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November 30, 2009

Z-Coil Shoes

(Chance & Claire were helping me take pics for the blog today)

People on set often ask me about my shoes. Because I work in television, I'm regularly on my feet for literally eighteen hours or longer straight. I've watched both my parents battle joint problems, and I also know the health statistics of those in my industry. My hip and one knee sometimes give me trouble, not to mention my back. So I'm all about whatever might lengthen my years in my profession. When a friend introduced me to Z-CoiL Footwear, I jumped on them.

They're expensive shoes, but so are any good athletic wear like Nike or Adidas. Unlike those, these are orthotically designed, and custom fit for individual support. The whole process takes about an hour. Its design reduces impact to the body and distributes pressure more evenly than traditional shoes; supposedly they reduce shock to joints by 50%. My uppers have lasted two years and it only costs about $50 to have the heel coil replaced, though the shoes are initially a couple hundred bucks.

[Info from their website] During the fitting process, they explain the design of the shoe, help you select the footwear that is most appropriate for your activities, and make sure the shoe is sized properly. Then you are asked to spend about five minutes walking around the store to experience the “feel” of this unique footwear. While you are walking, they check your toe room, arch support, heel fit, and shoe width. They also ask you to be specific about the pain you are experiencing so they can focus on those issues. Unlike most footwear on the market, Z-CoiL® shoes are adjustable. Once they examine the shape of your foot and the way you walk, they make a variety of footwear adjustments to provide the maximum support and comfort possibly all while you wait. They can adjust for flat feet, high arches, wide feet, bunions and corns, hammertoes, heel spurs, neuromas, and many other conditions that can be responsible for foot pain. They can also balance the shoes if you tend to over-pronate (feet roll in) or over-supinate (feet roll out). If you are experiencing joint pain, you may have developed a pattern of walking that is putting too much pressure on the affected joint. In many cases, they can make adjustments to the footwear to relieve pressure on the joint. [Info from their website]

Because of my mom's back and knee problems, I took my folks along this weekend when I needed a pair. My new shoes are the brown ones on the left (the "High Desert Hiker"); the grey ones on the right are my older pair that I've had for about two years--this week I got a new coil for them, basically having them re-heeled. I've been really happy with the performance of my old shoe, but I'm excited to have the additional ankle support of the new design. I do have mine fitted with my prescription orthotics inserted, so if you wear those, they can be accomodated as well.

My mom was trepidatious before seeing how the shoe was fit on me, but she did eventually try on and buy a pair with the "enclosed" spring. Since she's on her feet a great deal as a school nurse, I'll be looking forward to hearing how she's settled into the shoes when I see her at Christmastime.

The Torrance Z-CoiL store offers a ten dollar discount to newly referred customers. Click on this coupon, then print it out, or just mention my name if you go (they'll give me a referral credit as well).

Do you wear these or other specifically engineered footwear? Leave a comment on the blog if you have a favorite brand or type of shoes.

November 29, 2009

Vegan Jel Dessert

One thing we served this Thanksgiving was a vegan "Jell-O." My friend turned me on to this when I was trying to find a use for the turkey pan/mold. I told her I don't usually serve gelatin because I'm always wondering if I'm eating ground up cow hooves.

My friend is a long-time vegetarian who knew about this product, Natural Desserts Jel Dessert. Made by the Nutra Drink Company, it's gluten free, vegan, and all natural, containing no artificial colors or flavors. It was really yummy! The preparation was exactly the same as branded Jell-O. I tried the raspberry, but they come in about five flavors, and are available online.

Click on the image below to enlarge if you'd like to see the ingredients or nutritional information.

Are there any products you use for a specific diet? Please leave me a comment on the blog with your favorite recommendations.

November 28, 2009

Griffith Park Holiday Light Festival

14th Annual Los Angeles Department of Water and Power
Griffith Park Light Festival December 4 – December 30, 2008
Light Display Hours: 5:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m.

