Valley Greek Festival

I recently attended the Valley Greek Festival which took place at the Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church located within the San Fernando Valley. This event invites the public to be immersed within a Greek cultural experience with live music, dancing, a Greek market, cooking demonstrations, and of course the centerpiece..eating various types of authentic Greek cuisine.

The Valley Greek Festival does well to create an authentic Greek experience, where the guests literally feel like that are at some far away festival in Greece. The music enhances the atmosphere and gets the crowd into a festive mood, while dancers dressed in their traditional outfits perform to enthused crowds. The Greek Market is also a crowd-pleaser where guests can leisurely shop around for Greek items and relate with venders. The festival also has cooking demonstrations where they can fully immerse guests within the Greek culture and show them how to cook authentic Greek cuisine.

Speaking of Greek Cuisine, food is by far the centerpiece of the festival. Like one would see children line up for rides at the amusement park, guests wait in long lines just to taste the incredible flavor of various authentic Greek cuisine. While most of the names of the foods could not be pronounced, the flavors were fantastic. While some dishes needed to be approached with an open mind, guests are surely wowed by the Greek cuisine.

So lets talk food! There was a wide variety of authentic Greek dishes at the event which could almost be slightly overwhelming, so I decided to start with the comfortable calamari. Deep-fried to perfection, the calamari had wonderful flavor with added spices and of course lemon-juice.

I then worked up some courage to try the Pork Souvlaki, which is just marinated beef that is skewered and barbecued, as well as barbecued lamb chops. Both were mouth-watering and full of incredible flavor, as we watched them being grilled to perfection. While there were many of dishes that I cannot not pronounce, I became too full to try all of them.

I quickly moved to desert when I spied a delightful dish called Loukoumathes, also known as “Greek Donuts” that are deep-fried and then covered in honey and cinnamon. I can honestly say that out of all the food at the festival, these were my favorite. My mouth was drooling as I watch the cooks take the small donuts fresh out of the deep-fryer and on to my plate.

Since we are talking about desert, I cannot forget the mention the various traditional Greek pastries sold around the festival. Once again, the names can be tongue-twisters and the look can be a little frightening, but when in Greece you have to keep an open mind. We decided to try three different types of pastries: Baklava, Kourambiethes, and Kataifi. The Baklava was my favorite and featured very rich and nutty flavors.

While the food was all fantastic, the festival also provided tours of the nearby church. The church I found was absolutely breath-taking with the various portraits, stain-class artwork, murals, and statues. It also provided a welcoming peace and calm from the fast-pace festival outside.

Overall, the Valley Greek Festival was an exciting and memorable event; I felt as if I was in the middle of a Greek festival in Athens. Not only were the dishes delightfully delicious, but the venders were very welcoming and did well to immerse the guests in a traditional Greek cultural experience.

Photos by: Christopher James Sigman

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Descanso Gardens

First off, let me describe this new category Delightful Destinations. Being an explorer and lover of traveling and discovering enchanting destinations, I thought it would be wonderful sub-section to my blog to detail my various explorations and discoveries of the beautiful Southern California. Since I am currently studying the tourism industry and looking to work within it soon, it would only seem improper to not portray my love for traveling through Delightful Discoveries.

There are so many different destinations within Southern California, particularly surrounding the Los Angeles area. I recently traveled a short 20 minutes from my home in the San Fernando Valley to the magical Descanso Gardens, located in Glendale, CA. To this destination, I was accompanied by my great friend and room-mate Christopher James Sigman, who took all of the breath-taking photos of the gardens.


Words cannot describe how beautiful I found the Descanso Gardens. When your living deep within the concrete jungle of Los Angeles, you tend to lose sight of the beauty that can be seen within the wilderness. When deep within the gardens, I felt like I was hundreds of miles away in some far away land that only existed within my imagination. But I was actually right in the middle of one of the largest cities in the world! These gardens give you that necessary escape from the constant fast pace of the city.

