Friday, August 29, 2014

Have appetite. Will travel.

Grubbing in the Golden State? It's definitely a trip!
Illustrations by Phoebe Thomas for love, -j.

When my family and I were visiting our home state of California this summer, we did it the best way we knew how: meal by meal. Oh the delectable dishes we ate! The delightfully thirst-quenching drinks we drank! The sights and smells and tastes! Glory and gluttony all wrapped tightly together like the perfect spicy tuna roll.

For a month we road tripped our way up and down the state, putting more than 3,000 miles on the car, not wanting to miss seeing and spending time with family and friends. Los Angeles, Orange County, the Inland Empire, Palm Springs, Santa Barbara, San Diego, San Francisco and the Bay Area. 

We ate our way through California. We visited tried-and-true spots. We went to a few new places. And every time I bit into something wonderful I thought, "I need to tell everyone about this!!" So here I am, telling you about it.   

For my California friends: if you're looking for places to eat this Labor Day weekend, you may find something worthwhile on this list. To my friends not in California but planning a trip in the not-too-distant future, print out this post and save it for that day when you find yourself walking along the blue Pacific and among the swaying palm trees.

Tutti mangia!

I had the best vegan eggplant parmesan of my life at Mohawk Bend in Echo Park. The eggplant was cooked to perfection, the marinara sauce flavorful and spicy, zucchini stripped like pasta noodles and topped with a delicious cashew cheese. Oh man, my mouth is watering just writing about it! Upping the cool factor is the building -- a retrofitted 100-year old Vaudeville theater. Mohawk Bend, 2141 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. 

Little Tokyo in downtown LA is our go-to place for ramen. And the best bowl of ramen can be found at Daikokuya. The noodles are always perfectly al dente. The broth rich and flavorful. You'll probably have to wait in line for a table, but it's totally worth it. Daikokuya, 327 E. First St., Los Angeles (locations also in West LA, Arcadia and Monterey Park).

My family's absolute favorite fast food joint in California is Zankou Chicken. I hate using the words "fast food" because our beloved Zankou is so much more than that. You'll find the best shwarma (beef) and tarna (chicken) pita wrap. Plus deliciously creamy hummus and mutabbal (eggplant hummus). Zankou Chicken, 1415 E. Colorado St., Glendale (locations also in West Hollywood, Burbank, West LA, Pasadena, Van Nuys and Anaheim).

We were most excited about getting our fill of Asian food. The options are slim here in Cleveland, so we jumped at the chance to nosh on noodles, pot stickers and various BBQ. Mama Lu's Dumpling House offered up yummy dishes like pan-fried pork buns, xiao long bao, fish dumplings and chive pancakes. Mama Lu's Dumpling House, 153 E. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park.

I had more than my fair share of boba during our travels. If you want to do the tasting tour, definitely include Flour + Tea in Pasadena for the regular milk tea, Cha for Tea for their almond milk tea, Tea Brick in Monterey Park if you like your tea strong, and Ozero Tea & Desserts in Little Tokyo for a delicious and refreshing brown sugar milk tea.

Speaking of Asian food, when we're in Orange County we always hit Sam Woo for some of the best Chinese food ever as well as anything at the Diamond Jamboree strip mall in Irvine (85°C Bakery, Urban Seoul, Ajisen Ramen, Guppy Tea House Cafe, Chef Hung Noodles, among others). Non-Asian fare Native Foods is worth a mention for the most delicious organic vegan fare (I'm seriously addicted to their Greek Gyro Bowl and my kids can't get enough of the Watermelon Fresca).       

While in San Francisco we spent most of our time in the Inner Sunset District, which is where my brother and his family live. A few eateries worth mentioning: the Beanery if you want a good cup of coffee; Lime Tree Southeast Asian Kitchen for the Singaporean Glass Noodles with Shrimp, Beef Rendang and crispy Roti; and Park Chow for brunch (try the organic French Toast and Quinoa Ragout).       

