31 October 2012

Food Adventures in Atwater

Temperatures turned cold last week-- in LA terms "cold" means "the 60's"-- and while these frigid fall days cause many Southern Californians to bundle up and take shelter, Michael and I emerged from the safety of our air conditioned apartment to take long walks over to downtown Atwater Village.

To illustrate how long it's been since we visited that part of our neighborhood, we went to this brand new restaurant (at least we thought it was new) and it turned out they'd been serving the citizens of Los Angeles for at least the last 3 months. What can I say, we don't like warm weather.

That restaurant was Bon Vivant, a quaint market/cafe/restaurant with a French-inspired menu featuring impressive cuisine. I, of course, knew none of this and just thought the place looked pretty so it must be safe to eat at right?!?! Fortunately, the food is TO-DIE-FOR and, in traditional California fashion, made of fresh local ingredients. The mediocre desserts come from a shop in Culver City so I won't count them against BV.  Also, they have almond milk for every manner of latte you desire! 

Check out my stereotypical food pictures:

Smoked Duck Salad with cucumbers, mango, oranges, and a light vinaigrette.

Double Shot Almond Milk Caramel Latte and the Duck Egg Burger (so messy but soooo tasty)

The place has a cool barn feeling with incredible Halloween decor.

Since we moved to LA, I've wanted to try Indochine Vietnamese cafe conveniently located across the street from Bon Vivant. Atwater is a plethora of International Cuisine! 

Anyway, this was my first time trying Vietnamese food and I was not only impressed with the flavors, but also the price. Another excellent find.

Left: Black Thai Iced Tea which might as well be crack as it's so good. Right: Shrimp and Chicken egg rolls.

Pho Tai - beef and rice noodle soup (it's HUGE)

Pho Bo Xao-- basically it reminded me of Pad Thai. It wasn't on their normal menu, it was a special.

Finally, we headed over to Sweets for the Soul, a tiny bakery two doors down from Bon Vivant, for their legendary iced shortbread cookies. The cookies are buttery & crumbly complimented nicely with an icing that I believe (though it hasn't been confirmed) has almond extract.

While the iced cookie is worth $3.25, in my humble opinion, the rest of the goodies don't live up to the steep price tags, especially given the portion size but also the flavor. They're just not that good.

Perhaps I'm being picky because I come from a bakery family, but I still haven't found a solid bakery in LA. What's also frustrating is they require a $10 minimum on credit card purchases, so you must have cash if you want to pop in an grab a small treat. Annoying. And the customer service isn't great..... but I will forgo all of that for those cookies-- I'm HOOKED!

My pumpkin has a mustache.

I suppose I should get back to cooking... but can you blame me for dining out with these restaurants nearby?!

30 October 2012

Halloween Movies for Wusses

With Halloween approaching (like... TOMORROW) and most of us hungover from weekend celebrations, this Wednesday will be the perfect evening for sweet treats and scary movies.

But what if you don't like scary movies? Personally, I don't mind a little suspense or something popping up from God knows where, but blood and gore has absolutely no appeal. Zero. Nada. Nothing. So I've compiled a list of awesome Scary and Not-So-Scary Halloween films for families and those of us uninterested in seeing what a body looks like when some vengeful spirit's hook runs through it.

For Families:

Starting with It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown just makes sense because who doesn't love Snoopy and the Gang? As a fan of Full House, I'm aware the Olsen Twins lack... skills... in the acting department, but I always enjoyed Double Double, Toil and Trouble-- it's sweet!

Moving into the animated realm, we have Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School and Walt Disney's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Despite the collection of both cartoon and live action Scooby-Doo films that exist in the world, I lost count how many times my brothers and I watched Ghoul School. It's my favorite Scooby-Doo movie.
Bing Crosby and the music from Sleepy Hollow make this Disney short a great addition to your Halloween library.

