Posted in Entertainment, Life, Personal Challenge

Cuban Food and Movies with Friends: Personal Challenge, Day 110 (1.4.13)

A friend of mine recently returned from Madagascar, working on a documentary on lemurs.  It had been months since I had seen him or his wife so I headed out to see them for a night of food and movies.

We went to dinner at The Hidden Havana Cuban Cafe in Santa Clarita.  I convinced my friends to join in with my challenge and try something new.  As it turns out, The Hidden Havana Cuban Cafe is a hidden gem of a restaurant.  I can’t properly pronounce anything that we ordered but everything was amazing.  We each ordered something different so we could share.  We tried each of the appetizers, the empanada, papa rellena, and madurros.  They were all quite tasty and I would recommend them all.  When it came to the meat dishes, we order the beef, pork and chicken.  The food was excellent and we didn’t have any complaints.

After dinner, we headed down to the Arclight in Sherman Oaks for a 21 and over screening of Zero Dark Thirty.  This was the first time I had ever gone to one of the 21 and over screenings.  I didn’t even know there was a separate theater located next to the bar just for these screenings.  I do prefer the Arclight to regular cinemas, especially the AMC theaters.  They have assigned seating and they are very strict about the use of cell phones or talking during a film.

As for the movie, Zero Dark Thirty, it was incredibly intense from start to finish.  When the film started with the 911 recordings from the 9-11 terrorist attacks, I knew this was going to be a difficult film to sit through.  The entire film is about finding and killing Osama Bin Laden.  You see the torture, the bombings, and the stealth operation of infiltrating Osama’s compound.  Every single moment was intense.  You were captivated through every second of the film and even though you knew what was going to happen (it is based on actual events), you were still on the edge of your seat.  It was a good film but I don’t think I could ever sit through it again.

Posted in Life, Personal Challenge, Southern California

Raclette in Victorville With Friends: Personal Challenge, Day 105 (12.30.12)

My friend Ida invited me out to her house in Victorville for a Raclette lunch/dinner party with her roommates and friends.  I have driven through Victorville on my way to Vegas but I have never actually spent any time in the high desert city.  I have also never had Raclette, a swiss dish where you put melted cheese on top of meats, veggies and breads.  So early this afternoon, I headed off for new adventures in Victorville.

wpid-2012-12-30-15.49.26.jpgIda had tried to explain Raclette to me but until you see the cooking apparatus, you don’t quite understand.  This really is a family style meal and one where you need to bring your appetite.  On the top part of the cooking apparatus, you grill the veggies and meats.  Underneath, there are these little pans that are used to melt the cheese.  When the cheese is ready, you take a piece of bread (or a tortilla), you put the veggies and meats on the bread then you scrape your melted cheese over the top.  You can use different breads, different meats, and different cheeses.  It was really good and definitely a good food option for a party.

As for Victorville, I didn’t really get to explore the actual city but I did like the wide open spaces and Joshua trees.  This would be a great place to do some star-gazing or to watch a meteor shower.  But not on this particular night, it was overcast and only 23 degrees.  I actually had to scrape ice off my windshield when I was leaving Ida’s house.  I definitely want to go back and explore Victorville a little more.

Posted in Family, Holidays, Life, Personal Challenge, Southern California

Christmas in California: Personal Challenge, Day 100 (12.25.12)

Well, this is my very first Christmas in California, even though I have lived here for years.  I normally fly home to Detroit on Christmas but this year it was too expensive so I am spending the holidays alone in California, something I have never done before.

I thought I would be sad, not being with my family on Christmas, but to be honest, it doesn’t feel like Christmas here.  I am from the midwest where there is snow and freezing temperatures.  You have a roaring fire in the fireplace while opening presents.  Yes, every store is playing Christmas music (even though Target already has their Valentine’s Day stuff out) but it just isn’t the same as a Midwestern Christmas.  It feels like a normal day–except I don’t have to go to work and all the stores are closed.

So I thought about how I would spend my first Christmas alone.  I was going to see a movie at the iPic Theaters in Old Town but the movie I wanted to see (The Hobbit) is sold out for the day.  I am having dinner with friends but not until later this evening.  So I decided to create new traditions based on my family traditions.

Every Christmas, my Mom makes her famous pistachio cakes as gifts for friends, co-workers and neighbors.  I made my first cake last year for my California Sister.  But since I am in California this year, I decided I would make pistachio cakes for my neighbors.  So I spent the morning baking cakes (and discovering American Horror Story on Netflix–odd combination, I know).  Later on, I will deliver the cakes, starting a new tradition here in California.  We’ll see how my neighbors respond.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Posted in Life, movies, Personal Challenge

Burn Movie Premiere: Personal Challenge, Day 43 (10.29.12)

Tonight was the LA Premiere of a film that is very near and dear to my heart.  The film was made by two of my friends and it is about my hometown of Detroit.  This film is called Burn: A Year on the Front Lines of the Battle to Save Detroit.

This is a documentary on the lives of the firefighters in Detroit.  It will make you laugh, it will make you cry and it will open your eyes to what is really going on in our own country in terms of budget cuts made by politicians and how those cuts affect the working class.  I cried several times throughout the film.  It also made me a little homesick–with everyone drinking Vernors and talking about going to eat at National Coney Island.

