Monday, July 30, 2012

Summer Trip

When summer finally settles in Los Angeles, it gets difficult for me to concentrate on work – all I feel like doing is… nothing. 

Well, since I cannot do nothing or, as Varuzh believes, am incapable of doing nothing, I try to let summer into my home, my office, my car – I open windows everywhere, wear my favorite summer perfume, and drive in flip-flops…

So a few weeks ago, as I was driving to Downtown LA, I finally admitted that my little tricks work no more, and  I miss out on feeling the spirit of Summer. I picked up a phone and dialed Varuzh.

“We need a vacation!” I yelled into the phone.

Apparently, Varuzh was feeling the same way, so we decided to take a boat to Catalina Island and spend a few days there. Done!

Have you ever been to Catalina Island? It's such a charming little spot.

On Friday morning we were standing on the Catalina Express dock, while the Capitan was slowly moving the boat away from the Dana Point shores.

To me, every season has its special beauty and ability to recharge me and make me feel happy. I love fall’s colors, winter's quiet snowy nights, and spring's renewal of the world. But only a summer wind can fill my entire body with the warm ocean air and lighten up my thoughts when I exhale!

Friday, July 27, 2012

To working moms out there…

Visiting Robert, UCSC 2011

As soon as the news broke that Marissa Mayer has joined Yahoo as a CEO while she is expecting a baby in October, I started overhearing people talking about it. I have to say that quite often I heard people wondering if it is possible to combine such a job with being a first time mom, I have to say Yes, it is!

I am a mom of two boys, Robert and Alexander. And I have parallel careers as a children’s book writer, a blogger, and an attorney. While my boys and my family always come first, I belong to the type of moms who wants to work and be with her children at the same time… and that’s exactly what I do.
When Robert was born, I would work on my Thesis while he was asleep in the park for hours.  Having time restrictions forced me to learn to be productive during those few hours I had. When little Alex was born, we were faced with the challenge of fighting Autism. I had to put everything on hold and spend all my efforts on intensive early intervention therapy.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The book or the movie?

Written by Karine (Kah-ree-nah :-)
As an English major, it shouldn’t be hard to guess which side I stand on the “did you like the book or the movie better” question. Often when I see a movie poster advertising a book I’ve read and enjoyed, I can’t help but to feel like the novel has been robbed of an integral part of its artistry. I have this notion that a book is written in order to be brought to life by the imagination of its reader, and that when a production company takes that process over, the reader’s world is tainted. Who, after all, reads Harry Potter today and imagines Hermione as anyone but Emma Watson?

Confession: I've never actually read Harry Potter. Am I kicked out of my major yet?

So a couple months ago, when I watched the American version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and loved it, I decided that I would wait a while before picking up the book. I wanted to forget the faces of the characters as much as I could, and go into the book with an outlook that wasn’t influenced by the director’s vision of the story. A few days ago, I saw the book at a local Rite Aid, and picked it up. Ironically enough, the man behind the counter when I was checking out mentioned that he’d heard of the movie and that the book is always better. I came home and started reading, completely taken in by the story, but now, half way through, am beginning to reconsider by deep rooted hatred towards books being turned into movies.

I don’t know how many of you have seen the movie The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (gonna refer to the American one here because that’s the one I’ve seen, I’ve heard that it’s very similar to the Swedish one anyway), but it’s heavily character driven and very raw, gritty, and dark. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’m just going to say that there’s a lot of twists and turns that take you through a roller coaster of emotions. Or at least that’s what I thought when I watched the movie. 

The book was a different story (pun intended). Reading, I thought “this book is filled with so many useless details! I want to get into the story already!” And it hit me. The reason people so often craze about the book being better is because books are always going to have more. We love details, we love knowing every little thing about every single character, and when we read a book that gives us all of the juicy details and then see a move that leaves them out, we think that the movie missed so much of the book’s beauty. In reality, though, a lot of times, too much information can hinder the progression of the story and make it difficult for the reader to really delve into the meat of the book. Books can tell a really interesting story, but be extremely stylistically off, and in that case, a film based on a book can be great because it can use the story as a base for a profound movie. Think Stephen King novels. That’s where Girl With the Dragon Tattoo falls for me. 