When I was a college student at UC Berkeley, Blondie's Pizza was my saving grace when I needed a midnight study break. It was so fun to introduce my kids to what I think is a little slice of heaven. Blondie's Pizza, 2340 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley (location also in San Francisco).

We ate really yummy sushi at Sushi Huku in San Marcos, a suburb 30 minutes outside San Diego. Spicy tuna is my sure thing and they sure got it right. Sushi Huku, 727 W. San Marcos Blvd., San Marcos.

Santa Barbara is like a second home to my family. We've been spending summers there for almost 15 years. That's plenty of time to figure out our favorite dining spots. We love the artisan sandwiches at Panino and always make trips to Blenders in the Grass for their awesome smoothies (my fave is The Blue Apple). There's delicious veggie and vegan options at The Natural Cafe and wonderful pastries, cakes and lunch options at Our Daily Bread.     

For pasta you must go to two spots: Olio e Limone for a fancy Italian dinner or Via Maestra 42 if you prefer something a little more low-key. Both are delizioso. 

And finally our favorite Santa Barbara spot to get a bite: Fresco Cafe. I always get the Warm Spinach Salad with Maple Bacon Vinaigrette. Fresco Cafe, 3987 State St., Santa Barbara.

I ate my way through Palm Springs with my girlfriends. We love the sleek interior design and indulgent dishes at TRIO. My favorite dinner items are the Center Cut Pork Chop with Tangerine Horseradish Marmalade and the Yankee Pot Roast with Sour Cream Mashed Potatoes. TRIO Restaurant, 707 N. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs.  

We visited Si Bon for Belgian brunch. The Lobster and Porcini Mushroom Crepes were divine. As was the Gulf Shrimp Salad with Avocado and Papaya Tarragon Swiss dressing. Si Bon, 40101 Monterey Ave., Rancho Mirage. 

My folks live in the Inland Empire, a gigantic swath of mountains and desert one hour east of Los Angeles. The dining options aren't as diverse as LA or San Francisco, but we still found a gem of a Vietnamese restaurant. Pho Ha offers hearty pho noodle soup as well as a mouth-watering Banh Mi (Vietnamese pork sandwich). Pho Ha, 9319 Foothill Blvd., Rancho Cucamonga.  


THANK YOU to the gorgeous and extremely talented Phoebe Thomas for her original illustrations for love, -j. See more of Phoebe's work here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A fashionable collection of shorts

I love short films. They have a wonderful way of capturing the everyday, the magical, the quirky, the absurd -- in bite-sized morsels. 

Vogue Original Shorts has produced some really entertaining ones. Check out my favorites (like the one above with Jessica Chastain, who shows us just what happens if you try and snap a photo of her!).

And this one with Lena Dunham, who gets a tutorial from Vogue international editor Hamish Bowles on "how to pose." So cute!

And this one with Lupita Nyong'o, who shares her love of braiding hair.

And finally this short featuring Mindy Kaling, who visits the Vogue closet for her first fitting.

Watch the full season of Vogue Original Shorts. (Vogue Videos)

Monday, August 25, 2014

One dress, two looks

It's a Red Carpet faux pas: when the same dress shows up on two different women. What's a girl to do? It happened when Kim Kardashian and Joan Smalls wore nearly the identical Balmain dress at last night's MTV Video Music Awards. 

The question is, who wore it better? 

Not surprisingly, Kim K doesn't leave much to the imagination. I personally think Ms. Smalls did it best: stylish, classy and letting the dress (not the boobs) do the talking. 

The best (and worst) of last night's VMA Red Carpet. (Vulture)

Friday, August 22, 2014

A happy marriage

On the long drive back from San Francisco to Los Angeles (381 miles through mostly flat, boring, parched conditions and a foul-smelling patch of cows, manure and fertilizer) the husband and I listened to an audiobook of Malcolm Gladwell's best-seller Blink to break up the monotony of The Five.   

