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Enjoy your week-end:)

Media is a powerful tool and while many of us use our media sources for fun or amusement, there are some who are using the media clout they have to educate and feed people. Combining star power and chef power, the Hungry In America Project is hosting a charity event at Tom Colicchio’s Craft in Century City this Sunday.

For $250 a person or $1000 for a VIP ticket (both are completely tax deductible), you get to mingle with the celebrity hosts like Ben Affleck, Mario Batali, Lauren Bush, Jake Gyllenhaal, Nancy Silverton, and a plethora of others who have donated their time, work, and talents. The chefs will be serving up tastes of their dishes to attendees from 6-8pm (VIPs get to enter an hour earlier).

There is no sane reason why 1 in 4 children in the US are on the brink of hunger. Those of us who have refrigerators and pantries full of food are rich compared to many in our own country. Even if this particular event is too pricey for you to attend, you can donate any amount to the project here, or just load up some of your pantry goods and deliver them to your nearest food bank.

We are all richer when we share what we have with others who need it.

If you want to go out in Los Angeles today, you can benefit from more than just eating a great meal without having to wash dishes. Today is the annual Go Eat L.A. event and all you have to do is choose whether you want to eat out for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or drinks (or go out for all your meals) at one of the participating businesses who will donate 15-60% to the charities Aid for Aids and Serra Project.

Check out the list of businesses, which stretch from Pasadena to Long Beach, high-end formal restaurants to burger joints, and include nightclubs, stalls at Farmer’s markets, juice bars, champagne bars, yacht clubs, a Comedy club and a playhouse. Some of the businesses require you to print out a coupon to donate to the event so make sure you print them out and take them with you, but most don’t require anything other than for you to show up and eat, drink, or buy a ticket to a show.

Some of my personal favorites are participating, including Taste, Vincenti Ristorante, and Dar Maghreb, but I think I will be going to Local tomorrow, which uses locally grown and organic produce, and is donating 100% of their proceeds tomorrow to the charities.

Go out and do some good for yourself and others, after all, true benefits are always mutual.

With the Olympics right now, everyone seems to be obsessed with who will get the Gold, but here in Los Angeles, the Gold is Jonathan Gold, the famous food critic (LA Weekly, Gourmet) whose favorite food choices become the harbinger of popular taste for Los Angelenos.

It would be nice if all foodies had a job where we could be paid to taste and try out new places, but since most of us do other things to make money to pay for our food habits, it is a joy when a respected food critic brings together his favorites in one place so we can taste them all at one location.

The Gold Standard is this Sunday at the Petersen Auto Museum. Get your tickets online now because there will be no tickets at the door. You can try food from Mozza, Kogi, Huckleberry Cafe, Beacon, Ludo Bites, Upstairs 2, Lou, Tiara and 34 other restaurants, not to mention Bourbon and Beer, all for a $60 entrance fee (parking is $8 at the museum). The event starts at 1pm and goes until 5pm, so you can nibble and savor for four hours.

A part of the proceeds will benefit Heal The Bay and Make A Wish, so you can honestly say you are eating for the benefit of others.

Loyalty is a valuable commodity, especially these days when hotels are struggling to fill rooms, and one of the best strategies is to reward loyal guests with discounted rates. Now you can be rewarded as a “loyal guest” when you stay ONE night at the the “best available rate”, you will get your second night 50% off at by using code ZBT at the Starwood Hotel site. If you stay several nights you will get 50% off the second night for every best available rate night, which means every day of your stay means you will get a discounted rate the next day (hence the better tomorrow theme). Don’t forget to sign up as a Starwood Preferred Guest because if you are a Platinum member you will receive complimentary wireless during your stays.

This rate is good through December 31, 2010 at participating St Regis, W, Westin, Sheraton, Aloft, element, or Luxury Collection hotels. You must reserve your stay with a nonrefundable payment, so be sure your plans are not subject to change, or you might be better off booking with a travel site or hotel where you can cancel within hours of your reservation booking.

Scarlett O’Hara was right when she said tomorrow would be a better day.

I was an the unfamiliar neighborhood of Toluca Lake over the week-end and found Firenze Osteria on a main thoroughfare nearby; I love finding fantastic restaurants no matter where they are located. With Warner Brothers, Disney, and Universal Studios nearby, this place is a great choice for people either taking meetings, tours, taping shows, or simply being tourists.

There is valet parking or street meters, so depending on your luck and parallel parking skills, you can choose your preference. I was pleasantly surprised to find the dining room and bar areas both half full of diners even at 2:30 in the afternoon; either other diners were eating during Italian lunch hours or this place attracts people who like to linger and savor their meals (my guess would be the later).

I was warmly greeted by the host and offered my choice of available tables either facing a big screen tv with a basketball game on ESPN or facing fellow diners; I chose the dining room view. The kitchen is completely open so you can watch as the chefs prepare your meal; it is always a sign of a clean and organized kitchen when they allow you to watch the preparation.

The bread basket was filled with thin slices of warm foccacia which were toasted crunchy by the time it arrived at my table, but that slight annoyance was completely offset by the delicious caponata that was served as a dipping sauce.

