Seeing Beauty and the Beast at The El Capitan Theatre!

A “Tale as old as time” has returned to theatres! Nearly twenty years ago, Walt Disney Pictures released one of their most beloved fairy tales to date, Beauty and The Beast. Breaking box office records and becoming the first animated film to be up for an Academy Award for Best Picture, Disney has gone on to create their smash Broadway adaptation and, now, a live action re-telling of the film has been released.

When The El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood told Michael and me to “be their guest” (see what I did there?) for a showing of Beauty and the Beast, I could not wait to see what both Disney and the theatre had in store for a showing. As someone who can get quite anxious in movie theatres, I always have a great time at The El Capitan. They go beyond your usual day at the movies with a rousing pre-show with LA favorite, organist Rob Richards. For me, Richards has become  my favorite part of heading out to The El Capitan. Each visit, it is such a treat to hear all of your Disney favorites (Under the Sea, Be Our guest, A Whole New World…) brought to life by an ample organ. I can only imagine the shivers it gives the kids!

Following Rob, we were in for an additional surprise as their curtain has been adorned with thousands of sparkly Swarovski crystals, and they presented a remarkable show boasting projections of lights to capture the beauty that is on their curtain. Set against a Beauty and the Beast score, the music and lights will get you pumped to enjoy the film.

As the film starts, we no longer hear that spooky, deep gentleman’s voice. The introduction to our Beast (Dan Stevens) and his castle begins at a masquerade party he is giving (and narrated by a woman’s voice). When the now infamous beggar woman comes to the door, the Beast is infuriated she has crashed his ball, and, of course, kicks her out. While most audiences have always awaited the transformation scene at the end, this new spin on getting an insight to the Prince’s change into a Beast was a welcome change and certainly set the mood for his character.

For our opening number of Belle, we at last meet our heroine, played by Emma Watson. While some quirks and elements to the opening has changed, it basically stayed close to the original. With it being one of my favorites from a musical opening, that made me happy!

I appreciated the character development to this film that both the cartoon and musical lack somewhat. We are introduced to Gaston (Luke Evans) and Le Fou (Josh Gad), of course, in the opening sequence, and they added so many new layers to these beloved characters you love to hate. Especially Le Fou (more on that later).

Stevens was an extremely good choice for the Beast. When we first meet him, he is ferocious, cold and spares no mercy when Belle’s father (Kevin Kline) stumbles into the castle’s garden in hopes to pick Belle a rose. Something he has done on every voyage he takes (another new take. I thought it was an interesting tie in and connection to Belle and the Beast from the beginning). As the tale goes, Belle begs the monster to spare her father and take her prisoner instead. It is soon after we are better acquainted with some of our favorite Disney side kicks, Lumiere, Cogsworth, Babette and the Wardrobe.

One of my favorite Broadway stars, Audra McDonald, hilariously portrays the Wardrobe, and in her former human life, is married to the castle’s piano (Stanley Tucci). Ewan McGregor is an absolute natural at the flirtatious Lumiere. Having just seen McGregor in Trainspotting 2, it reminded me just how diverse and versatile he truly is. Ian McKellen’s Cogsworth is also on spot and he brings more laughs and smiles to the already lovable role.

As far as Evans’ Gaston goes, he is a really good version for a live action film. I have seen Beauty and the Beast live countless times and in those live performances, I have always enjoyed the booming baritone vocals to Gaston, which I felt Evans did not have. Until, the rousing “Kill the Beast” number. Evans redeemed himself to me and I loved how true to the original this song and dance number was. He gave so much cruelty to the role, and was not afraid to be downright sinister. The ultimate “Disney Villain”.

I feel I will be in the minority here, but, my least favorite performance? It was Emma Watson’s Belle. I just do not see her as our Disney heroine. I was hoping she may wow me with her voice, but, alas, I was not too impressed. Luckily for Watson, she was surrounded with such a terrific cast that in my opinion are born naturals at their roles, which assisted in her Belle and adding the support the film needed to make it “dazzle” over the top.

As far as some interesting character development, I appreciated Kevin Kline’s Papa was not as dautering as he is usually portrayed. Both Belle and Papa are inventors, and he appeared to have more legitimate inventions and not chalked off as a “joke”.

And, for Josh Gad’s Le fou, so many elements and layers were added to the infamous sidekick. Much like Gad explained earlier this year in an interview, that as Gaston’s friend, “He sometimes wants to be him, and other days wants to kiss him.” Le Fou clearly has feelings for his friend, and is torn as he is seeing Gaston first make a fool of himself as he attempts to woo Belle, then see his dear friend turn evil and does not know which side to stand on. As for this film “robbing the innocence” of children with the homosexual innuendo’s? Yes, there is a very innocent final scene for Le Fou. It is cute, it is innocent, it is nothing (but awesome). I thought it was a great subtle turn to a character we did not know too much about.

