Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year Forecast

It is fun to get a planetary glimpse of what lies ahead as everyone looks forward to all that the New Year will bring. Susan Miller is a world renowned astrologer with a website called Astrology Zone which offers free monthly forecasts online for every sign. You can help support her Astrology Zone writing if you enjoy the free forecasts by subscribing to her daily forecasts (also available for your cell phone for a small fee by sending text AZP to 75777), or her podcast.

For the next two weeks (until January 15, 2009), you can get a free audible download of your horoscope onto your iPod, MP3, or computer. She also offers calendars, T shirts, and personalized charts, so even if you are not interested in astrology, you can offer a gift to someone who would like to receive Susan's in depth masterful work.

May the New Year bring you all more happiness than you can imagine.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Diamond New Year

If you don't have plans for the New Year yet, you might want to start it off with a Diamond; Neil Diamond is performing in Las Vegas at the MGM on January 2, 2009.

Because tourism to Vegas has been so slow lately, MGM is offering a really great deal if you book your stay with them to go to the concert; $184.99 for two nights AND two premium tickets to the show! Just call them at 800-929-1111 and give them code MKT213 to take advantage of this deal.

It's not often that you can get a Diamond for two for under $200!

Monday, December 29, 2008


After several hours of loading and sending all my holiday pictures to my friends, I got frustrated; after all, why reload and resend the same pics to everyone when I could just post a photo gallery and have everyone simply link to see their pics?

Kodak has a free gallery feature which allows you to upload ONCE (yeah!) and send the link to everyone on your email list (the storage is free for a year as long as you make one purchase a year). It takes awhile to load, but since you only need to do it once, it saves time in the long run. There is even software that allows you to upload pictures from your camera phone into a gallery. All this is FREE and there is a handy Firefox toolbar installation that allows you to upload pictures directly from your browser.

If you want actual prints, you also get discounted prices (and a free offer for 75 prints when you sign up for the photo gallery). If you want your own printer, they have a new printer called the ESP3 which sells for only $129, prints, scans, and copies, and best of all the ink cartridges cost about HALF of what cartridges for other printers cost ($10 for black, $15 for color), so again, in the long run, you save money.

Holiday pictures the easy way; now if I can get get someone to do the photography too...

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Par Bar

It's not often that a sports snack tastes good and is good for you; even better if it is meant to sustain you through a long activity, like 18 holes of golf. A sport nutritionist and registered dietitian named Sarah Walker, created Par Bars and Sun Valley bars for anyone who wants something good to keep their bodies going without a sugar and caffeine buzz.

Flavors include Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Chocolate Chip, Cranberry Almond, and Goji Lemon. All the bars are made with raw seeds, organic oats, and nuts; they are recommended for people with type II diabetes, and they contain nearly 10 times the potassium found in a serving of Gatorade!

The bars cost about $2 each and they are running a discount on boxes where you can save 25-45% off samplers of all or certain flavors. Since there are no preservatives in the bars, they are best if consumed within 9 months, but I bet you will deplete your supply before the "best by" date even comes close!

It's nice to have something that is good for you actually taste good!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Soul to Sole

It is getting to be that wonderful time of the year, when sales start appearing on all the items you wanted for Christmas but did not receive. In this slow economy, stores at the beach are struggling to stay afloat until the weather warms.

Every January I head down to Laguna Beach to visit my best friend Cindy, and to shop at all the stores which have "local" sales; about the only people in town and shopping in January at the beach are the locals, so the savings are a nice bonus for being an all year resident.

Soul to Sole has two locations within walking distance of each other in Laguna; the Beach Street store has the higher end designer merchandise, while the Coast Highway store has a little of everything, including the funky fads that are a one season or one occasion buy.

The little local secret is that the second week of January the Coast Highway store has a $12 shoe sale where nearly every pair (a few window display items are $50) is $12. Yes, you read that correctly. The shoes range from Jeffrey Campbell, to Kors and Blowfish; designer shoes which retail for about $100 normally, so we are not talking about the ugly, cheap, hurt your feet shoes that are truly only worth $12. A bargain is only a bargain if you receive value and use from your purchase.

