Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The weekend (and beyond), briefly

We've been dogsitting Circe for the last ten days which makes us a little housebound.

circe on the computer
{circe on the computer}

comfort reading + cheese
{comfort reading + cheese}


sunday waffles
{sunday waffles}

sunday work
{sunday work}

Yesterday we finally returned her and my heart broke in half. Circe has a perfectly good home with my parents but I know it would be easier for them if we could keep her all the time (she is "difficult" with most other dogs and recently decided that she can't tolerate their Irish terrier so they have to keep them separated at all times - dog juggling!) and when she burrows her little face in my leg at night I'd do anything for her. Even seriously consider moving out of our rent controlled, no pets allowed apartment just when the rental market is getting miserably competitive again. For now, we'll all have to survive on visits.

But I mean, really. When I walk out into the living room and find this, what am I supposed to do? You'd start looking at dog friendly listings too, right?

Crafting companions, literally joined at the hip. #circedog
{crafting companions, joined at the hip}

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Reading, lately

Another unedited round up of everything I've read since the last one.

* Note - this post contains affiliate links. Please see my policy on those links in the sidebar. *

Pym ++
With recommendations from Lauren and Lily, I really couldn't go wrong. This book is bizarre and hilarious, with a Thomas Kinkade subplot that nearly killed me (and probably my marriage, when I tried to explain it to D during a long car ride). DO IT.

Beautiful Ruins +
Absorbing story and I always love Hollywood madness plots. I don't like to reduce anything to a vacation read, but this would be really good for vacation. Very readable.

No Country for Old Men++
I finally got around to reading this one. I love the voices in this novel and there really isn't any point in giving you a plot summary. It's a Western thriller. If you love guts, guns and terse conversations (why is McCarthy opposed to apostrophes??) you'll love it.

White Teeth ++
I clearly remember starting this book several years ago (I think it was 2006) and feeling terrible that I couldn't get into it. It got so much critical acclaim! I wondered if I was a failed literature student. I put it in my cart last month as penance, swearing that I would slog through it this time no matter what. I girded my loins and was shocked to discover that it's hilarious? I have no idea what was going on in 2006, but it clearly wasn't my year for this book. One of the (many) passages that sucked me in:  "As Merlin was later to reflect when describing the incident, at any time of the day corduroy is a highly stressful fabric. Rent collectors wear it. Tax collectors, too. History teachers add leather elbow patches. To be confronted with a mass of it, at nine A.M., on the first day of a New Year, is an apparition lethal in its sheer quantity of negative vibes." The novel examines the ties of friendship and family spanning two generations. It's sad, funny and surprising. If you love dry humor, you'll love this. If you don't like it immediately, please stop and try again in 7 years.

The Financial Lives of the Poets +
Same author as Beautiful Ruins, similar sort of book (note - not a similar plot, just a similar quick read with a different crazy plot). A journalist turned poet turns drug dealer. Set amid the financial collapse of 2008.

Too Much Happiness ++
Short stories hold a special place in my heart and I usually like to save them for times when I'll be able to sit down and devour them whole. There's something so immersive about a short story and it feels wrong to stop in the middle. These are excellent little snippets of lives. Several of them are eerie, verging on creepy, all of them are captivating. I'd like to re-read these again even more slowly.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter ++
You know how some novels take a while to warm up? I just fell right into this one and barely wanted to look up. It feels like something you would have read in English class (and possibly many people did) and I mean that in the best way possible. I love good writing, layered symbolism and a great sense of place/time. When I finished it I was terribly sad that my AP English teacher wasn't around to lead a discussion on the meaning of everyone's names. Most solid book I've read all summer.

Days Between Stations +
This one is hard to describe. A dreamy, amnesiac story that drifts between times and countries and characters. It has more than a touch of magical realism, in a North American interpretation of the genre. There is a lot going on, and by the time I got to the end I'd almost forgotten where I'd come from. There is: a boy raised in a hidden room in a Parisian brothel, a Los Angeles ravaged by sandstorms and covered in dunes, an eerie bicycle race in a darkened Venice where the riders suddenly disappear. And those are just a few highlights. I think this one will need a re-read.

And the mysteries ...