At the premiere, I had the chance to spend some time with the firefighters who are featured in the film.  They flew out to LA just to be there for the Grauman’s Egyptian Theater premiere.  We all reveled in what a small world it is.  One firefighter, “Doogie,” went to school in the same school district and graduated a year after me.  It turns out that we used to hang out at the same places and were probably there at the same time.  Another firefighter, Dave Miller, lives fairly close to my older brother.  After seeing this film, I feel like I know them, like they are family.  I received several hugs from Dave Parnell, a retired Detroit firefighter, that evening, just because I am a Detroit native and I support this film.

It opens this Friday in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Noho 7 in North Hollywood.  This film will change your lives and it may even just change the way you vote next Tuesday.  Check out the Burn website for more information, to see the movie trailer, or to find out if it is going to be playing in any theaters near you.

Posted in Exploration, Life, Personal Challenge, Southern California, Tourism, Travel

Sunday Comfort Food: Personal Challenge, Day 42 (10.28.12)

With neither one of us feeling well on Sunday morning, my friend Ida suggested we try a restaurant that always makes here feel better with the Vietnamese version of comfort food, Pho.  The restaurant is the Golden Deli Restaurant, located on Las Tunas in Temple City.

My Beef Pho

Since this is one of Ida’s favorite places to eat, I deferred to her for food recommendations.  Ida ordered the Pho Tai, rare beef pho.  She mentioned that the beef cooks in the boiling broth and is usually cooked by the time your meal reaches the table.  I decided to ordered something fully cooked so I went with the Pho Chin Nam, fully cooked brisket beef pho.  Ida also ordered us Spring Rolls as appetizers (which she suggested we dip in our noodle broth instead of the fish oil).

Spring Rolls

Well, Ida was right.  The Beef Pho did make me feel better.  It was just as soothing as the Chicken Noodle Soup that I had at the Noodle House in Pasadena.  I also tried dipping the spring rolls in the fish oil dipping sauce and in my pho broth–it tasted better dipped in the broth.

So overall, when comfort is needed, a good friend and good noodles will do the trick.

Posted in Life, Personal Challenge, Southern California

Saturday Shawarma: Personal Challenge, Day 41 (10.27.12)

With a busy Saturday filled with activity, my personal challenge to try something new was once again focused on food.  My morning and early afternoon plans revolved around finishing my Zombie prom queen costume for my friends’ annual Halloween bash.

I had just finished my costume when my friend TJ arrived.  We had made plans to hang out and have dinner before I had to pick up my friend Ida and head off to the Halloween party.  TJ is the kind of guy who is always up for trying a new, local restaurant.  After searching Yelp, we decided on the House of Basturma in Pasadena.

The House of Basturma is located on Washington Blvd, just west of Altadena Drive.  This is an Armenian restaurant named a type of Mediterranean meat (Basturma).  The guy working there was very helpful, answering all of our questions about the menu items and offering advice on what to order.

The Chicken Shawarma Plate to go

I read in the Yelp reviews that the House of Basturma has the best Shawarma.  So we both decided we would order a Shawarma plate to see if the reviews were accurate.  TJ ordered the beef Shawarma while I went with the Chicken Shawarma.

Though I haven’t had enough Shawarma to say whether or not this was the best but I know enough to say it was really good.  I managed to devour my food before TJ, which says a lot.  Usually when we eat out, I never finish my food and TJ gets to enjoy my leftovers–which is why we usually order different menu items.  Even TJ was surprised that I left nothing behind.  The pitas, the Chicken Shawarma, the hummus and the salad, all gone.

So if you are in Altadena or the north-east portion of Pasadena and you are craving Mediterranean/Armenian Food, House of Basturma is the place to go.

Posted in Entertainment, Exploration, Life, Personal Challenge, Southern California, Tourism, Travel

Scaring Up A Good Time In Old Town Pasadena: Personal Challenge, Day 39 (10.25.12)

On my birthday, my friend Ida and I went through the Old Town Haunt in Pasadena.  We were only about 20 feet into the basement when we asked if we could volunteer to work in the Haunt.  They told us to ask the man out front after the maze.  So we did and he said we could come back on Thursday at 6:15pm.  So we did and we were so excited to get our “scare” on.

When we arrived, one of the owners, Ron, walked us through the process of the Haunt and helped us create our characters.  They had costumes, masks, prosthetics, and make-up ready for us to use.  Ida chose to just use make-up and a wig.   I decided to try using prosthetics since I have never used them before.  It was lighter than a mask and seemed more realistic.  Plus it was scarier than anything I could do with make-up.

Once we in character, Ron took us to our scare locations, giving us tips on how to use our areas to get the best scares.  Thankfully for us, Ron stayed close to Ida to give her advice on her scare techniques while the other owner, Mark, was close to me, giving me helpful hints and advice throughout the night.  It was a blast but exhausting at the same time.  By the end of the night, I didn’t have much of a voice left but I would do it all again in a heartbeat.  In fact, we plan on returning to the Haunt as scareactors before the season ends.  It was definitely a volunteer opportunity of a lifetime.

But I don’t know, look at the pictures.  Do you think we were scary enough?

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