kang ho dong baekjeong (los angeles)

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Did you know that we spend some time in Los Angeles with Mark’s family over the Christmas holidays?  Of course not, because I’m really behind on my posting.  Instead of making excuses and going on about why I’m writing about my awesome Los Angeles food adventures nearly four months later, I’m just gonna get right into it.

One of the best foods in LA is Korean food.  In fact, Koreatown almost feels like the real Korea at times (complete with a Paris Baguette which was one of my favourite places when we visited Korea a couple of years ago).  I seem to recall eating quite a lot of Korean food over the 6 days in LA, but the most memorable meals, by far, were from Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong (“baekjeong” means butcher), a Korean BBQ joint that keeps it simple and does its thing extremely well.

Kang Ho Dong is a former wrestler turned comedian/MC that is quite recognizable in Korea.  If you know who he is, you would definitely think that he loves his food, so it makes sense that he would open up a BBQ place.  He has another location in NYC with most of his chains located in Seoul.  The location in LA is wildly popular and wait times for dinner can be upwards of 4 hours.  They don’t take reservations; it’s essentially first come, first serve.  When you arrive, you write down your name and number at the host’s desk and wait to be called in.  They let tables in by waves, so the earlier you go, the better.  Lunch seatings are easier to get into, and when your name gets called, you almost feel like you’ve been initiated into this special club.  The first time we went was during lunch and we arrived about 15 minutes before they opened to put our names down (we got in fairly quickly as we were part of the first wave).  We weren’t the only ones with this smart idea; there were at least a dozen other groups who had arrived just as early.  The second time we went was during dinner and it was a madhouse – the parking lot was jam-packed, a large crowd was gathered around waiting near the entrance, and we had to wait over an hour to get in.

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The decor is simple with posters of a cartoonified Kang Ho Dong and their meat offerings adorning the walls.  The unmistakable aroma of Korean BBQ lingered in the air.  All the tables were already set with cutlery and a selection of “banchan” (side dishes) so all you had to do when you got to the table is decide on what meats to order.

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The setting comes with bowls of fresh lettuce, a pancake (either pajeon or potato pancake), squash, kimchi, their famous dipping sauce, and endless bowls of bean sprout salad.  Their grill tops have a rim around the edge that also houses some goodies as well – corn with cheese (this combo was weird to me but I guess Koreans love this?) and onions.  Once you’re settled, a server comes by with a large pot of an egg omelette mixture that gets poured into the vacant space in the grill which results in the most pillowy soft slow cooked egg omelette that is really one of the highlights of this meal.

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Also, this bean sprout salad was pretty spectacular.  Mark loved this so much, he had about 3 bowls the first time we went and 2 bowls the second time.  As soon as your bowl is empty, a server comes by with a fresh bowl so you can truly eat to your heart’s content.

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We had a variety of meats and I wish I could remember exactly what we ordered.  I do remember that the thinly sliced beef was a hit and the ribeye steaks were tender and flavourful.

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Mmmmm….. meat.

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This pork jowl was especially delicious.  It was surprisingly tender and full of porky goodness.  Take a look at that egg ring.  It takes patience to wait until it’s set, but once it’s ready… oh my.  Best soft egg of my life.

The service is another highlight of this place.  All the meats are grilled by a server assigned to your table, although all of them help each other out as required.  They all seem to have a spidey sense too, because as soon as we’d touch the tongs to flip the meat, a server would come by and do it for us.  I’m guessing their policy is “guests do not do any work, they just eat”.  Each time a banchan got low, they would bring out a fresh batch.  Depending on the cut or type of meat that was to be grilled next, they would swap out for the appropriate grill top.  We learned that servers go through a month-long training program when they start, so they take their service game pretty seriously.  And it shows – they’re all quick, attentive, and friendly.

As far as Korean BBQ joints go, this was one of the best ones I’ve been to.  It’s not that they do anything particularly special, it’s that they do the basics well.  The meat is incredibly fresh and flavourful, and the price point won’t break the bank either (2 ribeye steaks for example, at about 10-12 oz. each, were only $32).  Service is top notch.  It’s basically a low-carbing meat lovers dream come true. If I’m ever in LA again, I’m hitting up Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong as many times as possible.

Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong
Koreatown
3465 W 6th St
Los Angeles, CA 90020
Phone: (213) 384-9678

Kang Ho-dong Baekjeong on Urbanspoon

low-carb pizza crust

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One of the challenges of eating low-carb is having to say goodbye to old favourites.  Some foods were much easier to get over than others (I’m very ‘meh’ about pastas now), but there are some that are just too good to let go (I’m talking about you, Korean rice cakes).  Pizza is certainly in the “too good to let go” category because it’s essentially got all the bases covered – it can be crispy, chewy, savoury, sweet, spicy, meaty, hearty, light… I could go on and on.  It’s a classic creation that is also incredibly adaptable, and there’s no “best” way to make it.

