Out with Mommy

Schools’ out, the kids are bored already and it’s hotter than a firecracker.  It’s time to hang with the fam, invite friends over and while away the summer time.  Here are some seasonal essentials for staying cool and having fun in the sun.

Inflated We-go

Lounging around the pool is more fun with friends.  The AIRHEAD Designer Series Floating Couch, ($139) featuring a tall back and headrest, is a comfy ride for up to four sun bums at the pool or lake, or even on land.  For those who prefer a solo ride, the Designer Series Chaise Lounge,($89)  with a flexible mesh bottom to keep you cool, and a drink holder so you can sip and float, is designed for the ultimate R-n-R.  Both available in three designer colors: Aqua, Lime or Tangerine.  Pump up your floaties with ease with AIRHEAD AIR PIG, ($54) a 12v high-volume pump, shaped like a piggy bank, equipped with an assortment of air value adapters and a 10’ power cord with alligator clips that fit onto a car battery, that gets the job done in minutes.

floating couch

Toys of Summer

Pry the kids from video games and get them playing outdoors with clever toys that keep them active and engaged, like Batapult ($19.99), a hinged plastic baseball bat that pivots during the swing, sending the ball flying up 200 feet; or AeroZipp Disk ($19.99), a disk launcher that sends flying whistling disks gliding over 175 feet through the air.  Available at Wal-Mart, Amazon, www.ogosport.com.

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Shot and Sticky

For a true summer blast kids can take aim with the BOOMco Farshot Blaster ($5.99) featuring BOOMco.’s Smart Stick darts that stick to Smart Stick targets and shields. Farshot’s single-fire action fires up to 70 feet.  BOOMCo’s newest blaster, Spin Sanity ($34.99), ups the fire power with three rotating barrels with 10-dart battery powered chambers for steady, rapid-fire blasting. Available at toy retailers nationwide.

farshot

Hot Dog Days of Summer

Spread something new on your hot dogs and burgers this summer with the fancy name in mustard that has the syruped-up competition seeing red.  French’s Tomato Ketchup (20 oz. bottle, $3.49) is au naturel, make from U.S. farm-grown tomatoes and no high-fructose corn syrup, preservatives, artificial flavors and colors, or gluten. At grocery stores nationwide.

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Just Relax

Get laid back like it’s the 1970s with the modern Coast New Zealand Marine Bean bag chair (approximately $408 USD) designed for the modern age, and outdoors. Made with marine-grade Sunbrella fabric that can withstand harsh sun (with a five-year guarantee), this extra-large and super comfy bean bag can take a tossing around and look great on any deck or patio. Available at coastnewzealand.com.  Beans not included.

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It’s Greek for Me

I scream, you scream, we all scream for a tasty alternative to ice cream., and Oikos has answered with Dannon Oikos Greek Frozen Yogurt ($5.49/pint)   This half-the-fat frozen treat is rich and creamy-thick, and it’s a good source of protein.  Flavors include Strawberry, Chocolate, Black Cherry, Vanilla, Café Latte,  Salted Carmel, Mint Chocolate Chip and Cookies & Cream.  Available at grocery stories nationwide.

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Super Smoothie

You may know it by the name Dragonfruit, but the bright pink/magenta superfruit exported from Nicaragua and otherwise known as pitaya is making a name for itself as the new it ingredient for summer smoothies, available in smoothie packs and frozen fruit cubes — all organic, raw and free of artificial sweeteners or preservatives. Besides its health benefits and delicious exotic flavor, pitaya in the US is supplied mainly by San Diego-based Pitaya Plus, a truly socially conscious company that not only operates a solar-powered facility but also nearly exclusively hires single mothers to process their fruit, enabling poverty-stricken Nicaraguan mothers to provide educations and food for their children.  Served at juice shops nationwide and sold at Whole Foods, Sprouts and Safeway stores. Order a kit of 16 smoothie packs for $39.99 direct from www.pitayaplus.com.

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 Break out the Bubbly

Everyone’s vegging by the pool and nobody wants to make a soda run, so make it yourself, with the Bonne O ($149.95), a gadget that lets you create your own sparkling concoctions.  Add syrups or fresh fruit and a carbonation tablet, and in four minutes the machine infuses your cold water with flavor and bubbles Sold online at Williams-Sonoma and in stores at Bed Bath & Beyond.

