Family Reunion

Family Reunion

Even though I spent a blissful weekend in south OC with the sis, I could NOT avoid returning only a few days later, because Dad was in town.

I immediately got myself over to Union Station on a Tuesday evening when I was able to leave lab for the day. I was not looking forward to the long weeknight train ride (daily commuters, I feel ya…), but I was able to get off at an earlier stop in Irvine, where my Dad was waiting for me.

After a big hug, we drove for a short while to Mission Viejo to have dinner with my sis. She was coming off a long day of classes so we picked a local, veggie-friendly place so she wouldn’t have to drive too far.

Barbonzai, Mission Viejo
Barbonzai, Mission Viejo

We got to Barbonzai earlier than she did, but she came a few minutes after us, after figuring out the strip mall parking lot.

Thought this poster was adorable <3
Thought this poster was adorable <3

Barbonzai had a small staff, but one of the employees had a really bubbly personality and was super helpful in explaining the menu to us. At the end, we decided to get some tabouli (Dad’s fave) as a starter. My sis and Dad got wraps, and I got a falafel bowl with their yellow falafel.

Tabouli // sister's spicy red falafel
Tabouli // sister’s spicy red falafel

My sis and I were pretty exhausted from each of our long days, and so we had to get some food in us first before we could have a nice conversation with Dad. Once I took a couple bites of my yellow falafel bowl, I felt a little bit more chatty 🙂

Yellow Falafel ~ made with the delicious flavors of curry and coconut! Served with tomatoes, parsley, radish, pickles and our unique turmeric tahini sauce.
Yellow Falafel ~ made with the delicious flavors of curry and coconut! Served with tomatoes, parsley, radish, pickles and our unique turmeric tahini sauce.

Barbonzai closes at 8pm on weekdays, and while we didn’t want to hold up the staff with accommodating us, we tried to get as much time in all-together with the three of us before having to leave. We ended up stopping by Albertson’s which was across the way, and got some night snacks/morning munchables. My sis and I spotted the new Breyer’s low cal pints, and since they didn’t have Halo Top (I got my sister hooked, lol), I persuaded her to try the Breyer’s chocolate version while I got cookies and cream.

She took hers to go, and after saying goodbye to my Dad and I, drove back home since she had another long day the next day. I left with my Dad, and was able to stay with him that night and the following night, just like old times. We stayed in a hotel in Mission Viejo, and as soon as we checked in I crashed. I did not want to leave—just chill, eat ice cream, and sleep.

This: nah. Don't waste your money on it.
This: nah. Don’t waste your money on it.

This “ice cream” though—a HUGE disappointment. It was literally ice, chalky, and a chore to get through. Much like the Ralph’s version of Halo Top I had a while back…

The next morning, I went for a short (but painful—oooh those hills!) run, and when I came back, my Dad prepped some coffee from me from the hotel. He was driving up to LA for the day, and so we were able to spend a good hour together in the car since he dropped me off in lab. He picked me up later in the day, and we spent another good hour and a half driving back to the OC. We may have spent most of the time we had together in the car, but at least it was time spent together.

My sister had a closing shift that day, so it was just the two of us having dinner. We decided on Lemonade in Irvine since my Dad liked their cafeteria-like set-up based on our visit to the Pasadena location a while ago.

Lemonade, Irvine
Lemonade, Irvine

It’s a bit frustrating that they have yet to introduce any veggie-friendly proteins, but their veggie sides are pretty flavorful…so it’s not like we had absolutely nothing to choose from when making a plate of five different sides.

Mouth-watering veggie sides
Mouth-watering veggie sides

There was a colorful array to choose from, but I think I did well with my plate:

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It had curried (crunchy!) cauliflower, soba noodles, a sweet potato and corn succotash, and cheese-sprinkled broccoli florets. Despite the extra layer of salt and whatever else added to make this taste so heavenly, it was a quite a nutrient-dense meal especially for its size!

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My Dad’s plate was no exception:

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His plate differed from mine with the slaw, tortellini and tomatoes, and gorgeous beet red salad.

Needless to say, our dinners hit the spot, and after eating, we were both pretty full and tired to do much else. The hotel had a working pool and jacuzzi, so I was able to put my legs in and just relax. It reminded me of the times when I used to live at home, and my Dad and I would end our gym sessions with some time spent relaxing in the jacuzzi. It’s now only a few years ago since then, but so much has changed…

I took the 7am train back to LA the next morning, with it being my final day being a “nomad” carrying things to-and-from the OC over a few consecutive days. I didn’t mind though—if going the extra mile meant extra time with family and being in a city I truly love, it’s all worth it right 😉 ?

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Do you prefer to save your relaxation time for the weekend, or try to have it spread out throughout the week?