So act like a local this year and head to Laguna for some very satisfying sole food.

Friday, December 26, 2008


Do you take so many pictures with your digital camera that you could make your own flip movie book*? Are you a frustrated Director who wishes you had the time and energy to actually learn how to produce your own high quality video? Do you need to create a professional presentation for your product or company, but don't have the funds to hire a video production company? Do you have a family get together coming up where you would like to show everyone the birthdays, sports games, or entertaining moments from your life?

Animoto is the answer to all the above questions. And best of all it is free to produce your own 30 second video clip; of course you can upgrade to get more time or get a business package for ongoing professional needs. The program allows you to put together your photos into a video and the software will automatically sync music to go with the flow to create a unique video. A nice bonus is the music is already set to be used without you having to worry about the rights to use it. It's easy and looks great because it was created by people who used to do television and film work.

Easy and free; it's the best of all worlds.

*For those of you too young to remember, we used to have books of pictures that you literally flipped to create a kind of mini movie.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas!

May you all receive more than you wish and live with more ease, peace and happiness than you can imagine.

This year's gift went to Amnesty International, so that people everywhere may know peace, freedom, ease, and happiness.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Laptop LoJack

Wouldn't it be nice if your laptop had a system that works like LoJack for cars? Wouldn't it be nice if it could actually take a picture of the thief to help you and law enforcement capture the culprit? Wouldn't it be nice if all this was free? It must be Christmas (actually it's Christmas Eve, but that is close enough), because all this IS free and available through Open DHT.*

Adeona (Adeona is the Roman goddess of safe returns) was developed by some very smart Ph.D students and faculty at the University of Washington as part of an academic research project to provide everything you always wanted for your laptop security. It works as a download that only the owner can access, tracking the IP address and location of your laptop, all while remaining invisible to the user. If your laptop is a MAC, it will even take photos of your thief with the freeware tool isightcapture.

Christmas is early this year!

*I would recommend that you wait for the new enhanced version they are working on, due to be released soon; sign up for their RSS update feed so you can get it as soon as it comes out.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tofu Ya

Trying to find a good Asian restaurant open all afternoon is one of those challenges that tests both my compassion (the restaurant workers should get a break) and my low blood sugar (I must eat regularly or I begin to shake).

Thankfully, there is Tofu Ya on Sawtelle, open all day and evening from Monday through Thursday (they are closed Friday to Sunday). As their name implies, they have plenty of options for vegetarians with various versions of Soon Tofu, a literally boiling hot bowl of soft tofu with a mild to spicy sauce, into which a raw egg (which cooks immediately in the hot broth) can be added. All the tofu dishes are served with typically Korean side dishes like kimchee, bean sprouts, clear rice noodles, rice, spicy cucumbers, and a tofu skin salad. The Seafood Soon Tofu, with shrimp, clams, and oysters, in a satisfying spicy soup, was perfect for a cold rainy day. For meat eaters, they offer Korean BBQ (cooked for you and brought out to your table), from the tender and tasty Galbi, to the boneless Bulgogi, all served with the same side dishes and a hearty accompaniment of sliced raw onions.

The service was very friendly and efficient, even though they only had 2 people serving and clearing dishes for the entire restauran (and they were full). The waitress said it is even busier at night so come by for lunch (they have discounted lunch specials if you get there by 1pm) and enjoy some of the best Korean food on the Westside.

Monday, December 22, 2008

I Go U Go

I like to research before I travel and I Go U Go offers worldwide guides in an easy to navigate form, including a place where users post their pictures and thoughts on their trip. Even though I love to travel, I haven't been able to get away as much as I would like lately, so it's nice to have other people who have been (or live) where I haven't been, writing about the hotels, restaurants, and tips for their locations.