Beauty and the Beast is playing world-wide and is currently the #1 movie in the world. Have you seen it yet? Or, have you seen it a few times?! Special thanks to The El Capitan for having me! xo

The Final Weekend of Descanso Gardens’ Cherry Blossom Festival is Upon Us!

The place to be in Los Angeles this weekend will be Descanso Gardens Cherry Blossom Festival. This annual event has drawn such crowds each year that the gardens are now requiring reservations, and, alas, is sold out. If you are lucky enough to have that golden ticket for this weekend, read on as Michael and I were able to snag tickets last minute to the first weekend!

While purchasing tickets in advance is usually not required, Descanso has now installed ordering them online or by phone. Once you select a time, you are welcome to join in on the festivities anytime after that. One element that was a bit confusing is that even with your ticket, you must still get in line to check in when you arrive. You’re then given a fun hand stamp for entry that says “Happiness” in Japanese.

The event was definitely was at capacity, yet the gardens did not feel “mobbed” or that we were navigating overwhelming crowds. With several Japanese-inspired food stands to check out, Michael decided to make a bee line for some chicken curry…..

“Happiness” hand stamp

Nearby, you could also grab a glass of wine, beer or BBQ specials. While the festival events took place at Descano’s Japanese Gardens section, the cherry blossoms are beginning to bloom throughout the grounds, and, while some definitely had a little more ways to go, we nevertheless saw some absolute beauties.

We stumbled upon a traditional Japanese band on stage, Minyo Station, and they were about to launch into a celebratory song. When they asked if anyone was celebrating a marriage, engagement, birthday, I was quick to raise my hand that I am about to be married, and we were one of the couples the song was dedicated to. It was absolutely lovely and the vocals on the lead singer were beautiful. After the performance, they invited attendees to take part in learning the art of the Obon dance. Between my good friend, Alex, who dances each year at the Obon Festival in Portland, and, Mike and I loving Kubo and the Two Strings, it was awesome to see them teach just how Obon is done. Did we participate? No….we were the shy kids in the back observing!

Happy couple.

With it being Mike’s first time at Descanso, I wanted to check out their famous Boddy House and their “Bloom” art gallery. After that, we decided to do our own thing and found a fantastic (and a little deserted) hiking trail that ended us up at the top of a gorgeous hill overlooking La Canada Flintridge and The San Gabriel Valley. Complete with a bench that had “Love” painted on the back, it was a fun surprise to find and to listen to the Japanese music being played down at the festival.

IF YOU GO….

Parking is free and ample

You can buy your own cherry blossom tree! Many were under $50, but, sell out early, so grab yours first thing when you enter (they are available out front of the gift shop)

If you have little ones in tow, the train looked really fun. you can buy your tickets for a ride at the entrance for $3.

Their cafe is now serving brunch on weekends….need we say more?!

Pack a bag of your essentials. Its a lot of walking, so, wear comfy shoes and remember your water.

You can learn more HERE and if you are unable to snag a ticket this weekend, rest assured as the cherry blossoms should be in bloom for awhile and you can go anther time soon! xo

(*Photos: Michael Farah.)

 

 

 

 

Talking with Oscar Nominee, Steve Emerson from Kubo and the Two Strings.

With The Academy Awards rolling into Hollywood this weekend, there is certainly a roster of diverse films hoping to get their gold man. While I’ve not seen many of the nominated films this year, one I have seen and loved was Best Animated Film nominee, Kubo and the Two Strings.

From the creative brains who brought you Coraline, The Box Trolls and ParaNorman, Kubo tells the story of a young Japanese boy who’s Father, a samurai warrior, was killed when he was a baby and is survived by his strong, yet ill, Mother. Living atop of a mountain, Kubo journeys into his village daily while the sun is out to create magical stories through the art of origami and his shamisen (thus, his two strings).

When tragedy and turmoil strike as Kubo’s family are evil and we learn his Mom has been hiding out and protecting him from her family, Kubo is left to fight off these enemies on his own yet with the helpful assistance of a mysterious monkey (appropriately named Monkey), and a Beetle who claims to be an amnesiac samurai who was cursed to take the form of a beetle and says to have been Kubo’s dad’s apprentice.

Kubo and the Two Strings was such a fantastic story of finding yourself and holding onto the importance of family and those you love, as well as paying great homage to the Obon Festival and Japanese culture. Boasting a great cast that includes Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey and George Taikai, I was thrilled that shortly after seeing Kubo, the opportunity arose to have a chat with Oscar-Nominated VFX Supervisor of the film, Steve Emerson.

 

Speaking from his office in Portland at Laika Studios, we were quick to want to get the skinny on the morning he got word he was nominated for an Academy Award, and if he is prepared should he win?? “I don’t have a speech. Its been so busy and so exciting. I haven’t really had a few moments to start thinking about that. The moment where I found out. It was like 5 in the morning, I was watching a streaming with my wife and son, sitting on the couch, drinking coffee, when we found out. Its been such a long process. Theres so much dedication from all the artists involved. you put years into your life for (these movies).” Emerson explains, “I would just say I’m intensely connected to all of these films (from Laika). So at that moment when we found out that we were being recognized, it all hit me at once. I broke down a little bit, and unbeknownst to me, my wife got a picture of me crying and put it right on Facebook!”

