IKEA Not: IKEA Now Sells Candy

Ikea Display How to Pick

Late last year and early into this year, I was in a frenzy to get our bedroom into tip top shape. That includes upgrading our full-sized bed – yes, full! – into a queen, buying a bed frame and installing floating shelves to save space in our tight quarters. This involved multiple trips to and from IKEA to either buy things or exchange them for something else. Whew!

Ikea Display from afar

Wandering IKEA and comparing the MALM bed frame next to the BRIMNES and picking up some LACK shelves of three different lengths can make any shopper hungry. And knowing hot dogs, meatballs and cinnamon rolls await me at IKEA, I knew I would never go hungry. In my last trip spotted a candy display in the marketplace.

Ikea Candy Display PeppermintLicoriceChalk
Scandy Fish

The colorful display drew me closer for inspection where I discovered a pick-and-mix kind of setup. Pinks, greens and all the colors of the rainbow were represented in a choice of 32 types of candy in with an English names as well as Swedish. Most of them like the rainbow rolls (a sweet and sour tape-like candy) and raspberry hearts were familiar but there were some I had never seen before. Swedish skulls, rambo strawberry, Swedish beans and lemon rhubarb logs – whut? I had to get at least one of everything.

Ikea Weight Display

IKEA pick-and-mix candy costs $7.99 a pound. The process is simple: pick your candy, weight it and a printer automatically prints out the price.  In case you’re wondering, one of everything (with the exception of small things like jelly beans) racked up to be $7.03.

Ikea Candy Purchases

Laid out, the candy is very pretty. My favorites were anything fruit related like IKEA’s Scandy fish (a riff on Swedish fish), fruit snakes and sour tongues. Chocolate and chocolate-coated anything was an entirely different matter. It was grainy and not the best chocolate if it was even “chocolate” at all. The worst of the entire bunch is the peppermint licorice chalk. Let that flavor combination sink in. It’s exactly what you think it tastes like.

Ikea Candy Hand

It’s a lot of candy for two adults to get through! I can’t imagine what kind of sugar high kids get from this stuff.

Candy Wrench

In terms of shapes and sizes, the skulls were the cutest. But IKEA’s so-called sour strawberry apple wrench looked oddly phallic. I think I notch in the bulbous part of the candy would have helped the wrench shape come through.

If you’re looking to check out some candy yourself, find you can find the display at the only IKEA in town (Mission Valley).

All The Guts and Glory

Vomit Gnome

Here’s something I thought I would never ever write about: gut health. But considering my job requires me to keep my tummy in tip top shape, I always have my gut in mind.

I hate to even utter the words ‘food poisoning’ because I haven’t suffered a case in about 3 years. In addition, have a proud anti-puking record. Minus the extreme case of vertigo a few weeks ago that caused me to regurgitate my burger lunch, my puke has been on the down low. (Side note: I’ve just discovered I really enjoy typing out puke.)

But there are things that set me off – Cajun food, I’m looking at you – and I’ve recognized the onset of symptoms that have sometimes prompted me to delay restaurant visits until my stomach is at 100%. Since I’ve been doing the professional food thing for almost four years (even longer if you consider my blogging career is now at the 12 year mark), I’ve realized that a consistent diet consisting of fiber and water keep me running smoothly.


It all starts with a breakfast of Wasa crackers. I got hooked onto these dry crackers last year training for the 10K. There’s no sugar and two crackers rack in 80 calories! Depending on how I feel, I top the crackers with peanut butter, cheese or if I’m really hungry, scrambled eggs. Think of it more like a concrete lining for my stomach. Since the crackers are so dry I try drink a lot of water to keep myself hydrated.


My morning crackers are followed by probiotics. I’ve tried a variety of probiotics with mixed results. They either tended to be too expensive or were in yogurt form. The ones that seem to agree with me are created by Culturelle. Last year before my trip to Asia, Paul and I prepped our guts by taking one in the morning and evening. Now when my stomach begins to feel a bit off later in the day I take a second one as insurance. It’s a steal at Costco and available in packs of 80 capsules for $29.99.

