Friday, December 7, 2012

Toyota at the L.A. Auto Show: My Car Hunt Begins

I was invited by Toyota to check out the debut of the 2013 Toyota RAV4 at the L.A. Auto Show last week. It was eerie timing, as the previous weekend I'd just started my search for a new car to replace my (non-Toyota) mini-van. Was it coincidence or are the people over at Toyota freaky mind readers? I don't want to get too cosmic, but what did they gift me with, just as I walked up to meet them and was thinking about how I'd forgotten to bring a pen and a pad of paper? That's right:

I'll bet Toyota knows how I like my coffee, too.
Our day started off with the keynote speech by Jim Lentz, Toyota Motor Sales President and CEO. One of the things that stood out for me were his remarks about highway safety, especially when it comes to teen drivers. Because we have a 16-year-old who will soon be taking to the roads, his words sort of made me want to put off this whole driving thing until she turns 30. This was the most alarming statistic he mentioned:

"Teens are 26 times more likely to text while driving than parents think."

This really freaked me out, even though I know that when it comes to teens "text while driving" could easily be replaced with other things like "lie", "wipe their hands on the curtains," and "trade their sandwich for a bag of Cheetos." But I made a mental note to move that driving age back to 35.

Next we got to witness the unveiling of the brand new 2013 RAV4. I don't want to get too dramatic, but I have to say it was pretty exciting to be the first ones to lay eyes on this beauty as it rolled onto the stage, not unlike seeing your child being born. Okay, that's going too far – maybe just like seeing your friend's child being born.

A car is born.
I'm pretty excited about the RAV4. It seems to be a logical step away from the bulkiness and road hog-ness of my van, but still has the features that make it a great family car (RAV stands for Recreational Activity Vehicle, btw.) I'm looking forward to test driving it and seeing how the back seat rates with my super-tall teens. One other thing to check out: How many charging outlets and cup holders does it have?

How many iPhones can you charge and how many Frappuccinos can you hold?
I did feel like I was cheating on the RAV4, though, when I sauntered over and was immediately seduced by the Highlander. Its third-row seating is a huge plus for me and ideal for hauling hoards of teenagers – something I always seem to be doing these days. It definitely has a slightly more luxurious and spacious feel than the RAV4, but at the same time I'm thinking its size may make it just as difficult to park as my minivan. Someday I'll tell you about the thirty minutes and seven-hundred calories I lost while trying to maneuver the minivan out of a tight spot at Target.

Another cool thing to see while you're checking out sexy new Toyotas: a replica of the Toyota Tundra that towed the Space Shuttle Endeavour across interstate 405 during its epic journey to the California Science Center. You may never have to tow a 145-ton object across an L.A. freeway, but it's nice to know you can if it ever comes up.

I'll keep you posted on my journey to find a new car. In the meantime, you still have time to check out the L.A. Auto Show at the L.A. Convention Center - it runs through December 9.

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Friday, November 30, 2012

Pop-Up Pantry: So good no one will think you cooked it yourself

True story: When I was in my 20's, a friend and I were put in charge of dinner plans for a group of us celebrating a friend's birthday. We did what all normal twentysomethings would do: We concocted an elaborate hoax and a web of lies intended to fool those close to us.

Instead of cooking, we bought a ton of really good Chinese food and told everyone we'd made it ourselves. (Because who has time to cook when it's the 80's and you're busy trying to score Duran Duran tickets or searching for the perfect shoulder pads?) Behind closed doors, we emptied take-out cartons into skillets and woks, making sure they sizzled extra loud for added effect. We forbid anyone from entering the kitchen lest they lay eyes on us reheating wonton soup or catch a glimpse of the stack of empty containers outside the back door.

Years later when we came clean to our friends they pretended that they'd known all along that we hadn't cooked, because "That meal was way too good for you guys to pull off." We instantly regretted not having stirred the duck sauce with our feet.

But flash forward to now, and it's no longer a dirty secret to serve pre-prepared food to your guests. We're still busy, and realize it's perfectly fine to have a little help if we need to work or would rather hit the town. (Although how many times do you really need to see Duran Duran?)