Despite all the glitz and glamour and Hollywood treatment from The Academy, Emerson also explained that Laika Studios is simply a small, independent stop motion studio working out of a warehouse, and that their visual effects team reckons more the size of the lighting team on most feature films. Fiercely admiring  his peers and fellow Nominees works, Emerson says “Its incredible, really incredible” to be among the best.

Another question on our minds was: How does an LA live action effects guy with a resume that includes Matrix Reloaded and The Dark Knight find himself at a slow motion studio in Portland?!

“I’d spent a long time working in live action visual effects down in LA. My family and I were looking for a change and wanted to relocate to Portland. I spent the better part of a year commuting from there to LA, not an ideal situation. Then, I happened to hear from a friend that this studio called Laika was working on a feature film called Coraline and I should look into that. I was fortunate to go to a “Look at Laika” night and they hired me within a few weeks to contribute to Coraline. I had very little to no experience with stop motion production but had a background in live action.”

Fast forward nearly a decade later, and Emerson has worked his magic on the Laika roster of films ever since.

Such a huge thanks to Steve Emerson, and Focus Features for including me on this fantastic round table interview. Here’s hoping I will soon be able to say we have featured an Academy Award winner on Along Comes Mary! 😉

10 Valentine’s Day Date Ideas (& Giveaway ends 2-13!).

I know what you may possibly be thinking…Valentine’s Day?! The greeting card holiday?! Or, I am single! I can’t do this stuff! While, maybe, hopefully, some of you are eager to read about some Valentine’s Day ideas and my pretty sweet giveaway I have for you, I also hope you agree with some of these thoughts I had for super awesome and fun getaways, and places to wine and dine. All of these options would be excellent with your friends, too (Galentine’s Day, anyone??). Read on and good luck with the giveaway, too 🙂

GETAWAYS

Cruise on down the coast for Valentine’s Day in San Diego and stay at one of the best 5 diamond resorts in California, and the nation, for that matter, at Fairmont Grand Del Mar. Currently running a “Do Not Disturb” package through February 11th which includes a one night stay, a $50 food and beverage credit, complimentary bottle of champagne and strawberries amenity and in-room movie. Learn more HERE.

An often overlooked getaway destination, Sacramento is booming with culture, great food and wine, and some adorable boutique hotels and my favorite, The Amber House Bed and Breakfast. Minutes from the State Capitol, and convenient to walk to several activities, The Amber House is an amazing experience that includes a fresh breakfast brought to your room each morning. With several packages currently being offered, check out The Exquisite Dinner and Lodging package.

Gluten free French toast served in your room at The Amber House.

If leaving Fido home for Valentine’s Day is out of the question, consider a few nights at Carmel by-the-Sea’s pet friendly Hofsas House. A favorite here at Along Comes Mary, Hofsas is currently offering a “sweet” deal that when you  stay for at least two nights with them, you will receive a box of local Lula’s Chocolates and a Hofsas House logo tote bag to welcome you! Book HERE.

If you’re an Angelino looking for a local getaway, drive over Route 66 to Claremont, a hidden gem here in SoCal. The DoubleTree Resort is a gorgeous, newly renovated and modern home away from home that i’ve had the pleasure of staying with twice now and along with Downtown Claremont just a few miles away, you have The Piano Piano Bar, a Dinner and Theatre venue and a Trader Joe’s all within the hotel’s parking lot, making it perfect to simply park your car and hang out at the complex. With their Celebration package, get a bottle of sparkling wine, breakfast and a late check-out. Get all the details and book HERE.

WINE and DINE

Reserve a gorgeous table over looking the water and harbor at Cafe Del Rey in Marina Del Rey. Easily one of the best restaurants I’ve come across in LA as of late, Cafe’s Chef David Vilchez is a master in the kitchen and dedicated to ensuring each plate leaves you wanting more of his creations. With their Valentine’s Day dinner, choose from such decadent dishes like a 10 oz steak, salmon or lobster tail. Lets not even mention the strawberry panna cotta. Check out the menu HERE.

A cozy table for two at District Wine Bar.

Nothing like the custom build mac and cheese at Stacked.

If you do head for a Northern California getaway, do yourself a favor and spend the day in Cambria and dine at Linn’s Restaurant. Whether you stop in for breakfast, lunch or dinner, Aaron and his amazing staff are sure to treat you like family and their Olallieberry-centric desserts (many gluten-free) are the ideal sweet treat for Valentine’s Day!

