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May you all have a safe, healthy and wonderful holiday!

I will resume posting January 3, 2011

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Many of you will be cooking your Christmas meal (I will), so it might be a wonderful idea to go to a feast on Christmas Eve where you do not cook or even have dishes to wash!

Il Grano is one of my favorite Italian restaurants in Los Angeles (previous post 1, 2, & 3), and in the tradition of Italy, they are serving the Fest of the Seven Fishes Christmas Eve for $85 per person (the regular menu will also be available).

GRANDE ANTIPASTO
Insalata di Mare
calamari, shrimp, clams & black mussels seafood salad
Insalata di Rinforzo
traditional pickled cauliflower salad
Baccala’ all’Insalata
cod salad, Gaeta and Cerignola Olives, Parsley Leaf Salad
Baccala’ Mantecato
cod crostino Venetian style
 
ANTIPASTO CALDO
Cappesante ai Porcini e Tartufo
Hokkaido scallop, porcini mushrooms, shaved black truffles
 
PASTA
Maccheroncini all’Aragosta e Tartufo
Maccheroncini, Maine lobster, cauliflower, shaved black truffle
 
SECONDO
Branzino alla Livornese
striped bass, tomatoes and caramelized onion sauce
 
DOLCE
Souffle di Panettone, Crema alla Vaniglia
Roasted Chestnuts
Struffoli
Buon Natale!

Every year I give donations to organizations in lieu of material gifts to my friends and family for the holidays. I’ve been doing this for about 15 years now and yes I apply this practice to the children of my friends also, telling them what I am doing and encouraging them to do the same.

For those of you who want to take a baby step towards transitioning to a completely charitable holiday, you can buy some ornaments ($20-$30 each) designed by celebrities (or by you) at HSN, with proceeds that will go to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Center.

My donations this year went to Doctors Without Borders, Amnesty International, and Habitat for Humanity. Today I just learned of an organization which sends food/care packages to troops overseas called Jacob’s Light, started by a mother who would send regular care packages to her son. When her son was killed, she continued to send care packages to soldiers who had no one to send them packages, or those stationed in remote areas without basic necessities like toothpaste or tampons. A philanthropist had given them some grants which will run out shortly, so if you can help, please do by volunteering, writing letters, packing, shopping, or giving them a donation.

Introducing the concept of charity to materialistic kids (or adults) may be met with confusion and resistance, but exposure to new ideas is how we grow. What traits would you rather grow than compassion and generosity? What better season to plant the seeds of charity than the holidays?

I’ve been to Stevie’s Creole Cafe for lunch, but that was a year and a half ago (see my previous post here), and since I haven’t had a chance to go back to New Orleans this year, it was time to go back to Stevie’s for my Creole food fix. They are even more enticing now because they just added Chicken and Waffles to their extensive menu of Southern comfort food.

So on a cold and rainy night I met up with my Southern eating partner for some stick to your ribs hearty fare. We were greeted with hospitality and warmth by everyone in the place. As soon as we ordered, a piping hot basket of cornbread was delivered and devoured as we waited for our food.

I had to get the seafood gumbo again because it was such a stand out last time and it still packs the same gastronomic punch, packed with crab, shrimp, andouille sausage, chicken and rice, a cup of this hearty spicy concoction will warm your heart and your body. The wonderful sauce was so good that I wanted a cup of it to drink, but I settled for using a spoon to scoop into my mouth.

We decided to split the oxtails and the chicken and waffles so we could both have tastes of everything. The oxtails came with two sides, so my Southerner ordered the fried okra and collard greens. The okra was light and tasty, with just the right amount of spice in the crisp batter. The collard greens had a nice flavor, but needed some punch, so either some bites of the spicy pepper served with it, or some hot sauce sprinkled on it made it perfect. The oxtails were falling of the bone tender, served on a bed of rice, and the brown gravy covering them was fabulously rich accompaniment. A very nice version of oxtails.

The Chicken and Waffles was great! I have not yet been to Roscoes, so I can’t compare, but the chicken was moist, the crust on the batter was crisp and perfectly seasoned. The waffles were better than the version most breakfast places serve, and there are TWO on the plate, served with three scoops of butter (I used one and scraped off the rest) and two sides of maple syrup. I don’t see how anyone could finish this dish by themselves unless they are playing sports professionally.

We paid less than $60 for both our meals, including tax and tip and we were so full after eating that we simply lay back on the bench against the cushions and nearly fell asleep from the joy of a happy belly.