For my entree I chose the Linguini Frutti di Mare or Seafood Linguini, ($15.95) made with shrimp, calamari, mussels, and clams in a light tomato and white wine sauce. The pasta was cooked to a perfect al dente and the seafood was done with a light hand so that every morsel was tender and not over cooked. The sauce was stupendous with flavors of tomato, basil, and seafood in a perfectly balanced composition. I had a glass of Italian Chardonnay ($8) as a complement to my meal and although it was delicious, it could have been chilled much more (it arrived just slightly below room temperature).

The pasta dish was so generous I could not finish it so I did not try any desserts this time, but there are many reasons to go back. Thursdays are wine flight nights from 5 to 7pm you can get flights for $6 and Friday through Sundays they have live music. If you want a truly special meal, reserve the chefs table where they create a special menu for you with wines and martinis; it is the next best thing to having your own private chef.

Firenze Osteria on Urbanspoon

If you truly want to eat locally sourced food, Forage is putting its’ principals into practice while involving the community. Not only do they use proteins from sources like Niman Ranch, which does not ever use antibiotics or hormones in their livestock, but they are using what neighbors are growing in their backyards.

There are a few people here in Los Angeles who are lucky enough to have a yard with fruit trees, and my previous post on donating your excess produce to Food Forward may be a way for you to help feed local food banks, while keeping rotting over ripe fruit from ruining your yard.

But for those who don’t have 6-8 bags of produce to donate to Food Forward, but still have more than you can eat or give away, you might want to go to Forage restaurant’s Harvest Call on Sunday from 3-5pm where they will taste and perhaps take your home grown local produce. They will not take anything that has been heavily fertilized or industrially sprayed, and there is no payment, but if they decide to take your harvest, you will see it on the menu with credit given to you.

At Forage, your name could literally be your entree!

I had a fun day doing my taxes yesterday; it felt really good to get all my receipts in order and get an idea of what I earned and spent over the course of a year. The best part is that my wonderful Accountant, Mike West, will be handling all the tax preparation so all I do is mail him my paperwork and he “translates” it into the proper forms for the IRS. I have tried to do my own tax returns, but I am not a masochist and I realized that paying taxes is torture enough without adding the frustrating task of figuring out how much I owe.

For everyone who feels as I do, there is free help from AARP. No, you don’t have to be over 60, but you do have to have a simple return. They will give preference to those who are low to moderate income and over 60, but ANYONE can get this free help from their volunteer staff.

If you are not as numerically challenged as I am and you want to do your own taxes, you can file it free at Free File. This link also provides a link to companies who offer free or paid state tax preparation and filing services. If you are in a hurry to either file or receive a refund, this site will give you an IRS confirmation of receipt for your return and a 10 day direct deposit for your refund.

Now that my “homework” is done, I’m heading out to a movie!

I know it’s short notice, but if you are good with spontaneity, you could be rewarded with a great deal at the MGM in Las Vegas. Book by tomorrow, February 18, 2010 and you can get a room which includes free Wifi, Fitness Center access, entry into either Studio 54 or Tabu, and local calls for $55 a night using code INB335. Hurry if you want this deal, the clock is ticking…..

(Today’s post is a bit different in that I will be asking for YOUR resources and opinions on what works for you:)

My cell phone contract is almost completed and I have the choice to continue with my current carrier (AT&T) or switch without a penalty next month. Since I am traveling to Europe this Fall I started to shop for a phone that would allow me to stay connect through WiFi so that I don’t have to lug my MAC laptop or buy a netbook for my trip.

After talking to several seasoned overseas travelers I decided my best bet would be to buy an unlocked phone through eBay or Amazon, or I could get my phone unlocked so that I could buy a local SIM card and get local rates for calls.

I thought the simplest solution would be to renew my cell phone contract, get a phone with WiFi, and get it unlocked through one of the reputable unlocking companies like iunlock. I learned some very interesting things in the process of shopping that both shocked and angered me.

One of the cell phone lines I shopped was Sony Ericsson, but I was confused by differing descriptions on their website and the AT&T website so I contacted them to clarify whether a particular phone had WiFi installed. The answer I got was that the phone was manufactured WITH WiFi but AT&T takes it OFF (so you are obligated to pay for and use only AT&T data services which cost $30 a month). Although I HATE that AT&T has removed WiFi on some phones, I do appreciate that at least I can use their SIM cards in an unlocked phone, unlike other carriers like Verizon, Sprint, Virgin, and Boost which either lock their SIM cards or use a completely closed system that does not allow use on unlocked phones. I am also considering an unlocked Nokia, which is the worldwide leader in cell phone sales but only available in the USA unsubsidized ($$$).

Of course my first two choices were the every popular iPhone and the Blackberry, but I learned that even though they both offer WiFi installed, and they can both be unlocked (for $75 each), if you update your software for either phone, you may also have to unlock you phone AGAIN, and both require a mandatory data charge of $30 per month in addition to call rates.

So at this point I don’t know which phone I want; what do you recommend? Do you travel abroad? How does your phone work overseas?




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