A place to see a piece of history in the middle of Downtown LA is no other than San Antonio Winery. Always a fabulous time, San Antonio offers daily wine tasting, tours, delicious cuisine at Maddalena Restaurant, a coffee shop and bistro and, of course, their beautiful gift shop. San Antonio would be an ideal Valentine’s Day date.

Down in Long Beach, treat yourself to some beach time, stroll with your love on Belmont Shore’s 2nd Street, then drive down Ocean boulevard to Downtown and plan an afternoon at District Wine Bar. One of the first wine bars to ever invite Along Comes Mary to do a feature, District Wine is one of those places that feels like you’re with family. Mark and Angela Dunton launched District Wine in Long Beach’s funky Arts District in 2010, and have been hosting memories in the making ever since. From daily happy hours to Sunday mimosa brunch, make a reservation NOW to cozy up to your sweetie this Valentine’s Day!

If you’re looking to have a laid back Valentines Day (granted, it is on a Tuesday so getaways will probably have to be on a weekend), take your Valentine to STACKED: Food Well Built. With several California locations (Including Thousand Oaks and Huntington Beach), make it a fun evening by having you and your sweetie order for each other. At Stacked, you order and customize your meal on an iPad! (Psst, great gluten-free options, too).

A NIGHT IN

If you are more the type to have a cozy and romantic evening at home (or if it better fits your budget), why not try surprising your love with homemade chocolates? Or, better yet, make a recipe together or surprise each other with one each from Susie Norris’ decadent book, Chocolate Bliss. I had the pleasure of meeting Susie at The IFWTWA Conference and she was such a sweetheart that she  offered me an autographed copy of Chocolate Bliss for one of my readers! Simply use the form below to enter by February 13th, a winner will be selected at random, and make sure to check out my sweepstakes tab!

Let me know what your plans are for Valentine’s Day! xo

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

 

 

David Bowie: Among the Mexican Masters Comes to Forest Lawn Glendale.

While cemeteries and memorial parks may bring some sort of solace and tranquility to some, most do not look at them as a venue to find beauty and enjoyment. If you take a visit to Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, be prepared to leave with a new sense of meaning to graveyards. Forest Lawn is unlike any other resting place you have ever visited.

When Melanie from LA Explorer invited me along to the preview of Forest Lawn Museum’s newest exhibit, David Bowie: Among the Mexican Masters, I was instantly in as I love Mr. Ziggy Stardust himself, and knew this would be a fabulous event to be apart of. Yet, what was mainly on my mind was the fact that Forest Lawn has a museum. A museum, at a graveyard?!

Pulling into Forest Lawn off of Glendale Avenue, a friendly face greets you at the drive up information center, and I was shortly given a map to assist me as I headed up a very large and beautiful hill to the top where the museum, church and Hall of the Crucifixion-Resurrection paintings were at.

Views from the top.

As someone who has a very strong fear of death, it was humbling and somewhat comforting to be on such a beautiful road covered with world-class sculptures, statues and landscaping all around me. There certainly are moments you may forget for a second just where you are, and then you will be reminded as mourners pass you by. Forest Lawn has created a beautiful atmosphere for the living to enjoy, while still having all due respect to those there to grieve.

When I arrived at the top to the museum, I was taken aback by the views of Los Angeles. They rivaled Griffith Park, if not even better. All of our rain that has helped clear up our California drought  also adds to the fantastic views and clear, blue skies!

Entering their small museum, I was struck by the pieces on display; definitely “quality over quantity”  as I got to see an un-canny Mark Twain sculpture and vibrant stained glass windows.

Boasting a fun gift shoppe, I was my typical self and just had to get something in honor of David Bowie. I grabbed an adorable Ziggy Stardust make-up bag, and word is they will also soon carry Bowie tee’s.

David Bowie: Among the Mexican Masters chronicles Bowie’s first and only time playing in Mexico City 20 years ago. World-renowned rock and jazz photographer, Fernando Aceves, was at one of the legend’s concert in his home base on assignment. When Bowie opened the newspaper the next morning and loved the shots captured from the performance, he gave Aceves a call and invited him to come hang out with him and the tour mates while they were in town to document their visit.

With Aceves on hand at the preview, it was fascinating to get to ask this artist what it was like to hang with another brilliant creator. Affectionately referring to Bowie as “The Guy”, Aceves appreciated getting to know the human behind the legend; While David Bowie was the ultimate Renaissance Man, he was also real, which is what is painfully captured in these photographs; Bowie having fun, sipping his coffee. There was more more behind the creator, in between making music history time and time again.

Once these men were acquainted, on Bowie’s agenda was to visit and appreciate some of the most famous landmarks in Mexico City that paid homage to muralists Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orozco, as well as take in the beauty at the Frida Kahlo Museum and the pyramids of Teotihuacan. In Aceves photographs are glimpses in to several of these moments. There are the fun, laid back shots, as well as several showing Bowie in awe as he is, indeed, among the Mexican masters.

Fernando Aceves and Forest Lawn’s Art Curator introduce the exhibit.