But as I thought more about this whole movie/book idea, I started considering legitimately well written books and their respective movies. Fight Club was the first one that came to mind. Chuck Palahniuk, the author of the book, and David Fincher, the director of the movie, both did an incredible job through their own mediums. Whether or not you’re a fan of the movie/book, both are critically acclaimed to be artistically sound works so to make it simple I’m writing in an objective “the book and movie are good” mindset. Anyway, both Fincher and Plahniuk worked hard to bring their artistic visions to life, and both did so successfully. To be able to transform a book into a good film is not any easier than writing a good novel, so who am I to look down upon filmmakers for creating their art because it draws from another form of art? 

Great book and great movie. I'd give it two thumbs up if my other one wasn't busy.

It’s safe to say that a large number of movies that are made from books are failures, but it’s not fair to accuse all films made from books to be artistic robbery. I should be able to watch a movie and still read the book with my own mindset afterwards, and I should be able to, if not enjoy, at least appreciate the artistry of a good film that was made from a book. 

The Painted Veil & Kite Runner. Okay movies, but I think both could've been better.
What do you all think about the movie/book conflict? Is there any specific book that you think should have just been left untouched? Or one you’d like to see a movie made out of? Comment!

Much love,

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Jeans Or Jelly Beans

A few years back, one of my friends who had often humored my passion for fashion, asked me why it matters if someone dresses up in some particular way.

Hmm, until she asked me that question, I never thought about it really. But then I realized that the way we dress up somehow reflects who we are and how we feel because what we put on is the choice we make when we purchase our clothes and the choice we make every time we dress up. I think that this is a fun opportunity for us to be artistic every morning and create an outfit to reflect our souls to the world.
Today morning I was going out to take a few photos and I felt very free spirited. So I thought to dress up in a relaxed 70s style. I took out of my closet my flare leg jeans with which I fell in love under the influence of Rachel Zoe's style, Lucky shirt, platform shoes, and my Lucky bracelet with a Piece sign. Kate Spade's embroidered bag and camera on my shoulder would seal the deal.

But as I was putting my jeans on, I felt that zipping them was a little troublesome.

“Honey?” I turned to Varuzh. “If I don’t wear jeans for some time, do they shrink?”

Varuzh tried kindly not to laugh onto my face, and said: “No, baby.” He paused for a second and added: “But you look very good.”

Okay, this is it, I thought. I knew that it has been quite some time that I started avoiding scales, and having trouble getting into my pants had to do it.

…It all started when I was standing in line at Trader Joes and saw jelly beans on the stand by the counter. Thinking of one of my rules – NEVER PICK UP ANYTHING FROM THE STAND BY THE COUNTER EVER! – I also thought that I impose onto myself too many restrictive rules, and that I am being a little silly if I follow these rules blindly, and that nothing will happen if I dare to break my own rule and get a pack of jelly beans for $1.99!

Mmm… I hadn’t had jelly beans for months! How do you think I got to size 2! (the new version of size 2 that is)

So I started nibbling on jelly beans… every day. The more I nibbled, the more I craved. More jelly beans grew into more cupcakes. More cupcakes grew into more caramel frappuccinos. More frappuccinos grew into less gym trips... The “portion control”, another one of my rules and advice to those who diet, somehow was thrown out of the window. I guess it is easy to control portions if you eat veggies. The key, I found, is not to buy and not to take that very first jelly bean or whatever the weakness is. 

Then the dilemma is as to what I should choose: fitting into my size 2 flare leg jean pants or jelly beans? Won’t a size 4 or 6 or 12 do? And jelly beans won’t kill me either... unless they trigger quite a flow of carbs into my body... 

Well, I paid almost $200 for my flare leg jeans and I am not ready to give them up. So for now, I will squeeze into the jeans and move on with my day. On my way, I will schedule a gym class appointment. And I will stop buying and nibbling on jelly beans... as soon as I finish my last pack...

With love always,
xo, Zuma A.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

From Garden to Sandwich

Yesterday, Varuzh stopped by a local Deli and bought a loaf of Black Russian Bread and a half a pound of Feta Cheese.

