle 2 - 3 tablespoons of nut mixture on top. Top with two sheets of dough, butter, nuts, layering as you go. The top layer should be about 6 - 8 sheets deep.

3. Using a sharp knife cut into diamond or square shapes all the way to the bottom of the pan. You may cut into 4 long rows the make diagonal cuts. Bake for about 50 minutes until baklava is golden and crisp.

4. Make sauce while baklava is baking. Boil sugar and water until sugar is melted. Add vanilla and honey. Simmer for about 20 minutes.

5. Remove baklava from oven and immediately spoon sauce over it. Let cool. Serve in cupcake papers. This freezes well. Leave it uncovered as it gets soggy if it is wrapped up.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Pig and the Lady finds a home

Besides Sacramento, I know Honolulu's food scene the next best. Certainly not on my own, but because I have made friends with the two top restaurant food bloggers on Oahu. Mari (@nonstopMari) and Melissa (@Melissa808) work for and they are the two most in tune with Honolulu's food scene. I first met them 2.5 years ago on my last trip and they were the ones to steer me to The Pig & the Lady. At the time it was a pop-up restaurant, which I wrote about when I wrote about the chef, Andrew Le. Andrew brings his family upbringing to the menu with updated Vietnamese food. 

Almost a year and a half ago The Pig & the Lady opened up in a brick and mortar in Chinatown. It has become one of the most popular restaurants among the locals and is drawing visitors because it has been mentioned in such publications as Travel & Leisure and Saveur magazines. Even better, Andrew Le was a James Beard Award nominee for Best Chef in 2014 and Best Chef West for 2015. Quite an achievement for this young chef. 

at the farmers market
On this trip I had to go visit the restaurant and see what Andrew was up to. He is definitely keeping busy. Not only does P&tL operate for lunches and dinner six days a week, but they also go to several farmers markets on the island and set up quite an elaborate food tent. In fact, I was quite blown away with the number of menu items they do out of a tent! Most food vendors will have about 6-10, P&tL is easily at two dozen. Whether you choose one of several pho or a version of their banh mi sandwiches, the options are so numerous it actually makes it difficult to decide. Rest assured, though, the quality of the meals from the tent are just as high and delicious as from the restaurant. 

The day after I saw the team at the Blaisdell farmers market I was having dinner with Mari at the restaurant. The pop-up had been a prix fixe affair, but now it was a standard menu of appetizers and entrees to choose from. We each selected our items before getting caught up with what we had each been up to since we last saw each other.


The restaurant is well organized. There is a lot of seating and even some long tables in the center that can be used for large parties or communal dining. The bar is at the back right and there is another bar, the dessert bar, up to the front with a display case by the door for those that want to just grab some cookies on the go. Above there are light fixtures in chicken wire cages hanging from the high ceilings.  Since there are brick walls and hard surfaces, it does get noisy. Mari said it was one of the loudest restaurants in Honolulu. I was not complaining as it seemed on the quieter side compared to California restaurants. 

Mari ordered the chips and dip to start. They consisted of potato skins served with potato skins, horseradish-creme fraiche, ikura. I had ordered the pork cheeks that were served with lettuce leaves so that you ate it as a sort of lettuce wrap. Andrew was kind enough to send out a sashimi plate as well. 

pork entree
Pork is my favorite meat and so I double dipped with a pork entree as well. After all, it was pork belly. His Shinsato Farm Pork ala Basquaise had chorizo piperrada, olive oil potatoes, leeks braised in espelette & apple cider, hazelnuts, tomato seed vinaigrette, mustard greens

Andrew has brought in a pastry chef for the dessert bar. Mari says Rachel Murai is among the top three pastry chefs in Honolulu.  She had previously been at Nobu where Mari tells me she actually helped to build the dream kitchen for that restaurant. She's apparently very happy to be a part of Andrew's team, always with a big smile. She's also generous. I had ordered the marvelous avocado cake because I had watched it being prepared.  The avocado cake was covered with a layer of sugar that was then bruleed with a torch to create a candy crunch surface. It was then served with local bee pollen, strawberries, pea shoots, and a light corn gelato.

Rachel brought us an extra treat as well. They had gotten a soft serve machine and on this day it had a combo of a vanilla custard ice cream in one side and a lychee sorbet on the other. She brought it to us as a swirl witha sprinkling of blueberries and boba around it. In her had was a large capped test tube, which she poured over the soft serve. It was an elderflower soda. The mini float was such a refreshing end to a fantastic meal. 

Two days later I returned for the lunch menu. I opted for their lunch tasting, which for $24 included a small salad, a small bowl of pho with plenty of noodles, and a small banh mi sandwich.  I selected the pork belly banh mi (shock!) and, while I of course loved it, wished that it had been larger! (The next day I dreamed of ordering one to-go for the plane, but alas, they were closed on Sundays.) It was the small bowl of pho that was the real delight. Bursting with full flavor. I can only dream of making a broth so rich with flavor.