Bonne-O-home-carbonation-system

Good Cookies

Rarely do the words cookie and healthy go together, but Lenny & Larry’s has reinvented the crumbly treat that  kids of all ages crave with their vegan delights that are free of GMOs, cholesterol, eggs, dairy or artificial ingredients, and each cookie delivers a wholloping 16 grams of protein and six grams of fiber. Perfect for a summer picnic, the Seven Complete Cookies Sample Pack ($14.99) includes Chocolate Chip, Double Chocolate, White Chocolate Macadamia, Peanut Butter, Oatmeal Raisin, Lemon Poppy and Pumpkin Spice. So good for you that gyms carry them, along with Kroger and Vitamin Shoppe stores.

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Color-free is the New Black

Quench your summer thirst without artificial colors, with Zevia 17 color-free soda flavors, sweetened with plant-based stevia and monk fruit.  The leading Non-GMO zero calorie, naturally sweetened soda brand tested the waters and found consumers did not want caramel coloring in their drinks, so they took it out.  Available at Whole Foods Market, Sprouts Farmers Markets, Safeway, Kroger, Super Target and many other natural and grocery stores nationwide.

Zevia Cola and Non-GMO Logo_NEW

This Mother’s Day, make mom feel special and show her how much you care with these six great gifts, just for her.

A Stitch in Time

Does Mom have a great dress that needs a nip and tuck?  Take her to STITCH, the VIP alterations shop that will make Mom feel like a queen. The ultra-sleek space features a pedestal for Mom to model her fashions while the skilled seamstress works like an artist to pin and mark her clothes to make them fit just right.  The curtained dressing area can be expanded so Moms and daughters or gal-pals can hang out together for a fitting, and even sip a glass of champagne during the process.  The space doubles as a gallery, so while she’s waiting she can enjoy the artwork, or even buy a framed gem to take home.  If Mom is feeling like a homebody, the STITCH tailors will make house calls, just like they do for their celebrity clients. Stitch has just opened its flagship shop in Los Angeles at 7306 Melrose Avenue.

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Crazy Happy Clean

Mom loves a clean house, but she doesn’t love the hard work required to keep it that way.  Call in Homejoy, the cleaning pros that will scrub up the bathrooms, dust up the furniture and shine up the kitchen while Mom relaxes. Call in the big guns with a gold-emblem-shirted specialist who has earned his or her stripes from top customer reviews.  Mom can book online or a smartphone app and choose how many hours of cleaning she needs and all the services she wants, from windows to wiping out cabinets.  The Google-backed company pre-screened and trains its workers for quality control and peace of mind, so Mom can enjoy more spring, and less cleaning.

homejoy

Mom’s Got Grill

Make Mom a Mother’s Day breakfast in bed to remember, and give her a fabulous new griddle to make all her favorite breakfasts and meal any day of the week.  The Cuisinart Griddler Elite ($159), is a mother of a small appliance with six cooking options.  Its huge 240-squaqre-inch grilling surface is perfect for pancakes and eggs, or panini and burgers.  Forget the outdoor grill, this baby can sear steaks at 500 degrees with 1800 watts of power, and its accessories are dishwasher-safe for easy clean up.  Available at Macy’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, and other national retailers.

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It’s the Season

Spice up the kitchen for Mom with a collection of new tastes and flavors from Ground 2 Table, a San Diego-based spice company with the genius idea to packet-up spice blends for one-time use, so that you “buy small, use it all.” Mom and toss her old, stale spices and liven up her cooking with 12 freshly ground flavorful assortments of seasonings that are free of salt, sugar, artificial flavoring and GMOs.  Available at select farmer’s markets or online.

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Mother Nurture

Wrap Mom in pure comfort with Coyuchi towels, sheets and bed linens that are as natural and beautiful as the Northern California coast that inspires them. Made with processes, fibers, colors and dyes that are as close and true to Mother Earth as possible, these organic cotton products feel and look supple and soft so Mom can indulge in natural luxury and feel good about having home products that help preserve and sustain her planet. She’ll love the nature-infused stone-washed Coyuchi Cotton Maché Duvet Cover ($348.00), woven from pure cotton, in a free-form pattern that evokes water flowing over rocks, and backed with organic cotton percale so it’s the perfect year-round weight.  Available at upscale linens stores or online at www.coyuchi.com.

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A Buncha Crock

If Mom loves to cook, give her kitchenista tools that show everyone who’s chef.  The PamperedChef is a one-stop affordable shop for everything kitchen, from cookware, cutlery and cleaning implements to cookbooks, organizers and storage containers. Set Mom’s table in style for family or guests and outfit her entire kitchen with items like the decorative heat-keeping Rockcrock Casserole ($95), the oven-to-table tasteful Rectangular Baker Set ($124), the safe and stylish silicone Oven Mitt Set ($33.50), the handy Plate Caddy with 12 appetizer plates ($69.50), a set of Bamboo Adjustable Drawer Dividers ($26), or a pair of colorful Microfiber dish towels ($9).  All available at www.pamperedchef.com.

