Have an Offal Day chef explaining his dish

In food blogging years I'm quite old. At 8.5 years, my blog is one of the oldest in the Sacramento area. When I started there were only a few hundred food blogs around the world. Now there are thousands. Then, it was possible for blogs to make money from advertising streams. Now, it's pretty much a joke. 

Now don't get me wrong. I'm no expert on food blogging compared to some of the big guys. I never had aspirations for national or international reach. I always considered my blog my own passion and hobby. So while I can't talk at the same level as those who make money because they have huge followings, I have learned some things.

Many of the things I've learned are from attending the International Food Bloggers Conference (IFBC) numerous times. Others I've learned on my own. But I think that one of the things that I appreciate about IFBC is that it provides excellent seminars for bloggers to learn and grow with the changing times. It's become more and more important that bloggers reach out of the internet to create a presence elsewhere if they expect to make a living with their passion. The blog should only be a launching pad.

Later this week Garrett McCord (Vanilla GarlicCoupe de GrĂ¢ce), Stephanie Stiavetti (Fearless Fresh) and Sean Timberlake (Hedonia & Punk Domestics) will be talking about blogging for other entities that pay — corporate blogs, web magazines, etc. Garrett, for instance, not only had a gig writing posts about produce for one web magazine site, but he also wrote every description and use for a spice company's web site (Spice Jungle). These are a couple of his paying gigs that generated more income than his own blog.

volunteers from Amber's Food Literacy Center

Today, I will be joined by  Amber Stott, founder of Food Literacy Center and Rodney Blackwell, founder of Burger Junkies and the Sacramento Burger Battle, to discuss how we took our blogs and made them part of our communities through events and a non-profit. Our presence is no longer limited to the cyber page, but we are involved with helping Sacramento via fun events and fundraising.

And, of course, there are those that pursue the cookbook path. Publication of tangible pages is a goal of many food bloggers. 

When I was working as a State worker, writing my blog, many would ask me two things. First they would ask how to make money at blogging. As I said, that's not my path, but I also tend to reply in my Tom Hanks "League of Their Own" voice, "There's no money in food blogging!" Yes, there are the Simply Recipes and The Pioneer Woman blogs out there that get millions of clicks each month so that they can actually live off the ad revenue, but for most of us out there, our blog is not going to pay our mortgage.

The second question I get is, "Then why bother?". I always answered the same way.  I'm having fun, learning, making connections to people in my community. Some day, hopefully, I will get a job in a food industry related way. Guess what? It came true. I retired from the State so that I could go work for a restaurant software company and I love my new job.

Food blogging today can't be a career on its own. Today it requires branching out in many different ways. The key is that you do it in a way that fits your life, your goals, your family. Learn from those that have done so in their own ways and who are willing to share how they did it. 

And that's where IFBC comes in. At IFBC you can meet those bloggers that have done just that. At IFBC your head will swim with the information and ideas that you will get from others. Or, you will suddenly get that lightbulb moment yourself where you think of something none of the others have done yet. Enjoy IFBC and then forge your path to blogging success and happiness!

I rarely step into a mall. I'm not a shopper. My money goes to dining out before it goes to shoes and clothes. I have something I need, I'm a focused shopper on a mission - find and get out! I was in Arden Fair Mall a few weeks ago and stumbled across Lolli & Pops, the second location of this chain of candy stores. 

About a week ago I got an invitation to come in and taste my way through the store. Who could resist such an offer?

The first Lolli & Pops opened at the Roseville Galleria several years ago. Arden is the 24th store with expectations for there to be a total of 50 by year's end. The stores themselves are stylish and inviting. Roseville has stained wood shelves, giving it a darker look. Arden has bright, painted shelves, making the store seem more cheerful, open, and inviting.

My friend and I were greeted by Gabriel Romo, Assistant Candy Purveyor. It soon became clear that the use of "purveyor" was appropriate. Gabe was very knowledgable about everything in the store and enthusiastic! He has an infectious spirit and I'm sure is a treasured employee.

Gabe took us section by section through the store. Whenever we wanted to try something, he got us a sample. That wasn't just for us. Lolli & Pops wants people to try things. Just ask. If he opened a package of cookies, he offered it to any customer that was near us to try as well.

We started at the front at the Harry Potter shelves and moved down the row. There are old, classic favorite candies such as Pop Rocks and Goo Goo Clusters as well as new artisan candies and gourmet chocolate bars. No matter what level of candy eater you are, you'll find something. 

