Saturday, January 31, 2009

Style: Van Cleef & Arpels Effeuillage Collection

For fans of Van Cleef & Arpels' prolific Alhambra line, the venerable jewelry house has introduced the Effeuillage collection in time for Valentine's Day. The mini-collection consists of a ring and drop earrings with heart "petals" and is currently available in carnelian edged with rose gold or mother of pearl with yellow gold in select VCA stores.

Photo Credit: Van Cleef & Arpels

Friday, January 30, 2009

Food: Tofu Tip

Hopefully I'll get in full blogging mode in the upcoming weeks; in the meantime, here's a quick cooking tip. During the winter months my family and I love eating Shabu Shabu, essentially a Japanese version of fondue. A pot of hot boiling water is on the table, and you dip in raw meat, veggies, Udon, etc. My dad recently gave me a tip to freeze soft tofu before throwing it in the water (where it usually falls apart). Simply place an unopened box of tofu in the freezer; a day before or the morning of, defrost the box of tofu in the fridge or on the counter, slice it up and cook. The tofu maintains its structure, and freezing the tofu gives it a spongy texture to it that I like better than medium firm tofu. This works whether you're boiling it or cooking it in stir-fry.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Cook: Toaster Oven-Baked Mayo Salmon Filet

Although it may not look pretty, this dish is a staple in my limited cooking repertoire and a favorite of my oldest child. I marinate the fish in the morning, throw it in the toaster oven about 16 minutes before dinner, and it's done. Saute some vegetables, serve with white rice, and you have dinner.

Salmon filets
Sea salt
White Pepper
Garlic Powder
White wine or rice wine (Michiu)
Sesame oil
Low-fat Mayo (I like Kraft) OR Regular Mayo (Best Foods)

Chopped white onions (about 1 tbsp)
Chopped green onions

Buy skinned filets of salmon; I buy the Costco variety which I bring home, slice into quarters and put each slice into a Ziploc bag. Rinse one filet (about 1/2 pound or so) and dry with paper towel. Sprinkle sea salt, white pepper, and garlic powder on fish, add a splash of sesame oil and white or rice (Michiu) wine. Marinate in fridge for a few hours. Preheat toaster oven to 425 degrees. Line toaster oven tray with foil, place filet on foil. Using the back of a tablespoon, smear the top of the filet with a layer of mayo; you can add as little or as much mayo as you prefer. Sprinkle with chopped white onions if you'd like. Bake in toaster oven for about 12 minutes, then turn to broil (500 degrees) for an additional 4 minutes or until the top is bubbly and light brown. You can drizzle with additional sesame oil or garnish with scallions. Serve with Japanese rice.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Read: GOOP

I just discovered Gwyneth Paltrow now has her own blog, GOOP (apparently based on a nickname of hers), and I actually think it's quite good. I wish I would have thought of the formatting--very nice and Zen. Yes, there are a ton of haters, (see article here at Eonline!) most notably criticizing her "Let them eat cake" attitude, but as a mother of two, it's nice to see someone else who has the time to workout and wear nice clothing to pick up her kids. It gives me a little inspiration. The blog has cute little categories of things to make, go, get, do, be and see. Loved her list of Los Angeles favorites under the "Go" category, although I do have to dispute the greatness of Katsu-Ya in Studio City for spicy tuna rice cakes....more on that later.

This week's newsletter in particular, is literally a big kick in the butt. Ms. Paltrow shares a mini-movie from the trainer she shares with Madonna, Tracy Anderson; it is a supplement to give her butt a boost, and the clip even features a handy little link so you can download it to your iPod. More about Tracy Anderson can be found at her website here.


Saturday, January 3, 2009

Gear: The Amazon Kindle

So where have I been this past year? Well, with the birth of my second child, I am essentially evolving into my worst nightmare: a mom with a very depleted brain in sweats, no make-up, hair up in a bun, and yes, I have been known to catch a few episodes of Oprah. I do have to credit Oprah though for featuring the Amazon Kindle, the gadget I've always seen on Amazon's home page but was too lazy to figure out how it worked. Jeff Bezos was on Oprah touting the gadget, and I was sold. I balked a bit at the cost (about $359) but was so enthralled by the fact that I could carry up to 200 books on this one lightweight device that I bit the bullet and One-Clicked my way into owning a Kindle.

Here's how the device works: Amazon has a contract with Sprint that allows the books to be downloaded to your Kindle device wirelessly (on what's called the "Whispernet") within a few seconds using the same high speed data network as a cell phone (EVDO). There's no contract or additional fees other than your initial Kindle purchase; you just buy your Kindle, and your Amazon account permits you to buy new books anywhere within the U.S. within the coverage area. So you're at the airport and you finish a book--you can surf the Kindle store on your Kindle and buy a new title within a few seconds. You can highlight, make notes, look up words in the Kindle which has the New American Oxford Dictionary built in. All your purchases are automatically stored on Amazon. You can also subscribe to major newspapers like the NY Times and the Wall St. Journal, and they will automatically be delivered to your Kindle every morning. As for battery life, supposedly you can read War and Peace in one sitting on one charge if you turn off the wireless feature.

Granted I had to take a few baby steps back into the realm of reading and began by downloading Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series for young adults, then I gradually worked my way up into the classics and found that I could download the entire Shakespeare catalogue for $.99, and depending on which edition you chose, Plato's Republic could be had for a mere $ .43. NY Times bestsellers generally sell for $9.99, a lot less than what you'd pay for a hardback.

The Kindle is like an iPod for books; however, they probably could have benefited from the Apple geniuses in the design. There are some glitches--yes, it's hard to lend your books to friends when it's on your Kindle, and it's too bad it's in black and white so any photographs in color aren't as effective, the ease of acquiring books anywhere has proven dangerous for the wallet, but the convenience outweighs the minor downsides, and I'm looking forward to seeing this device evolve.

