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caramel & cocoa

Caramel & Cocoa - cooking, parenting, fashion, diy, eating, living, a blog

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Dry-Cleaning Anyone?

I went to the dry cleaners today. I only go about once a year, and secretly, I really enjoy it. I feel like a lavish spender, owning clothes that can only be cleaned using some magic formula behind a counter. I wonder how it is done?
As I approached the dry-cleaners, a man coming from the opposite direction, carrying a gym bag, beat me to the door. I stood there, behind him, waiting, hand in hand with C who was in awe of the drying machines going round and round. He then proceeded to remove 11 collared shirts from the gym bag for "dry-cleaning." The lady at the counter seemed to know him as a "regular." I could not help but be surprised at the number of shirts he was dropping off. What was more peculiar was that he then proceeded to walk around the racks of already "dry-cleaned" shirts, pulling off 17 of them, apparently his as well. So this man owns at least 28 collared shirts. That's alot of shirts! 

Monday, February 27, 2012

A - A Cup of Tea?

"A" - my love. You are a ton of work & I often express it. But there are so many things about you that make me smile.

1. No matter who comes over (granny, grandad, food delivery man ... anyone), you always ask them if they'd "like a cup of tea."

2. Any airplane that you think is smaller than it should be, you call an "arocopter"

3. You give your sister Spanish lessons.

4. You accessorize (See picture)

5. You wear your shoes on the wrong feet, on purpose. (See picture)

6. You not only insist on dressing yourself, but on choosing your own clothes.

7. You were incredibly keen on participating in your first eye exam today.

8. You have a very sophisticated pallet and asked for seconds of tonight's dinner which consisted of roasted beet root, steamed celery, mixed olives and smoked salmon with goat's cheese.

I love you "mama".

Peter Pan Collar & Pastels - London Fashion Weekend

Cristina watching the Catwalk Show LFW 2012
What's in this spring & summer? Peter Pan Collars & Pastels according to the stylists & designers of London Fashion week. Now you know.

My observations after taking my girls to see the catwalk show are as follows.

1. Wow those models are thin. I mean THIN. I felt an immediate need to bake them something sweet.

2. Why on earth do we women drop "mad" cash on shoes we cannot walk in. The show host looked great when standing, but walked like she was stepping on shards of glass. I've been there. Done that in my hey day.

3. If you take 2 toddlers to a catwalk show, you'll probably get plenty of odd looks. We kind of stuck out amongst all of the hip and lavishly dressed cool folk around. It is fine. We had a blast. My favorite moment was asking a group of chic looking 25 year-olds bringing their champagne into the catwalk show to please move over so I could get my stroller around them. They didn't mind.

uncomfy shoes that look fab

Friday, February 24, 2012

Jerry Springer / Jeremy Kyle (Toddler Version)

C is a breeze. A is a handful. I love them both equally. A is in the "terrible twos" and it is not fun when she refuses to share, takes toys, or decides to have a public melt-down. I cope. She will outgrow it! She will outgrow it!  She will outgrow it! That is my new  mantra.

We went to a play group today. C behaved fabulously. A was good, but not perfect. She did at one point, out of the blue, take a swing at another toddler. She completely missed him. Thank goodness. I did take her aside & explain to her that it was naughty. But the rest of the time she was very good.

This is where it gets interesting. Another baby who is always incredibly well-behaved for some reason or another, got annoyed by C. He pushed her over. I picked her up and moved her. He then waited until I put her down and came after her. He shoved her head. He pulled at her clothes to knock her down. He then placed his fingers in her mouth and pulled her cheek out. I was in the middle of this trying to stop it gently. It was kind of like a toddler version of Jerry Springer. The poor child was very angry with her. I don't know why. C was wailing but she is tough and got over it quickly. The child's mom who is quite a lovely woman, whisked him away promptly and apologized. And then it was all fine again.

This child is always very good, and I would say even charming. It was just a bad day! I take this as a lesson that all children have bad days and that I shouldn't sweat it when one of mine acts up. It is not me. It is life.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Gene Kelly? Rita Hayworth?

I'm leafing through junk mail before going to bed. I come across this ad. I try and decipher whether the photo is an old one, or just made to look old. Do you know who they are? I don't.

I can't help but think that these people are probably dead (Fred Astaire Era). They haven't a clue that their images are being used for commercial purposes after their passings, that they are still making an impact in some form in the land of the living. This brings me to a very dismal and lonely place. I fear death. I truly do. I know we will all get there but I fear it.

Is it lights off? Completely? or is there some sort of after life? I can't imagine this life ending mostly because it is so lovely to be alive.

Ok - That's enough of that.