I did not expect the gardens to be so vast and enormous. There were several different sub-sections to the gardens such as, The Japanese Gardens, The Oak Forest and Grove, The California Native Area with surrounding lakes, Lilac and Iris Gardens, and of course the beautiful Rose Garden. I also did not expect to see the different types of wildlife present within the gardens!


All areas were simply breathtaking, but the Rose Garden was a special area that seemed straight out of a fairytale. There were fields of various types of flowers featured between well-kepted grassy walk-ways and sparkling clear creeks full of different types of fish. Enchanting trails lead to several fountains, waterfalls, and gazebos that were full of canopies of floral and greenery that gave off a beautiful aroma that only enhanced the experience.


Like I said, words cannot describe the true beauty of the Descanso Gardens. They offer a peaceful sanctuary that can be healing to anyone in need of an escape. Anyone within the Southern California area or looking to visit here, be sure to mark the magical Descanso Gardens on your list of things to do.

Your’s Truly 😉

Persistent Troubles of an Old Soul

Persistent Troubles of an Old Soul

Lately I’ve been feeling like I’m not so pretty,
An invisible burnt out flame; it is such a pity.
This road not so revealing; trying to fight off this hurtful feeling.
It is my heart that you have been stealing;
This game of cat and mouse will leave us reeling.

I cannot understand why I end up where I do not want to be; at least as far as I can see.
A concrete jungle is where I lay my head to rest, but I dream of flowered fields at sunset.
This old soul an ancestor of the country-side; A young vessel cowering under the high-rise.
Gravel under my nails, as I fight to stay grounded; The wind that blows this dust to the sky.

The broken mirror reflects pale skin as white as snow; Like an old friend that I used to know.
A clear path not easily shown; An old soul still knows where to go.
Follow the golden curls of beautiful hair; A sister’s love that never dies.
Ancient history, I reflect sands in time, like a whisper from an old nursery rhyme.

One needs not to bury themselves under needless worry;
It comes to a pity that one could feel less pretty.
These games we play to keep us from forgetting.
You’ve been here before my dear; right now, it may not seem so clear.
An old soul there all along; your reflection in the mirror.

Lemon Zucchini Bread with Lemon Glaze

I’ve been on this obsession to cook bread lately. When I moved into our new place a little over a month ago, the previous tenants had left a bread dish in the cupboard. Being still a young college student without many cooking utensils and baking equipment in the kitchen, I’ve never owned a “fancy” bread dish. Well I took advantage of someone’s trash and made it my treasure. Yes, if you’re wondering, I washed it first! 😛

I’ve utilized the bread dish by making several loaves of the best banana bread ever, and by request from a room-mate zucchini bread came to life. To be honest, I had never had zucchini bread. Do not ask me why, but zucchini + bread just did not seem like a compatible match to me. But, my room-mate insisted so of course, I gave in.

So, I browsed through a couple of recipes online until I stumbled upon a Lemon – Zucchini Bread. YEah, that sounds amazing doesn’t it? I was like…fresh? YEAH! Lemons = Fresh. The perfect way to spice up a traditional Zucchini bread. This also gave me the opportunity to let me rely on natural ingredients for fantastic flavor. There is so much flavor in lemons. The juice..and the ZEST! Zesting a lemon can be a wonderful experience. Not only does it bring beautiful bright color to your dish but it also brings a pleasant lemony aroma to your kitchen that is beyond refreshing.

Overall, this is a recipe I am so glad that I stumbled upon and will definitely be making it in the future. Oh, did I fail to mention it comes with a lemon glaze that is the perfect icing on the cake to this wonderful dish? 😉 Enjoy.

Ingredients:

  • 2 Cups – Flour
  • 2 Tsp – Baking Powder
  • 1/2 Tsp – Salt
  • 2 – Eggs
  • 1/2 Cup – Vegetable Oil
  • 2/3 Cup – Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup – Buttermilk
  • Juice of 1 Lemon
  • Zest of 1 Lemon
  • 1 Cup – Grated Zucchini
  • For the Glaze: Juice of 1 Lemon/ 1 Cup – Powdered Sugar

Instructions:

  • Preheat your oven to 350 Degrees & Grease your bread pan.
  • In a large bowl, mix your flour, salt, and baking powder.
  • In a medium bowl, beat 2 eggs then add in oil and sugar. Blend well.
  • Add in your buttermilk, lemon juice, lemon zest. Blend well.
  • Then fold in your grated zucchini!
  • Add this mixture to your dry ingredients and mix well, but don’t over-mix!