If you haven’t been to New Orleans, go eat at Stevie’s and you will want to go; if you have been, go to Stevie’s to get your fix of soulfully delicious Creole in the San Fernando Valley anytime you want without having to go through LAX.

They also have live music, a happy hour, and a full bar, so even if you just stop in for some fun, go and enjoy this friendly casual cafe.

Stevie's Creole Cafe and Bar on Urbanspoon

There once was a bank that allowed you to round up your purchases to the nearest dollar and the difference would be saved into your saving account. A clever easy way to save, but what if you could use that concept and instead of adding a few cents to your own pocket, you could help someone in need?

Swipegood does exactly that, allowing you to choose what charity you want your money to go to, from getting internet access to people who need it, to providing clean water, or helping cancer victims. The list includes Donors Choose, so you have options to help fund projects and teachers also.

Right now you can only round up a few credit cards (American Express is one of the major ones), but they are adding new ones (Chase, Bank of America), and you can set a round up limit or put your round ups on hold at any time. You don’t even have to have the rounded up donation charged the the same card you sign up to round up, and they tally the totals at the end of every month (most people average $20). Swipegood takes only 5% to cover their operating costs, so they are truly in business to make charitable giving easy.

Since you are shopping for gifts now anyway, why not give a few cents to those who need it the most? You won’t notice the additional cents spent, but it could help make a change in someone’s life, and that makes sense.

Want a last minute getaway before the end of the year? Palm Springs is only a 2 hour drive, but it feels like you’ve gone to another era in the deco inspired Movie Colony Hotel. Prices from now until Dec 31, 2010 are only $99 for ANY available room you book by calling them at 760-320-6340 and mentioning that you saw this email promo. Normal rates here go to $229 a night on week-ends, and they are easy walking distance to the heart of downtown Palm Springs.

They have accommodations with a pool, terrace, and fireside views, as well as a two level townhouse, so call them now if you want to end the year that could save you more than half off on a room that may save your sanity during this holiday season.

Coastal Contacts is doing it again FRIDAY December 17, 2010 (tomorrow) starting at 9am EST (that’s 6am here in CA). If you missed their promotion last time for a free pair of prescription glasses, get yours now by either calling or ordering online using the promo code FREE4ALL. It took me about half an hour of trying online before I finally got the glasses I wanted (I paid a few dollars extra for the tint and UV coating), but yes these were FREE, all I paid was about $10 for shipping. I checked out the exact same frames elsewhere and they were selling for about $100. Having already taken advantage of the promo I can not partake again, but I do have a few tips for your who are patient enough to keep calling or keep trying online.

1) Make sure you have your current prescription and if you like your current glasses, have those in front of you so you can choose a similar model. The site has great explanations on what the tiny numbers/letters on the side of your glasses mean and you can have their system automatically pick a similar size/style.

2) Have a good mm ruler so you can measure the distance between your pupils if your prescription does not show that (mine didn’t); watch the tutorial on how to get this measurement (with a mirror or a friend).

3) If you also wear contacts, order them at the same time as your glasses and get an additional 10% discount.

4) Go ahead and get all the extras you want, like tints, UV coating, progressives, transitions, or anti-reflective coating because all those prices are 50% off even with this promotion.

5) Share this promotion with anyone who has a current prescription, who has not already taken advantage of this promotion for free glasses before, and who does not live in your household!

6) Most importantly be patient, this is a really good deal which is why everyone is trying to get their free pair, so think of your time as what you are “paying” to get the glasses. I figured for my 30 minutes I got over $100 of value so that’s not a bad pay rate; some designer glasses are worth even more (up to about $500) and yes, they are also free!

I got a confirmation email as soon as my shopping cart was processed (it took several tries) and my glasses came with a wonderful hard case, lens cleaner cloth, and a repair kit!

Good eyesight is a gift, but if you need glasses, Coastal Contacts is giving you a great gift!

Argentina is as well known for the quality of their beef as Texas, but the twelve hour flight would mean leaving today for dinner tomorrow. A simpler solution is to go to Buenos Aires Grill in the San Fernando Valley (two locations) and order something you can eat within minutes instead of hours. After a day running errands, a friend and I decided we wanted to eat some beef, so we went to Buenos Aires (the Grill, not the city).

Our waitress Marcela was the epitome of fun, describing the dishes she liked with so much animation and zest that we had a hard time deciding what we wanted from the selection of specials and menu items. While we mulled over our choices, we munched on some delightful bread and a zesty tomato relish and a chimichurri sauce.

