Morning in Santa Monica
I travel to the Los Angeles area a lot for work and over the last few years, the west side of LA has become my second home. There are great hotels, a wide array of restaurants and just plenty to do and see. With average temperatures hovering at around 70 degrees, Santa Monica
is simply an outdoor lover’s paradise. From surfing to sailing and biking to hiking – there is simply always something to do outdoors here.
My friend, Kirsten Gum
lives and works here – so, I always have a real place to call home when I am in the area. Kirsten and I worked together on Cash and Treasures
for Travel Channel. While Kirsten is great on-camera as the host of Cash and Treasures; what most people do not realize is that she is also a Raw Food Chef! Kirsten strives to live a completely green lifestyle in Santa Monica; getting around town by bike or bus (she does not own a car), composting her kitchen scraps and recycling wherever she can. So, whenever I come to visit she puts me through what she calls “K-Camp” where she coaches me on how to live a more healthful, green, and peaceful life. She called this weekend "Raw K-Camp" where she was going to teach me a few all-raw recipes that I can make at home.
Our first stop was over to the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market
to pick up some fresh ingredients to create an all raw Italian menu for dinner. Raw cuisine is all about preservation of the naturally occurring healthy nutrients found in foods. So, buying organic ingredients is key and there is no better place to find fresh, locally grown, organic produce than at your local farmers market. We walked through the stands and picked up some zucchini, fresh herbs, mushrooms, heirloom tomatoes, spinach and a bushel of fresh flowers for the table before heading back to the kitchen.
In my family there has been a constant battle over whether or not to pre-boil your noodles before you build lasagna. There is also a discussion about whether or not to use ricotta – which I will firmly state that ricotta is a sure way to ruin a perfectly fabulous lasagna. I suggest using a béchamel sauce and layering that with a homemade red sauce that I simply call “gravy” (never a marinara). But alas, this is raw lasagna and there wasn’t a single noodle or a slice of cheese to be had.
We sliced the zucchini using a mandolin and then soaked the strips in a salt water brine to help with the drying process. The strips then get laid out on tea cloths for an hour or so to drain the remaining liquid. While the strips are dry, they are still flexible which will allow us to use them as our noodle in the dish.
Meanwhile, we prepared a quick raw pesto by tossing a bunch of fresh basil, some raw olive oil, pine nuts, miso paste ,some chopped garlic and a dash of Himalayan salt into a food processor. A few pumps on the processor and we have a vibrant green sauce that will tie this lasagna together.
Kirsten had already prepared a fresh raw marinara sauce and some pine nut paste for the dish. She told me that the pine nut paste will serve as our cheese. (I snickered to myself thinking about what my Italian Father-in-Law would say to that one!) We also marinated some fresh button mushrooms in some lemon juice and garlic and sliced up a few heirloom tomatoes for the build.
Using a small spring pan, we started by coating the bottom with a tablespoon of the pesto. We then placed the zucchini slices just as you would a pre-boiled lasagna noodle (notice that I will never give up on that fight). Then a little marinara, some mushrooms, a handful of fresh spinach and then the “cheese.” The pine nut paste is squeezed through a cheese cloth around the sides of the round pan to hold everything together.
We continue with the layering process, ending with a latticing of pine nut paste on top for presentation. Ok, so now you have what looks like a lasagna pie and since there is no cooking, I couldn’t help but ask, what’s next?
Kirsten walks me over to a dehydrator where she tells me that we will warm the lasagna to 105 degrees. Raw foodies believe that heating foods over 115 degrees is a sure fire way of cooking away all of those healthy enzymes that allow your body to absorb nutrients and aid in digestion. Kirsten sticks to 105 degrees to make sure that her foods never hit that dreaded 115 degree mark. An hour later, we are ready to eat. We made a few of the little lasagnas so we invited a bunch of friends over for a raw dinner party.
Before everyone arrived, I dug a bamboo fork right into the center of one of those little lasagnas for a bite and I have to say… it was really good. Now, I will say that a pine nut paste is no replacement for any cheese let alone a nice mozzarella. However, if you just remind yourself that this is not traditional lasagna, you will be able to appreciate this nice healthy take on the original.
Dinner with Kirsten and friends in her backyard in Santa Monica
As I stepped on the flight back to the East Coast on Sunday afternoon, I was inspired to bring my new raw food education home with me. In a way that’s exactly what happens every time I travel. I take home bits and pieces of a destination and bring it home with me. Will I now argue with my family that we should use pine nut paste instead of mozzarella in lasagna? Probably not. But it’s not really about having to change anything; its about opening your mind to new ideas and flavors to inspire your taste buds and your cooking.
Thanks for all of the emails and tweets! We are all super busy here at travel with the relaunch of TravelChannel.com coming this October! Have you signed up for Travel Channel GO? Get on your mobile, blackberry...whatever and download the APP asap! It's super helpful when you are out in the world and just looking for quick bites of travel information!
I have a bunch of stuff coming your way this week! Stay tuned to hear about my run-in with the "cricket" burger at the Cherry Cricket in Denver! It was one of the burgers featured on Man V. Food and Girl Won! I even had a little room for some choco cake for dessert! BIG thanks to Adam and the team there!
