Alyssa’s California Avocado Adventure: Rancho Rodoro and Mission Packing Plant

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Stuff my lawyer made me say: Holy guacamole! The California Avocado Commission provided me free lodging, transportation, meals, and awesome avocado swag. I am not under any obligation to write or share about my trip.

After our first tour of the day at the avocado nursery, Brokaw Nursery, we boarded the bus and headed out to Rancho Rodoro — a beautiful avocado farm nestled in Santa Paula, Calif. Rancho Rodoro is named after the farmer Randy Axell’s parents, a combination of their names Ross and Dorothy. Randy has been growing California Avocados for over 40 years, and he grows Hass and Lamb Hass avocados. It was really interesting to hear him talk about how avocado farming works; how precise the weather, soil, water, and nutrients need to be to produce a bountiful avocado crop. The photo below shows buds of soon to be avocado babies.

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We were given the opportunity to pick some of our own avocados, and that was a blast. I spotted this beauty and knew it had to be mine!

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Did you know that avocados don’t ripen on the tree? Avocados only ripen once you pick them. Once we all  harvested to our heart’s content, we headed into Randy’s awesome barn, where Chef Pink from Bacon and Brine of Solvang was preparing us a delicious lunch.

Farmer Randy, Jan, the VP of Marketing for California Avocado Commission, and Chef Pink of Bacon and Brine share a laugh in Randy's barn

Farmer Randy, Jan, the VP of Marketing for California Avocado Commission, and Chef Pink of Bacon and Brine share a laugh in Randy’s barn

To start, Chef Pink prepared avocado gazpacho, bacon and kim-chi sliders with avocado, and while I unfortunately can’t remember the name, this delicious appetizer that was a very thick, wheaty slice of bread with avocado and crushed almonds and peanuts with Korean seasoning. It was like eating a grilled cheese — the flavor had the savory intensity of amazing cheese, yet there was no cheese at all.

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All of this deliciousness clearly only whet our appetite, as our main course was a slow cooked pulled pork with avocado apple relish. This sandwich was just the hearty meal I needed to pull me out of my mid-day slump. It was served alongside mixed greens with ruby red grapefruit slices and avocado (of course)! Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of it (I wolfed it down too fast to stop and snap… whoops), but trust me when I say we ate some amazing food that weekend, and the pulled pork was my favorite!

Once we all wrapped up our lunch, we said our thank yous to Randy and his wife, and were back on the bus for our last stop of the day, the Mission Avocado Packing Plant in Oxnard, California. Mission Packing had just moved into their new facility, which was formerly a post office! While we weren’t able to snap photos at all points during the tour, I did get a few photos of the packing process. It was mind-blowing to see pretty much all of the state’s avocados rolling through conveyor belts, being weighed, and then being bagged up in variously colored mesh nets.

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We got a great tour by Mission Packing’s Project Manager, and you can bet we rocked our sexy hair nets. Don’t we look great?

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Several of the rooms in this plant were ice cold to keep the avocados a consistent temperature, but what I was most impressed with were two things: 1) the cleanliness of the facility and 2) the efficiency. This facility was squeaky clean, spotless, and it felt VERY secure in terms of being a place where food comes from. I’ve been in other food facilities before and this one felt immaculate! Also, the efficiency here couldn’t be debated. From the machinery to the employees, you could tell Mission has productivity and packing down-pat. Those avocados were preparing for their journey from machine to mouth in a highly-effective fashion.

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It was really cool to see the exact same kinds of avocados I buy (from Costco) get bagged up and ready to go to the store. Did you know that stores can specify a ripeness of avocados when they order them wholesale? There is something called a ripening room that releases the gas ethylene, which causes ripening (you can do this for free in your house by placing an avocado in a brown paper bag with an apple).

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We left with our own sack of avocados and headed back to the Four Seasons Westlake, where our last avocado treat was an amazing dinner full of avocado goodness. Before dinner, we got to hear from R.D. Katie Ferraro (in green) (standing next to Jan, VP of Marketing for CAC), who told us about some of the nutritional benefits of avocados and showed us her go-to method for avocado toast (hint: mash the avocado before you put it on the bread. I always did it after and would end up tearing a hole in my toast!). Another thing she told us that I tried this weekend with rave results was how to store a fresh cut avocado: sprinkle the fruit with lemon juice, lime juice, or white vinegar and place it in an air tight container. Your avocado will remain springy green! Also, if you have an abundance of ripe avocados, consider freezing them. Pureed avocado freezes very well and can be used on sandwiches and in dips, if you use it within four months.

