Saturday, July 30, 2011

Homemade Affogato

Thanks to M&M, I was able to make my favorite dessert at home on Friday night: affogato. I'm not a huge dessert person and simple is better for me and it doesn't get much simpler than affogato: a shot of espresso poured over vanilla gelato. We subbed in non fat organic vanilla yogurt for the gelato, so it wasn't quite as rich and creamy as I would have liked, but it was still a delicious blend of cool vanilla milky goodness blended with the punch of espresso. I love the Bialetti Moka Express, it's very easy to use, you can easily make enough cups for several people at one time and it's easy to clean. We made it with 3 year old espresso beans and it still tasted fine; never made espresso with our old two in one Krups machine because it was such a pain hence the really old beans. It's well-made and sturdy; you can tell that it has been made using the same techniques and manufacturing processes since the old days in Italy. Plus I love the cute Italian guy drawing on the front.

First Farm Box Meal: Summer Squash Lasagna and Grapefruit Avocado Salad

Getting a farm box is good motivation to cook, and usually to cook healthily. I was starting to feel a lazy yesterday afternoon and didn't feel like cooking a big meal, but I knew I had all these vegetables that I needed to use up before they went bad. At the end of the meal, I was happy that I did cook and we had a tasty and relatively healthy summer dinner with a lot of fresh vegetables. The summer squash "lasagna" was a particular hit as you could really taste the natural sweetness and different flavors contributed by all the various vegetables: summer squash, red peppers, carrots, celery, onions, tomatoes. I tried to make it a little healthier than the usual lasagna and didn't use as much cheese as usual, half a pound of Gioia smoked mozzarella and a few sprinkles of parmesan, only five rectangles of lasagna, and a lot less meat than usual: two links of mild Italian chicken sausage and a 1/5 lb of pancetta. We could have gone totally meatless but I was in the mood for just a touch of savory richness with the meat. It wasn't as heavy as our usual lasagna, where we also have a white layer with ricotta and eggs. It was really good and we polished off almost the entire pan. The grapefruit avocado salad was good as usual; usually we add a little chicken but I didn't miss it in this vegetarian version. We also had a decent bottle of Calera Rose of Pinot Gris from Santa Barbara which nicely completed our summer meal.
Summer Squash Lasagna Recipe:
  • To prep, fine dice 1 medium onion, 1 red pepper, 3 small peeled carrots, 2 medium stalks of celery and mince 3 cloves of garlic. Slice 1.5 lbs of assorted summer squash about 1/4 inch thick. Grate 1/2 lb of smoked mozzarella and 1/4 cup of parmesan. Cube about 1/5 of a lb of pancetta and remove two links of sausage from casing.
  • Heat up a large pan over medium heat and saute the pancetta until crispy, about 5 minutes, and then add the chicken sausage breaking up with a spoon until cooked through, about 5-10 minutes. Remove the meat onto a paper towel lined plate and leave about 1 TB of the fat in the pan
  • Saute the onions until soft, about 7 minutes, then add the garlic for one minute, then the red pepper, carrots and celery. Saute until soft, about 8 minutes and season with salt and pepper
  • Add back the meat to the pan and squeeze a little tomato paste onto the meat, tossing everything together
  • Deglaze the pan with a little wine, about 1/4-1/2 cup. I just used the rose since we were drinking it, scraping up all the brown bits and let it simmer for a minute or two
  • Add a 28 oz can of whole peeled tomatoes, first adding the whole peeled tomatoes, breaking them apart by hand, then the sauce
  • Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 15 minutes covered. Add a little red chili flakes, parmesan, dried oregano, a bay leaf and some fresh herbs. All I had was tarragon which added an interesting licorice flavor. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees
  • Remove the bay leaf and then assemble the dish. Grease the dish a little (I forgot to do this). Then: very thin layer of sauce at the bottom, followed by 3 sheets of lasagna, another layer of sauce with a little sprinkle of parmesan, a layer of the sliced summer squash, a layer of the smoked mozzarella, 2 sheets of lasagna, the remainder of the sauce, a layer of sliced summer squash, and the remainder of the smoked mozzarella and a sprinkle of parmesan. Bake for about 30 minutes until nice and bubbly.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Farm Fresh to You