With such a rich history between Mexico and Los Angeles, it is only fitting the the first stop on this exhibition tour is to Forest Lawn. Open daily from 10am to 5pm (excluding Mondays), David Bowie: Aming the Mexican Masters, will proudly be on display until June 1st. Learn more about the exhibit and both Bowie and Aceves, HERE.

And, after you check out the Bowie exhibit, no visit to Glendale’s Forest Lawn is complete without seeing the Hall of the Crucifixion-Resurrection paintings. These are the largest religious paintings in the Western Hemisphere, and this was a moment that left me speechless. On top of the massive size of these paintings, you can imagine my shock when we told that a curtain was hiding more of the art. I was not even seeing its entirety! The building they are housed in was built FOR these paintings, and are displayed in a theatre venue-like setting with a 20 minute video about its process and the paintings, shown throughout the day.

With free admission and parking, it’s no wonder that Yahoo Travel named The Forest Lawn Museum one of the best 10 free museums in the nation.There is something for everyone to see. Learn more and plan your visit HERE.

(*Disclosure: A special thanks to Forest Lawn and LA Explorer for having me at this media event. All opinions are my own.)

Great Sets and Success at Bootleg Theatre’s Love Trumps Hate Benefit.

After surviving Inauguration Day and admiring all of those out in the Marches today, I have been thinking alot about the incredible Love Trumps Hate benefit evening I was able to attend last weekend at The Bootleg Theatre.

While I definitely had considered going out to a march myself, I will be honest: The crowds intimidated me. Los Angeles alone is said to have over 745,000 passionate citizens out today. I have felt concerned for all of my friends attending today, but, thankfully, it looks to be going down beautifully and making history.

Love Trumps Hate was much more suited for me. An incredible event conceived by A&R Director of Angry Mob Music, Ralph Torrefranca, and Talent Buyer Kyle Wilkerson of Bootleg Theater, Love Trumps Hate was a powerful event of music, socializing and fun while coming together to raise awareness to very important causes and to show people that it is important to donate and be involved with organizations like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, the non-profits, respectively, that  funds were raised for this evening.

Nick Waterhouse

 

Silversun Pickup’s

The silent auction was a music collector’s dream; signed memorabilia from Leon Bridges, Young The Giant, Family of The Year, Mac DeMarco, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Counting Crows and several others, while I saw many nerd-ing out over the possibility of getting backstage access and concert tickets from Fitz and The Tantrums. I tried my luck at some raffle tickets for the Amoeba Music gift cards.

The first band up was Expo 86, a Silverlake favorite specializing in many cover songs from popular bands today. They had dynamic energy and I appreciated what the lead vocalist had to say as he looks ahead at our next four years; as he spoke from the heart that we will survive and its times like this that show we come together as one. It was extremely comforting to have the audience shouting along that we will be ok in the USA.

An artist that is now on my radar is Nick Waterhouse. Having not heard of Waterhouse’s music, I stepped into his set with no idea what to expect, and loved what I was hearing. Combining a great mix of blues, jazz, rhythm and some rock-pop, Orange County native Waterhouse gave his all during his songs and had great chemistry with the filled theatre.

Following some more great performances from James Supercave and the very cryptically intriguing YACHT,  final performers of the night, Silversun Pickups, graced the stage for their acoustic ending to the evening. Radio friendly and always chromatic, Silversun Pickup’s are a real throw back to the shoe gazing, dreamy style of music that often brings to mind My Bloody Valentine or The Smashing Pumpkins.

Having not heard them acoustic, I was interested to hear some of their classic work stripped down. As they launched into one of their most beloved tunes, Panic Switch, Bassist, Nikki Monninger, was left to keep the intro loop going as the always humorous lead vocalist, Brian Aubert, decided to disappear into the crowd!

Such a huge thank you to all those who came together to make Love Trumps Hate the sold out success it was. Lets continue to keep our voices heard and support important causes, as we enter new territory these next few years. xo

 

Love Trumps Hate Benefit Night with Silversun Pickups Coming to The Bootleg Theatre

So, unless you have been living under a rock (and even then, I bet you would know), you are aware that our next President of the United States is Donald Trump. While I could say that most do not want him as our Leader, the electoral college certainly resulted in a different turn and I definitely have scrolled by my share of Facebook connections who also find this Election a terrific turning point.

Among millions of other concerned people of the nation, I am also appalled and still somewhat in disbelief that Mr. Trump is the best The USA could do for our President. A term that has become popular in the wake of this frightful Election is Love Trumps Hates, or, hash tagging #LoveTrumpsHate.

On January 14th here in Los Angeles, The Bootleg Theatre is proud to present (along with The LA Safety Coalition) Love Trumps Hate. This exciting charity event will benefit Planned Parenthood and The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). And, did I mention the stellar lineup of performances?

Los Angeles bred band, Silversun pickup’s.

