California Walnut’s Virtual Dinner Party {& Giveaway}

A few weeks ago I was contacted by California Walnuts, a group I connected with a few years ago when I was more of a healthy living/food blogger.  I have now kind of stepped away from the food blogging, but when they offered me the opportunity to join a virtual dinner party and make a dish with their walnuts from one of 4 amazing chefs, I jumped at the opportunity.


Immediately when I was making my decision on which chef to choose, Aida Mollenkamp stood out to me.  She had a number of recipes that were already gluten free and dairy free friendly, and when I saw the Kale, Apple, Pancetta, and Walnut Salad with Creamy Walnut Dressing I knew I had to make it for the Virtual Dinner Party.

For the most part I followed the recipe above, but I made a few substitutions based on what I had in the house, and what I could find at the local grocery store: (1) I couldn’t find endvies, so I subbed in sunflower sprouts, (2) I didn’t have white wine vinegar, so I subbed in rice vinegar, (3) I couldn’t find pancetta, so I used bacon.  I do wish I could’ve tried it with the endives, since I’ve never had them, but sometimes you have to make do and adjust.


The recipe came together so quickly — the longest portion was the frying of the bacon (which took all of five minutes), and it was a delicious, fairly healthy meal that filled me up.  The only requirement is that you have a food processor for the salad dressing, but if you don’t mind it a little chunky, and more of a ‘spread’ I think a blender might work in a pinch.  And speaking of the creamy walnut dressing, I can’t wait to use on other salads, and possibly even as a dressing for meats!  Soooo good!


Aida Mollenkamp and California Walnuts for the win, that’s for sure!

I am so happy I had the opportunity to join the virtual dinner party — check out some of the other food bloggers who joined Aida’s Virtual Dinner Party here.  It felt great to get back in the kitchen and do some cooking again!  Thanks California Walnuts for this fantastic opportunity!

As a part of the Virtual Dinner Party, and on behalf of California Walnuts, I was also sent TWO copies of Aida Mollenkamp’s recipe book: Keys to the Kitchen.  What does that mean?  That I have ONE copy to giveaway to one of you!

Although I was disappointed the recipe I made wasn’t in the cookbook, I still loved Keys to the Kitchen at first glance.


Its got a great set of recipes, a number of which I’m really excited to make, but one of its greatest aspects I think is the informational and instructional information the first two chapters have.  And it has photos, which is always a bonus in my book.


It gives you great instructions on mastering grocery stores, knife skills, and etc, before diving into the delicious looking recipes.  I mean, if the Kale, Apple, Pancetta and Walnut salad I made says anything about what’s in her cookbook, it should be pretty fabulous.

The Giveaway

One lucky winner will receive a copy of Aida Mollenkamp’s Keys to the Kitchen.  The giveaway will be open through Friday, March 8 at noon PST, and I will announce the winner later that afternoon, and get the cookbook sent out asap.

How to enter?

You must do one of the following to enter:

(1) Take a look at Aida Mollenkamps’s recipes used for the Virtual Dinner Party and leave a comment on which recipe (from the Winter or Spring menus) you’d like to try.


(2) Leave a comment telling me about your favorite way to eat walnuts (in a recipe, raw, candied…etc).

For an extra entry:

(3) Tweet about the giveaway, and leave a comment back here saying that you did so.  example tweet: “I just entered to win an @aidamollenkamp cookbook from @phdstrides virtual dinner party giveaway″

*California Walnuts provided me with the walnuts for this recipe and the cookbook for the giveaway.  However, all opinions are my own.

Foodbuzz Festival: Welcome Reception & Dinner


Before Foodbuzz festival officially began, Mellissa, Melissa, Julia and I had a glass of wine at our hotel for their ‘wine hour.’


The Foodbuzz Festival started with a welcome reception and dinner.  The welcome recpetion was sponsored by Sabra, and featured tons of delicious hummus fanfare.




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Oh, and delgihtful wine provided by Bonny Doon Vineyards.  My favorite was the Albarino.


After the reception, came the buffet dinner.

