Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays

May you all have a safe, healthy and wonderful holiday!

I will resume posting January 3, 2011

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Feast of the Seven Fishes

Many of you will be cooking your Christmas meal (I will), so it might be a wonderful idea to go to a feast on Christmas Eve where you do not cook or even have dishes to wash!

Il Grano is one of my favorite Italian restaurants in Los Angeles (previous post 1, 2, & 3), and in the tradition of Italy, they are serving the Fest of the Seven Fishes Christmas Eve for $85 per person (the regular menu will also be available).

Insalata di Mare
calamari, shrimp, clams & black mussels seafood salad
Insalata di Rinforzo
traditional pickled cauliflower salad
Baccala' all'Insalata
cod salad, Gaeta and Cerignola Olives, Parsley Leaf Salad
Baccala' Mantecato
cod crostino Venetian style
Cappesante ai Porcini e Tartufo
Hokkaido scallop, porcini mushrooms, shaved black truffles
Maccheroncini all'Aragosta e Tartufo
Maccheroncini, Maine lobster, cauliflower, shaved black truffle
Branzino alla Livornese
striped bass, tomatoes and caramelized onion sauce
Souffle di Panettone, Crema alla Vaniglia
Roasted Chestnuts

Buon Natale!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Gifts That Give To Others

Every year I give donations to organizations in lieu of material gifts to my friends and family for the holidays. I've been doing this for about 15 years now and yes I apply this practice to the children of my friends also, telling them what I am doing and encouraging them to do the same.

For those of you who want to take a baby step towards transitioning to a completely charitable holiday, you can buy some ornaments ($20-$30 each) designed by celebrities (or by you) at HSN, with proceeds that will go to St. Jude's Children's Research Center.

My donations this year went to Doctors Without Borders, Amnesty International, and Habitat for Humanity. Today I just learned of an organization which sends food/care packages to troops overseas called Jacob's Light, started by a mother who would send regular care packages to her son. When her son was killed, she continued to send care packages to soldiers who had no one to send them packages, or those stationed in remote areas without basic necessities like toothpaste or tampons. A philanthropist had given them some grants which will run out shortly, so if you can help, please do by volunteering, writing letters, packing, shopping, or giving them a donation.

Introducing the concept of charity to materialistic kids (or adults) may be met with confusion and resistance, but exposure to new ideas is how we grow. What traits would you rather grow than compassion and generosity? What better season to plant the seeds of charity than the holidays?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Soulfully Delicious Stevie's Creole Cafe

I've been to Stevie's Creole Cafe for lunch, but that was a year and a half ago (see my previous post here), and since I haven't had a chance to go back to New Orleans this year, it was time to go back to Stevie's for my Creole food fix. They are even more enticing now because they just added Chicken and Waffles to their extensive menu of Southern comfort food.

So on a cold and rainy night I met up with my Southern eating partner for some stick to your ribs hearty fare. We were greeted with hospitality and warmth by everyone in the place. As soon as we ordered, a piping hot basket of cornbread was delivered and devoured as we waited for our food.

I had to get the seafood gumbo again because it was such a stand out last time and it still packs the same gastronomic punch, packed with crab, shrimp, andouille sausage, chicken and rice, a cup of this hearty spicy concoction will warm your heart and your body. The wonderful sauce was so good that I wanted a cup of it to drink, but I settled for using a spoon to scoop into my mouth.

We decided to split the oxtails and the chicken and waffles so we could both have tastes of everything. The oxtails came with two sides, so my Southerner ordered the fried okra and collard greens. The okra was light and tasty, with just the right amount of spice in the crisp batter. The collard greens had a nice flavor, but needed some punch, so either some bites of the spicy pepper served with it, or some hot sauce sprinkled on it made it perfect. The oxtails were falling of the bone tender, served on a bed of rice, and the brown gravy covering them was fabulously rich accompaniment. A very nice version of oxtails.

The Chicken and Waffles was great! I have not yet been to Roscoes, so I can't compare, but the chicken was moist, the crust on the batter was crisp and perfectly seasoned. The waffles were better than the version most breakfast places serve, and there are TWO on the plate, served with three scoops of butter (I used one and scraped off the rest) and two sides of maple syrup. I don't see how anyone could finish this dish by themselves unless they are playing sports professionally.