Another Thing to Fall
The Tess Monaghan series isn't one of my standbys but they're enjoyable. I prefer Lipman's non-series books.

He Who Fears the Wolf
Another Sejer mystery. I think I'm converted. Even though I have a really hard time telling the two main inspectors apart because Sejer and Skarre sound so similar to me (I know they aren't - what is my deal?).

The Darling Dahlias and the Cucumber Tree
I'd call this a traditional cozy mystery but set in the South. Similar to the Tea Shop mysteries which I'm embarrassed to admit I love.

Not in the Flesh  and Murder Being Once Done 
I was so excited that I liked that other Ruth Rendell that I checked out two more. And they were both flops for me. Maybe this just isn't my author? Or I specifically don't like the Inspector Wexford series?

If you're looking for a summer thriller, I'll recommend this one. A sister investigating her sister's apparent suicide. I was going to criticize the narration tactic (I got a little bogged down initially) but the plot is twisty and tense enough that I'll forgive it. If you enjoy complicated family relationships and fairly unbelievable medical testing drama, this will be your bag.

No re-reads in this latest batch! I managed to keep my Kindle stocked pretty well this summer. Of course now I'm totally dry and need to re-load. I'm still hoping I'm going to manage to fit in a couple of days in Palm Springs where I'll do nothing but read. I can dream, right?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The weekend, briefly

I feel like I spent most of this weekend in the kitchen and it shows. (Although I did go to LACMA on Friday evening for a second viewing of the James Turrell exhibit. I can't get enough. I'm scheduled for the perceptual cell in October. Eeek!)


saturday pancakes
{saturday pancakes}


layers, successfully removed
{layers, successfully removed}

soft balling it
{soft balling it}

fudge frosting
{fudge frosting}

a warm place in the sun
{a warm place in the sun}

evening pizza
{evening pizza}

the cake
{the cake}

We had D's brother over for the weekend and teenage boys mean CARBS (and mild attempts at art enlightenment, hence the LACMA expedition). Pancakes in the morning, pizza the entire rest of the day, everyday. I think I've finally mastered Nancy Silverton's pizza dough recipe and we're all benefiting. Except maybe my pants. Luckily they can't talk.

I was running low on yeast and desperate not to go to the store, so I coaxed the dough into rising by finding the sunniest spot I could, hence the mixing bowl precariously perched in the herb garden. It worked!

THE CAKE was surprisingly docile this year. Layers popped out effortlessly, the infamous fudge frosting came together with nary a complaint. I shouldn't have been surprised when everything else went pear shaped on Sunday and we were hit with a few family crises. Universe, you are a cruel mistress. But at least we had impeccable fudge frosting. That does help cushion the blows a bit.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Over the counter

Part of having a budget is that it's harder to indulge in my usual makeup. I don't wear a lot of makeup, but I'm almost never barefaced either. Lately I've been exploring a few lower price point options and avoiding Sephora like the plague because I can't go in there without dropping a quarter of my monthly allowance.

Currently loving ...

recent faves
{recent faves}

Maybelline Dream Fresh BB Cream: I stumbled on this one on accident, looking for something else. Very moisturizing (I have very dry skin), has SPF. It provides pretty light coverage but sort of evens things out. Feels just like a moisturizer and takes the place of one.

L'Oreal Voluminous Power Volume 24 Hour Mascara: I like my mascara intense and this one is. The reviews are mixed and some people have trouble with smearing (maybe in humid climates?). I haven't had any trouble with it except for a few times when I went kickboxing after work and sweat like a crazy person. I'm not sure anything would have held up to that. This mascara was clumpy straight out of the tube, which I find to be an issue in general. For the first several days I wipe the mascara wand anytime I get new mascara. Miss B, my mascara partner in crime and my most trusted source of beauty recommendations, originally introduced me to the L'Oreal Voluminous line a few years ago and I haven't paid $30 for mascara since.

Revlon Just Bitten Kissable Balm Stain, in Sweetheart: I bought this because I liked the idea of a giant lip crayon and I almost returned it within 10 minutes of buying it. I put it on and it looked hot pink, like the 80's had been resurrected on my face. Try as I might, I've never been able to get that color to work for me. Turns out I was applying it a bit too heavily. Now I outline my lips with it and then smudge it inwards and I love it. If you want bright color, apply it all over your lips. I don't find it to be moisturizing, but it doesn't dry my lips out either. The lasting power is decent. I reapply a couple of times a day. I'm tempted to get a few more colors but I'm not saving any money if I buy three $10 products instead of one $30 one, right?

