LA Chef: Vernon Cardenas of State Social House

Certified Sake sommelier, lover of French and Italian cuisine and former executive chef of BOA Steakhouse, Chef Vernon Cardenas has more than two decades of experience in in the restaurant industry and it shows in the dishes he creates as executive chef of State Social House.

Chef Vernon was born in San Diego, spent his formative childhood years in Japan, then returned to Southern California at the age of 13, when he started working at his first restaurant. By 18 years old, he was already the assistant general manager of La Petite Chaya, the first of the Chaya restaurants and the originator of French-Japanese fusion cuisine. Even without formal culinary education, Chef Vernon trained under some of the best sushi chefs on the West Coast.

We met Chef Vernon at the State Social House to geek out over LA’s best tacos, mom’s home cooking and restaurant hopping while we munched on specialties like soy-glazed Shishito peppers, bacon and gruyere mac and cheese, an addicting giant pretzel accompanied by spicy stout mustard and clover honey and succulent pork belly tacos. (And yes, there were strawberry, mint, rum and Allaghash White Ale Brewjitos involved).

vernon

Tell us more about the State Social House.

Upstairs is the attic, we have live music every night, comedy shows on Tuesdays, jazz night on Thursdays and karaoke on Sundays. The attached cigar lounge downstairs is the only place in LA where you can drink, order food from the full menu and smoke all at once in a clean and inviting environment. Our menu is full of gastropub-style, upscale bar food and I make every dish like I’m cooking it for my mom.

Who are your culinary influences?

The chefs that most influence me are my mom who first taught me to cook, Chef Yukito Ota in San Diego, who opened my eyes to the fact that Japanese food is more than just tempura and yakitori, and Susumu Fukui, the executive chef at La Petite Chaya, who let me run wild around the restaurant in my early years.

What is the best dish and drink combo at SSH?

Soy garlic steak and the red wine sangria.

Where is the best seat in the house?

Next to me. Or on one of the high stools in the middle of the room so you can feel the pub atmosphere around you.

What is your favorite ethnic cuisine and where’s the best place to get it in LA?

Being half Mexican, I love tacos. I always go to Los Tacos on Santa Monica and order their chicken tacos combo with rice and beans. You can tell it’s a great Mexican restaurant by the taste of their rice and beans.

If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Mom’s spaghetti.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever eaten in LA?

Candied crickets at Typhoon in Santa Monica. They also had noodles with silk worms, but I didn’t try that.

Describe a perfect Sunday:

I would sleep until noon and do my laundry when I woke up. Even if I were a billionaire, I would still do my own laundry. Then I would go out for mimosas and appetizers at the Belmont. Last week, I went restaurant hopping around Hollywood, first to Delphine, then to the Hungry Cat, and finished off at Cleo’s. I always just order drinks and appetizers, never any entrees.

Tell us three things people would be surprised to know about you.

I was either going to be a photographer or a chef. When I was 15, I won first place in a photography contest. I used to cook for a bunch of celebrities so I know what dishes the stars like to order. Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston loved to order Sake and salmon sashimi when they were still together. Lastly, I don’t always like to eat at fine dining restaurants.

Where is one place everyone should visit?

Hollywood, not because of the celebrities, but because they have a lot of up-and-coming restaurants. This area of LA is going to be the next food destination.

Describe LA in a sentence (or three):

The future home of my family—I came, I loved, I stayed. LA is what you make it.

Originally published on LosAngeles.com.

Still Trending: Cupcake Bakeries in Beverly Hills

When Joan’s on Third opened on the west side of 3rd Street in 1995, that part of town didn’t have much going for it. Since then, the area between The Grove and Cedars-Sinai hospital has grown into a hub of gourmet restaurants and laid-back cafes, boutiques, art galleries—and cupcake bakeries. In fact, there are so many cupcake bakeries lining this street a cupcake crawl can be organized to sample all of them.

With empty stomachs and a pair of good walking shoes (comfortable enough for a 1.5 mile stroll), let’s explore West Hollywood, cupcake-style.

cupcakes-in-beverly-hills

Sprinkles Cupcakes
189 The Grove Dr, Los Angeles
No cupcake tour would be complete without a visit to the bakery that started it all: Sprinkles Cupcakes. Less than 3 miles east of the flagship location in Beverly Hills, the spot inside the Grove offers the same decadent flavors that fueled the country’s love affair with cupcakes, but without the crazy lines. Among the 28 different flavors, the most popular is red velvet which is available in gluten-free, vegan and sugar-free varieties.