As much as we stay away from so-called “faux” foods that some low-carbers lean towards (no judgment there either; it’s just the way we prefer to eat and to each their own), sometimes it’s fun to mix it up and try out a low-carb version of a formerly carbalicious favourite.  I’ve heard of the cauliflower crust (too much work for me) and the “meatzza” with a ground beef base (too much protein for my liking).  But then I came across this crust that everyone referred to as the Holy Grail Pizza Crust.  How could I not be intrigued by that?  The number of people who have posted about this crust led me to assume that this must be one helluva good crust… and oh, is it ever.  Somehow, the author of the recipe figured out that mixing melted cheese together with almond flour and a few other ingredients can turn into a pizza crust.  Who knew?  It may not be the crusty, chewy thin crust pizza that I so fondly remember as being one of my favourites, but it does the trick every time.

I make this monthly as a special treat and so far, it has never disappointed.  It’s so versatile and easy to put together, and now we can enjoy one of our favourites without going off the low-carb train.  Plus, it’s so filling that it only takes a couple of pieces to satisfy our cravings.  This is just my very, very subtle tweak on an already famous-amongst-the-low-carb-crowd pizza crust.

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First things first, the cheese needs a trip in the microwave.  I use all mozzarella cheese for the crust because I prefer the milder flavour; some people prefer a mozza/cheddar mix.  It takes about 45-50 seconds in the microwave to give it a good melt.

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In another bowl, almond flour, an egg, cream cheese, Italian seasoning and garlic powder are mixed together.

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This is the dough after the melted cheese is added to the almond flour mixture.  The original recipe instructs you to use your hands to mix the dough together, but I found that I got more dough on my hands than in the bowl.  I found using a fork more effective and definitely less of a mess is made.

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I have a 12-inch non-stick pizza pan that I use as the vessel for the crust.  12 inches is a good size as the dough isn’t spread too thin.  You can also use a large flat baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat if you prefer, and really, you don’t necessarily need to press it out into a disc – just go for whatever shape works so long as the dough is spread in an even layer.  Because it’s so sticky, I put some olive oil on my hands before patting it down, otherwise – just like when mixing the dough together – more of it gets on the hands than onto the pan.  At this time, the crust needs a quick 8-10 minute pre-bake to set it.

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It’s a good time to get the toppings ready.  For this particular pie, I assembled together chorizo with sweet peppers, pepperoni, homemade tomato sauce, and some more shredded mozzarella.  I like to stick with a max of 3 toppings to prevent overwhelming the pizza.  As you can see, we lean towards enjoying a meat lover’s style pizza.

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The crust is ready to be topped when the surface is golden brown.  I like to leave some of the outer crust exposed to get super crispy on the second bake.

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Another 15 minutes in the oven and you have a beautifully crisp pizza.

The best part of this pizza crust is that it can easily be picked up and held, just like regular pizza.  It’s just as good the next day reheated as it is fresh out of the oven.

Low-Carb Pizza Crust

  • 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (use full fat – none of that low-fat or fat-free stuff!)
  • 2 tbsp full fat cream cheese
  • 3/4 cup almond flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • toppings of your choice

Preheat the oven to 425F.  Prepare a 12-inch pizza pan or large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

In a large bowl, mix together the cream cheese, almond flour, egg, Italian seasoning, and garlic powder.  Mix well until all the ingredients are incorporated.  Set aside.

Place the shredded cheese in a shallow bowl.  Microwave for 45-50 seconds, or until just melted.  Let cool for about 5 minutes.  Add the melted cheese to the almond flour mixture.  Using a fork (or your hands – if you dare), mix in the melted cheese until a sticky dough starts to form.

Spread the dough onto your prepared pizza pan or baking sheet into a disc.  If the dough is too sticky, put a small amount of olive oil on your hands to prevent the dough from sticking onto your hands.  Ensure there are no holes or areas where the dough is spread too thin.

Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes or until the surface begins to brown.  Remove from the oven.  Layer on your toppings of choice and return to the oven for an additional 15 minutes, or until the edges of the crust are a deep golden brown and the cheese is bubbling.

Let cool for at least 5 minutes before slicing and serving.

*For nutritional information, please see the original recipe that is linked in the introduction.