Silverlake favorites,  Silversun Pickups, will be headlining the night with a full band acoustic set (and, having seen them perform acoustic, I can assure you you’ll be in for a real treat), as well as sets from YACHT, James Supercave, Nick Waterhouse (special 4 piece set), Bloodboy, Expo 86 and a DJ set from Grant Owens (of WFNM).

In addition to these fantastic musical acts, there will also be a silent auction with the opportunity to bid on items autographed by Fitz and The Tantrums, Leon Bridges, Young The Giant, Family of The Year, Mac DeMarco, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Angel Olsen, Børns, YACHT, Run River North, How to Dress Well, Counting Crows as well as a raffle for a gift card from Amoeba Music.

Together, we will stay strong and ensure our voices are heard as we make this unfathomable transition in Washington DC. Music is a mighty tool and brings us together! Get your tickets to Love Trumps Hate with Silversun Pickups, YACHT and more HERE before they sell out! xo

The Umami Burger’s Holiday Menu! #AVeryMaryChristmas (Guest Post)

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(Editor’s Note: I am so lucky that when Along Comes Mary is invited to a great event, I often am lucky enough to get one of my favorite bloggers, Melanie from LA Explorer, to cover for me. Today, she tells us about her experience at The Improv Comedy Club’s  Umami Burger. Take it away, Melanie! xo, Mary)

When I was a teenager the Irvine Spectrum opened and it was a big deal for us OC kids. It had a 21 screen movie theater! With IMAX! There was a Dave & Buster’s! And a Cheesecake Factory! Now, I don’t get quite as excited when a shopping center opens but the Irvine Spectrum continues to intrigue. While most center have highs and lows this one just gets bigger and bigger. There’s a Ferris Wheel! A Hello Kitty Cafe! And the Irvine Improv with an Umami Burger! In fact, I had no idea the center had an Umami Burger until I was invited to stop by and try their new holiday menu.

The Umami Burger at the Spectrum is located at the Improv. I like that. Comedy clubs have long been associated with greasy chicken fingers and cheap booze and it’s nice to see a spot where you can get a good meal and a show all in one. On my visit, I didn’t watch any comedy but I did manage to sample the menu.

There was a trio of small bites that included pot roast, grilled lemon chicken and tuna tartare.

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My favorite was the tuna. Served atop a bed of rice and drizzled with a tangy ginger sauce it was a delicious morsel.

Umami is know for their burgers and this night we tried the new Falafel Burger.

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I love falafels so I was eager to try it and it did not disappoint. The crunchy falafel was served on a brioche bun with lettuce, tomato, avocado, pickled onions and tzatziki sauce. I love it and would definitely order it the next time I’m at Umami.

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We finished the evening with a taste of the creme brulee cheesecake and it was a sweet end to the meal. Now I know that when I want a fun night out with a good meal I can just head to the Improv for some comedy and tasty treats from Umami Burger.

(Melanie Kaminski is the Editor of the blog, LA Explorer, where you’ll learn of her explorations around Southern California and beyond. Visit her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.)

Wearable Art by Miz Meliz and Giveaway ends 12-11! #AVeryMaryChristmas

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Sometimes, an opportunity too fun to pass up comes along. Even if it seems a bit zany, you just have to trust your gut and go for it. Lucky for me I did just that and met the fabulous (and now dear friend of mine), Melissa Reyes, back in 2013.

I had been blogging for just shy of a year, and whilst scrolling through one of my Facebook blogging groups, I noticed a post from Melissa looking for a road trip buddy to run up to San Francisco that coming weekend. I told her I would love to. I had met her….maybe, once, and barely. I was basically going on a 6 hour road trip with a total stranger. These thoughts went through my mind as I later found out, Melissa was getting a back up plan for what to do and where to stay if I turned out to be nuts.

As we all know, neither of us are crazy (Just crazy FUN when we get together!) and since our blogging venture almost 4 years ago, it has been amazing to see Melissa evolve and accomplish so much. She has published a book, launched her weekly live online series, Tinsel Town with Miz Meliz and, latest expertise to add to her never-ending resume of curiosity? Artist.

One of Melissa’s latest projects is her arts and crafts online store, Miz Meliz. Making “Wearable Art” (how catchy is that term?!), as well as jewellery and decorative artistry, Melissa pours her heart and soul into these pieces and I just cannot get enough of them.

Lucky for me, Melissa now has the perfect gift box set plan for art junkies like myself. Miz Meliz recently launched a monthly plan subscription enabling her community to purchase jewelry gift sets sent to your mailbox for $40 per month. (Psst, a single gift set is $45). I got to experience the introductory month and let me tell you: It did not disappoint! Check it out:

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And, we all know half of the fun when you get a package is opening up your treats, no?