Housemade Beet Raviol; Ceviche Shooters; Lentil Salad “To Go” Boxes; and Mai’s Rolls


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Glazed Marin Sun Farms Pork Belly: Broccoli Puree, Wood Roasted Florets, Pickled Shiitakes and Chile Morita Vinaigrette


Pan-Seared DayBoat Scallop: Grapes, Capers, Wood Roasted Cauliflower and Varjus

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The scallops and porkbelly were by far the highlight of the evening for me.  The meat jut fell apart and into your mouth – delicious.  And the scallops were perfectly cooked – and the varjus made for a decadent flavoring.

I was disappointed I couldn’t eat anything from the Electrolux Comfort Food Buffet Station, as everything had creamy/dairy/cheese, etc.  So, my choices for dinner was slim (and it made me happy I had eaten my fair share of hummus at the welcome reception.)  The buffet was surprisingly un-vegan friendly (aka un-Elise friendly).

Dessert was talked up by Foodbuzz to be a great buffet.  Unfortunately, I was dissapointed: THERE WAS ONE vegan dish – and even that was marginally vegan.  The chances that the gelatin was a vegan gelatin are slim-to-none.  And, it was okay, it wasn’t exceptional. 


After dinner we went out with a few of my friends off of Union Street.  It was great to meet up with them, and have a cocktail, but the evening went a bit too late for my liking.  C’est la vie.  At least we took a cab back to the hotel (that we somehow didn’t pay for….but it wasn’t illegal or anything).

This morning I’m playing hooky from the conference to shop, walk around San Fran, hit up the Ferry Market, and just enjoy life.  It’s a rare occasion I get to visit San Fran, so I’m going to enjoy the city while I can!

Are you at Foodbuzz Fest?  What are your weekend plans? 

A Balancing Act

First of all, thank you all SO much for the kind words and excitement you shared with me over passing prelims!  It was seriously so amazing to hear all of your comments and how you ‘knew I could do it’ and were just as proud of my accomplishment as I would.  It means the world to me — thanks for being so amazing.

And for for the reality check: My, oh my.  It has been forever and a day since I last blogged.  But this first quarter of my second year in the PhD program seriously swallowed me whole.  I was told “just make it through the first year, its all downhill from there.”  Whoever was saying that, was seriously mistaken.  The workload (specifically reading load) we have to do this year is unbelievable.  We are not even TWO FULL weeks into the quarter, and I already feel like I’m starting to flounder.  And I’m only now finding a chance to breathe.

That’s not to say I haven’t been doing other things besides school, but those have been necessary get-out-of-the-house or office events.  Such as the Santa Cruz County Symphony I saw on Saturday night.  It was delight.  Brought back so many memories of college and high school orchestra, and really made me want to play again.  Kind of Winking smile

But, I will admit: I’ve been having trouble balancing all my favorite daily activities.  The one that has stuck in there almost every single day is exercise.  Without it, I’m sure my head would have fallen off by now.  Since things have been hectic, I’m trying to come up with a new plan on how to prioritize and make sure I allot time to the necessary and desired areas.  So, please stick with me while I walk the fine line and figure out my balancing act.

In the meantime, I have found a few spare moments besides my daily exercise to keep myself sane.  Our roomie second quarter eve meal was some amazing pasta that my good friend Chiara gave me when she left our school this summer to return to Italy.  Homemade pasta trumps pasta from a box everyday of the week and then some.  Omg was this good.

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The pasta sauce was a recipe of my own making.  A can of fire roasted diced tomatoes, regular diced tomatoes, 4 cut up Italian chicken sausages, onion, a bunch of garlic cloves, half a jar of regular marinara sauce and oregano, basil and parsley.  I let it simmer in the crockpot on low for about 8 hours.  It was delicious.

I also got to indulge on this amazing vegan chocolate chocolate cupcake from Whole Paycheck with the girls.  They all had this scrumptious looking-cake to share, but I got my own cupcake.  Yay for dairy allergy Winking smile


Nom. Nom. Nom.

And was able to partake in an evening of PhD Shennanigans (two night before my second marathon – post recap to come) with some good friends.

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Perhaps not the wisest choice to participate in said activities two nights before a marathon, but I only live once, and two days in the quarter was already overwhelming.

How have you perfected the balancing act?  What’s the first thing to go?  What’s the one thing you always make sure you have time for?