Get in mah belly, you crazy mushroom crostini and bastilla.
A couple of weeks ago i was introduced to a great new company called Pop-Up Pantry that offers three-course gourmet dinners created by top chefs, delivered to your door for the price of takeout and with minimal preparation. (Although Pop-Up Pantry is a subscription service, sign-up is free and you are never obligated to purchase.)

At the company's loft in L.A. we got to sample some of their fare: Delicious dishes including Lamb Korma with Biriyani Rice, Hoisin Ginger Braised Shortrib and Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble from chefs like David Yeo (Le Cirque, Tavern On The Green), Rod Aglibot (Koi, BLT) and Beekman 1802 (Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Dr. Brent Ridge from The Fabulous Beekman Boys.) 
Pop-Up Pantry headquarters: We came, we saw, we stuffed ourselves
Pop-Up Pantry founders David Hauslaib and Tom Balamaci created the company because of their love of food and the lack of access to fine dining for foodies living outside of major metro areas. (And for people like me, who live within five minutes of some really good restaurants but don't always feel like going out to dinner.) The food is prepared, then frozen, vacuum-sealed, placed in an insulated box after preparation and delivered via UPS or FedEx – and are designed to go from package to table in 30 minutes or less. Man, that's way quicker than ordering and then waiting for sixteen cartons of Chinese food to show up.

Chef David Yeo making magic aka Onion Soup With Cheese Toasts
Besides the dishes mentioned above we were lucky enough to taste Onion Soup with Cheese Toasts, Bastilla (my favorite, and created by chef David Burtka who you will know as Neil Patrick Harris' partner) and Stuffed Peppers – it was all amazing and definitely fare that I would expect from a first-rate restaurant.

Founders of Pop-Up Pantry aka David Hauslaib and Tom Balamaci aka Really Nice Guys
David and Tom are really nice, accessible guys who are not only passionate about their food, but about their customers as well. They seem really concerned with finding out who their consumers are, what types of dining experiences they're looking for and striving to meet those expectations. Has your local restaurant ever invited you over and asked what types of food your teenagers like to eat? I didn't think so.

I didn't tell them my Chinese food story, but David and Tom if you're reading this – know that I will definitely be ordering from Pop-Up Pantry soon but would never try and take credit for the wonderful dishes you've created. Although there is that friend's birthday I've promised to cook for...

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Go to to find out more about their services, pricing and menus. 

And wait - it gets better: Pop-Up Pantry recently announced that in support of those affected by Sandy, they will be donating $1 from every online ordered placed to City Harvest, the world's first food rescue organization dedicated to feeding the hungry men, women, and children of New York. In conjunction, they are also offering customers $5 off every meal when they use the code “SANDY” at checkout

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Friday, November 16, 2012

ParaNorman: Zombie-Proof and Teen-Approved

It's not surprising that since my kids have morphed into teens, it's getting more and more difficult to find movies that we can all see together as a family. While I'm trying to talk them into seeing the latest PG offering, they're begging me to buy them tickets to (and then sit five rows behind them) for Magic Mike.

By the way, their attempts to fool me into thinking that Channing Tatum plays a ballroom dancer in Magic Mike didn't work. Do they think I was born yesterday? Everyone knows it's about a magician.

But last weekend we were invited to a screening of a movie we all actually wanted to see – ParaNorman. My 14-year-old saw it during its initial release and had been bugging her older sister and my husband and I to see it. She kept saying things like, "It's not just your average kid's movie," and "No one takes their shirt off I swear!"

(The invite came from Focus Features and I have to admit that I was initially most excited at the fact that the screening was going to take place at the Linwood Dunn Theater inside the Pickford Center For Motion Picture Study in Hollywood. I've driven by this building millions of times and always wanted to walk its hallowed halls – and it's beautiful!)

The screening started off with a few words by Chris Butler, the screenwriter and co-director. Although some of the younger kids (and some adults) probably couldn't wait for this part to end, getting to hear him speak about the movie and his process was one of the highlights for my girls. They've become huge fans of these types of events – we saw a screening recently of Perks Of Being A Wallflower that was followed by a Q&A with writer and director Stephen Chbosky and my daughter was glued to every word. He's the Justin Bieber of film!