One section that was particularly of note was the specialty diet section. This is where they had such things as paleo chocolate and chocolate made with stevia. I bought one of each. The paleo was good and the stevia did well with dark chocolate. I have to wonder how it would do with milk chocolate. There was also vegan, gluten-free, and sugar free candies in this area as well as specialty honey.

There are quite a few specialty items. These are giant rice cereal squares, but what makes them different is that they are more marshmallow than cereal. It's funny how you see it and think, "why had I never thought to change the ratio of marshmallow to rice crispies?" This is also something I ended up taking home because I had to try it. It was so huge that I gave half to my coworker. We both enjoyed it. There is also a cotton candy made specially for L&P that is made with cane sugar and natural flavorings. 

The Sour Tower
Lolli & Pops has its own line of branded candies as well. You'll find L&P branded truffles in gift boxes with assortments such as Salted Caramels, Ice Cream Shoppe, and Holiday Favorites. They also have specialty bark and candy bars. I tried their Jalapeno Peanut bar. Spicy, but with ground peanuts. I personally would have preferred larger peanut bits. 

The bulk candy area is quite extensive with a variety of chocolate treats and gummie candies. What's noticeable is that the flavor in the gummies is strong and the texture is exceptional. These gummies don't stick to your teeth. Instead, they are soft and don't pull at your tooth enamel like some chewy candies do. I even tried the jalapeno gummy. Be careful, it's hot! They go through a confectioner who uses cane sugar and natural flavorings. 

Gabe showing us a foreign candy
The area I was particularly interested in was the foreign section where there were candies from Europe, Asia, and Mexico. There were many British candies I remembered well such as Rowntree Fruit Gums and Cadbury Flake bars. Flakes, by the way, are best eaten in a soft serve ice cream cone. In fact, I need to go back and get one and then head over to Dairy Queen.

Anyway, one important thing to know is that often there are the foreign and then the American versions of these candies. American Cadbury, made by Hershey's, uses a different formula in the United States than in Britain. Europe and America have different standards as to the amount of dairy and cocoa butter are used. Same holds true for Asian candies; the American formula is different. I could go into a whole discussion on this, but we all know our American food standards are often different than foreign.

Thirsty? There's a cold case up front with artisan sodas. I'm not exactly sure what would inspire a person to name, let alone taste, a soda called Dog Drool. Gabe sampled out more familiar things like the root beers and a cream soda. 

Finally, up front we sampled some macarons that are flown in from the east coast and the truffle case. The case is a bit bare in the summer as the manufacturer refuses to compromise the quality by shipping in the hot summer months. As for the macarons, I would say to stick to Ginger Elizabeth. While I liked the unusual flavors, they did not hold up well to travel and time. 

The Lolli & Pops motto is "Purveyors of Sweetness". Whether you are young or old; like chocolates, sours, or gummies; American or Foreign, they have a sweet for you.

Disclosure: I was invited for this tasting visit and given a discount on my purchases.

There's never been a lot of quality Greek food in Sacramento. We took a hit when the Greek Village Inn closed a couple of years ago. Opa Opa is fine, but it's fast casual style and sometimes you want to be served at a sit down setting. That's why I was thrilled to be introduced to Yianni's in Carmichael.

Yianni's is located on Fair Oaks Blvd, just north of Marconi. It's one of those restaurants you drive by for years and notice, but don't go if you haven't been referred there. In fact, one of my friends even said that for a long time he would drive by and not see any cars, so he thought it wasn't any good. Later he learned that's because most of the cars park behind the building and the main entrance is on the side, not the front of the building.

Inside is a cozy restaurant and bar. The bar looks like a neighborhood, Cheers bar. My friends said they had a separate room to themselves when they came as a large family for Father's Day. This time we were next to the bar as the Giants game played above our heads.

The menu is quite extensive. It focuses on Greek, but there are other non-Greek items as well, such as Chicken Florentine and Shrimp Scampi. They even have one of the best French Onion Soups in the region.

We started with their Halloumi cheese and a four dip platter for our appetizers. Halloumi is known as squeaky cheese because, like cheese curds, it can kind of squeak across your teeth as you bite into it. It has a high melting point, so it is often grilled. I've had halloumi before and never been a big fan, but this was the bet I've ever had - I'd order it again. It was covered in seasoned olive oil and served with some Greek salad veggies of onions and peppers. 