If you are a Child of the 90's, I'm pretty sure you've seen at least one Ernest movie, and there's a good chance it was Scared Stupid because it's the best. Definitely save this for the older children, those trolls are creepy!
And of course, the best Halloween movie EVER MADE: Hocus Pocus. It's funny, scary, quotable, and has a great cast. 

Kids Halloween Movies that scarred me as a child: 

I think someone over at Disney had a great laugh when they labeled Something Wicked This Way Comes a "family" film. I still get creeped out every time I think of the carousel and the tarantulas...
Same goes for The Witches. These two films scared the POOP out of me so bad that I haven't watched them since my childhood.  A third film comes to mind: The Watcher in the Woods. While I own it now, it's actually a lot slower and not as scary I thought... so maybe that holds true for the other two...???

For Grown-Ups:

This is harder because everyone's tastes are different. If you like suspense, you can't go wrong with Hitchcock. These 3 are favorites of mine--

If you prefer horror without the gore on Halloween, stick to the classics. You can go with the original Universal Monsters--

Or anything starring Vincent Price--


If you like movies with a bit of blood and disturbing moments of terror, you can always look to the 70's for some great films.

For those that want to have a little fun this Halloween...

There you go, a selection of films fit for this spooky holiday. Or you can do what I plan and watch all the Halloween episodes of your favorite TV shows!

So... what will you be watching?

29 October 2012

Tea of the Week: Javavana Mate

Quitting my Diet Coke habit and trying to drink fewer lattes has left me with few options for a daily boost, especially since I will never indulge in energy drinks. So I've taken my tea drinking to another level, indulging in a variety of teas on a daily basis to not only get caffeine, but also add other nutrients teas offer.

A long time ago I wrote an epically long blog about tea, how to make it, what to use, etc etc. Well, I think it would be easier to feature a tea of the week with plenty of pictures and simple instructions. Plus I want to promote the drinking of this delish beverage as much as possible. 

Disclaimer: At the moment I get all of my teas from Teavana since that's what I know and trust. However, I'd love any recommendations for Loose Leaf brands as I hope to incorporate more varieties into my daily tea diet.

First up we have Javavana Mate (MAH-tay) that goes for $7.20 per 2 oz. at Teavana:

Yes, the "Java" in Javavana indicates coffee as this is a coffee-flavored tea with chocolate, cappuccino, and vanilla flavors as well. The energy boosting stimulant in mate tea is equivalent to the caffeine boost from a cup of coffee without being addictive or making you jittery. Plus it curbs the appetite, so it's a great tea to add to a weight loss plan.

Because it's the perfect latte substitute, I add coconut milk and a teaspoon of German rock sugar.

Rock sugar is made from beets, 25 calories per teaspoon, and is a great natural sweetener that enhances the flavor of tea without changing it. 

Hmmm... how to describe the effect....  

Have you ever smelled a fruit tea that has a strong, fruity aroma, but when you drink it the flavor is a watered down version of the scent? Well, the rock sugar makes the tea taste like it smells... if that makes sense.

You can also use rock sugar in coffee, baking, etc.

Javavana Tea Lattes are what I love in the mornings while I'm trying to wake up:


Or in the middle of the day when I'm dragging...

Iced Javavana Tea Latte

Add 6 teaspoons of Javavana loose leaf tea and 1 tsp rock sugar to a Perfect Tea Maker (or something equivalent). Fill halfway with hot water and let steep 6 to 12 minutes. The longer it steeps the stronger the flavor. Empty the tea maker over a pint glass full of ice. 

Add coconut milk (or any milk of your choosing) to taste. I add 3 tbsp of coconut milk OR 1 tbsp skim OR 1 tsp heavy cream.  Mix well as the dissolved sugar will be on the bottom. Enjoy!

**To make this hot, Teavana will recommend half the amount of scoops and an almost full tea maker of water. However, to me that dumbs down the flavor, so I say stick with the same amount of scoops and fill the tea maker, leaving a centimeter of space.

**Remember, you can adjust the flavor to make it stronger or lighter depending on your taste. Don't be afraid to experiment-- it's just tea!!!