We paid less than $60 for both our meals, including tax and tip and we were so full after eating that we simply lay back on the bench against the cushions and nearly fell asleep from the joy of a happy belly.

If you haven't been to New Orleans, go eat at Stevie's and you will want to go; if you have been, go to Stevie's to get your fix of soulfully delicious Creole in the San Fernando Valley anytime you want without having to go through LAX.

They also have live music, a happy hour, and a full bar, so even if you just stop in for some fun, go and enjoy this friendly casual cafe.

Stevie's Creole Cafe and Bar on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 20, 2010


There once was a bank that allowed you to round up your purchases to the nearest dollar and the difference would be saved into your saving account. A clever easy way to save, but what if you could use that concept and instead of adding a few cents to your own pocket, you could help someone in need?

Swipegood does exactly that, allowing you to choose what charity you want your money to go to, from getting internet access to people who need it, to providing clean water, or helping cancer victims. The list includes Donors Choose, so you have options to help fund projects and teachers also.

Right now you can only round up a few credit cards (American Express is one of the major ones), but they are adding new ones (Chase, Bank of America), and you can set a round up limit or put your round ups on hold at any time. You don't even have to have the rounded up donation charged the the same card you sign up to round up, and they tally the totals at the end of every month (most people average $20). Swipegood takes only 5% to cover their operating costs, so they are truly in business to make charitable giving easy.

Since you are shopping for gifts now anyway, why not give a few cents to those who need it the most? You won't notice the additional cents spent, but it could help make a change in someone's life, and that makes sense.

Friday, December 17, 2010

$99 Movie Colony

Want a last minute getaway before the end of the year? Palm Springs is only a 2 hour drive, but it feels like you've gone to another era in the deco inspired Movie Colony Hotel. Prices from now until Dec 31, 2010 are only $99 for ANY available room you book by calling them at 760-320-6340 and mentioning that you saw this email promo. Normal rates here go to $229 a night on week-ends, and they are easy walking distance to the heart of downtown Palm Springs.

They have accommodations with a pool, terrace, and fireside views, as well as a two level townhouse, so call them now if you want to end the year that could save you more than half off on a room that may save your sanity during this holiday season.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Free Prescription Glasses!

Coastal Contacts is doing it again FRIDAY December 17, 2010 (tomorrow) starting at 9am EST (that's 6am here in CA). If you missed their promotion last time for a free pair of prescription glasses, get yours now by either calling or ordering online using the promo code FREE4ALL. It took me about half an hour of trying online before I finally got the glasses I wanted (I paid a few dollars extra for the tint and UV coating), but yes these were FREE, all I paid was about $10 for shipping. I checked out the exact same frames elsewhere and they were selling for about $100. Having already taken advantage of the promo I can not partake again, but I do have a few tips for your who are patient enough to keep calling or keep trying online.

1) Make sure you have your current prescription and if you like your current glasses, have those in front of you so you can choose a similar model. The site has great explanations on what the tiny numbers/letters on the side of your glasses mean and you can have their system automatically pick a similar size/style.

2) Have a good mm ruler so you can measure the distance between your pupils if your prescription does not show that (mine didn't); watch the tutorial on how to get this measurement (with a mirror or a friend).

3) If you also wear contacts, order them at the same time as your glasses and get an additional 10% discount.

4) Go ahead and get all the extras you want, like tints, UV coating, progressives, transitions, or anti-reflective coating because all those prices are 50% off even with this promotion.

5) Share this promotion with anyone who has a current prescription, who has not already taken advantage of this promotion for free glasses before, and who does not live in your household!

6) Most importantly be patient, this is a really good deal which is why everyone is trying to get their free pair, so think of your time as what you are "paying" to get the glasses. I figured for my 30 minutes I got over $100 of value so that's not a bad pay rate; some designer glasses are worth even more (up to about $500) and yes, they are also free!

I got a confirmation email as soon as my shopping cart was processed (it took several tries) and my glasses came with a wonderful hard case, lens cleaner cloth, and a repair kit!

