The Strange and Unusual

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Did this macabre photo get your attention? It’s that time again. Time for pumpkins, goblins, and ghouls. I like Halloween for the creative costumes, candy, decorations, but most of all, I love the creep factor. I’m drawn to it like a moth to a flame. I can’t resist a good ghost story, a tour of historic houses with stories of hauntings and strange goings-ons, and old graveyards with tombstones and mausoleums. The older, the better.

In the spirit of Halloween and my fascination with the strange, here’s a roundup of some of the interesting and worthwhile creepy places I’ve visited, some more than once.

La Isla de Las Munecas

Xochimilco/Mexico City

Original Post here

No trip to Mexico City is complete without a visit to Xochimilco (for me). I always insist on a visit to this lake and an even further excursion via trajinera out to the remote chinampa of Don Julian. Obviously, it’s the hanging baby dolls, doll parts, and hallowed out eyes of heads that are the main draw here as they seem to have multiplied in recent years. The shack is where you’ll find the oldest and creepiest ones.

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 Castillo Torre Salvana

Colonia Guell/Santa Coloma de Cervelló

Original Post here

We spotted this castle from a distance and decided to do some trespassing. It’s magnificent from the outside, but inside is where you’ll get the chills. It’s downright dilapidated, but what can one expect afterall, it dates from 992. That’s 992, folks! Among many claims of paranormal activity, the scariest of all is the claim that it has a portal to hell.

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Sorrell Weed House

6 W Harris Street/Savannah, GA/ 31401

Original post here

Wealthy plantation owner, infidelity, suicide, and grisly deaths… the Sorrell Weed House has all the elements of a tragic story. The midnight ghost tour further entices morbid curiosities with all the trappings of a spooky haunting and the possibility of experiencing hair-raising paranormal activity for yourself. If you dare…

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Basilica Sants Just i Pastor

Pl Sant Just, 6/ Barri Gòtic/Barcelona

Original Post here

This is the church to visit if you want to view a nightmarish altar of unfortunate souls aglow in the pit of hell. Actually, this gothic church is a marvel of its own and quite eerie if you’re the only one in there. Don’t miss the skulls etched into the floor that also serve as headstones.

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Hotel Connor

164 Main Street/Jerome, AZ

Whispers in the night, cold sensations, doors opening by themselves, and laughter coming from empty rooms are just a few of the ghostly reports associated with rooms in this hotel. Located in the ghost town of Jerome, Arizona, the Connor Hotel and Spirit Room was built during the mining heyday only to suffer repeated destruction from fire and eventual abandonment after the decline in mining. Luckily, the hotel was reopened and once again hosts visitors of this historic town.

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 House of the Devil

Calle Josep Torres 20/Barcelona

Original Post here

Who wants to sell their soul to the devil in exchange for a profitable business? Augustin Atzerias, that’s who. As one might guess, shortly after making a pact with the devil, Mr. Atzerias hit it big with a winning lottery ticket and held up his end of the bargain. To show his undying loyalty, Mr. Atzerias went about decorating his palatial home with ghoulish demon heads much to the chagrin of his neighbors. As if the terrifying heads were not enough, there were also murals depicting hell on the facade that have long since been destroyed and covered up.

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Chicken Tomatillo Tacos

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As the nights get a bit cooler, the grill gets far less action and the slow cooker makes its grand appearance. I love my slow cooker and am always looking for new recipes that practically cook themselves. I tend to prep everything at night before bedtime and right before I retire for the night, the slow cooker gets switched on and voila! By morning, dinner is made.

This recipe is more labor intensive as it calls for de-boning chicken breast and thighs and making a quick chicken stock from scratch. If you’re pressed for time and want a quicker way, you can brown the chicken, bones on and all, add the vegetables and saute for a few minutes. Remove and place the whole lot into a slow cooker and cover with water. It will still yield a flavorful dish and is perfectly acceptable when short on time and who isn’t, right? But for the times when you have some extra to spare, you’ll love the full blown homemade chicken stock version and bonus! Extra stock for future delicious dishes like soups, sauces, braises, etc… But, be warned, this recipe is spicy so if you’re sensitive to spicy foods, just scale back the chiles to 2-3 and you should be fine.

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For the Chicken:

yield: 4 servings

1 breast, bone in

2 thighs, bone in

1 onion, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

1 celery rib, chopped

1 teaspoon peppercorns

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon grapeseed oil

6 cups water

2 teaspoons kosher salt

Remove the bones from the chicken pieces and set the meat aside. Make a simple chicken stock by browning chicken bones in a neutral oil such a grapeseed oil. Add the onion, carrot, and celery. Cook over medium heat until vegetables are softened but not brown. Add the water, peppercorns, and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer and cover partially with the lid, simmer on low heat for 1 1/2 hours. Add salt, stir to dissolve and strain into a clean container.