All is Love

No Kids at My Wedding

So we were invited to a destination wedding and were told that kids were not welcome at either at the service or reception. Now this shouldn't bother me for several reasons. The most important being that at my own wedding, I requested "no kids" for the reception. Karma anyone?

I will say that for my wedding the "no kids rule" did not apply to anyone travelling from outside of town.

We were invited to two out-of-town weddings last year. The first was in Paris and the second in Manchester. Both times, as "out-of-towners" we were told we could bring the kiddos if needed. I was thrilled at the gesture but made arrangements for the kids to stay with family in town.

I admit that I will have a more relaxing time without my two side-kicks. I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss adult interaction. We are going. I am really looking forward to it. I will miss the kids.

That's all - just some mindless winging.

Memory Day

I wish that I could have days like this on instant replay on my phone. I'd watch it on bad days. Sad days.

Starting backwards, A & C did not resist bedtime, but I heard shuffling around up there so I went to do what I do best and I proceeded to eavesdrop. For nearly 25 minutes A led C in a music and rhythm session. A choosing the song and C following along with the movements and asking for more. Precious to me because we spend part of every day doing that very same thing. It makes me very emotional. 

Dinner = fresh fish pie = girls loved it. 
Afternoon activity = walk with the girls. We all walked. See picture below. 
Girls' Nap = 1pm-3pm = HIGH FIVE! 
Lunch = Spaghetti Aglio Olio = very happy toddlers
Morning Activity = Music class (always enjoyable)

oh and on top of that the following: two loads of laundry, very tidy house, children incredibly well-behaved, no shouting, no yelling, no pushing, no biting, the weather was BEAUTIFUL and I got a phone call from an old friend. Oh - and I made an apple chutney! And I haven't had sweets now for two days! 

All is Love 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Buttered Orzo (lunch yum - easy, quick - even better)

buttered orzo served with tuna and Steam broccoli & celery
This is the easiest side dish to make and has a fabulous flavor.

What you will need: orzo, vegetable stock, butter, parmesan cheese.

What to do: Melt about 2 tablespoons of butter in a pot. Add the orzo and at a medium heat you want to brown the orzo until it looks golden. Keep mixing so it does not burn. This should take about 3-5 minutes. Add stock, instead of water and bring to a boil. You will need to let it boil for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the orzo is soft and ready turn of the heat. Add the paremsan cheese and stir in. Salt & pepper and serve immediately- though it tastes really good cold as well.

I served it as a side with tuna salad and steamed broccoli & celery. My girls loved it.

I did not include amounts because you will want to follow the instructions on your orzo package with respect to the amount of water and cooking time. The important bits are that you brown the orzo in butter and then that you use stock instead of water, finishing up by adding your desired amount of parmesan.

Kicking the Habit - The Truth About My Sugar Addiction

I did not know I had a problem until this last week.  I am writing this with a massive migraine.

"I did not start having sweets until I met you" - my husband's words and I would brush it off having just baked 4 dozen sets of cookies and tucking into them.

Last year I tossed the microwave and decided that everything that this household eats would be home-made from organic & fresh produce.  I've done well. I cannot even remember the last time I bought a can of spaghetti sauce. I make it all here. This also meant I had to stop buying sweets. Fine. No problem.

I am strict with the children. I made cupcakes yesterday and they each had a third of one - that is all. If I make cookies they can only have 1 child sized portion. And even then, they only have sweets twice a month. They seem to be alright with that. But they do not know any better.

As for me, I can easily have 3, 4, 5 cookies, brownies, cupcakes, whatever in a day. In the last two weeks, by 10am - if I haven't had any sweets I am angry and my head hurts. Within minutes of consuming a cake I am fine.

Last night was Fat Tuesday and I made cupcakes. I was not intending on having one but found myself running downstairs, after having gotten ready for bed, to have "just one" though I really wanted two. I could not control my urge. Fine. I had one. Then peacefully went to bed.

This morning, the first thing on my mind were the cakes downstairs and while I had a healthy breakfast and a fabulous orzo lunch I am still craving something sweet. Even as I type this I long to go downstairs and have a sweet. I know I shouldn't. My head is throbbing. I am a bit moody. This is not normal. Sweets are fine in a balanced diet, but I doubt sweets should be consumed everyday. I can't remember the last time I went without a sweet. This is going to be hard. Quite frankly, I might cry. Quite frankly, I am crying.

I am still going to bake, because that is what I do. I bake. I cook. I love doing those things. But I am not going to eat sweets. I was going to stop cold turkey for 40 days. Let's see if I make it to Easter.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Not Same Ole Day.

Today was like yesterday but not because we were a bit "crazy ... "

Girls up at 7.
Breakfast at 8.
Lunch at 11:30.
Nap at 1.
Snack at 3.
Dinner at 5.
Bath at 6.
Bed at 7.  Hurrah ... Hurrah ...