Courtesy of JK, we received our first ever farm box today from Farm Fresh to You. It was quite exciting to open the box and see what was goodies were inside. We got grapefruit, our first heirloom tomatoes and grapes of the season, summer squash, cucumber, lettuce, broccoli and corn. Now I just have to figure out what to cook this week with our bounty. So far we've only tried the grapes and grapefruit; the grapefruit is super sweet and juicy but I don't think the grapes are quite at their peak yet. As for the rest of the produce, I think I will make a summer squash lasagna, an avocado grapefruit lettuce salad, tzaziki with the cucumber since I have leftover dill, and broccoli feta pasta. I still have to go to the grocery store to pick up a couple of items to round out the recipes, but at least we are going to eat lots of fruits and veggies this week. Thanks JK!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Lululemon Turbo Tank Review

Turbo Tank in Surge, worn with black wee stripe luon light wunder unders
What Lululemon hiatus? I stopped by my nearby store to check out the brand new Lululemon Turbo Tank the other day. I liked the look of the tank as it has a more interesting back than my usual cool racerbacks and was made of a different material than most of my workout tops. Excuse the hangtag, I'm a bit undecided on this tank, which is why the tag is still on. It is made out of luxtreme so is a bit thick and stiff particularly in the midsection. I prefer the softer luon or silkier circle mesh; I just feel like it drapes better. The midsection is also a bit loose and shapeless; I generally don't like my tanks too tight fitting, but even this is a little too loose for me. I hate sizing down, and plus there is no smaller size anyway. On the plus side, it's very supportive and pretty comfortable; I like the thicker straps which dig a little less both on the shoulders and in the back, as compared to the No Limit Tank which sometimes leaves marks on me. It is tightly fitted on the shoulders / upper back, which is a little bothersome as it is noticeable to me as I wear it. I like the bright heathered surge color; the dewberry color is too close to my potion purple and my static very violet tanks and the coal just looked like a regular athletic tank without the pop of color that I usually like. I like the long length as well. I like the tank but I don't love the tank like the No Limit Tanks, so it might be going back to the store.

Update 7/31/11: I returned the tank today after a free morning yoga class at Lululemon. I just don't love it enough so I probably won't wear it as often, which is just a waste.
The front isn't that exciting, looks a little bit like a cool racerback

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sephora's OPI Blasted Nail Polish review

Sephora by OPI blasted nail colour in silver
I rarely get manicures because I'm usually pretty hard on my nails, but I decided to do something different for fun and try the new blasted / shattered nail trend that's been everywhere lately. I bought a bottle of OPI's Blasted Silver at Sephora since most nail places charge extra for the shatter effect and had the nail place use one medium coat (not too thin, not too thick) over two coats of medium purple nailpolish and basecoat and finished with a clear topcoat. It's a little weird and I'm not sure if I like it, but it's fun to experiment and it's an easy way to change up the usual manicure with some patterns and a little shine. What's nice about this polish is that I can actually use it at home. I'm terrible at giving myself manicures, but since the finish is rather imperfect, the blasted effect actually hides any messiness in the application. I really like the combination of the blasted over an old bottle of Chanel Blue Satin.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

3rd Annual Disneyland Birthday Celebration

The older I get, the simpler I like keep my birthday celebrations. In the earlier days, particularly back in New York, it was all about dinner with a huge group of friends, followed by a bar and then a club. So much fun but quite tiring. Now, my idea of a perfect birthday is a day at Disneyland with K. It all started 3 years ago when admission was free on your birthday, but the tradition has stuck and I hope will continue. Sadly, I lost my camera memory card with most of the pictures from Disneyland, as well as a birthday lunch at Villetta (disappointing, ok not great) and birthday dinner at Sushi King (very fresh and tasty, as usual).

We had an awesome day at Disneyland on Saturday, as usual. Weather was just about right, in the low 80's. Fortunately I had lots of Lululemon on to keep me cool; the UPF Run: Sun Blocker long sleeve top was a total lifesaver during the daytime with the strong direct sun. It kept me cool and comfortable and I didn't get any color at all. The Lululemon Travel Pooch was also a good call, as I could easily access and secure my tickets and fast passes. With judicious use of the fastpasses on Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Indiana Jones and Big Thunder Mountain, we got to go on all the rides we wanted and more, despite being a busy Saturday in the middle of the summer. I'd say it was less crowded than the last time we went in May, given that a lot of the annual passes are blocked out on Saturdays. We got to go on a lot more rides with the longest wait being only about 20 minutes. We went on Pirates, Big Thunder Mountain (2x), the Haunted Mansion, the Columbia boat, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Tea Cups, Indiana Jones. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch of Bay Cities that we brought with us, in New Orleans Square, an afternoon Dole Whip float, and dinner at Cafe Orleans where I got my usual Monte Cristo, which was actually a little disappointing this year, as it wasn't very hot and the bread to filling ratio was off with too much bread. Too bad; next year we might have to try the chicken at the Plaza Inn which I've heard good things about. We had plenty of time to catch Mickey's Soundsational Parade, visit the petting zoo and watch the fireworks. The only ride we missed was the revamped Star Tours, as fast passes ran out quickly early in the day and the wait was still two hours at 10:00pm. There's always next year!
Fireworks at our favorite vantage point by Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Monday, July 25, 2011

New Nikon 35mm f1.8/G AF-S DX Lens Review

Thanks Z. for the gorgeous arrangement! Your taste is impeccable, as always :).