I Go U Go is like Tripadvisor with more options on entertainment, events, and personal anecdotes. The database has more than 8,000 destinations, and after looking over the Los Angeles section, I found that the restaurants mentioned are good choices, not tourist traps, and the hotels span the range from five star to inexpensive airport motels. They also have a handy compare tool for airfares and hotel rates which links to the major travel sites (Orbitz, Hotwire, Kayak, etc.) so that you can put in your desired date and destination while they search the rates.

Center'd is like a community bulletin board for various cities all over the US, so whether you are traveling or staying home, it's a nice resource for what is going on wherever you find yourself. They have a listing of holiday events that I found helpful just around Los Angeles, from where to find carolers to how to get tickets to the Tournament of Roses Parade.

It's always good to get information on a place where you don't know anyone; it's like having a friend show you around town to the hot (or cool) spots while avoiding the dangerous (or merely boring) ones.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Best Prices on Hotels

It is hard to know what price to bid on a room, as anyone who has used sites like Priceline, knows. Where is the point at which you are able to get a hotel to accept your bid, yet still get the best deal? On Ebay, you can watch a few sales before bidding to see what the item ends up selling for before you bid, and now you can do the same thing with Bidding For Travel when you bid on Priceline; they will track the successful bids for you in the cities and neighborhoods you want so that you can see what price to bid on your trip. It's good to know that the Sofitel Beverly Hills accepted a bid of $115 (the regular rate is $335) for it's beautiful centrally located property across the street from the Beverly Center, and walking distance from Melrose Avenue.

If you don't like bidding, then go directly to the new hotels geared for budget conscious, but style savvy travelers, like the Jane in NYC, which offers single rooms with communal bathrooms for only $99 a night. There is even a deal in Paris at the new Club Med cousin, Mama Shelter in the 20th arrondissement, designed by Philippe Starck for only $114 a night.

Style and value don't have to be mutually exclusive concepts in hotels.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


I have always loved renting from VRBO (vacation rentals by owner) because I like having the options of an apartment in a city I am visiting; it makes me feel more like a native when I can shop in the local markets, and hang out in a living room as opposed to a hotel lobby with a constant stream of guests coming in and out.

Roomorama takes the concept of vacation rentals by owner to another venue. It takes the rental concept to rooms in a home or an apartment, like the original idea behind the B&B concept. One of the best benefits is the space for the money; a penthouse loft with floor to ceiling windows near Union Square was going for only $189 a night (about half of what a nice hotel room would cost in the same area).

If you have an apartment or home in a desirable area, you might want to swap through Home Exchange or Intervac, but I like renting without having to worry about someone in my home while I'm away.

Part of the price of a vacation is peace of mind and I don't mind paying that very modest price.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Santa Fe ReNew Year

The Inn at Alameda in Santa Fe has a deal for anyone who wants to start the New Year off with a discount and some pampering. From January 5-February 28, 2009, you can get three nights with daily breakfast, wine & cheese in the afternoon, and a 50 minute massage (per person for a double room) for only $447 (that works out to $149 a night, or $74.50 per person per night).

For discounts to more places, check out Travel-Ticker which compares hotel, air, and package deals; they recommend which one to book for the best value. One of their best deals is a 6 night stay at the Hotel Waldorf in Rome including air from NY for $699 per person (taxes not included). For a bargain close to home, they also had the Fairmont in Scottsdale for $149 a night (a 45% discount).

No matter where you decide to go, it's good to have options for this year and the next, so have a Happy ReNew Year!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Pets on Vacation

Since I don't have a pet (or live plant), I am free to travel anywhere, any time I wish, but many of my friends have pets and must plan their trips by factoring in someone to pet sit or find a place that will accommodate pets. Even Oprah has based her stays at certain hotels on whether or not they will allow her dogs to stay with her, so places which cater to pets on vacation are an invaluable service (her hotel chain of choice is the Four Seasons).