Fonuts
8104 W. 3rd St, Los Angeles
Because these faux-donuts are baked, they can absolutely be enjoyed on a cupcake tour. After all, cupcakes are just fonuts without the hole in the middle. Established in 2011, Fonuts specializes in vegan and gluten-free baked treats that taste just as good as, or even better than, traditional fried donuts. The best part is that we can continue binging on sweets without the extra guilt. Not to be confused with Cronuts, another sinfully delicious treat in Santa Monica.

Sweet E’s Bake Shop
8215 W. 3rd St, Los Angeles
When a cup-sized cake is still too large, the bite-sized versions at Sweet E’s Bake Shop are the perfect fit. Founder Erica and her team have been distributing their mini two- or three-bite cupcakes with their food truck since 2009, but it wasn’t until 2010 that they opened their store front in Beverly Hills. In addition to their tiny cupcakes, they specialize in cake pops, vegan brownies, cake push pops and even stuffed cookies.

Joan’s on Third
8350 W. 3rd St, Los Angeles
The storefront of Joan’s on Third is feels like a bustling European market. The fridges in front are stocked with exotic cheeses like black truffle brie and salami and the walls are lined with an assortment of local and international dried pastas, jams and snacks. It’s easy to get distracted in a space overflowing with so much action, but we must not forget the cupcakes. By far, the tastiest and most popular cupcake to try at Joan’s on Third is the Joan’s Cloud, a chocolate cupcake topped with marshmallow fluff then covered in chocolate.

Magnolia Bakery
8389 W. 3rd St, Los Angeles
For the easily bored and the adventurous cake connoisseurs, Magnolia Bakery offers a different cupcake flavor every day of the week. The bakery first started concocting their unique treats on New York’s Bleecker Street in 1996 and eventually made their way to the West Coast. Among many mouthwatering flavors are the German chocolate cake with coconut caramel pecan icing and the “PB&J” with peanut butter cake, jelly filling and peanut butter buttercream.

Georgetown Cupcakes
143 S. Robertson Blvd, Los Angeles
Celebrity cupcake bakers and cupcakery to the stars, Georgetown Cupcakes is best known from its show “DC Cupcakes” on TLC. Georgetown Cupcakes opened in 2008 after Sisters Katherine Kallinis Berman and Sophie Kallinis both left their careers in fashion and venture capital to pursue their passion of baking. The shop has since spread to New York, Boston, Atlanta and Los Angeles, offering seasonal favorites like cherry blossom and lavender earl grey tea cake along with classical chocolate and vanilla. As the last stop on the 3rd street cupcake tour, Georgetown Cupcakes calls trendy Robertson Blvd. its home, right next to the top fashion designers in the nation.

Originally published on LosAngeles.com.

LA, Her Way: Jesse Draper of the Valley Girl Show

290Combining her love of business with her gift of gab, actress Jesse Draper started the Valley Girl Show in 2009. In the beginning, the Silicon Valley native filmed her talk show during six-month breaks from The Naked Brothers Band on Nickelodeon, but she now dedicates herself full-time to interviewing guests on theValley Girl Show and corresponding regularly on the Katie Couric Show.

Throughout the years, Draper has interviewed big names in fashion, technology, politics and food, including Rebecca Minkoff, former LA Mayor Dick Riordan and Mattel CEO Bob Eckert.  But while industry giants are on her radar, Draper’s real passion is in start-ups and female entrepreneurs.

We caught up with Draper between show tapings to chat about her favorite gadgets, start-ups and places to eat in LA.

Full name: Jesse Draper

City: Santa Monica

Occupation: Talk show host and technology expert

What do you love most about Santa Monica?

The weather. I don’t think you can beat the weather. I like Santa Monica because you can walk everywhere and lead a healthy lifestyle.

Where did the inspiration for the Valley Girl Show come from?

What I really love are start-ups and technology. My inspiration came from seeing these great entrepreneurs getting grilled about their money in the media instead of talking about their amazing accomplishments. I wanted to show the other side of the story because they are the most inspiring people out there.

What has been your best interview so far for the show?

They’re all so interesting because you never know what people are going to say. Jessica Alba was one of my favorites because I didn’t realize how involved she was with the Honest Company; she really is running the whole thing.