Tips:

  1. Ensure that the cream cheese and egg are at room temperature before you start putting together this crust.  This makes it much easier to mix together all of the ingredients.
  2. Use a fork to mix together the dough.  I find it much easier and there’s less mess on my hands.
  3. Put a small amount of olive oil on your hands before spreading the dough onto your baking pan of choice.  This makes it easier to pat out into a disc.
  4. Resist the urge to load on the toppings.  The crust itself is filling as it is and too many toppings can potentially overwhelm the finished product.

lchf: 6 month progress update

It’s been just over 6 months since I started the low-carb, high-fat diet and I thought it would be a good time to reflect on my progress and provide a quick update as to how it’s all going.  In a nutshell: it’s going great.  I can hardly believe that it’s only been 6 months – it honestly feels like I’ve been powered by ketones for much longer.  It’s a testament to how compatible I am with LCHF (I like to call it my lifestyle soulmate, as cheesy as that sounds), and that’s saying lot coming from someone whose previous diet consisted of probably 95% carbs.

So, here’s a quick rundown:

1. Weight / Body Composition

About 3 months into LCHF, I had lost about 8 pounds to get down to 132 lbs.  Since then, I’ve lost a further 7 pounds, bringing me down to 125 lbs.  That’s a steady and sustainable average of about 2.5 pounds lost per month.  I’m very happy with where I am now, but my body fat percentage is probably still hovering around the 22-23% mark.  My ideal would be to hit around 19-20%, so I still have a few more pounds to go.  Overall, I feel great at this weight, which I haven’t been able to reach since I was probably in my late teens/early twenties.  I do remember when I was at this weight before that I had the somewhat flabby, “skinny fat” look because my body composition still skewed towards a higher body fat percentage.  Today’s 125 definitely looks better.

2. Food / Diet

Still sticking to the same philosophy – whole, natural foods; organic as much as possible; the less food comes out of a bottle, the better.  Breakfasts are usually like clockwork and I’ve recently started experimenting with cutting out lunch.  It seems strange at first – what do you mean cut out a whole meal?  I think I was so conditioned to think that I had to eat 3 square meals a day that I never really asked “why?”  The main reason for doing this is to keep my calories in check.  It’s not as simple as “calories in, calories out” (because human bodies are open systems), but calories still matter.  Since I’m still in the weight loss phase, I have to be careful to maintain a steady deficit in calories and I found that splitting my calories into 2 meals per day is much more effective than having 3 meals. Plus, it gives my body a break from having to digest food and I enjoy the freedom of not having to stick with the 3-meal rule.

3. Exercise

Regular exercise is still an important part of my life.  I’ve since graduated from DVD programs such as the P90X series and the Insanity series, and moved onto power lifting.  Mark and I started a program called StrongLifts 5×5, a combination of five free weight compound exercises designed to build functional muscle strength.  Forget about all those myths about weight lifting leading to a “bulky” look in women – this is some legit shit right here (excuse my language).  Since we’re both in the weight loss phase, our progress is a little slower, but it’s helping us to start “recomping” our bodies (essentially, increasing muscle mass while decreasing body fat).  We’re so serious into it that we invested in our own power rack and it stands prominently in our living room.  Power lifting has really changed my body, even in the short few months that I’ve been doing the program.  I can honestly say that this is the only exercise program that I enjoy.  Lifting heavy things, pushing past previous plateaus and reaching new personal records gives me such an awesome high.  And no, I do not need carbs to keep myself fueled – I do just fine on my own body fat.

4. Life

As mentioned earlier, I feel like I’ve been doing LCHF for much longer than 6 months.  It’s become normal.  It’s just the way I do things.  Yeah, sure, once in a while I’ll see a really great looking bowl of noodle soup or a beautifully crafted pastry and think, “damn… that looks mighty good.”  But they’re fleeting thoughts.  I can still appreciate those foods for what they are without having to eat them.  I don’t see them as bad or evil; they’re simply not the best fuel for my body.  I can still go out with friends to enjoy a meal without getting cold sweats about what I’m going to eat or how I’m going to navigate a menu.  I get really excited when I discover a new product and I’m still just as eager to learn about the science behind LCHF today as I was when I first discovered it.  It’s been a fun ride so far and it’s not gonna stop anytime soon.

