Category Archives: nifty

Graze snack box

Image

This all started because I had a bunch of American Airlines miles/points that were about to expire. I didn’t have enough for a ticket to anywhere, but I had plenty for lots and lots of magazine subscriptions. Which is why I get Entertainment Weekly on a, well, weekly basis. In the last issue I read (which may not actually be the most recent issue since our coffee table has a towering pile of magazines that I flip through here and there) I saw an ad for a free Graze box. Continue reading

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Happy discoveries from my last work trip

First, updates: I was going to get all creative and have the kitties pick the winner of The Jensen Project giveaway, but I ran out of time, then went away on a work trip, and I figured if I was going to pick a winner before too much time went by I’d have to rely on good ol’ Random Number Generator. So, I did. It picked #4 and the winner has been contacted. Congrats to Carole!

So… I took a short trip to SF for work. I helped out SF office on a project, which was undergoing public review, and attended a City Council meeting in case someone asked a tough question. I flew up in the morning, went to the office, carpooled to the meeting, got dropped off at my hotel, and flew out the next morning. It was a whirlwind trip and reminded me that I hate traveling.

Don’t get me wrong – I love going places, love vacations and seeing new places, and I love doing things. I’m just not a fan of getting there, at least not airplane-wise. You have to guess when you need to be at the airport to get through security, predict which line of people actually know what they’re doing and can get their stuff on the x-ray belt efficiently, decide how far from the gate you’re going to sit (because there are no open seats AT the gate), cram into a tiny seat (and I’m actually lucky because I’m short enough to be able to cross my legs in coach), and then fly with the drone of babies crying and toddlers shrieking. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to sit next to someone who smokes and/or doesn’t use deodorant. In those instances, I lean away and try to point the little air-spigot so it blows air away from me.

I also don’t like packing, unpacking, repacking, unpacking, and then doing laundry.

But, when you have to fly you just have to deal. I discovered two things on this last trip that made everything much better. One, I’m guessing you don’t know about. The other, I’m guessing everyone in the world knew about it and neglected to tell me.

I stayed at the Travelodge Airport South (don’t get confused with the North location). It’s located on El Camino Real in Millbrae, but it’s just minutes away from the SFO airport. Yes, it’s a Travelodge. Yes, it’s by the airport. But, here’s why I think it’s an awesome find:

There’s a free shuttle to and from the airport; you just need to call and let them know you’re waiting. They’re the first drop off after the hotel and from the hotel they go straight to the airport (no riding around to other hotels).

There’s free parking at the hotel, in case you need a rental car for your stay.

It’s within easy walking distance to the Millbrae BART, which takes you into the city (only costs $4.25 to get to Embarcadero but does take about 35 minutes to do so). Easy walking distance means E.A.S.Y. because I’m not really a fan of walking too far for anything.

It’s across the street from Walgreens, CVS, and a grocery store in case you want to grab a bottle of water or candy or ice cream.

It’s within easy walking distance of a Japanese restaurant, Chinese (we actually ate dim sum there on a separate occasion), coffee car, café, and a Vietnamese place (that is open until 10:30pm)

It’s next to Wendy’s and across from Chipotle, in case you like to eat fast food when traveling.

There is free wi-fi and more cable channels that you’ll know what to do with.

The rooms have all been renovated with pillowtop beds, soft pillows, and pretty tile showers.

Their “expanded” continental breakfast has two coffee machines (one Maxwell and one fancy espresso/latte), juice, toast/waffles/cinnamon French toast that you toast in a toaster, yogurt, cold cereal, granola, juice, fruit, scones/bread pudding squares/cinnamon rolls, organic jam, and real maple syrup. Very nice.

It’s quiet. I’ve stayed on the third floor and the ground floor and neither night did I need to put in earplugs because of noise.

When I went up for work, the room rate ended up being $95 after all the taxes and whatever. To me, that’s a pretty sweet deal.

Unless there’s a reason for staying in the city, I can’t imagine staying anywhere else.