Best Friends Pet Care has boarding facilities all over the US from San Diego to Florida, with concentrations in popular family destinations, like Walt Disney World Resorts in Florida. They offer a wide range of choices from private doggy suites to cozy kitty condos. For a small daily fee they will even give one on one private play times tailored for your pet from active ball tossing to cuddling for older pets. If you live near one of their locations, you can also take advantage of their doggy day camp, grooming and training options.

If reincarnation exists I want to come back as one of Oprah's dogs, or at least as a dog who gets to stay at a place like Best Friends Day Care.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Pssst! Wanna get a big fat check for shopping online at places you already shop?

Go to Ebates and sign up (you get $5 just for signing up for the service). I checked out the stores which are part of their network and although some of the rebates at their partners are nominal (like 6% cash back on Disney), rebates at places like Drugstore or Petco, are at a 10-12% rebate, and over time that can save you a nice sum. If you shop for necessities that you use daily, weekly, or monthly online, you might as well do it through a site that gives you money back for some of what you spend. The most impressive rebates were for products that I rarely see discounted, like A/X, Godiva, Sephora, and Dean & DeLuca, all at 8% cash back. They even have Murad products at 11% cash back, and they have additional coupons to save on specific products. They accumulate your savings until you reach $5.01, then send you a check within three months of your purchases.

There are exceptions to qualifying purchases, so read the rules before you buy, and don't assume that you are getting credit on everything (he basic exceptions are if you order directly from the company without going through Ebates, or for certain name brands which are excluded from qualifications).

Consumer Reports rated this site as the best for rebates that actually pays, so shop and get paid for it!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Paris Pastry

Rarely does it get cold enough here in Los Angeles to warrant putting on warm boots and scarves, but this week we will get to use our umbrellas, cold weather clothes, and heaters. The cold, gray, and rainy weather right now makes me homesick for Paris in the Winter, and one of my favorite things to do in these kind of times is to get a steaming cup of hot chocolate and savor a flaky buttery croissant.

These days there are a few places that offer very nice croissants all over the city, from the ubiquitous Pain Quotidien cafe to the ones at the Urth Cafe. But when nothing but the best will do, it is time to head over to Paris Pastry. There is a reason why they are the supplier of choice for breakfast menus at the many high end restaurants around town. Their croissants are delicate, flaky, rich, and light, all at the same time. One or two will definitely do for one person. Good things should be shared, so you might want to invite your friends to a very luxurious breakfast party with choices from the bakery case which include brioche buns, pain aux raisins, and of course pain au chocolat.

The most difficult part of breakfast will be deciding when it is time to actually go back out into the rain to start the day; who says breakfast can't last all day?

Monday, December 15, 2008

St. Thomas Getaway

My friend Donna retired to St. Thomas in the USVI years ago with her husband and daughter. It is a great way to live an island life with all the amenities of the US.

Since Donna worked in Real Estate here in California, she started dabbling in Real Estate in St. Thomas, and she now has two vacation rentals there starting at only $80 a night! As she says, it may not be a luxury hotel, but their studio has free WiFi, cable tv, DVD player, telephone, beach towels, linens, double size murphy bed, coffee maker, toaster, stovetop, silverware, microwave, and a refrigerator; the 2 bedroom, one bath option sleeps six and (starting at $100 a night) offers every room a spectacular view of the Caribbean Sea.

On a clear day you will be able to see St. Croix. Each morning and evening you can watch the cruise ships as they sail in and out of the harbor. Walk out your back door to the pool and deck to have fun in the sun.

Now that airfares are so affordable to the USVI, go visit my friend Donna, she will make your stay comfortable and fun. She may even convince you to retire and become her neighbor!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

An Apple Berry Better World

It is the middle of the holiday party season, the time to put on the sparkly clothes, high heels, and festive smiles. What outfit would be complete without a classic red lipstick? What if you could buy a lipstick (for only $13) which donated 100% (yes, ALL) of its' profits from the sale to change the lives of women and girls around the world? You can help create a brighter safer world by putting your money where your mouth is and sending a kiss of support to someone who needs it.