But getting back to the movie - we all loved it. The animation is beautiful and the story – about a misunderstood and unappreciated young boy with special 'powers' who rises above his tormenters (and zombies) to save his town – will resonate with everyone. I was actually surprised at how dark and subversive it was (that's a good thing) and thought the dialogue and jokes played to the adults as well as the kids. I think there were a lot of scenes, though, that could possibly be pretty frightening for younger audiences, so beware if you're taking your little ones. 

But there are some valuable lessons running throughout the movie for kids (and again, adults) about bullying, reaching out to people and learning to embrace the unique qualities of not only others but of yourself.

The only thing that would have made my teens like it more? An appearance by Channing Tatum. Fully clothed and performing some magic tricks, of course.

ParaNorman is still in select theaters and will be released on DVD Nov. 27.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

HalloweenTime at Disneyland Beats Homecoming at the High School Anyday

If you're wondering how much my teens love Disneyland – they blew off their homecoming dance to attend a media day at the park. They were going to the dance with groups of friends so there were no dates to disappoint, but something tells me they would have chosen the Magic Kingdom over a boy anyway. Unless those boys happened to be Darren Criss and Ryan Gosling, in which case my girls would have just used their babysitting money to buy extra park-hoppers for their dates.

HalloweenTime and the holidays in general are our favorite times at the park. Besides the changing-over of the rides to their special scarier themes – Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy, Haunted Mansion Holiday (inspired by Tim Burton), the Tower Of Terror (populated with phantom patrons in honor of Halloween) – we're just a sucker for the decorations. Don't ask how many photos I have on my hard drive of this very same pumpkin and street decoration:

And because the kids aren't the only ones who enjoy Disneyland, indulge me for a moment while I post a pic of the meal us adults had while the teens ran straight from the tram to get in line for Space Mountain (because you know kids never eat when they're at Disneyland. No problem - more for us.)

This was from our favorite place, Uva Bar in Downtown Disney, where we always make it a point to stop and have a cocktail before taking on the park. Add that to the list of things I don't remember from my trips to Disneyland as a child.

We were also super-excited to check out CARS LAND for the very first time! But there's so much to see there I'm going to save it for its own post. Unfortunately we didn't have time to ride any of the rides because the lines were so long, but I had fun just checking out the design and architecture. Next time I plan to bring my good camera, and just hang out here for hours taking pictures and eating. Don't judge.

Another must-see when we got back that we missed this time around: There is an 'Art Of Frankenweenie' exhibit based on the Tim Burton/Disney film over at California Adventure that I heard is amazing. If I'm not stopped, I plan to take pictures and eat over there, too.

HalloweenTime at Disneyland officially ends tomorrow (hurry!) but that just means the themed decorations and rides come down (except for the Haunted Mansion Holiday.) Cars Land is there forever, and the Frankenweenie exhibit runs until November 5.

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

HBO's 'ETHEL': Lessons Learned

This past summer I was invited to attend a preview screening of HBO's Ethel (Tonight, 1/18 at 9pm on HBO), a feature-length documentary about Ethel Kennedy that was produced and directed by her daughter, Rory Kennedy. I'm already a fan of Rory's (her Ghosts Of Abu Ghraib was so outstanding) so I knew I would enjoy Ethel - but who knew I'd get such an education at the same time?

(Also, I was thrilled to be able to meet Rory Kennedy in person at the post-screening reception. I tried not to go too fangirl on her, but I knew it was the closest I'll ever come to a Kennedy.)

The film covers Ethel's Kennedy's life, touching on her childhood, her early years with Robert F. Kennedy, raising their eleven children (!), RFK's campaigns and Ethel's world after his assassination. Ethel's life was often eclipsed by her more visible and glamorous sister-in-law Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, but it's been a remarkable story nonetheless.