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What are some of the nutritional benefits of California avocados? Let’s discuss!

  • One fifth of a medium avocado has 50 calories and nearly 20 vitamins and minerals.
  • California avocados contribute 11 beneficial carotenoids to one’s diet, including lutein, zeaxanthin, and alpha and beta carotene. In California avocados, the greatest concentration of carotenoids is in the dark green fruit of the avocado closest to the peel.
  • Avocados contain 23 mg of beta-sitosterol, which may help maintain healthy cholesterol levels.

After Katie’s informative sesh, we headed into the beautiful Four Seasons dining room for our last avo-amazing feast. Here’s the menu from our feast!

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This avocado adventure was totally amazing, and just one more rad opportunity made possible by this lil’ old blog over here! Big thanks to the California Avocado Commission and Golin Harris for hosting an action-packed, informative, and delicious weekend in Ventura County. Now: because I’m sure you guys love avocados too, leave me a comment telling me your favorite way to eat avocado for a chance to win a California Avocado Commission avocado masher. This stainless steel gadget looks like a mini-potato masher, but makes mashing your avocados (for toast, guac, baking, you name it) a breeze! US only, must comment to win.

(Need some avo-inspiration? Check out my grand prize winning recipe, California Avocado Mascarpone Tartlets with Nectarine and Strawberry, or Guacahummus.)

Alyssa’s Avocado Adventure, Part 1: Brokaw Nursery

Stuff my lawyer made me say: Holy guacamole! The California Avocado Commission provided me free lodging, transportation, meals, and awesome avocado swag. I am not under any obligation to write or share about my trip.

Oh, avocados. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I was thrilled to be invited to the California Avocado Grove Tour last weekend with my friends from the California Avocado Commission. We’re in the heart of California Avocado season, and we celebrated this green-hued fruit with a delicious dinner at Salt in Calabasas on Friday night. We sampled delicious noms like Ruby Red Grapefruit and Avocado Salad, Kalua Pork and Avocado Egg Rolls, and my favorite, Short Rib with Avocado Smashed Potatoes. After our bellies were full, we headed to sleep, knowing that we’d be up early the next morning for an avo-amazing breakfast and on our way to our first stop, the Brokaw Nursery in Ventura, Calif.

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Those of you who’ve stuck with the DCD for awhile know that I’m a big ol’ plant nerd. I love digging in the dirt, smelling tomato vines, and planting pretty flowers around my front steps. When I found out we’d be seeing the growth process of avocado trees from their very start, I knew it would be right up my alley. Avocado trees were first planted in Ventura in 1871. During the next 100 years, growers planted avocado seeds and grafted the seedlings with clippings from avocado trees known to have good fruit. William “Hank” Brokaw was born in 1927, to a family of citrus and avocado growers. Initially a math teacher, in 1956 he borrowed $200 from his in-laws and planted 500 avocado seedlings in his backyard.

Connie grafts avocado trees, preparing for a new generation of delicious fruit-bearing goodness.

Connie grafts avocado trees, preparing for a new generation of delicious fruit-bearing goodness.

Brokaw spent 20 years refining a method of growing avocado trees. A clipping from a disease-resistant root is granted onto a seedling from an avocado seed. The plant is grown in the dark for a short period and the clipping grows roots. The original seedling dies, and the stem of the new plant is then grafted with a clipping from a tree with the variety of fruit desired. By the 1970’s, Brokaw’s method was practical, cost efficient, and catching on. Avocado production soared, and Brokaw is currently the state’s largest avocado tree grower. Brokaw has sold more than 10,000,000 avocado trees.

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California produces 90% of the nation’s avocado crop, and avocados are grown by hand on nearly 5,000 small family-owned farms. Most of the avocados in the state of California grow in Central and Southern California, where warm sunshine, rich soil, and cool coastal breezes result in strong trees and delicious fruit.