Available at Amazon

Food: Sotto Voce

We kicked off 2009 with a special package awaiting us at our front door--a lovely set of Sotto Voce hand-bottled Olio Santo and Aceto Balsamico from a thoughtful friend who knows the owners of Sotto Voce. Since we had just come home from the holidays, our fridge was empty so I hoofed it to the nearest market, picked up a baguette, came home and plopped myself down in a chair in front of the kitchen table with elbows propped on the table (sorry Mom) and devoured about half the baguette dipped in the oil and vinegar with some shaved Parmesan Reggiano. Pure heaven.

The Washington-based company has a small outpost in Pike Place Market not too far from the original Starbucks, and in addition to a variety of flavored vinegars, produces about 8 varieties of flavored olive oils with the original, Olio Santo, described as "a tasty blend of rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns, garlic and mild chili flavors." Aceto Balsamico is described as " Spicy, but oh so tasty! Modenaceti Balsamic Vinegar infused with whole garlic cloves, crushed red peppers & whole red chilis!" The combination of the two is oh so yummy! Those of you who have frequented Piatti's restaurants may find the blend reminiscent of their oil and vinegar served with the house bread.

After experiencing the Olio Santo and Aceto Balsamico I promptly ordered 3 sets for friends who would enjoy it. They make wonderful hostess gifts as well; not only are they delicious, but the bottles are beautiful on the kitchen counter.

Photo from

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Urban Moms: Strollers in the City

Taking a quick break from our tour of LA here as I wanted to post a link to a great article from where the author, Faye Penn, "test-drove" nine of the latest strollers on the streets of New York. Urban moms have to factor in quite a few obstacles that suburban moms do not face when buying a stroller, especially when dealing with public transportation. I had to laugh at the Cons listed for the Bugaboo Cameleon:

"Cons: Awkward moments on stairs. On bus ride, hit a passenger in the head with seat and had to ask another rider to fish MetroCard out of pocket. On subway, actually accepted an assist from a pregnant woman."

Photo: Michael Schmelling from

Monday, January 28, 2008

Los Angeles Favorites: Hotel Bel-Air

I'm usually one who prefers modern day conveniences and accommodations over places that rely on "character" as part of their allure. When looking for houses a few years ago, I had to stop my realtor who started off by showing us a lot of older homes with such "character" until I told her that I was from the suburbs of Southern California, home of the tract homes, where the only thing that separates your house from the other is the color paint you chose, and even then, it was easy to get confused sometimes. My one exception to this rule is the lovely Hotel Bel-Air tucked away in Stone Canyon in Los Angeles. The hotel is older, and you won't find the updated marble tubs in their standard suite bathrooms that you do in newer hotels, but just pulling up to the entrance and viewing the lush gardens makes you feel as if you've stepped into a different time period and after driving through traffic, there is an instant sense of serenity. A pot of tropical tea awaits you in your room after you've checked in. The hotel is also special to me as that is where my husband and I spent our wedding night right before departing for our honeymoon the following day and also where I had taken my then future mother-in-law for afternoon tea to have our first serious conversation together.

We've made it a tradition since then to try and go back for every anniversary. Now that we've kissed clubbing days goodbye, after dinner out on the town, we enjoy coming back to the very calm and adult piano lounge in the hotel where you can snack on mini-burgers and truffle fries in a dark library-like setting. The service is impeccable as evinced by the fact that we had mentioned we were celebrating our 5th anniversary there in conversation with our server, and at breakfast mind you, were served a mini-dessert complete with candle to honor the occasion. There are quite a few amenities like the famed Swan Lake and their swimming pool that the hotel is known for, but it's worth checking out their website to see all that can be experienced.

Photo 1: Hotel Bel-Air

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Los Angeles Favorites: In N'Out Burger

Okay, okay, I know that In N'Out now has locations in Nevada and Arizona as well as in Northern California, but the fact that it got its start in Baldwin Park, CA, renders it an LA favorite for me. Those familiar with the drive through menu recognize the simplicity of it: hamburger, cheeseburger, or a double double with shakes and sodas offered along with fries.

Many are also aware of the "secret menu," an off-menu list that prepares the basic three choices, fries, and shakes in a variety of combinations. I have only tried one item off the "secret menu," and that is the Protein-Style cheeseburger and double double. A former co-worker of mine who was really into the Atkins diet and weightlifting first clued me into this delish preparation. Basically, you can get any burger (regular hamburger, cheeseburger, or double double) sans bun, wrapped in iceberg lettuce. I pretty much now always order the double-double protein style with grilled onions (you must ask for grilled onions!) and justify my fries by the fact that I'm missing my starch in the bun. For you calorie-counters out there, I checked the nutritional facts on the In N'Out website and taking the bun off saves you a mere 70 calories. Now I think you've guessed by my previous entries that I'm not exactly an adherent to the Atkins diet (nor of any other diet in particular), but for those of you who are watching their carbs, the Protein-Style burger is a worthy indulgence.