28 October 2012

New Hair!!!

Today you're going to get a lot of ME in one place. Consider yourselves warned.

Remember when I cut my long hair to what I thought was a decently short length? NO?! Well, here's a refresher. Go look. Right now. 

I'll wait.

While my hair was okay, I really didn't love it being shoulder length. I wanted it shorter in the back, more layers, a severe angle from my jaw to my neck... basically, I needed a different style. It grew too fast and while I liked the nice ladies who chopped it off, their long, solidly dark hair told me they disapproved of super short hair on women. Maybe it's part of the Armenian culture? I don't know.

So I whined about it on Facebook because that's what people of my generation do nowadays, and my lovely sister-in-law-- who lives in Chicago-- Yelped me a couple salons, one in Venice and one magically in Atwater called This or Die.

Because I don't believe my hair is worth the gas and time it would take to get to Venice, I went with the latter. This or Die looks a little like a tattoo parlor from the front, but I assure you they cut hair. Missy, my adopted stylist, was sweet, skilled, and fun to chat with. She kept referencing the picture I brought in:

I know, cute right?

This was the most I've spent on a haircut (excluding the one time I got highlights) and it took an hour and a half, but was worth it. Overall, I had a great time and will make This or Die my official salon.

Because I'm so unbelievably popular and had a couple millions of people begging to see more photos, I wrote this blog and added more pictures. Here's a couple shots of me in pretentiously large sunglasses just out of the salon:
I don't smile with my teeth in close-ups because I think they look yellow and that's just gross. Anyone use Crest White Strips?

These sexy photos are a day later after I styled my own hair like an adult. I'm trying to train my bangs.

What do you guys think? I love my haircut and plan to keep it this way for a long time. What can I say, I rock short hair.

26 October 2012

Quick-Fire Reviews: Secret of the Wings, Today's Special, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, Arrow, and Beauty and the Beast

It's been FOREVER and a mutha f'in DAY since I've done one of these so let's dive right in!

Secret of the Wings

Secret of the Wings is the fourth in a line of Tinker Bell films set in Neverland's Pixie Hollow. This new one introduces fairy fans to the Winter Fairies through Periwinkle, Tinker Bell's long lost sister. Winter Fairies and Pixie Hollow Fairies are forbidden by law to cross into the other's realms. Will Tink and Peri overcome this oppressive rule and be sibling besties forever?

I love the Tinker Bell films; they're actually what made me like Miss Bell as I wasn't a fan before. The CGI is beautiful, the stories have sweet messages, and the voice cast includes Mae Whitman and Angelica Houston. Sadly Kristin Chenoweth did not return for SotW, but they signed Timothy Dalton so that's kind of the same thing, right? Out of the four films, Secret of the Wings is the weakest with a thin conflict and overabundance of cheesy montages. While the actual score is lovely, Disney still finds it necessary to pepper these films with cringe-worthy bubble gum pop songs about love and friendship. Dear Disney-- Please stop. However, the DVD is worth a purchase for the 22 minute Pixie Hollow Games short in honor of the Olympics. I love the clever production design for Tinker Bell's world-- overall it's a must for any Tinker Bell fan.

Today's Special

Let's see how many food puns I can include in this review. Today's Special is a delectable little morsel I selected from the varied menu of Netflix independent films. I had a craving for Indian and this movie sated my appetite nicely. Samir quits his sous chef position at a prestigious New York restaurant after his boss passes him over for a head chef position at another restaurant. He's about to leave for an internship in France when his father suffers a heart attack and Samir must run the failing family restaurant, a problem since Samir has no idea how to cook Indian food. 

A comfort food family comedy peppered with romance, Today's Special tries tackling the father/son relationships in Indian-American culture, as well as the beauty and complexity of Indian food. Personally, I would've loved a greater focus on the food and Indian culture than the bland characters. While Today's Special is enjoyable albeit cheesy, the film lacks the spice and flavor of the Indian food it promotes.