While at Brokaw Nursery, it was so cool to see the beginning stages of an avocado tree’s life cycle. As you can see from the pictures above, the sheer volume of seedlings, plants, and trees was simply amazing. Now that I had seen how avocado trees are made, it was time to see where these trees graduate to when they’re big enough: an avocado farm! Stay tuned for part two of my avocado adventure, where I share with your our wonderful lunch and grove tour from Rancho Rodoro.

Review: Great Low Carb Bread Company

Hi DCDers! Told ya I’d be back, just in limited capacity. I hope you’ve stopped by to check out my new haunts at LaLaLyssa.com. I’ve been going strong with a low-carb eating plan the past month (no white rice, potatoes, bread, sugar, muffins, pasta, etc), and when the Great Low Carb Bread Company reached out to me with an offer to try their breads in exchange for review, I immediately said yes. When you’re following a low-carb plan, you get to a point where maybe you don’t care so much about sugar (in my case), but you’d gnaw the case off your laptop if it would taste like freshly baked bread.

Cinnamon Bagel with Strawberry Cream Cheese. So Delicious!

Cinnamon Bagel with Strawberry Cream Cheese. So Delicious!

GLCB sent me four items of my choice, and I opted for Everything Bagels, Cinnamon Bagels, Pumpkin Spice Bread, and Sourdough Bread. The minute the goodies arrived at my door, I cracked open the Everything Bagels and popped one in the toaster. You’ll notice these products feel more dense than traditional breads and bagels, and that’s because instead of carb-arific flour that does nothing for you nutritionally, these are made out of ground flaxseed, almond flour, and oat fiber. The bagel toasted up beautifully and received a hearty schmear of cream cheese. I took one bite and was so glad that I was eating a BAGEL. Now, the texture was good, how about the taste? If you bite into this expecting a Noah’s bagel, you’ll be disappointed. But if you bite into this knowing that it’s low carb, good for you, and only 120 calories and 2g net carbs? You’ll be very pleased. The taste is good, slightly nutty, with a nice chewy, finish. I loved the flavored breads most – pumpkin spice bread and the Everything bagel were my favorites out of the bunch. It’s certainly light years ahead of some other low-carb “bread” products — for example, the low carb tortilla that my friend recently said “was so bad that I felt like I was eating the bath mat.” You won’t have that problem with GLCB.

Peanut butter porn, courtesy of natural peanut butter, cacao nibs, and the Great Low Carb Bread Company

Peanut butter porn, courtesy of natural peanut butter, cacao nibs, and the Great Low Carb Bread Company

I’ve actually been having their breads for breakfast every day for nearly a week and a half, and my favorite combo is the Pumpkin Spice Bread (above) with peanut butter and cacao nibs, or the Cinnamon bagel with strawberry cream cheese. One nice thing about being on a lower carb eating plan is that you can be a little bit more liberal with dietary fat, so you’re free to top these yummy breads with delicious spreads and butters.

Let’s talk shop now, nutritionally. Sure, they taste good — but are they good for you? Let’s take a look at the nutritional stats for my fav, the Pumpkin Spice Bread.

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I’m no nutritionist, but my vote would be yes. There’s no nasty chemicals in these — no malitol, no isotols, no aspartame, no splenda – just stuff you can actually pronounce, for only 3g fat and 1 net carb per serving. I’m sold.

You can purchase these breads, bagels, and even pretzels, cakes, muffins, hot dog buns, and paleo breads online at the Great Low Carb Shop. The breads and bagels run around $7.99 per package, which might seem spendy to someone used to dropping $3 on a loaf of bread — but this is a specialty product and is worth it if you miss bread! If you try them, drop me a note and let me know what you liked best. I noticed that their bakery is a mere 7 miles from my house, so I learned I can pick up, since I’m local! Love it when companies let you do that. If you’re not local? Don’t fret — their shipping is affordable considering they’re shipping you super fresh baked goods. (PS: Don’t forget to freeze these right upon receipt. All this deliciousness holds up best in the arctic breeze of your freezer (and it thaws easily in the toaster)).

Have a lovely low-carby day!

