Sprouts Superiority

 

Choosing

Slowly but surely I am becoming good at feeding myself. Eating in the dorms was (perhaps surprisingly) very complex. The decision of where to grab lunch on the Hill almost always involved a series a calculations that included things like the number of stairs on the way to the dining hall, salad bar choices,  and the cheeriness of the dining staff; the list goes on. At first, eating in an apartment was anything but complex. Some nights I would find myself eating a pan-fried combination of whatever I had in the fridge (green beans, a slice of provolone cheese, a scrambled egg, hot sauce) that I would assemble in a hurry as my episode of Grey’s Anatomy buffered in my bedroom. Sometimes, if I was feeling especially domestic, I would make actual meals with side dishes and complete proteins. But a carefully crafted and well-planned dinner is still, really, not complex. And the only emotions I found myself experiencing swayed between vacancy and ambivalence. Cooking is fun, sure, but for the first part of summer it lacked spark. It was strangely robotic. And therefore while I was empirically good at nourishing myself, I was having a hard time feeding myself.

But recently I believe I have found the answer to my culinary conundrum. My grocery store. I’ve gone almost exclusively to Trader Joe’s until now and while TJ’s is a lovely alternative to either Whole Foods (too nice) or Ralph’s (not nice enough), something about it didn’t seem right. I think perhaps a big part of it was that during the time I lived on the Hill, Trader Joe’s was my safe haven. I would take bi-monthly treks into Westwood to forage around the snack aisles of Trader Joe’s in search of dorm-room treats. I waddled back to campus with bags full of pistachio-laden chocolates and peanut butter-filled pretzels. And each trip left me with a fierce sense of accomplishment. But now shopping at Trader Joe’s with a certain regularity has begun to make me feel alienated. While during freshman and sophomore year I consistently crowded the free sample counters, I now avoid it almost every trip. I rarely buy snacks and instead fill my cart with lots of veggies, lunch meats, and boxes of almond milk. But that’s not what Trader Joe’s is for! I like going there to buy food that isn’t quite food, more of a cute, surreal treat (where else can you buy multicolored candy-coated sunflower seeds?). And now buying real food is freaking me out.

A couple of blocks past Wilshire on Westwood Blvd sits the solution to my dilemma: a nice but not too nice grocery store called Sprouts. Having never stepped foot in a Sprouts before just a couple of weeks ago, the novelty of it is thrilling. I’m not constantly berated by reminders of the empty calories I consumed as a lowerclassman in the form of Trader Joe’s brand snicky snacks, and the store itself is spectacular. You can buy vegetables that aren’t shrink-wrapped or already pre-washed and sealed in plastic bags (which is all that I found myself buying lately). The selection offers you a much wider variety of things to make for dinner, and each aisle is filled with fun, new, exciting Sprouts brand things to try. But the best part isn’t even the great food. It is absolutely that now the process of “going to the store” is exciting. It’s complex. I have to time my shopping trips around the rush hour traffic that manifests over the course of the 8-block drive. I see new faces with every visit – true Westwooders and not just UCLA students and the few adults who live among us in the small area surrounding campus. I mean I’ve only been a couple times, but the change of pace has been thrilling. I have a renewed energy for cooking, and feeding myself in an apartment is now starting to be more fun than eating on the Hill was. A new grocery store is exactly what I needed to (quite literally) spice up my life.

My new favorite cafe!

As a UCLA student, many of us drink tons of coffee (especially during the ever-so-rapidly approaching finals week)! Since coming here, I think I’ve really learned how to distinguish a really good cup of coffee from a bad one. So naturally, my life was changed when I made my first trip to Urth Caffe. Urth Caffe is America’s first only organic coffee company with locations in West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and Downtown- all pretty close to UCLA campus so tons of students love to go! You cannot go wrong with basically any coffee or tea you order  here because it will all be delicious. The food they serve is also very healthy and they have a lot of vegan options which seems to be a trend in Los Angeles. Since I first tried this place a couple weeks ago, a cannot keep myself away from the super close Beverly Hills location- I even forced one of my floormates to come here with me this weekend!