And with that, I shall leave you with photo of my progress so far:

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This is the best and most recent “before” picture I have of myself (on the left).  This was taken in June 2014 on our trip to San Francisco.  I weighed about 140 lbs.  Notice the double chin and the chubby legs.  I was actually quite shocked to see this photo because I didn’t think I looked this soft.  The picture on the right was taken in late December 2014 on a recent trip to Los Angeles.  I was about 126 lbs by that time and had gone down 2 sizes.  Notice the much slimmer face and legs (and better shoes).  More to come because this isn’t even my final form.

workshop kitchen + culture

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A couple of months ago, Mark and I had one of those traditional “Dinner & A Movie” dates because even after several years together, it’s always important to keep “dating” each other.  Romance and all, ya know?  The movie of choice that evening was Interstellar, but before hitting the theatre, we hit a restaurant within another type of theatre, Workshop Kitchen + Culture.  Located in the Theatre Junction Grand, a building I have passed numerous times but never stepped foot in, it’s got a casual, modern vibe in an otherwise old building – exposed brick walls, funky lighting, an open concept kitchen, large communal tables in the middle of the space, and dark accents throughout.

Restaurant dining is an interesting challenge for low-carbers and most of the time we prefer eating at home, but Workshop had a few items on the menu that looked low-carb friendly.  Sometimes it’s a bit of a gamble – you never know if there’s something hidden within a sauce or an ingredient they might not have listed on the menu, but I figure, we don’t go out often and accidentally eating something that isn’t entirely low-carb isn’t the end of the world.  We try our best to avoid the obvious as much as possible and leave the rest to chance.

To prove that it is indeed a small world, our server that evening was the server we had at our recent dinner at Charcut.  Ain’t that fancy?

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To start, we ordered the Ancho and Sasparilla Glazed Pork Belly with Jicama, Lime and Peanuts.  Anything pork belly is a winner in my books.  Workshop’s version was braised until tender and seasoned well with the glaze (I later discovered that sasparilla is a type of soda – oops – no wonder it tasted really sweet; live and learn).  The jicama and lime were fresh and cut through the richness of the pork belly, while the peanuts provided a crunchy textural contrast.

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Next we had the Charcoal Dry Aged Beef Tenderloin.  It originally came with cheddar and leek mashed potato, but we asked if it was possible to sub in a vegetable instead.  They kindly substituted in grilled asparagus, which was really awesome of them.  It also came with some charred shishito peppers.  The beef was so incredibly tender and the temperature was just perfect (medium).  It was well seasoned and we enjoyed the grilled asparagus as well.  The peppers weren’t overly hot, which was good for my fragile palate.

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Lastly, we ordered the Workshop Cioppino (sans grilled sourdough), Fish and Shellfish in Broth with Pickled Fennel Aioli.  I think the aioli was meant for the sourdough but we were given the option to stir it in for added richness.  We love ourselves a good cioppino and Workshop’s version was an excellent rendition.  The broth was bright with a distinct seafood flavour, and all the fish and shellfish was cooked perfectly.

I do admit the portions at Workshop are a bit smaller than I’m used to, but it certainly didn’t detract from the evening.  We felt we had a good amount of food to fill us without over-stuffing our stomachs and getting that dreaded food coma, which would’ve been a disaster considering we had to stay awake to watch a 3-hour movie afterwards.  We received excellent service throughout the evening, the tempo of the dishes worked well, and the relaxed, casual vibe was enjoyable.  Definite bonus points for willing to make a substitution for us – I know we can be a pain in the ass so it’s always appreciated when a restaurant can be accommodating, and in the end this makes us fast fans of new places.

Workshop Kitchen + Culture
608 1st St SW
Calgary, AB T2P 1M6
Phone: (403) 266-7062
http://www.workshopcalgary.com/

Workshop Kitchen + Culture on Urbanspoon

the best of 2014: a year in review

2014 was a pretty great year for me in blogging.  I went on and posted about quite a few food adventures, made a lot of great food, but most important of all, I made a significant lifestyle change that will ultimately set the tone for this blog moving forward.  But, before we can move on, we must look back on some of the highlights of 2014 and celebrate what was probably my best year in blogging so far.

1. Most Popular Post of 2014

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Seoul Eats: The Patbingsu Edition

Funny enough, this was one of my first posts of 2014 and it has proved to be the most popular, judging from the over 2,600 views it had over the course of the year.  I guess people really love patbingsu, as it should be loved, for it is one of the most perfect dessert creations of my people.  I still remember the patbingsu in the above picture very fondly and I’m so glad that I was able to have a taste of it.  It was truly a foodgasmic experience and if any of you are patbingsu lovers hitting the Seoul area in the future, I highly recommend battling the crazy busy alleyway-style street of Samcheong-dong to find this little spot of heaven.

General note: Most of my “Seoul Series” posts garnered a ton of traffic in 2014, even the ones posted in 2013.