The DWP puts on a holiday light spectacle each year in Griffith Park, along Crystal Springs Dr. Pack the family, load up the cookies and hot chocolate, put the Christmas music on in the car, and make it an annual tradition to see the sights!

Be sure to check out the Addl Info page on the website for all the details. Certain nights are designated as "green" for walking only, and one night is designated for bikers. Additional attractions include live reindeer and train rides to santa. Bring a toy for the toy drive too!

Is this event part of your Christmas traditions? How do you attend--car, bus, walk--and how long does it take you? Leave a comment on the blog if you've experienced the crowds.

Thanksgiving Butter Plate

The small details often make the day in entertaining. I used my silicone muffin pan to make a butter plate for our Thanksgiving table.

I'd never tried this before, so I simply melted butter by the stick in the microwave, first for 30 seconds, then in 10 second increments after that, pouring the melted butter into the fall-inspired muffin cups, then letting it harden in the refrigerator. I think it would have looked nicer if I'd taken the time to clarify the butter. Also probably should have let it harden a bit longer before breaking them out of the mold, as it took off a layer from the top in some places.

The pictures look a little worse for wear since they were taken in my dark-as-tunnel kitchen after dusk.

In the end, perfection is futile, anyway--I forgot the tray in the 'fridge, forgetting to set it out on the buffet. If you'd like some leftovers, come on over. I'll offer you a hunk of butter.

Do you go to this level of detail for your large feasts? What are your tips or tricks? Please leave a comment on the blog to let me know how you celebrated the holiday. I promise not to comment on any food-coma induced ramblings if you'll ignore mine. ;o)

November 27, 2009

Still Tomato Season in CA

Can you believe I'm still getting tomatoes off my cherry plants? These were picked the day before Thanksgiving. This, despite the fact that I stopped watering altogether about a month ago when the watering system's timer broke. Since I'm not watering, I've gotten much less fruit, but that's alright with me as keeping up with the growth pace had become nearly impossible this summer. About half the plants have been pulled up, but the two cherry tomatoes--Isis Candy and Sun Cherry--have a will to survive. That's fine by me.

Solvang Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony

I love the Dutch town of Solvang. They're having their Christmas tree lighting ceremony on Friday Dec. 4th at 5pm. Might be a great weekend getaway....

November 25, 2009

Gobble-Gobble Cake

I came across a cast iron Nordicware pan today for five bucks, so I couldn't resist--especially since I'm celebrating Thanksgiving in my own home for the first time this year. Now I can tell my dad I'm making him a turkey. Since I'm vegetarian, he'll be suspicious.

I considered using this as a butter mold, but it has a five cup capacity. Bit much for dinner for four people, eh?

My friend lost his beak when I un-molded him, so some frosting surgery is in order before I serve this. But I just love this little turkey's wings and tail feathers. I guess I need to learn patience enough to allow a cake to cool before upending it and hoping for the best. I just had to see how it turned out!

Anyhoo, my friend who's in weight watchers gave me an easy "Cake Doctor"-type recipe to try, that she says has a comparatively low point value. Take any boxed cake mix, white, yellow or chocolate--I used a Devil's Food chocolate--and add only one can of regular pumpkin (not pie filling). Nothing else. Bake as directed on the box. Unless you're shaping the cake into a turkey, in which case allow four times the recommended baking time.

Note to self: try new pan, or new recipe. Not both at once.

I leveled the cake by cutting off the excess "muffin" before inverting it, so I had some portion to sample--the pumpkin mix was definitely dense and moist, even more than a regular mix. I think if I do this again, I'll use a regular chocolate mix rather than the Devil's Food. It's a treat for sure, and easy to whip up at a moment's notice.

What will you be serving on your Thanksgiving table? Leave me a comment on the blog with your traditions.

November 23, 2009

Downtown Afternoon

I've been so busy preparing for Thanksgiving that I haven't had time to blog about anything else! But I spent a wonderful afternoon downtown with a friend a week or so ago, and wanted to tell you about a few fun places.