The Secret Menu

For the basic "official" secret menu:

For an even more comprehensive secret menu taken from Wikipedia at

M by C
M meat patties and C slices of cheese (for example, a 3 by 3 or a 2 by 4)
Triple Meat
Three meat patties without cheese.
Animal Style
In addition to the usual condiments, mustard fried on the meat, pickles, extra spread and grilled onions are added.
Animal Style Fries
Fries with cheese, spread, and grilled onions.
Double Meat
Two meat patties without cheese.
Extra Everything
Adds extra spread, tomato, lettuce, and onions (regular or grilled).
Flying Dutchman
Two meat patties and two slices of melted cheese.
Extra Toast
Bun is cooked longer so it is extra toasted.
Fries "Light"
Almost raw fries that are cooked for less time.
Fries "Well"
Fries that are cooked longer to be extra crisp.
Fries with cheese
Fries with two slices of melted cheese placed on top.
Grilled Cheese
Two slices of melted cheese, tomato, lettuce and spread on a bun, with no meat. There is also a Grilled Cheese Animal Style (grilled onions are added).
Choco-Vanilla Swirl Shake
Chocolate and vanilla flavors combined in one shake.
Neapolitan Shake
All three shake flavors (strawberry, vanilla and chocolate) combined in one shake.
Root Beer Float
Vanilla shake with root beer combined.
Protein Style
Instead of a bun, the burger is wrapped in lettuce. In addition to burgers, a protein style Grilled Cheese is available.
Veggie Sandwich
A sandwich without meat or cheese.
Extra packets of refrigerated Thousand Island dressing in packages marked "Spread".
Lemon up
1/2 lemonade 1/2 7-up. for locations

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Los Angeles Favorites: El Torito Grill's Guacamole

Southern California has some great Mexican food including some restaurants that serve very traditional Mexican cuisine. Although I know that the best places are traditionally holes in the wall, I head to an established chain when I want good guacamole. El Torito Grill is a favorite stop for me when I head back home. There is nothing more satisfying that plopping down in one of their booths after a day of shopping in or walking around Beverly Hills and waiting for their signature guacamole to be prepared tableside while downing an iced tea. I always order it extra spicy (still not zippy enough for me) and topped with cotija cheese. On recent visits, the flavor has not always been consistent, but it is always fresh and delicious and not overladen with garlic and raw onions which is what separates it from other guacamole. I tell my husband that I could simply subsist on their guacamole with fresh chips and the hot flour tortillas served with sweet whipped butter and fresh salsa; ordering an entree after gorging on the aforementioned two always seems more like an afterthought, but somehow I always have room for a few bites of their yummy sizzling Carne Asada.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Los Angeles Favorites: Michel Richard Patisserie

I lived in Los Angeles for the majority of my life, and many places that I grew up with have come and gone, with the exception of a few that have managed to survive the fickle preferences of Angelenos. Michel Richard's Patisserie on Robertson is one of them and even has employees who have been there for over 20 years. Michel Richard was a place my parents patronized for desserts for special occasions ever since we arrived in LA from NY in the late 70s. Even now when I go back home to visit, it is a given that after a shopping trip I'll be picking up four of their simple raspberry tarts with an almond flavored crust, along with a thick slice of their Country Black Pepper pate, a baguette, some apricot danishes, brioches, raspberry cheese mousses, and mocha eclairs. If I decide to stop by after shopping along Robertson, I'll order a warm salmon curry salad for lunch with a cup of their french onion soup. In recent years, many other patisseries have cropped up in LA, including Amandine that makes the most amazing strawberry shortcake, but stepping into Michel Richard reminds me of the 80s, my childhood, and a bite into one of their pastries makes me feel like I'm five again. You can't say that about too many places. Michel Richard: 310 S. Robertson Blvd. Los Angeles, CA.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Music: The 88

Last night my husband and I were watching Season 3 of Grey's Anatomy on DVD with the subtitles on; when the screen flashed the artist name and song being played during a scene, Adam Merrin's "Still Alright," I told my husband that I knew an Adam Merrin in high school and immediately flipped open my laptop to Google him. And lo and behold, it was the one and very same guy. Upon further research, I found that he was also the pianist in a band called The 88, whose lead singer, Keith Slettedahl, sat in front of me in Spanish in high school. That very guy used to turn around and bug me with his singing in his creamy pseudo-falsetto voice; I'd tell him to stop.

Well, it's a very good thing that he didn't listen to me and pursued his passion because The 88 is probably one of the greatest alternative bands I've heard in a very long while, and clearly, I didn't get the full range of Keith's vocal capabilities during Mrs. B's Spanish class. Songs like "All 'Cause of You" and "Coming Home" showcase the the band's overall Beatle-esque sound well, but one of my favorite songs, "You Belong to Me", a love ballad, demonstrates the beauty of Slettedahl's vocals and guitar playing. Don't you love it when the guys from home make good?

Photo: Yahoo

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Pearls of the Duchess of Windsor

About twenty years ago, Calvin Klein made some historic purchases for his then wife, Kelly, at an auction of the Duchess of Windsor's jewelry. Among them, the Duchess' wedding band engraved with the word "Eternity" that later provided the name for the designer's best-selling fragrance, and the Duchess' famed natural pearl and diamond necklace made by Cartier. Not too long after that, Kelly Klein was featured in a spread in Vogue wearing her pearls with a black scoopneck body suit, slim-fitting light denim jeans and black flats. As a teen, I was so enamored with that image of casual elegance, that I saved that photo. Well, it's too bad I didn't start saving some cash back then as well, as Calvin's former wife has decided to part with the necklace along with its accompanying natural pearl pendant and set of pearl earrings in an auction to be conducted by Sotheby's on December 4, 2007. Although the combined three lots are estimated to bring about $3 million, it will be interesting to see what they actually go for. Aside from their intrinsic value (the size and quality of these natural pearls are extremely rare), the pearls are of historical importance as they originally belonged to Queen Mary who had gifted them to her son Edward, who subsequently gave them to the woman he abdicated the throne for, Wallis Simpson.

Per the Sotheby's press release, Kelly Klein has said “These pearls hold a very special place in my heart. They were a present from Calvin early on in our relationship. They represent passion, tenderness and a promise about the future. Pearls, in my mind, are different from diamonds or gold. They are warm, mysterious, a small miracle created by nature. They should be worn close to the skin, imbued with the essence of the wearer. It is my hope they will be given again, as they have been in the past, as a gesture of love and worn often and proudly.”

