Memorial Day BBQ

This Memorial Day I felt the need to get into the spirit and have a BBQ, complete with patriotic decorations.  I have only once properly celebrated the holiday, visiting the cemetery three years ago where my Italian relatives are, some of whom fought in wars.  While this year I am just staying home, I thank all those who have served or are currently serving our country for their immeasurable sacrifice and honor.

I made my favorite family burger recipe, mixing by hand ground onions and Italian-style breadcrumbs in the hamburger meat.  We grilled them on the broiler, since it was unfortunately too chilly to barbeque outside.  Right before they were finished I topped the patties with thinly sliced Beecher's cheddar cheese, a local specialty, made famous on Oprah's Favorite Things.  We toasted potato buns and then slathered them with toppings and sauces of our liking.  My choice?  "Pink sauce"- simply mayonnaise and ketchup mixed together.  There was also fresh corn on the cob, homemade rosemary-roasted potato fries, and salmon burgers for S.  I put out small blue bowls filled with potato chips, and added a red napkin as a runner, topping it with blue candle holders and a patriotic star, just purchased today.  

{Table spread}

We kept dessert simple, serving up bowls of strawberries and cream.

{Dessert- American flag colors}


Best Spaghetti Aglio e Olio

 {Aglio e Olio spaghetti with grated parmesan and sauteed cherry tomatoes}    

A few weeks ago, we decided to not make an exception for Easter and continued our Pasta Sunday tradition.  We made a simple Aglio e Olio spaghetti (I love Ina Garten's recipe from her cookbook, How Easy is That?) and cooked some cherry tomatoes to put on the side.  In celebration of the holiday, we decided to have a festive spring dessert and a strawberry jelly roll cake was the perfect choice.  For the pasta all you need to do is cook some chopped garlic and hot chili flakes in olive oil.  (I use about 4-5 cloves of garlic and a teaspoon of chili flakes.)  When you drain the pasta, reserve about 3/4 of a cup of the pasta water and add it to the chili oil.  Grate in a generous amount of parmesan cheese while stirring, then pour over pasta.  Add 1/2 cup of finely chopped parsley and salt and pepper according to taste.  I love De Cecco spaghetti which Ina recommends, as it has the best bite of any dried pasta.  

{Jelly roll cake with strawberries and whipped cream}

{Sliced jelly roll cake}



{Tulips and citrus}

{March daffodils}

{Lilies and tulips}

{Fred with flowers}

{St. Patrick's Day tea}


Five Reasons to Visit Cassis

 1) Cassis is an easy drive if you're staying in any of the Provence towns or Marseille

 2) The clean beaches, rugged cliffs, and smaller crowds than the rest of the Cote D'Azur

 3) Picturesque views from every corner

 4) Enjoy a seafood lunch at the beautiful port (every restaurant has a variation of moules)

 5) The calanques.  Take a guided-boat tour after lunch in the port or take a hike on the trails from above (Note: they may be closed during the summer months due to the risk of forest fires)


Lemon Chicken Breasts

One of my favorite new recipes is so simple yet so delicious and it comes from Ina Garten's How Easy is That? cookbook.  Only a few ingredients are required, but the flavors come together so nicely in the oven, and it results in the perfect comfort food.  I love how the lemons are not just a garnish, but an important ingredient and they look so pretty on the plate as well.  You can find the recipe here.  I added some brown rice and green beans to round out the meal.  


Healthy Alternatives to Classic SE Asian Dishes

When T. was here this past weekend, he cooked dinner for us one night, incorporating all of the health-conscious ingredients he's grown accustomed to using since becoming a California resident nine years ago. To be honest, we were all skeptical of substitutions for things like rice and chicken, but barring the somewhat disappointing sugar-free dessert (substituted with stevia), the rest of the meal was delicious.  I am now convinced that there really are great alternatives and substitutions to less healthy foods (wheat and meat for example).  I am currently working on rounding up recipes so that you can create your own healthy meal at home.  

