Restaurant Review : La Torre

La Torre is a quaint Mexican restaurant on the eastside of Bloomington, very close to our new home. This summer I have spent countless hours enjoying the company of close friends on the terrace. We enjoy baskets of crispy corn tortilla chips, fresh salsa, tacos, carnitas, enchiladas and tasty drinks. The vibe is relaxed and the service is great. We dined there just last Saturday and Michael summed up our time spent at La Torre by saying “I feel like I am on vacation every time I sit on this patio.” This is why we go back again and again.

Mike enjoying “vacation”

La Torre highlights:

  • The welcome is always warm and inviting. The first interaction with staff sets the tone for the experience and La Torre gets it right.
  • Try the west terrace for great seating. The hanging stretched canvas sun shields do their job for the most part although don’t forget your sunglasses and arrive after 7pm for an all shaded terrace.
  • The servers are kind and gracious and they have never rushed our experience. Typically we won’t order dinner until we have enjoyed ourselves for at least a half an hour, sometimes longer. The food comes out so fast!
  • The Saturday and Sunday brunch menu is amazing with a separate menu of unique Mexican dishes, fresh squeezed juices and fun cocktails. My friend Matthew introduced me to the shrimp cocktail in tomato juice and lime….to die for.

The standard menu offers all the typical Mexican fare. I am a chicken taco gal with a soft corn tortilla, no cheese a little raw white onion and lots of cilantro. The tacos are full of flavor and the tortillas are pillowy and fresh. Sometimes if I am feeling extra hungry I will order rice and beans.

The drink menu is well rounded offering beer, cocktails and lots of tequila. When we have a crowd a bucket of Mexican beer is a must. Choose any combination of 6 beers and the icy bucket is delivered to your table with fresh limes on the side. We usually go for Negra Modelo (Michael’s favorite), Corona (my favorite) and Dos Equis Amber or Lager. I am a huge fan of silver tequila, blanco. If I am feeling frisky I will order a chilled shot to enjoy with my chips and salsa. It is a great way to kick off dinner!

The restaurant hosted a tequila dinner a few weeks ago and my friend Charlie attended. He said the dinner was a fun experience with interesting food and tequila pairings. I have heard they may schedule a tequila dinner every month!  As La Torre adds services and events I will update the new offerings here. Check out their website for more information by clicking here.

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Henry the Long Jumper: Drool in the Pool Recap

Henry puts the NO in No Diving!

Drool in the Pool was so much fun. We arrived just before 6pm and Henry had a chance to jump in a few times before the whistle blew and it was break time for the dogs. All dogs exited the pool and as we made our way to a shady spot we found the sign up table for the Long Jump Contest. We signed up Henry and then waited as the break inched along. Henry was a little excited at this point, okay A LOT excited. Michael was trying to calm him and Henry began bucking like a wild bronco! He was shaking a bit so we directed his attention away from the pool. He calmed down slightly just before the Long Jump Contest began and he howled at the dogs that jumped before him. Then it was his turn and I caught it all on video! Check it out on the Live Love Local YouTube channel by clicking here. I laugh when I watch the video, because it is hilarious!

After the contest, Henry jumps some more!

Henry jumped 12 feet and 3 inches for 2nd place! He won a comb. After the contest Henry jumped into the water again and again and made some friends. Then I had a chance to notice the event was significantly less crowded than previous years. The dogs were having a ton of fun. The volunteers from Bloomington Parks and Recreation and The Doghouse did a great job making sure everything ran smoothly.

Henry and a new friend

Cheers to everyone involved, this is such a great event! Tonight is the final Drool in the Pool and there are more contests. Check out my blog post from yesterday here for all you need to know!

Michael (soaked) helping Henry out of the pool after his last jump

Local Treasure: Drool in the Pool

Today is a very special day for my dog Henry. It is Drool in the Pool! An evening of dog only swimming at Mills Pool. Henry will cannonball (his specialty) into the pool time and time again chasing tennis balls and tennis bones. He will greet his doggie friends from The Doghouse and make some new friends as well. Henry is very social and he loves other dogs. We end up meeting new people too!

Henry is resting up right now for the big event, he is napping in the bathtub. I snapped this pic while he was resting in the sitting room.

Henry resting up for Drool in the Pool

This will be Henry’s third time at Drool in the Pool. Last year the event was held at Mills Pool for the first time and even with the new location Henry knew just what was happening as we drove up and he became very excited. The atmosphere is controlled chaos. The volunteers do a wonderful job keeping everyone safe and happy. There are dogs everywhere running, jumping, splashing and barking. It is unlike anything I have ever seen, a dog’s paradise. This is a great way to socialize your dog. I love to dog watch and I always see cute dogs that steal my heart.

There are two nights of Drool in the Pool, tonight August 22nd and tomorrow August 23rd from 5pm to 8pm each day. There are doggie contests as well!