Lemonade Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Closed Door to Open Sesame

Closed Door to Open Sesame

After two fun half-days at Blogfest, and a full day of work in lab on a SATURDAY, I was more than ready to take back one day of the weekend for myself: Sunday!

Chocolate proyo with loads of granola crunchies :)
Chocolate proyo with loads of granola crunchies 🙂

After a long run of 13 miles, I made myself a proyo mug and filled it to the brim with granola, all of which were free to me thanks to my expo haul!

This was enough to help me refuel and make it though a few hours of lab in the morning. I was out by 1pm, and immediately got on a bus to head out for lunch.

I only had to walk about 10 minutes from the stop to the restaurant, but I felt like my skin was melting off. Fortunately, I found it before my muscles started to peel off…haha.

What's behind door #1?
What’s behind door #1?

Behind the house-like door, I stepped into the brightly-lit dining room of Open Sesame, and since no one else was dining at 3pm, it was only me face-fo-face with three servers. It was awkward at first since no one out of the three said anything at first, but eventually I was given a place to sit and a menu.

Open Sesame
Open Sesame

I knew that I wanted a platter (what else is new??), and the next task was finding something that fit the vegetarian description. The menu was bound in a red, leather-like cover and was pretty much a book full of entrees, apps, drinks, and desserts. I found the vegetarian platter under the “Entrees II” section. I ordered that as soon as one of the servers came by, and it came out within minutes.

The Vegetarian Platter!
The Vegetarian Platter!

The plate was a colorful piecing of babaganoush (all-time fav), hummus, pickled peppers, fresh tomato slices, two falafel, one grape leaf roll, tabouli, and tahini in a cup.

The cutest thing though was the Open Sesame tissue paper.
The cutest thing though was the Open Sesame tissue paper.

It was almost as if the server read my mind, because just as I thought about how I would be able to mop up the hummus and tahini sauce, she came by with a crispy flat piece of pita bread. I also downed several cups of water to combat the heat I would have to face after leaving the restaurant.

My plans to take a nap that afternoon didn’t make sense since I made it back home closer in the evening. After organizing my plans for the week, I hit the pillow around 9pm and it never felt so good…

Open Sesame Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Fala Me to Fala Bar

Fala Me to Fala Bar

Last week was crazy busy, and on more nights than usual, I ended up coming back to my apartment close to 8pm, even with my early morning start to the day. But I’ve always preferred being busy over being too relaxed, so while at times it did feel exhausting, at least it kept my mind occupied.

Because we have a couple students graduating/people leaving from my lab this year, we decided to go out as a lab for lunch on Thursday. It was the first time we had everyone together (well, almost…since my boss was out of town and we were missing one person…haha, the day we actually have EVERYONE together in the same room will be some kind of miracle!!). Spicy Indian buffet food was on the menu, and surprisingly, I didn’t nod off in class later despite it!

One of the plates I had on Thursday...super spicy, and used unpictured naan to mop up all of that!
One of the plates I had on Thursday…super spicy, and used unpictured naan to mop up all of that!

When I got home that night, I decided to kick-off the weekend earlier than usual with a THURSDAY night pint, a So Delicious one in fact. I’ve gotta say…this pint rocks! Since it’s made with coconut milk, you can actually taste the slivers of coconut mixed in with the cookie dough chunks. How have I gone this long avoiding these So Delicious pints?! I’m glad that even though I took a break from Snickerdoodle, this flavor was right up there with it!

Coconut milk + cookie dough = perfection
Coconut milk + cookie dough = perfection

Friday ended up being less busy, and I got home at a decent time. To celebrate the end of this busy week, I made myself a protein-rich snack plate featuring some of my favorites (once warmed up in the microwaved for ~20 seconds).

Friday Night Snack Plate featuring: Lenny & Larrys, Quest, and Combat Crunch. Melted for 20 seconds <3
Friday Night Snack Plate featuring: Lenny & Larrys, Quest, and Combat Crunch. Melted for 20 seconds <3

On Saturday, I had to go into lab for just two hours, and from there made it over to Melrose to see what little food shop was causing excitement on the ‘gram. Fala Bar, a Mediterranean food place that has locations on Melrose and Abbot Kinney in Venice, offers five varieties (!!) of falafel, but is popular because of their falafel burger offerings. Not only are they creative in their menu items and falafel flavors (original, sweet potato  what??, spicy, crunchy, and kale), they also are all-vegan, giving all the more reason to go falafel-crazy!

Fala Bar: vegan-friendly, and in a happening part of town!
Fala Bar: vegan-friendly, and in a happening part of town!

Because I rarely ever stray from ordering similar types of foods at restaurants, I got the fala plate even though the falafel burgers sounded mouth-watering. Definitely getting that when I visit the Venice location (yes, when 😉 ). For my plate, I had to choose one flavor of falafel for the four falafel balls that came with the plate. I went with ‘crunchy’, even though looking back, it would have been more fun to try sweet potato or kale. Maybe my intuitive choice for ‘crunchy’ meant I had some pent up anger I needed to get out? Haha, or maybe I just wanted some crunchy falafel!