We had a great Indian weekday lunch buffet at a place called Gill's. I know, "Gill" sounds ethnic, doesn't it? I'm not one for curry, so I was a bit skeptical, but it was really yummy. Their buffet features tandoori chicken; a meat curry; two vegetables; a dal, or lentil, of the day; fruit; dessert; and naan daily. Their prices are super reasonable too. Click on the link above to see their full menu.

I actually enjoyed the Aloo Gobhi, cauliflower & potatoes sauteed with fresh tomatoes, ginger, and green chile. And the Indian version of rice pudding was yummy. I love fresh Raita and their Naan had olive oil and minced garlic on it.

With time to kill we walked a mini-tour of the Old Bank District, the loft area that is revitalizing the downtown area. I'd shot a few specific places but not really explored there. The architecture is truly unique as the idea is to preserve the historic character of the area while updating the interiors. I was wishing I'd had my camera, but the visit was impromptu, and, alas, I was without.

The best part of the day was wandering into the Museum of Neon Art! They're in a temporary home downtown, so their exhibit space is limited. But seeing so much tightly compacted really took my breath away! Donated signs include a diving lady, and a local public libarary sign, among many others. They had a great explanation of the mechanics of kinetic lighting. MONA also offers neon cruises on a scheduled basis, and neon art workshops that actually teach you how to make signs & sculptures! To check out MONA's website for more info, click on the brochure above.

Have you spent time exploring the downtown area? What are some of your favorite museums, restaurants, or architectural features there? If you have a treasured spot, or story to relate please leave a comment on the blog.

November 21, 2009

Twelve Days of Christmas....Cookies!

Have you ever perused the Food Network's website? I've found them to be a great resource, and usually the first place I go when looking for new recipes online. You probably already know that at the holidays they send out an email list of a cookie recipe a's time to enroll for this year's surprises! Go here to sign up. Look for the "Get Cookie Alert" button on the right-hand sidebar.

November 20, 2009

Homemade Ice Cream

I broke out my ice cream maker today for the first time in over a year. My easy standard is a banana-cashew, but today I had almond meal on hand, so what came out was Banana-Almond-Caramel. Yummy! Can't wait!

The cream alone for a batch of ice cream is about three dollars, so I don't really think I'm saving money on this DIY, as one might with bread. But it's fun, and I get to experiment with as many combinations as I can think up. I'm too lazy to make a custard so I haven't gotten into the chocolates, but the fruit possibilities and add-ins are never-ending.

What grocery items do you try to make at home from scratch? What are your reasons--for fun, to save money, for nutrition? Please feel free to join the conversation on the blog's comments section.

November 19, 2009

Kitchen Tools: Immersion/Stick Blender, or, Tomato Soup with Cream Cheese

There are only two places I HAVE to go when I'm in Salt Lake City--Rich's Bagels for their awesome Asiago Cheese Bagel, and The Soup Kitchen in Sugarhouse for their tomato soup. I don't even like tomato soup--at least not the Campbell's variety--but theirs is sooo good! I've been told the secret to their velvety texture is that they add cream cheese.

Since I moved into the bigger rental a little over a year ago, I've begun slowly to experiment with some kitchen tools I've used little or never, like my crock pot. I actually tried to replicate the Soup Kitchen tomato concoction once a year or two back, but didn't have a way to fully blend the cream cheese cubes into the broth, so it came out as more of a stew than a cream soup, and while tasty not at all like the original.

This week I finally invested in a Stick or Immersion Blender, which can simply be stuck into a pot or drink cup to make a smoothly blended liquid. With that new kitchen tool as an asset, I thought I'd try it again. I left a box of cream cheese on the counter to soften. I took a quart-sized bag of Romas from my summer garden out of the freezer, and added a quart of my heirloom cherry tomatoes--mostly Isis Candy and Sun Cherry--for sweetness. I poured in one box of low sodium vegetable stock, about four cups. Turning the crock pot on high, I waited for the tomatoes to thaw a bit.