I flew Southwest because they go non-stop to SFO. Flying Southwest means no assigned seating. I always get stuck in the middle seat when I travel with Travis because he likes the lean against the window. I actually prefer the aisle, so I don’t have to climb over anyone to get to the bathroom. So, for some reason, when I fly Southwest I’m obsessed with getting the best boarding number I can. Before I leave, I always check in online the minute I’m 24 hours away from departure, but on the way back I usually don’t have access to a computer and/or printer. For some reason, I thought if you check in online it creates hassles to print out a boarding pass at the airport (maybe because United gives me a hassle when I try to do this). So, I just check in when I get to the airport and then deal with my lowly boarding priority and hope for an empty flight. Well, this last time I decided there must be an iPhone app for exactly this type of problem and there is. You can check in online through the app (you can probably do this through the browser, too) and get your nice “A” group priority and when you get to the airport all you need to do is “reprint” your boarding pass. This all assumes you’re not checking luggage. If you’re checking luggage you have to deal with all sorts of other hassles, like immensely huge lines.

Avenue 5 Restaurant & Bar, SDRW Preview Dinner

As much as San Diego Restaurant Week (SDRW) has changed (for better or for worse), I still look forward to it and always look through the menus to see if anything piques my interest. Sometimes we go more than once, sometimes we don’t go at all. I think we’ve managed to visit a new (to us) restaurant each time. We had already decided to visit Nobu this year and it helped work out some birthday celebration issues since people are in and out of town, plus there is a baby’s birthday to celebrate soon after mine this year. But, when McFarlane Promotions e-mailed to ask if I’d like to preview the SDRW menu at a restaurant, I jumped at the chance.

Splitting off for a tangent, I mentioned to Travis that I kind of feel weird accepting free meals in return for a review. Like I’m a sell-out or someone just looking for free stuff. He pointed out that just because it’s free doesn’t mean I have to give a positive review. Likewise, even if I don’t like it, I can always point out something positive in addition to the negative points. And, he said that I comment an awful lot on meals that we’ve certainly paid for, so being invited to a restaurant is just a nice perk. I do try to balance my reviews on free meals with what I would think had we paid for it, or what we would be paying if we were to return for another meal. I also tend not to post about places we’ve been where I was just downright disappointed in the food or service, mostly because people get mad when you say you don’t like them. But, I’ve decided that if I’m invited out for a meal in return for a review, if I really don’t enjoy it, I will leave it up to the people who invited me whether or not they want my thoughts published. If you can call writing on my blog as “publishing” something.

Anyway… I was given a list of participating restaurants, weeded out the ones in North County because I knew we wouldn’t be able to get there, took a look at some menus online, and decided to choose a restaurant we hadn’t been to before. When I replied, I was pretty flexible with the time we could done out and gave a list of restaurants I’d be happy to get (since it was mentioned that seatings were limited). I also asked if there were any updates to the participating list and they replied that Avenue 5 wasn’t on my original list. I’d actually never heard of Avenue 5, but it seemed like it had promise so I picked that one. And then I decided to check out Yelp reviews, which was just a mistake. Based on the Yelp reviews, it looks like people enjoy the brunch but are all over the place when it comes to dinner experiences. Travis reminded me that Yelp is all over the place for everything, though, so perhaps it’s most useful for checking whether a restaurant is still open or not.

Avenue 5 Restaurant & Bar is on 5th Avenue (duh), between Olive and Nutmeg Streets. It’s next to Hane Sushi. I guess it’s in Bankers Hill, but I would probably point people to it by saying it’s across from Balboa Park. The park part of Balboa Park. And then they’d probably get lost. It’s an easy drive and we didn’t have any trouble finding parking. I had already decided that if I didn’t like dessert, I was going to make Travis take me to Extraordinary Desserts, but that ended up being unnecessary.

We encountered a little snafu when we checked in because the reservation wasn’t under my name, but the name of my blog (how was I supposed to know that?) I was actually asked if I might be confused as to what restaurant I made reservations for, which I found a little insulting since I’m pretty sure I know where I’m dining at all times. For a brief moment, though, I did wonder if there was another Avenue 5 somewhere and we were at the wrong one (this has happened to me in Palm Springs where we were at one Mexican restaurant but we were supposed to be at the other one, same name, at the opposite end of town). Once I said we were there to preview a SDRW menu, it got all cleared up.