A Bookworm’s Dream

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At UCLA you will do a lot of reading.  Whether you are an English Major or an Engineer taking your General Education Writing 2 Class, you can expect to read at UCLA.  To some this may sound like a dream come true, to others this may be a nightmare!  No matter your response, at UCLA you will be exposed to a wide variety of genres and authors.  We have classes on Detective Literature, Dystopian books (did you know “Fahrenheit 451” was written in the basement of Powell?), and all of the classics!  You can even take a class about Harry Potter (in Latin)!  If reading really isn’t your thing, there are always tutors and TAs just waiting to help you and walk you through the process.  

LA is an incredible city of books!  This past weekend was the LA Times Festival of Books at USC, the library in downtown is incredible, Ray Bradbury wrote his dystopian masterpiece in Powell, and….my new favorite…”The Last Bookstore” in downtown LA.

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I know what you are thinking: “How can that be the last bookstore? What about Barnes and Noble?”  You’re on the right track.  While this may not actually be the last bookstore, it is an fantastic place!  Mondays they have an open mic night, upstairs they have thousands and thousands of books for only $1, and there are some really artistic book displays (including a tunnel of books).  I went with a group of friends (both North and South Campus majors) and we spent hours wandering around!  I ended up getting four books for under $10 and (if given the time/money) I would have gotten more.

The diversity of LA is one of it’s strongest attributes.  UCLA is on the Westside where we have Santa Monica and Brentwood, but just down the freeway is downtown and an entirely different culture!  I fully intend on going back to The Last Bookstore followed by an excursion to some of the cafes in downtown.  On my last visit we went to Syrup Desserts and got some great waffles! 

Read on, fellow bookworms!

Food Truck Feast

I think most Bruins can agree that food is a HUGE part of the college experience. Whether it’s eating in our top rated dining halls or going out in Westwood eating is something UCLA is all about. Tuesday night I had the chance to go to a food truck event in Santa Monica. Food trucks are a Los Angeles staple. They range in all different types of food from classic burgers to Asian fusion to even crepes! They can be found all over Los Angeles and have been known to be super close to UCLA’s campus on occasion. Food trucks usually offer a small menu of specialty food items. For instance, the Lobster Truck offers a lobster sandwich, a crab sandwich, and a few other seafood based items. While the menu’s sometimes seem limited in choices its only because the food trucks have specialized in making those items amazingly delicious.

The event I went to was in Santa Monica just off Main Street and Ocean. There were about ten to fifteen food trucks with a huge variety of different types of food. I had my car and was able to drive but for Bruins without cars the Santa Monica Blue Bus is only 50 cents! Going to school in Los Angeles is awesome because you are super close to incredibly popular areas. Santa Monica is constantly hosting events because of its gorgeous location and importance in Los Angeles. I opted for “The Bun Truck”. This Asian fusion food truck offered a variety of sammie and steamed buns. I got the Kalbi Bun (sirloin) and Dewji (spicy pork) Bun, both of which were amazing! The fun thing about these food truck events is it does not matter what type of foods your friends like: there will be something for everyone! UCLA definitely has that college town feel, but with the availability of many other areas that allow students to get off campus and get into the city.

Like I said earlier, food is a big deal when it comes to college students and Los Angeles is one of the best “foodie” areas in the country. The variety, quality, and availability are incredible. I might have to stay in LA after graduation just for the food alone!!

Pizza Quotas

 

In the midst of furiously editing a paper I was writing yesterday, I decided to take a break from using my brain to go grab some dinner. My friend Josephine and I took a walk over to Lyon’s seventh arrondissement where we decided on eating at a pizza place where we had gone earlier in the semester. And even though the pizza was as delicious as it was the first time, leaving the restaurant I knew that I would never come back. I had reached my quota for “that pizza place in the seventh.”

