Thursday, March 31, 2011

Early Spring Farmer's Market and Healthier Eating

The last two days have been gorgeous spring days and yesterday was the perfect day to stop by the Wednesday Santa Monica farmer's market. We've been going consistently for the last few weeks but yesterday truly felt like the beginning of spring with a transition to more of the spring / summer fruits and produce. Artichokes have been really plentiful the last few weeks (too bad I don't really know how to cook with them) and there have been more and more stands with strawberries and tomatoes, my two harbingers for warmer weather.
We've been inspired to eat a little lighter, particularly with the nicer weather, so we stopped by Lemonade in Venice for lunch. I like the nice array of salads and vegetables from the salad bar; we split three market sides (split into double portions) and a soup for a tasty and healthy lunch. One of the salads inspired me to make a simple but delicious arugula, apple pear and pecorino romano salad with a light white balsamic vinaigrette dressing for dinner at home.
I've also been trying to get out of my cooking rut and have been trying some new, relatively healthy, comfort-food based recipes using farmer's market vegetables. I made a spinach and gouda quinoa dish last week based on this recipe which was full of hearty crunch and flavor, and a cauliflower and chicken sausage casserole based on this recipe (only change was steaming the cauliflower first in order to save washing a pot). It was really savory and tasty, although probably best as a side dish as opposed to a main course. Tonight's dinner: shrimp and grits and roasted brussels sprouts with bacon.
Hard to make casseroles photogenic
Cauliflower and chicken sausage casserole in tomato sauce
Today has been downright hot, in the seventies / eighties, even in Santa Monica. It was a perfect day for a bike ride to a yoga class (love the Lulululemon No Limit Tank for this weather). The warm weather feels very energizing, I love doing yoga when it's hot outside (unlike running outside, where I prefer cooler weather). It's easier to get deeper into poses and the twists and series feel particularly cleansing. I'm so much more lethargic and lazy in class when it's cold. S. and I hit up a reinvigorating yoga class with Kourtney at Yogahop , followed up by lunch at R+D Kitchen. I'm really looking forward to hitting up Brock's class at Yogis Anonymous tomorrow, while the weather is still warm.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Award Season Films

True Grit (Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)The King's Speech [Blu-ray] The Kids Are All Right [Blu-ray]Black Swan [Blu-ray]
I rarely watch movies in the theaters, but I was able to catch up on many of the movies nominated for awards this past season over the last few weeks on my return flight from Spain and a couple of library borrowings that I had put on hold awhile ago. All of them were good in some ways, but I definitely liked a few more than others.

True Grit: I don't normally like Western-type movies, but this was a charming yet gritty movie where I really liked the characters, particularly Hailee Steinfield's character. I'm really impressed by her poise and style both in the movie as well as during as well as during award season. Then there's the always likeable Jeff Bridges, who plays the essentially same guy well in all his movies.

A King's Speech: I like movies that interrelate interesting personal stories within a larger historical context. The story was interesting and I liked and really rooted for all the characters.

The Kids are All Right: I just watched this last night and I thought it was an interestingly awkward yet empathetic character-driven film. Plus, I like all movies set in Los Angeles; I think a good portion of the film was filmed in nearby Venice / Mar Vista as well as Silverlake / Echo Park.

Not so favorites:
Black Swan: On the plus side, I liked the dancing and costumes in the movie. I just didn't like the characters, I wasn't really rooting for anyone. I like movies where I actually like and can empathize with the characters; Natalie Portman's character was a little too annoying, pathetic and crazy for me.

The Town: I thought the movie was ok but not great. It was entertaining, but I thought there were some holes and weaknesses in both the plotlines and the characters. Plus though her role was small, I find Blake Lively irritating (or at least I have difficultly separating her from her annoying character on Gossip Girl).

Tangled: Ok, so best song doesn't really count as an award winner, but nevertheless I watched Tangled because I love Disney. It was rather forgettable and formulaic; definitely not destined to be a Disney classic.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Corned Beef and the Fixings - Belated St. Patrick's Day Feast