Today, my dad bought me my first new lens ever from Samy's, along with a Domke protective camera wrap (since I usually just shove my camera in my purse as opposed to camera bag) and filter. I had previously just been using the 18-55mm kit lens that came with the camera, which served its purposes well. However, after playing around with my friends' A. and W. (separately) 50mm prime lens, I decided that I wanted a new lens, particularly for food shots and portraits. Unfortunately their lens' were not compatible with my Nikon D40x autofocus (they both have the fancier D90s) and I decided I wanted to go with the 35mm lens for more flexibility with distance after having some trouble with the 55-200mm lens that I borrowed for Disneyland on Saturday. I've only been playing around with this lens for a little bit this afternoon but I'm in love! It's so fast and sharp, lightweight and compact, and takes nice pictures even in less than ideal light conditions. The color is very vibrant and the pictures look almost three dimensional. I'll have to play around with it more, but this may be my new go-to lens!
This photo was taken underneath the coffee table in late afternoon

New Family Room Furnishings

Bristol Sectional from Flores Design, CB2 Bengal Coffee Table (floor sample), Overstock jute rug
Previously, our family furniture was a hodgepodge of mismatched hand-me-down and Ikea pieces, a few that were probably 20+ years old. It was all a bit of an eyesore, plus not very comfortable for either conversation or tv watching, which was unfortunate since we tend to spend the most time in this room with the dogs. I've procrastinated long enough in getting new furniture for the room, but I finally had enough about a month ago and completely redid the room, getting rid of all the old furniture completely. I even bought a new vacuum cleaner, the Hoover WindTunnel T-Series Rewind Bagless Upright (thanks Consumer Reports), an amazing vacuum cleaner for less than $100. I did a ton of online research, a lot of negotiating, shopped around a lot, and took advantage of many mid-year furniture sales including floor sample sales. I'm usually wary of purchasing floor samples, but sometimes it can be good as it's a good test as to the durability of the piece. June / July and year end is a great time to buy furniture. I've also found that a lot of retailers carry the same exact stock / catalog from big wholesalers like Flores Design, so it's definitely worth the time to do the research and price compare. A good tip is to call the wholesaler for a list of their retailers and price shop around those retailers. As an example, one place on San Vicente quoted us over $2,400 more for our sectional than what we ultimately ended up paying for the exact same piece. When possible, we tried to stick with real wood and natural fibers since we spend so much time in the room and wanted durability. We're very happy with the end result; it's not the most stylish looking room, but it's incredibly comfortable and functional, which was our priority in the first place. Perhaps too comfortable since we never want to leave the couch anymore.  We just need to accessorize a little bit, but otherwise we are done with the room (happily).
The best seat in the house, a double chaise. Alemeda laptop table from World Market. Also got a jute runner from World Market, which is slightly better quality, thicker, than the Overstock one, although both are quite good for the price
The Bengal Coffee Table from CB2 made of reclaimed Indian rail ties. It is unfinished, so we finished it with a few coats of Howard's Feed and Wax.
The dogs love the new rug; so much better than the cold floor tiles. Although it bears similarity to their rope chew toys which is not a good thing as we caught Otis chewing on the new rug.
SEI Virtuoso Walnut Media Stand. We bought it from Amazon which was cheapest at the time, although Amazon prices fluctuate strangely day to day. I think the stand is currently cheapest on Overstock, although it's still more than we paid. A bit of a pain to put together as it is 98 pounds and quality wasn't the greatest with some chipped edges, but it fits the space and all our equipment perfectly. It's the only piece in the room that isn't 100% real wood. I probably spent the most time looking for media stands; it took a long time to find a relatively cheap, simple, functional and not ugly media stand.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