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The Epic Double Chin Diary Holiday Gift Guide

Ah, the holidays. The smell of chestnuts roasting (really, who does that?), family fighting (now that’s more likely), and the season of sales, sales, and sales, causing us all to stress out about the perfect gift when really it doesn’t matter. However, because gifts are kind of a thing, I’ve rounded up some new favorites for your consideration for those who like relaxing, cooking, fashion, and exercise. All of these gifts were sent to me gratis in exchange for mention (but only if I really liked them – two got the axe!). This post also contains affiliate links, so if you click on something and buy it, I might make four cents (I’m rich!). Enjoy — and be sure to read carefully as you have a few chances to win some of these goodies for yourself!

1) Royal Silk Scarf by World Vision

Looking for the perfect thoughtful gift for your world conscious friend? Consider this royal silk scarf from WorldVision. Vietnam’s Ma Chau villagers weave these traditional silky smooth scarves, helping to provide them with a sustainable income. This scarf is 68″ long, and has the most incredible colors and vibrancy.  Each is unique; size and color may vary slightly. You can make a suggested donation of $95, or enter an amount that’s meaningful to you. Want to see how purchasing from WorldVision works? Click here.

Alyssa rocks the World Vision Royal Silk Scarf

Alyssa rocks the World Vision Royal Silk Scarf

You know you want one of your own… so follow the steps below for your chance to win!
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2) Tiger Tail Classic

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Foam rolling both terrifies me and delights me; the concept of massaging painful, tight muscles is initially scary, mildly painful, and then after it’s sweet relief. When I heard about Tiger Tail, I knew I would need one of these puppies (kitties?) for my post-walk soreness. I packed it along with me on my trip to San Diego, and this thing was passed among my teammates with more enthusiasm than a box of chocolates. The small, compact size and quality build make it perfect for bringing along on trips, or for stashing in your house. Our traditional foam roller is bulky and giant, and this removes a lot of heft but still packs a punch. Plus, look at how adorable the packaging is! I loved this thing post 3-Day, and am super psyched about using it to roll out my muscles post-hike. The Classic is priced at $34.95, is made in the USA, easy to clean, and has a 3 year warranty. The next thing I’ll try out is the Knotty Tiger — I can really see that sorting out the giant knots in my neck!

The cutest sticker on the packaging!

The cutest sticker on the packaging!

3) Creekside Farms Kitchen Herb Wreath

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it’s too bad smellovision doesn’t exist yet on the web!

This is the type of thing that doesn’t come across my inbox too often; a gift that simultaneously makes me go “ooh, pretty” and “Ahhh, it smells good.” While I was initially struck by the photos of how stunning Creekside Farm’s Kitchen Herb Wreath is, when I received it, it was the amazingly lush smell of lavender, dill, oregano, sage, and rosemary that won me over. It looks great outside (away from direct light) and also inside, where you can see the naughty cat that isn’t supposed to be on the table. (She argues that the wreath smelled so good she just HAD to be closer to it.) This wreath would be the perfect gift for the Foodie in your life, and if you want a different style, check out my other favorite, the Sunflower wreath. Creekside Farms grows all of their own herbs, and they dry everything on site, truly making these family-created products artisanal.

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Stunning Kitchen Herb Wreath Scents Up The Kitchen

Visit Creekside Farms on Facebook here, and on Twitter here. Want 15% off your order? Use code CURAN. I know that I personally will be making an order for one of these beauties!

Gorgeous Up Close Shot of the Kitchen Herb Wreath by Creekside Farms

Gorgeous Up Close Shot of the Kitchen Herb Wreath by Creekside Farms

4) Natracure Heated Booties

So what if these are technically for Arthritis – after walking a ton of miles this past weekend in the 3-Day, I couldn’t wait to slip these babies on my feet. With separate microwavable gel inserts, you heat up the pads, stick ’em in the bottom of the super fuzzy velour slippers, slip them on and oooh and ahh your way to toasty relaxation. Better yet, these booties are coated on the inside with a smart gel lining, with 7 botanicals. My feet did actually feel smoother and smelled like a foot that had been freshly scrubbed at a spa. One tip with these: don’t walk in them! Thankfully I Googled it online before I took a step and burst the gel packs, but these booties are meant to be worn 5-10 minutes at a time to heat up your tired tootsies, and they’re worn best when you’re relaxin’ in one spot. These retail for $49.99 and are great for people with foot pain and stiffness, and you can also find a pair designed just for the hands. Time for relaxation!