What local start-ups are you most excited about at the moment?

I think Tradesy is really going to blow up. With Fleapop, you can open your own flea market shop online. Milk and Honey lets you design your own shoes and Bouqs in Venice offers sustainable flowers grown on an active volcano.

Name a gadget that everyone in LA should have in their possession:

My favorite device right now is Epiphany Eyewear which let you take HD videos while you’re exploring LA. You need a good pair of sunglasses and they take hands-free videos you can share.

Where is a cool place to take an out-of-towner?

People come to LA to celeb spot and Beverly Hills is good for that, but I prefer to take people to the beach. Hermosa Beach is my favorite.

Where is your favorite place to grab a drink?

My girlfriends and I love margaritas so I like to go anywhere I can get a margarita. Mercado in Santa Monica has great margaritas.

What’s your favorite food truck and what do you like to order from it?

First Fridays in Venice are really fun because you can try a bunch of food trucks in one place. I can’t stop thinking about the lobster corn dog with chipotle aioli (from the Slummin’ Gourmet truck).

Describe your perfect Saturday:

Start the day off at Kreation Kafe. They have juices and amazing breakfast. I would take a hike and try to be outdoors as much as possible. If this is my perfect Saturday, I’d head to the beach, relax and grab a drink and eat oysters with friends at Sonoma Wine Garden.

Name an essential LA experience everyone should have at least once:

For a non-touristy dinner out, everyone should try Giorgio Baldi. You might see a celebrity, but it’s a really low-key spot with delicious homemade pasta. For an adventurous experience, everyone should take the Hollywood Hike. It’s really fun because you have to follow all these signs that say, “No trespassing.”

Finish this sentence: Los Angeles is… the most creative city in the world.

Originally published on LosAngeles.com.

10 Worst Things About Long Distance Relationships

4623ff8b01bac8e41ba42c1159537660Anyone who has ever been in a long distance relationship can agree: sometimes they are just plain horrible. Of course, they have their amazing moments, the ones no one would ever trade, but at times they are also gut-wrenchingly painful. Same city relationships have their hardships too, but they are different from the ones that long distance couples have to deal with. Even though the positives far outweigh the negatives and the love and time spent together make it all worth it, these are still the 10 worst things about being in an LDR:

1. No makeup loving after arguments.

Those moments when couples get down and dirty in the middle of a heated argument are not a possibility for long distance couples. Even after a drawn-out squabble which may last numerous phone calls and span the course of a couple of days, the most satisfaction an LDR couple can get is a simple, “I love you,” after it’s over.

2. You can’t help your significant other through crises.

If your loved one is going to school or working in a different city, they may have to cope with the stresses of exams, grades, performance reviews, and presentations. All of these tests carry with them the possibility of failure. It hurts knowing that your partner is going through a rough time and there’s not much you can do for them.

3. No hugs at the end of a long and stressful day.

Studies show that hugging on a daily basis releases stress-reducing oxytocin, boosts the immune system and battles depression. But what are you to do when your main squeeze is hours away? If you go from being able to see and hug your significant other every day to being far away, this obstacle is one of the hardest to deal with. Until you two can be reunited, seek out meaningful physical contact with friends, but make sure you don’t cross any boundaries.

4. Visits and travel are all very expensive.

Every long distance relationship has a different level of expense. The most expensive are international relationships because plane tickets and phone calls are much more costly than same-country LDRs. Even if you are in the same state as your beloved, you should be prepared to spend hundreds of dollars on every trip. The best way to get through this hurdle is to split the cost. If the person travelling pays for their transportation, the one being visited can pay for meals and activities.

5. When your partner accidentally falls asleep before calling you and you call them a bunch of times, but they aren’t answering and don’t know where they are.

It’s very easy to get paranoid, worried, scared and distrustful in a long distance relationship. When you don’t hear from your partner for a day and don’t receive a good-night phone call before bed, your mind begins conjuring the worst possible scenario. Two of the biggest fears of people in long distance relationships are that their partner has been seriously injured and there’s no way to find out, and that their partner is cheating on them. Neither of these thoughts is comforting as you’re lying there, trying to fall asleep. The most probable explanations are that your boyfriend or girlfriend is busy hanging out with friends and they forgot to check their phone, something happened to their phone (maybe it ran out of battery) or they accidentally fell asleep while watching TV or a movie. The reality is usually not as bad as what you imagine.