  • Pour your batter into the bread pan and bake for 45 minutes.
  • Cool in pan for 10 minutes.
  • While the bread is cooling, make your glaze.
  • In a small bowl, mix the juice of 1 lemon with a cup of powdered sugar.
  • Let the glaze set and then serve.

Cilantro Lime Rice

The perfect side dish to any Mexican meal – this Cilantro Lime Rice really packs the punch with flavor. Many think of the traditional Spanish rice as the side dish of choice, but the Cilantro Lime is sure to become a new favorite. It has a fresh and exotic taste, with the cilantro and lime taking control of flavor, but not too over-powering. I paired it with some black beans for side dishes to my wonderful Chicken Tortilla Soup – what meal will you pair it with? 🙂

Ingredients:

  • 1 Cup – White Rice
  • 1 Tsp – Butter
  • 2 – Cloves Garlic (Minced)
  • 1 Can – Vegetable Broth
  • 1 Cup – Water
  • 2 Tsp – Lime Juice/ 1 Tbs – Lime Juice (Divided)
  • 2 Tsp – Sugar
  • 4 Tbs – Fresh Chopped Cilantro

Instructions:

  • In a medium sauce pan, combine rice, butter, garlic, water, lime juice and broth.
  • Bring to a boil.
  • Cover and cook on low or until rice is tender. Remove from heat.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together cilantro, sugar and tablespoon of lime-juice.
  • Mix into rice..all done! What an easy side-dish with great flavor!

Chicken Tortilla Soup

In honor of this years Cinco de Mayo I cooked the amazing – Chicken Tortilla Soup. While this dish has always been a favorite of mine, I’ve never actually made it! You have to remember that I am still a cook in training (training myself ;), there is a lot of recipes I have not cooked! But to add another delicious creation to my list is what I am all about these days. This dish is not only one of my favorite soups, it is one of my favorite meals..period.

To properly make this recipe, was to use no short-cuts. I wanted a somewhat complex recipe that used a variety of ingredients; I wanted the best flavor. As a guideline, I somewhat followed the Pioneer Woman’s recipe (from The Cooking Channel), but with a few of my own variations.
Here is the link: http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2011/01/chicken-tortilla-soup/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+pwcooks+%28The+Pioneer+Woman+Cooks!%29

I made absolutely no short-cuts with this recipe. I spend a good couple hours on my feet in the kitchen, doing what all those true domestic divas do around the world everyday. While my feet were aching and hands sore from chopping, I loved every minute of this long process in the kitchen.

I also had a little liquid assistance 😉

While cooking this delicious recipe, I realized that cooking soups is probably one of my favorite types of dishes to make. I’m not sure why! Maybe it is the combination of various spices, herbs, and ingredients. Or maybe the smells that fill the household that just warm your soul and electrify your taste-buds. Or it could be the hearty warmth and taste..ya the savory taste of the soup could have a lot to do with it. Chicken Tortilla Soup does NOT disappoint on taste. Especially with this recipe!

Lets take a minute and talk about taste. Oh my. First off, it comes down to the spices. I will never buy another pre-mixture taco seasoning for the rest of my life. A combination of Cumin, Chili Powder, & Garlic Powder does the trick and packs a much better punch then whats in the packet (it’s also a much healthier option without all those added salts/sodium/& artificial flavors!). The heat and flavor that comes from this combination is so perfect.

Your chicken for the soup will love you when your rub them down with these spices!

As I make another soup I recognized that I’ve learned a few tricks along the way. For instance, ingredients like onion, garlic, or green pepper (fresh veggies ingredients) are like your foundation for flavor within a soup. Your spices and dry ingredients are your friends; use them when necessary and accordingly. Also, the lower the heat and slower the cooking..the better the taste!

