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December 20, 2008

Variation on a Christmas theme....

You know the old "gift in a jar" cookies where all the dry ingredients for a recipe are pre-measured and layered prettily, with attached nice-looking instructions to go along? I have to admit in my house they ususally end up relegated to the back corner of the pantry, because they're so pretty I don't want to use it up. The gift can be a standout if personalized, so this year, instead of following a recipe that I'd never even tried before out of a random book or website, I took an old family recipe and made my own "jar."

In my house, we call this "Impossible Pie" because it makes its own crust. It's a coconut-custard pie with bisquick in it that settles to form the crust. I know at least one other friend has the same or similar recipe under a different name, so I think it's a depression-era favorite for its simplicity. My recipe says to put all ingredients into a blender, blend for one minute, then pour into pie pan and bake. It actually ends up as only three dry ingredients to layer, which fit perfectly into a 16 oz. mason jar. There are then four wet ingredients that I listed on the card to add to the mix when baking, all standard stuff any recipient will have in their kitchen. When I made my gifts, I added a couple bags of craisins into the coconut for an especially cheery twist. The red dots define the middle layer and look like little ornaments in the jar.

Here's the finished gift. I used scrapbooking paper to decorate the jar lid, but I think wrapping paper would work fine too. I'll have to take a photo of a pie the next time I make one. Ummm, I can smell it already!

A hint: Be sure to let the ink dry before attaching the card with ribbon.

Here is a great link to get you started if you need to go from a recipe: But, think about it: what family recipes could you do this with? Let me know in the comments below.

December 16, 2008

The Machine

Here's a tip for a wonderfully noteworthy L.A. non-profit, Machine Project. They're a delightfully kooky resource for all sorts of interesting things: public fruit mapping and gathering, canning, seminars on sewing, crafting, electronics, and everything in-between.

The email I got from them today advertises a phone in poetry service! Call 213 448 7668 between 9-10pm Monday - Thursday for a free poem of the length and moral character of your choosing.

They're official purpose: "Machine Project exists to encourage heroic experiments of the gracefully over-ambitious. We provide educational resources to people working with technology, we collaborate with artists to produce site-specific works, and we promote conversations between scientists, poets, technicians, performers, and the community of Los Angeles as a whole."

Find a list of their upcoming classes and seminars at From there, click to their home page for more information or contact them directly.

And keep them in mind if you're searching for a nonprofit to support financially this holiday season. Machine Project is a 501c3 registered non-profit so donations are tax deductible.

December 14, 2008

I'm a Crafter....

It gives me a sense of accomplishment at the end of an otherwise uncontrolled day to make a small amount of progress on a craft project. I stitch because it's meditative, it keeps my hands busy while watching television, and most of all it personalizes my home. I tend to give away ninety percent of the things I make, but lately I'm making an effort to keep some of my handiwork. Even though I'm single and so far childless, I'd like to have something to pass along some day, and I'd like to feel like my house is a home.

Some examples of my work: here's a baby gift made for my friend's twins a couple years ago. I only photographed half of the set that I made.

This is how I decorated for the holidays last year, at my old apartment. I made the towel that's hung over the back of the chair, and a runner that was placed on my coffee table.This is the Thanksgiving runner that I just finished this week. I backed it with felt to cover the workmanship behind.

Here's the detail:

The biggest project I ever made was to turn the logo of our old family business into cross stitch. Luckily the logo is a monotone red. The hard part was the curviture of the soda bottle it's printed on. I took a digital photo of the bottle against a white cardboard, then printed it on specially sized graph paper, and went from that. Here's the finished product that I completed and framed in 2003:

What zen-like hobbies do you practice? Leave me a comment below!

December 12, 2008

Mama's Hot Tamales

Another restaurant to try: Mama's Hot Tamales Cafe in Westlake. This one was featured in a "Best cheap meals under $20" article that I saw. Here's the bio:

"Mama's Hot Tamales Cafe in a non-profit restaurant/community center in MacArthur Park dedicated to helping local residents learn to cook and sell tamales. One side of the shop is a bookstore that sells indigenous arts and crafts while the other side functions as a restaurant and organic coffee shop. The place is bright and airy--the wooden tables are painted in electric blues, yellows and oranges and engraved with suns and winding vines. The menu offers tasty aguas frescas and tortas on soft, fluffy bread; but the culinary superstars are the homemade tamales, which are stuffed with fresh ingredients like cheese, green chilies, chicken and mushrooms and served with perfectly piquant house hot sauce."

Find them at 2122 West Seventh Street in Los Angeles, 90057. Their phone is 213-487-7474.

What are your favorite cheap eats? Leave me a comment about them below.

Restaurant Deals from ABC7

ABC7 On Your Side: Restaurant deals

Sunday, June 15, 2008

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Times are tough, but we all need to eat -- Now, some of L.A.'s hottest restaurants are serving up deals designed to save you money and boost business on what are traditionally slow nights.

Live jazz is just one reason to stop by "Citizen Smith" in Hollywood. Every Monday night, diners can feast for 50 percent off. The deal applies to food only. But if you come back on Tuesdays, you can enjoy any bottle of wine -- also half off.

