When life takes away your tacos...

My friends Jon and Risha and I were 100% determined to get post-dance party tacos last night. So much that we left our group, hopped in an Uber, and went across town around 2am.

Alas, the heavenly gates of Taqueria Cancun were closed for NYE. 🙅🏻🌮 Instead of just leaving in defeat and feeling foolish for the wasted cab ride, our noses followed a most delicious and familiar smell wafting from a stand across the street: bacon-wrapped hot dogs!

So stoked for our purchase

So stoked for our purchase

As the grilled onion and bacon grease hit my lips, I realized there was a poignant metaphor here (that, or I was still feeling the last vodka drink...): sometimes we REALLY want things in life, and we put so much effort into turning those wants into reality, but then forces outside of our control shut it down. And it feels devastating when that happens.

But just remember: when life takes away your tacos, there will ALWAYS be a delicious bacon-wrapped hot dog just on the opposite street corner. 😋🌭

Cheers to a brighter 2016! ✨

Ghetto Tamales: An Experiment in Procrastination

I've blogged about making tamales before, and how they're a Mexican tradition during Christmastime. But on this lazy Sunday afternoon, I've decided to forget about doing anything productive (school-wise), in favor of trying to recreate the delicious tamales that were made during Christmas. I don't know what's weirder: making tamales in July, or making tamales in a country where most people would think it's pronounced tah-mail-ees (for the record, it's tah-mah-lehs).

So what inspired this sudden urge to make these delicious Mexican treats? I was recently browsing the sale rack at Sainsbury's, and came across a single, glorious bag of masa harina. Seriously, this stuff is harder to find than a shirtless Brit in Hyde Park who isn't glowing shades of white and pink and sporting a paunchy beer belly.

And it was only 92p! The only corn tortillas that they sell here are actually flour tortillas with just a little bit of cornmeal added. Massive failure for the gluten-intolerant! So I figured I would pick up a bag of this stuff and attempt to make my own corn tortillas.

They didn't exactly turn out how I had imagined, so I thought I'd try my hand at tamale-making. The only problem? Tamales are traditionally made in corn husks. Luckily, a quick Google search told me that aluminum foil makes a decent substitute. Huzzah!

I didn't really use a recipe for the masa. Instead, I was winging it based on what I had learned from my friends in December. Water, masa flour, dash of vegetable oil, brown sugar, and cinnamon.

I divided half the dough, and made the other half the traditional pink color and filled them with raisins.

Afterwards, I prepared the steamer. One trick of the tamale trade is to put a coin in the part of the pot with the water. When you stop hearing it rattle, that means you have to add more water.

I spread out all of the masa onto small sheets of foil, folded them up into little packets, and placed them in the steaming basket.

It didn't occur to me until, after over an hour and they were still uncooked, that I should have probably put a lid over the pot. Whoops. Well, after I put the lid on they cooked up pretty quickly.

And the verdict? Mehhhh....the taste is sort of almost there, but there's a definite taste difference from not using corn husks. Damn you, aluminum, you've FOILED my tamale-making attempts!

Sun Rise Restaurant, San Francisco

Deep within San Francisco's Mission District, an area known for its Latin American population, lies a small establishment called Sun Rise Restaurant.

While most of the restaurants in the Mission are Mexican, Sun Rise is a combination of Mexican, El Salvadorian, and American foods.

My friend Aiza and I decided to make the trek down there for brunch, as we read positive reviews on Yelp.

Having done a lot of walking that morning, and not having breakfast, our stomachs were primed for a large meal.

Two bus rides and a short walk later, we finally arrived at the restaurant. Inside Sun Rise, the atmosphere is cozy. There are few tables, and the decor consists of cheery yellow walls covered with socially-conscious artwork from local artists.

Aiza and I both ordered chilaquiles, which are a Mexican breakfast specialty. Essentially, the dish consists of day-old corn tortillas or tortilla chips, simmered in a spicy salsa, mixed with scrambled eggs, and topped with queso fresco (a crumbly, white Mexican cheese similar to feta) and sour cream. These chilaquiles also had chorizo, a soft yet spicy Mexican sausage.

There was even the option to get the chilaquiles with soyrizo, a great alternative for vegetarians such as Aiza.

Alongside the chilaquiles, we split an order of platanos fritos--or, fried plantains.

The platanos weren't greasy at all. They were fried to perfection, and had just the right amount of natural sweetness.

To round everything off, I had a hot beverage called atole de elote. It's a hot, thick, sweetened cornmeal drink mixed with milk.

All of our dishes were delicious. That, combined with upbeat Latin American music in the background and friendly service, made this a perfect meal to round off the decade.

Tamale-Making: A Mexican Christmas Tradition

Every year at Christmas time, without fail, my mom likes to tell the same joke:Q: Why do Mexicans always have tamales on Christmas? A: So that they have something to unwrap!

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Mexican cuisine, tamales are a concoction of cornmeal and various fillings (sweet or savory), wrapped in corn husks and steamed until cooked.

Once a tamale is cooked, you unwrap it from the corn husk and enjoy.