But that isn’t to say that I have totally reached my quota on pizza. About a week ago, my friends and I were talking about how completely over pizza we were, just absolutely done. We could wait until California to get a slice of Hawaiian  and for now we needed to get our fix for melted cheese elsewhere. But two days later I found myself excitedly digging into a calzone at a restaurant that overlooks one of Lyon’s rivers. Apparently my palate was still accepting pizza.

Pizza has been a standard part of my weekly diet this semester. Josephine and I made a deal back in January that we would have weekly dinner dates that switched between eating pizza and  eating burgers and that we would carefully make our way through all of the establishments in Lyon that served these delicious (American) staples. Just as it was for certain pizzerias, I have reached my quota on several of the burger joints I’ve been to. One place I refuse to eat another burger at, and I will only return for their Thursday night deals (where you can buy a pound of french fries for three euros).

But I have to wonder why I run into these quotas. Is it because I want to try as many restaurants as possible? Is having delicious food or a cute ambience not enough? For some places, a limit for visits does not exist. There is a cupcake place here in the city that I’ve been to more times than I can count, and I have eaten Vietnamese food at Petit Grain on many occasions. There are also places I strive to go to often, even if I can’t always find a reason to. I walk past my favorite boulangerie on a weekly basis just to say hi even if I am not going in to buy a baguette. There is a cafe a couple streets over that I wish I had made my regular lunch spot, but I discovered it too late in the semester, so now I try to go as often as I can. There are, too, places for which my desired number of visits is “once.” There’s a bar that I spent a lovely night at, huddled outside under blankets sitting next to a tree that was growing up through the terrace, but as much as I adored the bar, going that one time was enough. Why do some places beckon me back while others outlive their allure? Why do I have my “favorite cafe” or “regular joint” when at the same time I am so interested in trying a new restaurant whenever I go out for lunch?

I’ve had a heck of a time walking the streets of the Lyonnais peninsula searching for new pubs and new restaurants  and for the most part I’ve been able to try the ones I want to try. But sometimes it is worth it to forgo testing that new kebab place and instead snuggling up in the familiar environment of the cupcake bakery?

I don’t know. But for now, I guess I will try not to worry too much about quotas and pizzas and novelty. That is until I get back to UCLA where Los Angeles has more bars and restaurants to try than there are days in the academic year. Here’s to hoping my experience in Lyon prepares me for the food uncertainty I face in the future.

Dreaming of a taco

Since the day I got here, I have been dreaming of eating a taco. A salty, beautiful carne asada soft taco with maybe some guacamole and a side of rice and beans. Even thinking about it now is making my heart swell in anticipation (I go home in about a month to be reunited with my long-lost love, Mexican food). Of course that is not to say that I haven’t tried to recreate my old favorites over here. I’ve used my blender to make horchata and have tirelessly searched the produce section for non-rock-like avocados. I even tracked down a decent Mexican restaurant in Paris when I went, but having a chorizo taco on a sad, imported tortilla is not quite like home.

In the absence of chilaquiles, I’ve been eating other food. Every so often I walk past one of my favorite boulangeries and pop in to grab a cookie. They aren’t quite like American cookies, the dough is made with almond paste and bitter chocolate, but it is very very tasty. Sometimes, instead of a cookie, maybe I grab a pain au chocolat. Or perhaps I stick to a classic baguette to make a sandwich with.

I now regularly eat crepes and quiches. I have developed quite a taste for biscottes and cheese. And while it is true that I still stare longingly at the dry, unfortunate flour tortillas in the supermarket’s international section, I have gotten quite good at passing them up and grabbing charcuterie instead.

This year I’ve fallen back in love with roast chicken, a relic of my childhood that I swore off after having eaten it so many times for family dinners. I eat duck regularly now, not just for special occasions. And the amount of goat cheese I consume has nearly tripled in recent months.

