Le Cordon Bleu: Saturday MasterChef Class Review

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One of my coworkers let me know of the $99 3-hour workshops Le Cordon Bleu hosts on Saturdays. Intrigued, especially since I’m a Masterchef fan, I signed up for one last weekend. The theme was “A Taste of Spain” and all in all I was pleasantly surprised.school

The course took place at their Pasadena cooking school, which is across the street from their restaurant “Technique.”

We made four dishes total:

1. Gazpacho

2. Patatas Bravas – essentially fried potato wedges coated with a spicy tomato sauce

3. Gambas al Ajillo – shrimp sauteed with olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, and cognac. Definitely the star. Delicious.

4. Churros

demonstration

The class starts with the head chef demonstrating the cooking method for all four dishes upfront, and offering tastes as he finishes each. We were then let loose to cook our own versions.

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Tip: Bring a bag. They have disposable containers for you to put your cooked food in (and trust me, you’ll have A LOT), but no bags to carry them out with. You can also bring your own reusable containers to save on waste.

Overall I thought it was great. I went home with an apron, some basic skills in cooking, 2 tubs of gazpacho and four containers with all of the other dishes. Definitely recommended if you have a few hours on the weekend.

A Sunday Afternoon at the Venice Beach Boardwalk

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My friend came for a visit last Sunday, and after mulling over what to do, we decided on lunch at the healthy-ish food chain Lemonade followed by a couple hours walk down the Venice Beach Boardwalk.

Tip: Try arriving before noon and finding 2-hour free street parking a few blocks up from the boardwalk. We ended up parking up by Lemonade, then walking the 0.8 miles to the beach afterwards. Parking right by the beach is minimum $15, and it’s super crowded.

It was my first time at Lemonade, and while I liked it, I agree with the consensus that it’s overpriced. The actual lemonades run $3 each, and entrees can be up to $6 a portion if you don’t order wisely. Avoid the hot items and go instead for the cold, cafeteria-style row of dishes when you first come in. They have everything from kale salad to mango chicken, for a much more reasonable price. I ordered 3 portions, which was more than enough for one person, for $7.50 altogether. You can get a large plate of portions to share with a friend, further lowering the cost per person.

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Large graffiti Van Gogh mimic titled “Starry Knight” on the side of a building.

The boardwalk was one of the weirdest places I’ve ever been. Lots of strange people and strange shops (medical marijuana prescriptions appear popular). The beach looked lovely and uncrowded though, and there were plenty of activities (e.g. a tennis court, a random gym, and a zip line).

Alaska Cruise Part 4 (final): Shows & Shopping

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This post is a bit late, but with cruise season once again in swing, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the miscellaneous activities, including shows and shopping. Note that I was on the Norwegian line.

One thing you should consider taking advantage of is the duty-free shopping onboard the ship. I’d recommend you hold out until the final days, as that’s when they usually start discounting the merchandise. They carry a large assortment of perfumes, cosmetics, jewelry, watches and miscellaneous other goods. I was seriously mulling over getting a Michael Kors watch, but figured I could probably score one for a better price online later (which I did).

While my mom picked up a souvenir sweater, I got a shell necklace and an Estee Lauder lipstick (shade Crystal Baby), during our last day on the cruise.

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The shows are also quite decent, with the exception of the cheesy first one.

To be honest, aside from this there’s not all that much to do on the ship itself. The activities are geared towards an older, sedentary audience, so expect corny mystery games, karaoke, and the like.

Overall I had a great time and still think back fondly to the trip.

A Day at the Getty Center

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If you’re in LA, one of the key landmarks to visit is the Getty Center. It’s probably most noted for the sweeping views and eclectic exhibits, which feature everything from 15th century art to future LA development plans. Entry is free (minus the $15 parking).

I made my first visit today, and found it nice but underwhelming when compared to other museums I’ve visited. Tip: It’s super chilly and windy before noon, so definitely wear layers.

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The entrance after you get off the tram

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A path leading to the Central Garden

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Close-up of the fountain-shrub structure in the Central Garden (filled with coins!)

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There was a table where you could make your own free flower wreaths – great for adults and kids! Pity mine didn’t last too long :(

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Also had a tasty meal at the West Restaurant LA right after. Their lemon drops were fantastic – strong and sour!

The exhibits are obviously nothing next to the Smithsonian museums, but there’s good variety and you could invest hours just looking at that. I advise going as early as possible on Saturdays – by the time we left at 1PM, the line just to board the tram was completely snaked around.