New Wheels: 2011 Kona Dew Review

I was surprised with a new set of wheels this week: a 2011 Kona Dew in a sleek and not girly matte black. I've been admiring the Kona Dew ever since renting one in Monterey, CA for an easy 30+ mile ride around 17 Mile Drive and Pebble Beach a few years ago. It's very lightweight and easy to handle. I used to have a 2007 Specialized Crossroads Elite (which I just sold on Craigslist), which I used a lot around town for errands, but was really heavy and a little too small for me. We rode our bikes down to Main Street to go bar hopping during carmageddon last week, which is mostly downhill, but felt like so much work on my old bike. So much effort (combined with the heavy drinking at six different bars) that we left our bikes locked up on Main Street overnight and drove our bikes home the next day. I love the Kona Dew; I rode to the Promenade and back this afternoon and barely broke a sweat. The 53 centimeter frame is so much more comfortable for me, all the components work smoothly and the bike feels very responsive and energy efficient. It's amazing what a difference there can be. We also contemplated the 2010 Dew Deluxe which was on sale for only $99 more, but we decided that caring for the disc brakes would be a little more hassle and the regular Dew was lighter. The Dew Deluxe does shift a little smoother and the disc brakes are definitely quicker. K. picked the bike up from Wheel World in Culver City who were really great to deal with and not at all pushy. I've already ordered a new topeak rear rack and side mirror from Amazon, just debating a new rear basket, and I'll be completely outfitted!

Update: the fully outfitted bike, with Topeak Explorer rack and Mirrycle handlebar mirror from Amazon and Topeak MTX rear basket from Sport Chalet. I had read a lot of reviews on the Topeak rear basket so wasn't surprised to find that it didn't fit my bike perfectly since I have a smaller frame and lower seat. The basket hits against my seat which doesn't bother me, and I need longer screws to attach the top bracket. Not a big deal. I tested it out today and the basket works well.
The old wheels, served me well for 2.5 years, but I'm happy to be moving on

Summer Beer Review

With the weather turning warmer and the change in our eating to lighter and fresher foods with the seasons, we've been drinking more beer and white / rose wine as opposed to red wine. We had two very nice summery refreshing beers from Orange County this week: Bootlegger Brewery's Old World Hefeweizen and The Bruery's Imperial White Orchid. They were both excellent, but I preferred Bootlegger's Hef as it was a more interesting and complex. However, it might not have been a fair comparison because we were eating sashimi with yuzu and wasabi with the Imperial White Orchid so the strong spicy flavors may have overpowered the beer.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Summer Pizza at Home: Summer Squash, Leek and Tomatoes and Spinach Pesto

Summer Squash pizza (before)
It's been a little while since we made pizza at home with my own dough, but all these bright new summer vegetables have inspired me to fire up the pizza stone again. I made the pizza dough in the morning using my minimal knead method with Caputo 00 flour and a/p flour. The first pizza was topped with sliced smoked mozzarella, pesto, roasted summer squash and leeks, fresh sliced tomatoes and sliced garlic. I roasted the summer squash and leeks tossed in a little olive oil, salt and pepper in the oven for about 10 minutes as I was preheating the oven up to 525 for the pizza. The pizza was done in about 14 minutes and the sweetness of the variety of summer vegetables really shone. For the next pizza, I just made our favorite spinach pizza with minor modifications: I used sliced mozzerella and some pesto for the base instead of comte and aged pecorino. We all love this pie as we are all big spinach fans. It's pretty easy to eat a vegetarian dinner in the summer as there is so much wonderful produce to play with. It turned out to be an all vegetarian / vegan day as we had a couple of tasty vegan sandwiches, including the vegan tuna melt and spicy gardein chicken sandwich from Green Peas for lunch.
I bought a basket of lovely summer squash for the pizza with plenty leftover for future recipes
Summer Squash Pizza (after)
Spinach pizza
Nice thick layers of spinach with the cheesy pesto goodness underneath

Monday, July 18, 2011

Stock Split Celebration: Lululemon Run: Resolution Skirt II, Run: Sunbeam Pullover and Do It All Short II Review

Lululemon Run: Sunbeam Pullover in Toothpaste and Run: Resolution Skirt II in coal vapor spray dye
In honor of the Lululemon two for one stock split last week, doubling my meager number of Lululemon shares, I picked up a couple of nice items on sale including the Run: Resolution Skirt II in vapor coal spray dye, toothpaste Run: Sunbeam Pullover and the black Do It All short II, all items that I liked when I tried them on initially but did not want to pay full price for. I really wanted the Sunbeam Pullover when I first tried it on; I love the ultra thin and cool silky UPF fabric, I pretty much wear my Sun blocker Pullover all the time when I'm outside as it's actually been a sunny and warm summer here in socal. I like the toothpaste color, it reminds me of my aruba no limit tank, and I like the braided detail on the arm. I really like the Do It All Short as well; it's in the same lightweight comfortable fabric and similar fit as my favorite Dance Studio Pants. They probably aren't the most attractive or exciting pair of shorts, but the longer length is appropriate for golf and modest enough for general around town errands. The Run: Resolution Skirt II is fun and girly with all the layers of ruffles, tulle and pleats and the gray and white pattern. I think the skirt runs a little big, as compared to the other Lululemon running skirts like the speed skirt. I haven't taken it for a run yet, but it worked fine for a bike ride to the beach on Saturday as the inside shorts are a reasonable length. It wrinkles a little too easily, but it should be fine as workout wear. I'm going on Lululemon hiatus after this as I've bought way too much lately, even if it was mostly on sale, but we'll see how I do with that resolution. Never lasts long....