But what does this all mean? This new-found appreciation of all food that is rich, buttery, and completely devoid of spice? Will I have trouble readjusting to my quesadillas? Will even eating a pepperoni pizza trigger memories of the pounds of salami I’ve had since being here in France? Is it possible that upon my return I will crave a pear tart in the same way I now crave the hot first bite of a burrito?

I think so.

And now, with my last month ahead of me, I plan to relish in the glory that is French food in the hope that when I get back to the United States my palate will be programmed to always remember the love I have now for the yummy things I’m eating. I am still going to enjoy that first taco though.

Spring Break…it’s Good to be Home!

 

Spring Break can some times seem like the eye of the storm.  On one side of break we have finals from Winter Quarter.  On the other side we have the entirety of Spring Quarter.  This one short week is the only thing that comes between each 11 weeks!  That being said, it is one of the best breaks, even if it is the shortest.

At lot of my friends are in some really exciting places this break!  One friend is in New Zealand, a team of 20 friends are in Tokyo, and a ton of friends are spending their days in Las Vegas!  As for me, I returned home to Hollister.  So far it has been very relaxing!  My parents moved into a smaller house in a different neighborhood, but we have settled in nicely.

It has been wonderful being able to sit in bed without worrying about homework, readings, tests, or papers.  I’ve been able to try making all of the fancier recipes that I have wanted try at school but haven’t had the time to experiment with.  Some of them have been very successful and I cannot wait to try them again at school.  It has been fun to cook with my dad and I’ve even gotten my picky-eating mom and brother to try some interesting things (like barley and lentils).  I’ve also been using this time to catch up on all the reading I wanted to do during  the last couple of weeks.

Overall it has been a great start to break! Hollister is very different from LA and it’s rare for me to spend more than a couple days at home.  Whenever I am home, I miss the excitement of LA, but my hometown is so green!  My new neighborhood has a cute little duck pond and I’ve found some great runs to do this week!  The more time I spend in LA, the more I realize how different it is from Hollister.  No matter where I go, I always end up missing my “other” home.  See you in a week, Los Angeles!

Eatery on Lindbrook

I finally got to go out to Westwood last weekend after finishing all of my midterms. It was an exciting day for me, not only because I had finished my exams, but also because I got to meet one of my brother’s friends from Hawaii. Until last weekend, I had only contacted him through email and had never seen him in real life. But when I met him and talked to him, he was like how I had envisioned him. As a student in medical school, he has helped me through my transition from high school to entering college as premed. I am so thankful for his every thoughtful advice and his concern. I feel so blessed to know such an inspiring person.

So we met up for lunch on Saturday and we had to pick a place to eat.

Picking a place to eat is one of the hardest decisions to make, primarily because there are so many wonderful eateries around campus. There is a little town nearby on Sawtelle Blvd called Little Osaka, where they have various Japanese cuisines. If you are ever craving sushi, curry, dimsum, or just Asian food in general, visit Little Osaka. It’s only about a 10-min drive from UCLA. My favorite place to go in Little Osaka is Blockheads(Asian shaved ice) and Coco’s(Boba milk tea).

Due to bad traffic, we had to skip on Little Osaka and decided to look for a place in Westwood instead, and we found 800 Degrees Nepolitan Pizzeria. I had heard about the place from other people but had never actually gone there myself, so I wanted to try it.

The place is very unique in the way that they are very engaging in how they take orders and make their pizzas. The customers can pick the toppings they would like on their individual 12-inch pizza and they get to see the process of making the pizza. It’s basically like subway, but pizza instead of sandwich. It was interesting to see the process of a piece of dough transforming into a delicious pizza. Plus, I got to try toppings that I’ve never tried before, like ricotta and fontina cheese. They bake each pizza in their wood-fired ovens and serve it to the customer very fresh and hot. The whole process didn’t take very long either. It took us about 15 mins to see our pizzas being made. It felt shorter because it was so amusing to look at.