What drives me nuts about drugstore make up is the uncertainty. They usually don't have testers so you're going on blind faith. I'm now careful about only buying from CVS when I want to try something because they have a great return policy (I think other drugstores are similar but I haven't checked). Do not buy from Target if you aren't sure you want to keep it!

I also have the e.l.f. HD blush on order (thanks for the rec, P!) because I couldn't find it in stores. Super excited to see how it works, given the rave reviews.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Back into meal planning

My experiment with the one month meal plan was a success. We ended up cooking 4 meals per week and each was 4 servings, which works out to 16 servings per week. That seemed perfect for us most weeks. D doesn't take leftovers to work every day and we like to leave some space open for having dinner with friends.

In the real world, not all recipes make 4 servings, so just aiming to cook 4 nights a week doesn't quite work. Instead, I try to plan for approximately 16 servings per week, however that breaks down with the meals.

I have a hard time thinking of meals when confronted with a blank page, so I use categories to jog my memory and make this more mindless. My categories are meat (1-2x per week), beans/lentils (1x), pasta (1x - can also include pizza because hey, it's all carbs!), eggs (1x). I don't use every single category every week but it helps keep things from getting too repetitive. Eventually I'd like to get my recipe binder re-organized into these categories so that I can flip through easily and pull things out.

meal planning sunday
{meal planning sunday}

On Sunday morning (ideally) I figure out what ingredients I have left over from last week, like an open carton of broth or sour cream. I try to pick out recipes that will use those up because I hate throwing away part of a container.

I fill in the grid with the recipes we choose. If they're in my binder I pull them out, otherwise I make a note of which cookbook I'm using and what page it's on.

At the top of the page I quickly jot down our schedule for the week, if we have anything coming up. We usually make plans with friends first, then work in our krav classes around that, then figure out which meals make sense where. This is flexible during the week because we make last minute plans pretty frequently (the major upside to no pets and/or kids!). I schedule the meals based on the prep time vs. my free time. If I know I'm going to have extra time one night then I'll assign some prep tasks for meals later in the week. I had a free night on Monday this week, so I caramelized onions and made pizza dough for later in the week while my lentils for that night were cooking. If I know the week is going to be crazy I'll choose recipes that make a lot of servings and are good cold, like this orzo salad or this couscous salad.

I check the pantry to figure out what we need and then make a grocery list split into a few parts - there's a space for that on the right hand side of the page that I can tear off. The planning system takes a long time to describe because I'm so wordy, but it's actually quick. I do this over my Sunday morning coffee and the entire process takes 10 - 15 minutes tops. I go straight to the farmers' market after I make the list and get the bulk of my produce from there. Regardless of my list I always get 1 - 2 heads of lettuce, chop them and wash them and then leave them in the salad spinner in the fridge. This way I can throw together salads to go with the meals. I used to be really reliant on the packaged greens from Trader Joe's but this is much cheaper and takes me about 5 minutes total.

I pick up the other groceries as needed during the week. I tend to not buy any meat until the day we're going to use it. There's always a chance something will come up and we won't cook according to the schedule and wasting meat drives me crazy. I always buy meat from the counter so I can get exactly the amount we need and I don't have to figure out what to do with two extra chicken thighs. (There's more info on how I handle eating meat in this post.)

If we're having friends over I can usually just pick out the best sounding meal on our list for that week and double it. Or I'll swap in something more company worthy at the last minute. And add a dessert.

So far this is going really well and it has the added benefit of allowing me to keep our grocery spending in check. If I'm making something that uses three kinds of pricey cheese, then I'll try to have the other meals that week be a little more spartan. Having lentils/beans at least once week helps a lot. We're still working through that giant bag of black lentils I ordered a few months ago. I've been feeling good about our $350 a month grocery budget and then realized the other day that it's actually only $300 a month. No wonder it's sometimes tight the last week. I might give us another $20 - $50 a month.