My Study Tips

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As I gear up for the final months before the CFA (which btw is way, WAY more content than I originally expected), I’ve learned a couple study tips that I thought it’d be helpful to share:

1. Text to Audio programs: If you have electronic readings, I highly recommend downloading a program like Balabolka that essentially lets you paste in text and convert it into an mp3 audio file. You can then move this file to your phone (I use the dropbox app to export it, since I can’t connect my Android directly in) and study on the go. Just a few examples of when I listen to it:

  • Driving 
  • Doing chores
  • Anytime I want to rest my eyes

It’s really, really helpful, and the narration is surprisingly clear. You can also change the speed of the reading; I do +1 which is fast without being incomprehensible.

2. Take notes! I used to think it’d be more efficient if I just breeze through the reading without having to stop for note-taking, but I quickly realized that you need an immediate, easy reference to refer to afterwards. Nothing sucks more than thinking back a few days later and realizing you’re not sure about a formula, then having to dig through the book again to find it. I now take notes on anything I think I may forget later, such as equations, lists of criteria, etc. It also helps cement the concept as you write it down.

Please feel free to share your best tips too!

Favorite Products for Spring / Summer

With warm weather already creeping in, I’m ready to introduce more summery items into my routine. Here are a few things that I’ve been trying out and really loving, especially in anticipation of the long, hot days. As you might guess, I’m a big fan of fruity scents and warm colors:

Pacifica Tuscan Blood Orange Body Butter

Pacifica® Body Butter - Tuscan Blood Orange™ (8 fl oz)

This is probably the best-smelling lotion I’ve ever used, and like a refreshing kick against the heat. The scent is super citrusy and sweet, like a fresh smoothie, and it absorbs almost instantly without feeling greasy. I use it primarily as a hand cream, and I can actually see and feel a difference afterwards. Skin is left soft and smooth after applying. I also love that it’s made with all-natural ingredients, without petroleum. I picked my tube up from Target.

Fresh Grapefruit Eau de Parfum 

HESPERIDES GRAPEFRUIT EAU DE PARFUM

This was instant love from the moment I smelled it in the store. It’s like spraying a fresh grapefruit all over yourself, potent and juicy and without the chemically-underlayer present in some of the drugstore grapefruit scents. The only shortcoming is it doesn’t last very long on me or on clothing.

Maybelline Baby Lips in Cherry Me

I’m really loving vibrant lips for summer, and have started using this more and more. While it makes my lips chapped if I apply it alone, I’ve been using it over my EOS lip balm for just a a sheer coat of color. I do about 1-2 coats and it’s plenty.

Bare Minerals Face Color in Warm Radiance

bare min

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Swatch in natural lighting for reference

I’ve literally had this for years, but dropped it in favor of the more trendy blushes. Recently I decided to retry it, and was reminded of why I loved it in the first place. On my olive-toned skin, it’s the perfect bronzey-red glow. While I love bright cheek colors like Benefit’s Hervana, I think this is much more natural-looking and well-suited for summer.

Bath & Body Works Market Peach Candle

Market Peach 14.5 oz. 3-Wick Candle - Slatkin & Co. - Bath & Body Works

I’ve already covered this in my candle review, but the scent has remained a favorite and I can already imagine it during hot, summery evenings. It does make me badly crave something fruity and sweet, but it’s worth it. I wish they had a lotion or body spray version!

Quick walk-around shopping in Beverly Hills

20130320_145921Wanted to share a recent midweek shopping trip I made to Beverly Hills and the Grove. The above and below are from the shopping block on Wilshire Blvd. (containing shops like Saks 5th Avenue and Neiman Marcus). 
20130320_145925Tip – all of the parking garages in the area have free 2 hour parking if you get in before 6PM. Street parking otherwise is a nightmare.20130320_173726

Also stopped by The Grove to check out the new Top Shop. I honestly wasn’t too impressed with it – the stuff is really overpriced for what seems an equivalent of H&M / Forever 21. I mean, their nail polishes are $10 each, which is higher than OPI. Also didn’t find any particular stand-out items.

That’s it! Just a quick post :)

Bath & Body Works Candle Haul & Review

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Candles

I wanted to share about the candles I picked up during the 2 for $22 sale last weekend. I ended up getting three because of a receipt coupon for $10 off $30 (which you can stack with in-store promos!) They are:

Market Peach

Market Peach 14.5 oz. 3-Wick Candle - Slatkin & Co. - Bath & Body Works

Definitely my favorite. I didn’t think I’d like my room to smell like fruit (in case it made me hungry, haha), but this scent is totally worth it. Sweet, luscious, peachy deliciousness.

Lemon Mint Leaf

Lemon Mint Leaf 14.5 oz. 3-Wick Candle - Slatkin & Co. - Bath & Body Works

I like lemon and crisp scents in general. This is great on warmer days as it just smells super refreshing. I might be speculating, but my guess is the herb fragrance oils will also help repel mosquitoes and bugs. (Now that I think of it, I might try their Eucalyptus candle next time.)