But it's not just a story about Mrs. Kennedy - it's a much more personal, insightful glimpse into historical events that we all know about, but whose intricacies I'd never fully understood. The Cuban Missile Crisis, the standoff with then-governor George Wallace at the University of Alabama, RFK's friendship with Martin Luther King, Jr., his clashing with J. Edgar Hoover – Rory Kennedy does a great job of showing a timeline and insight into these events through interviews with Ethel, her other children and with family friends and associates.

Definitely recommend watching this, and if you have older kids – have them watch it with you. Such an important glimpse into our country's history told so lovingly by the Kennedy family.

Ethel premieres tonight, October 18 at 9pm on HBO.

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It's Official: Nintendo, Wii (Heart) U

A few weeks ago we were invited to Siren Studios in Hollywood to try out the new Wii U system. What a great event – besides turning a soundstage into a futuristic gaming nirvana with individual gaming stations, fancy couches and separate rooms for some of the games – they had Nintendo cookies, too. I say an event is reflected in the cookies they serve, and these were fantastic, classy and my teenagers loved them. And much like the event, they were making some people drool.

Here are some of the down and dirty specs of the new Wii U, and then I'll let my teens give you their reviews of the game. Stay tuned for hilarity.

The biggest difference in the Wii U is the addition of the Wii U GamePad™ controller, a gaming pad that features a 6" window that expands your gaming experience (not all games will require the second screen.) The GamePad also includes motion control, a front-facing camera, a microphone, stereo speakers, rumble features, a sensor bar, and a stylus. (Your old Wii controllers and nunchuks will work just fine with the new system – in fact, hang onto them because only the new GamePad will be included with the Wii U.) Here's a little intro:

Along with the Wii U will be a new movie system, Nintendo TVii. The GamePad will function with your DVR and TiVo and can also be used to search for programming from sources like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant, cable and satellite channels and video-on-demand services. I CANNOT WAIT to check this out:

There will be two versions of the Wii U:
- The Deluxe set that features a black Wii U unit and has 32GB of internal storage. This will retail for $349.99
- The Basic set that features a white Wii U unit and has 8GB of internal storage. This will retail for $299.99

Because I'm old and boring, the first thing I inquired about was if the Wii U would still be compatible with my Wii Fit balance board. It is! But there will also be some new games as well in the form of Wii Fit U so that I can change it up from my old Yoga/Skiing/Segway Circuit routine. (See 'old and boring' above.)

My teenagers were much more adventurous. Their faves of the day were Batman: Arkham City, Pikmin 3, Just Dance 4 and Sing Party. I didn't play all of these, but I did sit in on the demos when the girls were playing – I had no desire to hold up the lines of people waiting for their turn while I tried to find the 'start' button. Have you ever pissed off a bunch of eager gamers? Oh, they get mean.

But don't take my word for it - here are reviews of a few of the games, straight from my 14 & 16-year-old daughters' brains:

BATMAN: Arkham City
"The batman game was super cool and really let you experience Batman first person with full use of all his fancy rich people gadgets. It's a bit difficult to get used to when you first play, but when you finally get the hang of all the controls it makes you feel pretty awesome. The ability to kick-butt as batman is pretty sweet if you haven't heard already."

"Batman had awesome graphics, and you also have the option to be Catwoman, which is super cool because I LOVE Catwoman."

"Pikmin 3 was also an awesome surprise because it's been FOREVER since the last one was out. It'll be a big hit for people not familiar with the previous ones, and of course even more exciting for those who are already fans. (The game in itself is pretty much the same as the others with added characters and new levels and actions with the GamePad.) It's both similar and different enough to live up to the old version's expectations as well as introduce some new things to do with the GamePad.(and omg there's cute lil' rock Pikmin??)"

"Just Dance was great as ever; still my favorite way to exercise without like, actually exercising. Probably the funnest game to play at sleepovers or just hanging out. The mix of wonderfully horrendous '80s songs and modern pop is enough to provide entertainment for happy(but wheezing) teenagers. Plus you can play with 5 people using the game pad so your poor friend doesn't have to sit down while you dance (for added usefulness the GamePad option doesn't require dancing, just in case you have a friend that hates dancing or is injured etc etc - or your mom wants to play and - don't lie - we all don't want to see your mom dougie.)"
"Just Dance was crazy but fun.  The new 'puppet master' feature exhausted me.  It's a great game to play with friends at parties and stuff, I even came back to play it twice!"

