Is it weird that on the day after Father’s Day I’m looking to buy a BBQ for MYSELF?

charbroil_bbq

My husband LOVES barbecue, but I am the one that loves TO barbecue. I cook it, he eats it. And recently my BBQ died. It just won’t work anymore. This thing has more miles on it than an ox during the pioneer days. Seriously, I ran this thing into the ground. Even when one of the burners collapsed on itself because the metal was so corroded, I STILL turned that baby on a grilled with huge flames licking at my meat. Well, that’s all over now and its time to say goodbye and get a new one. I have been eyeballing the sample grills at Ace Hardware for awhile now. Oh how clean and sleek they looked compared to my old Jalopy! The thought of a brand new grill is making me so excited its like Christmas has come early. What should I get? What is the best? I spend a lot of time with my grill so I need a good companion that will be around for awhile. I haven’t made a final decision yet so any advice is welcome. Tell me your thoughts grill-lovers!

My Baby Girl. My Heart.

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I love my baby girl. Whenever she does something new or cute Michael and I just look at each other and without saying a word we communicate how crazy special our little girl is. When she wakes up in the morning and I go get her out of her crib she always exclaims, “Bobba! Bobba Yeah Yeah!?” and I go to make her her bottle and we snuggle while she downs it. Then she squirms out of my arms and enthusiastically goes about her day exploring the world. She has a walk of confidence as if her duty to mess up our shoes or play on her cat laptop are of the utmost important. Then she’ll come back to me and say, “Bobba?Bobba?” which this time means food. I’ll make us our morning Kashi waffle and she take a bite and then runs off to tend to her toys. And then before she even gets there she’ll run back for another bite. Back and forth, back and forth. We will hear her in the other room sometimes as she’s flipping through her books and talking to herself in a language only she understands. When she starts talking gibberish I go ahead and have a conversation with her anyway: Gigi: Way-do way-do di di da da di! haha! Me: Oh that sounds interesting Gigi: Yeah. haha! odey odey odey haha! She looks like this little impish fairly flitting about the house. She has the most contagious laugh that makes it impossible to not laugh right along with her. Passerbyers on the street can’t help but return her outgoing smiles. She follows people around at the park and sometimes I have to apologize because she likes to stare. Here favorite game at the sunken gardens of the courthouse are to walk up and down all the stairs with my help. I like it too because it wears her out so much she usually doesn’t squirm in her stroller after that. We like to go on long walks down state street and see what we see. Sometimes its just to the courthouse and Anthropologie and back. Sometimes its all the way to the Paseo Nuevo mall or even to the pier at the beach. It depends on the day and how much time we have.  But regardless of the amount of time its always the BEST time. When Georgiana gets tired at night she becomes slap happy. She screams with delight at the smallest of encouragement and will laugh uncontrollably. She has learned (from her silly Mommy) to eat cheerios off the coffee table without using her hands. I was doing it to make her laugh and it stuck. Now at the park she’ll eat cheerios right out of my hand too so I’m not really sure what the other parents make of it. She knows how a lions goes “raaaar” and a sheep “bah’ and a dog “O O!” When she doesn’t want something she goes emphatically, “Na na na na na!” When I ask her if she loves her Mommy she usually goes, “Yeah!” but sometimes she goes, “Na na.” Ha! She has good size crop of blonde hair that looks like the top of  a corn husk. So we can her corn husk or just husk sometimes. At my Mom’s house the toilets flush really loud. Anytime Georgiana hears one she goes, “Wow!” Georgiana already loves jewelry. We started small with me putting my hair ties on her wrist like a bracelet but then I got her some plastic jewelry and she puts it on herself all the time. I always exclaim with a greek accent from like the mom from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, “Your so beautiful!” Every night when I say my prayers the first thing I thank God for is her because she is this absolute gift that has flown into my life to stay forever and I couldn’t be more grateful. Its like when you’re a kid and you get a present on Christmas that you’ve been wanting so badly.  But this gift never gets old or worn out. It never becomes boring. Its this fresh new gift every day that is fun and exciting and precious. I love my little girl.