I also traveled out to LA to spend a grueling three days at K-Camp! What's K-Camp? How about a fun weekend hanging out with Travel Channel's own adventure girl, Kirsten Gum! Kirsten and I biked, yoga'd and spa'd our way through a fab weekend in Santa Monica! I'll tell you about the most amazing yoga class of my life, a movie under the stars at Hollywood Forever Cemetery AND how you can get professionally bathed at a Korean spa.
Oh yeah... I had some personal vacation while I was on hiatus too! The entire Ansaldi clan headed up to our lake house in Lake George, NY! It's a great getaway for a family on a budget!
For now, I leave you with this... a quote that was sent to the staff at Travel Channel this morning by our President, Pat Younge. It reminded me of how important it is to take time away from our busy lives every now and then. Travel is all about reconnecting with yourself, your family and your friends. Too many of us think of a "break" as a luxury... it is a necessity for your soul. Don't take my word for it...Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgement will be surer, since to remain constantly at work will cause you to lose power of judgement. Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller, and more of it can be taken in at a glance, and a lack of harmony or proportion is more readily seen."- Leonardo da Vinci
I know you are wondering why I have not been blogging much lately... and there is a good reason. I have not been traveling. January for me is usually slow and its a good time for me to set goals for the new year ahead and to just prepare for the many months of suitcases to come.
But, I am itchy. If you are a traveler like me, you know what I am talking about. Home is great.. but, I'm getting a twitch and an itch to get the F out of dodge! The funny thing about travel is that it gets into your blood and it becomes an addiction. I mean, I just booked a night at a Candlewood Suite hotel in Denver and I got excited! (Translation... glorified Holiday Inn property that I will review to see if it is better than my beloved Homewood Suites. I'll let you know in my March blog.)
My travel schedule is booking up and I am just about ready to pack my bags and start checking out all that 2009 has to offer us in the travel world. In February, I am heading up to New York for our first Travel Channel Academy in New York in '09! I'm planning a jam packed itinerary so that you can get the word on some of what is new in NY this season. I am also scheduled for a treat at the Oscar Blandi salon.
At the end of February, I am heading to Atlanta to check out the other side of the city. Seriously... I really only know Buckhead... so, this time I am heading over to the "Perimeter" area to see what that is all about. Somehow I think I am going to find even more shopping and cool restaurants. If you have not been to ATL lately, its definitely worth the check out. So, stay tuned for that blog.
Then, in March... I head out to one of my all-time favorite places... Denver, Colorado, where I will be out at the Keystone Resort near Vail for another Travel Channel Academy. That's right people... Learn, Shoot, Earn, SKI! That is bound to be a fun academy class and what a great excuse to get out to Vail! Another jam packed itinerary for that trip... with a bonus, I am taking my husband along for the ride! Think there is anything for a couple to do in Vail... should I add that this is only the 2nd time we have left our 3 year old little girl behind?
Keystone Resort... Here we come!
So, I am going to go ahead and let January end nice and slow and enjoy this last week at home with my family. My daughter just started pre-school this month and I was really happy to be able to drive her to school in the mornings on my way to work. Like a normal person. I know that is not always going to happen... so, I am just enjoying some of the stuff that I know I will miss when the travel starts creeping back in.
What is on your travel schedule? Got any budget travel ideas? Send me some comments and let me know.
Until then... travel on.
Each and every time I visit California, I find something else to love about it. This time was no different when I found Santa Barbara. Unlike my other favorite CA town (Mill Valley), this little town is known for its BIG spenders. This is the land of the vacationing billionaire and I was determined to see what the American Riviera was all about. BRING IT ON!
There are no direct flights from DC to Santa Barbara. You can either jump on a connection or you can try to brave the hour and a half drive from LAX. I chose a connection through Phoenix and landed in Santa Barbara at 10pm. The terminal building looks more like a Spanish style home than an airport. The best part was when the man drove our baggage to us from the plane to the small outdoor space that they called a baggage claim. Quick, Cute and Easy.
I picked up my rental from AVIS and made my way to State Street in the heart of Santa Barbara to find my hotel for the next few days. I was here for a couple of shoot days with Sam and to also start our new style web series with Christina Burns... one of my favorite people in the world and Sam's stylist.
I checked into the hotel and met up with a friend for a beer at a small pub across the street. I was exhausted and after a few drinks I was starved and ready for bed. We wanted a late night snack... so, we headed out to a local hotdog place and I chowed on a corndog and some fries. The corndog was on a stick and it reminded me of growing up and eating a dog and some cheesefries with my parents on the boardwalk in Atlantic City. Ummm... but, I was going to pay for it in the morning!
My full tummy and the alarm woke me up for our early am call time. It was our first shoot day for the style series and I wanted to meet with Christina nice and early to get our game faces on (makeup). We met up down in the lobby with Brandon, our director and drove over to our first location for the day... Couture Candy.