"I used to love when my mom was making me a black bread sandwich with feta cheese," he said.

Well, I don't know where has he been all my life, but Black Russian Bread - Feta Cheese - slices of tomato - and - basil - sandwich is my all time summer favorite food! When we lived in Yerevan, it was not easy to find a true tasting black Russian bread and, whenever we would take a trip to Russia or Ukraine, we would always bring a loaf back home with us... back home to Yerevan that is (not kidding, I loved it that much!).

Combining the fragrant smoky flavors of a chewy slice of Russian Black Bread with salty Feta cheese gives a beautiful mix of sweetness and saltiness together and separately at the same time - almost like in a molecular gastronomy. Pairing Feta cheese with a thin slice of tomato softens the strong salty taste of the cheese, and a few leafs of fresh basil add just a touch of fragrance to the sandwich.

"Oh, this is the most perfect time to harvest out tomatoes," Varuzh and I said at the same time. "Two are finally ready!"

I do have to say that having our favorite veggies growing in our backyard brings one of the biggest pleasures to the table, to our taste and smell senses.

I had the honor to be the first one to pick the tomatoes...
While I was there, I picked a few leaves of basil from our garden's herb corner.
Back to the kitchen I washed the basil, washed and sliced the tomatoes, cut a few slices of Feta cheese and two slices of black bread.
You could never compare the taste of "the best" store bought tomato with the one that you just picked from your own garden. Growing tomatoes is very inexpensive and does not require much work. Before you know, you would be collecting rewards just like I did today.

I am always amazed how our senses remember some particular smells or tastes and immediately trigger memories associated with these senses. This sandwich triggers my memories of myself as a teen. During hot summer vacation days, I used to love making this sandwich for its taste and easiness of preparation. I used to make two of them, go to my room, shut the door, and read a book or watch my 12" screen black and white TV. This was my oh so favorite "alone" time...
My dear readers! I am truly hopping to get to know you, to hear from you!

Are there any taste, textures, or smells that remind you of your special moments?

With love always,
Zuma A.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Non Cupcake Queen

Hi everyone, it’s Karine! I was supposed to be here today to post one of my new found favorite breakfast dishes, but due to technical difficulties, will not be able to download pictures off of my camera. And what’s steak and eggs without pictures? So instead I’m doing a post for all my fellow complete beginner bakers who just aren’t sure what that button on the oven does.

As you probably know by now, Zuma is big on baking, and has gotten to making some pretty killer cupcake recipes. I, on the other hand, am just starting out, and have had some difficulty getting my sweet treats to come out the way they look in recipe pictures. I decided that I was done with the disappointment of opening the oven to find yet another batch of failed muffins. So I did some blog reading, asked some better versed in baking friends, browsed through web tutorials, and figured out a few things I’m doing wrong.

One day I will make cupcakes like Zuma's!
My “research” yielded many results, and I realized how wrongly I was approaching baking. There were quite a few little tricks and tips that I learned, that I wished I’d known about sooner. Overly dense muffins, cakes that cave-in in the middle, and cookies too hard to bite into no longer! I compiled all the most useful things into a list (I’ve recently started making lists for everything, it’s becoming a bit of an addiction, and I may need an intervention sometime soon) and thought that for all of us non-cupcake-queens-and-kings aka Zuma, this list could be majorly useful.

