Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Shopping Locally

For the Holiday shopping season, have you considered doing all your shopping in your neighborhood?

It's not a bad idea to support your local merchants, big and small, depending on where you live. Given the rainy start that we've gotten off to in Northern California, shopping close to home can be a lot less stressful than traveling any distance, and, you will be supporting your community's tax base.

My dear friend Barbara lives in San Francisco's Marina District. A few weeks ago, we met on Union Street, one of the Marina's main shopping streets, for lunch and a little shopping.

San Francisco is a city of neighborhoods, many with shopping districts filled with unique shops, restaurants, and services. Of course, San Francisco has Union Square with just about every big-name store and its theatre district, but, if you are looking for lighter crowds and personalized service, a neighborhood shopping district is the place to go.

Barbara and I started our visit with lunch at Café des Amis, a bustling French bistro.

If a French restaurant has a Croque Monsieur sandwich, a French version of grilled ham and cheese, on it's menu, both Barbara and I always order it.

Café des Amis's menu features not only a Croque Monsieur, but also, a Croque Madame, both for lunch and for dinner. The Croque Monsieur is grilled ham and cheese and dijon mustard which is topped with Sauce Mornay. The Croque Madame adds a fried egg on top of the sandwich.

For dessert, we shared the very rich and tasty Chocolate Mousse.

It was a delightful leisurely lunch. I felt like I was back in Paris.

Our shopping was mainly at BeGood Clothing, a small boutique with clothing and accessories for men and women.

BeGood Clothing is owned by two young men, both with previous corporate business experience, who decided to run their own socially-responsible business.

One of BeGood Clothings, co-owners is the son of a friend of a friend of mine in Connecticut. That's how I heard about the store.

With this disclaimer, I must say that I am very impressed and tempted by the store, its merchandise, and its enthusiastic and knowledgeable co-owners, Mark Spera and Dean Ramadan.

Their business mission is to use their sales as a way to help people all over the world. Each of the more than 35 brands and designers that they feature in the store supports a cause. For many items, the purchase of one will provide one of the same for a needy person somewhere in the world. Other purchases generate support for environmental and humanitarian causes. Mark or Dean have hand-picked the companies whose brands they carry; they will gladly share with you information about the causes supported by each item in their store.

As for the merchandise, it is fashion forward, without being extreme. I want Barbara to buy this dress. I'm modeling a jacket that I'd like to buy. And, prices are very moderate for the style and quality.

The store itself is a tribute to sustainability, with a floor made of recycled wood and eco-friendly fixtures.

When Jim and I first came to the Bay Area in the 1970s, Union Street was the "happening" street and one of our favorite destinations for a day of wandering in and out of shops and galleries. While Union Street has changed over the years, it still has the same caché.

Remembering Ted 2012

Well, the years pass by and it is now 4 years since our dear friend Ted was murdered.

But, Ted lives on in the memories of many, including our little group. Once again, we got together for dinner at my house to celebrate our friendship and to remember Ted.

Our little group of Mary Ann, Liz, Ray, Jim, and me always enjoy these get togethers.

We eat, we drink, we catch up on our lives, and we simply relax. Four of us were close longtime friends of Ted and one, Liz, never met him, but was a neighbor. Liz is the one who rescued the one of his two cats who survived the fire that destroyed Ted's house.  We are a special group.

This year, we all shared in making the meal.

Liz brought some hors d'oeuvres (cranberry goat cheese log with baguette slices), Mary Ann made a salad (arugula, dried cherries, pecans, sherry vinaigrette), and Ray brought wines (very tasty Red and White).

I'm still reliving my cooking tour in Provence, so my hors d'oeuvres offering was the black olive tapenade and cheese sablés from my classes. And my soup and dessert were also from cooking class recipes.

Our main course was Mary Ann's salad, which I named "Salade Marianne," and Soupe au Pistou, a hearty vegetable soup with Pistou, a French version of pesto.

With much trepidation, I attempted the Red Wine Tart that I so enjoyed in Provence.

Amazingly, it came out perfectly. Before my cooking tour, I'd never even heard of a tart with a filling made with red wine.  It looks like some kind of chocolate tart, until you take your first bite!! Truly amazing! And, I served it with Lavender Ice Cream. We did make lavender ice cream in Provence, but, since I don't have an ice cream maker, I have not considered trying to make it from scratch.  As luck would have it, I've found Lavender Ice Cream at Whole Foods and it is outstanding and a perfect complement to the Red Wine Tart.

We laughed a lot and lingered at the table until close to midnight, enjoying the company and thanking Ted for bringing us together again and again.

Ted, we do miss you, but will never forget you.

And, for all the wonderful meals that you've prepared for us, we know, our gatherings at the table are a true tribute to you.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Lobster for the Price of Turkey

Three years ago, Jim and I started a new Thanksgiving tradition: Lobster for the Price of Turkey.

Actually, it was Yankee Pier, a New England-style seafood restaurant in Lafayette, California, that started it for us.

For many a year, I've been cooking our Thanksgiving dinner. We like to stay close to home and just celebrate by ourselves, with, of course, Poodle Louie.

But three years ago, we were a bit undecided on what we would do on Thanksgiving. And, when I got the email from Yankee Pier offering Lobster for the Price of Turkey, it was decided...the deal was/is that the restaurant serves a three-course meal on Thanksgiving, with limited choices for each course. Whether you choose Turkey or Maine Lobster or one of the other main courses, the price is the same. This year, the price was $45 per person.

As a former New Englander, I consider any meal that involves Lobster to be a perfect meal.  I imagine the Pilgrims ate a lot of lobster while they were camping in Plymouth...lobster is part of my heritage!!!

And, this year, Yankee Pier's menu was expanded to offer more choices. The main course choices included, in addition to Turkey and Lobster, Steak, Pan-Roasted Petrale Sole, and Scallops.