I'm not sure if it will be useful to you or not (cooking habits are so specific!) but I'm including the PDF of my planning list here. I know that trying to come up with meal ideas can seem difficult, but I find it so much easier when I break it down into categories.

Click on the little down arrow icon to download the file for your own use or you can just view it and print it out directly from Google Drive.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The weekend, briefly

Actually just the brew crawl. Sunday was almost all errands and I'm sure none of you are dying to see photos from my trip to Smart and Final, etc.

first round at casey's
{first round at casey's}



beer ledge
{beer ledge}

golden gopher
{golden gopher}

"Dog Ate My Homework" by Brouwerij West
{"Dog Ate My Homework" by Brouwerij West}

the varnish
{the varnish}

seven grand
{seven grand}

I managed to take notes the entire time! The key to a successful brew crawl sounds similar to the prep for a marathon. Carb loading (bagels for breakfast, pizza mid-crawl) and lots of hydration (I go heavy on the water from the moment I wake up). Then you need to gather up a crew of 4 - 5 people. Everyone can get a different beer for each round and you taste and share. More than 5 people and you'll start losing people. I think I lost my marathon comparison there. Maybe a marathon relay? I don't know. By the end of the crawl you can manage to only be very pleasantly buzzed and still have gotten a sip of (almost) everything if you play your cards right.

Faves from this year -
Dog Ate My Homework from Brouweij West - blackberry saison that's light and tart but not sweet.
Strawator from Abita - this strawberry dopplebock divided the group. It is sweeter and tastes a bit like beer mixed with strawberry soda but I loved it. D voted no.
Pistola from Noble Ale Works - beer with serrano peppers! Just spicy enough.
Rosalita from Noble Ale Works - beer with hibiscus! A little bit tart.
Avance from Allagash - if you love sours, this is a winner.
Midnight Brett from Allagash - really flavorful dark beer. Allagash always does dark beer right.

Tons of good IPAs but we tasted so many it was hard for them to stand out. The ones that scored highest in our notes are Jericho from Valiant, White Dog IPA from El Segundo and Propulsion IPA from Kinetic.

Ommegang wins for the cutest name - Gnomegang!

Such a good day.

Friday, August 9, 2013

LA Craft Brew Crawl

The most magical weekend of the year is here! And there are still a few tickets left, last time I checked. They expanded it to two days to give people more options and reduced the number of tickets sold each day, so it should be better than ever.

I'm not sure why this event is so good, but it really is. Some combination of the gorgeous downtown bars and the warm weather and the treasure hunt feeling (complete with map!) and the beer. Lots and lots of really good beer.

seven grand
{lagunitas tasting - 2010}

{planning - 2011}

seven grand
{seven grand - 2012}

Yes, it looks very similar every year and I still have to take pictures. Hoping to come up with some kind of scorecard this time around but they usually don't release the brewery specifics until the morning of, which shot a hole in our plans to do this last year. Maybe I'll make the outline in advance? I don't want to show you what our notes usually degenerate into over the course of the afternoon.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Another summer cocktail ...

I came home last week to an unexpected package on my doorstep - always exciting. And when I opened it and realized sweet cevd had sent me a bottle of the 2013 Spring/Summer edition of  Greenhat gin, I had to test it immediately. Luckily I'd made some simple syrup a couple weeks ago and I had one sad lemon hanging out on the counter. This is the simplest drink with just a hint of rosemary.

greenhat gin

Lemon + gin cocktail (serves 1 but you'll probably want a second)
1 oz lemon juice
2 oz good gin (I used Greenhat, which is more herbaceous and floral than piney)
1/4 oz rosemary simple syrup (or slightly more if you like it sweeter)

:: Pour everything in the cocktail shaker with a couple of ice cubes, shake, strain and serve.

Rosemary simple syrup (pretty sure this came from this post)
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 large sprig rosemary

:: Bring the sugar and the water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the rosemary, remove from heat and let it sit  and infuse until fully cool. Store in a bottle in the fridge, for emergencies.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Adult allowance - month seven (and printable budget cards!)