I love food-centric holidays: Thanksgiving, Lunar New Year, the Superbowl, etc. so it was surprising that I totally forgot about St. Patrick's Day until the day of, and by then it was too late to scramble and buy corned beef and all the accompaniments. I've actually never cooked a traditional Irish meal before, so I was determined to make it up to K. in order to honor his heritage and spent last week trying to track down some corned beef and come up with the perfect recipe. After visits to Ralphs, Trader Joes, Whole Foods, and Vons, I finally found some flat cut corned beef (vs. point cut which is usually cheaper but fattier) at the 2nd Vons I went to for a very reasonable $2.99 per lb so I bought a 3 1/3 lb piece for just under $10. Now, I've not only never made corned beef and cabbage before, but I've also never even eaten corned beef outside of sandwiches, so I had to scour the internet for recipes and combined several of them for my own version using corned beef, Guinness, and organic potatoes, carrots, onions and cabbage from Wednesday's farmer's market. And it was a success! I don't know how real corned beef and cabbage is supposed to taste, but everyone loved it. The meat was well-seasoned; I rinsed the corned beef so it wasn't too salty, the beer made for a delicious broth, and the vegetables were perfectly tender. We washed it down with more Guinness and everyone left happy and sated. This is going to be a new annual tradition in my household.
Corned Beef and Cabbage Recipe (serves 4, we finished almost everything)
  • Rinse the corned beef well under cold water. I also let it soak in cold water for an additional half hour to wash away more of the brine
  • Put the corned beef in my Le Creuset 5 quart oval french oven, rub with 1/2 cup of brown sugar, pour 1 pint of Guinness and about 2-3 quarts of water, until the corned beef is fully submerged. Add the spice package, a few sprigs of thyme, 2 bay leaves, and 1 tsp of dijon mustard
  • Bring to a boil over high heat and then cover and simmer for a few minutes while pre-heating the oven to 300 degrees. Remove the frothy stuff with a spoon.
  • Put the covered pot in the oven for about 2 hours
  • Meanwhile, chop 1 onion (could have used 2), 1 lb of carrots, wash and cut 1 lb of fingerling potatoes, and cut 1 head of cabbage into eighths
  • After the meat has been in the oven for about 2 hours, add the onion (I like my onion to basically dissolve into the broth)
  • Then after 15 minutes, add the potatoes, and the carrots after another 15 minutes (I'm sure it's fine to add at the same time, but I don't like my carrots too mushy). Put it back in the oven for another 30 minutes
  • Then remove the corned beef and cover tightly with foil and add the cabbage to the pot (you may have to remove some carrots and potatoes to make room). Simmer on the stove for another 15-20 minutes
  • Move the meat onto a cutting board and trim off the excess fat and slice the meat against the grain, arrange the meat with all the vegetables on a platter and pour the broth over everything and serve with some mustard

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Rahel Review: Hearty Vegan Ethiopian on Fairfax

I've been a big fan of Ethiopian food ever since I was introduced to it during my college days in Philly at Dhalak, and have been meaning to try Rahel in the Little Ethiopian district on Fairfax for many years.
Like Mayura, we just never made the trek to Fairfax, until I bought the Groupon. Also like Mayura, now that we've gone, we'll definitely be back, even without a Groupon. I really like the unusual spices of Ethiopian food, including the berbere spices, the flavorful homey stews, and the spongy, slightly sour bread (injera) used to scoop up and sop up all the deliciousness. At Rahel, we ordered the Hudade Special Combo for 2 and the Vegan Feast for 2, a variety of vegetable and legumes that came shared on one big plate. My favorites were the cabbage stew, split lentils in red pepper sauce, and greens, although everything was delicious. I would order the combos again, for the variety. Even though it was entirely vegan, we didn't miss the meat at all, as the food was hearty and satisfying and we left stuffed. We had quite a meat-centric weekend, between Nanbankan and the corned beef feast, so vegan was a refreshing respite. The decor was sparse, service was a little slow, and it was really hard to find parking, but it was worth it.  At $60 for four people, it was a good value, plus you can byob with no corkage; we brought a Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc Viognier that's our everyday white wine we've found always goes well with heavily seasoned ethnic cuisines.
Rahel Ethiopian Vegan Restaurant
1047 Fairfax Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90019
(323) 937-8401

Friday, March 25, 2011

First Balenciaga!

