Tuesday, February 23, 2010

On The Rocks

I don't really consider myself a 'cultured' drinker. My favorite drink is the über-girly Cosmopolitan and I usually choose wine based on its nicely designed label rather than its woodsy undertones. So don't go trying to impress me with your 200-year-old Bordeaux because I'm more likely to go for that one over there, the one with the pretty curlicue font and the picture of a cat on the front.

But then my friend Julie invited me to a Macallan scotch tasting at the W Hotel, and I think I may have found a new drink. A very sophisticated, cultured drink, the drink of nobles and fancy people in nice clothes.

Hello scotch on the rocks, my new friend:

This one was served in a very nice glass over an ice ball. I felt cultured just holding the thing.

I learned that scotch is to be sipped slowly and enjoyed, rather than guzzled down in frantic gulps while you reach for fistfuls of fried zuchinni. I liked how it warmed me up and made me a brilliant conversationalist. Or so I thought -- I'm sure that person I was regaling with stories about my kids only walked away because she had to take an important call.

My dad was a scotch drinker, and I remember him having a drink after work every night. It was almost ceremonial the way he'd open his small liquor cabinet, retrieve a bottle of his favorite scotch and carefully pour it into his glass. I don't have a liquor cabinet, just a space next to the juice boxes in a cupboard above the microwave, but I think I'm going to buy myself a bottle of Macallan to put in there. I hope it doesn't mind sitting alongside those bottles with the drawings of cats on the labels.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

I’ve Got a Bundt In The Oven

This is a compensated review by BlogHer and Electrolux.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not going to ever win any baking contests. I consider myself a fairly accomplished cook — I can sauté and flambé my way through a dinner menu — but am flummoxed when it comes to desserts. I say if God intended people to bake He wouldn’t have invented frozen pound cake.

I have an especially contentious relationship with cake baking, but it’s not from a lack of trying. I remember the first cake that I truly aspired to make, a Martha Stewart fruit and cream concoction — two thin, fluffy white cakes layered with homemade whipped cream and fresh berries. Unfortunately my cakes were uneven and they crumbled before the first spoonful of whipped cream even touched them – I could almost see Martha coming at me with her antique rolling pin. That and the fact that I had no heirloom cake stand to put my cake on or New England cottage to photograph it in made the experience especially disappointing.

That was followed by years of failed cake making — cakes that rose unevenly or didn’t rise at all, cakes that stuck to the pan, cakes that broke apart and were passed on to unsuspecting guests as Mystery Trifle. And frosting them was the worst — if they did make it out of the pans alive I’d destroy them with my horrendous spatula skills. I once put an entire cake down the garbage disposal because it looked so horrible when I was done I didn’t want to insult the trashcan.

But then? I discovered this:

I had never considered baking a cake in a bundt pan for some reason. Bundt cakes weren’t real cakes because they weren’t layered and frosted. Bundt cakes were cheating, like using spaghetti sauce from a jar or only shaving your legs up to your calves (not that there’s anything wrong with either of those, especially if you’re pressed for time or wearing capris.) Bundt cakes were what old ladies brought to bake sales and were handed over with the words, “Aunt Helen gave me this recipe before she died. Now don’t forget to return my plate.”

But how wrong I was! I remember my first bundt cake, and how simple it was to use just one pan instead of two, and how easily it fell out of the pan with just a couple of knocks. And it looked so pretty, sitting on my platter like a beautiful flower. A beautiful flower that was in one piece and whose unveiling hadn’t been preceded by a string of curse words and the sound of cake pans slamming into the sink.

And with the hours I saved by not trying to frost it, I started to get creative. Most of the time it could be finished off with just a sprinkling of powdered sugar, but other times it deserved a little glaze or some chocolate chips sprinkled on top. I even got so giddy with my newfound cake expertise that I put candy corn and fake spiders on a Halloween bundt cake one year – although apparently the screams from a few of my daughter’s pre-school classmates were because of a fear of bugs and not for my baking prowess.

This is the only pan I use when I bake. It’s over ten years old and showing some wear and tear but it still turns out a perfect cake. My younger daughter loves to bake, and she’s been pressuring me to buy a new pan, one of those fancy ones shaped like a rose or a castle or a heart. I even saw one shaped like a football field, which to me seems totally wrong – isn’t that a little emasculatory? I say if you’re going to make your football field out of a bundt pan you may as well serve it with beer poured into an “I ♥ Oprah” mug.

Besides, I’m a little afraid that if I change pans my luck will change and I’ll go back to making those lopsided, unappetizing cakes of days past. So I’m going to keep on using my old trusty pan until I’m that old lady at the bake sale. Oh, and also? I hear Martha pays a fortune for these things at tag sales.


Craving cake now? How about decorating a virtual one for a good cause? Electrolux is teaming up with Kelly Ripa to support the fight against ovarian cancer. Kelly, a mom and busy talk-show host, is also the head of her kids’ school bake sale committee and is combining her love of baking with a cause that’s close to her heart: the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund (OCRF).

Just visit
Kelly’s Cakery at www.Kelly-Confidential.com to decorate and send a special virtual cake to a friend, family member or loved one and for every cake sent, Electrolux will donate $1 to OCRF. That’s as easy as making a bundt cake.

And wait — here’s the icing on the cake (sorry, I couldn’t resist): To help spread the word, everyone who sends a virtual cake will be automatically entered for a chance to win something unbelievably awesome to do some real baking in: a stylish new
Induction Range from Electrolux.

From what I hear, induction is the perfect way to melt chocolate and cook delicate foods and sauces. It’s more responsive than gas and best of all – it’s eco-friendly. To further support the cause,
Electrolux is donating $100 to OCRF for every new range sold this month. So get baking!