Yup it is exactly what it sounds like... a perfect little place filled with beautiful clothing that looks like candy to a girls eyes. Couture Candy is an online clothing retailer and this was their headquarters. Their office is on the second floor of a building and looks more like a funky photography loft than a retail store. Oh, by the way... nobody gets access to this place... except for designers and stylists and I had one with me! Here's Christina with Stephanie of Couture Candy! LOVE that girl.
Couture Candy helps us with wardrobe for Samantha. So, we were going to shoot our first webisode as Christina dives into their fab closet filled with yummy couture for Sammy. It was paradise and Christina was like a rockstar!
After Couture Candy, we headed up to Montecito to a little boutique called Kate to meet up with a local bathing suit designer named Sonja. Sonja is a Brazilian and she makes beautiful "loungy" bathing suits that are just dreamy. Sam wore one in our Miami episode and now we were looking for a couple more for the new episodes being shot in Hawaii next month. So, Christina went to work... and so did we for another webisode.
By the time we got finished with our bathing suit piece, we were all starved. So, we walked down to street to Tre Lune... a small cafe only a few stores away from Kate. The place was adorable with old black and white Hollywood photos and tiny dollhouse style wooden chairs hung on the walls. Each little chair had a golden label with a name. I asked the waiter about the chairs and he told me that each chair represented one of their regulars. I walked around and noted Ellen Degeneres and Portia DiRossi had their names on chairs. That's kinda cool.
I ordered a tossed salad with grilled shrimp and Christina and I shared a veggie panini (a recommendation from Sonja) and it was yummy. My new mission... get a chair at Tres Lune in Montecito. I made a mental note.
Our next shoot location was back at the hotel with Christina unpacking Sam's bags. It was a long day and I was hitting the wall after the late night and now a full work day... so, as soon as I could back out... I went back to my room and took a nap.
Sam called me at 8:30 to see if I wanted to meet her for a late dinner. So, I walked back across State Street to a restaurant named Joe's Cafe which is known to have the stiffest drinks in town. (Note to self... order water.) Sam and I both had a spanish style meatball soup and we shared some grilled salmon and veggies. Her hubby met up with us for a bite and some conversation and we called it night. I had a bunch of shows to screen and some scripts to work through before I went to bed.
The next morning, I was up early and we did not have a crew call until 1pm. So, I decided to get some green tea and take a walk through town. I took a left out of my hotel and found some amazing shopping. State Street is like an outdoor mall... it has everything from drug stores and small cafes to a Macy's, Nordstroms and Anthropologie. It reminded me of a bigger and better version of Georgetown. Kind of posh with some cool skateboarder stores mixed in. I stopped into a kids store and picked up a cute stuffed puppy for Eva-Bel and then I went into a yoga store and finally found a travel yoga mat. Yeah... no more borrowing from random studios!
Before I headed back to the hotel, I grabbed a bite to eat at a place called the Natural Cafe. This is California... the land of healthy food and exercise and I alwayys try to eat "clean" while I am here. I ordered a grilled veggie platter with tofu and a green tea with ginseng. Just eating and drinking this stuff made me feel skinnier.
After lunch, I met up with the crew at the hotel for our day of shooting with Sammy. We went over to the Four Seasons Biltmore to shoot at the Coral Casino. The Coral Casino is a members only club right across the street from the Four Seasons. With a membership fee of $250,000 per year... this place is not for millionaires... its for BILLIONAIRES. It was beautiful and it certainly feels like the riviera. Just perfect.
We shot with the Executive Chef of the property, Pilar Sanchez, one of California's best who had a beautiful little place called Pilar Napa that I read about and always wanted to try. Pilar made a yummy salad with Sam up in one of the private cabanas and she was amazing.
The shoot ended at 6pm and we were all ready for a bite to eat. So, we headed back to Joe's for a bite. I was not going to the late night salsa shoot because I had to be up for a 7am flight back to the East Coast. So, after dinner I said my goodbyes to the crew and went back to my room. I decided that I wanted to take a late night yoga class at a place called Yoga Soup a few blocks from the hotel. So, I grabbed my new yoga mat and went to class.
The class was called Late Night Flow and I was suprised to see so many people waiting for the class with me. The class was a perfect way to end my few days in Santa Barbara. It is totally worth checking online for local gyms or yoga studios while you are on the road. It is always fun checking out a new class and feeling like you tried to stay on your gym schedule while you are away from home. Try it sometime... PLUS, the stretching was just what the doctor ordered before I had to jump on two airplanes for the long trek back to DC.
I am now writing this blog from my sister's couch in Greensboro, NC. I landed in DC on Thursday night, worked from home on Friday and then got in the car and drove to NC to be here for my neice's 6th birthday party. The party was great... but, the highlight of this weekend was the yummy North Carolina BBQ at Stameys! The barbeque here is not the sweet smokey type like you would find in Texas. The sauces here have a vinegar base and it gives the meat a real bite. I chowed down on some chicken and pulled pork and some hush puppies. I then washed it down with some homemade peach cobbler and vanilla ice cream. See... in Cali I was all healthy.. in NC I am all BBQ. When in Rome...