Now here is the exciting bit. Afternoon snack consisted of two bananas each, as opposed to one. But it gets even better. "A" planted a sunflower seed last week and to my utter surprise, it has actually grown. She is so proud of herself, so I took them both to the mall to have smoothies at about 3:30pm. Very sophisticated and lavish for this age. They loved it. No tantrums. Both obedient. Hurrah.

I'm old school and keep all of my recipes written on random pieces of paper in a box. MISTAKE. Box was found by two toddlers. Papers no longer exist and whatever remnants remain are riddled with toddler scribble.

I'm still in search of a therapist (a nanny, a maid, a personal shopper, a chef, a candlestick maker ... )

Fat Tuesday - Who Needs Beads! We've Got Cupcakes!

Vanilla Cupcakes & Homemade Butter-Cream Frosting.

In a dire move to lose these last eight pounds, I am giving up all sweets until Easter, starting tomorrow. What better way to bring in this new challenge then by baking one last dozen cupcakes. I have just had one and will be handing the rest out tomorrow to friends and family. These are the easiest things in the world to make. Please try em.

Butter-Cream Frosting 
You will need 1 stick of softened butter (115 grams), 1 pound box of confectioners or icing sugar (500grams), 1 tbs milk and 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, food coloring. (I used red and green).

1. Combine butter and sugar in a very large bowl and mix together until nice & creamy. Add the milk and vanilla extract. If you are not using food coloring then you are now done. Place in fridge until you need it.
2. Divide the frosting into various bowls, Slowly add color and mix well and evenly with a spoon. Place in fridge until you need it.
3. TIP: I usually put my frosting immediatly in piping bags with nozzles on, inside an empty glasses. Then I put it in the fridge. See picture below.

Cupcake Recipe:
You will need: 1 stick of softened butter (about 115 grams), 1 cup of sugar, 2 whole eggs, 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, 1 1/3 (one & one-third) cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, pinch of salt, 1/3 cup of milk. 

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 C/160C with fan). 
2. Sift the flour, baking powder and pinch of salt  into a bowl and set aside. 

3. Cream together the butter & sugar until nice & smooth. 
4. Add two eggs and vanilla extract. Mix again. 
5. Slowly add the flour mixture in three lots. Mix. Slowly add milk. Mix. DO NOT OVER MIX. Batter should be dense. 
6. Pour batter into cupcake tin. Fill each 3/4 way up. 
7. Pop in oven for 20 - 22 minutes until a fork comes out clear. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Musings of an Embarrassed Mama

I’ve quite literally barricaded myself in my home office, placing random boxes, linens and canvasses in front of the door, thus assuring that small people cannot push the door open & find me. I’ve put a rolled towel at the bottom of the door to block light and any evidence that life exists on this side of the door.

I can hear them two doors down, both in their beds, chatting away. Content. Please go to bed! I need a glass of wine but I’ll settle for a cold glass of soy milk. I’m actually trapped, a prisoner. If I leave this room, they will hear me, jump out of bed, and, in unison, scream, as if thinking, “I wonder if I can break mommy’s glasses with this pitch.” Then two hours later I will have them asleep, in my bed. No fun.

I need some space from, as I now call her, “THE TWO YEAR OLD.”  It has been a rough few days. Tantrum after tantrum, kicking, screaming, running wild.  The worst was Saturday night & in public.

Have you ever been so angry and embarrassed that your face burns? You are not sure where to look and can’t bring yourself to make eye contact with anyone in proximity. I was so embarrassed I wanted to crouch down in a corner, suck my thumb, close my eyes and think of a “happy place.” Had H not been with me, I probably would have done so.

I had the bright idea to take them to Saturday’s 7pm mass, as opposed to our usual Sunday 10:45am service. BIG MISTAKE – Well, kind of. You see, THE TWO YEAR OLD has a very rigid schedule. Up at 7am, nap at 1pm, bath at 6pm and bed at 7pm. If anything interferes with that schedule tragedy occurs and heads will roll.

We went to mass, having missed the afternoon nap, and the unexpected change was not welcome in her little head. She wanted her bath, her pjs, a glass of milk and to go to bed. To make matters worse, at mass we sat with other similarly aged children who behaved impeccably well. My daughter was randomly screaming, running around, laughing, stealing pens, pushing and refusing to apologize for her naughtiness. You’d think she needed a fix. Heads turned to see who was causing the commotion and I actually thought to myself, maybe if I take two steps sideways ...

We survived & handled the situation as best we could. We took turns taking her into a back room, explaining to her what she had done wrong, and asking her to behave. I also let her just get it out of her system for a couple of minutes.