For First Courses, we chose Fried Calamari and the Yankee Salad, a salad of lettuce, walnuts, apples, and blue cheese. We shared both First Courses.

I, of course had the Lobster, which was wonderful...and fun to play with too...somehow, my lobster seemed to have lost one of his eyes in the process of arriving on my plate, but that did not stop me from menacing Jim with his head from across the table.

Jim had the Sole and was happy with his choice, too.

We both ordered the Cranberry Apple Crisp with Ice Cream for dessert.

I only ate my ice cream at dinner and took the Crisp home for another day...one serving would have been enough for both of us,

but Jim managed to eat his entire serving on his own.

I'm thankful for a beautiful day, good friends, family, and a lovely Thanksgiving Day. Hope you've had a good one too.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Paragon Outlets comes to Livermore

A week ago, a new outlet mall, Paragon Outlets, opened in Livermore, CA, about half an hour's drive from my house.

I would have been there on opening day had I not had other commitments. Maybe it was a good thing that I didn't get there last week as there were huge traffic jams all the way out onto Highway 580 which goes right past the Outlets. And, despite the huge parking lots all around the mall, the lots were entirely filled to the point that some shoppers had to park on the other side of the highway.

This past Thursday was the first day I could get there.

Before I even left the house, I knew I was going to have a good day of shopping.... My horoscope in the newspaper said, "You'll find bargains if you go shopping. Picking up little things for friends or colleagues will be a nice way to show your appreciation..."  Now, was that a coincidence, or just my astrology staying in tune with me?

My strategy was to get to the mall when it opened at 10 a.m. There were traffic monitors out there directing traffic into the mall.

I found parking near the stores I wanted to visit first

and had a few minutes to get a feel for the mall's layout. It's laid out in a rectangle, with two parallel walkways of shops on each side of the mall.  The shops line the center and the outer edges.

Its Starbucks is the biggest Starbucks I've ever been in. It opens at 6 a.m., so that shoppers who arrive early, and, of course, the people who work here, have a place to get coffee and a bite to eat before the stores open.

The Paragon Outlets in Livermore is relatively small, compared to many outlet malls that stretch so far and wide that it is impossible to even walk past all their shops in a single day of shopping, never mind shop in them. Not so at this mall; I could easily navigate it, sometimes doubling back to revisit shops, in the 5 hours or so that I spent there. I was able to visit every shop that appealed to me.

There are an abundance of restrooms, conveniently located throughout the mall. And, there are plenty of places to sit down throughout.

I think this outlet mall has the biggest concentration of upscale shops of any I've been to.

One end is anchored by Off Fifth (Saks Fifth Avenue) and Bloomingdale's outlets. The anchor at the other end is Last Call (Neiman Marcus).  These outlets were main attractions to me and I found lots of current-season clothing and accessories at very good prices. The Bloomingdale's outlet is one of a very few in this country; this was my first time at one and its mix of merchandise was my favorite of all the anchor outlet stores here.

CAbi, a line of women's clothing that is sold exclusively at home parties, has an outlet here.

I'm something of a CAbi fan and was thrilled to find a top that I love, priced at more than half its original price.

Some of the other upper-end outlets include Armani, Prada, Burberry, Barney's New York, St. John, Tumi, and Kate Spade.

More mainstream outlets like Gap, Banana Republic, True Religion, 7 for All Mankind, Van Heusen, White House Black Market, Ghirardelli Chocolate,Gymboree, Under Armour, and Lucky are all here too. Cosmetics Company Store, the outlet for all the Estee Lauder brands, is one of my favorite places to stock up on Mac, Clinique, and Estee Lauder products...and I did.

The mall is outdoors, with skylighted roofing covering most walkways.

The Food Court is indoors and features six different quick food choices.

For lunch, I had a very tasty made-to-my-order salad from Greenleaf's & Bananas.

 Paragon Outlets in Livermore may well be the nicest outlet mall that I've ever been to.  I will certainly be back soon.

And, if you really feel you must start your holiday shopping this year on Thanksgiving Day, Paragon Outlets in Livermore will be open at 10 p.m.!!!!

Happy Bargain Shopping!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


The weekend after I returned from France in September was the weekend that we hosted our "gourmet" cooking group at our house.

Of course, I had to try out some recipes from my recent cooking tour in Provence.

Since the meal was at our house, Jim and I were responsible for the main course. I also made a few things to munch on while we enjoyed drinks before dinner.

It was a warm late Summer night and we were able to have drinks on our patio.

I made Cheese Sablés (crackers) and served them with Black Olive Tapenade, Tomato and Mozzarella Tapenade, and Breakfast Radishes, fresh from Farmer's Market.

The six of us laugh a lot when we are together, and this evening was no exception.

Arlene and Jim were just back from a road trip to Oregon. Their first course was a Green Salad with Oregon Blue Cheese ("imported" by them), fresh Pears, Candied Walnuts, and Red Grapes.

The perfect first course for our dinner!!!

Next was the main course: A Compote of Chicken and Duck, White Bean Gratin, and Provencal Roast Red Peppers stuffed with tomatoes, olives. 

While the first two courses were enjoyed by all, the real fun did not begin until Colesie and Frank served their homemade Candy Apples! They made six different-flavored apples so that each of us could have a different taste.

Rather than going with the "program," we decided to share and to let Colesie, with the help of Jim, do the slicing. The slicing turned out to be more of a challenge than expected because the caramel shell was not cooperative to being cut through.

Even funnier was the eating of the apples because our teeth got stuck in the caramel. I will spare you the video that Jim shot of me trying to open my mouth and being unable to.

 As always, it was a wonderful evening with longtime special friends...can't wait to the next one which is not scheduled until early 2013.