Microfiber Towel Rectangular Baker Set Rockcrok Casserole_Silo Bamboo Serving Set Bamboo Adjustable Drawer Dividers Appetizer Plates & Caddy Set Silicone Oven Mitt

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Who knew bed making would be such a chore when I got bunk beds for my son?  Had I known of the daily morning backache and head bumping from making his bed, I would have opted for a trundle.  Thankfully, there is a solution that makes bed-making a lot easier.

Simplified Bedding came up with the genius idea of creating a European-style-inspired duvet cover with a zip-in flat sheet.  With this system, you do not have to take out the comforter and launder the duvet when you change the sheets — you just wash the detachable flat sheet.  This system makes the morning routine go faster, especially since now my 7-year old is making his own bed.

The company conservatively estimates that this system saves at least 8 hours a year the time spent in bed making, but actually, if the time is figured in that you must spend to wash and dry a comforter every month or so, the time wasted would be much greater.

Besides the convenience, really this type of bedding is a lifestyle choice.  I see it that the way we sleep is very personal, and sleep is so essential to our health that anything that makes us sleep more restfully contributes to our overall wellbeing.  For those of us who like to sleep with one leg sticking out of the covers, or for those who cannot sleep a wink when the sheets are tangled, this system gives us a good night’s sleep.

My only wish is that the covers were available in other colors and patterns besides pure white, but maybe designer covers will come in time when this system catches on.  The materials are 100-percent cotton sateen for comfort and durability.  And while the cost is $159 for a twin size, $189 for queen and $209 for king, for me and my son, the ease of making the bed each morning makes the investment well worth it.  Readers can enter the code simple15 at checkout for a 15% discount thorough May 31, 2015.

It’s not the Swiss Alps, but Big Bear is pretty great when it comes to SoCal snow skiing and snowboarding; and the fact it’s just 110 miles away from Los Angeles makes it the go-to mountain getaway for many Angelenos.  Even though its close enough to go for a day trip, Big Bear has a lot to offer and it’s best to plan for at least one overnight.

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Think Snow, and Think Ahead

The trick to a great Big Bear ski vacation is planning.  Spontaneity is fun, but the reality is that without reservations for accommodations or lift passes you might arrive in Big Bear and not find the there’s no room at the inns or the resort is sold out.  Both of the main Big Bear resorts, Bear Mountain and Snow Summit, limit the number of tickets that can be sold to keep the slopes from becoming overcrowded.  Check out the website (www.bigbearmountainresorts.com) to reserve tickets and get snow and road conditions before you begin your road trip. Check out Big Bear Vacations for rentals of a wide array of properties of all sizes and amenities, from luxurious homes to cozy cabins.

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To get the most out of your day, arrive when the mountain opens at 8:30 am to beat the crowds.  To save time, you can go online before your arrival and sign the computerized ezWaiver system.

rental chaos

Lessons Learned

The snow sports schools at both Bear Mountain and Snow Summit are known for great instruction.  The program overall is five-stars, but the onboarding process can be less than streamlined when a hundred people are all trying to get geared up for classes at the same time, so arrive early.

john in pro shop

At either resort first-time snowboarders can rent Burton Learn to Ride equipment.  Since the most common complaint of learners is constant falling, Burton designed these special snowboards with beveled edges that reduce falls, so learners spend less time on their butts and more riding.

snow sports school

Look Around

The beauty of Big Bear, besides the incredible vista of the San Bernardino National Forrest, is that visitors have two nearby resorts just two miles apart from which to choose.  Both resorts are operated by the Big Bear Mountain Resorts, so lift tickets are interchangeable, and guests can take a free inter-resort shuttle between them.

