Thursday, March 28, 2013

Eating Clean - Italian Style Tofu

Good Evening Kittens!

As you've probably ascertained, the Birthday Extravaganza Month of March deterred me significantly from the clean eating of the previous month and a half.  I thought I'd established some enviable eating habits...and I had (emphasis on the past tense).  Unfortunately, there was far too much fun being had and it all went by the wayside as those habits weren't nearly as deeply ingrained as I thought they were.  So...the continuous celebrations are over and it's time to get back to business!

This week, I adopted those healthy habits once again.  I don't foresee any reason as to why I can't make them stick this time!  And the difference in how I felt while NOT eating well is more than enough incentive for me to not allow myself to fall from grace any time soon.  On Monday, I wanted to use the produce in my fridge that I was going to have to toss soon...which meant Egg Bake!  It's such a great way to use up produce.  And tonight I made one of my favorites - my Italian Style Tofu.  I created this recipe a few years back when I was doing a liver detox that a friend of mine recommended to me.  The restrictions of this detox are pretty standard - no white flour, no white sugar, no caffeine, no dairy, no red meat, no alcohol.  In we should all be eating regularly.  I've been striving to establish habits that are a combination of these guidelines and The Mediterranean/Sonoma Diet as much as possible and the recipe below was my first foray into creating an actual dish that was detox friendly.

Now, you can only do so much...and while I've removed most processed items from my diet, there will always be something that can be pointed out that you are not doing perfectly.  I know in this case we can point to the canned tomatoes.  I am starting to hear more and more about canned items with a high acid content (tomatoes most definitely fall into this category) and how undesirable it is to consume them (some say in large quantities and others say in ANY quantity).  Unfortunately, unless you are ordering online or going to specialty stores, the boxed or jarred tomatoes are hard to come by and can be quite expensive, so I'm choosing to use my canned tomatoes as quickly as possible after purchase to avoid them sitting in the can for too long.  I was disgusted when I learned that most brands of canned tomatoes are peeled using lye and other chemicals, so I feel that I'm at least avoiding that by buying the Hunts brand as they are preservative-free and are peeled using steam.  It really is daunting when you start to research all the shit that's in your food...everything that's hiding from you.  Also, tofu itself has come under scrutiny, so make sure to purchase organic and avoid consuming too frequently.  So essentially, you just need to start making small changes and do your best. onto dinner!

-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
-1 large onion, chopped
-1 tablespoon minced garlic
-2 14-ounce cans basil, garlic, and oregano diced tomatoes
-1 package organic extra-firm tofu, cubed (I prefer to buy a block and cube it myself)
-garlic salt
-Italian seasoning

1. In a large pan, place the oil and onions.  Cook over medium-low heat until softened and add garlic.

2.  Add tofu and season liberally with garlic salt.

3.  Continue to cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until the tofu has absorbed the flavor of the onion and garlic and begins to brown slightly.  I have found that the organic tofu is less dense than non-organic, so be careful not to decimate the cubes.

4.  Add the tomatoes - do not drain, you want the juice.  Simmer at least 10 minutes so that the tofu also absorbs more flavor.  (I have this dish with brown rice and it's at this point in the process that I put the rice on.  I cook the tofu until the rice is ready.)

5.  Season with garlic salt and Italian seasoning.

I LOVE this with steamed broccoli, most likely because of the crunch it provides to the plate.  This meal is delicious, simple, and fits within the detox guidelines.

Bon Appétit, Kittens!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Birthday Wine Tasting 03.23.2013 - Santa Barbara County

Hello Lovelies!

As March draws to a close, my Month-Long Birthday Extravaganza reached its fourth, and final, consecutive weekend of fun!  And what better way to end things than with a day of wine tasting?