The dip platter included a fire feta, hummus, skordalia, and tzatziki. Skordalia was new for me. It was a very garlicy spread made with a potato base. Served with the dips were sliced cucumbers and fresh, hot, pita! The pita was soft and superb!

My BFF and her son ordered the highly recommended French Onion Soup. Boy was it good! The broth was rich and the cheese was generous. 

At the top you see my order of the Mixed Grill plate. I figured I was here to see how well they do Greek, so might as well get the combo plate. I got a skewer of chicken souvlaki, two dolmades, two lamb chops, spanakopita, and pastitso. The lamb chops were nicely seasoned and perfectly cooked. The dolmades were good, as was the spanakopita. Chicken is always the one I never have expectations of and the skewer was overcooked and dry. I like pastitso, but I always find it to be a bit on the dull side. I wish I could find one that would really excite me. In the end, though, I enjoyed the meal and the fact that I had enough for lunch the next day. 

My BFF chose the Chicken Florentine. The large chicken breast with generously stuffed with spinach and cheese and then covered with a rich sauce.

Her son ordered a steak, which may seem boring, but we were definitely impressed by the size of it!

Two had the Shrimp Scampi and what was most impressive was the jumbo shrimp in the dish. I can't even remember the last time I saw such large shrimp on a restaurant entree. 

We all split the desserts. We had to order the baklava, of course. Instead of square slice from a pan, we got this large rolled version. Plenty of ground walnuts filled it and the whole thing was dense with honey. The other dessert was the special of a half peach baked in a wrapped phyllo with walnuts and honey and served with ice cream.

Service here was very attentive in a friendly manner. We were often asked if we needed drink refills and they definitely exuded the "neighborhood" restaurant vibe.

Yianni's has become a new favorite of my BFF's family and I'll certainly be enthusiastic if I get to go with them again. 

Last night I went to a special screening of At the Fork, a food documentary about the welfare of animals raised to be on our dinner tables. First off, it was not a preachy, go-vegan film. So I hope you omnivores will keep reading.

This documentary follows the exploration of farming system in regards to raising chicken, beef, and pork. It shows the corporate, large operations as well as the small, independent producers. It does a good job giving a balanced look without telling you what to think. It allows you to draw your own conclusions, so here are mine.

I've always tried to make a conscious effort to eat meat from happy animals, animals that were raised in a humane way with access to sunshine and grass. I invite you to read my post about Sinclair Family Farms and Taramasso Ranch on how they raise happy livestock and chickens. 

I buy my eggs at the farmers market from farms that have pasture raised chickens. Not only does my conscious feel better, but the eggs taste better.

But the film made me reflect on a couple of things. First is my love for chicken wings. I'll normally go to Wingstop and get an order of 10 wings, but that means anywhere from 2-5 chickens supplied those 10 little wings. Or how about when you go to the store and buy a 10 pack of chicken thighs? That represents 5 chickens.

Needless to say, I will be stifling my wing cravings and when I go to the store for chicken, I'll be buying a single whole chicken instead and butcher it up into pieces at home. 

The same thoughts go with meats. Yes, it costs more, but I'd rather eat an animal that had a happy life up to the last day than one that has been confined in a pen, on concrete, never experiencing fresh air. That means buying from a butcher that gets their meats from such farms.

Finally, while harder to do, I'd rather eat at restaurants where I trust they hold the same values I do. Obviously a drive through the few fast food chains I frequent won't fulfill this goal, but many of Sacramento's restaurants do. A lot of this is thanks to our living in the best farm-to-fork region in the country.

I highly recommend this film and don't be surprised if you don't see it on the roster for next year's Sacramento Food Film Festival.

If you are a carnivore there is one place to be on August 21. That would be Heritage Fire Napa at the Charles Krug Winery. Heritage Fire is put on by Cochon 555

from 2010 event
During this meat fest you get to dine on all sorts of proteins: rabbit, lamb, pork, beef, sturgeon, chicken, and more! All done over outdoor fire pits watched by over 20 of the best chefs out of the Napa valley and Sacramento. 

In fact, we need a Sacramento contingent to show up for two reasons.  First, to support our local chefs. Michael Thiemann from Empress will be there.  Also representing Sacramento, Ravin Patel and Rob Lind from Ella and Selland Family Restaurants.  