6. Seeing people in happy relationships all around you, holding hands and doing couple-related activities, making you miss your significant other even more.

This also happens to single people who want to be in a relationship, but it’s more difficult for people who are in a relationship because they can’t do these activities with the person they love. The best way to combat the feelings of jealousy, yearning and loneliness is to call your significant other and tell them how you feel. Talking to your loved one about how much you missed them today when you saw a couple playing air hockey will make you feel closer than if you keep your feelings pent up and as a result, resent the fact that they’re not around.

7. Not having someone with whom to go to certain events.

Your favorite band is coming to town or there’s a chocolate festival on Saturday, but all of your friends are busy or not interested. (If you can’t find a friend interested in a chocolate festival, you have a whole new set of problems on your hands). For many people, their significant other is their go-to person for many fun-filled events. When you are in a long distance relationship, you should either have a lot of friends with varied interests, become comfortable with going to events alone, or plan an action-packed weekend of activities you have always wanted to try for when your partner comes to visit.

8. You can’t just stop by their place after work or between classes or meet up at happy hour.

In same city relationships, it’s so much easier to see each other. This may be an unnecessarily obvious observation, but not being able to hang out for an hour or two when you have time may be one of the most difficult aspects of being in a long distance relationship. The spontaneous visits and excursions comprise a major part of same city relationships and help you reconnect throughout the week before date night. You can create a similar effect by calling each other at lunch or Skyping with a glass of wine while you watch the same TV show.

9. Romance means getting an unexpected phone call first thing in the morning.

It goes without saying that same city romance is easier than long distance romance. For LDRs, there is a lot more planning involved to execute a large romantic gesture, like a surprise visit. For the most part, romance in a long distance relationship means an unexpected phone call when you wake up or a sweet text message you receive on your way to work. That is the simplest way to be romantic. If you want to get more creative, you can have flowers sent to your significant other or mail them a hand-written letter. For extra points, make them a video they can watch when you can’t be together.

10. Having an argument over what was said in a text message, online chat or email because tone is impossible to convey through writing and sometimes causes misunderstandings.

At some point in a long distance relationship, couples will decide to refrain from using Facebook chat or text messages to communicate unless it’s absolutely necessary. That’s because, after the umpteenth argument that occurs because someone didn’t know you were joking, takes your joke seriously and gets offended, you learn your lesson. It’s nearly impossible to convey tone through a quick written exchange. You may read something and take it in a completely different way than was intended. This is a natural and common situation in this day and age when sentences are typed at lightning speed and rarely proofread before getting sent. Even smiley faces and punctuation are open to interpretation. Save yourself the trouble and call instead.

Originally published on Examiner.com.

Chinese New Year Celebrations

chinese new yearThe history and culture of China is vibrantly weaved into the tapestry of Los Angeles life and can be experienced first-hand during the festivities of the Lunar New Year, also known as Chinese New Year, in LA’s Chinatown and other communities. Locals and tourists alike attend the events to partake in the colorful costumes, traditional music and intoxicating cuisines of Asian cultures to commemorate the end of a successful year and celebrate the luck and prosperity to come.

Jan. 24-25: Zoodiac Celebration aLos Angeles Zoo
The LA Zoo celebrates the Year of the Horse with its weekend-long Zoodiac event. In addition to a scavenger hunt, dragon and lion dances, themed treats and a Kung Fu demonstration, the event will offer educational talks and activities about animals that are closely related to the horse.

Jan. 25 and Feb. 22: Chinese Calligraphy and Brush Painting Classes at Pacific Asia Museum
As a major aspect of Chinese history, calligraphy and brush painting classes are held every Saturday at the Pacific Asia Museum. While this activity isn’t exclusive to the Lunar New Year, the holiday is a perfect excuse to learn a new artistic skill and carry on the creative practices of ancient Asia.

Feb. 1-2: 115th Golden Dragon Parade & Chinese New Year Festival at Chinatown
A long-standing Los Angeles tradition, the Golden Dragon Parade and Festival in Chinatown is as engraved in LA history as the holiday itself. For the 115th year in a row, the parade will bring the celebration to the streets with a live entertainment stage, cultural booths featuring candy making, clay portraiture and calligraphy, and over a dozen floats.