Mary Kay is already famous as a company founded by a woman to help women become financially independent, but it is also a company committed to ending domestic violence. All the profits from the sale of their Apple Berry Creme Lipstick will go towards funding educational programs and providing Break The Cycle DVDs to teach teens and young adults how to build better and healthier relationships for themselves and within their communities.

The world can be made just a little bit better, one Apple Berry at a time.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Wynning Encore

The new Encore hotel is opeing this month and they are offering a deal in January 2009 for either the Encore or the Wynn. Use code RHHED07 and get either the Wynn for $129 a night or the Encore for $149 most days of the week (Friday & Saturday rates are an additional $30 per night respectively). As an added bonus, if you spend at least 2 nights, you can also take advantage of a $50 dining credit with the code EXPDINE.

For everyone who loves the Wynn hotels (The Mirage, Bellagio, and Treasure Island were all built by Wynn before he sold them), this latest version will include 5 restaurants (one with walls which actually move and another named after Frank Sinatra), 7 bars, 11 retail shops, a nightclub, spa, and salon. The signature gardens and open naturally lit public spaces will once again be highlighted in this new resort.

They say practice makes perfect, I look forward to Steve Wynn's latest try at perfection.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Animal Rescue Site

During this season of giving, animals need help as well as people, and it's not often that you can help a charity without having to give your money, information, or more than a minute of your time.

The Animal Rescue Site is having trouble getting people to simply click on their site to meet their quota of getting free food donated every day to abused and neglected animals. It takes less than a minute (about 20 seconds) to go to their site and click on the purple box that says "fund food for animals". This doesn't cost you a thing. Their corporate sponsors and advertisers use the number of daily visits to donate food to abandoned and neglected animals in exchange for advertising.

Remember it's free, the site doesn't doesn't ask you for any personal information, and you can help feed and care for abused and neglected animals.

Here's the web site! Pass it along to people you know.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Lobster Dinner Deal

At the end of the year it seems there is always so much to do that cooking usually ends up taking a back burner to the plethora of preparations, from decorating to entertaining. It's nice to take a break and go out for a meal to savor a nice meal without the stress of shopping, preparing, and cooking a meal; all the better if the meal is healthy, tasty, and a good deal.

The Enterprise Fish Company has been around for so many years that I remember going there in the 1980's. It is still in the same place, right off Main Street in Santa Monica in a building that used to house narrow gauge streetcars, just a few blocks from Venice beach.

They have a fantastic deal on live two-pound Maine Lobsters on Monday and Tuesday nights; it is steamed in the shell and served it with hot drawn butter for dipping, clam chowder or tossed green salad, rice or potatoes and warm sourdough bread for only $29.95 (reg. $23.95/lb). If you want to go any other night, there is always a nightly special with choices of fresh fish like Mahi-Mahi or British Columbia Salmon, all served with two sides and upgrade options for under $25.

Their Happy Hour (Monday to Friday 4-7 pm & Sunday from 8-10pm) offers great deals on drinks and seafood, like oysters for only $1 each and beers for under $3. Their drink menu includes $9 Martini specialties for every taste from the puckery Peppertini (Absolut Peppar Vodka and pepperoncini juice) to the sweet Tiramisu (Skyy Vodka, Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur, Espresso Liqueur, and Bailey’s Irish Crème).

Eating, drinking and being merry before the holidays is always more fun when someone else does the cooking and cleaning for you; be sure to get someone else to do the driving for you too if you imbibe too much alcoholic cheer.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

World of Good

For anyone shopping for holiday presents, you can both save money and support fair trade by buying your gifts at World of Good. They have a wide selection of gifts from clothing to jewelry and ceramics. Their philosophy of fair trade extends to fair trade coffees and teas, packaged in gift sets with mugs or teapots.

Nubius Organics also offers clothing, shopping bags, and metal (reusable) water bottles with a green bent serving artisans and conscious consumers alike. Through Saturday, 12/13/2008 enter Coupon Code ECOTOYS at checkout to save 20% on kid's toys and accessories.