"Sing Party can only be described as a beautiful smoothie of Just Dance and Sing it. Although the Carly Rae Jepsen and LMFAO soundtrack will get a little headache inducing when your daughter plays Call Me Maybe for the 30th time in a row at 1 in the morning, even you can't resist the booty-poppin fun of dancing really badly while your friend takes lead rapper."
"Just Dance 4 was crazy but fun. The new 'puppet master' feature exhausted me. It's a great game to play with friends at parties and stuff, I even came back to play it twice!"

And there you have it – our preview of the new Wii U. We loved what we saw, and are totally looking forward to checking it out further. You can pre-order yours over here. Sorry, cookies not included.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Emily Owens M.D.: Three Thumbs-Up (That's one adult & two teens)

One thing I've learned: teens and medical shows don't mix. I've tried before to get my 14 and 16-year-old daughters to check out past episodes of my favorite, ER, but to no avail – they prefer the world of glee clubs, mean girls, quirky twentysomethings and zombie apocalypses. I was even clueless enough to try and entice them with the George Clooney connection, to which my youngest crushed me with, "THAT old guy?" Right then I decided there was no way she was getting my Tony Bennett Live on VHS in the will, either.

So to be honest, when I got invited to a screening of the CW's new show, Emily Owens M.D. I didn't get my hopes up. (Although a big selling point was that the show's star Mamie Gummer is the daughter of Meryl Streep – one of my 16-year-old's faves.) But guess what? They loved it. And so did I.

The show - centered around Gummer's character Emily as a first year med intern – is just the right combination of drama and humor. Emily, still carrying some of the anxieties and awkwardness of her teen years, finds that her new life at the Denver hospital isn't that far removed from her high school life, complete with rivalries, jealousies, unrequited love and yes – mean girls. You can see why my teen girls can't wait for the rest of the season. Well, that and the abundance of "hot guys." (Although some zombies might be a nice touch, too.)

One thing we liked about this Emily – unlike most similar characters in TV and film, she didn't just miraculously turn into a swan one day and have an easy go at life. Instead, she proudly flies her geek flag but powers through her insecurities to take on life's obstacles as an adult.

I got the chance to chat with Mamie via phone, and I asked her if we'd get a chance to get a glimpse of Emily's tortuous high school years in the upcoming season. "I don’t know I’ve been wondering that as well," she said. "We haven’t yet, but I would be surprised if we didn’t." Justin Hartley, who plays Emily's crush Will, was also on the call and said that was one flashback he'd like to see." That would be awesome to find some actress to play high school Emily – it would be kind of cute, wouldn’t it?" he laughed.

I also asked Mamie if she had any reservations about taking on another medical show after last role as a doctor on the drama Off The Map. "To be honest, I did," she admitted. "But this one was so different from what that was. There’s more to do, character-wise, dramatatically than what I was afforded in that show."

Recalling his last role as Green Arrow on Smallville, I asked Justin what it was like going from playing a superhero to portraying a medical intern with just plain old human powers. I love it!" he said. "When I was doing my character on Smallville I had all these gadgets, like a superhero work belt on my costume. The gadgets were there, but I never got to play with any of them.

"And now that I’m doing this doctor thing, I have pockets with a stethoscope, flashlights and pens but I actually get to play with them and use them. I had a superhero suit but now I have a coat that kinds of looks like a cape. But I enjoy it because I get to play with comedy a little bit more, especially in the newer episdoes they’re sort of letting me be, what I hope is funny. I loved Smallville, but ths is more grounded in reality."

Emily Owens, M.D. premieres tonight 10/16 at 9/8c on The CW. 

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Take the teenagers to see 'Brave'

It's official – my teenagers have officially outgrown animated movies. I'd say when they're begging me to take them to see 'Magic Mike' (and then secretly trying to bribe my friends to take them when I refuse) it's clear they've moved on more adult fare.