My sister and her girlfriend were headed up to Santa Barbara County to pick up a wine shipment and invited me along.  It's very surprising that my experience with this wine region is so limited, considering it is the closest to me, but I've only been up to this area once.  Last summer, I went to a Wine Club Member BBQ with my mother at Gainey winery where she is a member and we stopped at a couple others to taste.  It was such a lovely area and I was very excited to go back!  We left around 9, which is painful on a Saturday, but with a delicious cup of coffee in hand and a nice drive up the coast, well worth it!

After hitting a little traffic and getting stuck behind a senior citizen's tour bus going approximately 5 MPH up a hill on a two lane highway (which was beyond painful, but hilarious at the same time), we made it to the Whole Foods in Santa Barbara around 11:30.  We purchased a few things for our picnic later that day and got back on the road, arriving at Firestone Winery in Los Olivos around 12:15...right in time for a lunch of wine tasting, a personal favorite of mine.

In addition to Firestone's love of wine, they are also bicycling enthusiasts.  I'd seen photos of bicycle wine racks, but I'd never actually seen one in person until this day.  I applaud whoever it was that came up with's probably the only thing that would get me on a bike!

My sister was kind enough to point out the interesting features of this bike.

Seeing a real life bicycle wine rack made me happy.  What made me even happier, was the private members area.  And, seeing as how I came with a member, we were able to sneak through this fantastic door, through the barrel room, and into a nice quiet lounge for our tasting!

The Firestone Member Lounge looks into the barrel room which was quite nice and their cork tabletops were a great little touch.  We all ended up leaving with a few bottles.  This winery makes an absolutely fantastic Sauvignon Blanc which I ended up buying and if you come here, you will definitely want to taste their Cabernet Franc, a bottle of which also came home with me.  Though I did not buy any of their Library wines, these higher end blends were also delicious!  I don't think I've ever tried Firestone wine before, but I liked everything I tried - and I award extra points to this winery for allowing me to skip the chardonnay of the tasting and taste the Cab Franc twice.  XOXO Firestone!

After Firestone, we went all the door to Curtis Winery!

Curtis is the last winery owned by the Firestone family.  Funnily enough, the winery named Firestone is no longer owned by the family, but the winery named for the owner's grandmother (Curtis was her maiden name) still is.  Speaking of, we were able to taste a very special bottle of Chardonnay that was made in her honor and named after her.  These grapes were picked by her grandchildren and only yielded 620 bottles.  While I normally avoid Chardonnay like the plague, this one was surprisingly drinkable, which speaks to how good it probably is to those who actually like this varietal.

We were all having a fantastic time with the fantastic wine and our fantastic pourer, Jason.  I was having such a great time that I decided to join their wine club!

This FANTASTIC bottle is 19% Cinsault, which is a varietal that I was not familiar with.  I will be seeking out this grape again and report back!  

Perhaps I enjoyed my wine a little too much...or I was just too enthusiastic in my aeration.  This is what the tasting menu looked like after I sopped up all the wine that was aerated by sailing out of my glass, through the air, and all over the bar and Lila's shirt.  Classy.

After Curtis, we all decided it was time for our picnic, so we drove from Los Olivos to Solvang to picnic in the park.  Though we did NOT follow this contraption in order to find the park, we were able to do that all on our own!  (PS - How uncomfortable do they all look?)

And we couldn't pass up some photos with the bust of Hans Christian Andersen, seeing as how we had just picnicked in the park named in his honor.

As a point of interest (or for a future trivia night question), Solvang and Copenhagen are sister cities.  You're welcome.

After we refueled, we walked across the street to our last tasting destination, Sort This Out Cellars.  With an Old School Rockabilly vibe, this is a fun little surprise!  Further proof that wine can be VERY fun and accessible to everyone!

I specifically wanted to revisit their tasting room because of the Vino Nostra which I featured as my first Vino Love post a little while back.  They were pouring the 2009 which I did not enjoy nearly as much as the 2008, but their Port was phenomenal, so I ended up walking away with a bottle of that.  Also, for those of you who love Mulled Wine, or Glühwein, I was blown away by theirs!  You rarely see this anywhere...and it was amazing!  They even sell a Mulling Kit that would be a fantastic gift for the holidays - though I wouldn't purchase too far in advance, since this will most likely not make it until you want to gift it to your loved will most definitely drink it yourself long before the holidays roll around!  It's insanely good!