I counted 9 puns. Awesome.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Just in time for Halloween, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a piece of historical fiction about the true conflict behind the Civil War and one of America's greatest Presidents. Basically, Abe's father owes money to a creepy dude who turns out to be a vampire-- though no one knows it but us because we read the title of the film. Abe's mother becomes "mysteriously ill" because of 2 bite marks on her wrist. She dies, Abe's father dies a few years later, and Abe grows up wanting revenge against Creepy Dude because he somehow knows this guy was the cause behind his parents' deaths. Yet he still doesn't know vampires are real. Trying to kill the guy, he finds out the hard way that bloodsuckers exist. He's trained by Henry, a vampire hunter with a few secrets of his own, and together they must take down Adam-- the First Vampire who is intent on ruling America.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter has interesting slow motion action sequences with Abe doing crazy shit with an axe. I liked that. Everything else-- story, characters, conflict, romance-- progressed unnaturally fast and therefore made no sense for film but was probably well explained in the book. Suddenly Abe goes from being a terrible fighter to vampire slayer to law student to politician to husband to president. That's a lot for 105 minutes. And for those of you wanting to watch a scary movie for Halloween, this film is NOT it. Overall,  AL:VH is entertaining but forgettable.


And now we enter the realm of TV, specifically ever cheesy CW shows.

A friend recommended Arrow after seeing a few episodes for free on Hulu (hint hint), and as I told her,  the show's premise is Batman Begins meets Revenge with an emphasis on the latter. Based on the DC Comics character Green Arrow, the show follows trust-fund baby Oliver Queen who returns to civilization after his yacht sinks and he's marooned on an island for 5 years. Unlike Cast Away, this island is inhabited by.... well, we don't know who or what other than another dude with a hood and bow & arrow, but whatever it is it's dangerous because Oliver has scars EVERYWHERE (see photo).'

Pros: action, intriguing story, Oliver's abs, a crazy scene on a raft, and bow & arrows.

Cons: Oliver spends most of his time brooding, his delinquent sister keeps whining about the last 5 years as if she had been stuck on an island presumed dead... and continues her moodiness even after she sees the scars covering her brother's body, and the "love interest" is ridiculous. Overall, I'll keep watching because there's a lot of potential in Arrow.

Beauty and the Beast

The only thing redeemable about Beauty and the Beast is its use of the same names for its lead characters as those from the 80's series starring Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman. 

Nine years after college student/bartender Catherine Chandler's mom dies and she is saved by what she claims is a "beast" during a car-jacking that we all know was really a hit, Catherine is a NYPD homicide detective obsessed with her mom's murder yet still stunningly beautiful (good thing all that stress hasn't taken a toll on her looks!). During a random investigation, Catherine is searching for suspect Vincent Keller, a special forces marine she discovers is missing/presumed dead. But Catherine-- street smart detective that she is-- knows Vincent is alive... because she does, okay! She finds him/ he saves her-- I really can't remember/don't care-- and they reconnect.

Apparently our "Beast"-- made SO unattractive by a single scar on his cheek (the horror!)-- is hiding out from a military group because he was injected with drugs that made him turn into a dumbed down version of The Hulk. Despite his need to live off the grid, Catherine continuously shows up at his hideout every day to talk about her cases or her mother or life. Desperation thy name is Catherine Chandler.
Even after all those years on Smallville, Kristin Kreuk's talent still lies solely in her looks. Interrogations sound like heartfelt tete-a-tetes and any emotion other than "happy" is expressed by a furrowed brow and a look of constipation. The cast is, not surprisingly, attractive and one-dimensional, and I'm pretty sure it's shot in a Los Angeles sound stage rather than the great city of New York.

Tweens might keep this show going purely for the sexual tension between Catherine and Vincent, but I won't be watching.

24 October 2012

Skinny Minnie

Don't you just love puns?