But – they did want to see 'Brave.'

It's been a while since we've even seen an animated movie (my 13-year-old's almost monthly viewing of Miyazaki's 'Howl's Moving Castle' doesn't count) – 'The Lorax,' 'Madagascar 3' and the last fifty-four 'Ice Age' movies have come and gone without either of my girls showing the least amount of interest.

But they've been intrigued by 'Brave' ever since seeing a trailer a few months ago, which surprised me since the movie featured not one single scene of Channing Tatum taking off his shirt – which seems to be a prerequisite for any movie they'll watch these days.

I'm not going to go into the plot of the movie, since unless you've been living under a rock for the last month you're probably already familiar with it (and no, I won't spoil the surprise of the you-know-who who turns into a you-know-what.) But I will tell you that I took my 13-year-old to see it a couple of weeks ago at the El Capitan Theatre and she thoroughly enjoyed it, and loved the animation. It's got some bits of sophisticated humor that we both appreciated, and I'm just a sucker for anything starring Emma Thompson, even in animated form. And even when she turned into a you-know-what. (See - no spoilers here!)

Younger kids will love the live stage show with all of their favorite Disney and Pixar characters - and of course Merida makes an appearance. (One thing I could have done without – Mickey and Minnie dancing, in kilts.) And don't miss the special Breakfast with Merida at the Disney Soda Fountain and Studio Store – I've done one of these breakfasts before for another movie, and it was a BIG hit, even with my teens (and don't forget that any food you purchase at the Soda Fountain can be taken into the theater with you! French fries + movie = awesome.)

So my final word on 'Brave': You, and your teens, will love it. And it's something you can do together, until they'll be able to go see the male stripper movie on their own. 

Brave is at the El Capitan Theater from June 22 - Aug 12. You can buy tickets here. The pre-show Breakfast With Merida is only offered on select days and requires a reservation, so check the website for availability or call 1-800 DISNEY6.

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Sweet! Summer Treats at the Got Milk Event

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to check out some great Summer Treats recipes from the wonderful, creative people at Got Milk. Trust me, there's more you can do with milk than just put it in your cereal, your cappuccino and in your bath. (I tried that once, but it just seemed too wasteful. I couldn't get the vision of starving children out of my head while I used an entire cup of milk just to soften my elbows.)

This event was hands-on, and we were paired up at these nifty cooking stations. My partner was my friend Amy Anderson, which was convenient since we also carpooled that day and we were able to take turns running out to feed the meter while one of us tended the stove.

(We make a good team and I imagine if we were to do this at home one of us would be able to drink wine while the other one cooked. Oh who am I kidding – we would both just drink wine and then order takeout.)

As usual, the lovely people at Got Milk had all sorts of surprises in store for us. First off, a cooking lesson with Top Chef's Danielle Keene!

Danielle was super nice and laid back, and she taught us how to make an easy Chocolate Pudding Tart, topped with meringue. I learned there are 3 different types of meringue – French, Italian and Swiss. Ours was Swiss, that is made by beating an egg whites and sugar mixture that has been heated in a double boiler. Danielle had Amy and I use the electric mixer on ours. Somehow it didn't get as fluffy as it should have, and then the blade flew out of the mixer and into our bowl. I'm pretty sure that never happens on Top Chef.

Still, our little dessert cups came out beautifully, and I even got to use a kitchen torch for the first time. I really want to get one now so I burn a bunch of stuff in my own kitchen!

Next up, we were introduced to an amazing thing called gelatin art. Gelatin artist Michelle Quiles showed us how to use a hypodermic needle to inject colored gel into a clear gelatin to make flowers. (She called these a 'real Jell-O shot.' Hee.)

A milk-based gelatin is then poured over the mold to act as a background, and then when the whole thing is turned out you get this unbelievably beautiful work of art.

Mine was a little less impressive, although you have to admit it wasn't bad for my first try. Also let me say I would make a horrible nurse since pushing the needle into the blob of gelatin was pretty unsettling. I kept wanting to put a band-aid on it and give it a toy.