A couple hours later I cubed the cream cheese, added it in, then pulled out the manual for the immersion blender. By the time I figured out how to clean and use the utensil, the cheese had softened enough to give it a whirl. It was so much more powerful than I'd expected! I use a liner to lessen crock-pot cleanup, and of course I caught the bag with the blender. But the stick blender did the job in a matter of thirty seconds, even handling the thickness of the cream cheese and piercing some of the larger tomatoes that were still whole. A splash of cooking sherry, some added minced garlic and some salt was all that was needed to finish....a great reminder of summer with the sweetness of my homegrown vines.

I'm seriously disappointed in the coloring of the photos above. The soup was a rich pumpkin orange/red that spoke of creamy tomatoes. The lighting in my kitchen is too cool to give accuracy, probably because the tiny windows only allow indirect sun.

Lesson learned: peeling the tomatoes actually is a great idea. While I didn't mind the skins in my lunch today, I think I would feel more comfortable serving guests a pure version, so will strain the rest of this before I freeze it.

Without doubt, I'm a convert to the immersion blender and can't wait to try a few smoothie ideas. Now I can make smoothies for one without creating a whole blender mess!

And this was all so easy today I'm thinking about having a soup party, with one kind in my crock pot and one on the stove in my 5-qt stockpot. With all the food on the stovetop, and no buffet to worry about, I might have room for a couple of guests in my place.

What kind of soups are you willing to make from scratch? Do you use an immersion blender to make soups or smoothies, or find it's just another space-wasting appliance too specific to a single task? What tools make it easier for you to entertain or cook in bulk? Please leave a comment on the blog.

November 18, 2009

Holiday Entertainment

I'm needing the holidays this year. Here in California, the seasons don't turn over until you create them, so I'll admit to starting my holiday season the day after Halloween. A major part of that for me is holiday movies.

Here's what's in my collection so far, in no particular order:

The Holiday, directed by Nancy Meyers, 2007
Jack Frost, directed by Troy Miller, 1998
A Holiday Affair, 1955
A Christmas Story, directed by Bob Clark, 1983
The Polar Express, directed by Robert Zemeckis, 2004
Christmas with the Kranks, directed by Joe Roth, 2005
Christmas in the Clouds, directed by Kate Montgomery, 2005
Prancer Returns, directed by Joshua Butler, 2003
National Lampoon's Holiday Reunion, directed by Neal Israel, 2003
Deck the Halls, directed by John Whitesell, 2006
Fred Claus, directed by David Dobkin, 2007
The Year Without a Santa Claus, directed by Ron Underwood, 2006
A Charlie Brown Christmas
I Want a Dog For Christmas, Charlie Brown, 2003
Christmas in Connecticut, 1945
A Christmas Carol, 1938
The Shop Around the Corner, 1940
It Happened on 5th Avenue
White Christmas, 1954
Holiday Inn, 1942

Of course the older black-and-whites are my favorites, especially anything with Bing Crosby. And the Charlie Browns too.

Browse these links for some reviewers' lists of top holiday films:

Best Holiday Movies Including Lesser Known Suggestions
Moviefone/Inside Movies List
Lesser Known Christmas Movies from the 1940's
Best Christmas Movies for the Holiday Season

I also created a station on that plays great Christmas vocals:

Pandora Holiday Music Station

What's your holiday entertainment? Favorite videos? Best holiday music? When exactly is too early to start the holiday spirit? Do you make it a tradition to go to the movie theater as a family on Christmas eve or day? Leave a comment on the blog with your habits.

November 16, 2009

The Science of Gingerbread at Discovery Science Center

Hands-on kitchen science activities, decoration demonstrations, and gingerbread house displays, and a contest, along with holiday merriment! At the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana from November 23rd through January 3rd.

Click on the link above for details, and let me know if you go by leaving a comment on the blog!

Arrested Development at Hollywood Park

This Friday, Nov. 20th, at Hollywood Park Racetrack is an Arrested Development concert with only $8.00 admission if you enter before ten p.m.! One dollar beers, sodas, and hot dogs too.