The People’s Park

Known as the People’s Park, Bear Mountain has a slightly higher elevation and about five percent more advanced trails.  It is also home to California’s only Superpipe and has many freestyle terrain runs with jibs, jumps, rails, boxes and walls for boarders.  Bear Mountain is famed as the stomping grounds of Olympic Gold Medalist Shaun White and draws more snowboarders than its sister resort Snow Summit.  Even kids 3 to 6 years can snowboard at Bear Mountain at Riglet Park, a bunny slope with terrain features where toddlers are lead around with a tow rope.  Overall, Bear Mountain is for geared for young adults and teens, which one can sense walking up to the base of the slopes, known as The Scene, where loud music blares in an outdoor bar-like environment, where everyone is hobbling around in ski boots.

magic carpet

Family Friendly Skiing

Snow Summit is known I s known as the most family friendly of the Bear Mountain resorts.  One popular feature is their family Park of easy runs where only slow riding and skiing is allowed, and patrons are reminded to maintain slow speeds with signs and a looped announcement on a loud speaker.  The atmosphere at the base area of Snow Summit is more relaxed and less crowded and more spread out than at Bear Mountain, though Snow Summit requires a lot of walking to get around and has seemingly endless flights of stairs, which can be difficult to maneuver in bulky ski boots, carrying skis and poles, and assisting children with all their gear.  Snow Summit also has night skiing, 3 to 9:30 pm, which is an exciting, magical winter wonderland experience when it’s snowing.

Riglet Park

Cali4nia or Bust

Lift ticket prices vary throughout the season.  Kids under six are free. Special deals are available when booked 48 hours in advance. The Cali4nia Pass offers all-season use for Bear Mountain, Snow Summit, Mammoth and June Mountain and includes deals on lessons, rental discounts and other perks.

Before you head up the mountain, check the road conditions.  Chains are required on roads in higher elevations — even if they are not installed on your tires you must carry them in your vehicle.

With a little planning, your trip to Big Bear will be a blast, not a bear.

bengets   jumbalyala

Los Angeles is a long way from New Orleans, but The Original Farmers Market at Third and Fairfax will bring the ways of the Bijou state to Angelenos this weekend, as it kicks off the 26th annual Mardi Gras Celebration, on Valentine’s Day, February 14.  The three-day event will feature bead throwing, beignets, Dixie beer, face painting, and a lineup of music including Cajun and Zydeco bands and strolling performers.

gumbopotgumbopot menu

The boisterous, family friendly celebration includes special menu items from the many of the market’s 120 vendors. Chef Clinton and his crew at famed The Gumbo Pot will cook up their world-class jambalaya and Cajun gumbo, including alligator gumbo, along with catfish, crawfish pie, and many Cajun-spiced dishes.

The Normandie Bakery, run by the wonderfully sweet baker Josette, will slice up traditional King Cake, coated with purple, green and gold sugars and complete with a Baby Jesus baked inside.

bakeryking cake

Bob’s Coffee and Doughnuts will serve puffed and powder-sugared fried dough treats that New Orleanians know as donuts but tourists call beignets. E.B’s and other bars at the market will be serving favorite beers of the Big Easy, such as Dixie Beer and Abita Purple Haze.  Rumor has it that one of the market’s sushi vendors will feature a special crawfish roll.

beer

Besides the cost of food and drink, the entire event is free.  Festivities continue into the evening hours over the weekend and wrap up February 17 with a Fat Tuesday finale 6 to 9 pm featuring Eddie Baytos and The Nervis Bros playing on the West Patio.  For more information and a full schedule of bands and activities, visit www.farmersmarketla.com.

 

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The term “family restaurant” means different things to different people.  At Locanda del Lago it means many things.  The traditional Northern Italian restaurant at Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade has stood the test of time in LA where eateries go in and out of vogue with the seasons, but a typical bustling multigenerational Saturday night crowd shows this family favorite has staying power, not just as a restaurant where children are welcome, but also where diners are treated like family.

lago

Greeting guests at the host stand, an affable JD, in a snappy bow-tie, sets the tone for visitors. At first I thought JD mistook me for someone he knew, since his welcoming was so enthusiastic, but I later learned from our server, John, that JD is always this way.

John, who by his movie-star good looks and his expert recitation of the daily specials I presumed — and confirmed — was an actor, was pleasant and patient as my dining companion and I mulled over our options.  We decided to start off with one of the restaurant’s signature cocktails, since JD had told us that the ingredients were fresh sourced just the day before from the local farmer’s market.  We chose the blood orange martini — delicious and fruity, and the raspberry and lemon drop martini — very sweet, accented by a sugared rim.

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We moved onto the appetizers — Burrata e Zucca; a creamy Burrata cheese with a savory-sweet butter squash compote; and the restaurant’s popular sampler of fried shrimp, calamari, smelts and zucchini. The former was a generous portion, making us wish we had ordered just one starter; and the latter was made interesting by the smelts, but overall this plate was a bit more crispy than hoped for, and since we were saving room for our entrees we had this bagged to take home.