 Contests

Wednesday

6:00 pm – Long Jump

Thursday

  • 5:30 pm –  Best Dressed
  • 6 pm – Pet Tricks
  • 6:30 pm –  Cutest Dog
  • 7 pm – Grand Prize judging

The distinguished judges are Sarah DeLone from MCHA; Laura Lane from the HT; and Jeff Holland, former 4-H Extension Educator.

The admission price is $5 and you must bring written proof from a vet that your dog’s rabies vaccinations are up to date. Just the tag is not sufficient. There is a limit of one dog per person. Here is a tip, print out the registration form before the event and bring it with you. This will save you time and energy when arriving to admission. Click here for a link to the form.

Thanks to Bloomington Parks and Recreation for making so many dogs happy by hosting this wonderful event!

The beginning of Henry’s cannonball at Drool in the Pool 2010

Brunch Magic: Green Chile and Goat Cheese Frittata

Oh how I love Sunday mornings full of great company, delicious food, fresh coffee and sunshine! We dine al fresco in the backyard and always have a wonderful time. I look forward to Sunday brunch all week and with that comes a little pre-planning. This week I knew I wanted to incorporate some roasted chiles and goat cheese into a frittata. The roastiness of the chiles with the creamy toasted goat cheese were a perfect pairing. I served the frittata with corn tortillas instead of toast. I am in love with corn tortillas as of late and they are a great match with this dish. This recipe is so easy, just the way I like it at brunch.

Green Chile and Goat Cheese Frittata

Heat a 10 inch skillet over medium-low heat , add a 1/2 tablespoon of butter and turn your oven to a low broil. Start with 1 cup of roasted, chopped green chiles. Gather 2 tablespoons of fresh oregano, wash and chop it. Crack 10 eggs into a mixing bowl and beat fiercely until the yolk and white are combined and the eggs are foaming.

Pour the eggs into the skillet, add the green chiles and oregano and stir gently to combine. Sprinkle in a pinch of salt and fresh pepper. Let cook for 3 or 4 minutes until the frittata is set.

Crumble 3 or 4 tablespoons of fresh goat cheese, Capriole is my favorite, over the top and place under the broiler until the top sets and the cheese toasts a bit, about 2 or 3 minutes. WATCH IT CLOSELY. I inherited the ability to place a beautifully prepared dish under the broiler only to come back to a completely scorched mess. I have watched my mother burn garlic bread a thousand times, I love you MOM! My rule is do not walk away, do not have a conversation, do not look at the dog and tell him how cute he is. ALL EYES ON FRITTATA.

Heat 6 corn tortillas on the stove top in a skillet. Cut the tortillas in half when warmed through and wrap the bunch in aluminum foil.

Top the frittata with a little fresh oregano before serving. Serve the frittata in the pan for a lovely presentation with the tortillas on the side. A little Cholula hot sauce drizzled over the top is a great addition.

Here is a tip, the edges of the frittata become goldey brown and caramelized, carmelized = flavor. This is the best part and I always go for a little edge in every piece. Enjoy!

Green Chile and Goat Cheese Frittata served with Cholula hot sauce and Corn Tortillas

Bloomington Brewing Company : Hop Harvest 2012

Last Saturday evening Michael invited me to the Bloomington Brewing Company Hop Harvest at Loesch Hill Farm. We arrived to friendly faces and a flatbed that was piled high with mounds of spindly Cascade hop vines awaiting their last hurrah of the season. After a tutorial on proper hop size and color from Floyd, legendary Brewer at BBC, we began picking. Michael and I were immediately reminded of the time I was accused of being a top picker at a militant blueberry farm in East Sparta, Ohio. In an effort rebuild my harvesting reputation I was careful and did not let one hop go unpicked. No one sets out to top pick blueberries, it’s just that I am attracted to the bigger berries that are naturally closer to the sun thus higher on the bush. Anyway…

Matt and Michael harvesting hops

The farm was a beautiful setting as we enjoyed glasses of BBC Quarryman Pale Ale filled to the brim. I was surprised to find the hop cones are rather delicate. The sun was just right that time of the day and the electric green color of the cones really came alive. Floyd told us he would dry the hops by laying them in a single layer and turning them once a day.

Cascade Hops

Stay tuned for a special batch of beer made with these delicious hops. I can say from past experience this beer is one my very favorites. I am not sure when it will be released and it tends to sell out quickly. I bet there will be updates on the Bloomington Brewing Company Facebook page. You can “like” it here.

It wouldn’t be a One World outing without food so after the last hop was picked we had cheeseburgers. Naturally this led us to a discussion about cheeseburgers and I learned that pretty much everyone on the Hop Harvest Crew likes Hinkle’s Hamburgers and In & Out Burger. Jeff was the chef and he said his burgers could give Hinkle’s a run for their money. I would have to agree.

