Loco Moco… Tales of an Epic Brunch Party

Food War Brunch Brunch Group
The Brunch Edition of the Food War / Food Throwdown Party took place last Sunday.  For those unfamiliar with the dinner party concept that my good friends Katina and Justin started, it’s basically an episode of Chopped meets Top Chef played out among friends and fellow foodies.  [READ HERE for the specific event details & rules.]  From these parties, I somehow managed to  earn a Simon Cowell reputation for my harsh honest critiques, and am constantly asked to put my money where my mouth is by entering a challenge and preparing a dish.   I have only entered one previous challenge where my Peanut Butter Chicken Chili tied for the top spot.  Truth be told, I will only enter any contest if I know that I will come out victorious on top, hence why I never participated in the homemade pasta and Moroccan challenges.

My friends Jaime and Jaden put so much work into hosting these parties at my dream their house, and creating such fabulous dishes, that it would only be fitting that I participate in this edition.  So the challenge was on: contestants must prepare a Brunch Dish, savory or sweet and not limited to specific ingredients, to be critiqued by all guests, but ultimately selected as the winning dish by chosen judges.  The cocktail challenge: to create the ultimate Bloody Mary, not limited to specific ingredients.  Being that I can barely properly pour a beer, I stuck with preparing a Brunch dish for the challenge.

I have a reputation with my friends and co-workers for not knowing how to cook, solely because I may dine out often.  Truth be told, I am a fine, young cannibal chef in the kitchen, and when I throw down, I throw it the @#$! down.   For my brunch dish, I knew that I wanted to create a hearty dish.  I also knew that I wanted to prepare something from Hawaii or Samoa that didn’t involve spam.  (And yes I can make that joke!)  Although, I may have lost this Food War, I am very proud of my dish and had quite the challenge with all of the wonderfully prepared and delicious dishes.  I am looking forward to DESTROYING Jaime and Jaden participating at the next challenge.

Sunday afternoons don’t get much better than spending it with old friends, new friends, enjoying delicious cocktails and homemade food.

 

Here were the brunch dishes entered at this Food War / Throwdown: 

Food War Brunch Dish 02

Jessica & Amber’s Dish:  Peruvian fish ceviche  made with lime, onions, spicy peppers, fresh cilantro, and served with a sweet potato round and toasted corn kernels

 

Food War Brunch Dish 03

Lauren’s Dish:  Homemade almond, raisin monkey bread  served with creme anglaise

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Food War Brunch Dish 01

Areis’s Dish:  Southwest stuffed breakfast pepper – stuffed with eggs, spinach, potatoes, pepper jack cheese, and topped off with black beans, pickled onion, pickled jalapenos, avocodo scallions, and sour cream

 

Food War Brunch Dish 04

The Best Dish in the Universe My Dish:   Hawaiian Loco Moco: coconut beef patty and brown tapioca gravy served over steamed jasmine rice, topped with a fried egg and bacon crumble

 

And of course for the WINNING DISH:

 

Food War Brunch Dish 05

Jaime & Jaden’s Dish:  Sweet potato hash, tossed in a spicy curry and sundried tomato sauce, topped with an olive oil poached egg, bacon crumble, and fresh herbs, and served with a gin, honey, simple syrup, ginger liqueur, fresh lemon juice topped with an IPA.

 

Food War Brunch Winners Judges Food War Brunch Winners

 

A HUGE CONGRATULATIONS to Jaime and Jaden for not only winning the Brunch Challenge, but for also winning the Bloody Mary Challenge.  And yes… they won Trophies for their victory.  We foodies take these challenges very seriously!

A SPECIAL THANK YOU to Nicholas and Allison with NHIE Tampa Bay, who judged the Brunch Portion, and were amazing troopers for putting up with my bribery, harassment, extortion tactics  allowing me to call them un-American graciously being a part of this challenge.  Be sure to check out their amazing NHIE: Never Have I Ever – Tampa Edition BLOG online at:  www.nhietampabay.com

 

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The RITZ Ybor Photos: Machine Gun Kelly

MGK 2014 A MGK 2014 B

Machine Gun Kelly at The RITZ Ybor
on Saturday, July 19, 2014
Photos by Nicole Abbett

Check out more photos online RIGHT HERE.