Brown Rice and Veggies

After my breakfast of crackers, anything can happen. Sometimes it’s followed by a lunch visit to a restaurant, but more often it’s badly chosen snacks like potato chips. The few times I’m able to cook at home, I stick with brown rice and steamed veggies. (I really enjoy green beans with light douse of Trader Joe’s Green Goddess dressing.) Boring I know but it jump starts my appetite when I’m feeling palate fatigue and keeps my system running.

One Final Visit to Cleveland: Indian Food, Ice Cream and Doughnuts

Cleveland View

In an effort to catch up with posts, I thought I’d write about my visit to Cleveland last year. My brother was moving from Ohio to Kentucky later in the year so I made it a point to make one last visit before he and my sister-in-law packed up and left the state.

The visit was bittersweet. I hadn’t seen him in a while even after my mom died. Also too, I realized it would be my very last visit – that’s unless I’m sent to the city for an assignment. In the ten years since my brother has lived there, I’ve visited at least five times and the last time was with our mom. Who would’ve guessed that I would be so connected to Cleveland??

I made the solo trip in in August and  when I arrived I noticed that all throughout the city  the preparations for the Republican convention in 2016.

Choolah shirts

Traveling East is hard! You basically lose several hours and to get in while its still day light requires you to leave on the earliest possible flight. I didn’t eat all day and one of the first stops was Choolaah Indian BBQ on Chagrin Boulevard in Beachwood, OH. It’s a fast casual restaurant featuring four tandoor clay ovens behind glass wall that you can view from the dining room. The signage was very sleek (think McDonald’s but with an Indian twist) – they even sell their t-shirts. Choolaah has only one location and it’s a restaurant I can foresee it going national.

Choolah Chicken Tikka

As per any visit with my family, we ordered almost the whole menu so I can try a little bit of every thing. My order was the chicken tikka masala that came with freshly made naan and mint yogurt sauce. An interesting fact: any dish incorporating cheese is sourced from local Amish farmers.

MItchells Menu

We followed that up with Mitchell’s, one of my favorite ice cream places that I’ve visited on previous trips and I always order the bing cherry chocolate chunk. The ice cream at Mitchell’s is sourced locally encompassing chunk elements in the mix. It’s reminiscent of Ben & Jerry’s before the brand went national while Jeni’s Spendid Ice Cream caters to trendy tourists types, Mitchell’s is a local place as evidenced by the lines outside the door.


Since I flew late in on Thursday, I tagged along with my brother to his place of work at the Cleveland Clinic the following day. For lunch, he took me to another place he thought I should check out: Sokolowski’s University Inn on University Road.

University Inn

Open since 1923, the cafeteria-style restaurant has been featured on Anthony Bourdain’s show for its Polish ethnic food. Grab a tray and fill it up with whatever looks good from the hot food bins.

Sokolowskis_decr Sokolowski's Salads

Sokolowski's chicken paprikash

That day, Sokolowski‘s featured their usual variety of salads and cakes. From the hot food bin was chicken paprikash, potato pancakes, mac ‘n’ cheese and fried fish just to name a few. It’s the kind of food that sticks with you all day.

Sokolowski's Potato Pancake fish mac nd cheese green beans

Here’s my fish (an ode to Paul since he couldn’t be with me during this trip) along with one potato pancake, a roll and side of green beans.

Sokolowski's sausage and dumplings

My brother went all out ordering Polish sausage with dumplings (pictured) and I tried a bit of his chicken paprikash.

Sokolowski's Dining room

Sokolowski's counter

Aside from the food, the decor looked like it was plucked out of time with photos of notable celebrities and regulars on the walls. If you’re in Cleveland, this is a definite must-visit.

One of the things I really wanted to do on this trip was check out the Harvey Pekar banners. They were installed a month earlier at Coventry Park where the late comic creator liked to hang out. After some exploring around in the area in the blistering Cleveland humidity, we found the banners attached to the lampposts at the intersection of Coventry Road and Euclid Heights.

Pekar plaque

Pekar Banners Pekar Banner 3

Pekar Banner 2

Much of the rest of the weekend was exploring outside of Cleveland. I somehow got in my head that I wanted to find Amish doughnuts. My brother had no idea where to find some so we settled on Lerch’s Donuts parked outside of a small shopping strip in Smithville, OH. They’re known for selling sweets during summer fairs.