Cozy and comfy in Natracure's Heated Booties

Cozy and comfy in Natracure’s Heated Booties

5) Goody QuikStyle Brush

Ever since I got my hair cut and colored, I’ve been making an effort to actually style my hair rather than throwing it in a sloppy bun. Part of that means blow drying my hair, and since I’m lazy, I like to exert minimal effort. That’s where the Quikstyle comes in – an awesome, space age looking hair brush that has microfiber tufts between the bristles. I had actually seen this brush in stores and wanted to try it, so when it came through my inbox I figured this would be a fun one to review.

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The awesome Goody Quikstyle

While initially I was skeptical, it does actually dry your hair as you brush through it. And, it’s designed smart, so antimicrobial microfiber keeps the brush fresh and inhibits mold or mildew growth. Seeing is believing, so how about you enter to win one yourself by following the steps below? The Goody Quick Style Paddle Brush is six bucks on Amazon.com, a perfect stocking stuffer for the lady in your life who needs a darling ‘do on the go.

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I hope you’ll consider some of these goodies for the loved ones in your life this holiday season. What’s on your wishlist?

Health Warrior Chia Bars Review and Giveaway

If we were in person together, I’d totally start telling you about these Chia bars by chanting, Ch, Ch, Ch, Chia! Side note: I have had several Chia pets in my lifetime, and they never grow as beautifully lush as the ads made them out to be. Typical. Thankfully, I now have a much more useful application for Chia Seeds in my daily life: as part of my diet! My tentative enchantment began when I started making pudding out of Chia Seeds, like this nommy Peanut Butter Cocoa recipe. Then, I worked briefly for a nutrition bar company, and one of the bars they recommend I try was the Health Warrior Chia Bars. Right away I was intrigued by their small size. I know that sounds weird because usually in America, bigger is better, but I was on the lookout for something I could tuck into my purse or waist pack for on the go. I picked up a mango bar and was blown away at the taste. Immediately, you notice the lovely, chewy texture, the real hunks of mango, and the nutty, toasty taste of the Chia seeds. Each of these bars has 3 grams of protein, 4g of fiber, 4g of sugar and is only 110 calories. Plus, they’re packed with 1,000 mg of Omega-3.

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Health Warrior has kindly sent over a few packages of Mango and Coconut Bars for my 3-Day team, and I know we’re all looking forward to fueling up with them over our 60-mile journey. If tropical delight isn’t your thing, you can also try Chia Bars in Apple Cinnamon, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Banana Nut, Coffee, Acai Berry, and Dark Chocolate Cherry. I’ve had the Banana Nut before as well and it was like delicious banana bread in a tiny, compact bar that’s lots better for you than banana bread. Now, I might say I love this product, but how do we know it’s legit, and I’m not just another rambling blogger? Because Mr. Double Chin Diary has been going through these like crazy, and I actually had to hide the last two boxes from him and remind him that these are for my walking team! Usually he turns his nose up (and usually, rightfully so) at the variety of chalky protein powders and stuff that makes its way into the house.

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Let’s talk about the nutrition stats for a moment. While these bars aren’t 100% organic, they use a bunch of organic ingredients, and there’s NO CRAP in their ingredients. You can pronounce every ingredient, and it’s all stuff that’s, you know, actually made out of food! These bars are dairy free, gluten-free, soy-free, and 100% vegan — and 100% tasty.

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Now! Enough about what I think about them. Let’s get you a chance to try them too. Enter now to win a box of Chia Bars, valued at $23.50 for 15 bars. The only mandatory entry is for you to hit “Easy Entry” on the Rafflecopter below. Then, score extra chances to win by doing the additional steps. This giveaway will end on Monday, 11/17 at 11:59 p.m. PST. GOOD LUCK!

 
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Alyssa takes on New York in 36 hours!