I blame myself, not for taking her out of her routine, but for instilling in her such an inflexible perspective on life. This “routine” she is now on, I started when she was 6 weeks old. And none of it has really changed. It was great for the first year. It kept me sane and assured me my evenings and nights free from 7pm. But then C came along, and over the last year I have realized how this family tends to walk on egg shells around A’s life and her routine. My 1 ½ year old is not like that. She can fit into any schedule, and any circumstance. She has had to since day 1 of her life and is therefore is very much a free spirit.

I worry about A for this, because in life, things are not always going to be perfectly laid out and adaptability is so important. So while I will maintain some sense of routine in her life, I am going to challenge myself to take her out of that rigid life perspective so that as she gets older, life’s hiccups don’t hit her with such a shock.

I’d like to say that I don’t hear anymore chatter. But I do. So I am going to rest my head on this desk and hopefully drift to sleep until it is safe to leave.

Friday, February 17, 2012

I Need a Therapist, a Blackberry (& to bake an apple pie)

No nap this afternoon. I popped them into their respective crib and bed, walked out, left the door slightly ajar and sat on the steps 'eavesdropping'.

"Would you like a cup of tea", A asked C, to which C said "yeah."

I heard shuffling. A told C "Vamos leer un libro (We are going to read a book)."

I had to put my hand over my mouth and resist my urge to pee as I heard A explain to C that "mommy doesn't speak English." That is what I tell her to keep her speaking to me in Spanish.

Feeling guilty about what I was doing I walked in. They both shrieked with excitement. They were both in the crib, leafing through a Spanish picture book. A sweet memory that I am sure will fade in time.

The rest of the afternoon was spent, them overtired fighting for my attention and overly sensitive.  They seem to idolize me at the moment and it is a nice feeling to be looked up to. They are eager to be a part of whatever I am doing and it seems to be like me. But it brings me great sadness at the same time. I don't feel worthy. I've always been a bit boring and blended in generally. Never too smart. Never too creative. Never to dramatic. Never too pretty. Never too fit. And my goodness I have never broken any rules, so as a result I never stood out for bad reasons either.

I don't want that for my girls. I mean, I don't want them to break too many rules but I'd like for them to stand out, for good reasons of course. Live a little.

So I have been thinking about seeing a therapist to see why I am so darn boring and why I always played it so safe. Plus, all good bloggers have therapists. Don't they?

I also hate my iPhone and have about a dozen apples in my kitchen.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Tom Ham´s Lighthouse

Tom Ham's Lighthouse
2150 Harbor Island Drive
San Diego, CA 92101

Summary: This was family lunch ordeal. Two toddlers. Two adults. We all walked away satisfied and having had a lovely time with the most fantastic view of San Diego.

The Food: The food was good, better than average but I would not say spectacular. The kids meal options were disappointing, but then again I have never found a kids meal that offers anything other than chicken nuggets or fish sticks. The above sounds like a harsh criticism. But it is not, as we all very much enjoyed our starters and main dishes and the prices were very reasonable. I can guarantee that it will be our family "go to" place for our next trip to San Diego.

The Atmosphere: PHENOMENAL. That had to be in CAPS because the area is isolated on a beautifully green harbor-esque island across from the San Diego Airport, so you get a very good view of Downtown San Diego. There are plenty of windows for curious eyes and we all really enjoyed watching approaching planes to the airport. There is a rather large boat in the main lunch area which my children loved.  The space itself is open with tons of natural light flowing through so that in itself creates a very serene but welcoming ambiance.

The Service: SPECTACULAR. From the hostess, to waiter, to server to cashier - they all treated us in a friendly manner and made sure to make eye contact and engage my children as well. The staff were attentive, filling drinks, checking on us and very informative.

Would I go back. Absolutely.

Harney Sushi :)

Harney Sushi 
3964 Harney Street
San Diego, CA 92110
619. 295.3272 

Summary: This is not your "typical" sushi restaurant. It is funky, cool and creative but definitely an occasion restaurant as it is relatively expensive for sushi. That said, it is a must try for anyone living or visiting San Diego.

The Food: I have been to Harney Sushi a handful of times and the food never lets me down. Aside from being uniquely creative, the food is prepared with very fresh ingredients. I always go for the Flaming Lip, among other things. It contains jalapenos but is delish.

The Atmosphere: Picture a hip & trendy club, but with seats and sushi. That is this place. I always feel under-dressed when I go here. The decor is dark and provocative. The bar is cool and usually very busy. The one downside is that it is very very loud. It is not the type of place you would go to have a romantic dinner or get to know someone, as it might be difficult to hear the other side. I would say, that as I am getting older and valuing tranquility more, the loudness is a factor which slightly puts me off.