When we were done there, we headed back into Santa Barbara and stopped at Enterprise Fish Co.  After some super yummy appetizers and one last glass of wine, we were ready to hit the road again!

As the sun set on our FABULOUS wine tasting adventure, three very happy and tired girls headed back home, excited about the next wine pickup day!

If you have not had a chance to visit this wine country, you really must!  
Happy Tasting, Lovelies!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

This Charming Dame Lesson 4 - The Red Lip

A Kiss can be many things - a greeting or farewell.  A way to comfort.  A sign of love.  A build to passion.

There are many types of kisses - Butterfly Kisses, Eskimo Kisses, Air Kisses, Kisses on the cheek, Kisses on the hand, Kisses blown to one another (that may or may not be caught and put into a pocket for safe-keeping), and the full-fledged Kisses filled with love, passion, and unmistakable 'intent'.

Philematology, the study of kissing, has discovered that while the earliest references to kissing can be found in Indian Vedic Sandskrit texts around 1500 BC, most cultures and civilizations focused on kissing in a non-sexual manner.  Despite the fact that kissing rings or robes to show social rank in the feudal societies or as part of religious practices was prevalent for centuries, public displays of affection were frowned upon or even prohibited - only maternal kisses between mother and child were acceptable.  It was not until Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome that it became commonplace for lovers and married people to kiss on the lips in a non-maternal manner.  The Romans warmed to the idea and identified three types of kisses - osculum (the kiss of friendship, usually on the cheek), basium (kissing on the lips), and savium (a kiss of passion now referred to as a French Kiss).  In the Middle Ages, due to rampant illiteracy, kisses were also used to seal documents in place of a signature, to which the custom of a woman kissing the bottom of a letter can be traced.  And then the London Plague of 1665 put an end to kissing in any form as people were afraid of contracting the disease.  We also see the evolution of the standard social greeting of shaking hands stemming from a kiss on the hand during the Industrial Revolution.  Truly, this is a fascinating subject - even Charles Darwin studied Philematology...give it a good Google.

"A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous."
                                                                                                                                 -Ingrid Bergman

The power of a woman's kiss has always been undeniable...Echo and the Bunnymen sound like they're fans!

Most kisses are still non-sexual, and a pout made up with Burt's Bees or Blistex is more than appropriate.  Lip balm is the everyday go-to.  Easy and quick to apply.  No fuss, no muss, no big deal.  It's the lip equivalent of wearing yoga pants and flip flops to run errands.

M.A.C. Plum Dandy
There is a little more maintenance involved in a light shade of lipstick.  You are much more put together with even the slightest amount of color, though there is far less precision that goes into its application when compared to a darker or brighter shade.  For years now, my go-to shade has been M.A.C.'s Plum Dandy.  While I would have never picked out this shimmery plum color for myself, it came as part of a holiday package and I fell instantly in love!  It works very well with my olive complexion and green eyes, and I'm constantly amazed at just how beautifully it will pull a whole look together!

The ultimate, however, the ideal - is the Red Lip.  The Red Lip is classic.  It conveys passion and sex and is an integral part of the bombshell persona.  The iconic Femme Fatale would have never come about with a frosted pink lip...only the Red Lip is appropriate.  And because every woman has at least a little Femme Fatale lurking somewhere beneath the surface, it works just as well for Audrey as it does Marilyn.  While this fact should be comforting for most women, the idea of wearing the Red Lip is still very intimidating to many.  It is bold, making a definite statement, but requires finesse and precision.