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Since Melissa does know me, I could not wait to see what she had in store for my box. I ended up with an adorable rope-style chain necklace with one of her beautiful bauble glass designs (my favorite), a butterfly pendent perfect to make a pin or make a choker-chain style necklace, a bracelet and a pair of earrings. The coolest part? These pieces would go perfectly all paired together, or, pick and choose which to mix and match…or, share the love by sharing a piece, too 😉

That is just what I would like to do! Would you or someone you know like to win these gorgeous handmade earrings?

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Perfect for that holiday party, or even to glam up while out in the shopping bustle, I cannot wait to gift these to one lucky winner in part with my #AVeryMaryChristmas giveaways! See the form below to enter and, make sure to check out my sweepstakes tab. Enter by December 11th. Good luck and remember to check out Miz Meliz for all of your feminine and artistic holiday gifts. Bonus points? Melissa is donating 10% of her proceeds to St. Jude’s Hospital all December long! 🙂

Good luck! xo

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Supporting The Friends of Griffith Park at Nordic Noir

VIP reception sponsored by Fandango

VIP reception sponsored by Fandango

When I headed out on a scorching warm LA day (106 high!) to Griffith Park’s Greek Theatre last weekend, I knew that I would be in for some great music from The Danish Film Harmonics’ and Film composer, Jacob Groth, but, no idea how much appreciation I would gain for the park’s wild life.

As we entered the Fandango VIP lounge, I admit I jumped back a bit when I saw a life-size, life-like cut out of a mountain lion, on hand for a cute photo opp. As we enjoyed our drinks and Nordic cuisine, we took in the sights and scenery that is irresistible when you go to Griffith Park. Even the heat had subsided, and it was quite easy to wonder just how close you are to a wild animal. One thing is for sure, they must hear some great live music every summer! 😉

Nordic cuisine

Nordic cuisine

The performance began with a beautiful local choir performance, then we were introduced to some of the “friends” that make up The Friends of Griffith Park. Remember that mountain lion cut out that scared me at the reception? Well, turns out that is no other than the infamous, P22.

Sounding like something straight out of a Walt Disney Presents episode (anyone remember Country Coyote goes Hollywood?!), this mountain lion was first spotted in Griffith Park in 2012 while researchers at the park were using thirteen remote cameras at potential wildlife corridors across the Hollywood Freeway/Cahuenga Pass area which divides Griffith Park and contiguous wildlife habitat from the rest of the Santa Monica Mountains.

More research determined that P22 had made this seemingly inconceivable journey to Griffith Park from Santa Monica!

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Photo on the screen of P22, enjoying the sights.

Usually, mountain lions would NOT select somewhere as metropolis as Griffith Park’s neighborhood, Los Feliz, to set up shop. With welcome arms from the biologists and the rest of the Parks and Rec staff, P22 has definitely become quite the celebrity and reason for the critical research conducted by The Friends of Griffith Park.

Able to temporarily capture him, P22 was given a tracker collar so his whereabouts can be monitored. While some may frown upon this, it actually is a GOOD thing as P22 caught a near fatal infection awhile back and required medical care after he consumed pest poison in the neighborhood. This is one of the friends biggest concerns and what they are advocating: Co-existing with the urban and wild lives.

Griffith Park is an escape for visitors and Angelino’s alike. Smack in the middle of LA, you can hike the trails, stroll Fern Dell and visit the observatory. Hundreds of acres have made this an oasis for wild life. Yet, with homes and traffic jams just minutes from the haven, it  can be hard to have the urban co-exist with the wild life.

Jacob Groth and The Danish Film Harmonics.

Jacob Groth and The Danish Film Harmonics.

While P22 is fine and well (and roaming as I type I am sure!), I was saddened to learn that in easily fifty years mountain lions could be extinct if not for the efforts of people like The Friends of Griffith Park are doing.

This fabulous introduction led us to an hour-long performance from Jacob Groth and The Danish Film Harmonic. Groth has composed for several Danish films and is probably best known for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Seeing glimpses from these films as the performers played tracks from them added to the rousing performance!

On October 22nd, The Friends have declared it P22 Day and will have a festival to celebrate and bring awareness to the urban wild life. Learn how to create Certified Wildlife Habitats in your own backyard, school or business.

John Griffith of the California Conservation Corps will lead his famous BioBlitz Dance with crew members on the stage, and staff from the Natural History Museum will participate in recording wildlife sightings during the day.

And, Ranger Rick and P22 will both be making appearances, along with several other celebrities and TBA guests. Make your plans to attend HERE!

A big thank you to the friends for having me, and I hope to see you to celebrate P22 on October 22nd! xo

 

Hiking at Escondido Falls Trail in Malibu….

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Picture: Michael Farah.

So, granted, when I returned home from my Chico trip? I could not stop talking about Burney Falls. To see such a giant waterfall before me, and that setting, it took my breath away. Anxious to continue on my nature “kick”, Mike found us a great hiking trail in nearby Malibu.

Escondido Falls Trail is right off Pacific Coast Highway in the trendy beach community. While you need to clearly read all street signs, it is quite easy to find parking right off the highway (and thank goodness for porta potties before you start your journey–that will be your only chance for a restroom, FYI!).