Good eyesight is a gift, but if you need glasses, Coastal Contacts is giving you a great gift!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Buenos Aires Grill

Argentina is as well known for the quality of their beef as Texas, but the twelve hour flight would mean leaving today for dinner tomorrow. A simpler solution is to go to Buenos Aires Grill in the San Fernando Valley (two locations) and order something you can eat within minutes instead of hours. After a day running errands, a friend and I decided we wanted to eat some beef, so we went to Buenos Aires (the Grill, not the city).

Our waitress Marcela was the epitome of fun, describing the dishes she liked with so much animation and zest that we had a hard time deciding what we wanted from the selection of specials and menu items. While we mulled over our choices, we munched on some delightful bread and a zesty tomato relish and a chimichurri sauce.

My friend decided on one of the specials, the short rib with garlic mashed potatoes, and when it arrived she gasped in delight when she saw the tender meat literally fall off her fork. This dish is the ultimate comfort dish for meat and potato lovers with a perfectly balanced sauce and absolutely delectable meat. there were wild mushrooms under the mashed potatoes which added even more rich luxury to this winter favorite.

I ordered the skirt steak done rare, hoping that in Argentina (and Argentinian restaurants) they understood rare to me is red in the center. I was thankful not only for the rare steak that arrived, but for the light seasoning which brought of the flavor or the meat without hiding it. The sauteed creamy spinach was a bit rich for me with parmesan cheese, but the tartly vinegared pimentos were a nice counterpoint to the meat.

With a glass of Malbec and a glass of Sangria, our entire meal was about $75 with tax and tip, a very good price for a very good meal of meat. We both took half our meals home, so the value in portion size makes this a wonderful deal. Add to that the absolutely fun server Marcela and this becomes a priceless dinner. Go to Buenos Aires soon, it is well worth the drive!

Buenos Aires on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Rack

When my friend and I were at the Westfield Mall in the San Fernando Valley, I saw a storefront that had a sign "Rack" and said to my friend, "Look there's a Rack here, let's go", thinking it was Nordstrom's Rack instead of The Rack restaurant. She told me it was a bar, so we were going to skip it, until we walked past and saw their menu with options ranging from burgers and sandwiches to ribs and fresh fish. Since we were both hungry and their menu included sides like collard greens and garlic fries, we figured it had to be better than the fast food inside the mall, so we sat down for lunch. Since they advertise that they serve the best Bloody Mary in the valley, I had to try one. It was not the best IMHO, but it was decent.

My friend ordered the cheese burger with guacamole and bacon (they forgot the bacon on the burger, but our waitress gave her an entire plateful once she told them). She ordered the collard greens and garlic fries as her two sides. The burger was huge and even though it was difficult to eat, she somehow managed to finish it. It was also nice to find that it was cooked to order exactly as she had specified (medium rare).

I chose the BLT with Turkey, (basically a club sandwich), also with collard greens and garlic fries. The collard greens tasted more like turnip greens, with a slightly bitter flavor, but they were nicely done with some spice and very tender. I loved the garlic fries which were crispy, and loaded with chopped garlic. The turkey was moist, and the tomatoes and lettuce were fresh, so this was a very good rendition of a club sandwich, even though it was so big I don't see how anyone could finish it unless they are a pro sports player!

Sometimes a mistaken identity can lead to a surprising find; we were happy to find The Rack was a restaurant that served very decent food at very moderate prices (our entire meal with drinks was only $40 for both of us). Service was very efficient and friendly, and if you come at night they have entertainment. We found out the reason the restaurant is named the Rack is because there are Pool Tables inside (we sat on the covered patio), so you can play a game of pool to work off your meal.

Rack at Westfield Promenade on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 13, 2010

Obika Mozzarella Bar

Although several of my friends are mozzarella aficionados (especially when paired with tomatoes in a caprese), I am not, so my decision to lunch at a Mozzarella Bar would seem to be a bit puzzling. Because I do like to try new places, and I am always intrigues by new concepts, I decided to try Obika, which advertises as the place to eat Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP, along with other authentic artisanal Italian products.

The display cases of Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP are stunning, and they offer tasting menus of the various types, so you can sample a bite of each (delicate, smoked, or creamy) with a sampling of salumi, olives, or grilled organic vegetables, or have it combined with smoked salmon, proscuitto, or bresaola. This is a perfect place to come for Happy Hour, since wines and some cocktails are 50% off from 4-6pm.