Lerchs Donuts Truck

Lerchs Donuts

To Paul’s chagrin, I also sought out his beloved Faygo and found them in several grocery stores where they were selling plastic bottles of it at a staggeringly $1 each!


Despite my brother’s misgiving about Jeni’s Spendid Ice Cream, he took me to the scoop shop in Chagrin Falls. Chagrin Falls is one of my favorite places outside of Cleveland. There town is host to gorgeous water falls leading into a stream and also popular because it’s the home Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes.

Jenis Menu Jenis ice cream scoops

We were unsure if Jeni’s was open (throughout the county, production had stopped several times because of a listeria outbreak) but we were in luck.

Upon suggestion of the counter, I ordered Ndali Estate Vanilla bean with a scoop of milkiest chocolate while my sister-in-law went with a scoop of Wildberry lavender. The ice cream was fine but I have to go with the locals and agree that Mitchell’s Ice Cream is far superior.

I’ll miss Cleveland but I’m looking forward to exploring his new place in Lexington, Kentucky.

For my ancient posts on Cleveland, click here, here, here, here and here.

Friday Fast-Food Fishtacular — Arby’s Fish Sandwich Trio


Closing off this season’s Friday Fast-Food Fishtaculars is a round up of Arby’s three fish sandwiches (the only chain I’m aware of that has three fish sandwiches on the menu simultaneously). I figured the best way to prevent redundant critiques on flavors, portions and prices was to go with a chart. Click on the image to maximize your experience.

Read other Friday Fast Food Fishtacular posts here.

Taste the Rainbow – in a Bagel!


If you thought rainbow bagels were only available in NYC – apparently the epicenter of all cool, trendy food – you can also find them here in good old San Diego. And I’ll tell you where you can find them.

Are you listening closely? D.Z. Akins!

My recent work travels had my go to La Mesa for a garden photo shoot. I had some time to spare and decided to hit up D.Z. Akins especially after my awesome experience at Downtown’s Carnivore Sandwich. (The owner stressed to me that his shop was not a delicatessen.) I hadn’t been to D.Z. Akins for a while and spotted these multicolored beauties sitting behind the deli counter alongside some green-tinted ones for St. Patrick’s Day.


These are not as colorful as the ones available at the The Bagel Store in Brooklyn. The exterior is more of a murky mix of colors but one slice inside reveals a brighter hue.


Taste-wise? Eh, I’m really unsure. I’m chalking it up to mind-over-matter believing I’m eating baked Playdoh instead of food. (Stephen Colbert’s reaction is spot on.) After Paul’s incident last year with Burger King’s HA1loween Whopper, I’m hoping that I won’t be in for a shock the next morning.

If you want to grab some of D.Z. Akins’ rainbow bagels, you can buy them for 90¢ a piece.

D.Z. Akins
6930 Alvarado Rd.
San Diego, CA 92120

Can’t Beat the Sweet Cravings: Orange-Yogurt Cake

Orange Yogurt Cake done

So wow. I haven’t been baking in a while. In an effort to cut down in sweets, I also cut down in baking. But in a conjunction with a story I did on cookies, I was left with an aching sweet tooth a week later.

Orange Yogurt Cake Slice

Here’s the wonderful thing about Google. If you’re hankering to cook something, do a search for the ingredients you have in hand and the search engine will spit out a recipe. I always keep eggs on hand and happened to also have a few oranges and cup of Greek yogurt. A Google based on those ingredients led me to this Marta Stewart recipe. I sat on it for two days until my sweet cravings were unsurmountable. It whipped up so fast and I was able to get a warm slice of cake in my belly within an hour. the hardest thing in the recipe was segmenting the  oranges while the cake was baking.

This recipe requires two segmented oranges but I only had the patience to do one. Here’s my adaption for lazy cooks – oh and remember to butter the pan really well or you’ll get an unslightly broken off piece on the cake.

Orange Yogurt Cake

Orange-Yogurt Cake

Adapted from Martha Stewart

  • Butter to grease pan
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup plus 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • Orange zest from two oranges, divided use
  • Segments from 1 orange
  • 1 Tablespoon orange juice
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Powdered sugar, optional
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter an 8-inch round cake pan.

Stir flour, 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, the baking powder, baking soda, salt, yogurt, oil, orange zest from one orange and juice, egg, and vanilla in a bowl. Pour into pan.