These are going on my wishlist

So here it is, a list for beginner bakers, separated into categories of different aspects of baking, compiled by the ultimate beginner baker herself:
Unless the title of the baked good includes the word “flourless”, more often than not, you’re gonna need flour for your baked good.
  1. The difference between the different kind of flours is that they have different protein contents. 
  2. Other than bleached and unbleached, no two flours are interchangeable! There are ways to substitute if you want to get creative, but measurements change, and for a beginner it’s best to stick inside the box.
  3. The importance of sifting seems to be highly debated in the baking world. My conclusion: if you have time to spare, sift with care. Basically, if you have the time, do it, but do it well. Small increments of flour at a time, otherwise it really is useless.
  4. White whole wheat flour and whole wheat flour taste are not the same. 
Ovens are all different, but we love them all equally (well, sorta). There’s a few things to keep in mind about them to get your baked goods to their maximum potential.
  1. Invest in an oven thermometer. Most standard ovens that come in houses and apartments are slightly off and can throw your red velvet cupcakes in for a loop. Try to use it everytime you preheat because ovens aren’t always consistent. I’m ordering this one on Amazon.
  2. Make sure the oven rack is at the right level. If it’s not indicated in the recipe, then it should be in the middle. This is almost as important as having the right temperature.
  3. Recipe calls for 250 degrees for 40 minutes. You have to leave the house in 20. Math would dictate 500 degrees for 20 should do the trick. It won’t because baking isn’t calculus. Milder variations of time tweaking fall under this category too. If you don’t have time, don’t bake it. You can experiment with time and temperature when you’ve already got a good hand at it.
  4. This is obvious but I have to mention it for safety’s sake. Turn your oven off when you’re done. Ovens should be hot, but not smoking hot.
Tools of the trade are important, both what you use and how you use them. 
Spoon+spatula=spoontula! College student convenience

I bought these along with the spoontula today :)
  1. Rubber spatulas are awesome, they mix well, are easy to wash, and come in some really fun colors. They are also inexpensive. And they come in fun colors.
  2. For measuring cups, the amount of any given ingredient in the cup should be smooth at eye level. This will guarantee more accuracy in the ingredient ratios, and lead to a better baked good.
  3. Mixers and blenders are not interchangeable. Sometimes blenders can be interchanged with food processors. Food processors also can’t be interchanged with mixers. 
  4. Here’s an amazing list of tool essentials for any beginner baker. I bookmarked it the second I saw it, and you all should too.
Last but not least, some helpful things to know about what actually goes in your sweet (or savory) treats, besides flour.
  1. Dry ingredients and wet ingredients are not friends until the final moments approaching oven time. Mix separately, and when combining, don’t rush. Slowly mix and you will have happy batter.
  2. Baking powder and baking soda are very different but both ineffective if unfresh. Test soda by putting one teaspoon into a few tablespoons of white vinegar, and test powder by putting one teaspoon into a few tablespoons of warm water (tap is fine, as long as it isn’t cold). If they’re not bubbling, don’t use! The more they bubble the fresher they are.
  3. Whole milk is always better than 2%, 1%, or, heavens forbid, nonfat. 
  4. Butter should not be cold unless the recipe calls for it. Room temperature!
  5. Unsalted over salted butter. If you have to use salted, don’t put extra salt in the batter.
  6. So you’re about to make chocolate chip cookies. You have all your ingredients out and ready. All you need to get out is the brown sugar. You go to the pantry and, behold, your brown sugar has evolved into brown rock. Don’t freak out! Wrap it with a warm towel and leave it out for an hour or so. You should have brown sugar good as new (not really, but as close as it’ll get).
  7. Remember that amazing tool list I showed you? Well, there’s one for ingredients too! This brown eyed baker is an angel. 
The things I put in this list almost all spawn from personal experience. It is not an extensive list, and is open to changes and edits. So if you have something you’d like to add that I completely missed, please let me know. My baking adventures are just beginning, and input from all of you is not only welcomed, but encouraged! 

Much love,

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Working Girl

As soon as I left home Sunday afternoon, my business trip had begun. All I did the rest of the day was drive to the airport, park my car, wait for my flight, and, since I cannot sleep in the airplane, catch up with my reading for the entire six hours in the air.

I started traveling for business about eight years ago (most of the trips were for my law practice). It was very exciting then. I got glimpses of so many great cities, their cultures, and met the people. My life rocked! It was filled with so much of variety – I would take it any day over the 14 hour workday in the law firm I used to work for after law school.

As years have gone by, though, all these trips have become… regular, no different from traveling to Downtown Los Angeles.

Every time I take a trip, I know what to expect – I stay at the same hotels, eat at the same places, walk the same streets. I actually almost look forward to the routine and unwelcome unexpected occurrences.  
 According to my coffee stamp card, I have made at least ten one-day trips to Honolulu, but I never get bored from my routine here  – I love getting out of airplane and being hugged by the warm Hawaiian tropical air. 