Since I saw that they have organic salads, I had to try the Tonno, made with Cured Tuna in Olive Oil, Baby Lettuce, Caperberries, Oven Baked Olives and Sundried Tomatoes for $13. The presentation was lovely, and it is served with a basket of artisanal breads that make this a complete meal. The tuna is the kind that you see in upscale grocery stores selling for $15-$30 a can, it was rich, tender and textured, unlike any US name brands. The amount of sun dried olives and caperberries was a bit overwhelming in proportion to the rest of the salad; I had to leave half of each untouched to enjoy a balance of ingredients. Overall I would come back and try something else here because the quality of ingredients was outstanding, the service was professional, and the atmosphere is very clean and modern. Maybe next time I will bring one of my mozzarella loving friends in so they can give a review of true mozzarella freshly flown in from Italy.

Obikà Mozzarella Bar on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 10, 2010

Tea and Shoes

The Tea Exchange is not only a shop, but a tea room which serves 11 kinds of tea lattes, paninnis, smoothies, and delicious baked goodies. I had the pomegranate green tea and Cindy had a tea latte (our taste in food is as different as our taste in men, but that is part of why we get along so well). We both enjoyed our selections and split a large peanut butter chocolate chip cookie that we agreed was perfect (especially since they warmed it for us before serving it so that it tasted as if it was coming fresh out of the oven.

The selection of teas and tea pots was astounding, ranging from flowering teas to remedies for allergies! If you love tea and are a tea expert, this shop is worth visiting just to peruse the selection of all things tea.

Since we were a bit early for dinner, we also stopped by Scala at 318 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Manhattan Beach, CA 90266 tel# 310.406.3000 The owner of this shop originally had several stores, but downsized to one location with a varied selection of everything from sky high stilettos to sheepskin boots. I bought a pair of these beautiful 888 flats normally $129, but on sale for $89. Cindy liked them so much, she also bought a pair (in pewter). They are extraordinarily comfortable and flexible enough to carry in your purse as your emergency pair after your stilettos torture your feet.

Ah tea and shopping by the beach, life is good!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sashi for Sushi

I had lunch at Sashi in Manahattan Beach right after they opened, but it was time to try them again for dinner with sushi aficionado Cindy. It was a cold night at the beach (50F) with the fog rolling in, but we sat in the (heated) cozy patio and had a great dinner.

Cindy wanted only sushi, but when I saw they had a Miso Grilled Wild Alaskan Sea Bass ($6) on their robata selection, I had to order it. When I bit into the delicate fish I felt as if my mouth had taken a blissful bite of heaven. Cindy agreed that it was the best skewer of fish she had ever eaten.

Cindy ordered the spicy tuna roll ($12), made with avocado and she declared it the best she had ever eaten.

We ordered aji (skipjack), albacore, and tai (red snapper) ($6 per order) and every type of fish was delicate, fresh and delectable.

Cindy ordered the bikini roll with shrimp tempura, asparagus and crabmeat ($16). it was beautiful and tasty, but too rich for either of us to finish.

It's always good to find a restaurant which does a nice lunch also does a nice dinner; it's even nicer to share it with a friend.
Sashi: sushi and sake lounge on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Memphis BBQ

The only part of my trip to Memphis that was pleasurable was that I would finally taste authentic Memphis BBQ. I saw Jim Neely's Interstate BBQ was at the airport, so this was an easy way to sample one of the top three BBQ places. All the most popular choices were on the menu for either dining in or as take out for flights. Wouldn't you rather have a chopped shoulder of pork sandwich than whatever packaged plastic food the airline is serving?

I decided to eat in so I could eat the messy ribs at a table with plenty of napkins. There was no choice of wet or dry, so it was a good decision to eat in because the ribs came soaked in sauce. I chose two sides of coleslaw rather than baked beans. The cole slaw was finely chopped and a refreshing counterpoint to the rich BBQ pork ribs ($8.85). The ribs were tender and juicy, but I must say I was disappointed with the flavor of the sauce.