Transfer to over and bake until a cake tester comes out clean, about 25 minutes.

Let cool on a wire rack.

Place remaining zest in a small bowl. Stir in segments and remaining tablespoon sugar.

Garnish cake with some segments.

Dust with confectioners’ sugar.

Friday Fast-Food Fishtacular — Arctic Circle Halibut Sandwich


Last year, I found myself driving through Utah on a road trip and somewhere south of Salt Lake City I got the hungries. I hadn’t eaten at an Arctic Circle before so I checked it out.


This wasn’t the first Arctic Circle I saw on the trip, but every one I did see was in Utah. Waiting for my turn in the drive-thru, I did a quick Wikipedia query and found out it’s a Utah-based chain with nearly 70 locations across seven Western states.


From the menu, my takeaway is that Arctic Circle must be the offspring of Carl’s Jr. and Sonic Drive-In. Their burgers and other sandwiches look huge (and expensive) and they also have a head-spinning assortment of shakes and sundaes. I saw they had a fish sandwich and figured I better not pass up this opportunity.


As advertised, it’s Alaskan halibut all right… possibly even caught IN THE ARCTIC CIRCLE! The breading (beer-batter?) was a nice change of pace from other fast-food chains, as was the egg bun. Its heft was comparable to the Carl’s Jr. Carl’s Catch Fish Sandwich I tried a few years back.


They don’t skimp on the tartar sauce, as you can see from the two photos. They give it a smear on both side of the fish. In all, the sandwich experience was a good one. I don’t know if it was worth six-and-a-half-bucks but otherwise, no regrets.

The Halibut Sandwich rings up at $6.29— the most-expensive sandwich I’ve reviewed by far. According to their website, we’re looking at 451 calories, 16 grams of fat and a staggering 1029mg of sodium. Delicious as it may be, their bun accounts for 200 of those calories.

Read other Friday Fast Food Fishtacular posts here.

Friday Fast-Food Fishtacular — Green Burrito’s Fish Tacos


I shouldn’t even be writing this. Not because I don’t like doing fast-food fish sandwich reviews for Darlene, but because this will give Green Burrito a tiny amount of attention. More than it deserves, certainly, as its Beer-Battered Cod Fish Taco is one of the worst entries in my fishtacular roundups.

2191advertised“They’re back!” Is that an exclamation of joy or a dire warning?

Green Burrito — the Mexican fast-food chain found parasitically attached to the side of host burger chain Carl’s Jr. — is touting a “two fish tacos for $3.99” deal. Price-wise, that’s no deal (San Diegans can easily find any number of worthwhile fish tacos in the buck-to-buck-fifty range), but curiosity got the better of me. Perhaps it was visions of near-nude models erotically chowing on gigantic, sloppy fish tacos while washing their Ford Mustang in slo-mo or something.


Well, here’s the skinny (and I do mean skinny): Waiting for my order, I watched the Green Burrito taco-maker take a generous slab of deep-fried Atlantic cod to the open-faced tortillas, and I thought, “That’s a good-sized slab of—” AND THEN SHE CHOPPED IT IN HALF. So each taco got a skimpy, mutilated half-portion of fish.


This picture shows the travesty better (sorry about the missing bites). Even if my fish taco was as loaded with fish as the advertisement showed, it wouldn’t have mattered. There was no flavor outside of the corn tortillas and overpowering salsa. In fact, they could have forgotten the fish altogether and it would’ve tasted the same. When I singled out the fish for a solo bite, it was thin and bland. Not even their Santa Fe sauce could help it.

The Beer-Battered Fish Taco is two for $3.99, which puts it in the same price point as many other fast-food fish sandwiches. Each one clocks in at 340 calories, 19g of fat and 480mg of sodium… which also puts it in the running with other fish sandwiches. But when you double it, ugh. No bueno.

I’m a bad San Diegan for even considering Mexican fast food; let this experience serve as both punishment and a cautionary tale for others.

Read other Friday Fast Food Fishtacular posts here.

How-To: Super Chunky Vanilla Almond Granola


It’s been kind of quiet over here, I know. The easy answer is that I’ve been busy but in reality I’ve been really busy with life, documenting food stuffs and whatnot has played second fiddle to being in the moment. I have friends to see and places to eat!