Hello hello! I’ve just returned from a beautiful wedding in Northern California that I’ll tell you about soon, but first, I have to share photos from my whirlwind trip to New York. I was on business in Philadelphia and decided when my trip ended that I had to go to New York. I’d never been, and NY is just an easy 1.25 hour train ride from Philadelphia. Matt and I packed up our stuff on a Monday morning, and arrived to New York at noon. When I first got out of the train and was greeted by sky-high buildings, honking yellow taxis, and people in business suits swarming around the train station, I instantly knew I would love this city. It felt like a more urban version of Los Angeles, with the frantic pace and bustling energy I see so often around me in my city of Angels. Matt and I checked into our tiny, overpriced hotel and headed off to Shake Shack to have lunch with our dear friend Sarah, a Los Angeles transplant. After an awesome burger, we went off to the Met, where I geeked out over the Egyptology room. Did you know the artwork behind me is from approximately 15 BC? Incredible!

The Met

After the Met, we walked through Central Park. This park was so incredibly calming; and I learned that Central Park is basically just reserved land to keep some of New York’s natural elements intact. It was so green and lush and at points really did feel just like you were walking in a forest. We stopped near this fountain to hear a cello player and violinist fill the air with famous classical pieces, and I just wanted to soak up all of the beauty around me.

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Then, we headed over to Times Square to check it out and also get some dinner. Times Square was one of those things that was cool to see, but a brief walk through was more than enough for me. I’m not a huge fan of tons of light and noise and people, and at night time after a crazy jetlagged weekend, all I wanted to do was eat some pizza and head to bed. We hit up a tiny little corner shop, I don’t even remember the name, and got our first New York pizza. We really lucked out, because it was AMAZING. We started with a slice of white pizza and veggie supreme, and then decided to really go for it and share a piece of pepperoni. This deep-dish, sauce on top, Chicago girl was impressed.

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Then, it was off to bed, and the next morning, we had brunch with another awesome friend, Nick. After brunch, we went to Greenwich Village for a food walking tour! A coworker of mine recommended Foods of NY tours, and I’m so glad I took her recommendation. For just over $50, we got to walk and talk with our awesome tour guide Bari on the beautiful streets of Greenwich Village, learning about history, and tasting nine different foods of New York, including pizza, herbed olive oils and truffle butter, arancini, meatballs, cookies, eggplant rollatini, fresh foccacia, cheese, and cannoli. Arancini are stuffed rice balls which are coated with breadcrumbs and fried. They were traditionally known as a peasant food because most people had rice, and it was a new way to eat rice, and we all know that variety is the spice of life.

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My favorite tasting of the tour was this miniature cannoli. Holy smokes was it delicious! The crackly “shell” was the perfect complement to the light and fluffy cream inside, with just a hint of lemon zest and studded with chocolate chips. I could go for one of these right now..

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We also stopped by a beautiful little restaurant called Palma that was pretty much a real-life display of everything I love in design. Palma had fresh flowers and rustic wood everywhere, book cases loaded with old books, sparkling glass trinkets, and fragrant herbs tucked into tarnished old pewter. The room shown below was actually the family’s original home and is 200 years old. The restaurant is directly in front of this building, and one day, they had to open Palma up  for a dignitary as they were out of space in the main dining room. (My memory on this is fuzzy, so apologies if I’m making anything up.) Basically, word got out that people could eat in the family’s kitchen, and it became so popular they eventually had to move out, build a house upstairs, and let their original home become an extension of the kitchen. Howard Stern is a big fan. Can you see how wonderful it would be to be with your friends and a great bottle of red in this cozy little carriage house? I definitely need to make reservations to eat here when I go back to New York.

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For this foodie, the tour was an awesome way to get to know one of New York’s neighborhoods and get some walk-training in at the same time! I’ll definitely be trying out some of their other tours when I head back to New York, which I hope I can do in the near future. 36 hours in NYC was enough to let me know that I need to take a proper vacation there one day, probably at least a week, to really get a feel for the city. There’s SO MUCH more I wanted to see and do; like a broadway show, checking out the High Line, walking the Brooklyn Bridge, seeing Lady Liberty, visiting Ground Zero, going to the Natural History Museum, etc. I can’t wait to experience the Big Apple when I have more time on my side. For now, I’m so glad I got the chance to experience another amazing city. Have you been to NYC? What did you think?