Place the boneless chicken breast and thighs into a slow cooker. Pour in chicken stock, enough to just cover the chicken. You will have leftover stock to save for a soup or freeze for future use.

Set the slow cooker for 6-8 hours (depending on how much time you have).

Tomatillo Salsa:

8 tomatillos, husked and washed

10 red chile peppers

1 clove garlic

splash of white vinegar

salt to taste

Blacken the tomatillos, peppers, and garlic over a gas flame, dry skillet, or on a comal. Place all in a blender and process until smooth.

When the chicken is done in the slow cooker, shread the meat and add about 1/4 cup of the salsa. Gently mix to combine. Serve with cubed avocado and cilantro.

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52 Weeks: 42/52

It sure doesn’t feel like fall yet, but at least it has cooled down quite a bit and I’m, loving it. See? What a nice day it was. Here’s what we were up to this week:

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Trying to squeeze in some activities after work but it was a race against the clock with the sun setting much earlier.

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This reminds me of bocce and makes me think of having a glass of wine to go with a leisurely game.

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These seeds are kinda creepy.

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Late night dining and the coco loco. There are shrimp hidden inside.

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Getting ready to make more sugar skulls.

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We took a sailing lesson and it was so much fun, but lots more work than I could have ever imagined. I’ll be back to try again next time.

Hope you’re having a fantastic weekend!

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A Day in Valle de Guadalupe

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Each time we visit Valle de Guadalupe, new restaurants seem to have popped up along with luxury lodging, more tasting rooms, and vineyards. Just last week we watched an old video of our very first trip to Valle de Guadalupe when there was only a small handful of wineries- L.A. Cetto, Domecq, and Dona Lupe. Although times have clearly changed and there are many more boutique wineries to choose from, it’s still nice to know that the valley retains its rural charm. This is truly what keeps us coming back.

This last time, we carefully planned an all day trip with friends complete with wine tastings, lunch, and dinner. Two winery visits plus a long and leisurely lunch in the valley turned out to be just the right amount of planned activity for our group without being too rushed. Any more than that and we would have to stay overnight to get it all in. For a day trip from San Diego, this was just right and even included a stop for dinner before crossing back over.

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Vena Cava

Exit left near Km. 88/Follow the signs approximately 3 miles to La Villa del Valle/Valle de Guadalupe/website

Vena Cava was our first destination as we knew our friends would enjoy the wines here and besides, we had wine of our own purchased from our first trip (more here) that we needed to pick up. Once again, we enjoyed the tasting, had a great time, and bought even more wine. Note to self: bring more people and tell them they can’t buy wine since they will have to mule my wines over as we are definitely over our limit for crossing over on foot. 

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Finca Altozano

Km. 83 Carretera Tecate – Ensenada/Ejido Francisco Zarco/Valle de Guadalupe/website

After wine tasting, we were all very hungry and ready for lunch. We headed to Finca Altozano. This time, I did my homework and made a reservation in advance. It’s a wonderful open dining room with plenty of shade, natural light, and a nice breeze all while overlooking the vineyards. Perfect. We decided to order a bunch of appetizers and mains and shared it all. I have to say, everything was delicious but my favorite, hands down was the quail. We were all raving about lunch and were quite impressed. The consensus was, we’d all happily go there again.

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Alximia

Km 3- Camino Vecinal al Tigre/Valle de Guadalupe/website

To cap off a delicious and quite filling lunch, we headed to our next destination, Alximia. This was our first time here and we were looking forward to trying new wines and touring this architectural wonder. The tasting room here is nothing like anything I’ve seen before. It is unique in design and blends very well with the desert backdrop. From the outside, it resembles what I would imagine the Mother ship to look like. Although we arranged for a tour in advance, by the time we finished our tasting, we forgot all about the tour. Of the 6-7 wines we tasted, our group was split between the fuller body wines, Pira and Magma.

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This is the part where we are pretty much tuckered out and are dreading the long drive back. We are also beginning to discuss another trip to the valley but this time perhaps we will make a weekend out of it and stay over night as this will afford us more time to explore even more wineries and indulge in another leisurely lunch and dinner or two (I already have a wish list of places I’d like to try).

Anyhow, on the way back, we stopped at Mariscos Mazateno for their shrimp enchilado tacos and my personal favorite, the fish chicharron taco. After we get through dinner, we are thoroughly stuffed, ready to call it a day and make our way back to the border. Lucky for us, there is a very short line.