We can help create a climate of global awareness and responsibility by putting our money where our hearts lie. The gifts we give of time and of money reflect our values; spend what you have wisely.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Craig Ferguson

If you are a night owl like me, you probably know who Craig Ferguson is (a very funny Scottish actor who hosts a late night talk show), and you have watched his Late Late Show. The show airs at 12:35AM PST, so you can record it to your DVR or TiVo if that showtime is past your bedtime.

The first taping of a television show I ever went to see was Craig's show several years ago. Because I actually signed up and showed up on the reservation (which you can make and print online), I am now on the list for new shows which need audiences, and when the Late Late Show needs audiences, they contact me! It's nice to be wanted by a TV show, even if it is just to be in the audience. I loved the warm up comedian Chucky (who really does throw out free candy to the audience, just like Craig says in his monologue) because he makes the wait before the show so much fun, it's like going to see two shows.

Tapings are free (do NOT buy any tickets for a taping), and there is street or studio lot parking; since the studios are about one block from The Grove and Farmer's Market, you can have lunch or dinner before or after the show nearby. Going very early will only have you waiting at the gate because they do not allow you onto the CBS lot before the time marked on the tickets, but make sure that you allow time for traffic and parking. To save time coming out of the studio, leave your cell phones in your cars; the longest wait is the one to reclaim cell phones at the security gate outside the show.

I recently got an email requesting audience members for all of the Late Late Show tapings until the end of the year, so if you have relatives or friends in town for the holidays, go see a show and give them a true "Hollywood" experience.

You could be spending the end of the year with Craig Ferguson, so go enjoy his show!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Signing Time

If you thought that you could never learn how to use sign language, then watch Signing Time or buy their DVDs. You can do it; the stars of the DVDs range between 3 and 5 years old, and even younger children begin signing after just a few minutes.

Signing Time is both a show on PBS and a series of DVDs which teach American Sign Language. The show was created by the Colemans because their daughter Leah (now one of the stars of the show) was born deaf. They started teaching Leah how to sign as soon as they learned, and at 18 months, Leah's communication skills surpassed those of her peers. They made a DVD for their friends and family to teach them sign language so that they could communicate with Leah, and the rest as they say, is history.

Small children find it easier to communicate with signs than language; it improves and enhances their verbal skills. Maybe if we all learn how to sign, we can all learn how to communicate better.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Cards That Give

It's that time of year when those of us who still use snail mail to send Holiday Greetings begin our purchasing, writing, and mailing process. There is something really nice about receiving mail from someone who cares about you during the holidays, so I send out my wishes to all my friends and loved ones every year.

If you are like me and send out cards, you can buy cards that support a charity for this year's mailing from Cards That Give. You can pick the charity, cause, or design that you prefer from their list of charities (charities range from the ASPCA, to Heal the Bay, and the New York City Library) or from their gallery of designs. They include information about the percentage that actually goes to the charity and whether all or a portion of the card costs are tax deductible, so you can choose according to your own criteria.

I have a charitable tradition that I started about 10 years ago; I give an annual year end gift to a charity* instead of buying things for people I know (who get gifts from me all year). I write about my donation in all the cards I send out and encourage people to do the same instead of buying me a gift.

Start your own charitable tradition with just a card.

* This year my annual donation went to Amnesty International.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Secret Millionaire

I don't watch much television. Most of the time I simply have the television on the in the background as I am doing something else (like writing this blog); there are very few shows I follow, and even fewer which I make a point of watching on Hulu if I have missed an episode.

Since I write most week-end posts about something inspirational, the fact that I am writing today's post about the TV show Secret Millionaire is in and of itself a testament to how fascinating and inspiring this show is to me. The premise is that someone wealthy (sometimes a family) spends a week living on welfare wages without revealing their true identity, and at the end of the week they must give away at least $100,000 of their own money to people they have met during the week. In the two episodes I have watched, the millionaires have given away MORE than $100,000 and they have had epiphanies about their own judgments and lifestyles.