Update: I prefer running in the more inexpensive sun blocker long sleeve over the sunbeam pullover. I became more overheated in the sunbeam pullover; I felt like all the detailing on the arms trapped the heat and felt overall heavier. Still a great shirt for biking, hiking and walking though.
Side view of the Run: Resolution Skirt II. There is one layer of pleats in the front and about 4 layers in different materials in the back
Do It All Shorts II in black and potion purple cool racerback. Super comfortable summertime outfit

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Carmageddon Report

So this weekend is "carmageddon" in LA because they are closing the 405 freeway between the 10 and the 101 freeways, about a 10 mile stretch. There's very few things that I would brave traffic for, not to mention carmegeddon, but Harry Potter 7 was one of them. We were courageous (or foolish) enough to cross the 405 right around where the 10 crosses it, or right where the closure begins, for a 6:30 showing with W&K at the Century City theaters. Regular Friday night traffic going east can be bad enough so we weren't sure what to expect, especially with all the continual warnings to stay off the streets. Turns out, there was barely any traffic at all; certainly less than the regular rush hour traffic, as we got there in less than 20 minutes. I guess everyone else was scared off the streets, I know many places let out work at noon. We got to the mall in time for a bite to eat and a pitcher of mojitos. It was totally worth the risk as the movie was pretty awesome, my first 3d movie experience. Despite the lack of traffic, we're going to use carmageddon as an excuse to avoid driving and bike everywhere this weekend, which is something we should do more regularly anyway.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Euphoria Loves Rawvolution Review: First Foray into Raw Food

I've been intrigued by raw food ever since watching Andrew Zimmern's Los Angeles Bizarre Foods episode on the Travel Channel. I really like some vegan / vegan centric restaurants such as Green Peas and Real Food Daily, so raw food isn't really a stretch, just taking the vegan concept one step further and not cooking anything.  Like with veganism, it forces a chef to be a little more creative which can sometimes yield quite tasty results. We decided to try Euphoria Loves Rawvolution on Main Street in Santa Monica, an organic raw food restaurant and store, after the farmer's market on Wednesday, inspired after all the vegetable shopping to eat a healthy lunch. We ordered the Tiger Roll: some sort of coconut wrap with avocado, sprouts, carrots, broccoli with a tasty sweet chili dipping sauce, and the Mushroom and Swiss Burger: a nut veggie patty with mushrooms and creamy seed cheese on onion bread. Both were quite tasty, flavorful and hearty. The roll was really good, even inspiring us to go to the Co-op to find a similar wrap so that we could make our own at home (which we could not find), just wish the portion size was a little bigger. It's definitely not cheap; with an iced tea, our total bill was almost $30. The decor and whole vibe is a little hippie-ish; I could totally see this place in Venice or Berkeley. I wish it were a little cheaper, but still, I'd like to return to try more of the menu items. I don't think I'll ever stop eating meat fully, but going vegan or even raw every once in awhile is a nice and healthy change.
Tiger Roll: it's really all about the wrapper and the dipping sauce
The Mushroom and Swiss Burger: definitely doesn't taste like a burger, but the onion "bread" is quite savory and the mushrooms and patty are hearty and flavorful
Ginormous dahlia from the community garden across the street
Euphoria Loves Rawvolution
2301 Main Street
Santa Monica, CA
(310) 392-5901

Thursday, July 14, 2011

July's Farmer's Market Report: Lots of Summer Squash, More Eggplants and Tomatoes

It's been a long time since I've made pizzas at home so I went to the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmer's Market to find some vegetables inspiration for some pizzas. All varieties of summer squash were in abundance at several stands so I decided to buy a basket for pizza. There are also quite a few varieties of eggplants, plus more and more tomatoes and the first peppers. I'm going to hold off on the eggplant, tomatoes and peppers for another few weeks, but definitely plan on buying lots in August. In addition to the summer squash, we also bought spinach for a pizza, as well as salad greens, okra, elephant garlic for roasting, and corn. Should be a good week of cooking with lots of vegetables.
The cutest baby squash ever, like the size of my pinkie


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