* I will eventually get some shorter, prettier posts up! I just have all these big long ones that I've been slowly working on and they're eating up my photo time.*


We started our new spending system in February, and I won't lie, it was rough. I think it was mostly that we had several social things early in the month and then ended up feeling pinched later on. I was grateful that we had a box of mac and cheese in the cupboard the last night of the month so that we could get through without cheating (obviously, we're in a privileged position in that our spending constraints are self imposed and if we had really needed something, we have the option of ignoring the cards or giving ourselves more money, but I'm trying to see this as a challenge).

March was easier, then April was hard, May was fine and June we went over and then July was TIGHT the whole way through and we had to impose austerity measures to get through the last two weeks. That seems to be the way it goes. If I have overage in a particular month I'll just keep the card and use it up before moving onto the next month. If I have a big purchase that I can't pay off in one month I'll write it down on the back of a card and then once I have enough overage accumulated I'll deduct it. That's technically cheating, but I live with it because it's the only way I can take advantage of sample sales.

The good news is that we are saving so much more money than we were last year. Essentially, just being mindful helps. I'll even resist the random things I used to pick up for myself while grocery shopping because I'd rather have that $1.99 to spend on something else. Although the coconut chips at Trader Joe's can be hard to resist and sometimes I decide they're worth it. Also, this is not nearly as depressing as it sounds on paper. Eating mac and cheese because you literally have no choice? Very stressful. Eating mac and cheese because you're both committed to winning at this budget game? Kind of fun. We try to treat it like a game all the time although I definitely have want-y moments where I wish we could just go out on a Friday night and ignore the fact that we've already overspent for the month.

Last year we were fooling ourselves into thinking we were saving because we'd move money into our savings every month. But it doesn't count if you later have to move it back to checking to pay for things. We were barely accumulating anything.

Because it isn't a hard and fast system, I'm sure that we sometimes forget to mark things down, or we accidentally mark them down twice. I made sure to leave a little wiggle room in our budget so that if everything went as planned we would not only be saving money but we'd also be building up a tiny buffer in our checking account. To figure out if this was actually happening, I periodically downloaded our daily account balances and graphed them. Yep, I love Excel. There are big ups (paychecks) and downs (RENT, credit card bill, withdrawals for personal allowances and savings accounts) but the overall trend is going in the right direction so I'm glad. Our highest peak gradually gets a little higher. Technically, as long as we stay on a plateau we're reaching our goals here, so it's exciting to see that we're actually doing a bit better than expected. (Our short term savings is meant to get depleted regularly - that's our fund for vacations or bigger indulgences.)

Several of you asked for the card template and I'm sorry I've been so slow to get it ready! I converted it to a write-able PDF, so that you can customize your amounts and categories. NOTE - You need to download this file for it to be a writeable PDF! It will not work in Google Drive - you'll just see blank spaces.

Just edit the set for January (enter your categories and amounts - you can tab through so you don't have to click on all those tiny boxes) and the remaining months of the year will update to be the same automatically. The first card is used for our household expenses and the second card is used for our personal allowances. I've only included one personal allowance card in the file. If you have two people, you'll need to print the file twice (sorry - didn't think of that until I was two hours deep creating the file and I couldn't bear to go back!).

I recommend printing the file on cardstock. The cards are sized to slip behind your credit cards in your wallet. I keep them there and then fold and tuck any receipts back there as well. You won't fall behind on your receipt entering if you're confronted with them every time you pull out your credit card. Or at the very least, they are hard to ignore.

D designed our cards and I based the writeable PDF on his design. Mine aren't as pretty because the font we used (Strangelove - it's a favorite around here) can't be embedded due to restrictions. But they should get the job done all the same. If you just straight up want to print our cards with no changes, here they are.

I hope these are helpful for some of you! Let me know if you have any questions and I'll answer in the comments.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

My favorite things to eat in LA (plus a few things to do)

I've never written an LA guide but I occasionally get emails asking for recommendations and I guess I've been here for 7 years, after all. This post took forever because I kept remembering places I'd forgotten and had to add them. Disclaimer: I really like fancy burgers and obscure beer so there's a definite bias here. I don't go out as much as some people and I can't tell you what the hottest restaurant is right now, but I have a small selection of tried and true places that I love and I'm happy to share them with you. I'll try to update it a bit as I find new favorites. 

los angeles after the rain
{los angeles after the rain}

Most importantly - food: 