Last December, I made promise to keep this up more as an exercise. But honestly, I wrote this in 2015 and only now am I taking out of the draft stage and publishing it. Also in December, I went back to cooking more and wanted to conquer granola.

See, I love yogurt but texture-wise it can be very boring. So I mix it up with chunks of granola. But not just any granola, I like the super chunky stuff that sits at the top of the container waiting to be eaten right away. (I save the crumbled stuff to fold into my yogurt.) So in true Darlene fashion, I set out to conquer this project and make it myself.


When you break it down, how hard can granola be to make?

Doing research on the process, I discovered it’s really not so difficult. The most basic kind takes steel cut oats, a sweetener and oil. For the kind with the really big chunks, only a few adjustments are needed but you can’t rush the process. There’s a lot of mixing and then waiting for the big chunking effect to happen. But don’t worry, that waiting happens after the oven has been turned off, transforming the oats into golden, lightly toasted chunks.


As for flavoring, I prefer to use vanilla with a little bit of almond extract. The addition of silvered almonds add texture. And if I have it, I also add a some sweetened coconut to play off the coconut oil. You may prefer to add raisins instead of coconut. In that case, please do not send me your granola thankyouverymuch.

Vanilla Almond Granola

  • 2 and 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg white, whipped until frothy
  • 1/4 cup coconut flakes, sweetened or unsweetened (optional)

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

Toss the oats, almonds, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the maple syrup, coconut oil, almond and vanilla extracts together until combined.

Pour over the oats and toss to coat. Fold egg white into the oats. Make sure all of the oats are moistened. Mix in coconut flakes if desired.

Spread onto the prepared baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Turn off oven and leave granola in oven for 4 hours or overnight.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 weeks or freeze up to three months.


Got Milk? Isabel’s Mexican Chocolate Bread Pudding


Last week for Zagat, I wrote about the Mexican chocolate bread pudding at Isabel’s Cantina in Pacific Beach. It’s a decadent chocolate infused dessert that pairs well with milk. The dessert was created in conjunction with the Got Milk? campaign where restaurants were contacted to create a food that pairs well with milk. Select restaurants including Isabel’s Cantina created specials and it wasn’t just sweet offerings. Savory items like Korean fried chicken in San Francisco were also included. But if you’re anything like me, sweet is the way to go and I loved this dessert because of the subtle spicy kick from the chipotle chocolate ganache on the side.

Since the restaurant will only be serving it for a limited time, here’s a copy of the recipe to make at home. When it was served at the restaurant, a glass of whole milk was served alongside. Since moving to adulthood and ever conscious of the calories I put into my body, the whole milk was like drinking an unsweetened milkshake. It was thick but helped douse ease the spice from the ganache. I recommend if you make this cake to go ahead and also pair it with a glass of whole milk.


Mexican Chocolate Bread Pudding

Created by chef Isabel Cruz

Bread pudding
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
2 tablespoons brown sugar
6 croissants enough to fit a 9-inch pie plate, split lengthwise
1 cup almond slivers

Mexican Chocolate
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar

Chipotle Chocolate Ganache
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup half and half
1 tablespoon adobo sauce from canned chipotle chilies in adobo sauce

For Mexican chocolate:
Combine the ingredients in a food processor or blender and pulse until semi-fine ground. Set a side.

For Chipotle chocolate ganache:
In a medium saucepan, add the chocolate chips, half and half and adobo sauce.

Cook over low heat until chocolate chips being to melt. Stir with a fork until sauce forms. Remove from heat and set aside.

For bread pudding:
Preheat the oven to 350º degrees F. Butter a 9-inch pie plate and set aside.

Combine the eggs, half-and-half and brown sugar in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Press the croissants into the egg mixture to soak, turning over twice.

Fit the bottom half of each croissant into the butter pie plate, sliced side down. Sprinkle 3/4 cup of the Mexican chocolate over the croissants followed by 1/2 of the almonds.

Layer the remaining croissants sliced down side on top and sprinkle with remaining chocolate and almonds.

Bake the bread pudding until puffy and dry on the top but still moist inside.

Remove from oven and let cool slightly before cutting and serving. Can be served at room temperature or chilled. Top with a spoonful of ganache before serving with glass of milk.