The atmosphere inside the restaurant was good too. We were sitting right by the window with the sun pleasantly shining through. Although it was a bit crowded, it was a nice, casual place to enjoy our lunch. Thanks to 800 Degrees Pizzeria, I had a nice lunch date with my brother and his friend 😀 Definitely going back there someday.

Miss Foodie

 

 

Although UCLA has AMAZING dorm food, as our dining halls have been ranked #1 in the nation several times, I like to explore other good eateries in town once in a while. Being a huge foodie myself, I like to walk down to Westwood or anywhere around campus to find new places to eat great food and hang out.

There are good eateries all over Westwood. If you like Asian noodles of all sorts, definitely take a trip to Noodle World. It serves authentic Asian cuisine from Vietnam, China, Japan, and Thailand. It has the best Pod Thai’s, and Pho’s with a deep, incredibly comforting broth. They also serve boba drinks, which is always a plus for me. With good prices and late night service, it is a great place to go with a friend to grab a late night snack. Or, if you are feeling like sushi, take a short walk to Yamato. It is located right in the center of the Westwood Village. If you walk along Westwood Blvd, you cannot miss it, because it is the only white building that looks like a castle. Although it can be pretty pricey, it holds regular happy hours from 5pm to close every night, which offers half-off discount on all rolls. So if you’re craving some baked lobster roll or dragon roll, hit Yamato for the night, and you will be satisfied.

I recently visited BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse to grab dinner with my brother, and I really enjoyed the casual atmosphere. In a dimly lit room, people were eating and watching some football with a bottle of beer in their hands. We ordered a pasta dish and a burger, and I personally liked the burger more. While the pasta was a bit dry, the burger was tender and juicy, and it came with wedged-cut fries, which were perfectly cooked: golden and crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.  But the dessert was the highlight of the night. BJ’s are especially known for their “pizookies”, or pizza-cookies. These rich, decadent cookies of various sorts, such as cookies and cream, the one that I personally had,  rasberry white chocolate almond, red velvet, and even gluten-free chocolate chip, are each topped with two scoops of vanilla bean ice cream. These things are so big and rich that you may have to share it with a couple of people.

I probably consumed thousands of calories that night, but it was TOTALLY worth it! And this place is only one of the tens of hundreds of restaurants that I have yet to explore in this city of LA, and I am so excited to try all of them. There are many things I am grateful for in this city of LA, but I am probably most thankful for its wonderful food 😉

De-stressing weekend :)

Last weekend was such a fabulous, great, and wonderful weekend! I finished all my first midterms last week, and that meant that I got to enjoy the whole weekend without worrying about left over midterms!!

Thursday night I slept right away after I got home, in order to catch up on my lack of sleep 🙂 On Friday morning, I visited a  high school in Los Angeles. It was such a beautiful day, and there was no traffic at all going to the school, which was such an amazing start to the day!! 🙂

And guess where I went after the high school visit…..I went to Disneyland!!! 🙂 and no people, I’m not bored of it yet..I love and adore that place so much!! My boyfriend and I spent the whole half day there. We found this new restaurant that sells clam chowder, and it was so good! 🙂 We also went on the Toy Story mania ride, and got a funnel cake to end the day!! 🙂

On Saturday morning, I went to get dim sum with some of my friends. We ended up having a  total 11 people that showed up that morning! It was so much fun to catch up with them. One of my friends, who went to visit his girlfriend told us that he proposed to her; and that they are engaged now!! I was super excited for them!! After dim sum, my boyfriend and I went for church down in Lake Forest with Half and Half boba in our hand!! haha..

Over all, it was such a lovely and relaxing weekend!! I came back to school on Monday ready for some classes and school work(not really, but I’ll endure through it…haha)! Tell me how you de-stressed from your midterms Bruins!! Happy week 5 of Spring quarter!! 🙂