Tacos are obviously critical. Everyone has their favorite taco place and there are a million. I'd recommend checking out this site for a good run down on the options. I actually don't eat tacos all that often in LA (my favorite taco place is down in Orange County) but there are tons of great places and as a general rule, the further east you go in the city, the better your taco options. Our tried and true place is El Atacor #11, which has a potato taco option for you vegetarians and seriously good asada for the rest of us. I also love the birria at El Parian. If you're looking for an approachable introduction, try the taco sampler at Guisados

Jonathan Gold is my most trusted LA food reviewer. This article from him is a little outdated, but a lot of the recs still stand. I usually listen to his food recommendations on Good Food but it can be tough to scroll through their blog and pick them all out. Might be worth it, though! And the Good Food restaurant map could be useful!

Fancy meals: I adore all of Suzanne Goin's restaurants but they are pricey! Tavern is right by my house and I think their burger (only available at the bar or the tables near the bar, slightly cheaper during happy hour) is the best in the city. I also regularly stop in for cookies - people rave about the chocolate chip but I prefer the ginger-molasses-date cookie even though D says it's for old ladies. If you will be in town on a Sunday, you can get a prix fixe meal at Lucques, which is awesome. They call it their Sunday Supper and it's still expensive but really good. Their third restaurant, AOC, just moved to a new location and rumor has it the outdoor patio is spectacular. So are the cheeses. 

Unusual burgersUmami Burger is the mini chain that has taken LA by storm over the last couple years. I'd recommend eating at the one in Los Feliz. I like the space and the food is consistently good. They also have a good beer selection, if you're into that. For impeccable burgers with a slight Hawaiian twist, I'd recommend Pono Burger

More burgers! Father's Office has one of the most famous burgers in town. You can't make any changes or substitutions, so don't ask! They also have a great beer selection. I'd recommend the Culver City location for easy parking and a larger space although the original Santa Monica location is a lot of fun, just tiny. If you do go to the Santa Monica location, you can wander around on Montana Ave which has some cute boutiques and is very West LA. If you're in Hollywood I also love the burgers at the Roosevelt hotel restaurant, 25 Degrees. And if you're in Santa Monica you could check out Library Alehouse for good burgers, killer sweet potato fries and a long beer list. If you're in love with In'N'Out, you might want to check out the burger at Republique

And sausages: Wurstkuche now has a couple locations and they really do a good job with sausages. Prices are relatively inexpensive, lines can get long. The beer selection is awesome. 

Pizza and wine: Nancy Silverton's Pizzeria Mozza is really, really good. They're always booked but if you show up and ask for seats you'll usually get something within a reasonable amount of time. Osteria Mozza is the fancier restaurant next door and it's also amazing, but I like the Pizzeria a lot. 

Mexican(ish) food: Mexican food is a natural fit for LA and there are so many options. On the high end side you could hit up Petty Cash (but don't be fooled by the name - it is pricey!) for creative takes on traditional dishes. Mercado is one of my favorites, and if you go during happy hour you can easily taste several of their most popular dishes without running the bill too high. I like the West Third St location because it has a great seating area with open walls. El Carmen is more bar than restaurant, but the food is pretty solid and I love the tiny space. 

East side atmosphere and beer flightsMohawk Bend is a little hipster but a lot of fun, especially if you love good beer. It's in an old movie theater and it's always tough to decide whether to sit on the cute front patio or in the enclosed back patio. You can go for food or just drinks. I'm being repetitive here, but the burger is very good. Update - Lauren reports that the vegetarian and vegan options are good here too!

The BEST frozen yogurt in Los Angeles (don't bother arguing with me on this): Not really food, but if you end up in West Hollywood, you must swing by Yogurt Stop for the best frozen yogurt in the city. Their cake batter frozen yogurt is absolutely insane. They're located in the middle of Boy's Town, and the parking is a little crazy, but if you go during the day it shouldn't be too bad. Avoid it late at night because there isn't a chance of getting a parking space! It's a clubby area and it gets packed. They do have a couple of spaces reserved in the lot behind the store but you can't always count on one being available. And sometimes they'll inexplicably charge you a dollar?