This is one event I will try not to miss. Have you ever been to a racetrack to see the races, or for other events? Leave a comment on the blog to let me know your favorite park.

November 15, 2009

KCRW's 1st Annual Good Food Pie Bake-Off

The first time we'd moved out of state from Illinois, my mom's mom came to visit us at our new house in Utah for two weeks over Valentine's Day 1986. Somehow my mom heard about a cherry pie-baking contest being held at the luxurious Little America Hotel downtown. She thought it would be a fun way to keep her mom busy while visiting, so she entered my grandma surreptitiously, and told her about it when she arrived. The type of pie was specifically and narrowly cherry, so there was no great creativity involved, but the contestants were therefore quite competitive. Though it was an all-day affair with a lot of waiting around, we had so much fun together that day!

The crowd at the Little America Cherry Pie Contest in Feb. 1986

The judging was a serious matter.

Grandma at the pie contest, awaiting results.

Grandma and I at home afterwards, with our pie

My mom and Grandma baking cookies at our first house in the 80's. Grandma's wearing the apron I wore at the Good Food contest.

With the resurgence in popularity of frugal living and trying to keep crafty, inventive projects on this blog, I'd even taken one of my grandma's old pie recipes and created a pie-in-a-jar gift package, based on her Impossible Pie, a coconut custard that makes its own crust. I'd made up a bunch for a craft fair and been using them in place of buying gifts for every occasion for a while now.

The pie-in-a-jar I came up with from Grandma's depression-era recipe.

So when I heard about KCRW's First Annual Good Food Pie Contest, I jumped in with my entry as a tribute to my Grandma Walker.

I knew my entry was a simple, everyday type not likely to stand out in the crowd, but I figured the "making its own crust" aspect would be its gimmick, and the fact that everyone can make it might actually be a plus.

My official entry, just out of the oven.

I got up early to bake on Saturday morning, the day of the competition. I'd chosen a familiar recipe with half the ingredients pre-measured, and really was not expecting to place, so I was surprised to find myself nervous anyhow.

a perfectly browned crust, topped with a sprinkling of fresh grated nutmeg

Wearing my Grandma Walker's apron, next to the sign

Luckily, I had a friend along to be my official photographer and keep me company! Thanks to Dave D. for joining me at the last minute. I was so glad to have a cheerleader.

Using my Longaberger picnic basket--only happens once every decade!

The registration line when I arrived

When I arrived to find 150 entries, I knew I stood not a chance in competition. But the day was such a fun people-watching, social experiment I had a great time doing it all anyways.

At registration, each pie was given an assigned number and a placard with the number, to which your pre-written list of ingredients was taped. Since pies were offered for sampling, the list of ingredients was provided for those with food allergies. But full recipes weren't required.

There were four categories for the competition: Fruit & Nut pies; Cream, Custard, Chiffon, & Mousse pies; Savory pies; and lastly, Interpretive pies, or those that defied categorization. Since mine is egg-based, I entered in the Custard/Cream category.

Evan Kleiman warming us up--talking with the folks in the registration line directly ahead of me, who brought a beautiful double-crusted blueberry pie.

making the first (glumph!) cut

Pies were required to be delivered uncut. At the location, each contestant cut their own pie into eight pieces, and plated two slices next to their pie. I chose a clear pie pan to accentuate the self-forming crust and beautiful texture of the coconut-studded egg custard. I brought along a pretty fluted green ceramic cake stand to show off the presentation of my semi-plain entry. It added both color and height.

Sliced and Plated

The view from above, as folks were still registering

Santa's first day in residence--yep, it's the holidays!

The awards table awaits

The crowd as the judging nears

My table! My pie's on the green cake stand in the middle.