The Service: The service is decent. The staff are courteous, well-informed and trained. However, because the place is always very busy, you don't get that extra bit of attention you might get elsewhere. It is a "go go go" environment.

Would I go back? Yes. But I'd have to be in the mood for a noisy environment.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Bar Method Workout (addictive & noticeable results)

Now. Take a look at this woman's back above. That's me ... just joking  ;). But those are the results that this workout creates. You get lean, toned muscles on your arms, back, mid-section, buttocks and thighs. It is a dancer's body. It is all very feminine.

This class is unlike any bar (barre) class out there.  I first took Bar Method classes in San Francisco in my early 20's when I was fit & thin. The classes were challenging and I loved them but I took for granted what the workout can do for you. Two children later and 25 pounds heavier than when I last used the workout, I decided to go back while on my trip to San Diego.

I went to the Point Loma location 5x per week for a just over 4 weeks. I became addicted and actually whittled inches off of my waist and about 5 pounds. Now back in London I continue the exercises and am anxious for a London studio to open.

The workout itself lasts a fat burning 60 minutes but without any hardcore cardio. The exercises involve small intense movements, exhausting your muscles using your own body weight and then stretching out those same muscles, thus shaping and molding them like clay. The exercises look easy if you are a bystander but they from easy.

You need to commit to the workout 3 to 4 times a week for an extended period for the results to kick in, but they will. The downside is the cost, classes are about $20 per class but there are also other package options available.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentines 2012 - All is Love - my guy is not a bad guy

I loathe Valentine's Day but I confess that this year I'm the bad 'guy'. It has been years since H and I have done anything for Valentine's Day and even then I think we only exchanged cards or a phone call. He nipped out this morning and surprised me with a "flat white" and croissant (my two favorites) and a lovely shower/lotion set by Crabtree & Evelyn (which was hidden in the shed). Even better he stayed an extra 15 minutes so I could have a bath and enjoy my new pampering products. I am feeling great and my skin is very soft. There is a certain calmness in the air.

I do feel a bit bad and I told him that ... his response "well, I only did it to avoid being the bad guy on your blog."   ... love you too babe. x

Happy Day to Everyone Out There. All is Love.

Monday, February 13, 2012

I met a beautiful woman with a bad attitude yesterday

I was at the mall, waiting for a lift (elevator) with my 2 year-old. Waiting before us was a strikingly beautiful young woman with long wavy dark hair and a baby in a stroller. I asked her if she was going up or down to which she responded "down."  An empty elevator going "up" arrived and myself and my daughter proceeded to get on but were stopped because this woman barged passed us and another family attempting to board. "This lift is now going down," she told us as she blocked the floor buttons with her body. Thinking it was a joke we all boarded after her. Once on she pressed the button for Lower Ground and informed us all that she had been waiting too long and that the elevator would now be going down and she did not "let" us touch any other floor buttons. I was dumbfounded, at a loss for words. You can only imagine my pleasure when the elevator started to go up. Dead silence for the entire journey up.

Feng Shui Tips

Feng Shui In a Nut Shell

Feng Shui is about the harmony and balance of positive energy, also known as ch'i. What we want is for ch'i to enter our homes (lives) so that we maximize our individual potential and desires. 

The basic principle is that our environment is such that behind us are mountains (support). In front of us we have the Pheonix (future). To our left is the Dragon (yang/male). To our right is the Tiger (yin/female). 

                                                          Tiger                                 Dragon


If you stand with your back to your front door, think about your house/environment with respect to this diagram. What is the state of your mountain (ie back yard/back garden). Do you have a broken back fence? What about your pheonix? Is what is before you encouraging?

tips for entrances to homes - 
  • Change door mats regularly because that is where people wipe off bad energy.
  • Make sure your door is easy to find & access. A door that is well-lit, clean and in proper working order is best so that ch'i, life's opportunities, find you. 
tips for bedrooms -
  • Keep uncluttered.
  • From your bed you should be able to see your door from lying down position.
  • It is very important that you have a headboard on your bed.
  • It is best if your headboard is on a wall and not underneath a window.
  • You should have matching side tables, but try and stay away from sharp edges if you can because that will keep ch'i away. Rounded and soft corners are far more inviting.  
  • Do not sleep with cables or cell phones near you.
  • Wake up to a wonderful vision that speaks to your dream. 
tips for children's rooms - 
  • Furniture their height is best. 
  • Bunk beds are subliminally odd because they create inequality. 
tips for children's rooms - 
  • Green is the best color for bathrooms.
  • Water loss exaggerates loss of ch'i, keeping green plants and other wood elements will help curb the drain of ch'i.
  • Keep ensuite doors shut. 
  • Keep toilet seat down. 
  • A large mirror over the toilet will have negative effects on ch'i.
  • However, a big, well lit mirror over the sink should set you up for your day. It represents who you are. Bigger mirror. Bigger dream. Bigger gain. Make sure it is not a broken mirror or one made of up lots of smaller mirrors. 
tips for dining room -
  • Mirrors are a sign of generosity and exaggerate what is on the table. 
tips for kitchen - 
  • Get rid of your microwave. We don't know the impact that use of microwaves will have on us. 
tips for home office- 
  • mirror your home office after a real world business office (ie dont work from sofa). 
  • invest in a really good office chair. 
  • Do not position desk look out a window even if it takes up more space. You want to be able to see most of the room and have dominion over it, being able to see who comes in the door, but not being directly in front of the door. 
  • Behind you, while sat at your desk their should be a solid wall. 
tips for plants -
  • Money plants and peace lilies are the plants to buy. 
  • Avoid sharp plants as they will cut ch'i. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Al Teatro Panini Grill (Downtown, San Diego)