{Appetizer tray including roasted red pepper dip, smoked salmon,
cheese, and crackers}

{Gluten-free pad thai with zucchini noodles}

{Vegetarian "chicken" curry}

{Gluten-free cauliflower rice}


{"Banana goes south" dessert}


Travel Favorites

I have a love-hate relationship with packing.  It can be stressful rounding up all the last-minute items you need for a trip (like picking up that prescription xanax for the plane), but there is no denying the element of excitement involved in putting everything in your suitcase as you anticipate the trip ahead of you.  I often write a quick packing list of essentials (things I can't buy/access easily at my destination if I forgot to pack them), especially for international travel, which includes passport, prescriptions, contact lenses, glasses, and other important items.  Here are a few fun yet practical items, some of which I already own, and others I am eyeing to buy for future travels (I love the carry-on bottle set from Flight 001!)
{Clockwise from top left}
Flight 001 Vespa luggage tag $12, Longchamp Le Pliage tote $145, Flight 001 F1 Carry-On Bottle Set $16, Flight 001 Kabaclip Contact Lense Case Set $12, Neutrogena makeup remover wipes $7.49, Flight 001 Universal plug adapter $24, Magellan's Travel Supplies Dual-Voltage Flat Iron $59.85, Sony SRS M30 Travel Speakers $20.64 


Rooftop Grill Night

{Kebabs ready to be taken upstairs to grill}
T. and S. have a great rooftop sundeck where we had our last dinner in LA.  There were yummy kebabs, salmon burgers on hawaiian rolls, carne asada, and grilled asparagus and corn.  It was a beautiful warm night and a string of christmas lights, natural city light, and candles were our only sources of light.  
{Grilled kebabs, condiments}
{Grillmaster in motion}
{Candles glowing}


Photo Diary of a Sunday in LA

The day started off in Santa Monica for a lazy brunch...

{View from brunch at The Penthouse in Santa Monica}
{Huevos Rancheros}

...continued with a drive in the convertible down to Balboa Island in Newport Beach for an afternoon of boating

{Heavenly jasmine on Balboa Island} 
{Beautiful home gardens in Balboa Island}
{Balboa Island "fair" fare included corn-dogs and frozen bananas}
{Fun retro soda at Balboa Candy store}

...winding down with a gorgeous sunset drive back to LA, a text-message alert to an impeding presidential announcement, turning on the radio and listening to (accurate) speculation of Osama Bin Laden's death culminating with President Obama's official announcement

{Gorgeous sunset leaving Newport Beach}

{Right before the text-message alert}

...then becoming too tired to eat out after a long fun-filled day and opting to pick up Japanese take-out at Izakaya by Katsu-ya on 3rd street and dessert from Magnolia Bakery.

{Watching the breaking news while eating spicy tuna on crispy rice
and seared albacore and crispy onions}
{Finishing off a wonderful day with cupcakes and banana pudding
from Magnolia}


California Sunshine

{Morning homemade smoothie and reading material on patio}

{Potted plants}

I went back to LA for another great trip; this time with even warmer weather (temperatures were in the mid-80s) which really helped my SAD caused by this pathetic NW spring.  (I speak in all seriousness).  We arrived a week ago Friday evening and went straight from the airport to a delicious Indian dinner at Chakra.  The next day I woke up to brilliant sunshine coming in the living room (I was sleeping on the sofa) and I was instantly awakened.  Since T. and S.'s apartment is in a great location, we walked around the corner and had a delicious brunch at Jack 'n Jill's too.  The rest of the day was spent enjoying the rooftop deck, followed by a brief nightmarish interlude involving my left eye getting sprayed with an automatic air freshener and then pouring two bottles of water in it to remove the chemicals.  We concluded our relaxing first day with a great Italian dinner at Allora.  All in all it was a successful start to a wonderful visit.  

{Rooftop deck}