I love getting out at Kalakaua Avenue to walk to my hotel and being greeted by lighted torches along the street. I love looking at beautiful store window displays inviting me to come in and shop shop shop up until 10:30PM.
City view at night.
 Same view in the morning. I could not stop taking pictures all day long - viva iPhone!

My morning routine in Honolulu usually consists of getting up at 6AM, dressing up for work, putting my stuff together and checking out of the hotel. A cup of coffee with a croissant or a muffin from a coffee shop by the beach is next.

I got a visitor :) but I was not willing to share my banana nut muffin!
Banana Nut Muffin
 As you understand, it took some effort to get up after breakfast and go to work. But it was already 7AM and I had to head to court. 

When in Honolulu, I take the city bus to get around, so I get to do a lot of walking - thank God for no-heel-shoes and my compact travel bag! 

By 8AM I was in court ready. I expected to spend at least half a day there, but, instead, I was out within an hour since my case was rescheduled. What?!!! I flew all the way!!! 

Then, you may say, a strange thought crossed my mind: What am I going to do for so long here? My flight is at 9PM and I did not plan to spend 12 hours... here! I have tons of stuff to do at home instead of being here and doing nothing! I promise, I am not crazy. I would be very happy to spend 12 hours in Honolulu if it were one of my first trips, but this was trip number eleven at the very least!

I called Varuzh and shared my frustration. He probably thought that I need intensive therapy. "Just enjoy your time!" he said. "Go to the beach." 

He is right, I thought. Why do I feel compelled to work all the time and be efficient all the time? Haven't I learned anything about enjoying simple pleasures? And could it get any better than spending a day in Hawaii? 

Okay, I got the point. I did not have a car to get to the North Shore, so I got into a bus and headed back to the Waikiki beach to do what tourists in Hawaii do - hang out at the beach, eat, shop. And that's what I did.

I haug out at the beach.  
Drank iced coffee.
Gazed at the blue sky.
Cooled down at the Royal Hawaiian.
Ate the best Fish Taco ever.
Window shopped.

 When it got unbearably hot, I took a bus to Ala Moana Shopping Center - a heaven for shoppers. It is very difficult to leave this mall without getting anything, so I got stuff from J Crew.
Then I ate some more.
 And more.
And finally, I got bored and headed to the airport a few hours early. 
As I settled in the waiting room, and looked at the giant machine staring at me, I felt tired and lonely. I called Varuzh again (the 4th time probably), and he told me that he and Alex had a fun day, that Alex missed me and fell asleep in my bed. I also learned that Alex discovered two more loose teeth and is expecting the Tooth Fairy to visit him soon.

When I put the phone down, I thought that it had been only a little more than a day, but I missed my home. I still had to fly overnight and was supposed to arrive to LAX at 5AM, drive home, work on some deadlines and head to San Diego for more work. And then I, finally, would have time to get to hang out with my boys.

Maybe my Varuzh and Alex can come along with me to San Diego... I am a working girl and should be creative with the use of my valuable time...

Signing off till Monday. Cannot wait for Karine's hearty, messy and delicious breakfast tomorrow!

With love always,
xo, Zuma A.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Hello From Kah-ree-nah

Today’s post is brought to you by Karine, spelled with an e at the end but pronounced with an a. Kuh-ree-nuh. I am Zuma’s niece, avid blog follower, and potential blog partner. Since this blog started, I’ve cheered her on, and enjoyed reading and relating to her posts despite the generation gap.

One day, her and I started talking about how we enjoy similar simple pleasures as a release from everyday stresses, just in different contexts. That’s when the idea of working together started.

After a couple conversations over the phone, and a lunch date or two, we decided that we were going to really do this together. A blog chronicling adventures, findings, musings, recipes, and thoughts, run by two people instead of one. Like Zuma, I love sharing my bursts of inspiration, and by putting them down on this blog, I hope to inspire all of you as well!
Before I go any further, I’m going to give a little introduction about who I am. So far, all you know about me is the phonetic breakdown of my name. I’m currently a student at UC Irvine as an English major. I love to cook, and am proud to say that I have been able to cook for myself more often than most in college. I also love to bake despite my many failed attempts at baked goods. I’ve recently started doing yoga and have developed a real passion for it. Other things I enjoy are reading, writing, the beach, film, traveling, art, the city, the countryside, tea, hiking, and I could go on and on and bore you to death, so I’ll stop now. I’m always trying to dive into new things, and discover new passions, but have also learned that taking things slow is sometimes just what we need.