1254 3rd Avenue 
San Diego, CA 92101

Summary: The food here is excellent and for those who like a sweet coffee drink, the Nocciola, will knock you off of your feet. It is loaded with nutella. I came across this cozy Italian sandwich shop by chance 6 years ago and it quickly became my favorite breakfast/lunch spot in Downtown San Diego.  I have not a clue why it is not better known.

Food: No frills, but the food is authentic, hearty and homemade (and quick). I think over the years I have had nearly every thing that they have to offer and the panini's are excellent. Living in Europe now, it is always at the top of my list when I go back to my roots for a visit. Baked goods are the best in San Diego.

Atmosphere: It is a very small cafe, reminiscent of something you would find in a small European village. The decor is dark wood, old, tons of pictures covering the walls, very Italian. I think it is perfect.

Service: The service, much like the atmosphere and food is no frills and very casual. The owner's mom, a lovely Italian lady has served me every single visit and she is quite lovely and very conversational once you get chatting to her, but it is definitely not the place to go if you want perfect service.

Would I go back? Absolutely. A San Diego must.

Roscoes House of Chicken and Waffles (Hollywood)

Roscoe's House of Chicken 'n Waffles
1514 N Gower St, Los Angeles, CA 90028-6422
323 466 7453

Summary: Roscoe's is an LA icon made famous by the Motown celebrities of the 70's and so of course I wanted to try it. After my visit there it is clear that the "hype" is not over the food but over the LA feel and celebrity of it all. It was an exciting visit but you will have to read my description of the atmosphere to know why. 

Food: I was there for breakfast had the Home Style, which consisted of 2 chicken sausages, 2 eggs and a waffle accompanied by an orange juice. The waffle was soggy. The sausages were extremely rubbery and chewy. The eggs were non-spectacular and the orange juice was tiny for the $3.40 I paid for it.  It was reminiscent of a Jack in the Box breakfast left to cool all for 4 hours in a car, except I paid $30 plus a tip (meal for 2). I walked out feeling robbed. 

Atmosphere:  I have never spent much time in LA and this specific location rests in a borderline shady region of Hollywood. We parked in front of a homeless man's sleeping box, just a few blocks from the restaurant to avoid a valet fee and as we walked to the restaurant we witnessed the tail-end of some sort of police chase, culminating in a closed main street, about 6 police cars, dozens of spectators and a  car crashing into a police car. We did not witness the crash, only the aftermath.

Moving on we entered the establishment which has a cool, Southern style decor. I am not going to lie. I liked the general feel and the unusual mix of people you often find in the hyped up places. Once in the restaurant, and sat in a booth, a 35 year old woman walked in acting in the most peculiar fashion. Without making any eye contact with anyone in the establishment she proceeded to tell us all that she was new in town, raised her children on her own and that her ex would doing anything to get her back. Yes - we all felt very awkward. Eventually she was escorted out, but it was definitely an LA experience. Poor thing, I wonder what ever came of her. 

Service: All I can say is blah - The place was busy and the staff were busy but polite enough. 

Would I go back? Absolutely not. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Osteria Romantica (La Jolla, San Diego) - Italian Cuisine

2152 Avenuda de la Playa
La Jolla, CA 92037

2152 Avenida de la Playa
La Jolla CA 92037

I always favor the underdog in all things sports and food. I walked into this place desiring to be "wowed". It all started brilliantly as was I greeted in a very friendly manner by a very attentive waiter and as I eyed the restaurant taking in the cozy decor, I was sure it would be a lunch to remember. Unfortunately, for the restaurant I will remember it, but for the wrong reasons. My visit here lasted about 20 minutes and we all left disappointed and extremely hungry.