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Fresh & Easy Market: Be My Valentine

I've written here before about my deep, abiding love of Fresh & Easy Market, so when I received a big box of Valentine's gifts from them a couple of weeks ago it made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, like getting that special Valentine from the boy I had a crush on in 7th grade. Well, actually he didn't know I existed so instead of a Valentine I think I may have gotten a blank stare and a request to stop blocking his locker. So this was way, way better.

Here are the things I got in my special Valentine box, some awesome treats that you might want to get for your Valentine, or maybe just for yourself. I say give yourself a nice card, some expensive flowers and make a spread of Fresh & Easy delicacies, because then you don't have to share them with some stupid 7th grader that had zits and ended up in jail three times. Not that I hold a grudge.

Imported Gourmet Swiss Truffles

I'm not sure what's in these but I'm sure it's part of an evil plot to enlarge my butt. These little balls of nirvana were delicious and my daughters and I couldn't get enough. Yes, that box is empty and the only reason there was one left was because I had the last truffle in my desk, out of sight of my 13-year-old. You know something's good when you resort to hiding it from your kids. I usually only do that with my expensive vodka.

The coolest thing about these truffles is that as soon as you take a bite they split perfectly in half and it's like looking at a cross section of the earth. That creamy chocolate filling would be the molten core. See -- delicious and educational. These Fresh & Easy people are geniuses. By the way, that truffle in the photo is my last one and if this picture had sound you would hear me sobbing.

Fresh & Easy Snickerdoodles

Yes, this is just a stock photo off of the internet of a Snickerdoodle, because my husband and kids ATE ALL THE COOKIES before I could take a picture. I couldn't even find the package and I'm thinking they might have eaten that, too.

Obviously, they were very tasty.

Fresh & Easy Belgian Milk Chocolate With Pecans and Fruit

I'd never had a chocolate bar with fruit in it, but now I can add another thing to my list of things that I call out for in the middle of the night. Luckily they sent me a big bar -- 14 ounces! -- which should last me at least until the end of the week. I like to reward myself with a little square of this chocolaty goodness whenever I accomplish something big, like answering the phone on the second ring or getting out of bed.

Two Very Nice Wines (Under $10!): Montcadi Cava Rose and McGuigan Hand Made Barossa Shiraz

Who doesn't like wine? We do, and so do our friends so we shared the Montcadi sparkling rose the other night with our dinner guests -- it's a perfect party wine. In fact, it was so good it had us thinking, "Gee, we kind of wish we had kept that bottle all to ourselves," but hey -- that's what friends are for. We haven't gotten around to trying the McGuigan shiraz yet -- we're saving it for Valentine's Day. I regularly buy wine at Fresh & Easy and they have a large selection of varieties, most under $10. That leaves you more money to spend on other things, like granola and hummus (see my Fresh & Easy staples list here.)

So if you're having a Valentine dinner or just curling up on your couch with your Snuggie and the remote, you might want to think about picking up some of these treats to sweeten it up. Thanks to Fresh & Easy for being my Valentine!

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Monday, February 8, 2010

Pacific Waters Spa: Frankie Say Relax!

For you youngsters out there, the title of my post comes from the 80's band Frankie Goes To Hollywood. And it seemed appropriate given the fact that relax is all we were required to do when I and a bunch of other bloggers were invited out to a decadent day at the Pacific Waters Spa at the Huntington Hyatt. And it looks like my 80's reference is right-on seeing as our visit consisted of pampering and eating -- two things synonymous with that self-indulgent decade. Well, that and sex but there was none of that going on at this momblogger event. At least that I know of.

Before I get completely off-track and start quoting songs from all the other decades, let me tell you about my day. It started off with a great ride out to Huntington Beach with my good friends Amy and Bernadette. The whole way there we debated the underlying message of the movie Up In The Air, and by the time we got to the hotel I was fantasizing that George Clooney was going to be my masseuse or at least be walking around the spa in a robe. That wouldn't stay closed.

When we got to the spa there was no George, but we were impressed with the beautiful setting (take a virtual tour here.) After a quick orientation we were divided into groups that rotated to different parts of the spa each with its own pampering treatment. My group consisted of just two people -- me and Kim Tracey Prince, which was just fine with us, especially since we got first crack at the buffet table and we all know what kind of damage can be done by two mom bloggers left alone in a room full of food. Check out this spread -- I had to stop myself from stuffing the pockets of my robe with sandwiches:

We also got a 'cooking' lesson, where we learned to prepare some home spa treatments using all natural ingredients. Here's where we saw a demo of how to make a Mocha Latte Wrap for hands and feet using ground coffee, cocoa powder and coconut butter. Unfortunately being in this close proximity to coffee and not actually being able to drink it was somewhat tortuous for me -- I had to resist the urge to lick my hands and clean under my nails with my teeth.

The rest of the day was a hedonistic blur of massages, facials*, hand massages and sitting around in big fluffy robes lounging on luxurious chairs with snacks and tea at our disposal. Yes, I know it sounds horrible but we all suffered through it. I'm thinking of bringing my husband for his birthday in a few months -- they have great hotel/spa packages and special couples treatments as well. The spa itself is beautiful, and most important of all -- impeccably clean and organized. Also, it's located right across from the beach and they've done a lot to take advantage of the setting -- it's hard not to relax in these surroundings:

Also, while this was my first visit to the spa I've been to the Sunday brunch at the Huntington Hyatt numerous times and I highly recommend it. I'd say if you can follow the brunch with a spa visit you might just keel over and die from happiness.

Thanks to everyone at Pacific Waters Spa for a great day, and to Sarah Auerswald for bringing it all together.

(*I felt my facialist was a bit inexperienced and I can't wholeheartedly recommend this treatment from my encounter that day. However, it could have been due to the large number of people she had to work on in a short time.)

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