Anyway, I’m so excited to start posting on this blog! I have lots of ideas already and am looking forward to sharing them with you. I’d love to hear from all of you and get to know you, so please comment and introduce yourselves! Zuma will be back tomorrow to write about her one day trip to Hawaii (can you say jealous?). Then on Thursday I’m gonna post about a new favorite breakfast. It’s hearty and messy and delicious and you won’t want to try to fit into skinny jeans any time soon after eating it.

Much love,

Monday, July 16, 2012

Packing Pro

I learned from Yoga, that to wake your body up, you start with moving your toes and fingers, but my toes and fingers refused to respond to my command. And that was fine because all I had to do today was to get ready for my one-day business trip to Honolulu, and get out of the house by noon.

It did not take long before Alex and his permanent extension – blanket - were climbing up into my bed. I am sorry to all the yogis out there, but this is a much better way to wake up. Alex’s sleepy head is sooo kissable. Yum!

The day had started. After breakfast, we watched our recently discovered home video, then Varuzh went to water the plants in the backyard and Alex settled on the couch to watch Fairly Oddparents. And as for me, it was a good time to get ready for my trip.

First things first! Got to check the weather! Siri told me that during the next seven days, it will be 86 degrees in Honolulu, HI. What a surprise!

So what do I need to take with me? A make up kit, enough underwear, work clothes, casual clothes, swimming suit (it’s Hawaii after all!), high heels, no heels, files, and magazines. Am I forgetting anything? I guess nothing else besides my wallet, phone, phone charger, and iPod. Oh, and a hat, sunglasses, and tons of sunscreen! And my contacts! And toothbrush with toothpaste!.. 

All right, lets do one thing at a time. Otherwise, I get confused and overwhelmed.

I pulled out of the closet my use-for-everything Tory Burch bag. Everything should fit in there easily – this bag does not look so big, but it sure fits a lot of stuff and, of course, I am a pro packer.
Usually, I start with getting to the bathroom and putting together my make up kit, sunscreen and contacts. Now days, since bottles over 3oz are not allowed, the kit is pretty compact.  In my head, I go through all the steps of my morning routine and throw tubes and little containers in my cosmetics bag. I am certainly not over-packing the make up because of humid Hawaiian climate.
Add caption
Before packing, ake sure to squeeze as much air out of tubes as possible.
Then, as I got through my mental inventory of what to wear, I realized that I’ve got no underwear in my dresser drawer. Oh, got to do laundry now!

Once the load was in the washing machine, I picked my clothes and shoes to wear in the airplane, at the beach, for dinner, for shopping, and for work, of course – the entire reason of this trip.

A long time ago, I learned a nice travel tip from Martha Stewart show – roll clothes in a compact roll and it will save a lot of space in a small weekender travel bag. 
Important tip: always pick a dress that allows room for a big dinner!
When I was done packing, I looked at my bag and was stunned at how much extra space I still had. I either forgot something, or I can do some shopping in Honolulu shopping heaven (I hope Varuzh is not reading this post)!
And not to forget, I had to decide what to wear for my flight. I always try to go for easy layers of comfortable and stylish clothes.  
For a Summer airplane ride NEVER forget a pair of socks! For some reason, the pilots love turning the thermostat down to almost 60 degrees. The last thing you want is to freeze for six hours on your way to Hawaii.
The good thing about Summer travel is that all clothes are light and can fit in a small bag. The not so good thing about Summer travel is that there are lots of travelers for pleasure and the lines at the airport to get through the security are slow. No worries, though, I have a card that will let me breeze through the “expert” line to get inside. 

Thus, I thought to leave home a few minutes later and hang out with Alex. There better be no traffic!
Tomorrow, while I am away, you are going to hear from my cutest eighteen year old niece. I know that you are going to love her just like I do! 

Then I will be back with the details of my Business trip to Honolulu.. unedited... promise.

With love always,
Zuma A.