Here’s a good website for a listing of wineries and pertinent information in case I’ve piqued your interest in Baja wines… and food.

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52 Weeks: 41/52

It’s always good to have something to look forward to, right? My friend calls it the “happy thought”, a place one can revert to when the week is dragging or when you have a bad day. Well, we had plans to head to Baja this past week so that was my happy thought that made the hum-drum week go by faster.

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Lunch in Valle de Guadalupe. We pretty much ordered one of each and enjoyed quite a buffet between us all.

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In Tijuana, trying to escape to madness.

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Pitaya! My first time eating the red one. I had the black and white one in Mexico City, but this one was good too.

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Too cute.

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Dipping noodles, satisfying and delicious.

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Japanese fried chicken.

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Coffee and scones to start the day.

Here’s to another good week ahead and hopefully it’s a quick one!

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Ultra Thin Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

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I did the unthinkable this week and turned the oven on. I dreaded the excess heat the oven was soon to emit, but at the end of this sweaty venture, I knew there would be some lacy, buttery, thin oatmeal chocolate chip cookies waiting for me. What can  say, I am highly motivated by my cravings. After all, the stomach wants what it wants, when it wants and it cares not for the weather forecast.

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Ultra Thin Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies:

adapted from Sweet Dreams on Food Network

yield: approximately 4 dozen

3/4 pound (3 sticks salted butter)

1 cup light brown sugar

1 1/8 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

3 cups rolled oats (not instant)

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

2 1/2 tsp baking soda

6 oz semi sweet miniature chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a mixing bowl, combine the butter and sugars and cream together until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla extract.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix until just combined. Add the chocolate chips.

Let rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Using an ice cream scoop, scoop the dough into flat balls and place on a parchment lined sheetpan at least 2″ apart.

Bake until slightly browned on the edges, about 8- 10 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes on the sheetpan and then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling and firm up.

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Tortas with Chile Tepin Salsa

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Anyone who knows me well can tell you that I’m not generally a fan of sandwiches. Sandwiches never register on the “Things I like to eat” list. It’s more like, anything BUT sandwiches. Then, there are tortas although not technically sandwiches, but the most delicious filling slapped between two slices of bread.

There are all kinds of tortas, more versions than you can shake a stick at. Tortas soaked in sauce, filled with deli meat, stuffed with grilled meats, etc… Then there’s the variety of garnishes: pickled onions, tomatoes, avocado slices, guacamole, salsa, cheese, jalapenos. Whatever you like. My personal favorite is the simpler version made with seasoned grilled beef, refried beans, toasty bread, ripe avocado slices, tomato, and a dash of spicy salsa. Now, that’s a sandwich torta.

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Tortas:

yield: 2 tortas

2 rolls of telera bread, sliced in half

1/2 pound thin sliced beef, seasoned with salt and pepper, grilled and chopped

salt and pepper to taste

1 cup refried beans

1/2 avocado, sliced thin

1 tomato, sliced thin

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Using a brush, spread vegetable oil over each side of the bread. Sprinkle with salt and toast on the grill or in a hot pan.

Spread a layer of beans on the bottom, then top with chopped beef. Continue to layer with tomato and avocado slices. Place other half of telera on top and press down to flatten. Serve with chile tepin salsa (or your favorite salsa).

Chile Tepin Salsa:

4 tomatoes, blackened on the grill

1 clove garlic

1 tablespoon chile tepin, blackened

squeeze of lime

1 teaspoon salt

Blend all ingredients together until smooth. Set aside.

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52 Weeks: 40/52

Fall is here but it still feels like summer. I’m very much looking forward to cooler weather although we have yet to see any. The web is brimming with all kinds of pumpkin spice lattes, baked goods and what have you but I just can’t go there yet, not when it’s still 80+ degrees out. For now, it’s eternal summer.

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Part of a larger mural in Barrio Logan. I especially like the tile part.

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This busted donkey head was abandoned on a curb, but I guess somebody decided to take it because it was gone the next day.

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Preparing to make sugar skulls.

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Somen noodles for lunch.

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Torta with super spicy chile tepin salsa.

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Watermelon snack cause we’re trying to stay healthy.

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Glitter for an upcoming project and little “H”. He is not as dazzled by glitter as I am. However, a sock will have him jumping for joy.

Happy weekend!

 

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Mushroom and Blue Cheese Flatbread

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Simplicity is key when one is pressed for time. As much as I enjoy an occasional fancy coursed out meal, it’s about hearty flavors and simple preparation that steals the show on a daily basis. Besides, most of us are beyond busy and weekday cooking is all about getting dinner on the table, right? I’m a fan of recipes that can be made in advance and it’s even better if I can use up ingredients that have been hanging around in the fridge. Around here, we call it “cleaning out the fridge” cooking and let me tell you, it sure does keep meals interesting around here.