Fala Bar's menu
Fala Bar’s menu

Since the storefront is very small, there is no indoor seating…just a couple tables outside under some shade. At least it was all taking place on Melrose Ave., so people-watching was at its prime.

GIGI---they have your snack mix, haha.
GIGI—they have your snack mix, haha.

One of the employees was nice enough to bring out my plate, and it was not skimpy by any means! Underneath my artistically-placed falafel were two kinds of cabbage slaw, and tabouli. Tahini and hummus were in the corners, and a soft, warm pocket of pita bread was served on the side.

Fala Plate ft. crunchy falafel
Fala Plate ft. crunchy falafel

At first I was saving the spreads for the falafel and pita bread, but in the end I just mixed everything all up because it was all so good, and good together. For the price, the plate was very filling and substantial. I did notice that the burgers were cheaper however, and I wonder if they would be just as filling. That’s my mission for next time!

Close-up of this flavor-packed plate.
Close-up of this flavor-packed plate.

Just like last weekend, pints were raised up (for pictures) and dug into 🙂

Because the So Delicious pint from Thursday blew me away, I decided to keep venturing into the flavor offerings of this brand. The almond milk offering of cookies ‘n cream had me very excited about trying at first, but unfortunately it was a disappointment. The cookie chunks were small, sparse, and did not carry much flavor. I’m not even sure what flavor the ice cream was supposed to be because it was lacking that much! Oh well, not everything can be a winner!

Eh, not worth the price...
Eh, not worth the price…

The Caramel Coffee Fudge flavor Ben & Jerry’s from their non-dairy frozen dessert line was also something I was looking forward to, after PB & Cookies proved itself, but was another disappointment as well. One unsual thing about this flavor was the crunchiness of the fudge blocks. They were fudge chunks, but they made a potato chip-like crunching sound when I ate them. It was odd, but very intriguing, haha.

I'd pass on this one.
I’d pass on this one.

Have you ever tried a falafel made with the not-so-normal ingredients?

Fala Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Night Out with the Fam

Night Out with the Fam

Over the summer, my family made the move back to Oklahoma, leaving our Nor Cal abode behind. Even though Nor Cal was where I did most of my growing up—elementary through undergrad—my baby/early childhood all took place in the middle of the country…the humble heartland.

It was so nice being able to spend a week full of laughter, company, and of course great food, with my family and our close friends. Yeah, I felt like I had to leave too soon (#responsiblegradstudent), and even though I wasn’t able to spend NYE with them, I’m grateful I was able to spend the most important part of the holiday season with them.

I arrived on Monday evening, and after getting picked up at the airport by my Dad, I was introduced to our new home and had a home-cooked curry stir-fry for dinner. I caught up with my sister since last seeing her during our Thanksgiving break.

On Tuesday, I went for a 6 mile run, and ran some errands with my Dad. For dinner, we ate out as a family at something we all were able to agree upon—Mediterranean food!

leenas_mediterraneangrill
Leena’s Mediterranean Grill 🙂

The layout was similar to a place my sister and I ate at back in September.

menu
Menu

At the counter, there is a large menu on the wall, and everything starts out with a variety of hummus. 

hummusbar___
Starts out with the hummus bar.

When you order the veggie plate, you can pile on the plate with anything offered down the line. Start with hummus/babaganoush, add some of the salads, and then rice/grains or pita bread. By the time I reached the cash register, my plate was packed with babaganoush, spicy harissa hummus, fattoush salad, cabbage slaw, tabouli, italian squash, and roasted veggies…with falafel + tahini and pita on the side. 

One note about the pita though…they forgot to give it to us, and by the time we reminded them the second time, we were practically finished with our plates…meaning, what was there to dip the pita in? And the falafel was less than stellar. Even though it has a nice crisp texture, the inside was chewy, dry, and NOT green. When a falafel isn’t green on the inside, I doubt it’s gonna be a good one 😛 !

veggie__plate
Veggie plate with falafel and pita bread.

But I suppose the plate itself was good enough!

close-up
Veggie plate goodness!

After dinner, we drove by the Rhema Christmas Lights: a grand display of holiday lights that people from all over Oklahoma make the trip to see. We were too lazy to get out of the car, but we enjoyed what we were able to see from the car. 

rhemalights
Rhema Christmas Lights

When we finally got home, I introduced my sister to the beauty that is edible cookie dough, and we tore into the cookies and cream flavor that I found at a local grocery store while running errands earlier in the day.

thecookiedoughcafe_cookies&cream
Coming home to cookie dough!