My friend decided on one of the specials, the short rib with garlic mashed potatoes, and when it arrived she gasped in delight when she saw the tender meat literally fall off her fork. This dish is the ultimate comfort dish for meat and potato lovers with a perfectly balanced sauce and absolutely delectable meat. there were wild mushrooms under the mashed potatoes which added even more rich luxury to this winter favorite.

I ordered the skirt steak done rare, hoping that in Argentina (and Argentinian restaurants) they understood rare to me is red in the center. I was thankful not only for the rare steak that arrived, but for the light seasoning which brought of the flavor or the meat without hiding it. The sauteed creamy spinach was a bit rich for me with parmesan cheese, but the tartly vinegared pimentos were a nice counterpoint to the meat.

With a glass of Malbec and a glass of Sangria, our entire meal was about $75 with tax and tip, a very good price for a very good meal of meat. We both took half our meals home, so the value in portion size makes this a wonderful deal. Add to that the absolutely fun server Marcela and this becomes a priceless dinner. Go to Buenos Aires soon, it is well worth the drive!

Buenos Aires on Urbanspoon

When my friend and I were at the Westfield Mall in the San Fernando Valley, I saw a storefront that had a sign “Rack” and said to my friend, “Look there’s a Rack here, let’s go”, thinking it was Nordstrom’s Rack instead of The Rack restaurant. She told me it was a bar, so we were going to skip it, until we walked past and saw their menu with options ranging from burgers and sandwiches to ribs and fresh fish. Since we were both hungry and their menu included sides like collard greens and garlic fries, we figured it had to be better than the fast food inside the mall, so we sat down for lunch. Since they advertise that they serve the best Bloody Mary in the valley, I had to try one. It was not the best IMHO, but it was decent.

My friend ordered the cheese burger with guacamole and bacon (they forgot the bacon on the burger, but our waitress gave her an entire plateful once she told them). She ordered the collard greens and garlic fries as her two sides. The burger was huge and even though it was difficult to eat, she somehow managed to finish it. It was also nice to find that it was cooked to order exactly as she had specified (medium rare).

I chose the BLT with Turkey, (basically a club sandwich), also with collard greens and garlic fries. The collard greens tasted more like turnip greens, with a slightly bitter flavor, but they were nicely done with some spice and very tender. I loved the garlic fries which were crispy, and loaded with chopped garlic. The turkey was moist, and the tomatoes and lettuce were fresh, so this was a very good rendition of a club sandwich, even though it was so big I don’t see how anyone could finish it unless they are a pro sports player!

Sometimes a mistaken identity can lead to a surprising find; we were happy to find The Rack was a restaurant that served very decent food at very moderate prices (our entire meal with drinks was only $40 for both of us). Service was very efficient and friendly, and if you come at night they have entertainment. We found out the reason the restaurant is named the Rack is because there are Pool Tables inside (we sat on the covered patio), so you can play a game of pool to work off your meal.

Rack at Westfield Promenade on Urbanspoon

Although several of my friends are mozzarella aficionados (especially when paired with tomatoes in a caprese), I am not, so my decision to lunch at a Mozzarella Bar would seem to be a bit puzzling. Because I do like to try new places, and I am always intrigues by new concepts, I decided to try Obika, which advertises as the place to eat Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP, along with other authentic artisanal Italian products.

The display cases of Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP are stunning, and they offer tasting menus of the various types, so you can sample a bite of each (delicate, smoked, or creamy) with a sampling of salumi, olives, or grilled organic vegetables, or have it combined with smoked salmon, proscuitto, or bresaola. This is a perfect place to come for Happy Hour, since wines and some cocktails are 50% off from 4-6pm.

Since I saw that they have organic salads, I had to try the Tonno, made with Cured Tuna in Olive Oil, Baby Lettuce, Caperberries, Oven Baked Olives and Sundried Tomatoes for $13. The presentation was lovely, and it is served with a basket of artisanal breads that make this a complete meal. The tuna is the kind that you see in upscale grocery stores selling for $15-$30 a can, it was rich, tender and textured, unlike any US name brands. The amount of sun dried olives and caperberries was a bit overwhelming in proportion to the rest of the salad; I had to leave half of each untouched to enjoy a balance of ingredients. Overall I would come back and try something else here because the quality of ingredients was outstanding, the service was professional, and the atmosphere is very clean and modern. Maybe next time I will bring one of my mozzarella loving friends in so they can give a review of true mozzarella freshly flown in from Italy.

Obikà Mozzarella Bar on Urbanspoon

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