Food: I was already extremely hungry walking into this place and immediately ordered some bread, which was lovely with olive oil and balsamic. As a first course I ordered the soup of the day which was a spinach and egg drop soup. The portion was rather large but when I first tried it, I felt as if I had swallowed the ocean. It was extremely salty. Going in for a second taste, I ended up with a bit of tuna in my mouth. At least I think it was tuna. I proceeded to find several bits of tuna in the soup. And as the waiter confirmed, tuna was not an ingredient in the dish.

As a main I had the mushroom ravioli. The ravioli was under-cooked, chewy with hard edges. The inside of the ravioli was dry and the mushrooms inside were coarse. Having a bit of experience in my own kitchen now, it was as if it had been frozen and then defrosted upon ordering. The white sauce covering the dish was equally unpleasant and salty and there was way too much of it

Atmosphere: The restaurant is in an absolutely fabulous location a couple walks from La Jolla Shores. The neighborhood is a combination of commercial and lavish residential and you definitely do not get too much congestion on a normal day. The decor and atmosphere are, I'd say perfect Italian. It is relaxing and you feel as if you are in a cozy Italian home ready to have some good hearty home-cooked food.

Service: Our greeter/waiter was impressive. He was quick and managed all of his tables very efficiently. He also knew the menu very well, as well as, the ingredients in the dishes. He was polite when I expressed my dislike of the soup and promptly apologized and removed it asking if I wanted to chose another item from the menu. Declining he brought my main course which sadly was just as bad.

Would I go back? Yes - shocking I know. But I am hoping that I was there on a bad day. Like I said, I really want to like this restaurant and therefore have it at the top of my list for my next trip to San Diego.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

I had no business baking anything today! My day was very busy, the girls had runny noses, the house is getting on top of me and H, well I have not seen him in ages he has been so busy at work. But, being very honest, I had to bake because I needed something to put on my new cake stand. ;) Having no time to run to the store I worked with what I had on hand. This is a very sweet, very peanut buttery, moist cookie. This recipe will yield 3 dozen. I have made 24 and put 12 (unbaked) in the freezer for when I have unexpected guests. I feel like I am always baking but I never seem to have anything around for guests! 


2 sticks of butter (about 225 grams)
1 cup (8oz) of light brown sugar ( I use muscovado) 
1 cup (8oz) of granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups peanut butter
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 to 5 ounces of milk chocolate chip cookies
pinch of salt

1. Preheat oven to 350F/175C/155C with fan.  
2. Mix flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl and set aside. 
3. In a separate bowl mix together the butter, sugars and peanut butter until very smooth. Add eggs. Mix. 
4. Slowly add flour mixture until smooth. Add vanilla extract. Mix. 
5. Spoon onto lined cookie sheets. Bake for 10 - 12 minutes. They should be a golden brown color. 

A Cup of Vintage

There is something very cool about buying vintage. It makes me feel different, indulgent, green ... and of course VERY COOL.  Ever since I moved to England I had long been wanting one of these cake stands and I wanted something that looked old, but I wasn't willing to shell out too much money for one.

I met Carlie from a Cup of Vintage about 6 months ago at a fair but of course I had left home in such a rush, I had no cash & no card and wasn't expecting a complete stranger to believe I would pay later, so I didn't bother  explaining my plight. That was that. You can only imagine my delight when I ran into her and her fabulous company again this week! 15 pounds later ($24USD), I have my own lovely vintage cake stand. I have spent hours placing different things on there and moving it around the house. It is kind of like a pet. I really love it.

For anyone in and around London, you should check out A Cup of Vintage, aside from selling lovely little stands, they do fabulous tea parties.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

"I do so awfully want to live"

I am torn - anxiously perplexed.

I am reading a book called That Woman, by Anne Sebba. A big feat since I never read for leisure but I am drawn to this biographical account. I went to a talk today and met the author of this book and she was describing letters and diaries that she read while trying to put the life of Wallis Simpson together and she read an excerpt from the diary of a woman called Mary. Mary wrote "I do so awfully want to live." At the time that Mary wrote those words, the year was 1941, she was dying of  breast cancer and was the mother of a two-year old son. She died soon after in England.

I find words to be very powerful and those words, have been resonating in my head all day. They seem to haunt me, even overwhelm me ... Knowing little about her, I can only think that she either wanted to live for love of her child, love of her husband or fear of death. I might be wrong.

Now as I sat down to type this I simultaneously turned on the tv and I watched the story of a beautiful girl called Jessica, aged 28  who took her own life last year in her London flat, leaving a note "Please do not cry."