The key to a really great Red Lip is a lot of upkeep (there are few things less attractive than a faded or feathered red lip) and perhaps even more important is the perfect shade.  Unfortunately, with red lipstick, one shade does most definitely not fit all.  Like the Lost City of Atlantis, or the Fountain of Youth, the perfect Red Lip is what most women find unattainable, yet are continually striving for.  Personally, I have NINE different shades of red lipstick and two red glosses...and these are only the ones that I've held onto with the optimism that one day I will be able to work them into a somewhat regular rotation.  Years ago I had this figured out decently well, but I fell out of practice and (admittedly) became lazy about the whole thing.  But now I've decided to make a change and start incorporating the Red Lip more often as it really is quite glam!

Can you imagine this photo with only lip gloss?  

There are some widely accepted basics when wearing red lipstick:
*Make sure that your lips are exfoliated and moisturized.  There are lip exfoliators on the market or you can use a soft toothbrush to remove dead skin.  A flaky lip ruins every look you could ever possibly attempt.
*Use a good makeup primer (I use this one and it's fabulous) to keep your face makeup flawless.  The entire look should be very precise.
*Use a lip primer (such as this one that I just purchased) or concealer on your lips to cancel out your natural lip pigment and allow your lipstick color remain true.  Also, concealer around your lips will further prevent feathering of your lipstick.
*Line your lips with lip liner.  Makeup artists seem to be divided into two camps - one that believes you should match your liner to your lipstick and the other that believes it should be a neutral shade.  Those that favor the red liner also recommend that you fill your entire lip in with your liner to make your color last longer.
*Another key to making your lipstick last longer is multiple applications - apply one coat of lipstick.  Blot with a tissue.  Apply a second coat.
*Apply a dab of gloss in the center of your bottom lip.
*You want to make sure you don't end up with lipstick on your teeth, so when you've finished, insert your finger into your mouth, purse your lips around it, then pull it out to remove excess color.

Lastly, let's talk about the different shades for the different skin tones.  Here are some generally accepted principles:
*All Skin Types - Creamy true reds will work for most people
*Fair Skin - Berry or blue based reds to compliment cool undertones
*Olive Skin - True reds for yellow undertones
*Medium/Tan - Orange based reds to bring out warm undertones
*Ethnic - Coral tinted reds to compliment caramel skin
*Dark - Bright orange based reds for warm undertones or burgundy based reds for cool undertones.

Or you can throw all these rules out the window and experiment.  Do what feels right and have some fun trying out different shades and layering them to get your perfect red.  Here are some of the shades I own that I will be revisiting:

M.A.C. Russian Red
M.A.C. Ruby Woo
M.A.C. Red
M.A.C. Dubonnet
M.A.C. New York Apple
While these may look similar to one another, I assure you they are all quite different.  And I'm going to have a lot of fun playing around with them!  All this talk of kisses and the Red Lip and I didn't even mention one of the first things that comes to mind when I think of a Red Lip - the iconic image of a lipstick mark on the collar of a man's shirt.  This wouldn't be nearly as dramatic or scandalous with a neutral lipstick shade (and I do appreciate the visual drama)!  I've never personally seen a man with lipstick on his collar and I feel like this just doesn't happen much part because most women don't regularly wear a bold shade of lipstick.  It reminds me of the episode of Mad Men where they are trying to come up with slogans for Belle Jolie lipstick, one being 'Mark your man' though they ended up going with the 'Basket full of kisses' campaign which is also brilliant.  PS - SO excited for Mad Men to come back in a few weeks!!

Do you regularly wear a Red Lip, Kittens?  Have you marked a man as your own in this way?  While I'm sure it's the Kiss of Death (see what I did there) for a white shirt, I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to do this at least once in my life.  Just seems to retro!

To see my inspiration for the 'This Charming Dame' series, please visit Quite Continental Charm School.

Kisses!  Besos!  Küsse!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Brunch 03.17.2013 - Steering Clear of the LA Marathon

Bistro Du Soleil, Playa Del Rey

Good Evening Kittens!