Sotheby's Press Release


Monday, July 23, 2007

Restaurants: The Slanted Door's Out the Door

I am not a big fan of Asian fusion cuisine as I am very old-schooled when it comes to Asian food. Translation: if I've paid $5 for a bowl of great Pho, the $10 one can't be that much better. The Slanted Door in San Francisco's Ferry Building had me intrigued however, since it's been getting rave reviews and has become a standard lunch spot for young professionals in the area according to Bloomberg magazine. When I couldn't get a reservation at the ever-popular restaurant using a week in advance, I was a little disappointed until a friend of mine told me they had two smaller outposts for quick meals and take-out, cleverly named, Out the Door, located in the Ferry Building with another one in the Westfield Center on Market Street. As we were staying in the heart of the city on Market, we headed towards the Westfield Center.

My husband ordered the Pho, I ordered Chicken in a Clay Pot, and we ordered Spring Rolls and Crispy Imperial Rolls to share along with a Taro and Milk Boba and a Tropical Fruit and Lime Boba. The Pho was made with wide rice noodles as opposed to the traditional thin ones, and my husband was disappointed at how bland it was. I had better luck with the Chicken in a Clay Pot; succulent boneless chicken pieces simmered in a sweet soy sauce based gravy. The only thing it was missing was some vegetables so I chose to supplement my meal with some Spicy Broccoli, which was undercooked and overseasoned.

The big winners over all were the Spring Rolls, Crispy Imperial Rolls, my chicken, and surprisingly, their Boba; their Boba was amazingly fresh, not made with the traditional powders you see at the chains, and the tapioca pearls were sweet and chewy. Would I give this place another shot? Absolutely. There are many more rice plates and dishes to be tried and at prices more reasonable than the Slanted Door.

Note to parents with young children: the food court atmosphere at the Westfield makes this location very kid-friendly as well.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Baby Gear: The BandaBib

Like most infants, my daughter was a drooler when she was teething; we went through five bibs a day, and even now, at the age of two, she'll drool when she's being very active or concentrating really hard on something (i.e., working on a puzzle). I was never a huge fan of how the terry cloth bibs looked around her neck, so when I saw Bazzlebaby's BandaBib in Target a few weeks ago, it definitely made me pause. It's a simple yet ingenious idea; a cotton bandana backed with thicker fabric in cute prints that closes with a snap button on the back. Definitely looks a lot cuter than the average bib, and it comes in assorted patterns for boys and girls. There's a great modeling picture at the Bazzlebaby site (which is still under construction)

Available at Target and


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A Day on the Farm

I was a bit deficient in the common sense department last weekend; I realized this as I found myself holding my breath in a port-a-potty with my purse tightly looped around my neck and a mere few minutes later, standing in a wet and muddy raspberry field with mud all over my bare feet; all before 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning. Yes, this is what happens when a city girl decides to go to the farm a day after a torrential downpour wearing flip flops and after downing an iced latte right before a 30-minute drive to Remlinger Farms in Carnation, Washington.

After a rough start, I wasn't expecting much from the rest of my farm adventure, but I was proven wrong and wound up having a fantastic time. Remlinger Farms is a wonderful place to bring the family. After a short period of picking raspberries in the U-pick area, we ventured over to the Country Fair Family Park area which opens at 11 a.m. There are pony rides, train rides, flying pumpkin rides (mini version of the flying Dumbo ride at Disneyland), and a mini-Thunder Mountain like coal mine roller coaster, among other atractions. The crops vary throughout the year, but strawberries and raspberries are available for picking. My only advice would be to wear washable shoes (garden clogs would be good) and to bring some gloves and a small pail for your little one.

In short, while I was outside, I realized how much enjoyment the simpler things in life can bring. I even started wondering what it would be like to live out near a farm a la Anne of Green Gables (I could make raspberry cordial like Marilla Cuthbert!). Of course then I thought about how the house would have to have A/C and heating, gas, proper plumbing, etc. and then I quickly concluded that driving out a few times a year for the experience would be good enough for me.

Check for schedules and hours

Monday, July 2, 2007

Beard Papa's Vanilla Cream Puffs

I guess I am late to the Beard Papa's party. The franchise that specializes in "the world's best cream puffs" originated in Osaka, Japan in 1999 and now has outposts on the East Coast, California, and Hawaii. I first had a BP cream puff last year when my mother's neighbor gave her a box. I thought they were just okay, but then again they were eaten after they had been in the refrigerator which always leaves the exterior rather stale and spongy. I thought I'd give them another try when I was recently in the Westfield Shopping Center on Market in San Francisco.

Caramel was the flavor of the week (Chocolate, Green Tea, and Strawberry are among the rotated flavors), but I opted for the original Vanilla upon my friend's suggestion, which is also the flavor I had when I first tried BP. I watched as they pumped the puff with the fresh vanilla cream right then and there (each one is filled to order), and, as it is with Krispy Kreme, you have to eat it right then and there to get the full effect of the freshness of the cream puff dusted with powdered sugar. Of course, I went back the following day to try the Eclair, which isn't really an Eclair in the traditional sense, but is really just the cream puff topped with chocolate. The Eclair was not as good as the original, mostly due to the fact that the puff had been in the refrigerator (death to cream puffs it seems) presumably to extend the longevity of the chocolate.