I cannot help but get teary at the contrast. How beautiful it is to live. Life is extraordinary. All is Love.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Braised Lamb Shanks (on Sweet Wild Rice)

As soon as I heard that the forecast this weekend involved snow and ice - I felt that a hearty lazy meal would be best Saturday. And for me I always associate those two things with lamb shanks or beef stew. So this weekend, we had both! This lamb shank recipe is easy which is what I love best, but I cannot take the credit as lamb is one of the easiest things to cook, all you need to give it is a bit of time in the oven. 

3 (or 4) lamb shanks
olive oil
1 thinly diced red onion
3 garlic cloves
200 ml /8 ounces red wine
can of chopped tomatoes
100 ml /4 ounces condensed chicken soup

100 ml /4 ounces balsamic vinegar
4 ounces boiling water
3 basil leaves

1. The first thing to do is to flour and season the lamb shanks & set aside. Preheat oven to 170C (150C with fan)/340F.
2. Heat some olive oil in a pan on medium-high heat. Use a dutch oven if you have one so that you can transfer directly to the oven covered. I don't own one so I use an saute pan and then I transfer everything to a casserole dish using tongs and a spoon.
3. Brown the onion and the garlic cloves then remove from the pan. Brown the lamb shanks on all sides. This is an important step. The sides should be brown but should not sit for very long cooking in the pan. Remove them from the pan and place in a casserole dish.
4. Return cooked onion & garlic to the pan. Add wine, canned tomatoes, condensed chicken soup, balsamic vinegar and boiling water. Bring to a bubble and then spoon the mixture into the casserole dish over the lamb shanks. Add basil leaves to the shanks. Either cover with lid or very very tightly with foil.
5. Place in oven for 2.5 hours.

I served with wild rice (see below) & broccoli.

For the wild rice, I have had wild rice before and thought the taste to be a bit too "earthy" for my liking. So this is what I did to improve it.  
1. First, because wild rice should ideally be something easily served cold or warm (though warm tastes much better), you need to remove the starch. Wash the rice 3 or 4 times and then let it soak in water for at least 30 minutes. The water should come off of the rice clean or nearly clean by this point.
2. Melt some butter in a pan and add the rice until the rice is nicely buttered. Cook for about 5 to 10 minutes.
3. Cook like you would normal rice (ie 2:1 proportions) but instead of using water use chicken stock and toss in sultanas (raisins) after you add the stock.
4. Bring to a boil. Cover. Reduce heat and cook until all the water is absorbed.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Friday Night Solo - H at work

10:30 pm,  Friday night. Nirvana plays in the background. H is working (still). The children went to bed around 7 and I have been cleaning, folding since. Now - sitting, emailing, shopping, blogging. Bed soon. I still have not found any quality budget floor cushions.

I was taking out the recycling and came across last week's insert in the Sunday Times containing an interview with Patrick Stewart, who we all now from Star Trek. Any Trekkies out there? I wasn't one and amn't one but would secretly have loved to have been one.

The theme of the interview is Stewart's guilt for "obsessing" over his job while neglecting his wife and kids. The result, a divorce, counseling, angry children ... But he is a star now. He says "work started at 10 in the morning and finished at midnight." Yes. That is an extended work day.  But I think more and more of us are finding ourselves in situations where it is not the "passion" for work that keeps us in the office, it is a requirement of the job.

I blame technology. Technology makes us accessible all the time. And it really makes nearly "anything" possible, and we as users of technology turn into machines. Are we machines?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Bare Minerals Makeup

hmmm ... Ah- makeup! The Truth. When I was young, I never fully "got into" makeup (or fashion but that's another post). Meaning, I never regularly wore makeup unless it was a formal occasion. Nor did I have a preferred brand of makeup. There were several reasons for this. I had very bad acne from about 16 to 22, and makeup, I thought, made it worse. I also never had the money to invest in good products and then I started having kids and thought "why bother!"

That was fine in my 20s. But now, at 30, and being completely honest, I can't get away with any sort of "youthful glow" because it AINT there! I decided sometime in September 2011 to invest in a product range, but I was overcome with a wealth of problems. First, I did not have a clue how to properly apply the stuff and I got tired of rocking the "whiter face than neck" look. Every time a salesperson would try something on me and asked what I thought, I would say "that's nice" - I did not have a clue.

I tried traditional brands and found them too heavy, especially for day to day use and my skin was definately breaking out as a result. I then tried several mineral makeup brands and thought they all provided too little coverage. I threw my hands in the air and gave up in November.

In December & while in California I sat down and met with a representative of Bare Minerals and have been sold ever since. I actually don't know how I coped before it came into my life. I love how you can change the coverage and the flawless look. It feels like I am not wearing anything. I wear it everyday. It takes minutes to put on and it actually feels like I am doing something very good for my skin.

Check out my before and after - I am sure you will be able to tell the difference.

So -