The show is a financial version of the Beauty and the Geek series, or the 30 Days series, where people from completely different circumstances learn from each other and help each other understand a foreign perspective. My friend Gloria suggested that perhaps we should have all politicians go through this kind of experience so that they know how their constituents live with the decisions they make; maybe someone could create the show Regular Citizen.

Consciousness can be an expansive experience, and in this case, the more the better.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Amandine Cafe

After our Asian lunch at Zu Robata yesterday, Cindy & I went next door to Amandine Cafe for a French dessert; we created our own version of a fusion lunch.

This cute cafe with two outdoor patios (one facing busy Wilshire Blvd., the other behind the cafe facing their small parking lot), offers beautiful slices of berry tartes, creamy lemon tartes, and various cheesecakes, pastries, and cakes. During breakfast and lunch hours, they also have a full menu of omelettes, sandwiches, and salads, so you can eat your meal here along with your dessert.

We tried the Tarte Citron (lemon curd) and the Tarte Rouge (raspberries and blueberries) and although we intended to only take bites, we ended up devouring both slices. The crusts are baked with real butter, the berries were fresh, and the creamy lemon curd was tangy without being too tart (how Cindy likes it). Even their hot chocolate and latte were made with skill (they do a barista design on their espresso with milk drinks).

They offer free WiFi, so this is a good spot to hang out while surfing or working; you can take a latte or cappucino break here anytime you wish by just going up to the counter for your caffeine or sugar fix.

Going to Amandine sure beats going to a library to study.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Zu Robata

I had lunch today at Zu Robata with my friend Cindy, and we were both very happy with everything from the efficient service to the delicious fresh food.

I like it when a restaurant reconfirms a reservation made several days earlier; it's a nice reminder for me and I get the chance to either modify the time or ask questions about the location when they call. Zu Robata called me this morning to confirm a lunchtime reservation and I remembered to ask directions while forgetting to ask about parking (street meters). Service during the meal was just as friendly and organized as the reception and reservation.

The food was presented with nice simple white plates that mirrored the freshness of the food. We had the mixed green salad, a sushi roll, and a sashimi bento box. All the fish was fresh and nicely plated; even the green tea rolls served warm before our meal with side dipping choices of their special duck butter (deliciously imbued with the flavor of five spice and duck) or citrus garlic oil, were good.

For meat eaters they have a Robata Grill of various meats like Lamb Cutlet with Garlic Kimchi Sauce and Daikon Quiche, or a Grilled Quail with Plum Wine Dressing. If you prefer your seafood cooked, try the Grilled Scallop Skewers with Chili-Garlic Sauce and Wasabi Peas, or the Salmon Tempura with Mixed Greens, Avocado, Chili Paste, and Ceviche Dressing. For a daring main dish try the Turbot (Eastern Halibut) with Yuzu Kosho, Wasabi Mashed Potatoes, and Mushroom Sauce.

The prices were very reasonable for the quality of the meal and the calm caramel colored space; they offer a daily lunch $20 Omasake for three courses and Bento Boxes starting at $12.

With the variety of creative offerings, the relaxing decor, and the very modest prices, Zu Robata is my list of places to revisit and retaste.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Online Outlets

If you are one of those who went out at 4am on Black Friday to shop, this post may help you get some beauty rest next year.

There are several outlet stores online which offer great deals without you having to get up before dawn and drive to a store. The beauty of outlet shopping online, especially when there are crowds galore and limited sanity, is that you get to shop the deals from your computer. No need to schlep from store to store looking for the best bargain; you do it all with a couple of clicks, and a cup of coffee, from the comfort of your home.