Cielito Mexican Restaurant Santa Barbara (Review)

Michael and I have been wanting to try out Cielito since it opened and finally made our way over there.  This restaurant was previously an Acapulco which is a chain mexican restaurant in California. I have to say it was one of our FAVORITE places to go for lunch because the outside patio was so picturesque with a lovely fountain and turtles swimming around. When Acapulco closed we were very sad even though the food was fairly standard mexican. Every time we’d walk past the empty shell that used to be Acapulco it would remind us of joyous times gone by.  And then….Cielito opened and we were chomping at the bit try it out. The branding is great. They are marketing themselves as a more upscale mexican dining experience. Here’s what we had…

Outdoor Patio

Our favorite fountain with turtles basking in the sun. They didn’t put tables and chairs around the entire perimeter of the fountain as Acapulco had it. Still beautiful. ;)

Refreshing beverage.

Chips and guacamole. Good but nothing I haven’t had before. Salsa at Playa Azul and Rose Cafe are still my reigning favorites in town. Here they charge for chips and salsa which always irritates me to pay for at a mexican restaurant. Its like paying for a fortune cookie at a chinese restaurant….

Michael ordered the Tacos de Costilla which is braised short ribs, salsa, cojia cheese and cilantro. It was an “over promised under delivered” sort of moment. They tasted like shredded beef tacos. They were good but nothing we felt would entice us for a second trip. The rice and beans also seemed standard. Although, to be fair maybe there aren’t that many exotic ways to do rice and beans.

I got the Mexican Chopped Salad with Shrimp which had chickpeas, olives, avocado, corn and jicama. Again, it was okay. I didn’t really like the dressing that much and the combination of ingredients didn’t sing.

Overall, it was good not great. I’d go again for the atmosphere and to try something else since their menu does have a flare to it.  I really like how they have interesting offerings like pork belly quesadillas and mashed potato tacos. I would go again just to make sure we didn’t miss the stars of the show. Cielito is right next to the CaliBressan Chocolate store so we were able to  eat some out-of-this-world chocolate which quickly made us forget that our lunch didn’t quite deliver what we were hoping for.

Our 8 Year Anniversary Dinner at The Bazaar by Jose Andres (Restaurant Review)

(For the full review scroll to the bottom ;)

(Below: Shots of the modern dining room)

(Below: Cheese plate with quince jam, almonds and manchengo, murcia and la serena cheeses. Served with a tomato toast)

(Below: Vegetable Pistou with a poach egg 63)

(Below: Braised Wagyu Beef Cheeks with a California Citrus)

(Below: “Philly Cheesesteak” with air bread, wagyu beef and cheddar)

(Below: Potatoes de Patatas with Potato Foam, Egg 63 and Caramelized Onions)

(Below: Your Life Will Change Dashi Linguini with Quail Egg & Basil)

(Below: Baby Japanese Peaches with Buratta, hazelnuts and arugula)

(Below: Shots of the Patisserie)

(Below: Nitro Coconut Floating Island with Passion Fruit and Vanilla)

(Below: Bread Pudding with Saffron Sauce)

How does one review The Bazaar by Jose Andres? Its like being invited to the most exclusive dinner by one of the worlds best chef’s and then commenting on it later as if your opinion really matters. And even though we paid for the food and have a right to an opinion it still seems strange. So despite my hesitation to say just say I’m grateful Jose Andres has shared his talent with the world I’ll delve into it slightly more deeply. When Michael and I first walked into the restaurant I immediately felt a surge of excitement. The restaurant itself is so perfectly designed and the execution so precise that Michael immediately started talking about photo shoots. “This place is amazing” he commented “THIS is the sort of place I want to do a shoot at.” Don’t we all darling… The hostess asked us to have a seat in the bar while we waited for our table. We sat in a luxurious leather couch that had a wood sculptured lamp behind us made to look like a brown bear. The mood was vibrant but not obnoxious like a night club where you can’t talk because its so loud. There were little nooks and crannies with seating as well as a very long tall table right through the middle of the room with bar stools. We ordered some refreshments and waited anxiously for the next part of our culinary adventure. Soon the hostess fetched us and we were onto the modern tapas dining room. On our way over we were told that Jose Andres wanted to create a restaurant that not only delivered unique food but also a unique dining experience. The flow was from the bar to the dining room. And then after dinner guests are re-seated into the “patisserie” where they order dessert. I for one LOVE this concept because it irritates me to no end when paying for a nice to meal to feel like we should get out as soon as our last morsel is gobbled up. Having waited tables in the past I know that I hated it when people “camped” at my tables but on the same hand its frustrating to have to end your dining experience because your feel like you’re being watched…