Judge Eric Greenspan evaluates a pie opposite mine

The judging, of course, seemed to take forever. Since there were so many pies, each judge was assigned 10-12 entries to inspect in the first round. The pies were judged on a scale of 1-10 for appearance, texture, and flavor. The totals from the first round were figured up and the top five in each category determined. These top five were then reassessed by all judges, who came to a consensus to determine the first, second, and third place finishers for each category, and the overall best in show.

My pie was only sampled by my singular judge from the first round, Clifford Wright. I'd been viewing the registration and gathering looking down from the second floor. I waited till Evan Kleiman came over the public address calling for all contestants to leave the area, and for the judges to assemble. I went downstairs to my area to find Clifford rounding my table past my pie--I'd missed his assessment. I wasn't disappointed because we'd plated two slices, so I figured I'd get to see a second judge. Only later I realized the second piece was for the second round, if one made it past the first judge. Bummer to have done all that work for only one person to taste! If they didn't particularly like a certain kind of pie, you were out....but I never expected to place anyway.

Evan Kleiman's commentary helped to pass the time during judging.

Judge Stefan Richter was partial to the banana creme pie behind mine, and kept returning for more samples!

Stefan even talked up the banana creme to judge Russ Parsons!

The pie contest grew out of Evan Kleiman's Pie-a-Day project that she's blogged about all summer on the Good Food show's blog.


Things that made the event great:
  • They accommodated so many contestants!
  • They kept it spacially compact so all could see what was happening.
  • Evan Kleiman made it fun by keeping the conversation going during the waiting/judging.
  • They provided easy directions that made it easy to find the mall and the place within the mall.
  • They made check in organized and smooth.
  • They kept it (fairly) short timewise, at least in comparison to Grandma's cherry pie competition. The event ran from 1230P-4P. It felt long or slow at times but really was a reasonable time span.
Things that can make next year's event even better, since this was only the first time the event was held:
  • Perhaps having a kids category would encourage them to participate. Maybe a separate mens category too.
  • Having the signs in front of each contestant's place be double sided, so they can be read from either side of the table.
  • After winners are announced, having their ribbons next to the pies, so we can see which were the winners when everything's opened up for browsing/sampling. Or use stickers on the placards to denote the winners.
  • Having a whiteboard (at the check-in table?) that states how many contestants in each category. I know there were 150-plus total, but I still don't know how many I was competing against within my category.
  • Having a stated time for the awards announcement so people (especially supportive guests) can go away and come back for that portion.
  • Having each contestant judged by two people in the first round, to get a little less bias into the judging. I understand no one person can taste 150 pies, but it seems a bit unfair to have only one pass/fail opinion.
  • Handing out paper plates and forks for tasting at check in so no one has to look for them when the sampling begins.
Go here for a full list of the pie contest's winners, as well as the show best winning recipe, an apple pie.

Around 330P, after the winners were announced and had come up for their ribbons, they opened up the area for sampling. That of course was a huge stampede through a narrow area. I was able to sample the peanut butter pie, the pretty fruit tart, and a vegan fromage pie from the savory category. I also had a bite of my friend's sampling of the avocado pie. Without doubt, the best tasting and most unusual was the vegan savory pie. The peanut butter pie was to die for but so rich a sampling was a huge serving. Here are some of the other pie entries that inspired me:

A savory pie being meticulously plated.

Marni Landes won my category with the pie above. I wish I'd gotten to sample it, but it was gone before I managed to get there. Check out her food blog, Happy Go Marni, for her account of the day!

Pumpkin Pie with Ginger Cookie Topping

Blueberry Hand Pies won an award in the fruit/nut category.

Fluffernutter Pie

This was my neighbor to the right, who made "Christmas in CA" Pie.

I never got close enough to this peppermint-looking pie to see what it was, but it sure is eye-catching.

My neighbor to my left was an Avocado Pie. I tried this one, and it was strongly citrusy.

I love the moon-and-stars detail on this nut pie.

This beautiful tart was prize-winning

Have you ever entered or attended a pie baking contest? What is your favorite from the photos or kinds above? Let me know by leaving a comment on the blog, and I'll try to get the recipe for you!

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