The restaurant space is nice and open, in an L-shape. We were seated around the corner, so we didn’t get to look at the bar or the outside, which I guess is fine. The food was great, which is really what matters, right? The menu is on the SDRW site or you can look at the picture I took [update: the SDRW site lists Avenue 5 as a $40 menu, but I confirmed with the restaurant that it will be $30]. I chose the salmon tartar, short rib (I always have to check out the short ribs), and chocolate decadence. Travis chose the vodka-cured beef carpaccio, the herb gnocchi, and profiteroles. He also had a pint of Airedale Homecoming Porter and I had a glass of rose. The porter was lightly spiced (nutmeg, I think), just sweet enough, and nicely rich and malty. I like a good porter and this was a good one. I also like a good rose and mine was right in the middle of dry and sweet. Unfortunately, I’ve gotten better at describing beers and worse at describing wines.

bread and beer

salmon tartar

carpaccio

Travis’ brain has been overloaded at work lately, so when the carpaccio came out he said it looked like it had been cured in something. I had to remind him that it was vodka-cured, like the menu said. Poor guy. He was very happy with it and liked the olives and capers that were sprinkled around the plate. As far as carpaccio goes, it was a good-sized portion, velvety smooth, and it came with a small pile of dressed greens and two baguette toast slices. My salmon tartar came with four (I only ate three) and, while I liked the crunch of the toast with the salmon on top, I actually preferred eating the salmon with the cucumber slices. Travis thought it tasted a little fishy, but I didn’t think so. He’s not a big raw salmon fan, though, so it’s not something he would order. I loved it and cleaned my plate.

beefy short rib

best gnocchi ever

The short rib and gnocchi were next, served in very warm plates. The short rib was one piece, but it was a huge piece! It wasn’t fork-tender, but it wasn’t so tough that I had to use a knife to cut it. I just had to use my knife to help pull it apart. It tasted like beef (in a good way) and it wasn’t dry, stringy, or chewy. Quite tasty, actually. Travis had ordered the gnocchi, which I never would have guessed, and it’s certainly not something I would have ordered normally. I’ve given up on gnocchi because I’ve had so many awful experiences: it’s heavy and doughy and you have to chew forever before you can swallow. So, I just don’t order it any more. And, because I don’t make them at home, I don’t really get to eat them very often.

People, I have good news and bad news about the gnocchi at Avenue 5. The good news is that they were fantastic. Perfect, really. The gnocchi was light and tender but with a hint of a chew. Almost fluffy, but not really. Plus, they had been pan-seared so they had a little crisp crust on the outside. Crisp on the outside, soft and delicious on the inside. Served with pearl onion, green beans (sorry, haricot vert), brussel sprouts, mushrooms, and diced sweet potatoes (I think) in a Madeira cream sauce, they were amazing. I actually ate only half my short rib, with the intention of taking the rest home, but I kept picking at Travis’ gnocchi. Halfway through, I told him I wish I had ordered the gnocchi and he switched plates with me. I finished the gnocchi and he finished the short rib.

The bad news? The gnocchi is not on the regular menu (we took a peek after dinner; neither is the salmon tartar). They do have a mushroom tortellini, which gets some great reviews, but I would want the gnocchi. If we go back, I’m asking them (ahead of time, of course) to make it. That’s how good it is.

So, I thought I was full, but really I just wanted gnocchi instead of short rib. Then, dessert arrived.

profiteroles

not photogenic, but so tasty

The profiteroles come filled with pistachio ice cream (with real pistachios in it) served on a puddle of crème anglaise, which was so good I’m surprised no one licked the plate. Travis really enjoyed it, and he’s not much for a sweet tooth, so that’s saying something. The profiteroles were good, but I prefer mine filled with pastry cream. Just personal preference, that’s all. My chocolate decadence, though, was just what I wanted. Sometimes you come across “chocolate decadence” and you don’t know what to expect. Sometimes it’s dense like fudge; sometimes it’s cakey like a molten chocolate cake. This was like a flourless chocolate cake, but not cakey. It was light and airy, but chocolatey and had substance. Definitely not dense and chewy, but not airy like a meringue. I don’t know how to describe it. It was just really good.