As we sat down in the modern dining room (as opposed to the traditional Rojo’s y Blanco’s dining room which has a more traditional feel) I enjoyed the great care that my surroundings exuded. From the lighting to the furniture it was a delight to sit in this beautiful setting. We were greeted by a waiter and began our gustational experience. We started off with a cheese plate. The cheeses were delicious as was the tomato toast. We didn’t feel that it was a life altering experience but definitely an enjoyable one. Then onto our next course of a vegetable pistou with an egg 63 and Wagyu Beef Cheeks with Citrus. Mmmmm…the pistou was heavenly. It was just vegetables and an egg but my was it delicious. Somehow, someway the veg was made to be extremely savory and full of flavor. And since this is tapas, there definitely wasn’t enough. The Beef Cheeks were delightful as well with an interesting finish to it that we couldn’t quite place. It was a new taste experience for us having not enjoyed beef cheeks before. For those that don’t know what beef cheeks are, its the head meat. It seemed like it had been braised and was sort of like pot roast. It wasn’t a home run with my husband (who ordered it) but that’s okay because his next bite was of a “philly cheesesteak” on air bread with wagyu beef which was to die for. The air bread was just that, a little puffed up bread that melted in your mouth on contact. Sort of like if you crossed bread with cotton candy. The inside was filled with melted cheddar and the top with wagyu beef. Ummmm…can you say delicious? Michael seemed annoyed at the size of the bite I took. It was soooo good but a little salty. And for me, I had a new take on a spanish tortilla called Potatoes y Patatas which was a potato foam with an egg and carmelized onions. It was sort of like a very airy potato soup. The flavors were delightful but I wasn’t hot on the texture. It sort of made me want to eat an actual spanish tortilla. (For those that don’t know a spanish tortilla is thinly layered potatoes and onions binded with egg and baked).  Then we came to our last course which was “Your Life will Change Dashi Linguini”  and a salad of japanese baby peaches with buratta and hazelnuts. Both were amazing. By the time we got to the dashi I realized we ordered A LOT  of things with eggs. Also, the dashi was a bit salty but the flavors were so scrumptious and the  saltiness of the dash combined with the “linguini” and eggs was a great combination. Michael almost flipped out when he ate the japanese peaches and buratta salad. This little plate was amazing and we were trying to be nice and let the other eat the last peach. “No go ahead honey, you have it.” he would say.  And then I would reply with “Seriously, darling you love peaches so much, YOU have it.” etc etc. I can’t remember who actually got it in the end. It was probably me. The whole tapas portion of the night was awesome. We did notice that everything seemed to be aggressively seasoned with salt. Michael, who loves salt even thought it was all a bit salty.

Finally, we were whisked away to the patisserie, our final destination of the evening. We were seated at a tall long white table and sat across from each other. We were the only ones at the table so it felt sort of like sitting across from each other at the dining room table in the first Batman movie with Michael Keaton. Behind us was a dessert bar covered with candy, chocolate, cookies and other delectables. We were given menu’s and ordered the Nitro Coconut Island and Bread Pudding with Saffron Sauce. The first bit of the coconut island was a beautiful moment. It was like eating a frozen coconut merique that melts in your mouth. Fantastic. And the Bread Pudding with Saffron sauce is the perfect dessert from someone who doesn’t really like dessert. It was slightly sweet with a savory note that gave you the satisfaction of luxury without it being overpowering. I liked it, but probably wouldn’t order it again. It was one of those experience dishes that was fun to try but you may not think of it in the future.

Overall, we had a fabulous time and it was truly the unique dining experience that Jose Andres was going for. I hate to say it but after all that food I still left not feeling completely full. The tapas are small so I think I could have gone for one more course before dessert. However, Michael felt totally full so maybe I was just especially hungry that day. We had a memorable and fun anniversary that we’ll never forget.

My Weight in both Body and Brain.

Since I was 16 I’ve perceived myself as fat. There were a few years in there that I got skinny enough to not feel fat but other than that its been a constant struggle. And what I haven’t been able to figure out is whether I’m actually fat or just think I’m fat. In our society there is so many mixed signals that are very confusing and so I’m still not quite sure. Its impossible to get the hard truth because in America we skirt around reality. I had a russian friend who was dead honest about everything and I found that in her culture they’ll tell you your fat to your face without it even being considered a true insult. I remember I went shopping one day and bought a shirt that had a really ruffled sleeve. When she saw its she was like, “Oh, that shirt is so ugly!” (in a russian accent of course). If only she stayed in the US and didn’t move to Moscow…I’d have my answer by now.