Either way, my first effort at Chicken Tortilla Soup was a fantastic success. The mixture of spices, beans, herbs, veggies, and chicken bring a flavor that is really something. With this recipe I learned that with certain dishes..don’t make the shortcuts, taking the long way will bring the benefits (well, at least to your taste-buds!)

Oh, and P.S. Do not forget the toppings on this dish, they really add something to the flavor!

Ingredients:

  • 3 – Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
  • 1 1/2 Tsp – Cumin
  • 1 Tsp – Chili Powder
  • 1/2 Tsp – Garlic Powder
  • 1/2 Tsp – Salt
  • 1 Cup – Onion (chopped)
  • 1/4 Cup – Green Pepper (chopped)
  • 3 – Cloves Garlic (Minced)
  • 1 Can – Tomatoes and Green Chilis
  • 3 can – Chicken Broth
  • 3 Tbs – Tomato Paste
  • 3 Cups – Hot Water
  • 2 Cans – Black Beans (drained)
  • 5 – Corn Tortillas (cut into strips)
  • Garnish with: Tortilla Chips, Sour Cream, Cheese, & Cilantro

Instructions:

  • Preheat your oven to 375, we gotta cook our chicken!
  • In a small bowl, mix together your cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, and salt.
  • Season your chicken breasts with the mixture and drizzle them with vegetable oil on a baking sheet.
  • Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
  • Now, chop up your onion, green pepper, and garlic.
  • In a large pot, heat a tbs of vegetable oil over medium heat.
  • When your chicken is done, shred it with two forks.

  • Add your onion, green pepper, and garlic with your seasoning mixture to your pot.
  • Cook them up until your veggies are tender.
  • Add in your chicken.
  • Pour in your tomato & green chili, chicken broth, tomato paste, water, and black beans.
  • Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered for a little over an hour.
  • Turn off your heat and allow your soup to sit for about 10 to 15 minutes. You want all those flavors to mix!
  • About 5 minutes before serving, add in your tortilla strips.

  • Let those tortillas soften up, then spoon your soup into bowls.
  • Like I said, don’t forget the toppings!

Served with Cilantro-Lime Rice and Refried Black Beans!

The Best Banana Bread Recipe

Now, I am not lying when I say it is the best. It really is! There are several…more like hundreds, of different variations when it comes to making banana bread. Being a lover of bread in general, I have used several different banana bread recipes.

Now, I know everyone believes that their recipe for banana bread is the best, but let me tell you.. I think I’ve got you beat! There is one special ingredient that goes into this recipe for fantastic banana bread..sour cream. This special and surprising ingredient brings this moist flavor and texture to the bread that makes it truly delicious!  With just one special added ingredient..it makes this recipe for banana bread by far, the best!

Whether you serve it as a dessert, for breakfast with a little melted butter (I also add cinnamon & sugar), or just as a snack..this delicious loaf of banana bread is great to have on your counter. I also love this recipe because all of the ingredients are usually what you already have within your pantry, then just add some sour cream!

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 Cup – Butter (Melted)
  • 1 Cup – Sugar
  • 2 – Large Eggs
  • 1 Tsp – Vanilla Extract
  • 1 1/2 Cup – Flour
  • 1 Tsp – Baking Soda
  • 1/2 Tsp – Salt
  • 1/2 Cup – Sour Cream
  • 2 Medium Bananas – (Mashed!)

Instructions:

  • Preheat your oven to 350 Degrees.
  • In a large bowl, mix together your melted butter and sugar.
  • Mix in your eggs and vanilla.
  • Combine flour, baking soda, and salt (in separate bowl), then add into wet mixture.
  • Mix until smooth, then add in your sour cream and bananas.

  • Put batter into a 9 by 5 bread dish that has been greased.
  • Bake for 60 Minutes.
  • Let cool for about 10 minutes before cutting into it.

Spread with a little butter and cinnamon & sugar! Yum!