For many Mexican families, especially in California, tamales are synonymous with the Christmas season.

Many families turn their kitchens into mini tamale-making factories, churning out dozens of batches at a time.

The tamales are eaten throughout the entire holiday season, and also given away to friends and family members.

I’ve always liked the idea of everyone getting together to make tamales. Unfortunately, my Mexican side of the family lacks the know-how and culinary skills to actually take part in this tradition.

Instead, we turn to our local taqueria owner, a woman from Oaxaca, Mexico, who sells tamales of your choice by the dozen. Joining the Tamale Production Line

This year, however, I had the chance to get together with a couple of my friends in California—who are both of Mexican descent—and join their families in the tamale production line.

I always had the idea that tamale-making was a very laborious process, but it turned out to be relatively simple.

We bought a bag of prepared masa (a mixture of corn meal, water, lime, salt, and lard) from a nearby taqueria. The dried cornhusks, chicken, and green chili sauce were purchased from a Mexican market.

To make the tamales, you first have to soak the corn husks in cold water to make them pliable. Then, a layer of masa is spread on the smooth side of the husk. In the middle, you add the filling. Wrap everything up, and the tamales are ready to go in the steamer.

We ended up making two types of tamales. The first were sweet tamales, with a combination of brown and white sugars, and a heavy-handed pouring of ground cinnamon. The second was a savory mixture of green chili and shredded chicken.

Both types turned out really well, and it was fun to partake in this traditional activity.

It’s a nice way to spend time with loved ones over the holidays, and to create something delicious in the process!

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

In the middle of London’s serene Hyde Park, there now lies a Christmas-lover’s paradise. Loosely modeled after some of Germany’s Christmas markets, Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland is the place to go for a healthy dosage of Christmas cheer. As you enter through the gates, you are instantly transported into what looks like a scene from a Christmas card.

Hundreds of colorful lights twinkle cheerfully along to familiar Christmas songs.

Plastic statues of reindeer, snowmen, elves, and Santa Clauses, are dotted along the walkways, just waiting to be photographed next to.

Couples are twirling around gracefully on an ice skating rink, while little kids are awkwardly trying to find their balance.

There are dozens of carnival rides, emitting equal sounds of laughter and screams of terror from its riders.

Sizzling German sausages, chips, and mulled wine perfume the crisp night air.

All of the ingredients are there for a fun and festive night out in London. FESTIVE MOMENTS

Although the air was freezing cold, my friends and I were anxious to take advantage of everything that the Winter Wonderland had to offer.

We started out by riding the Sleigh Ride roller coaster, a suspended coaster that had its fair share of twists, turns, and drops. The most entertaining part of the ride, however, was the screaming that came out of my friend Luis’s mouth, and the laughter that followed.

Next up was a spinning car ride with my friend Jasen. The two of us sat side by side, laughing at the fake smoke and the German techno music being played by a man named ‘DJ Irene.’

The cars spin faster and faster, and the force of gravity slammed us together a number of times. At least I made the strategic choice of sitting on the inside, so that I wasn’t the one being slammed into (sorry, Jasen!)

Those rides can take a lot out of you, so we decided to fuel ourselves with some German-style food. I was glad that we chose to eat after going on those rides, and not before…

While eating, we watched a lederhosen-clad band playing cover songs rather terribly, but it was still fun to watch.

Overall, the Winter Wonderland was a fun way to get into the Christmas spirit. The best part, though, was being able to enjoy it all with a good group of friends!

Gluten-Free In London

What would you do if you found out that you could no longer eat wheat, rye, and barley? Foods that are staples of your diet, now completely restricted? Over two and a half years ago, I found out that I had an allergy to gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley.

For most people, they can digest it normally. For others, it can cause a varying degree of negative reactions.

Up until being diagnosed with gluten intolerance, I was gradually feeling sicker and sicker. Eventually, after a number of tests, it was discovered that I had a severe thyroid disorder.

What triggered this? A combination of genetics and an undiagnosed intolerance to gluten.

The only solution to gluten intolerance is to remove gluten-containing foods completely from your diet. At first, it was a hard pill to swallow. I now had to give up a lot of favorite foods, and be vigilant about reading labels.

A Gluten-Free Lifestyle For the most part, it hasn't been too difficult staying on a gluten-free diet. There are still many things that I can eat, and more stores are stocking up on gluten-free products.

One of the main problems, however, is that many gluten-free products are really expensive in California. I have to go to upscale health food stores, such as Whole Foods, in order to find gluten-free replacements. They're just not available at normal supermarkets.

Before coming back to London, I wasn't sure what the gluten-free food situation was going to be like.

My first day back in London, I stopped into my local Sainsbury's to get some food. I was pleasantly surprised to find a whole section of gluten-free foods. Not only that, but the items were actually reasonably priced, and there was a large variety of things to choose from.

As you can see, I could barely contain myself!

It was just refreshing to be able to go into a normal supermarket, and find so many reasonably priced options.

So, London, you get my gluten-free thumbs up of approval!