Brunch: Brunch is a big deal in LA and the lines can get crazy. Luckily almost no one wakes up early, so if you go right before 10:00 then you can usually get in anywhere without the lines. The Griddle holds a special place in my heart because Emily and I used to go there when we were first living in LA. it's a lot of fun. I'm not sure if they do their pumpkin pancakes year round or just in fall, but they're excellent. Urth Caffe has a couple of locations around town and they're very LA. I'd go there for coffee rather than breakfast, although their food is good too. I prefer the Melrose location, but mostly just because I have fond memories of the Bodhi Tree bookstore (now defunct). 

Not strictly a brunch place because they also do an excellent job at lunch, Alcove is further east and we've been going there for years. Their patio is beautiful and their lemonade and baked goods are worth a trip. The lamb burger is great, as is the portobello burger. They've recently added a little bar, which I'm sure is really lovely on warm nights. 

If you're on the west side, check out Farmshop. It's worth swinging by just to check out their amazing attached market, even if you don't get a meal there, but their brunch is great. It's also a good spot for celebrity sightings, because a lot of celebs live near by. (I know we're supposed to be too cool to care about seeing movie stars but I still think it's exciting and I probably won't ever get over it completely). One of my favorite Italian coffee places (Caffe Luxxe) is in the same little complex as is one of the best ice cream places in the city (Sweet Rose Creamery). Get a shakeratto at Caffe Luxxe and then be brave and get something unusual at Sweet Rose. Their corn ice cream is ridiculously good, but their basil is my all time favorite. Flavors change constantly, but don't be afraid of something that sounds strange.

Other westside brunch places include: Huckleberry, which gets packed early but has some of the best baked breakfast goods and Snug Harbor, which is not at all fancy or LA scene-y but is very homey and one of my favorite places to go. Their honey nut pancakes are ridiculously good. Gjelina is the (not so new) hotspot on Abbot Kinney and their Moroccan baked eggs are so, so good. 

Grilled cheese and beyond: For a low key westside lunch option, Clementine makes great sandwiches. 

If you love middle eastern food, I highly recommend Sunin on Westwood. They never disappoint. The food is the draw here so feel free to take it to go and eat outside somewhere. The restaurant interior is perfectly fine, just nothing super special.

For inexpensive roasted chicken with the best fluffy garlic spread, the local chain Zankou Chicken is perfect. Random gossip - there's a weird/crazy family feud associated with the restaurants

Cupcakes: I know that cupcakes are so over, but I don't think you'll be sad if you drop in and pick one up from Vanilla Bakeshop. They now have two locations, one in Santa Monica and one in Century City. Flavors rotate daily. I ordered our wedding cakes from them (off the standard menu) and they're still my favorite. Do not bother getting cookies or macarons here, in my opinion.

Donuts!: If you need a donut fix, you can find them all over town but in my opinion (and as a result of rigorous and somewhat painful testing at the donut party) Ms. Donuts in Echo Park is the best. Edited to add: While I stand by Ms. Donuts as the best of the bunch when it comes to standard donut shop donuts, we have some fancier options now. If you'd like to pay a higher price, you can check out Blue Star, a Portland import, or Sidecar.

Ice cream - I've already mentioned Sweet Rose Creamery, which is delicious. We now also have a Jenni's, which has amazing ice cream and some pretty fancy topping options. Salt and Straw is hands down my favorite ice cream place. Originally from Portland, this mini-chain features a new themed menu every month as well as a solid cast of standards. You can't go wrong with their sea salt with caramel ribbons but don't be embarrassed to ask for a taste of everything. And don't be scared if it sounds terrifying!


Hiking is the big thing here, almost a social scene. If you want the quintessential LA experience, I'd recommend Runyon Canyon. It can be a bit crowded but it's fun and full of beautiful people. Lately I really love hiking Paseo Miramar via Los Liones, which is closer to the ocean. Warning - it is STEEP!

For something less traditional, the (not so) secret stairs of Silverlake hikes are fun. You can get the app for $2 and it's worth it. Make sure your phone is FULLY CHARGED before you head out. You will not be able to find the hikes without help. 

MuseumsIf you get a nice clear day there are few things that beat The Getty. The view is gorgeous, admission is free (although you do have to pay for parking). 