So, funny story… because I was asked to review our meal, I figured I should take some pictures. I forgot my camera and we had to use Travis’ work camera, which is why they aren’t the greatest pictures (sorry). But, after I’d taken a few, a gentleman came over with his card and mentioned that he figured we were there for the same reason he was (to preview the SDRW menu). We exchanged cards and a few sentences (he actually writes articles that get published… like, for real publications) and went back to our meals. That’s the first time that’s ever happened to me. So, hi Howard! Hope you enjoyed your meal as much as we did!

SDRW may catch some flak from the peanut gallery (speaking of which, I am so over CH and I’m not posting there anymore. I’ll rely on the plethora of SD food bloggers to keep me informed on the new and exciting stuff) but we still enjoy it. It’s an excuse to go try a new restaurant and sample (hopefully) good food. And it’s usually a pretty good deal when you look at all the food you get.

Avenue 5 gave us a great meal and I’m glad I decided to give them a try. My only complaint (and it’s one I’ve run into before during SDRW) is that some of the SDRW menu items aren’t available on the regular menu. I understand that a lot of San Diego menus are becoming seasonal and change frequently, but it is a little disappointing to find an outstanding dish during SDRW and not know if you can order it again. But, I’m glad to know that they’re willing to recreate it (or something similar) if I give them enough notice. I like restaurants that are willing to work with their customers to make them happy. If you’re thinking of dining out next week, SDRW gets my stamp of approval. And, if you like a good gnocchi dish, I can’t recommend the SDRW menu at Avenue 5 enough.

Avenue 5 Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

San Diego Food Bloggers Food 4 Kids Holiday Fundraiser

This is the first year I’ve participated in an organized food fundraiser, much less one in San Diego.  I guess you could say it’s been a exciting year for me in the food community.  Getting to help on a cookbook, a trip to NY, a fancy dinner promotion, and now this.  It’s been such fun and I’m glad to have the opportunity to help in any way I can.

Alice Q. and Caron are spearheading a fundraising event for the San Diego Food Bank’s “Food 4 Kids” backpack program this holiday season and San Diego area bloggers are joining in to help!  I’ve even secured a pretty neat prize for the raffle, so make sure you read all the way to the end!

The San Diego Food Bank’s Food 4 Kids Backpack Program was launched in 2007 to provide food to get chronically hungry elementary school students through the weekend.  Every Friday, participating children receive a backpack with child friendly items such as peanut butter, pop-top canned goods, cereal, juice boxes, fruit cups, raisins, pudding cups, granola bars, shelf-stable milk and macaroni and cheese tucked inside.

The children receive free or reduced cost meals while school is in session, but do not have food available on the weekends or school holidays for themselves and their siblings. Food 4 Kids provides food directly to the children, without requiring their parents to receive a referral to a local food pantry, pick up food at the pantry or prepare it at home.

In order to qualify for the program, students must attend a school where at least 80% of the population receives free or reduced cost lunch, and receive a referral from their teachers. During the 2008-2009 school year, the program served just 200 chronically hungry elementary school children in eight schools located throughout San Diego County.  The need is much greater.  As an example, the pilot program at one school in 2006 served 250 children alone.

The economy has been hard on all of us this year, but it has been hardest on those who were already struggling.  Charitable donations are down, and hunger in San Diego County is up.  Those of us who love food and view it as a pleasure are so fortunate to be in that position. The least we can do is try to ensure the children of our community don’t – quite literally – go hungry.

With this goal in mind, San Diego’s food bloggers and other members of the local community are coming together to raise funds for the San Diego Food Bank’s Food 4 Kids Backpack Program. A little goes a long way – the program costs approximately $7.00 per week per child to fund, and a donation of $250.00 will fund a backpack for a child for the entire 36 week school year.  Giving whatever you can afford will help to ensure this program continues to provide a much needed service.

As an added incentive, several food bloggers will be hosting prizes to be awarded in a drawing at our live food and backpack drive at our booth at the Little Italy Mercato on December 12, 2009.  We will also be collecting non-perishable, child-friendly food items and backpacks.  Come and meet your favorite food bloggers, drop off your donations and celebrate the Holidays at the Mercato!