As usual, the Got Milk people fed us well. VERY well. Check out this spread – I ate a ton, even though I was chock full of Pudding Tart:

It seems almost sinful, but after eating all this food then we got to attack this beautiful dessert table that looked too good to be real. I had a Coffee Banana Malt Ball Milkshake that was pure bliss. Can you think of a better combo than a milkshake with Whoppers? I can't.

I'm including a couple of the recipes here, because they are so easy and delicious that it would be a crime if you didn't try them yourself. Also just a reminder to stock up on milk for the summer – but don't take a bath in it because that is just plane wasteful. Your elbows look just fine the way they are.

Chocolate Pudding Tart with Swiss Meringue
Serves 8

Pudding Ingredients:
2 ½ cups whole milk
2 tbsp. cornstarch
¼ cup cocoa powder
½ cup sugar
1 egg
2 egg yolks
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, cut in small pieces
2 tbsp. butter

In a saucepan, heat 2 cups of milk to a simmer.  In a separate bowl, whisk cornstarch, cocoa powder, sugar, egg and yolks with remaining ½ cup milk.  Temper hot milk into egg mixture. Return to heat and bring to a boil, whisking constantly.  Reduce heat, and continue to simmer for 2 minutes, until custard thickens.  Add chocolate and butter, whisk until smooth.  Strain and chill for 3 hours. 

Cookie Crust Ingredients:
1 ½ cups finely ground cookie crumbs
2 tbsp. sugar
2 oz. melted butter

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Combine all ingredients together in a bowl. Press into a 9-inch pie plate and bake for 10 minutes until set. Cool completely. Fill with chilled pudding and top with Swiss meringue.

Swiss Meringue Ingredients:

4 egg whites
1 cup sugar

In a double boiler (large bowl sitting atop a simmering pot of water), whisk egg whites and sugar until sugar is dissolved and mixture is hot.  Remove from heat and whip with an electric mixture until cooled and peaks begin to form.  Spread on top of pie.  Torch meringue peaks, if desired.

Coffee Banana Malt Ball Milkshake
Serves 4

1 pint premium-quality coffee ice cream
1 cup milk
1 ripe banana, sliced
¼ cup malt balls
Whipped cream
Chocolate sauce (optional)

Combine ice cream, milk, bananas and malt balls in a blender until smooth.  In a tall glass, top the milkshake with whipped cream, malt balls and a sprinkle of cinnamon.  
Optional:  Before pouring milkshake, line glass with chocolate sauce for added touch.

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

See 'The Avengers' On Father's Day at the El Capitan

Stumped on what to do on Father's Day? Take your dad to the El Capitan Theatre to see 'The Avengers'! Trust me, he won't care that he's missing the buffet at the Olive Garden. 

And here's a deal for you: Print out this coupon and bring it to the El Capitan Theatre on Father’s Day June 17 and get a General Admission ticket for $12 (a $4 savings).

But wait – there's more! Guests who see 'The Avengers' at the El Capitan get a few exclusive perks. You'll get to see the collection of legendary Marvel Comics writer Stan Lee that includes rare comic books (including 'Tales of Astonish' – the very first appearance of Iron Man), the original helmets of Thor and Loki from the movie 'Thor,' and a statue of the Iron Man suit from 'Iron Man 2,' mini busts of Marvel characters and Lee's exclusive collection of action figures. And for you Robert Downey Jr. fans (and who isn't?) take your picture with the Tony Stark wax figure from Madame Tussauds Hollywood.

You can still buy your dad the tie and Old Spice, but take him to see 'The Avengers' too!

Click here for showtimes.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

'The Hunger Games' Giveaway: And The Winner Is...

I used the magical List Randomizer at to swirl up the names of the entries, and it looks like the odds were ever in the favor of:

Congratulations edj! Your Hunger Games Prize Package will be on your way to you soon!

Thank you to all of you who entered!

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Monday, March 12, 2012

'The Hunger Games' – Let The Giveaway Begin

Maybe you've heard of this little movie coming out called The Hunger Games. Just a small film, based on a book that sold a gazzilion copies and now has people everywhere eagerly anticipating the movie's release on March 23. There will be a tiny crowd waiting outside, only in the trillions.