Jeff and a cheeseburger

Famous Scrambled Eggs

This weekend I may be living like an Italian but I am cooking my eggs like a French lady as I always do. The French know eggs and I have taken my cues from Jacque Pepin. He is one of my very favorite chefs and he stresses the importance of basic fundamentals in the kitchen. Once you learn the proper techniques you can expand on your own. This is what great cooking is all about, learn the process and then you can improvise.

I was on an airplane a few years ago and saw a cooking show featuring Jacque. He was making scrambled eggs and I will never forget what he taught me that day. He taught me the process and then I came up with the recipe adding herbs, cheese or vegetables depending on the season.These eggs are such a hit. Everyone that has them raves about how delicious they taste.

Here are a few tips:

  • Crack the eggs on a flat surface. This keeps the bacteria from the outside of the shell entering the egg on the inside of the shell.
  • Agitate the eggs fiercely! Use a fork for this. You want to see bubbles foaming at the top. Get the eggs into the pan while the foam is in tact. This is what makes the scrambled eggs light and airy. Also, break up the whites so there are not long strips of white showing.
  • Start with a medium hot pan and lower the heat after you have poured in the eggs. This allows the eggs to set and cook slowly which makes them creamy. No need to add milk or cream.

Famous Scrambled Eggs

Add a 1/2 tablespoon of butter to a nonstick pan and place on medium heat. Crack farm-fresh eggs (two to three per person) into a bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Whip fiercely with a fork and add to the pan once the butter is melted. Turn the heat the low and slowly pull up the set eggs from the bottom of the pan with a fork (be careful not to scratch the pan). Keep going until the eggs are set and still moist, serve.

Often I will add chopped fresh chives or grated cheese.  I like to serve the eggs with hot sauce as well. I always serve toast and most of the time I serve my eggs fresh tomatoes. Try the recipe and let me know what you think!

Live Like an Italian

What makes us happy? My research has led me to Italy. There is something so compelling about the Italian way of life. After all I am Italian and just because I don’t actually live in Italy doesn’t mean I can’t take a cue from my ancestors and live la dolce vita. I am not sure which impresses me more, the daily two-hour lunches or the value placed on spending time with family and friends.

Are Italians happier than Americans? Who really knows although I can say for myself that I feel much happier when I am not multitasking, worrying, overworking or drinking from a paper cup. For me happiness lies in my relationship with myself, the ones I love and my community. In my yoga class yesterday my teacher said “Greatness is not measured by what you get but by what you give.”

Next time you feel rushed, give yourself some extra love and remember to slow down. This is a discipline for me. It does not come naturally. Often times I have to remind myself to relax and enjoy the moment and to stop pushing for the next thing. My partner Michael is a master at living in the moment and enjoying life. He lives life like an Italian and luckily I get to bask in his Zen-like outlook. When we discussed the meaning of happiness a few days ago he said, “There are only so many days you have in this life and each day spent unhappy is a day you can’t get back.” That pretty much sums it up.

Here is a little inspiration for you. This is my great-grandfather Dominick Ezzo, lovingly known as Papa. He was born and raised in Italy. Doesn’t he look happy?

Breakfast Al Fresco: 5 tips

This weekend as you plan to spend time with friends and family consider enjoying breakfast outside at home. Dining al fresco is one of my very favorite things to do. Start your day off with a delicious meal, great company, lots of coffee and maybe a mimosa or bloody mary.

Last Sunday I prepared a beautiful and simple breakfast and we enjoyed it in the backyard under the silver maple tree . We started with chilled organic watermelon slices before the main course. An appetizer for breakfast is a great way to surprise guests and it is always a good idea to serve fruit for breakfast.

Here are 5 tips for a perfect al fresco breakfast:

1. Mix your textiles. Pair a neutral tablecloth with beautiful punch colored cloth napkins. This is the time for lively and energizing color. I keep my napkins in color coordinated stacks and this way I can grab a grouping that go together and there is no need to match them perfectly. It is so interesting to pair napkins that carry the same colors across the table.

2. Use the fun dishes.  Why are you waiting to use that aqua serving dish? Bring it out for breakfast and delight your family and friends with something a little unexpected.

3. Keep the menu simple. After the watermelon, we dined on my famous scrambled eggs, sliced organic cherry tomatoes and toast. The meal took 5 minutes to prepare and everyone loved it.

4. Use a tray. This is my favorite tip for dining outside! I have several serving trays of various shapes, colors and sizes lying around my house. I use a tray to carry everything we need outside in one trip. When they are not in use they serve as beautiful decor on coffee tables and in the kitchen.

5. Take the extra time to stage a floral centerpiece along with the newspaper. If your kids are coming to the table place one of their favorite activities within reach. This way everyone can enjoy a little quiet time between conversations.

Bonus tip : Lastly, have fun! Dining outside is a great way to enjoy the moment and start the day. Once you are finished shake the crumbs off the tablecloth and pile everything up on the tray. Remember to keep entertaining easy and it always will be perfect.