By now most people know about Overstock for everything under the sun (although the discounts vary greatly from very little to a great deal) and Bluefly for designer shoes and clothes. I recently discovered Outlet Buy and it's now on my list of go to places for everything from Dolce Gabbana and Fendi purses at 30-45% off retail, to Aerosole shoes at 56% off. If you sign up for their newsletter they give you an additional 10% off every order within a 60 day period, and their current holiday special offers another 15% off with the code HOLIDAY. I ended up paying $57 for a pair of leather boots from Aerosole that I saw in the store for $99. The discount is actually even better for those who live outside NY because there is no sales tax, and with free shipping and a 100% guarantee, you don't pay extra for the convenience of ordering online.

For those with a fatter wallet and some connections, get a member of Gilt Groupe to invite you to join; it is an by invitation only luxury apparel sample sale site which hosts about 20 sales a week with specific start and end times with everything going for flat rate discounts of up to 70%. One sale had a pair of Banfi Zambrelli boots that retail for $900 going for $250, or LuLu D.K Matouk linens for which retail for $1,400 selling for $560.

Designer shopping is a little less of a guilty pleasure if you do it at a deep discount while saving both gas and aggravation.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Dream Cars

With today's emphasis on finding alternatives to gasoline powered automobiles, it is heartening to know that by the end of next year there will be several sexy electric sports cars available; I know sexy and electric don't usually describe the same car, but in this case, they describe two cars built on a Lotus and a Porsche platform respectively.

The first one is a 100% electric sports car based on a Lotus platform called the Tesla. The Tesla goes from 0-60 in 3.9 seconds, uses no oil, goes 244 miles per full charge, and is already in production. They are building a plant near San Jose, CA to produce a sedan version due to be available by 2010. Yes, they are building a green car in a green plant here in California; that in and of itself is reason enough to invest (about $60,000) in this new car.

If you prefer a design based on a 911 Porsche, there is the eRuf, which goes from 0-60 in about 7 seconds, has a range of 200 miles, and goes up to 160 mph with only one gear. This model is made by Alois Ruf, who has been manufacturing Porsche based supercars for 31 years, so they know what they are doing. These are built in Germany with an estimated price tag of about $175,000, so save your Euros to get one when they become available in late 2009.

For everyone who wants to drive or own a sexy electric car, go take a tour of the Petersen Automotive Museum to give you some inspiration. As the makers of the Tesla and the eRuf know, to live it, you must first dream it.

Monday, December 1, 2008

My Virtual Puppy

I have never wanted a dog; even as a kid, the joys of playing with and petting a dog were far outweighed by just the idea of having to pick up dog poop everyday. I enjoy other people's dogs because I get all the benefits of a pet without any of the responsibilities. I now have a virtual puppy (which is about all I can handle), named Godiva and have been enjoying her so much, I wanted to share how I got her with anyone else who wants a virtual puppy.

By now nearly everyone has either a Facebook or Myspace account or both (I have both under the user name Elainetravels). My friend Darrin (a real friend, as in I actually have met and known him for more than 10 years) on Facebook introduced me to his virtual puppy, Dagwood, and asked me to adopt him, which in turn introduced me to the application Pokey created by Bonehead Labs. The application is slightly different on Facebook and Myspace, with the Facebook version offering more choices of puppies, and more general possibilities for play, so if you want more options, sign up for the Facebook version. Although the application takes awhile to load, once it is loaded, you can play smoothly (it has trouble loading on Firefox, but works fine on Safari or Explorer with the latest Flash Player).

In both applications, you can pet, play with (throw a frisbee or a tennis ball), feed, and decorate your pet's environment. (I have made my puppy an indoor pet with a nice bed and cute doghouse.) You get credit (bones) for having your puppy catch what you throw, for feeding your puppy, and for petting or feeding other pups. You can also earn bones by buying products or doing an endless customer survey, but I prefer simply having the puppies go fetch bones.

I learned that even even with a virtual pet, you must give it water and food every day, or it will get very thirsty and hungry. I guess even a virtual pet requires some responsibility, but that's ok because my virtual puppy is poop free, and that is only possible in a virtual world.