Overall, my recent experience redemeed my earlier one, and it is probably a good thing that I don't live near a BP's, otherwise I'd be perpetually walking around with a smattering of powdered sugar on my nose.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Style: The SilkyPop by Hermes

We've all seen the resusable bags at Whole Foods or Trader Joes that one can buy for a mere dollar or two that enable one to take baby steps towards saving the planet. Hermes has taken this seemingly small endeavor one gargantuan step further, make that about a thousand steps further at just over $1K in price, by introducing its SilkyPop bag. The bag is crafted of silk with designs used on Hermes scarves and designed to fold up into a zip-around wallet-type clutch crafted out of buffalo skipper skin that one can carry in their handbag. For an animated demonstration of this fold, you can see the SilkyPop on the UK Hermes site

According to a recent article in the LA Times on the subject of stylish resusable bags, "a spokeswoman for Hermes, for example, said that their new Silky Pop, a hand-wrought silk tote that collapses into a wallet-size pouch of calfskin, was intended as a high-end alternative to the extra fold-up shopping bag that many European women already carry in their purses. ("Say you're out walking. You decide to pick up a few apples, you pull out your bag," she explained, then quickly added: "Though obviously, Hermes clients usually aren't shopping for their own groceries.")

The SilkyPop embodies all the whimsical aspects of Hermes that I've come to admire, but this is one new contraption that I won't be filling with apples. Coming soon to an Hermes store near you.


Monday, June 18, 2007

Chain Dining: The Cheesecake Factory

As any parent of a young child knows, restaurant choices are automatically narrowed down for parents based on how kid-friendly a place is. After two years of dining out with a small child, I have now culled from the chain-restaurant menus certain favorites so that as soon as we are seated and before drink orders are even taken, we are ready to order; this is all part of parental strategic dining in the event the child has a meltdown and a quick exit needs to be made. I've decided to share these here over time as part of the "Restaurants" section. Some of the choices are obvious, others may be a little surprising. Needless to say, these choices can be enjoyed sans child, probably even more so. Let's start with the Cheesecake Factory.

There is no kids' menu at the Cheesecake Factory, which works out just as well; due to the enormous portions doled out at this restaurant, there's no shortage of food when we share with our two-year old. They do bring a small plate with sliced bread and bananas for your child that our daughter always seems to enjoy.

Fire-roasted Artichokes
Simply roasted artichokes served with two dips; a vinaigrette and aoli. I usually fill up on this quickly so I usually just add a small side salad to accompany this and that would be my meal. Wet towels are brought to clean up the messy fingers. Pseudo-healthy.

Avocado Eggrolls (shown)
An all-time favorite. Sundried tomatoes and avocados in a crispy wrapper with an even more delicious sweet dipping sauce. Definitely not so healthy, but very very good.

Firecracker Salmon Rolls
Slightly more refined in its preparation than the Avocado Eggrolls, the wrapper is a lot thinner and crisper, and it's served with a side of red cabbage doused with an Asian dressing of some kind. A little bit lighter fare than the Avocado Eggrolls, but delicious.

Chicken Madeira (shown)
An all-around favorite at the Factory and is usually served with mashed potatoes, although you can request a substitute; I usually pick broccoli to assuage the guilt.

Miso-glazed Salmon
Served on a bed of white rice with a few obligatory snow peas scattered about, the salmon is very tender and tasty.

Portobello Mushroom Burger
I am not a vegetarian, but a friend of mine introduced me to this incredibly tasty "burger" a few years back. Essentially, picture a burger but with a large portobello mushroom sandwiched between the buns; the aioli used on the burger really sweetens the deal.

As for dessert, well, we usually are so stuffed that we pass, but if it's a special occassion, the Vanilla Bean cheesecake is an all-time favorite.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Food: Chocolate and Zuchinni

I was flipping through the June issue of House and Garden and came across a small profile of Clotilde Dusoulier, a 27 year old resident of Montmartre in Paris whose food-focused blog, Chocolate and Zuchinni, has become a huge hit for the on-line set, and Ms. Dusoulier now even has a few cookbooks under her belt. I checked out her site and loved it, but what I found extremely useful and wish I had seen before I had gone to Paris was her Paris City Guide located here:

Chocolate and Zuchinni Paris City Guide

In it, Clotilde details out her experiences from a local standpoint, not places you'd necessarily find in Zagat but that are favored by locals nonetheless; even if a trip to Paris isn't in your future, if you are foodie, you will enjoy Ms. Dusoulier's blog.


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Travel: Eagle Creek Compression Sacs

One of my proudest packing accomplishments occurred over ten years ago on my first trip to Europe; I packed enough clothes for 28 days in one suitcase by neatly folding up thin sundresses into Ziploc bags and squeezing the air out. Needless to say that with time, my clothes aren't exactly teeny tiny anymore, and I need something larger than a gallon-sized Ziploc in which to pack up my clothes and still keep them wrinkle-free. That's why I was pleased to give Eagle Creek's Compression Sacs a try when I packed for Paris; essentially, they are larger and sturdier Ziploc bags designed to reduce volume up to 80%. You simply place your folded clothing inside, seal the top, roll it back and forth to squish the air out and watch your clothes shrink into a dense but packable package. I picked up the Medium and Large set, and I was able to squeeze in four lightweight trenches and dinner coats into the Large and about six long-sleeved tees and some dress pants into the Medium. These are a must to maximize space and minimize wrinkles; they also offer stress-relief when one discovers they've purchased too much during their trip and wouldn't have been able to squeeze everything into one suitcase otherwise.

Available at REI,


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Paris: The Address Book

I'm finally winding down the lengthy Paris section. There are tons of travel books on Paris out there that do a much better job than I in condensing a lot of information in one place; this list below just details out a few of my favorite places and places to visit on my next trip. A great blog to visit is which is written by an American living in Paris who also conducts tours. She has some great basic information under "The Guide" section.