Feb. 2: The Great Chinatown Hunt at Chinatown
For those who prefer a more hands-on approach to celebrating the occasion, the Great Chinatown Hunt takes place alongside the Golden Dragon Parade and allows participants to explore the area in search of clues. Teams of two are sent all over Chinatown with hints that range from photographs to puzzles. The race may last up to seven hours and the first team to finish is crowned the winner with bragging rights and Internet recognition as their rewards.

Feb. 8: Chinese New Year in Beverly Hills on Rodeo Drive
Known as the city of success, Beverly Hills will spread its good fortune with the Year of the Horse Celebration. Several hotels in the area offer Chinese New Year packages for the month of February, such as the Hao Yun package at the Luxe Rodeo Drive Hotel, which includes a welcome of tea and fortune cookies in addition to a complimentary Asian breakfast of congee and dim sum. During the festival, guests can enjoy traditional lion dances and music. Everyone who attends will receive a red “Good Fortune” envelope filled with deals and coupons to local businesses to start the year off with a shopping spree. Rodeo Drive wouldn’t have it any other way.

Feb. 22-23: Firecracker 10K Run at Elysian Park
Named after the explosive that originated in China, the Firecracker 10K Run will start the Lunar New Year with a bang. Day 1 of the event features a 20- or 30-mile bike ride and the Nite and Day Festival with Vietnamese folk dancers, Japanese Taiko drummers and Chinese music ensembles. Early the next morning, runners embark on a 5K or 10K run followed by an awards ceremony and the second part of the Nite and Day Festival.

Originally published on LosAngeles.com.

What Male Models Taught Me about Self-Confidence and Success

model

As a woman working in the world of men’s fashion, I interact with male models nearly every day. This may sound like an intimidating job, considering the statuesque perfection of these men. Yet, at the end of the day models are people, too.

Working with men that exude such a high level of self-confidence has taught me how to be more self-assured as well. Here are 10 things I learned about self-confidence from the men who do it so well.

1. Never talk negatively about yourself. Even if a model knows that he has an unsightly blemish or a weird haircut, he never mentions it. By not bringing attention to a quality that he does not like, it goes unnoticed. The same logic applies to your daily life. The second you point out that pimple on your chin is the second that people see that it’s there. You judge yourself more harshly than anyone else. If you can ignore the fact that there’s a stain on your shirt, chances are that everyone else will too.

2. Figure out what makes you look good and do it often. Every model has their “signature” look that highlights their best features, like being under a certain light to accentuate cheekbones. Models know exactly what makes them look good and they do it every chance they get. Whether it means finding your perfect shade of lipstick or how to style your hair, experiment with what makes you shine. Once you have it down, don’t pass up any opportunity to put it to use.

3. Ignore imperfections. No one is perfect, not even models. What differentiates male models from the rest of us is their internal dialogue. Even if they have razor burn and a tan that went awry, models still believe they are perfect simply because they are themselves. They don’t make apologies for who they are and neither should you.

4. If someone criticizes you, laugh it off. In fashion, people are highly critical. I have sat through numerous casting sessions where my sole job was to pick out every flaw a person has. During photo shoots, photographers comment about whether or not a model has gained weight or lost muscle definition. Models take criticisms in stride, make jokes about themselves, and are not too sensitive. For me, this tip comes in handy when I spend time with an overly critical person who finds pleasure in putting others down. Don’t let the negativity get to you. Rise above it and remember that you are perfect.

5. Compliment yourself often. This may seem unnatural to many, but to someone who spends a lot of time watching models admire themselves in full-length mirrors, it is necessary for your self-esteem. It does not have to be a vocal compliment, but if you catch your reflection in a store window, you can think to yourself, “My outfit is cute,” or “I’m having a great hair day.” By complimenting yourself, you build self-confidence.

6. You don’t have to be the best, but you have to be good. I have seen every type of male model stand in front of our camera; some are shorter than average, others are taller. Most do not have striking features to set them apart from a crowd. What do all models have in common? They are not the best, but they are good at what they do. There is enough room in the world for everyone to get exactly what they want. If you want to be a writer, people are always looking for something to read. If you want to be a doctor, people need healing. If you want to be an actress, people will always watch movies. As long as you’re good and passionate, you will make it.

7. It’s okay to eat carbs and whatever else you want. One of my favorite things to see during photo shoot day is a model eating a bagel. The first time it happened, I was pleasantly surprised. Models are notorious for having eating disorders and starving themselves to attain the “desired look.” It was refreshing to see that not everyone fits in a single mold, and even more reassuring to know that you can still eat carbs and have the body you want.