It's a sexy, club-like scene. Hundreds of candles cast shadows inside. And outside, there's a moonlit patio. Specialties of the house include jalapeno macaroni and cheese, and their flatiron steak.

Citizen Smith is on Cahuenga in Hollywood.

In West Hollywood, drop by Dolce on Melrose any Monday night. Indulge in any of their food, also for half off.

Dolce is known for its hip Italian vibe. Flames light up the bar and a live DJ keeps the music pumping.

It's a younger crowd, but one that's looking for a great deal.

Ketchup pours on the specials Sunday nights. The trendy West Hollywood restaurant offers its half-off food deal on Sunday nights.

"Fifty percent off every Sunday and it includes all food -- not drinks -- but the drinks are pretty cheap as well, so it's a great time," said Ketchup Manager Alexis Castaneda.

It's comfort food, with a side view of the Sunset Strip.

"This view, the food, great atmosphere in here, it's a really good time," said Castaneda. "It's like your traditional diner, but upscale with a good twist, it's very nice."

Citizen Smith
1600 N. Cahuenga Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90028
(323) 461-5001
Every Monday night, all food is half-price. Tuesdays, any bottle of wine is half-price.

8284 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90046
(323) 852-7174
Every Monday night, all food is half-price.

8590 Sunset Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90069
(877) 490-4668
Every Sunday night, all food is half-price.

Bella Cucina Italiana
1708 Las Palmas Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
(323) 468-8815
Every Tuesday night, all food is half-price.

abridged from ABC7 Eyewitness News

The Price is Free

If you live in LA, one free fun thing to do is go to a taping of a local game or talk show.

Here's the link to free tickets for "Price is Right":

When I was about nine and lived in a Chicago suburb, my mom drove a bunch of my friends and I to a taping of the "Bozo Show."

I remember a circle of girls in the back of a van riding into the big city. Coincidentally, it happened to be Valentines' Day, so my present that day was a shirt that my mom painted saying "Bozo is my Valentine" on the front and "and Cookie too" on the back. They gave us great seats and taped me on the show because of my shirt. I had such great memories of the day, I liked being reminded of it by wearing the shirt each Valentines for several years to come.

I also went to a taping of Ellen DeGenerous' talk show once, the day she debuted her new set design. But the best part of most live tapings is the audience warm-up.

What shows have you attended that had a fun party atmosphere? Please leave me a comment below, and I'll edit this post to add links for those shows' tickets.

December 10, 2008

Lesson Learned

Had my first liquid spill into my laptop, ever. In over ten years of computer use I've been religious about drinks near my computer, but yes, accidents do happen, to us all. The lesson I've learned from this is if it ever happens to you, immediately shut your computer down if it is on, and don't boot it up at all if you were fortunate to have it shut off. Running the computer with liquid in it risks shorting out the entire machine, which could further harm other specific parts inside the computer that weren't already damaged. Luckily, I didn't suffer this fate. But, I now know something new. Let's hope not to need that knowledge ever again.

December 1, 2008

Free Yoga Classes

The LA Free Clinic hosts free yoga classes on Saturdays at 1030-1130A. The classes are held at 5205 Melrose, corner of Melrose & Wiltern. They advise to wear comfortable, loose clothing. For more info, call the clinic at 323-653-8622 ext. 1625. I'm going to be there!

Community While Gardening

Here's a roster of community gardens in the L.A. area. Start planning now for next summer and call one of these to reserve your spot! The list is just being updated.

What organizations allow you to foster community in your neighborhood? Tell me about it in a comment.

November 29, 2008


My mom entertains her friends with stories of my dogs' capers. Now she can show off her granddogs. I used that old standby toy from childhood, Shrinky Dinks, to make some oh-so-fashionable earrings by tracing a photo of my dog in colored pencils. Took a couple trys to figure out the right scale, but it made for a great tounge-in-cheek present!

One Christmas I made an ornament out of Shrinky Dinks for everyone on one side of my family. My grandfather had his own soda bottling company in rural Illinois from the 1930s until about the 1950s, printed in red on a clear glass bottle. I took our family logo off the label and traced it onto the Shrinky Dink. When finished, it looked like a piece of glass! The ornament hangs on my mom and dad's tree today.

Here's how to get shrinky dinks, if you can't find them at your local craft store:

What classic toys are favorites from your childhood?

Find a Farmers Market, Any Day of the Week

Here's a great list of farmer's markets all around Los Angeles, listed by day, thanks to the LA Times.,1,5715921.htmlstory

Last year, I brought a special treat home for the holidays--pineapple tamales from the Burbank Saturday farmers market. We made my grandma's fudge sauce to pour over them. Mmmm....I'm getting hungry thinking about it. I went to post the recipe below, and found four different versions, all attributed to grandma, in our box! No wonder we loved it--it was probably different each time we had it. So, I'll stick with the memory for now.

What's your favorite produce to find at a farmers market? Leave a comment below.