LACMA is more accessible, right on Wilshire. Even if you don't go in the museum you might want to swing by and wander through the outdoor installations - levitated mass and urban light. You can grab a drink at the bar right outside and during the summer they're open late on Friday nights. If you have kids (and even if you don't) the La Brea Tar Pits museum right next door is great. 

The Museum of Jurassic Technology is an old favorite, if you're looking for something bizarre and delightful. 

The Broad recently opened and it's free with reservations or you can wait in the standby line. They have a nice collection and the building itself is interesting. 

Shopping: The Melrose flea market is on Sunday mornings if you want to do some shopping. I used to go all the time when I first moved here and it's always fun and can even be a little scene-y in a good way (I'm still excited that I saw Chloe Sevigny here once). Shop at Wasteland for good deals on used clothing. The prices are higher than a thrift store, true, but you save a lot of time and effort because they're already weeded through the clothes. It's a good place to score used designer clothing. The Melrose location is bigger but the Santa Monica location still has a lot of good options and it's sometimes less crazy.

Highly recommend window shopping and getting coffee on Sunset/Silverlake junction. The line outside of Intelligentsia is sometimes scary, but it usually moves quickly. Bar Keeper is on that stretch and it's fun to browse there. I also love Mohawk General Store even though I generally don't have the money to buy anything.

Beach: I don't do all that much beach stuff, but Santa Monica pier and Venice Beach are both fun places to wander around. Sorry - I'm not much use in this area. During the summer there are free Thursday night concerts at the Santa Monica pier that are a lot of fun. Enjoy watching everyone dig hidey holes in the sand for the alcohol, to get around the no drinking on the beach rule. Note - you can totally get ticketed for this so be careful!

Hair: Random, but Drybar originated here and then blew up. If you're heading out for a night on the town and you'd like to feel spoiled, give yourself a $35 (+$10 tip) treat and get your hair done. You might want to make a reservation online because sometimes they book up fast but you can always try dropping in.

More drinking, tastings, etc.: Thursday night wine tasting at Silverlake Wine is the best. The pours are generous and they offer a discount on the featured wines. Food trucks hang outside for after or you can hit up Gingergrass across the street. 

If you want to drive up the coast a ways, try a wine tasting at Malibu Family Wines up in the hills. No food served, so pack a picnic, enjoy a tasting, and take a bottle home with you (or open it up right there, as long as one of you is a designated driver). We used to be members here just so we would be forced to come up to pick up our quarterly shipments and we celebrated here right after we got engaged. 

The Eagle Rock Brewery is teeny tiny but fun to visit. It's tucked away in an industrial area. Look for the large pile of parked bikes and you'll know you're in the right place. Do a tasting, see the brewery.

Angel City Brewery has a great, dog-friendly downtown location. Their Angeleno IPA is a solid favorite.

If you are a beer aficionado and willing to make a slight trek, head over to Torrance and check out Strand Brewing Co and Monkish. I haven't yet visited the nearby tasting rooms for Phantom Carriage, The Dudes' or Smog City, but I've tried all their beers and would happily recommend them. 

DOWNTOWN BARS AND STUFF: A lot of people visiting don't make it downtown, which is sad because I think it's amazing. It's full of old historical buildings and it's very quiet on the weekends, which makes it easier to drive around and it feels like a cool zombie land. There are several really gorgeous bars down there. I personally love the Golden GopherMas Malo and Seven GrandBroadway Bar is worth it just for the building. 

Bottega Louie is absolutely worth popping into if only to check out their amazing macaron selection. 

The Grand Central Library is a beautiful building and Grand Central Market (recently remodeled, which is both good and sad) is one of my very favorite places in the city (and where we did our engagement photos!). Olvera Street is close by and while some people feel it's a little cheesy I still love it. 

There is a fierce debate over French dip sandwiches here. Go ahead and choose your favorite from the downtown rivals - Cole's and Phillippe's. I personally side with the double dip and super spicy mustard at Philippe's.  

There are a couple sketchy areas downtown, but as long as you check your map before you go you'll be fine. You want to avoid walking through Skid Row, which isn't always safe, especially at night. Here are the rough boundaries indicated by the dotted lines. None of the bars I've recommended will take you through there.