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The RITZ Ybor Photos: Phantogram + Shaun White

There’s something to applaud about Tampa when a concert rightfully sells out!  It restores my faith in this city having exceptional taste in music, and gives me hope that other fantastic artists and musicians will take note and head down this way to perform.  Last night’s SOLD OUT Phantogram wih Bad Things concert at The RITZ Ybor was simply put… FUCKIN’ AWESOME!  An even bigger bonus when the music artists are just as cool and genuine as you would hope them to be.

Phantogram 2014 Shaun White 2014

SOLD OUT! Phantogram with Bad Things at The RITZ Ybor
on Sunday, June 29, 2014
Photos by Nicole Abbett

Check out more photos online RIGHT HERE.

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The RITZ Ybor Photos: Cut Copy

Cut Copy Okie

 Cut Copy at The RITZ Ybor
on Tuesday, June 14, 2014
Photos by Nicole Abbett

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Check out more photos from Cut Copy with CLASSIXX + Nile Delta at The RITZ Ybor online: CLICK HERE

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Happy Everyday

My good friend Katina urged me to attempt the 100 Happy Days Challenge that she and numerous other participants have been posting about.  So, I visited and read the website.  I recognized and understood the concept.  Hats off to her and anyone else playing along with the challenge, because it really seems to be one of the more genuine and harmless social media gimmicks flying around out there.  I definitely am not knocking it, but for me, it’s (simply put) just not me.  Just as I loathe those silly website lists telling me what 20 places I need to visit before I die, or those ludicrous and annoying personality quizzes that “determine” which Real Housewife, 80s Pop Star, 90s Rock Star, Hollywood Movie Star, Boy Bay member I am based on my answers to 5 brainless questions… my happiness, my personality, and my future will never be validated, defined nor governed by any website.

HOWEVER… Katina was ON to something, and her enthusiasm with how the 100 Happy Days Challenge has inspired her wound up inspiring me.  I DO need to quit making the excuse that I am too busy to find time to spend with old friends.  I DO need to make more of an effort to stay in touch with others outside of the realm of social media.  I DO need to always remember that I have a pretty awesome life, and to be grateful for its privileges and the individuals living in it with me.

I didn’t quite make 100 days, but I did document the last 7 days that were pretty damn magical.

2014 Edison Okie Steven Dinner

Happiness:  having dinner with one of your best friends

2014 Filthy Richard Okie Jamal Areis Traye

Happiness:  a sudden night out on the town with your boys

2014 Ybor Wine Bar Okie Linley

Happiness: enjoying a long-overdue dinner, movie and wine night with a loved one

2014 GD Okie Neil Jason Areis2014 GD Okie Cody Areis Jason

Happiness: acting as if not one day has passed when reconnecting with your travel crew and best friends from Chicago and New York

2014 GD Okie Dani Steven 2014 GD Okie Nathan Dani Steven Carlos2014 GD Okie Will O

Happiness: randomly running into old friends when in another city

2014 Oxford Exchange Hyacinth Robby Jason Charles Areis

Happiness: when a best friend visits and wants to meet for brunch

2014 Rooster Till Katina 2

Happiness:  nearly ordering the entire menu when dining with a best friend

2014 Little Dragon Group

 Happiness:  experiencing a concert with loved ones
Happiness Bonus:  when the presence of a photo bomber makes you smile

Cheers to #100daysofhappiness A LIFETIME of happiness.

“The world is ours, and no one can take it away except the exhaustion of enjoying it so much.” -my friend Michael Maurer

“Inner Smile” by Texas:  After all these years, this song still makes me feel happy!

 

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The RITZ Ybor Photos: Neon Trees

When a band you admire is playing in your town, you get excited.

When that same band you admire is playing at your job, you get super excited.

When that same admired band playing at your job are friendly, super cool, and genuine individuals, you take a photo with them.

But what happens when that same admired band of friendly, super cool, and genuine individuals just put on a show at your job that knocked your socks off?

…you first buy new socks, and then you relive the experience through their music and the evening’s photos.  WHAT AN AMAZING SHOW Neon Trees put on at The RITZ Ybor in Tampa last Wednesday!  Don’t miss their Pop Psychology Tour on the road this summer.