There were a lot of things that happened last Sunday.  First off, it was St. Patrick's Day, and since My Ladies and I were going out, I had the rare opportunity to wear my amazing green stilettos!

Second, the L.A. Marathon was wreaking havoc on the streets of Los Angeles - and by extension, my plans.  Originally, I wanted to take the girls up to Hollywood for Brunch and then take a little field trip.  My plan was to go out on Saturday, hit Musso & Frank for Brunch, go up to Greystone Mansion, and then come back to my place for afternoon cocktails.  I REALLY wanted to go with the Old Hollywood theme and this seemed perfect!  Since everyone was not available on Saturday, I pushed back to Sunday...and that's when everything started unraveling.  I'm still perplexed as to how Musso & Frank, the oldest restaurant in Hollywood is closed on Sundays, but it is.  So, that was disappointing.  Then I realized that it would not only be St. Patrick's Day, which can be a nightmare with people trying to get as plastered as possible on green beer, but also, our route to Greystone would be completely cut off.  If we ate in Hollywood, we would have to head back a considerable distance to the 405 to head up a few blocks to head back east since the marathon route cut us off from simply being able to head north - such an L.A. predicament!  Regardless of the additional distance and time it would have taken, everyone would have been all over the streets trying to avoid the, it would have just been a nightmare.

Though I will most likely never run a marathon, I like that the route gave the runners a fantastic tour of the city!  Oh, Los Angeles, you just can't help but be a little flashier than the other marathons...

Third, it was the third weekend of my Birthday Extravaganza Month.  Not that having Brunch with my Ladies has ever NOT been a fabulous time, but there's a little more pressure when there is a specific reason to celebrate.

It wasn't until the Ladies showed up and we were enjoying our first glass of bubbly (well, all of us aside from Stephanie since, you know, she's pregnant) that we decided to scrap the whole idea of a field trip and focus on the most important matter at hand - Brunch.  I typically have great luck when it comes to places to go and this day was no exception.  I stumbled across a French Bistro just a few minutes from me in Playa Del Rey, Bistro Du Soleil.  I had never heard of this place before, but we were all VERY glad that we ended up here. Everything was fabulous!!

photo credit
If you decide to visit, I must warn you, the GPS navigation directed us into the middle of a residential area.  We drove around for about 15 minutes and then had no cell reception up in the hills..getting to Brunch was its own little adventure!  To help you out a little, simply take the Culver exit off the 90 freeway and head west.  The restaurant is on the left side of the street - take a left just before the light for Vista Del Mar.  

Once we finally got inside, it was so lovely!  I was surprised at how VERY European this place was as we stepped across the threshold from the streets of this beach community!  Per usual, we started off with Les Bubbles!

This Berry-Bubbly concoction is the Kir Blanc which was, as Lisa would say, 'Yummy to the max!'.  And really, what's not to love about sparkling wine, St. Germain, and fresh berries?  Lisa, Britni, and I were VERY happy - and I suspect Stephanie was slightly jealous...

I had vowed to myself that I was NOT going to have a Salmon Benedict if it was on the menu since that is what I've had for almost every Brunch this year.  But then I opened the menu and saw this:

Since there were eight different types of Benedicts on the menu, I quickly decided that I would order something different NEXT time!  Et voila!  My Poached Salmon Benedict on a croissant.

Lisa's Quiche Lorraine, 

Britni's Omelette (I'm assuming this is the French spelling), and

Stephanie's Crêpe Savoie (stuffed with Ham and Swiss)!

Since everyone was eyeing the Blueberry Pancakes, we decided to get an order for the table.  Let me tell you, that was one great idea!  The Apple Pancakes looked fantastic as well...which will have to be ordered the next time around.  Because there WILL be a next time!

While the day did not go exactly as planned, it was fantastic to spend it with my Ladies.  The four of us simply do not get together often enough - a problem that must get remedied!

I hope you had a Brunch that was as fantastic as mine last weekend.  And if you didn't, you always have another chance this weekend!  

Happy Brunching Kittens!