To be honest, I've never read the books the movie is based on, but my teenagers have and are going to be amongst that thronging crowd on opening night. We've already got our tickets for the 12:10 showing, and they've got their excuses lined up to tell their teachers the next day explaining why they had to miss first period that morning – they had a fever. Hunger Games fever.

To get you infected with the fever (it's not as painful as it sounds, and I promise there's no blisters involved) I'm giving away a Hunger Games prize package:
  • 1 Softcover book
  • 1 Hunger Games pin
  • 3 Mini posters (Katniss, stadium, final)
  • 1 Trading card pack
  • 1 Copy of the soundtrack
Here's how to win: Tell me what you're doing in the name of Hunger Games fandom. Maybe you're going to stand in line for days for opening night tickets, or maybe you're watching the trailer for seven-thousand times in order to set a record. Maybe you've tattooed the likenesses of all the characters across your belly, in which case I beg you not to post any photos.

Or if you're not doing anything in the name of Hunger Games fandom, make something up and tell me what you would do if you were a crazed teenage fan with endless time on your hands and waiting to see one of the biggest movies of your generation. 

Leave your Hunger Games fandom stories here before midnight on Saturday, March 24. (Sorry, only US entries, please.) Then I'll use to pick a winner. One comment per person, and make sure you leave me a valid email address. (Nothing makes me madder than when I pick a winner and then I can't get in touch with you.)

And speaking of trailers, here's one to feast your eyes on. Only 6,9999 more times to go!

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Monday, February 6, 2012

Broke and in love? Bring your Valentine to Cirque du Soleil's OVO for FREE!

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to get invited to see Cirque du Soleil's latest production, OVO. I'm a big fan of Cirque du Soleil, but I have to admit to having a little bit of skepticism with each new show, wondering if they'll be able to top their previous production. Will the acrobats fly a little further, the jugglers juggle a little higher? I keep thinking the only way they'll outdo themselves is if they pick up the entire audience and hurl them into a huge waiting net in the parking lot, feed them dinner and then plunk them back into their seats.

Well, I needn't have worried, because of course OVO was even more spectacular and awe-inspiring than I expected. This production has got to be one of the most lush and visually interesting of all their shows. Billed as an "Immersion into the teeming and energetic world of insects," the story centers around a mysterious egg that appears in the midst of their bustling bug's life and how it arouses their curiosity and causes them to reflect. I admit to having an extreme, unhealthy phobia of bugs and insects, but I was able to put my fears behind me and enjoy the spectacle. (Repeat after me, "It's only some guy in a costume, it's only some guy in a costume...")

From the website:
OVO is a headlong rush into a colourful ecosystem teeming with life, where insects work, eat, crawl, flutter, play, fight and look for love in a non-stop riot of energy and movement. The insects' home is a world of biodiversity and beauty filled with noisy action and moments of quiet emotion.
Here's a preview:

The show is currently appearing in my favorite Cirque venue, the tent adjacent to the Santa Monica Pier. This is where I saw my very first Cirque show some twenty years ago, and its in-the-round format is a great place to get the true impact of a Cirque show. 

(As with any temporary structure, though, the downfall are the port-a-potty bathrooms - I only bring this up because I exited one with my skirt caught in my stockings, and became fodder for every cameraphone in the near vicinity as I washed my hands at the out-in-the-open sink. Feel free to insert your own joke about circus tents and/or trapezes here.)

Cirque du Soleil's OVO has just been extended through March 25 (this is its final Southern California appearance before it moves on to Portland, Oregon). And the best part – for those of you looking for a Valentine gift (or anyone who just likes free stuff) – from now until February 14, buy one ticket and get the second one FREE! So much better than a box of chocolates. Click here for details.  

Cirque du Soleil's OVO
Under the Big Top at the Santa Monica Pier
Click here for showtimes and to purchase tickets.  

Also playing: Cirque du Soleil's IRIS at the Kodak Theatre

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