As we began up the hill, we were surrounded by gorgeous houses, some in the midst of being built. The beach views were to die for. Then, to your left, you will see the sign leading you to the trail (See my picture above)

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While I huffed and puffed a bit up to the beginning of the trail (I think it’s because I’d been at The LA Food and Wine Festival the evening before–way too much wine and food and fun), I got into my groove and the trail was, overall, flat and easy, except for a couple of inclines but its laid out well enough that even if you have restrictions, you can still easily navigate through without too many high lifts, squats and no climbing at all.

You will hit a point when you need to choose whether to take the high or the low trail. We stayed low and hung a left. While it was a good 2-3 miles, we at last found our way to the “Falls”. Sadly, the drought has definitely effected the amount of water here, but, nonetheless, it still was a great ending place to chill-lax with other hikers, dogs and enjoy being surrounded by nature.

Black and white vibes.

Black and white vibes.

While you could take your chances and not take the same direction back out of the trail, we played it safe and followed our same way. If you’re looking for an ultra fun outdoors environment to take some pictures, Escondido is a great option….

Picture: Michael Farah.

Picture: Michael Farah.

Picture: Michael Farah.

Picture: Michael Farah.

As we made our way back down to PCH, guess where we had to dip our toes?

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With the beach right there, that was a welcoming break and cool down!

IF YOU GO

Make sure you’re comfortable with the weather. This is an “easy” hike in that it is mostly flat walking, but, you’re still looking at 5-6 miles on the trail. Pack water and sunscreen. I would call this a great hike for beginners or those who don’t do intense hiking/jogging.

Have you ever been out to Escondido Trails? 🙂 xo

Summer’s Final Hurrah at The LA Times TASTE LA!

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Summers in Los Angeles are definitely the best. Sunshine, music, events, beach time and FOOD are just a few of the things that come to mind as I think about my “Summers in the city”. While Labor Day is  the last hurrah of the light nights and fun, The LA Times has been ensuring that each year closes with a bang….and, maybe a food coma, with their annual The TASTE of LA.

I was thrilled to be covering The TASTE for my very first time, and, to be honest, did not really know what to expect. I knew there would be food, free-flowing wine and spirits, but I left also pleased to have been on the Paramount Pictures studio lot where some of my favorite films were created, and to have even connected with some of The Times’ royalty from the Food section.

Entering the studio lot for Saturday night’s “Dinner with a Twist”, brought to mind when Pee Wee Herman crashes the Hollywood sets in search of his lost bike in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (Yes, this is one of my favorite films). The array of countless LA restaurants representing the TASTE filled the streets and movie buildings taking me everywhere from New York to Paris.

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Citi Stage

Acura Stage

I began my night with a sake tasting courtesy of the Japan National Tourism Organization. It was a blind tasting, and, I learned I don’t know my sake as well as I thought! I got 1 out of 3 correct…but, enjoyed all 3 😉 Sake connoisseurs were even on hand from Japan to answer any questions about the libation.

With seafood dishes aplenty, I gravitated towards stepping out of my comfort zone with some of my usual faves. (Usually sushi, salmon) I found 2 vendors offering up octopus. Cafe Del Rey, a gorgeous eatery in Marina Del Rey, was sampling the often overlooked dish topped with scallops. I already cannot wait to pay a visit to Cafe Del Rey. I felt transported to the ocean, just by one delicious bite.

Somewhere I was anxious to check out was the “Coffee Talks” being held within a coffeehouse set on the lot. Dubbed Cafe LA Times, barista’s were on hand making artisan espresso drinks while you could hang out and meet LA Times Restaurant Critic, Jonathan Gold. Practically royalty to the newspaper,  Gold stopped in for photo op’s with attendee’s in the most creative, rather bizarre, setting. Bright lights and walls covered in paper scraps of the LA Times, and, before I even got in queue for my turn, I was somewhat in awe at the scenarios people were dreaming up to pose with Gold!

I was a bit dull myself….

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While all of my experiences with food and wine weekends, one thing is for sure: I end up over eating. It’s too irresistible. With The Taste,  they have taken a ‘food fair’ atmosphere a step further and along with the restaurants to sample, each event had several culinary experts and stars hosting demo’s and panels on food. In between your noshing, you could experience on stage Cooking and  Mixology Demonstrations with several of LA’s award-winning chefs, including Kris Morningstar and Ray Garcia

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Despite some frustration when I arrived from The Taste crew, I finally found my way thanks to the dedicated parking team and the guards from Paramount. The entrance line was intimidating, but, ended up being extremely fast and kept moving. All the restaurants and wineries I connected with were lovely and eager to share their stores with me!

While The Taste may be in the record books until 2017, you can keep a piece of it with you via their Spotify play list. These tracks are what the DJ was spinning throughout the weekend. Perfect for your next soiree! xo