A couple months ago, Yahoo! wrote an article about the Barney's Holiday Disney promo beginning mid-November that creates a high fashion "look" for iconic characters like Mickey, Minnie, Snow White, Goofy, etc. Other news sites like The Huffington Post also published similar commentaries about the effect this visualization would have on body image, especially in young girls. See for yourself:

(photo courtesy of Zap2It)

Was Minnie Mouse a great influence in body image before this makeover? Or Goofy? I'll admit that, as an avid viewer of Disney films, I dearly wanted Princess Aurora's hair and to sing under the sea like Ariel while residing in my castle with a GIANT LIBRARY (so jealous of Belle). Yet I always kept one key factor in the back of my mind: THEY ARE CARTOONS!!! How many women looked at this picture and thought "I wish I had Daisy Duck's legs."

While the Media is doing its typical "make something out of nothing" ploy using the Disney brand to lure readers-- works every time with me!-- the comments to these articles reach a new level of aggravation. A few sane reasonable individuals remind readers that "Hey! These are animals DRAWN (key word... actually maybe "animals" should be the key word) to look like people!" Yet most comments follow themes of not supporting Disney, how could Disney promote this body image to girls, they look like witless size 0 models (I kid you not, someone actually said that), who would buy this stuff, blah blah blah.  

First, Barney's is a super-high-end department store that sells designer clothing modeled by sky high beautiful people. These ads are focused on a specific demographic-- and that's ok! If you don't like the product, don't buy it. That being said, the clothing being "modeled" isn't made for children either-- this is an adult interpretation made to attract adults. Could it be that today's adults may have been children at one time and might be aware of Disney characters? Gasp!

Second, can we please get something straight: "skinny" does not equal stupid, nor does it equal unhealthy or signify an eating disorder. "Model" doesn't equal stupid either. Neither does "fat" for that matter. Let's focus on loving our own bodies just as they are so we can love others just as they are and teach that perspective on body image to kids. 

Third, teaching children the difference between cartoons and real people might be a good idea.

Most of all, there is general shock that Disney would allow such iconic toons to be interpreted in such a way. I'm assuming these people never heard of deviantART or visited my Disney Pinterest Board. And they haven't followed the history of Disney and the evolution of The Mouse either. Oh and they don't seem like fans of ARTISTIC INTERPRETATION.

Personally, I dislike the marketing campaign because I think the overall look is ugly. However, these altered Disney characters are a brilliant strategy by both Disney and Barney's because they're already generating publicity and controversy. Actually, I think Disney is embracing the beauty of artistic contention as a method of garnering attention (as long as it doesn't have strong negative material consequences). Check out the latest drama surrounding Sofia the First .

Perhaps, instead of calling out Disney's influence on body image, we need to dive deeper into the designer fashion industry. Or perhaps even deeper into the media's take on looks and health. Or dive deeper into how we shape our own personal body image, how we let others influence us, and weed out the focus on flaws. In general, negative comments about "fat people" reflect an ignorance on a person's struggle as well as all the different factors toward weight issues, and negative comments about "skinny people" reflects jealousy and more misunderstanding about the human body. Even the terms 'fat' and 'skinny' are subject to interpretation.

In conclusion: all this negativity is bad for the soul. Think positive and love yourself-- it's easier!

What do you think about Minnie and the gang? Does it call into question body image? Will it have any affect on children? I've shared my thoughts, but did I miss something?

10 October 2012

10 Films I Love (and why)

Today we're going to talk about movies because... I f**king love them (just trying to class things up with some colorful language!). Before I dive into my analytic perspective on certain films and make you THINK, I thought I'd start out with a list. Actually, it will probably be a few lists because I can't just pick 10 favorite films as choices are hard.

But first-- a disclaimer: if you're looking for a list containing intellectually stimulating films or all-around cinematic masterpieces, I suggest you head over to the AFI and Criterion websites. This top 10 list has movies that I simply love. How do I know if I "love" a film? There are 3 distinct factors:

  1. Repeat viewings-- sometimes in the same day.
  2. Researching every aspect about the film, including watching all of the bonus features.
  3. Quoting the film. As I'm not much of an audible learner, if I remember what was said there's a good chance I loved the movie.