Suggested donation items:

  • A medium-sized neutral design backpack, preferably red in color.
  • Toothbrush and kids toothpaste
  • Coloring books
  • School supplies (pencils, paper, pencil sharpeners, markers, crayons)
  • Nutritious kid-friendly foods, such as fruit roll ups, granola bars, boxed packaged food items like cereal, crackers, nutrition bars, pop top canned goods such as applesauce or other fruit, ready made macaroni and cheese and other easy convenient items.

You can read more about the program in this flier and on the website.

Now, for the prize!  David Leite has generously agreed to donate a signed copy of his cookbook, The New Portuguese Table for the raffle.  Not only is it a beautiful cookbook with drool-inducing photographs, but it was well-tested by a team of recipe testers who also test for his site (and I was one of them!)  The recipes work so well, you could throw a dinner party and not worry about doing a dry run with a single recipe.  I can say this because it’s exactly what we did.  We used recipes from the cookbook for our Pre-Holiday Dinner Party and every single dish came out perfectly!  I even used recipes I didn’t test out the first time!  Come back to see pictures and hear what we thought of the food.

So, don’t forget to donate to the Food 4 Kids program if you can, either through the donation site or in person and the live donation drive, December 12, 2009. All donors on the Firstgiving page will be eligible to win prizes sponsored by local businesses, bloggers and individuals.

Thank you so much for your contribution, and Happy, Happy Holidays!

Happy Birthday, Baby!

it's a baby!

it's a baby!

Happy Birthday, little Baby!  We’ve been waiting a long time for you!

This sweet little guy made his debut mere hours before he was supposed to be induced.  How’s that for a dramatic entrance?  You should all envy his mom.  She had the easiest pregnancy, never got uncomfortable, only gained baby-weight in the belly, and baby arrived in just about 6 hours.  He’s a cute baby, not scrunchy and red at all, with perfect tiny toes and fingers.  Plus, when we saw him, he was totally mellow and not at all screechy (like the baby next door).  Hopefully he stays that way.

I can honestly say that I’ve been concerned about how this baby was going to change our dynamic, but having now met him, I think it’s going to be a lot of fun being his Aunty.  Holding him doesn’t make me want a baby of my own, but it was amazing how quickly I fell in love with him.

Disney knows what they’re doing

In case you haven’t heard, this year you can go to Disneyland for free on your birthday!  You have to go on your birthday and it’s only a ticket to one park (as opposed to a Park Hopper ticket) but it’s still pretty cool.  It’s also a great marketing strategy on Disney’s part.  No one is going to go to Disneyland on their birthday alone, so now you have al these extra people buying tickets, buying food, and maybe even buying silly hats.  My birthday fell on a Saturday this year, so of course we headed up to the Park for some playtime.   With the persuasion of our friends, we ended up buying an annual pass… do you know what that means?

If you already have a pass to Disneyland, therefore not needing the free ticket, you have options for your birthday gift from Disney.  (As a note, you can apply the free ticket to the price of a Park Hopper ticket if you want.)  Now, if you have a pass, you can get a free one-Park ticket for another day (maybe like a blackout day?), a Disney Fun card worth the value of a one-Park ticket, or birthday FastPasses for you and your group of friends.  You can read about these options in the FAQ.

I suppose part of the argument for getting an annual pass was that we could get these unheard of birthday FastPasses.  We weren’t really sure what to expect, but it had to be more special than regular FastPasses, right?  And, they kind of are.  First, you have to have everyone with you when you pick up the FastPasses at the ticket booth (or maybe at City Hall).  They’ll scan everyone’s tickets and then issue a FastPass card.  But then, you go to the Tour booth next to City Hall and exchange those for your special FastPass tickets.  Everyone gets four passes: 2 “Daisy” passes and 2 “Donald” passes.  Each type can be used, once, for certain rides.  Like, the “Daisy” pass can be used for Autopia, Big Thunder Mountain, that River Run raft ride, the Mullholand Drive ride, and something else.  The “Donald” pass can be used for Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, California Screamin’, Soarin’ Over California, Tower of Terror… and something else that I can’t remember.  So, it’s not an unlimited FastPass, but it is valid all day long.  And, it doesn’t require you to stick your ticket in the FastPass machine; you just hand the “Daisy” or “Donald” pass to the attendant.  This means you can hop around, get a regular FastPass, go on a ride or use the birthday pass, and then use the FastPass.  It basically makes a more efficient use of your time.