Neon Trees 14 A Neon Trees 14 B Neon Trees 14 D Neon Trees 14 E Neon Trees 14 F Neon Trees 14 H Neon Trees 14 I Neon Trees 14 J Neon Trees 14 K Neon Trees 14 L Neon Trees 14 M Neon Trees 14 Okie A Neon Trees 14 Okie B Neon Trees 14 Staff A Neon Trees 14 Staff B

Neon Trees at The RITZ Ybor
on Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Photos by Nicole Abbett

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Pride & Passion 2014: an avant garde wedding

Yet another Pride & Passion event gone by!

In its 8 years, the event has slowly transformed into a fashionable night out downtown to dress up and party.  This year’s theme was an avant garde wedding celebrating the union of art + community + diversity.  I decided to play with the theme, and turned the pimp factor level up a few notches when dressing as my interpretation of an avant garde groom.  And that’s one of the many things that I love about Pride & Passion: how one can be decked out in leather and fur with opera goggles in Florida during the summertime, and not one person bats an eyelash at the ridiculousness of it all.  Pride & Passion is a night to play dress up, and an evening to play with one’s Uncle Karl Lagerfeld André Leon Talley Okie Fierce alter ego.

However, the true importance of this event is the $75,000.00 net that was raised from just one evening for the Tampa Museum of Art, its exhibits and community programs.  As an avid supporter of the arts and of Tampa raising its profile, I applaud this year’s Chairs Kevin Reder and Rick Scherer, the Museum staff, and the Pride & Passion steering and host committee for a spectacular event.

P.S.  Next year, I plan to dress even more ridiculously!

Photos courtesy of Nicole Abbett, Owen Hunt Photography, Todd Montgomery and Nicholas Cardello.

PP2014 Group 02PP2014 CrowdPP2014 ModelsPP2014 Okie GroupPP2014 Rick Crystal Kevin#PP2014TampaPP2014 Okie Aneta Jose 02PP2014 Areis GroupPP2014 GroupPP2014 Uncle KarlPP2014 Okie NicolePP2014 Wedding ModelsPP2014 Okie Kevin JessPP2014 Jaime Jaden 02PP2014 Mike Neil DancingPP2014 WindowPP2014 Museum Lights#PP2014Tampa#PP2014TampaPP2014 Okie ShanePP2014 Okie Jocelyn Jose#PP2014TampaPP2014 Okie KaliPP2014 Okie KristinPP2014 Corina
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“I Can’t Keep Up” by Tourist featuring Will Heard:  There’s just something in the way that Will Heard sings SANGS this song that does something to my soul.  When the frenetic pace changes up at the 3:00 mark, the song becomes pure, unadulterated audio ecstasy.

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Big Guava Music Festival 2014

Big Guava 14 Okie Balloon

The first annual Big Guava Music Festival (literally) stormed through Tampa Bay May 2 thru 4, 2014!  My prayers had been answered for this was my city’s first true music festival (besides the Sunset Music Festival), and the closest thing to Coachella to hit Tampa Bay shores.  The stormy weather may have hindered attendance the first two days, but Big Guava ended on a sunny, high-note by the third and final day.  Regardless of weather conditions, the residents of Tampa Bay need to WAKE. THE. HELL. UP!… and take advantage of such a fantastic music festival taking place in our backyard.  Coming from someone who works in the live music and concert industry, the challenge in bringing music acts to even perform in this state is difficult.  When a line-up such as this year’s Big Guava line-up is created, you get up off your couch, you buy tickets, and you attend.

As with anything new in this city, it’s just going to take time for Big Guava to reach the heights of success that it rightfully deserves.  Upon hearing Live Nation’s announcement for plans to present another Big Guava Music Festival next year, I let out a sign of relief that my prayers had once again been answered.  Hopefully, my prayers of Tampa proving not to be such a basic city will be answered when its citizens come out in droves to next year’s fest.