Without further delay and in no particular order, here are 10 Films I Love.

The Thin Man

Believe it or not, this 1934 comedic "Who Done It?" is actually a Christmas movie! At least... it takes place during the holiday and it's tradition that I watch this and its New Years Eve sequel, After The Thin Man, every year. The film stars Hollywood "Golden Age" power couple William Powell and Myrna Loy. Separately, they're both fantastic comedic actors, but together their banter and on-screen chemistry are what truly makes the movie.

Pride and Prejudice (2005) 

Few films ever come close to cinematic perfection, but Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley is, to me, perfect. Forget that it's a fantastic Jane Austen adaptation, forget that it hosts a legendary cast of young and seasoned talent, and forget that it's a timeless romance that filmmakers and writers will still be adapting decades to come. Take those factors away and the film has stunning cinematography beautifully edited into one continuous visual journey accompanied by a score so lovely that I actually used the music for my wedding ceremony. To say that I love this film would be an understatement.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (extended editions)

I haven't read the books so I have no basis to judge LOTR as an adaptation. Honestly, it's such a gorgeous fantasy production that this, too, is another perfect piece of cinema. What more can I say?


Nothing can really explain the comedic scope and legendary quotations from this amazing ensemble film. If you've seen it you know exactly what I'm talking about. If you haven't, well, get to it because you're missing out on a movie you'll never tire of watching, especially with a great group of friends.

Love Actually

Films with large, all-star ensemble casts have a tendency to be... well... awful, i.e. New Year's Eve and Valentine's Day. It might have something to do with needy, greedy stars that fight over the most screen time BUT I wouldn't want to speculate.  So Love Actually is a breath of fresh air. It works as a smart, witty, and sweet RomCom, a warm and fuzzy Christmas movie, and a great example of how to do ensembles right.  I think it's a British thing.

Persuasion (1995 and 2007)

Persuasion happens to be one of my favorite novels in all the Universe, thus it makes sense that TWO very different yet equally well-made adaptations would become two films I love. And I do love them, like Captain Wentworth loves Anne Elliot.

Sherlock Holmes 

As a kid I spent my Thursday nights watching PBS Mystery! hosted by Diana Rigg. It was here I developed a love for David Suchet's Poirot, Joan Hickson's Miss Marple, and Jeremy Brett's Holmes. So when Robert Downey Jr. (a favorite actor of mine) landed the role of my favorite detective, you needed four burly men and tranquilizers to keep me from the theater. A stellar film and I love watching on repeat. Oh and I loved the sequel as well.

A Christmas Carol

A favorite story in general, you can't go wrong sticking me in front of a television playing any adaption of A Christmas Carol. While the Ebenezer Scrooge played by both Reginald Lockhart (1938) and Alistair Sim (1951) will forever hold a special place in my heart, Robert Zemeckis re-imagined the tale in ways I never thought possible. The imagery alone is incredible and Jim Carrey does a fabulous job jumping from Scrooge to all three ghosts (even if the Ghost of Christmas Past is a little weird).

The Court Jester

If you've ever watched White Christmas, you've seen Danny Kaye's incredible triple-threat talent hard at work. While The Court Jester has less singing and dancing (though there is some), this film offers oodles of slapstick comedy from a master comedian. Imagine if Robin Hood had a bumbling sidekick who must impersonate a traveling jester (who also happens to be an assassin) to infiltrate the castle to overthrow the tyrant ruler and place the rightful heir on the throne.

The famous "Vessel with the Pestle" dialog scene is from this movie.

Robin Hood Men in Tights

Speaking of Robin Hood and comedy, Robin Hood Men in Tights is a legendary comedy on its own. Though you can't go wrong with anything by Mel Brooks. I don't have anything else to add other than "Did you say 'Abe Lincoln?' "

There are many more films I love but this is just a taste of... my taste!