CP's Top Sights
Musee d'Orsay:; 1 rue de Bellechasse or 62 rue de Lille, (7th)
Musee du Louvre: ;34-36 quai du Louvre (1st arr.)
Musee de l'Orangerie:
The Eiffel Tower:; Champ de Mars, (7th arr.)
Saint Chapelle: Palais de Justice, 4 bd. du Palais (4th arr)
Notre Dame:; 6 place du Parvis Notre Dame

CP's Favorites for Shopping:
For handbags, belts, journals, and scarves:
Hermes: 24 rue de Faubourg St. Honore (8th) Metro: Concorde (call a few months ahead if you'd like to tour the museum upstairs)

For children's clothing:
Petit Bateau (multiple locations); I visited the one at 116 avenue de Champs Elysees

For tailored shirts, ties and pajamas:
Charvet: 28 place Vendome, (1 arr)

For unique women's and children's clothing:
Gaspard de la Butte: 10bis, rue Yvonne Le Tac (in Montmartre near the Abbsesses Metro stop)

For all-around one-stop shopping:
Galeries Lafayette: 40 bd. Haussmann (9th arr.)

Restaurants and Cafes:

Laduree, 21 rue Bonaparte and various other locations;
Fauchon: 26 place de la Madeleine (8th arr.)
Au Coin de Gourmet: 5 rue Dante (5th arr.)
Le Grand Colbert: 2 rue Vivienne (2nd arr.)
Pierre Gagnaire: 6 rue Balzac (8th arr.)
Taillevent: 15 rue Lamennais, (8th arr.)
La Tour d'Argent:15-17 quai de la Tournelle
(for the first time visitor; lunch is also a good bet--that's when the locals go apparently)

Places on my list that I didn't have time to visit:

Restaurants and Cafes:
Pierre Herme: 72 rue Bonaparte, (6th arr)
Cafe de Flore: 172 bd. St-Germain, (6th arr)
Les Deux Magots: 6 place St-Germain-des-Pres, (6th arr.)
Chez Paul: 13, rue de Charonne, (11th arr.)
Le Grand Vefour:
Mariage Freres:
Angelina: 226 rue de Rivoli, (1st arr.)

Didier Ludot: 24 Galerie de Montpensier (1st arr.)

Monday, June 4, 2007

Paris: Useful Guides

In the past I've relied on Dorling Kindersley's excellent Eyewitness Travel Guides; the London guide in particular was extremely well-done. I knew that I would not want to tote around a heavy book with me this time around, and because I was just hitting the major tourist attractions, DK's compact Top 10 Paris book worked just fine for me; although if it's your first time, I'd recommend Rick Steves' Paris. Those of you with iPods can download his Paris walking tour podcasts for free. A friend of mine told me about the podcasts, and they proved to be perfect for places like the Notre Dame, the Louvre, and Versailles.

Other books I found useful:
For shopping:
Where to Wear Paris 2006-a great little guide recommended by one of the gals on The Purse Forum. Essentially a Zagat guide for shopping, but better. If you just want to hit the well-known spots, then this is not worth the investment since you can easily look up address information for those shops on-line before you head out (assuming you're so inclined); if, however, you're interested in specific types of shops for the home or mens clothing that are a little off the beaten path, then this guide is for you. In addition to covering well-known stores, the guide is organized by category and gives the nearest Metro stops for each store mentioned as well as opening/closing hours. Not sure if it's published annually as the 2007 guide was not out in May of 2007.

For eating:
Zagat Paris Restaurant Guide for obvious reasons

As previously mentioned, I relied on Lonely Planet's French phrasebook; in addition to commonly used phrases, they throw in some amusing ones covering relationships like "what's your sign?" that you can go through for enjoyment while passing time on the plane.

The most useful maps turned out to be the Pocket Pilot Map and the Map Easy; refer to my earlier post "Prepping for Paris: The Maps" for descriptions. The Pocket Pilot Map was compact and a lifesaver if you plan on using the Metro.

Next: the Paris Address Book and Travel Essentials

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: The Book

After hearing about the film (see previous post), I thought it only proper to visit the inspiration behind the film, and I headed to the bookstore to pick up a copy of Jean-Dominique Bauby's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. I finished the short, 131-page paperback translated from French to English in a little over an hour, dog-earing pages where Bauby's eloquent insightfulness moved me.

While Bauby's dismal situation would cause one to expect a tear-jerker, and tears did well up from time to time, I cried a lot less than I thought I would. Bauby does not spend a lot of time pitying himself or his situation. Instead, the book is a compilation of all that is going on in his mind throughout the course of his time at the hospital. As to be expected, there is a lot of reflection on the past, memories, his thoughts on the people at the hospital, what he sees, feels, thinks, what he misses the most, his interactions with his children, and sometimes insightful and humorous reflections on his condition.

When his son asks him to play hangman, Bauby aches to tell him that "I have enough on my plate playing quadriplegic. But my communication system disqualifies repartee: the keenest rapier grows dull and falls flat when it takes several minutes to thrust it home. By the time you strike, even you no longer understand what had seemed so witty before you started to dictate it, letter by letter. So the rule is to avoid impulsive sallies. It deprives conversation of its sparkle, all those gems you bat back and forth like a ball-and I count this forced lack of humor one of the great drawbacks of my condition."

Although his body was trapped in the diving bell, his eloquent memoir shows that his mind was indeed as active as a glorious butterfly.

Paris: Some Basic Tips

Just thought I'd throw out some tips that I learned prior to and after my trip that proved useful to me:

U.S. Passports:
A not so known rule, your passport must be good three months past the last day of your trip, so if you passport expires a week or so after your trip, you're not within this rule and should get it renewed as soon as possible.