Let me tell you, I was excited to just go to Disneyland on my birthday.  I was more excited to have the best friend I’ve known forever and her sweet husband come out to play with us.  It was very cool that she had enough hotel points to score us a free room at the Hilton.  But that was just the beginning of a really fun day.  Not only did I get a big birthday button so that all the Disney people had to say “Happy Birthday” to me All Day Long, but my sweetheart had some extra surprises up his sleeve.

You know that restaurant inside the Pirates of the Carribean ride?  The Blue Bayou?  And how you have to make reservations ahead of time in order to eat there?  Well, we were standing in line for the ride and everyone started talking about what we should do for lunch.  Maybe something light, maybe something nearby, hey, chowder in a bread bowl sounds good.  Me, totally oblivious to what’s going on, I’m starting to think that, yeah, chowder in a bread bowl does sound good for lunch.  We get on the ride, we “float” past people eating, and I still suspect nothing.  We get off the ride and pass by Blue Bayou and T says, “Hey, what about this place?”  He walks up and starts talking to the guy and I figure, at best, he’s going to get some little card that tells him to come back later.  But no, he tells us to step into the lobby and our name will be called when the table is ready.  Now, I’m sure most people would have totally caught on to what was happening, but I’m just thinking that maybe it’s a really slow day here at Disneyland and we were able to totally just walk into this coveted restaurant.  Hey, I never claimed to be quick at catching on.  It turns out T has made reservations weeks ago and everyone has been fretting about making it off the ride in time for this reservation.  Everyone, of course, but poor oblivious me.  But we have a lovely (if very filling) lunch and share a tasty dish of birthday mousse, which came topped with some sort of candy “Mickey” that wasn’t easily eaten (so I licked it and left it on the plate) AND a birthday card with my name in it!  And so started the day of me reveling in everyone wishing me a Happy Birthday.

It turned out to be a really fun day.  We went everywhere, timed our FastPass vs. birthday FastPass use in combination with waiting in relatively not-long lines, and the only ride we really missed was Big Thunder Mountain because they closed it just as we were walking up.  I guess we also didn’t get to go on the submarines, but we did do Autopia AND Space Mountain twice.  Twice!  We did so much walking that we ended up heading back to the car not long after the fireworks show.  We were so tired by the time we got to the hotel that we didn’t even have the energy to stay up and marvel at the craziness of the NAMM post-convention hotel-lobby activities.  Silly rockers.  But it was all still very awesome.  And now we have passes so we can go back throughout the year.

I am such a lucky girl.  Have I said that enough this year yet?  I have wonderful friends and family and I am completely spoiled by this boy who loves me.  The only downside is that I have no idea how to even top all of T’s surprises and presents for his birthday next month.  What am I supposed to do?  Buy him a brewery?

Now we’re all just waiting for this silly little baby to show up so we can shower him with love and make him feel so lucky every day.

So, go to Disneyland on your birthday.  It’s totally worth it.  Plus, you would never guess how thrilling it is to have people wish you Happy Birthday all day long.  Some of them even look pleased to be able to say that to you.

Menu for Hope V

The donation period for Menu for Hope is ending December 24th 31stthat’s only two days away deadline extended!

If you haven’t donated yet, please consider doing so.  Just $10 gets you a raffle ticket for your pick of any of the awesome prizes being offered.  You can visit Chez Pim for more instructions on how to donate and note which prize you’d like to try for.

Last year, I won the coveted dinner for two at Manresa and a tour of their garden.  Except we haven’t actually gone up there to claim it yet.  But, Pim’s been great and we’re trying to set up a time to make it all happen in 2009!  So, go donate, and if you win this year’s dinner at Manresa, maybe we’ll see you there!