Andrew Le is far left
It's always great when you get to see someone succeed at their dream. Andrew's success is not only because of his great skill in the kitchen, but because he has the love and support of his family. His siblings work in the restaurant and even his mom is there helping out on occasion. 

I can't wait for my next trip back when I can see what else Andrew comes up. He's a local favorite, but if you are visiting Honolulu, get away from Waikiki and visit him in Chinatown.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The 4th Sacramento Food Film Festival is just around the corner

Four and a half years ago I had a small idea. Have a film festival for all the food documentaries that I never seemed to catch in Sacramento. At the time I figured I would need funding, so if I could get one big sponsor to say it was a good idea, I would pursue. Luckily my friends at Whole Foods Sacramento and they agreed to sponsor. That first year was one day's worth of films and I pretty much handled the entire thing on my own. 

This will be year four for the festival and it's been growing every year. So much so that it's gotten beyond my capabilities. That's why this year I donated the festival to the Food Literacy Center. 

It's a perfect match. The Food Literacy Center is all about educating children on how to eat healthy, including vegetables.  The film festival was all about watching food documentaries that would help us to understand the politics of food today so we can make better choices as well.

It's my pleasure to give it to Amber Stott's group because I know that they will not only keep it going, but will use the funds to keep growing their own efforts to be statewide.  

So what is planned for this year?  LOTS!  You can get full details at, but the festival will have 11 events over 11 days. Whoa!  

I'm especially excited for the Chinese dinner with Frank Fat's with the showing of Soul of the Banquet. I also look forward to seeing the hot food documentary for the year, Food Chains.  And then I happen to love Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. Those are only a few choices.  Check out the events and buy your tickets now.  Many will sell out, so you don't want to miss your chance to get a ticket and support a great cause - food education of children. 

Buy tickets here. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Oahu Hikes: Manoa Falls and Koko Head

Hawaii has always been a favorite for hikers. With its high yet steep volcanic ridges and ancient volcanoes, the islands provide a unique terrain covered in vegetation. For those visiting Honolulu there are several well known hikes that are not that far from Waikiki. The most obvious and famous is the hike to the top of Diamond Hea, which I did on my last visit. From the old World War II lookout point there is the absolute best view of Waikiki. This trip I did two of the other most popular hikes,  Manoa Falls and Koko Head.

Manoa Falls

Manoa is actually a northerly neighborhood of Honolulu itself.  It's a suburban area of residential homes and schools that reaches up one of the valleys on the north edge of the city. It's a quick drive or moped ride from city center, only about 20 minutes from Waikiki. As you drive to get there you wonder if you are going in the right direction as the road is a 2-lane affair going through the neighborhood homes. At the very end is where you find the entrance to the Manoa Falls Park and the Lyon Arboretum (part of the University of Hawaii). Parking is $5 for cars and $2 for mopeds. If you need to, go to the bathroom at the visitor's center before you start as this is not the sort of place where you can duck into shrubs to do your business.

The hike starts off very easy and, in general, the hike is on the easy side. What takes it to moderate is that it can be very slippery and the last third of the hike does go up some tricky footing.  This is not a hike to be wearing the wrong shoes for.  You should have sneakers at the very least...something with grippy soles. The first third is the casual slopes and twisted jungles around you. 

You'll know that you are slightly more than half way when you get to the vine arch that is like a gateway to the rest of the hike where things get trickier. 

After this point is where you will see very tall bamboo stands. The bamboo here is as tall as large trees and is dense around you.

As I said, take for the last third of the hike. I had to get my hands a bit dirty by holding a muddy rock for security on some footing.  At the top of the trail is Manoa Falls. The falls themselves do not have  large, flowing showers of water, but more like a fountain where the water trickles down the rock facade. It is tall though, 150 feet high. At the base is a small pool of water that is a welcome place to take a dip to cool off and refresh yourself. The water can be chilly for some, but like many rivers or even pools, your body adjusts after a few minutes. 

Koko Head

Koko Head is on the windward (east) side of the island in the Hawaii Kai neighborhood and near to Hanauma Bay. This mound is 642 feet tall and also has World War II lookouts at the top like Diamond Head. The difference here is that they actually build a bit of railway track up the side of the mountain in order to transport supplies to the top. It's this set of old railroad tracks that is the trail to the top. You might have seen it on the new Hawaii Five-O when Steve McGarrett runs to the top of it for exercise.

view from near park entrance
Running is something I can't even conceive of. You should know this is a brutal hike and one should be in at least moderately good condition to do it. I was not at my fittest at the time and I found it exhausting and difficult.