The cookies were perfectly swirled into the cookie dough, and meshed with the dough quite well. This made up for the overwhelming, chunky chocolate chip flavor I had a few days earlier, and hopefully the other flavors left to try will be just as good 😉 . But when I think about it, this flavor may have tasted 10x as good only because I was sharing it with family, haha.

Leena's Mediterranean Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

RAW-ful, Restful Weekend

RAW-ful, Restful Weekend

It’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving is merely a week away, and that we have already passed the mid-November mark! It seems that with the holidays coming closer and closer, everyone around me is starting to be a little bit more relaxed when it comes to work…or maybe it’s just me 😛

Last weekend was very much a relaxed one for me, and I was able to do things at my my own, slow pace. Friday night was a cloudy one, and after a short day in lab, I came home to a cozy crockpot dinner, a pint of coffee Artic Zero, and a taped episode of Shark Tank. On Saturday morning, I woke up leisurely and after having a cup of coffee, decided to not go for a run, but instead review my lectures from the past week before heading out to lunch.

 A low-key dinner on Friday night, and some light studying on Saturday morning.
A low-key dinner on Friday night, and some light studying on Saturday morning.

I was particularly excited about my lunch destination that Saturday, since it was a relatively new raw, vegan place nestled on Melrose Ave.

 Entrance to Grassroots Alchemy
Entrance to Grassroots Alchemy

Grassroots Alchemy—the name itself sounds so unique and mystical! And the ambiance was a pure reflection of that…

sohip

sohip2

There was outdoor seating as well, but I obviously chose to stay inside. Plus, I had the whole place to myself since everybody else was distracted by Urth Caffe across the street 😛

grassroots_alchemy

I ordered the Habibi Plate at the counter, and then asked to use the restroom. I was directed towards the back of the restaurant and told to use this magical-looking key to open the door…

SAMSUNG
Even the bathroom is treated with respect!

After freshening up, I found a seat at the counter near the front window (it was that or eat awkwardly on the couch since there were no tables in sight). It was interesting to watch people walk down the street in fitness garb or yoga wear. Since it was just past noon on a Saturday, you could safely assume people were done with their morning workouts—I was just surprised no one came in to refuel with a raw food dish, or even a cold-pressed juice!

Ah well, at least I enjoyed having the space to myself, and finally feasting on this beauty when it arrived:

SAMSUNG
The Habibi Platter, which included curried hummus, raw falafel, tabouli, raw crackers, and tahini dressing.

(Almost) too good to eat…almost.

Habibi Plate Close-Up

I loved all of the main components of the plate, but I especially loved mixing the curried hummus with the raw falafel and crackers. The falafel was quite doughy since it was not baked or fried, but the crackers balanced things out texture-wise with their crunchiness and full-bodied flavor.

After my exceptional lunch experience, I spent some time walking down Melrose before heading home. I wanted to head back early and rest up before running 10 miles the next day!

So yes, my Sunday at least had a productive start with a 10 mile long run with my running group, and once I got back around 11am, I couldn’t resist taking a nap! I woke up a little after noon and slowly got ready to head out for lunch and also grab a few necessities from the grocery store.

I wanted to refuel properly, and was craving a huge salad with filling ingredients. I also felt like hoping on the rail, so towards North Hollywood I went, stopping at the station near Universal Studios to visit SunCafe Organic.

SAMSUNG

From the outside, it didn’t look like much, but I shouldn’t let appearances fool me too quickly! I made my way to the entrance after winding around the outdoor patio seating area. The inside was dimly-lit, but quite spacious and cozy.

sunorganiccafe

The bathroom was well-kept and cutely decorated as well.

 I was quite fascinated by the faucet.
I was quite fascinated by the faucet.

But…back to the main point of my visit: satisfying my salad craving. I was able to do just that by ordering the Kale Colossus.

 Kale Colossus, which included massaged kale, soy chorizo, mushrooms, bell peppers, pico de gallo, three dressings, raisins, and three slices of banana delicately placed on top :)
Kale Colossus, which included massaged kale, soy chorizo, mushrooms, bell peppers, pico de gallo, three dressings, raisins, and three slices of banana delicately placed on top 🙂

It came to my table crazy fast, that even my waiter was surprised when he came by to check on me. Seeing as it was smaller than I expected, I did my best not to demolish it in three bites or less even though I wanted to.

Kale Colossus Close Up

I took my time eating this salad, and felt completely nourished by the time I finished. After paying the bill, I headed over to Ralph’s before heading home as the sun set.

Even with my nap, I still felt quite exhausted from the weekend’s events, so I went to bed at the early hour of 10pm…even though, I must say that this particular weekend was a much more tame one in comparison to the others I’ve had to-date!

Grassroots Alchemy on Urbanspoon

SunCafe Organic on Urbanspoon

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