When I was growing up my Mom would mention her skinniness a lot. I remember her saying once, “5 kids, size 5 jeans.” She liked the rail thin look and sometimes looked almost like a concentration camp victim. She probably eats about 1000 calories a day by default and is the slowest eater I’ve ever seen. My sisters are also very thin people naturally. My sister Sarah has had people ask her if she was anorexic in the past (she never has been) and my sister Leah is your basic nightmare because she is skinny with giant boobs. My sister Bethany has the smallest waist in the history of the world. Oh and my brother looks like a handsome Jack Skellington! So for me, I’ve always been surrounded by the thin and feel like a giant during family get togethers. I also feel like its so obvious how much bigger I am than everyone and think I try to deflect attention by being funny & silly at home.

In high school I was a size 8 pant and weighed about 145 lbs at a height of 5’6. I did every diet possible to lose weight. I did weight watchers and would go to the meeting with my Grandma. I did the cabbage soup diet which was a very strange diet where you eat cabbage soup everyday along with one or two other food items that change daily. I did Jenny Craig but that only lasted a week when I started dry heaving from their food. Then I tried starving myself which lead to binging and purging. My sister bought me a book about bulimia in an attempt to help not make myself throw up. I would write long lists of everything I hated about myself which included my weight, nose, crooked tooth, skin, butt etc. I had a very skewed vision of myself. I did The Zone where you eat mostly protein with limited carbs but it was hard to control my food since my Mom was obviously doing the shopping and cooking. I compared myself incessantly to my Mom and sisters who were very thin without seeming to work at it at all. What was ironic about this time period is that I actually got male attention not from the high school boys but from young men. I remember I was in a musical at our civic auditorium in town and I was asked to go with one of the cast members to see the premier of a movie he was in called, “Star Maps.” And then I had my first kiss from another guy in the play who was 22 (I was 16). I wasn’t quite sure what to do with all this attention at the time. I didn’t get it. Obviously my curves were attractive to men even though I just wanted to be a rail with no curves. I think at the time I thought they liked me despite the flaws of my curves where in reality they probably liked me BECAUSE of my curves.

After high school not much changed. I had a period of time that I was sick of dieting and decided to just give up. I gained 20 pounds. And then I was so disgusted with myself that I started a regime of running and then taking an endless amount of dance classes and I lost 30 pounds. I maintained my new weight of 135 by eating normally and exercising a lot. When I got married I maintained my weight until my husband started wanting to go on midnight runs to get donuts and hamburgers. I gain 10 pounds and stayed there for awhile. And then over the years I gained another 10. So when I got pregnant last year I was up to 155. At the very end of my pregnancy I was at 205 and looked like the marshmallow man. Now I’m back down to the high 160’s and am plateauing right now at this weight.

So now that you know everything what is the truth? Obviously I love to eat as is evident by the existence of this blog. So am I fat? At this current moment in time I’m definitely overweight by the BMI charts. I need to lose about 15 pounds to not be considered overweight.  Of course I’m on the downhill slide from having a baby but still… Its like my Mom always would say, “you don’t have to look far to find people that have more than you and people that have less.” I’ll always find skinnier women and fatter women surrounding me. At the end of the day I choose how I feel about myself. Right in this very moment I feel pretty good. I could look better but mostly I feel I could look a lot worst.

My hope is that from here on out I can just live to be healthy and happy and not stress about the rest of it. Heck, I think I’ve stressed about it enough for one life time already. I think my story is unfortunately not that unique so if anyone out there has had similar struggles let’s swap stories. It always helps to know your not alone (or nuts!).

Love & Dining Out

When I was growing up my family never had money for eating out much. Especially when I was little we rarely dined out. If we did it was usually with my grandparents and was either Sizzler or a mexican restaurant. But I loved eating out. Even walking into a Denny’s seemed glamour to me at 10 years old. Adults brought me food and there was a general buzz and excitement in the room. It seemed to me that the most important people were at restaurants.

As I got older and was asked out on dates I started eating out a little better. My high school boyfriend took me to dinner on the roof of the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in downtown LA and took me to see “Les Miserable” one night. It was so fancy that when they brought over a platter with my utensils on it I had no idea what I was suppose to do. The kind waiter gently told me to take my salad fork from the platter and played it off like it was a silly fine dining ritual. My boyfriend, whose parents apparently ate at nice places all the time, always knew where to take me. We dined at Geoffry’s in Malibu & The Chart House and he spent all his money from his valet job on taking me out. It was a relatively short but intense relationship and he certainly set the bar high in terms of my being spoiled by nice things.