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For entrees we chose the fillet, assuming we “could not go wrong,” and John in fact reinforced this idea using these exact words.  We also opted for a lobster pasta, which John highly recommended and informed us was the Chef Gianfranco Minuz’s own favorite dish to eat himself, whenever he was lucky enough there was any left at the end of a night.

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While the fillet was more on the medium than the medium-rare requested, it was still a tender piece of beef with a rich Porcini mushroom sauce and served with sautéed broccolini.  The pasta dish was a surprising pale green color, almost like tinted glass noodles, and while neither of expected to like it, we were pleased that it was, as promised, an exquisite treat.

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We finished our dinner with a molten lava cake, which unfortunately was still chilled in the center. Nevertheless, we polished it off, and though I was certain John would have offered us another dessert if we had complained, we were quite satisfied overall with our meal.

By the time we left, after pacing ourselves through an enjoyable two-hour dinner, we noticed most of the tables around us were the same guests as when we sat down.  The tables were filled with families — of grandparents, parents and children.  We were amused to see one table complete filled with children — the proverbial kids table — next to their parents who were clearly savoring their long evening of dining and visiting with family.

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As we made our way out, JD introduced us to the affable Michelin-starred Chef Minuz, whose menu was inspired by the tastes of the regions of Lombardy and Lake Como, and they saw us out the door, as good hosts always do at the end of an evening spend with familia; and they invited us to come again, which we certainly will.

A 1991 movie, LA Story, made fun of Los Angeles and its lack of history and culture.  Steve Martin cynically gives Sarah Jessica Parker a tour of our fair city exclaiming, “Some of these buildings are (wait for it) … 20 years old!”  But indeed there are some Angeleno landmarks and traditions that date back more than 100 years, and my family recently got to experience one, Hotel Del Coronado, just 2.5 hours south of LA, but a world away from the glitz and hustle of the city.

roof

Hotel Del, as it is affectionately known, attracts families that return generation after generation, to celebrate weddings, anniversaries, birthdays and holidays, most notably Christmas, at this luxury beachfront resort.  The iconic red-shingled roof of the wooden Victorian-style main hotel is immediately recognizable and has played the backdrop not only for memorable family vacation photos but also for many Hollywood movies.

Since its opening in 1888, the hotel has hosted many of the silver screen’s greats, such as Douglas Fairbanks, Rudolph Valentino, Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn and Mae West, and today it still serves as a getaway to the rich and famous, from Madonna, Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt, to a slew of Presidents, including Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barak Obama.

guest room

The hotel is one of the largest all-wood structures in the United States, and its famed Crown Ball Room, which served as inspiration to the writer of Wizard of Oz, L. Fred Baum, who often stayed there, features a wooden ceiling installed with pegs and glue — not a single nail.

crown ballroom

Its architectural and cultural history alone make Hotel Del a destination worth visiting, but its welcoming, family friendly atmosphere and family traditions keep families returning year after year.  Most famously, the hotel hosts a legendary month-long winter holiday celebration featuring a beachside outdoor ice skating rink, thousands of festive white lights and an giant Christmas tree in the lobby, an homage to America’s very first electrically lit outdoor Christmas tree at the hotel, in 1904.

The lobby’s brass-gated elevator, complete with a uniformed elevator operator, and the dark wood-paneled stair cases and the bright, wide-open enormous hallways to guest rooms harken back to an era of grand hotels, adding to the nostalgia of the Hotel Del, and serving as a wonderment to children, who look forward to coming back to the hotel each year for holidays and vacations.

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The property was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977and a California Historical Landmark in 1970 and has been named by USA Today as one of the top ten resorts in the world.  Despite its age, the hotel has kept up with modern times with multiple renovations, including more than $10 million in upgrades, including the addition of a few dozen limited-term occupancy cottages and villas a couple hundred more rooms, in addition to the 399 original rooms.

The amenities include an Olympic-sized salt water pool, tennis courts, and many lush gardens and gazebos around the property, along with shops and restaurants.  Of course, with the digital age, Hotel Del added Wi-Fi, flatscreen TVs, electronic key cards and all the modern comforts that today’s luxury travel expects.  But while many hot spots come and go, Hotel Del has stood the test of time.

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For many of today’s visitors, like our family, the Hotel Del represents the best of new and old, where grandparents enjoy the charm, comfort and familiarity of a magical place where their own childhood memories were made, while they watch their grandchildren play on the beach and make memories for a lifetime.  For our family, our visit this holiday season was the first of what we plan to make an annual tradition.  And maybe one day we will be lucky enough to come back and see our own grandchildren fall in love with the Del.

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