2. Most Popular Restaurant Review

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Korean Village (Calgary)

Am I sensing a theme here?  By views alone, my  post on Korean Village got the most views of my 2014 restaurant reviews.  I haven’t been back there in a while, but it would be my go-to Korean restaurant in Calgary (its close proximity to where I live certainly doesn’t hurt).  Their Tteok Galbi (pictured) is still one of my favourites and it’s difficult to find this on the menu at most Korean restaurants.  Ever since Mark’s parents moved back to Edmonton, they’ve been saying how lacking the Korean food is in Edmonton and how much they miss Korean Village, so the next time they pop down to Calgary, I’m fairly certain this will one of the first places they want to hit.

3. Most Popular Recipe

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Bulgogi (불고기)

Yep, there’s definitely a theme.  How fitting that my most popular posts are all related to my homeland.  I certainly did eat my fair share of great homeland dishes and being able to share my family’s bulgogi recipe was a great experience.  Every Korean family has their own version of bulgogi and my mom’s is still my favourite (I’m biased, obviously).  I’ve been wrestling with making a non-sweetened marinade to satisfy my bulgogi cravings but nothing has come of that yet.  This will be only of my experiments for 2015.

Now onto some of my personal favourites and highlights.

1. Best Overall Dining Experience

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CEREZO Cafe & Bar – Dinner Edition

I have to hand it to these guys.  From a quaint and completely unassuming house on the corner of Edmonton Trail, a group of dedicated and passionate chefs are cranking out delicious Japanese-influenced fusion dishes, all the while making you feel incredibly welcome and well taken care of.  A restaurant doesn’t have to be slick or fancy with all the right decor and a splashy presentation; Cerezo is living proof of that.  The place is super quirky and nothing quite matches, but that’s part of its aesthetic.  They have an interesting and varied menu that changes with the seasons and whatever happens to inspire the chef.  Our last visit to Cerezo was for dinner in the summertime and it was a truly memorable dining experience.  Each item was perfectly prepared and beautifully presented.  The service is quick, attentive, and friendly.  It happened to be a quiet night so one of the cooks came to chat with us personally.  We got to know the faces behind what makes Cerezo such a great place and it’s that kind of connection that really drives home a restaurant experience.  I hope to go back there frequently in the future and see what other delights they have come up with.

2. Best Overall Dish

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Spring Asparagus appetizer from Cassis Bistro

Oh yes, this simple little appetizer was really the best thing I ate in 2014.  How so?  I really think the answer lies in its sheer simplicity.  It’s asparagus, a poached egg, some frizzy greens topped with a mushroom sauce.  How could it be so spectacular?  Mark described this as “summer in my mouth”.  Truly, this was magical.  My only regret is not going back to have this again and again.  Since the menu at Cassis changes seasonally, this is probably no longer offered as an item.  Why didn’t I go back for more?  I really, really should have.  This was all things a great dish should be.

3.  Best Dessert

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Lemon Tart from Cassis Bistro

Yup, another mention for Cassis Bistro.  Come to think of it, that whole meal was pretty spectacular, but the true standouts were the appetizer and this beautifully balanced, perfectly executed lemon tart.  The crackling brulee top gave way to a silky smooth, tart and sweet lemon filling, all encased in the perfect crust.  A simple yet elegant dessert; it didn’t need anything more than that fine dusting of icing sugar.  As the theme seems to be at Cassis, they just let the food be with no need to embellish; the flavours did all the dazzling.

4. Best Sweet Item

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Cannoli at Cavalli Cafe (San Francisco)

The main reason I booked this particular food tour was the mention of cannoli.  I used to be a diehard fan of cannoli and this was the best sweet item of 2014.  The shell was crisp and fresh and the ricotta filling was a dream.  We went back for more cannoli the day after the tour while waiting for a table at a nearby restaurant.  If only I could’ve brought back some with me – these were awesome, awesome cannoli.

5. New Favourite

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Gruman’s Deli

It took too long for us to finally visit Gruman’s Deli but when we did, we both loved it.  Not only was the food great, the service was outstanding and our overall experience made us fast fans.  We didn’t get a chance to go back there in 2014, but we will continue to go back for their excellent smoked meat and overall casual, friendly vibe.

Honourable Mentions:  Shiki Menya, for their awesome ramen and Briggs Kitchen & Bar, for their awesome burger.

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That wraps up some of the highlights and bests of 2014.  I’m looking forward to a new year of blogging that I hope will be filled with many more great eats and experiences.  A big, giant thank you and hugs to those who visit, comment, and everyone in between.