I haven't bought a luxury designer bag in three years; I'm very content with what I've already collected over the years, plus I've had other priorities. After my trip to Spain and much consideration, I decided to buy a new everyday and travel bag with a couple of key criteria:
  1. Very lightweight
  2. Large enough to carry lots of stuff; I have my DSLR with me almost at all times
  3. Neutral color to go with all colors and styles of clothes and seasons
  4. Durable; I want something to last for many years without babying, as I'm not too careful with my bags
  5. Ability to carry many ways, including cross-body, on the shoulder, or by handles, with a zippered top for security
  6. Not too trendy; I don't want an "it" bag that will look dated after a few seasons
After much research and shopping around, I decided upon a black Balenciaga Velo bag, which pretty much fit all the criteria.  It's the perfect size, the super soft lambskin and lack of big hardwear make it almost as light as a nylon bag I was carrying in Spain, it can be carried a multitude of ways, it can be used for day and night, and plus I don't think it will go out of style. It fits the current cross-body / messenger style trend, but Balenciaga motorcycle style bags have been around for over 10 years now and I think they've gone from potentially being a trendy seasonal bag to more of a classic bag. It's hard to tell what "it" bags will become classics; usually Chanel is pretty safe since a lot of their designs are based on classic bags as well as Hermes, and it seems like Balenciaga has withstood the test of time (I fondly reminisce about the Fendi baguette and spy bags, Dior saddle bag, Marc Jacobs Stam bag days). In the realm of ridiculous pricing for luxury bags, Balenciaga has remained relatively reasonable, unlike, as an example, the ridiculous Chanel inflation where the 2.55 reissue I purchased five years ago has at least doubled in price and is 2.5x the price of the (much larger) Balenciaga. My only problem with Balenciaga is that they are known to be on the delicate side, susceptible to staining and cracking, but that's why I went with black, plus I plan on conditioning and protecting the bag. It's inexplicable, but new bags make me happy! Pictures for a sense of scale:
Strap is a teeny bit long, but I can always have it shortened
Handles also fit on the shoulder, but too hard to photograph
There were several S/S2011 bags that I had my eye on, including the Proenza Schouler PS1, Mulberry Alexa Satchel, and Alexander Wang Kirsten Satchel.  My concerns with all three was that they would look dated after a couple of seasons and the buckles were a hassle to get in and out of. Black looks a little dull on all three bags, hence my preference for the lighter (and more prone to dirt) colors. Plus the PS1 and Mulberry satchels looked more like daytime bags to me; they don't feel as appropriate for night. All three bags are also noticeably heavier than the Balenciaga (the Alexander Wang was surprisingly heavy), and the handles are too short to wear on the shoulder.
Photo from web: Proenza Schouler PS 1 in Smoke
Photo from web: Mulberry Alexa in Watermelon (I really like purple)
Photo from web: Alexander Wang Kirsten Satchel in Khaki

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Target Go International Hall of Fame Review (Updated)

Update 4/12/11: So the collection went on sale in stores today and I picked up a couple of pieces at 30% off at the Jefferson location. The collection was 50% off at the other Culver City location but I couldn't find anything I liked. I also tried the Zac Posen polka dot, Proenza Schouler bustier as well as the Thakoon colorblock (again), but they all fit really strangely on me. All the pieces I bought were either 100% cotton or silk; I tried to stay away from the synthetic materials. I wish that the pieces I got weren't as sheer or as short, but I'll make them work with layers. What I ended up getting (all XS), worn with my favorite cozy Hue sweater tights (I swear they are warmer than jeans) and Opening Ceremony boots:
Rogan Leopard Print, 100% silk, comfy tunic / dress
Alice Temperley black shirt dress, simple but I always love ruffles
Libertine striped tunic (some hints of Prada S/S 2011)
Original post: I finally made it to Target on Tuesday to check out the Go International Designer Collective; a collection of some of the most popular pieces from the Go International collaborations over the last five years with top designers. While I'm a huge fan of some of the designers, particularly Proenza Schouler, Zac Posen and Thakoon, I haven't been as impressed with the limited number of pieces that I've bought in the past. I've maybe worn my Proenza Schouler dress twice and haven't taken the tags off the swimwear yet. I just find that the fabric and construction quality and fit don't quite work for me. Even though the dresses are around $30-$45 (or about $20 on sale), it's not worth it if you never wear it. While I was intrigued by the photos online, I finally made it to Target to check it out when I had some other things to pick up, unlike the H&M Lanvin collaboration by comparison where I waited in line on launch day and obsessively stalked thereafter. The old Fedco La Cienega Target location had almost the entire collection available in plenty of sizes; I was able to try on the half dozen dresses that looked interesting to me online in my size, XS / 1. I left empty-handed; there wasn't any piece that I like enough to purchase right away. I didn't have the chance to take pictures, but here are the photos from the website of pieces that I'd consider buying the if they were still available by the time they go on markdown.
Thakoon Cyber Floral Dress: probably my favorite. Fit is a little weird on the top, but I like the pattern
Thakoon colorblock: colorblocking is huge this spring and I like the colors, but the seams don't lie flat, as you can see from the picture, which looks messy
Jovovich Hawk Polka dot dress; cute, but I was worried about the chiffon getting staticky
Erin Fetherston bunny dress: cute pattern and dress, but I don't love spaghetti straps


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