8. Don’t judge anyone for how they look because no one fits one stereotypical label; beautiful people are smart and overweight people are beautiful. Even though I work with skinny men every day, I have never felt inferior or judged for having some meat on my bones or a head of frizzy curls. Maybe it was my preconception that “beautiful people” think less of others or perhaps it was a false image portrayed by the media. Models are just people trying to achieve their dreams just like everyone else. And many of them have hobbies you wouldn’t expect, like playing chess with seniors on the weekends.

9. Wear sunscreen. In fashion, looks are everything. I’ll never forget that day a model came in for a photo shoot with a very intense sunburn. Unfortunately, we had to send him home. Even if you are not planning on posing in front of the camera, always remember to protect your skin.

10. Be where you have to be exactly when you’re supposed to be there. Like Woody Allen said, “Eighty percent of success is just showing up.” Some models never make it to their scheduled castings and that is a shame because the majority who show up actually get hired. At one of my past interviews, I showed up on time. The first thing my interviewer said was, “Thanks for actually coming, and on time no less.” I got that job.

Originally appears in RIZZARR.

Farm-to-Table Restaurants in Los Angeles

Even though LA is not known for its pastoral qualities, several LA restaurants specialize in farm-to-table dining, offering seasonal cuisine with ingredients harvested at regional farms.

These restaurants choose to serve local cuisine because it is not only more flavorful, but it also contains more nutrients, benefits the environment and is ethically satisfying for chefs and consumers to know where their food comes from. Whether they grow their own ingredients or build relationships with local farmers, the following restaurants offer seasonal and farm-to-table cooking all year round.

farm-to-table-restaurants-LA

Alma
952 S. Broadway, Los Angeles
As the titleholder of Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurant of 2013, Alma offers unpretentious gourmet food featuring ingredients from the restaurants garden in Venice. Through November 2013, Alma will serve a la carte menu items, such as seaweed and tofu beignets, dry aged rib-eye with carrot, chanterelle and grass, and a black sesame pudding. After November, the restaurant will switch gears and offer two pre-fixe tasting menus to provide a more curated experience.

AXE
1009 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice
Located in the heart of Abbot Kinney, Venice’s artistic community, Axe adheres to eight core principles with its cooking. Among these eight principles is the restaurant’s dedication to purchasing only organic ingredients from local farmers, compost all kitchen scraps and use biodegradable packaging for take-out orders. The restaurant is transparent about where they receive their ingredients as well as which organizations they support.

The honesty and pride with which Axe operates is also seen in the food served. Dishes include housemade torn pasta with asparagus, spring onion and lemon ricotta, grilled chicken thigh with wild mushrooms, dandelion greens and farro, and goat cheese, kumquat and beet salad.

Blue Cow Kitchen
350 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles
Playful and comforting with a twist, the dishes at Blue Cow Kitchen range from duck wings and pink eggs and ham with beet-marinated deviled eggs to short rib poutine and country fried chicken. The restaurant is decorated in an elevated rustic style with patterned throw pillows, dark woods and chalkboard wall paint. Boasting a central location by the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Blue Cow has all the trappings of a satisfying meal, for both the stomach and the soul.

Bosc on Vine
724 Vine St, Los Angeles
In Spanish, it means “forest”, but in LA, it stands for fresh farmers market ingredients crafted into delicious morsels. While the menu changes weekly depending on the chef’s local finds, the biggest hit at Bosc on Vine is its pig candy, made of bite-sized pieces of toffee-covered pig belly. Other dishes on the menu are predominantly focused on vegetables, such as a farro salad with arugula, seasonal squash, cranberries, walnuts and goat cheese. The décor stays true to its name and features textured tree and floral wallpapers.

Elf Café
2135 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles
Consisting of a completely vegetarian menu, Elf Café in Echo Park has built strong relationships with local farmers such as Shear Rock Farm and Soledad Goats. The menu is loaded with fresh vegetables and cheeses, including homemade pappardelle pasta with smoked mozzarella and a baked tart with rosemary potatoes, sheep feta and baked leeks. Decorated with dimly lit lights and a brick wall, the atmosphere is intimate, romantic and perfect for date night.