Lilac Blossom

Lilac Blossom 14.5 oz. 3-Wick Candle - Slatkin & Co. - Bath & Body Works

My least favorite of the trio, but still nice. It’s a heavy floral, which you’ll either like or dislike. The idea of a meadowy-sweet scent in my room was mentally appealing, but I think I prefer crisp, fresh, or fruity smells in practice.

I’ve never been a candle fan previously, but these 3-wicks have converted me! The smell seriously penetrates the whole room, and they’re just lovely. Remember to trim the wicks to reduce soot.

Images via http://www.bathandbodyworks.com

What’s your favorite caffeinated beverage?

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Seriously, what is it? I’m on the prowl for something effective but tasty. Lately I’ve been trying out different teas, as I find they have less of a “crash” effect than coffee. I also just enjoy tea for the relaxation and flavor (hence the seasonal ones above), and would love to hear your general recommendations. Here are my thoughts on previous items I’ve tried:

Tazo Awake

This is what I’m currently obsessed with. It is kind of pricey for a simple black breakfast tea, BUT it totally works. Maybe not all day, but definitely a good long stretch of it. Nice, bold taste that isn’t overpowering.

Kombucha

Basically, it’s tea with live bacteria (or “probiotics”) which is supposed to help your digestion. I like the taste, as it’s naturally carbonated and resembles a sparkling juice. Downsides: I didn’t experience the proclaimed benefits, and it’s not the kind of thing you drink to stay awake (lasts about 2 hours).

Celestial Seasonings Sweet Harvest Pumpkin

The flavor resembles Chai, due to all the seasonings. I can’t really taste the pumpkin, but it’s flavorful and nice nonetheless. Problem is again, not that effective (at least compared to Awake).

Tazo Chai

This is definitely one of the best-tasting Chais I’ve had from a tea bag. But again, not even close to Awake in lasting power.

Guayaki Yerba Mate

Yerba Mate is supposedly the healthiest form of caffeine available. I had a professor who would drink a bottle of this everyday. I’ve tried the tea bags and the prepared drinks, and have had mixed results. The first few times, it was pretty effective, but did wear off after a few hours. Later on, it pretty much didn’t work at all.

Starbucks Blonde Roast Coffee

This is the only ground coffee I’ve ever purchased, and I actually like it. Supposedly, lighter blends are actually richer in caffeine (according to the promo materials). I like that it works and isn’t super acidic, unlike cheaper brands such as Folgers. But as mentioned, coffee gives me jitters and this wasn’t an exception.

 

I know, it’s possible that I’m becoming completely immune to caffeine, which is unfortunate considering how much I need it to stay awake. But I still enjoy just sitting with a warm drink.

BTW, I used to not be able to stand teas, but I’ve learned that the trick is to steep it for shorter periods. Depends on your tolerance, but I typically do about 20 seconds. Otherwise it can give me a stomachache or general ill feeling, which is from the tannins that are released as it steeps. Try this if you’ve had the same problem!

Seattle Visit

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I made a quick trip back up to Seattle this past week, and it made me feel rather nostalgic. It also made me remember certain aspects of the culture that I always found to be an odd mix of endearing and frustrating. The first, that everyone on the plane over and back will be talking about Seattle, whether it be about how much they like it, how the weather frustrates them, or how they ended up there. It’s similarly like that anytime you first meet someone there, as nearly every first conversation will be about why you’re both in Seattle.

I think it’s quaint, but gets a bit repetitive after the first few times. Realistically speaking, most people are up there because 1) They moved over to enjoy the city’s laid-back culture and intellectual scene, 2) They had no choice because they’re working at a place like Amazon, Microsoft, or Boeing, or 3) They were born in the area and haven’t bothered to move or decided to settle back there. I have yet to hear any answer that doesn’t fit in these buckets. I always found the questions irritating, as if I had to justify why I’m up in Seattle. I haven’t encountered such pressure anywhere else I’ve traveled, whether to Sacramento, LA, SF, NY, or Raleigh.

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Anyways, it was still nice to be back briefly, and I made sure to take full advantage of the time to enjoy some nice Tom Douglas meals. One of these included the famed “Tom’s Big Breakfast” over at Lola, which is an odd mix of octopus, eggs, and veggies. Truthfully you probably couldn’t even tell it’s octopus, as the strong flavors and other ingredients pretty much cover it up. A bit too salty for my liking, but still good.

20130129_220201I had the luck of staying at the lovely Hotel Andra, which is literally right on top of Lola on 4th Avenue. A nice little boutique hotel, and I would definitely return. 20130129_220212If I’m ever back, the goal will be to try the soft-egg pizza from Serious Pie. Along with a few more doughnuts from Top Pot.

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