I actually took locals' advice and got there pre-dawn. Since the trail is completely in the sun, it's best to go as early as you can to avoid the heat of the sun. But I had been told I should try my best to make it to the top in time to watch the sunrise. At the time sunrise was at about 7 a.m.. I got there when it was still dark at about 6 a.m. If you do this, you MUST take a flashlight or use the flashlight feature on your smartphone. I stumbled in the dark and scraped my knee. 

When you get to the railroad ties, the first half will be at about a 35 degree slope.  About halfway is a railroad tie bridge. This is not for the faint of heart if you have a fear of heights like I do. On the way up I got to it when it was still dark but enough for me to see the ties. I set my mind and went across in a methodical way, counting the ties...63 in all. But on the way down I could not do it in the light of day. Luckily there is a side trail that you can take to go around it. Also note that there is a posting that there are bees on the bridge, so use caution. 

After the bridge is when it gets really difficult. The slope now changes to about a 50 degree slope and if you are a short legged person, like me, these steps get pretty high. At this point I was going about 20 steps and then having to take a break before going another 20.  It's what took me so long to get to the top and I did not make it in time for sunrise. I would say it probably took me an hour to get to the top. Meanwhile a very fit guy went up and down twice while I was there. I've heard that on the weekends some locals will actually do it as many as seven times in a row. Murder!

Hanauma Bay view
The view from the very top is definitely stunning and a good reward for your efforts.  It is not a case of you can twirl around and do a complete 360, but you can see half the island from one vantage point and then move to the other side of the top to catch the other side of the island.
looking down
Going up is definitely difficult, but going down is no breeze. I would caution those that have any joint problems to be aware that they will be inflamed by this hike. Going down is where it gets your knees, ankles, and hips the most. And you will definitely feel the after effects 24 hours later when your muscles get sore.

Hiking means always being mindful of your body and whether you think it is really up to it. Either way, be sure to take lots of water for either hike and take your time. There's something rewarding at the end of each trail. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

SusieCakes opens at Pavilions

Got a sweet tooth? Then on Saturday, January 24, you should head over to the grand opening of SusieCakes at the Pavilions shopping center on Fair Oaks Boulevard.

The first SusieCakes was founded by Susan Sarich in 2006 in Southern California. She now has 13 locations, with Sacramento being her latest one in Northern California.

founder Susan Sarich

All of the items are made from scratch daily using only fresh, whole ingredients: butter, milk, eggs, flour.  The recipes were handed down via Sarich's two grandmothers on index cards. There are no preservatives, trans fats, or artificial ingredients.  

All the frostings are buttercreams. They do not use fondants or any of those food coloring printers that print photographs that can be used as transfers on the tops of cakes. All the decorations are done the old fashioned way, via piping and traditional cake decorating techniques. 

The menu stays the same except for a couple of seasonal switches. In the bakery case you'll find at least a dozen cupcake flavors, a pie or two, at least five flavors of cakes, cheesecake, and a variety of puddings, cookies, and bars.

We were given plates for cake tasting. My favorite was the Tropical Coconut which had a light accent of pineapple. 

SusieCakes is not able to name any items as gluten-free as there is likely to be cross contamination in the kitchen, but they do label a few items as made with gluten free ingredients: the peanut butter cookies, the flourless chocolate cake/cupcake, and the vanilla pudding.

Prices range from snack mini-cupcakes and cookies at $2 up to large multi-tiered creations in the hundreds of dollars. Yes, they are happy to make your wedding or party cakes as well.

I asked Sarich how long the cakes are good for and she said for 2-3 days. Asked what happens to unsold items and she said that they get donated to local food banks. 

You will find SusieCakes sort of across the parking lot from Cafe Bernardo at the Pavilions.


564 Pavilions Lane
Pavilions Shopping Center
Sacramento, CA 95825
Tel 916 865 2250
Fax 916 922 2155
Mon-Sat 10am-7pm
Custom Order Inquiries

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

I'm busy at Guest Innovations

My new job has changed their company name from Dinnerwire to Guest Innovations.  That's because we will be moving into bigger digs and adding new restaurant industry products starting next month.  So far we have Dinnerwire for the consumer to search for restaurants and Rezku, a restaurant management and reservation system.

This is keeping me so busy that I haven't been writing many Munchie posts. That's because I'm busy writing blog posts over there.  But they are still great posts, so I'm going to share them here. Keep in mind that they are written for restaurants.

Claim Your Restaurant’s Dinnerwire Profile 
Calorie Counts and Your Restaurant
The Anatomy of a Good Restaurant Website
Planning for the Busiest Days of the Year
Increasing Business on the Slowest Days of the Year
There’s Money in Mocktails
Setting Restaurant Goals for the New Year
Maximizing Restaurant Email Campaigns Part 1
Maximizing Restaurant Email Campaigns Part 2
Put Your Best Dish Forward at Fundraisers
Making the Most of Food Holidays