Industriel Urban Farm Cuisine
609 South Grand Ave, Los Angeles
Every morning, the chef at Industriel visits a local farmers’ market to hand pick the produce that will star in dishes inspired by the French countryside. While the décor, featuring bright red chairs and crate-lined walls, is meant to transport diners to the green rolling hills and quaint barns of France, the food is made with modern influences. Basics like French onion soup, amped up with duck and herbed gruyere, share space on the menu with an original Moroccan chili. From their “Farmer’s Market Massacre” Bloody Mary, made with 30 fire-roasted ingredients, to their homemade cheeses and breads, Industriel’s motto that their “ingredients have never seen the inside of a super market” is evident in all the details.

Local Restaurant Silverlake
2943 W. Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles
The name says it all: this restaurant serves local, organic fare for the health-conscious diner. Many dishes, such as the tempeh sloppy Joe with soy mozzarella, cater to the vegan crowd, while a turkey burger and braised pork belly suit the tastes of omnivores. Designed with simple wooden tables and chalkboards, the focus at Local is truly on the food.

Pace
2100 Laurel Canyon Blvd, Los Angeles
Tucked away in the Laurel Canyon passage between the San Fernando Valley and Beverly Hills, Pace is easy to miss in its unassuming place beneath the trees. The beauty of the restaurant’s interior is evenly matched with the decadent dishes on the menu. Decorated with a whimsical iron gate, mismatched furniture, brick walls and lots of original artwork, the space is romantically intimate with a sense of humor (a box of crayons sits on every table, inviting patrons to get creative).

While the atmosphere is a feast for the senses, the true masterpiece is the restaurant’s food. Featuring organic produce and hormone-free meats, the menu includes homemade lobster ravioli, pizza with potatoes, pesto, green beans and mozzarella atop a crunchy, chewy organic crust, and their famous cedar wood grilled salmon.

Originally published on LosAngeles.com.

Learning to Disconnect by Spending 24 Hours in the Wild

Smart phone addiction is a proven affliction. According to a study conducted at Nokia, users check their phones every six and half minutes, averaging 150 times per day.

There’s even a name for the fear of not having your smart phone: it is called nomophobia. In an age so dependent on technology, it is almost impossible to find someone without a phone in their hands. Even though phones are pulled out at the most inappropriate times, like church services and date nights, it has been proven that disconnecting on a regular basis is actually essential for your happiness and your mental and emotional well-being. During a recent camping trip, I thought I could spend 24 hours without my smart phone. I quickly discovered that it is not as easy as it seems.

hiker relaxing on mountain lake

The first thing I did when I arrived at the camp site was text my parents to let them know I had arrived safely. Right after that, I turned my phone off and vowed not to turn it on until I was back in civilization. This seemed like a simple task, considering my battery was only halfway charged and because I never thought I was a smart phone addict. A few hours into the camping trip, I had my first relapse.

In the beginning, I had not even thought about my phone once. We unpacked the cars, pitched our tents, ate our lunch, and took a walk to the nearby lake. My phone did not cross my mind as I took a nap and lazed under the sun. The first issue that caused my relapse was having my phone in my vicinity. Even though my phone was turned off, having it sitting next to me was an unnecessary temptation; I habitually tried to check the time or my text messages like it was a built-in reaction to merely existing. Every time, I was surprised to be greeted with a blank screen since nothing happened when I pushed the buttons. It was as if I felt like something was missing if I did not click on my phone. That is when I knew that it was an addiction, one that could not be shaken as easily as I had originally assumed.

The first way to avoid using your smart phone is by putting it away. If you can’t see it and you can’t touch it, then you won’t be tempted by it. When I left my phone in the tent while I was by the camp fire, I thought about it periodically, but I did not care enough to expend the energy to retrieve it. Out of sight, out of mind truly worked in this case.

The first relapse happened out of boredom. I had done all the “camping” activities like relaxing, eating, talking and exploring. The rest of my friends were taking their naps and sure, I could have read or played Solitaire, but I didn’t do that. In my defense, my boyfriend fueled my addiction by asking, “What if your boss emailed you?” In any other circumstance, I would have responded, “I’m on vacation,” but in my already fragile state of withdrawal, it was just the excuse I needed to turn my phone on.

The only explanation I have for why I chose my phone over my book is because my phone was closer. During a technological detox, you should keep the non-toxic substances nearer at hand for easy access and minimal risk of relapse. If it had been more convenient for me to pick up a book instead of my phone, I would have chosen the more reachable object just to keep myself occupied.