There's plenty more to Heritage FireIn addition to the meat-laden feast, the event includes animal theatre cooking, butcher demonstrations, lawn games, live music and the opportunity to learn directly from the farmers and producers behind the great wines, brews and ciders of the event. Bring a cooler so that you can purchase some of the butchered meats to take home. 

Come join me and our chefs and represent, Sacramento!

To purchase tickets, visit cochonheritagefire.com

Disclosure: I received a press pass for this post.

I've lived in Sacramento for 29 years now, arriving right after college. I had heard the Central Valley referred to as the armpit of California, so I had low expectations. Now I love it more than many natives and even know more of its history than many of them. I can't imagine living anywhere else. That's why I'm thrilled IFBC is here and I hope that others enjoy their visit. After all, when people travel to California, they often go to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Napa, or San Diego. We are often overlooked when we have so much to offer!

Weather - July we are usually in the 90s with occasional 100s. We are blessed with warm summer nights that are perfect for outdoor dining. The Delta breeze usually sweeps in during the evening/night to cool things down. The 100s hit when we don't get the Delta breeze. We have no humidity, so even though 90s sound hot, you don't have to worry about being drenched. 

Arrival - The airport is 20 minutes from the hotel and if you take Uber or SuperShuttle, it should be about $17. Taxi will be double that at least. We do not have good bus or tram to the airport, sadly.  Fun fact: Many people who go to Napa make the mistake of flying to SF or Oakland. In truth, Sacramento is closer and with less traffic!

Getting around - Sacramento is laid out really easy. ABC streets run east to west and 123 streets run north to south. Our hotel is at the corner of 12th and L. My event restaurant for Thursday night, Lucca, is on J between 16 and 17. If you want to Uber, most fares in the Grid are about $4-7 only. 

Restaurants - I'll refer you to my Favorites of 2015 list.  I need to update for 2016, but this list is still valid. Walking distance from hotel that I recommend: Ella, Empress, Mother, Mayahuel, Lucca, De Vere's, Hock Farm, Pizza Rock. 

We are also known for a robust coffee and craft beer scene.

Nearby foodie shopping

Two businesses won (separate years) the Downtown Sacramento Partnership’s Calling All Dreamers contest where they pitched their business and earned free leases and help launching their shops. The first is Andy's Candy (1012 9th St), a candy store that includes childhood favorites, gourmet chocolates, and international treats. The All Spicery (1125 L St) is a spice shop that carries 200 different spices, spice blends and salt rubs. We are the home of Blue Diamond Almonds with a whole store devoted to almonds, milk, flour, and more. Find it at  17th  C St. If you want to do some wine shopping right under the hotel, Downtown and Vine is on K St. If you want to hit one of those stores that specialize in extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegars, the Chefs Olive Mix is for you. And if you are a chocoholic, you'll be tasting Ginger Elizabeth at IFBC, but her shop is at 1801 K St. Want a dessert not yet found in much of the country? Stop at Vampire Penguin (907 K St.) for one of these (video of one of their other locations):

Staying an extra day and need something to do?

Old Sacramento - our pioneer past with lots of touristy stuff. Head toward the river, the equivalent of 1st St.
Railroad Museum - one of the best in the country, located in Old Sac
Crocker Museum - the oldest art museum west of the Mississippi, housed in the mansion of the Crocker family, corner of O and 3rd
Stanford Mansion - the Crockers and the Stanfords were part of the railroad baron past of Sacramento. Stanford Mansion is at 8th and N.
Sutter's Fort - Sutter's Mill was where gold was found, but that's a good hour east. This was his first property, the first outpost, and the origin of the city. 27th & K.
The State Capitol - across the street from the hotel.
Historic Cemetery - I volunteer at the cemetery and love it. In the East and South cemeteries are separated by race and religion. Our cemetery is mixed! Back in 1800s! There are Chinese, Sikh, Europeans. There are three gardens: the nationally recognized rose garden, the CA native plant garden, and the perennial garden. And that Hamilton musical that's the rage of Broadway? His son is buried here. The Hamilton Square Perennial Garden.

Those are the main tourist sites within the city. There are other things like the underground tour and the zoo.

Courtesy California State Railroad Museum

Sacramento is also central to so many other places! Right between the ocean and the mountains. We are this far from:

Reno - 2 hours
Lake Tahoe 2 hours
Napa - less than an hour
San Francisco - 2 hours
Santa Cruz - 2.5 hours
Monterey - 3 hours
Yosemite - 3 hours

Welcome to Sacramento. We hope you enjoy your visit and will consider coming back again!