Paris Museum Card/Pass:

Best thing ever if you plan on hitting all the sites over the course of two or three consecutive days. At most sites, in addition to gaining you entry, it will allow you to bypass the long lines at the entrances for buying tickets or getting in. Never wait in line without checking first to see whether or not your card will gain you automatic entry (it will not at Saint Chapelle and Notre Dame--you will have to wait in line). Museum Cards can be purchased through your hotel.

Opening/Closing Days and Hours
It is good to know when certain sites are closed and when the major holidays are; i.e., the Louvre, l'Orangerie and certain other national museums are closed on Tuesdays, and the Musee d'Orsay and Versailles on Mondays (fountains only run on the weekends, and even then it's not all-day long but a sporadic event), and plan your itinerary accordingly. This information is subject to change so it's best to reconfirm before your trip.

Credit Cards and ATM cards:
Give your banks and credit card companies a call before your trip and let them know what dates you will be at your destination. You'd hate to have to call them from overseas in the midst of a shopping spree wondering why your card won't work.


I loved the Lonely Planet's French phrasebook as well as the iTunes download for Rapid French by Earworms Learning which has a lot of repetition set to pleasant and mild electronica. In short, making a serious attempt and being well-mannered (saying your hellos, pleases, and thank yous) will get you far. Everyone we met was extremely helpful and gracious despite my severe butchering of the language.

Knowing how to ask for the check (l'addition) is a must; unlike in the States where your check is practically served with your meal, it is considered very rude to bring the check before you are ready.

Sortie=Exit; very helpful when exiting the metro stations

Le Menu vs. La Carte: asking for le menu would be asking for the fixed price daily specials whereas you really want to ask for la carte (the menu as we know it in the States).

Chaud and Froid: Hot and Cold. Keep this in mind when in your hotel bathroom; "C" does NOT stand for cold, but rather "chaud" which is hot. I learned this the hard way by automatically turning the "C" tap for cold.


Le Metro:
The only thing that really enabled me to figure out the Metro was my Pocket Pilot Map of Paris which had all the stops, and most importantly, the corresponding numbers. Everyday, I'd write on a piece of paper where I needed to change trains depending on where we were going; it made it so much easier once I got to the station, and I just had to figure out which platform to stand on depending on the direction we had to go. While we purchased the packet (carnet) of ten individual tickets since it was unknown to us whether or not I could figure out how to use the Metro early on, the more economical way of doing things if you plan on using the Metro is to purchase the Carte Orange (really for the locals but supposedly can be sold to tourists with passport presentation) or

Paris Visite (meant for tourists only):

this card allows you to get around Paris over the course of 1, 2, 3, 5 days. The packets of tickets and the cards can be purchased at any major Metro station.

If you wind up purchasing individual tickets, hold onto them until you exit the system and arrive at your destination at which point you can discard them. Used tickets will be stamped on the back by the turnstile machine as you insert them.

Visit for information and fares.

The Taxi:
The conventional way of getting a cab in Paris is to find a taxi stand (small shelters) and wait there, not standing in the middle of the road and hailing one with your arm unless you have an early death wish. If you call for one at your hotel, be prepared to find the meter already running by the time it arrives as they charge you from wherever they are when they are called. It is cheaper to find your own or to take the Metro obviously. It is also handy to keep a copy of your hotel address with you and learn the address number in French.

Next: Useful Guides

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: The Movie

Before I continue wrapping up my Parisian adventures, I thought I'd deviate a little and talk about Cannes. Every year, I follow the Cannes film festival with great interest and make a few mental notes of what to watch out for in the coming months. This year, artist Julian Schnabel's adaptation of a beloved French memoir, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: A Memoir of Life in Death , has generated quite a bit of buzz. The memoir of Jean-Domnique Bauby, a former editor at Elle, recounts the author's remarkable tale of what it was like for him to live with "locked-in syndrome" caused by a rare stroke to the brain stem. As he was unable to speak or move, he could only communicate by blinking his left eye; using an alphabet system corresponding to blinks, the book was painfully transcribed by a very patient publisher's assistant. Unfortunately, Bauby passed away shortly after the book was published.

The film has opened at Cannes with favorable response and has been sold to ten markets already.

For more details, refer to this article by one of my favorite movie critics, the Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan: LA Times, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Paris: Galeries Lafayette

To describe Galeries Lafayette as a department store would really be an inept moniker as it is really everything you could possibly want in one place. A wide variety of designer labels from the luxury end to the moderately-priced are housed under one roof. There were a few brands like Antik Batik that I found to be slightly less expensive than in the States, and then there were some other brands I didn't even recognize. If you plan on doing some serious shopping here, give yourself plenty of time and pace yourself. In general, I skipped the clothing and handbags (and the general sense of chaos in the multi-level crowded store) and made my way to my favorite part of Galeries Lafayette, its gourmet food market, Lafayette Gourmet. There is an Eric Kayser counter in there, cured meats, cheeses, wines, chocolates, produce, Asian foods, among a variety of other items. We wound up buying some macaroons, croissants and the most delicious pineapple, cleaned and cored right in front of us. I'd definitely hit this place or Fauchon if you're looking to have an impromptu picnic along the Seine as there is a vast array of food items from which to choose from.

If you do decide to shop for clothing and the like at GL, be sure to pick up the 10% off card for visitors at the desk or your hotel.

40 boulevard Haussmann

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Scenes from Versailles

The photo above is a detail from a very familiar painting, an exact copy made for Versailles of his original hanging in the Louvre, Jacques Louis David's The Coronation of Napoleon. Everything in this copy is identical to the original except for this one interesting detail; whereas in the original, all five (number five is cut off in my photo) women are wearing white, this woman, Napoleon's sister, Pauline, with whom David was in love, is highlighted in this copy at Versailles by having her dress painted a peach color.

The grand trees at Versailles, every one of which has been catalogued carefully as to its origins and age.