Upon turning on my phone, I noticed that the battery had depleted even more, so I quickly checked my social media sites and my email, without interacting with anyone, and turned my phone off again. It did not stay off for long. The group awoke shortly and we began talking. As it happens with conversations, some people disagreed or others brought up topics I was unfamiliar with. My reflex has always been to immediately whip out my phone and search for whatever it is that I wanted to know. That is exactly what I did.

Even though I can no longer recall exactly what I searched or what I learned, I craved the instant gratification of getting the answer to a problem in a heartbeat. In retrospect, I could have just as easily written down my question and researched it when I returned home. Yet, I needed to know the answer at that very moment and it caused an internal nagging that I could not ignore. This could have been avoided if I had left my phone far, far away and if I had kept a notebook and pen handy. Before I had a phone with a built-in notepad, I carried an old-fashioned one everywhere with me. I still do when I know I’m going to a place where I have to take copious notes. With this example, we see just how ubiquitous technology has gotten that they can replace books, ink and even face-to-face contact.

Our generation’s tech addiction has reached the point where we can’t spend a day in the woods without being plugged in, and that is not okay. It makes me wonder what a modern day Walden or Cast Away would be like if the main character was freaking out over their 4Gs rather than concentrating on survival or simply enjoying nature.

As I sit here, typing on my laptop, the Food Network playing in the background, and I check my phone again (just for good measure), I wonder exactly what it would take for me to truly disconnect. What would life be like if we were forced to revert back to the times when all we had for entertainment was a piece of parchment, a quill, a shelf full of books, perhaps a piano if we were lucky. Maybe then we could appreciate the solitude of the trees, the large expanse of the sky’s stars, and the company of great friends.

Originally published on RIZZARR.

Day 1: Personal Ad

Write two descriptions of yourself for an online dating service. First, be the kind of girl who’d be taken home to meet the mother. Then try a hot, sexy version. 

Before I get started, let me give a bit of background. I have been with the same guy for over 6 years and have never put out a personal ad. Because of this, I have no idea what exactly a statement of this kind should include. So I went to the first place I could think of: the personals section of Craigslist. Let me tell you, there are some crazies in LA.

First of all, no one looking for dates in this city has any grasp of English grammar. No wonder it’s so hard for them to find somebody. Seriously, if you don’t know the difference between gentlemen and a gentleman, you are going to have some trouble finding “The One,” especially if you are looking for multiple.

Also, some people are just so funny over the internet. One girl wanted to order a man online, another wanted someone to spend $100 on her and not “really conversate,” and yet another girl has been trying to find a fellow to watch the sunset with all summer. The last one isn’t funny, it’s just sad. Actually, all of these are sad.

With all my research under my belt, I think I’m ready to write my very own (and very first) personal ad.

IMG_20130905_222029

As a wife-able girl

I’m a 5′ 6″ Caucasian female, but I’m not what you would consider “white.” If you know where the Caucuses are, hit me up, because I have a thing for intellectuals. I like to spend a lot of time exercising, at the gym or outdoors, so I’m looking for a guy who can conquer mountains with me and can put up with all my cheesiness. If you love to eat, you’re in luck, because I’m a great cook and baker. In my free time, I like to write, read and watch T.V., so that’s pretty average. I bet you like to watch T.V. too. I’m low maintenance and my ideal night includes eating burgers, drinking beer and then maybe catching a movie afterwards. P.S. I’ll let you watch Sunday football.

As a sexy girl

Athletic girl here, with long brunette hair that you can twirl around your fingers. I like to read, because reading is sexy, at least to Ryan Gosling. Can you be the Ryan Gosling to my Rachel McAdams? We can recreate that rain scene by the lake together. And then I’ll make you breakfast in bed, because I’m an awesome cook. Yes, hot girls can cook too. In my spare time, I like to lounge on the beach in my bikini, drink margaritas, and party. I’m sure you can get down with my scene.

If anything, this exercise made me really really grateful that I’m in a long-term relationship and don’t have to worry about all this dating nonsense. Because apparently, I suck at writing personal ads and would probably never find a boyfriend in the wild. I also had a lot of trouble thinking of anything interesting to say about myself, which is weird, because I actually have a lot of cool stories to share at parties. Either way, I still don’t think I would be very successful in the dating world. Dear book, thanks for making me appreciate my boyfriend. I owe ya one.