So enough of my tirade.  I now present, and in no particular order, my TOP 5 FAVORITE PERFORMANCES at this year’s Big Guava:

 

Magic Man:  There I was lying in a hammock in the Craft Beer Chill Zone at Big Guava, lounging until the next act I planned to see took the stage.  To find an available hammock in any of the Craft Beer sections at Big Guava was like finding the Holy Grail.  So when you happened to find an available one, you jump on it and rest on it as long as you can because this lethargic opportunity of downtime may not come back around again.  For me to abandon my hammock to check out the catchy music that was coming from the nearby Grove stage just goes to show what an electrifying band Magic Man are live.  Lead singer Alex Caplow stole the show, and (simply put) KILLED his band’s set with his Jagger-esque energy and moves, and vocals that soared thru the Fairground fields.  I wasn’t familiar with the pop rock band from Boston before Big Guava, but they have now become a regular staple on my Spotify.

 

 

Outkast:  The biggest disappointment of this year’s Coachella was hands-down Big Boi and Andre 3000’s much-hyped reunion.  There was no connection at all from the duo to their songs, or to the audience.  The flamboyant Andre 3000, sporting un-Andre 3000 attire comprised of a cap, hoodie and denim overalls, came across as drained, uninterested and depleted of his usual pizzazz.  The energy in the desert was a mixture of confusion and exhaustion, both from Outkast and the masses of festival-goers that began to rapidly thin out.  I cringed when Andre 3000 asked the Coachella audience if they were still there, and if they were tired.  By the time the duo performed the classic “Hey Ya!,” it was too late, for only a 1/4 of the audience that were originally lined up to see their set still remained to shake it like a Polaroid picture.  And barely did they do that.

So to my delight, Outkast invaded the Big Guava stage on their one and only Florida appearance and owned it.  The real Andre 3000 had returned, with a platinum-blonde wig and the funky, outrageous persona we’d come to love and expect.  The packed house sang along to every song, and gave the boys from Atlanta a true dirty South, warm welcome back.  After all, Outkast FINALLY proved that they were indeed back!

 

 

St. Lucia:  Jean-Philip Grobler makes the kind of music that reminds me of the breezy ballads from the 1980s that were sung by Sting, Phil Collins and Christopher Cross.  There’s a precise beauty to the way his distinctive voice sings melodies against a synthpop beat.  It’s polished.  It’s calming.  It’s cool.  Imagine how surprised I was to see his ability to also command a dancefloor as aggressively as he did when he performed the disco-fied “September” which may as well have been an ode to Dead or Alive.  St. Lucia‘s performance was commanding enough to even persuade Alex Caplow from Magic Man to let loose and dance in the middle of the festival crowd.

 

 

Chance The Rapper:  One of my absolute favorite thrills at any music festival is accidentally coming across a really amazing artist’s set, enjoying it, and thus becoming a new fan.  I was only inside of the Nectar Stage venue to cool off and sit down.  Chance The Rapper just so happened to be performing on the Nectar Stage.  Unlike Magic Man, I was actually familiar with Chance the Rapper, but his music never initially grasped me.  Truthfully, I never really gave his music a chance after his audacity to bring Justin Bieber as his surprise guest performer at this year’s Coachella.  No bueno Chance, no bueno.  So I sat down in the only air conditioned part of Big Guava, sipped on my beer, and could not help but be seduced by Chance The Rapper’s music, stage presence, and the way the near full-house was hooked and mesmerized.  Okay, Chance, you got me.  I’m a fan.  Just please, no more Justin Bieber guest performances until he gets his life together.

 

 

MS MR:  This New York duo’s Secondhand Rapture album was an honorable mention on my annual Top Albums of Year List for 2013.  Their dark indie rock sound may have been a noticeable contrast to being the earliest and very first performance on a very sunny Florida day, but MS MR brought along enthusiasm, spirit and soul to their set.  Vocalist Lizzy Plapinger’s scratchy yet soulful voice is what instantly reeled me in to liking MS MR, and it is an instrument that did not disappoint in a live setting.  A small bonus for seeing them live was me FINALLY learning how to pronounce their name.  All this time, I referred to them as “M. S. M. R.” when they their actual band name is pronounced “Miss Mister.”

 

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…until next year’s  Big Guava!

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The RITZ Ybor Photo: Mogwai

Mogwai 2014

Mogwai at The RITZ Ybor
on Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Photo by Nicole Abbett

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