Then I met Boris. Boris has been my friend now for 12 years. (Well, we actually didn’t talk for a couple years in there somewhere but besides that….) Boris had a flare for living the high life. I met him while singing (yes singing) at an Italian restaurant that he was eating at with a friend. Boris is one of the only straight men that has a wide repertoire of musical theater knowledge and proceeded to test me by asking me to sing a wide variety of songs at his table. (I’m sure the diners nearby were incredibly annoyed) Anyway, he tipped me $40 and that was that. He came in again another time and then called up the restaurant and asked me to dinner. I said yes, but it had to be at Chili’s next door. :) After our dinner at Chili’s he invited to take me out to for my upcoming birthday and asked me where I wanted to go. I blurted out, “Spago’s!” (which was Wolfgang Pucks premiere restaurant at the time) and that’s where we went. He later told me that he was thinking more along the lines of TGIF Fridays but didn’t have the heart to tell me no. And thus began my many adventures dining out at fancy places with Boris. We had a year long string of dinner dates (and trips to the theater) that spanned from japanese restaurants to steak houses, seafood places to fondue. Oh, and I was 19 and he was 30. But the age difference didn’t matter because we weren’t officially “dating.” My friend Michelle (who Boris always refers to as my “black friend”) thought the whole thing was fishy but Boris and I have remained friends and over the years and after I was married he’d bring his girlfriends up to Santa Barbara for my husband and I to meet. Michael loves Boris. I probably could write an entire essay on Boris since he is an incredibly interesting personality, but I’ll save that for another time.

Then began the string of random dates with random guys that never quite panned out. There was Dan who took me to a very nice fish restaurant on our first date. I ordered macadamia crusted halibut and it was delicious. It was my first experience eating halibut and I was skeptical I would like it but eager to be adventurous with seafood. It didn’t disappoint. Unfortunately, my relationship did disappoint mostly because of me. Our dates were cut short when in a moment of frustration with a phone message he left me I let out a long winded vent of what I didn’t like about him to a friend that accidentally got recorded on HIS voicemail. That wasn’t a fun conversation to have when he confronted me about it.  And then there was Brian. Brian took me all over the place. It was with him that I experienced eel for the first time. We also went to Kings Fishhouse in Calabasas one night and I ordered something with the dressing on the side. It reminded him of Meg Ryan in, ” When Harry met Sally” which I hadn’t seen. We went back to his house and watched it and I proceeded to spill ice cream down the front of my shirt. Lovely. I wonder why that relationship didn’t go anywhere? Finally there was the boxer. The boxer and I never actually went out. He came into the the italian restaurant I was working at and approached me about accompanying him to his next fight in Vegas. He promised plane flights, hotel suites, dinners – the works. I was polite but refused to give him my number. He came into the restaurant again for a second attempt and got me to sit down at the bar with him. I was uncomfortable because usually when someone mentions a trip together intimacy is assumed. I was 19 and vigilant about not having sex before marriage so I knew I would need to be fairly forward about my standards. I mentioned my beliefs and he actually asked if he could covert to my religion. I remember saying a very lame, “yes…?” but after that it sort of fizzled. He could tell I just wasn’t going for it and he relented.

So between my high school boyfriend, Boris and other random dates along the way I was relatively spoiled with good food. I don’t think when I met Michael (who later became my husband) he was ready for the high expectation I had for lavish dates. He was just out of the Navy and starting photography school so his earnings at the time were modest to say the least. And it was in this time of general want that we fell in love and got married. No one can say I married for money since I was in reality marrying into student loan debt! But after both our graduations and the success of our photography business we have been lucky enough to dine at some amazing places together. From Los Angeles to New York, Paris to Italy we have been so lucky to eat at some of the worlds best restaurants. My darling husband has taken my passion for the culinary arts seriously and has enjoyed all these experiences right along with me. Michael isn’t just another boyfriend or friend. He is my true soul mate and without him my life would seem pointless and sad. He brightens everything and probably is the reason I love to cook. His love and enthusiasm for my culinary adventures keeps me excited. When we sit down in a restaurant we first look at the decor and comment on the design. When the first course comes we take a bite and give our critic or praise. Same with the second. We judge the service and staff. We talk about our overall experience and I take notes on my phone. We are a restaurants worst nightmare. But we have fun and even though its not for anything but our own enjoyment and maybe a posting on my blog, its something we can get into. And just like everything else in our life, we enjoy it because we enjoy it together. I love you Bear.