Jim Neely's Interstate Barbecue on Urbanspoon

I asked everyone I met to tell me their favorite place for BBQ and unanimously the answer was Corky's, so I knew I had to find the time and a way to get some Corky's before leaving for Los Angeles. As I was checking out of my hotel I asked the receptionist where the closest branch of Corky's was and whether I could walk to it. The wonderful rumor of Southern Hospitality is true as she said she would have the airport shuttle driver take me. I got to Corky's as they opened at 10:45 am and got my order of two racks to go for less than $35. I got them dry with some packets of sauce because the shuttle driver recommended them that way and who am I to argue with a native?

They double wrapped the ribs in heavy duty foil when I told them I was going to fly out and they said there would be no problem taking them through security (there wasn't). They even sell the rub and sauce in the airport, so you can pick some up after passing through security and before getting onto your flight. The smell of the ribs was magnificent, making everyone seated next to me salivate.

There is a reason everyone I asked said Corky's was their favorite BBQ place in Memphis. The ribs were wonderfully tender and perfectly seasoned with a smoky rub that was equally good alone or with some of the fantastic BBQ sauce.

The wonderful thing about Corky's is that they ship their ribs (and beef brisket or pork shoulder) nationwide and if you call them at 800-9-CORKYS before December 31, 2010 and mention offer code FR1 you will get a FREE SLAB of ribs with your order (with a minimum order of $69.99). The only thing better than great ribs, is a free rack of them, so maybe Christmas this year will include a package from Santa that comes from Memphis.

Corky's Bar-B-Q (East Memphis) on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Doubletree Hotel Memphis

My work sometimes takes me to some strange cities, like Regina in Canada where it was -60 F. This week I went to Memphis, TN, and although to many people that is not a strange city, to this Northern city girl, it was like traveling to Mars. My one mission on my short trip was to taste as much Memphis BBQ as possible, and I did (see tomorrow's post), but it is also nice to see how a chain hotel does in a popular region and I am happy to say that Southern hospitality is alive and well at the Doubletree on Sanderlin (there are three Doubletree hotels in Memphis, this one is in East Memphis). I was amazed to see a Whole Foods Market and a Bikrim Yoga studio adjacent to the hotel; maybe I was in the mid-South, but I could have been in Southern California. As in all Doubletree Hotels, I was handed a warm cookie upon checking in to this room.

The sheets and towels were soft, there was a flat screen 37" tv in the room, and free Wifi, so all usual mid range ($100 average price per room per night) comforts were provided, including room service (so this did not qualify as camping in my book). It was a spacious room with a desk and sitting area.

A surprise was the small bar/kitchen area with a coffee maker (that was broken) and a fridge (that worked). There were packets of Wolfgang Puck Coffee and organic teas, so I was disappointed that the coffee maker was not functioning.

I was rushed to work nearly as soon as I arrived, so I tried the hotel restaurant, the Lynchburg Legends. I ordered the blackened catfish with Caesar salad ($10) and received this unusually composed dish. I must say it tasted far better than it looked, with a smoky spice to the fish and with real parmesan on the salad. It was a deal for the quality of ingredients and skill of preparation, especially in a chain hotel restaurant.

I was happy to have had a good option for late night dining in the hotel where I was staying, and that was even better than the Happy Hour the restaurant was offering.

Lynchburg Legends Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 6, 2010

Palm Springs National Golf & Country Club

My friend Ruth is the oldest person I know, but her lively spirit keeps her young and she has trouble finding anyone her age (87) to keep up with her. I go out to see her in Palm Springs whenever I can, and we always try to go to a new place so she can have a new experience. This time we went to the Palm Springs national Golf and Country Club, near the Indian Canyons. She loves the view from the clubhouse and the staff seems to all know her by name.

Ruth is a very picky eater and the only thing she wanted was a fresh fruit salad with cottage cheese. The plate was so big (at least 12" diameter) that she could only eat about half of it before packing the rest to go.

I tried the daily special of blackened chicken breast on top of a romaine, tomato, red onion, and roasted corn salad, dressed in a green goddess dressing. The chicken was moist and spicy without being overbearing and the salad was nicely crisp and not overly dressed.

Both our entrees were under $15 and we had a view of green grass and fountains of water in the desert as we ate, so you could say we paid for lunch and got a priceless view.