November 28, 2008

Scaled to Fit

I've approached my tiny bungalow guest house as a miniature version of the type of home I grew up in. As such, I've had to make an adjustment in scale. Excluding the bed, my bedroom furniture is actually nursery furniture: I found child-scale fits perfectly, allowing me to have a tall shelf as a bedside stand for my radio, clock, and reading lamp while leaving room for a child's toy chest at the foot of the bed as a bench. My dresser was conceived as a dining room sideboard, but the many compartments serve me well for necessities, with the two main dish cabinets holding bulky sweaters and jeans. And what used to be my twelve inch-deep sofa table has now become my kitchen counter, giving me more room to make a cup of tea near the microwave, or an extra narrow surface for mixing cookie dough.

But by far the best spatial economy in my apartment is my four place-setting countertop dishwasher, actually made for boats or other tight spaces. It screws onto my kitchen tap when in use, and drains into the sink.

helped me compare different options on brands and models, and listed prices including shipping costs. The one I ended up with includes an extra hot SaniCycle for sterilization.

Do you have any design tips for compact spaces? Let me know in a comment.

Design Your Own: Return Address Labels

The most fun I had related to my move was the opportunity to make new mailing labels. Googling "free mailing labels" yielded plenty of options, but eventually I stumbled upon Vista Print at

Their design wizard allowed me to use my own image. It was so easy that I did one "from" each dog.

They cost me about four bucks apiece, including the shipping, and I did a third with one of their stock free designs to use on bills and other business mail. My out-of-state parents love receiving mail from their granddogs.

***Bonus hint: I've used these to mark all kinds of handy items besides my mail, like my digital camera, the battery and the charger for it, handles of tools that frequently get loaned out, stuck to luggage tags....

What to Give for Christmas? Pt. 2

Here goes--I'm going to give away the secret of what I'm getting you for Christmas this year.

My big present is actually a gift of time. For most of my family, this year I'll be giving a disc with a bunch of family memorabilia that I've collected and scanned. The biggest part of this has been scanning old family cookbooks into pdf documents. I'm also going to include photos already on my computer, as well as newspaper clippings, wedding announcements, and obituaries that I'd already scanned for myself. And, I can include it in my regular card mailing, which saves me a lot on shipping. I've had years where the shipping has cost more than the gifts themselves, but no more.

All my friends had babies seemingly in unison this year, so a lot of my good friends are getting a nifty photo memento: a company I discovered will take any digital photo and make it into a personalized (dog) tag, with or without an inscription, for under ten bucks.

Check them out at

Yes, I know my friend's children are not dogs, but these tags do make great keychains or necklaces for the adoring parents and grandparents. And they're wonderfully affordable! I actually wear one with my kids' (that are actually dogs) picture to show off at work.

What's the best gift that you've ever given or received? Let me know in the comments below.

November 27, 2008

Events & Community Fairs: Marina Del Rey Holiday Boat Parade

I love to find arts and craft fairs, cultural fairs, farmers markets, what I call "excursions" all year long.

The Marina Del Rey Holiday Boat Parade is what instigated this post. It'll be on Saturday Dec. 13th at 6PM this year, so put it on your calendar! It's always a highlight of my holiday season. I also try to search out local church bazaars just for the spirit of community at the holidays.

This summer, I was sad to find that the Tofu Festival in downtown Los Angeles was cancelled. I used to make a day of enjoying Little Tokyo and Chinatown along with the culinary feasts of the fair itself.

Use the comments section to tell: what events are favorites of yours, and what ones are upcoming?

It's Christmastime! What to Give? Pt 1

The holiday season feels important to me this year, amidst a rough economic climate and in a year where I'm on my own for much of it, traveling to be with family just a couple days before Christmas eve.

In my quest to simplify many areas of my life this year, I've noticed a growing movement of people who want to refocus on the time spent with loved ones over the material side of gift giving. I came across a great site that helps one subtly suggest this to anyone with whom you'd traditionally exchange gifts.

Check out the homepage here, which explains the concept, and also their page that helps you to request a charitable gift:

What holidays do you celebrate in your home, and how do you keep the focus on the true meaning of them? Comment below!

P.S. Left-Right that's my dad, my late uncle Dick, my uncle Ted, my aunt Ann, and my late Grandma circa 1957 or '58

My Favorite Garden Sites

My garden has been split in two: a flower section, and a large herb garden with a couple tomato plants, berries, and grape vines.

I grow a lot of bulbs in my flower garden. Whenever I plant seeds, I tend to pull them up as soon as they've sprouted, mistaking them for weeds. Bulbs are unmistakable, and produce beautiful fragrant blooms.

This is the first year I've really tried to grow vegetables, but I'm having fun experimenting.

Check out these sites. They're some of my favorite to order from when planning my garden, and most offer free catalogs:

Swan Island Dahlias

Brent & Becky's Bulbs

McClure & Zimmerman

Van Engelen, Inc.

John Scheepers, Inc.

Totally Tomatoes (obviously, that's what they sell--tons of heirloom varieties)

and of course, Burpee's
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