If you’re planning in advance, make the pizza dough the night before and pull it out an hour before you begin prepping dinner. That way, the dough can come to room temperature and rise again. The mushroom mixture can also be made the night before leaving the bulk of your time investment the following day in waiting for the oven and pizza stone to heat up. After that, it’s going to be a snap. Now, that’s a dinner I can get excited about. Serve this savory flatbread with a simple salad on the side dressed with a sherry vinaigrette and it’s a win-win.

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Mushroom and Blue Cheese Flatbread

1 recipe pizza dough (or premade dough is fine)

6 oz cremini mushrooms

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

1 shallot. sliced thin

1 tablespoon Madeira wine

1 tablespoon Marsala wine

2 oz blue cheese, crumbled

Leaves from 10 sprigs parsley (coarsely chopped)

salt and pepper to taste

2 oz mozzarella cheese, grated

Mushroom Topping:

Slice mushrooms thin. In a skillet over medium high heat, add olive oil and saute mushrooms until they soften and shrink, about 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and shallots and reduce heat to medium, stirring to prevent the garlic from burning. Add a couple pinches of salt (to taste) and pepper. Cook until the shallots are wilted and the mixture becomes fragrant. Turn the heat up to medium high and add the Madeira and Marsala and let the liquid evaporate while stirring. Reduce heat to medium low and cook until the mixture is almost dry. Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl. Set aside.

Pizza Dough:

recipe adapted from The River Cottage Bread Handbook

1 cup white bread flour

1 cup all purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon instant yeast

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 cup warm water, more if necessary

2 teaspoons olive oil

2 tablespoons coarse flour or semolina (for sprinkling)

Place a baking stone in the oven and preheat to 500 degrees. Once oven comes to temperature, let heat for 1 hour to warm the stone.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flours (except coarse or semolina flour), yeast. salt and water together to form a sticky dough. Add the oil, mix and turn the dough onto a clean work surface. Knead  until smooth and silky.

Form dough into a ball and place back into the mixing bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature until it rises almost double its size, approximately 1 hour.

Once dough has doubled in size, roll out into a long, thin oval shape, approximately 1/8″ in thickness.

Transfer dough onto an inverted baking sheet that is dusted with semolina or coarse flour. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese sparely over the surface of the dough. Layer on the mushroom mixture and top with blue cheese.

Bake for 7-8 minutes or until edges are golden. Remove from oven and let rest on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Garnish with parsley, slice and serve. Bon appetit!

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Tostadas de Chapulines // Grasshopper Tostadas

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The first time I had chapulines I didn’t know what I was eating, exactly. There was a mysterious plastic bag filled with reddish tiny things with legs. Coated in chile powder, my co-workers were chowing down on whatever was in this bag. From the looks of them hungrily devouring this snack, I knew it had to be good. When the bag made its way to me, I hesitated but as always, curiosity got the best of me and I plunged my hand in. I pulled out a few and popped them into my mouth. They tasted of mildly spiced chile powder and lime. Crunchy, savory, and delicious. My hand went in for seconds. When I asked what they were, the answer was “insectos”. Ok, I was cool with that and didn’t ask any more questions. It wasn’t until many years later that I found out what kind of insects they were. Grasshoppers! Although mostly consumed in Oaxaca, I’ve spotted these tasty treats in the markets of Mexico City and Tijuana. There are also a variety of sizes ranging from very small to quite large as in half a finger in length. I prefer the smallest ones I can find for the extra crunch.

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Tostadas de Chapulines:

yield: 15 tostadas

1 tablespoon chapulines

3 sprigs cilantro, picked

Tostadas:

yield: 15 tostadas

5 corn tortillas

2″ diameter round cookie cutter

Stack the tortillas and place cookie cutter over to cut 3 circles from the surface. Cut right through the stack or reduce the stack to 2 at a time for easier cutting. Place the tortilla rounds on a wire baking rack for 4-5 hours until dry.

When tortilla rounds are hard and dry, toast over a hot pan until crisp and edges have darkened. Set aside.

Guacamole:

1 ripe avocado

1 clove garlic

2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

salt to taste

In a mortar, mash the garlic clove with a generous pinch of salt until the garlic is broken down and turns pasty. Add the avocado and mash until almost smooth (some small chunks are necessary for better texture). Add lime juice and stir until incorporated.

Assemble the Tostadas:

Place a generous teaspoon of guacamole on each tostada, top with 2-3 chapulines and cilantro.

Enjoy with a glass of dry white wine.

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