I did a double take when I walked by this one, Laocoön and His Sons is one of my favorite sculptures, but it resides in the Vatican. I took a closer look at the placard and realized that it was one of the many copies of the original which had been unearthed in Rome in the early 1500s. This particular copy at Versailles was done in 1696 by Jean-Baptiste Tuby, Philibert Vigier, and Jean Rousselet.

Here's the original along with some interesting facts (note the difference in positioning of the right arm in both works):

From Wikipedia: "When the statue was discovered, Laocoön's right arm was missing, along with the hand of one child and the right arm of the other. Artists and connoisseurs debated how the missing parts should be interpreted. Michelangelo suggested that the missing right arms were originally bent back over the shoulder. Others, however, believed it was more appropriate to show the right arms extended outwards in a heroic gesture. The Pope held an informal contest among sculptors to make replacement right arms, which was judged by Raphael. The winner, in the outstretched position, was attached to the statue.

In 1957, however, the original right arm of Laocoön himself was found in a builder's yard in Rome, and was in the position which had been suggested by Michelangelo. The arm has now been rejoined to the statue. There are many copies of the statue, including a well-known one in the Grand Palace of the Knights of St. John in Rhodes. Many still show the arm in the outstretched position. The copy in Rhodes has been corrected." Clearly, the copy at Versailles has not.

The young and ill-fated Marie Antoinette

The fountains at Versailles which only run on the weekends and during the high-season. Because approximately 80% of the original pumping system is still in use, they are not on continuously but only for short durations.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Paris: The Shopping-Part II


One of the stores I was most excited about visiting for the first time was the flagship store on 24, rue Faubourg-St. Honore. The museum upstairs has been re-opened to the public by appointment only. Unfortunately, I had not thought ahead, otherwise it would have been spectacular to view the vintage items up there. All the staff at Hermes were unfailingly polite and helpful. I had the good fortune of working with a knowledgeable SA who had been there for quite some time. One thing I noticed about the locals who carried their Hermes Kellys on the streets was that they wore them quite casually, with the straps dangling and the flap on the turnkey alone. They were always in black or brown and looked as if they had been well-loved and worn. Definitely a case of the owner wearing the bag and not the other way around.

We also visited the store at George V which had a delightful storefront and the largest collection of Hermes hats I'd ever seen in an Hermes store.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Scenes from Giverny

Before I conclude the shopping section, I thought I'd take a break and write about one of the highlights of our trip. Monet's home in Giverny is about an hour away from the heart of Paris and is worth the journey, especially with the wonderful weather we were experiencing. We took a tour through a company whereby a mini-van picked us up at our hotel, drove us there and had our tickets ready. Definitely nice to have it all taken care of as I wasn't too clear on how far the train station was from the house. Some unexpected gems at Giverny include the Museum of American Art just down the road from Monet's home which houses an impressive collection of American impressionist work (and many modern conveniences like A/C!), the homemade ice cream cart near the entrance, and Monet's large collection of Japanese woodblock prints decorating an entire room in the house.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Paris: The Shopping-Part I

Even though I love to shop, I had only one major store I wanted to go to in Paris, and that was the Hermes flagship store at 24, rue Faubourg-St. Honore. Before we get to Hermes however, there were a few other places we hit that I enjoyed and stocked up at:

10 place Vendome

This store is another Parisian institution having been around for over 100 years. They are renowned for their ready to wear or made to measure shirts for men and women and have attired royalty and various heads of state; perhaps their most famous client was the Duke of Windsor. It is a must to own one of their dress shirts; better yet, to have them made to measure specifically for you. There are a total of seven floors at Charvet. We only made it to three. Definitely check out their mens' shirts and womens' floor. They are also well known for their pajamas and robes.

Petit Bateau
Yes, there are a few stores scattered here and there in the U.S. but the prices are a bit high for the cotton clothing, although they are of wonderful quality. It is less expensive in France, and it was at the Champs Elyssees location that I scored a major find, a lovely button-down terry robe for my daughter. DH had been obsessed with finding her one after realizing that she was outgrowing her hooded towel. Every store we went to in the mall, he would ask if they had robes for toddlers. Not surprisingly, the answer was always no. So when I saw a simple yet adorable robe with buttons instead of a sash, I was elated. I also went a bit crazy on the adorable bateau necked tops, camisoles, pajamas, and basic tee shirts. The aesthetic is so much more appealing than the bright pink, mini-Paris Hilton outfits one finds in the States.

Louis Vuitton
Okay, this place (the flagship on the Champs) was a zoo. Full of tourists elbowing their way to the front of the counter and vying for the attention of a team of staff that are severely outnumbered; it is also peppered with a team of security at the doors and throughout the store. We headed there in search of a few gifts. A very nice SA greeted us and as we pointed to bags behind the counter to try on, other customers watched the modeling session carefully. I think my mom must have sold at least three bags just by modeling her bag in front of a mirror. I watched a few tourists point to her bag when talking with their SAs. It was really amusing to watch. After we made our selections, our SA pulled them out for our inspection and we gave them a cursory lookover and said they looked fine. He looked relieved and when I asked him about it, he stated that some customers were really particular and really went over their bags with a fine-toothed comb. If anything, it is fun just to go in there and watch it all go down.

Gaspard de la Butte
near the Abbesses Metro stop

We found this store by accident. We were walking through Montmartre when we spied this tiny store as being open, a rarity on Labor Day in Paris. I am so glad we went in. The clothing was well-made and absolutely adorable for both women and children. It was like Marc Jacobs, Marni, and Liberty all rolled into one. Some floral cotton tops with patchwork, a mod 60s mercerized cotton coat, cropped jackets for toddlers, all just gorgeously crafted.