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A visit to El Carajo

Dirty words can be good sometimes...that is, when they have another meaning. To most who grew up speaking Spanish (myself included), one hears the word “carajo” (meaning crap or hell) used as a cursing exclamation, as in the phrase popular among my Cuban breed “Vete pa’l carajo!” (Go to hell). It's a risk when a business, moreover a restaurant where the last thing you want to taste is crap, appropriates the word as its own. But in this instance El Carajo, a Miami Spanish tapas and wine spot, the word grabs our off-put attention and then wafts it under our noses so we can wake up and smell the roses - the roses of meaning. The restaurant’s “carajo” refers to the lookout basket at the top of a Spanish ship's mast.

RESTAURANT 101
Booze, Brunch, and Bites at Huckleberry Bar
I always like a one stop shop and Huckleberry Bar, in the part of Williamsburg that has not yet been entirely consumed by gentrification and uber-emo trenders, is a gem. With a comfortable charm that feels both new and old, every walk is welcomed. And my walk was steadied by their selection of focused yet thoughtful food and drink. Thus my two visits, an evening and the subsequent sensible brunch, yielded fabulous edible finds for any time the clock tells - even for a slim wallet.
RESTAURANT 101
Brunch, Booze, & Bone in Brooklyn

What: Parsnip Yogurt Muesli with Fall Fruits ($7)

The most unassuming brunch item in my mind is yogurt. Yogurt is typically boring. Yogurt I can make at home. Yogurt is yogurt. But not this one. Made from parsnips (a certain first for me) it had the liquidy texture of kefir milk and the slightly sour bite that I love in Greek yogurt. The sweet touch actually came from crunchy homemade muesli clusters (asking to granola) with earthy flaxseed and oats, laying luxuriously with sliced banana and dehydrated persimmon slivers on that milky bed. Talk about a wet dream; every spoonful was a subsequent surprise. I never thought I'd say this (blasphemy!) but I'd take this yogurt over a poached egg any brunch day.

TRAVEL
FlipKey’s “Flippin’ Awesome Vacation Giveaway”

Flipkey.com, a top vacation rental site, is offering a week in three epic vacation homes and inviting the winner to stay in their selected home with up to 10 friends. These luxury homes put 5-star hotels to shame with their attention to detail, amazing amenities and unbeatable locations. Pick your favorite for your chance to win the vacation of your dreams!

Grand Prize: A 7-night stay in either Bali, Costa Rica, or Tuscany. The vacation includes lodging and $3,000 for expenses. The winner can invite up to 10 friends to join them.

RESTAURANT 101
Salon Hecho: This Cantina Knows a Good Cocktail
The recently opened Mexican cocktail bar offshoot of the successful Hecho en Dumbo restaurant, Salon Hecho brings the good cocktail to lower Manhattan. Owner Ethan Smith and his wife Monica Ramos (who is from Mexico) are married to Mexican authenticity, which is illustrated in the rapid boom of their once tiny taco shop in Dumbo, Brooklyn. It became too tasty for its own good and had to relocate three years later in 2010 to the grander space it now fits in the East Village. They soon felt the food needed a bar counterpart and thus, Salon Hecho was born this October.
HOW-TO
Fall for Sage-Infused Butternut Squash Soup

Fall is upon us, whether the weather wants to admit it or not. Thus the squash sweetness of the butternut variety must be put to good use. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, this recipe for my sage-infused butternut squash and carrot soup could not be more appropriate. Better yet, it's a quick one-potter, so no dirty dishes from this beautiful blend. Let the fall fragrances of cinnamon spice permeate your kitchen - even before November hits!

For 3-4 servings:

(Multiply the quantities for a larger batch; you can never have enough of this taste and it freezes well.)

  • 1.5 lbs butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 1 lb carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 sweet Vidalia onion, chopped
  • 20 oz. stock, chicken or vegetable
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 2-inch cube of fresh ginger
  • fresh sage leaves, whole
  • grated zest of 1 large orange
  • ground cinnamon, 2 tblspns
  • curry powder, 2 tblspns
  • garlic powder, 1 tblspn
  • roasted pumpkin seeds
CULINARY OCCASIONS
Who Took Home a Vendy Award this Past Weekend?

The contenders dished out their food truck best, and scores from audience and celebrity judges (Gayle King and Colin Quinn to name a few) were tallied. And the Vendy Goes to....

Dessert: Wolly's Shaved Ice

NJ: Taco Truck

Rookie: Korilla BBQ

Maker's Mark: Cinnamon Snail

People's Choice: Souvlaki GR

Vendy Cup: Solber Pupusas

Agreed on Korilla BBQ, with their amazingly seasoned "Eye of the Tiger" ribeye taco (best taco in the lot) and Cinnamon Snail, which in my book, made the best use of bourbon (aside from the VIP tent punch concotion) with their pillowy creme brulee bourbon doughnut. Other personal favorites were La Newyokina's inventively flavored ice pops like the rich "cafe con leche" and their sweet, salty, and spicy pineapple-jalapeno with chilli salt! Very honorable mentions go to Comme Ci Comme Ca's meditterranean cous cous bowls with your meat of choice (I choose the lamb sausage), and Jersey's Two Pitas in a Pod's elaborate tasting platter that included fluflly quinoa and the best falafel in the field.