The part we found most fascinating was a chapter Gladwell devotes to a marriage researcher named John Gottman. Gottman, a professor of psychology at the University of Washington, has spent the past four decades studying thousands of couples in search of what makes marriages last. He does funny things that scientists do, like hooking up his subjects to electrodes and asking them questions about their relationship while measuring their blood flow, heart rate and how much they sweat. 

Then I came across this eye-opening article about Gottman in The AtlanticGottman has fine tuned his craft so well he can predict whether certain couples -- gay or straight, rich or poor, childless or not -- will be broken up, together and unhappy, or together and happy several years later. And he can do this with up to 94 percent accuracy.

So science has confirmed that kindness is the thing that glues couples together. According to Gottman, it's the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, validated and ultimately, loved. Seems like a no-brainer, right?

I've been doing a lot of thinking about this topic, especially as the husband and I will celebrate our 11-year anniversary tomorrow. There's no secret to a happy marriage. Gottman's forty years-worth of research is pretty spot-on. Exercise that kindness muscle and the glue that keeps the two of you together will stay sticky.


Read the full article about John Gottman's research here. (The Atlantic)

A dissection of Gottman's love lab. (Slate)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Real life Iron Man

A fishing-related explosion nearly 35 years ago left Sun Jifa without hands. Unable to afford prosthetic limbs, Sun designed his own out of scrap metal, plastic and rubber. 

The Chinese inventor has spent the past decade making more than 800 artificial limbs for the disabled, most of whom cannot afford it. "I feel like this is my mission in life," Sun says. "I can help others, despite being disabled myself." 

What a truly great human being.

35 photos that will restore your faith in humanity. (Slice)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Fall denim: a love story

Did you know denim first showed up on this planet when Italian textile workers started weaving blue jeans for Genoan sailors during the 17th century? Some 200 years later, Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss would invent blue jean overalls and riveted denim pants for miners and cowboys. Then in the 1950s, movie stars like James Dean and Marlon Brando would immortalize this hard-wearing twill-weave cotton fabric.

Ah, the blue jean. What could be a more ubiquitous fashion item?

Since we're on the subject, I'd like to share a few denim trends this fall. Some I'm super excited about. A few not so much.

patchwork jeans

I've been in love with patchwork since I was a little girl. There's something about the placement of cut-out mixed prints against soft denim. So much good fashion is about contrast. Maybe that's why I love this look. I'd pair mine with a romantic blouse and a pretty pair of heels.

In fact, I saw this pic and I'm on a mission to DIY my own pair of patchwork jeans (aren't they super cute?):


the jean skirt

Jean skirts are a great way to high-low an outfit. My favorite look is the pic on the left. Again, romantic blouse paired with pretty heels. Love.

I'm most excited about denim overalls making a comeback. For two reasons: 1) they look super cute on just about everyone, as long as you get the fit right -- not too baggy, but fitted (you don't want to look like a farmer!) and 2) overalls are always forgiving on the waistline (which is always a win in my book). 

mom jeans

Yes, you read that right. The mom jean is making a comeback. Say it ain't so!! The folks at Vogue are trying to make mom jeans "cool." I'm sorry but the light wash, wide leg and high waist isn't doing anyone any favors (not even for the rail-thin model in this video).

I'm on the fence about flares. In some cases I get it (see photo of chic girl on the right). In most circumstances I don't see the appeal (see rest of the photos). 

What I can't stand most is when the flare is so big it engulfs the entire foot. Like this:

It kinda makes you say, "What happened to the poor girl's feet?" Even more of a travesty is if said girl is wearing a beautiful pair of shoes under there.

The always luminous Marilyn Monroe perhaps wore denim in the best way possible: casually, playfully, sexily and powerfully. Isn't this the best jean photo ever?

How about you? What's your favorite way to wear blue jeans?

These folks may have rocked mom jeans back in the day, but let us not repeat fashion mistakes from the past. (Huff Post Style)

Emily Current and Meritt Elliott of Current/Elliott tell their jean love story. (LA Times) 

Monday, August 18, 2014

On work-life balance: is there such a thing?

There is so much chatter today about work-life balance that it often gets me riled up. A modern woman just can't win: you manage a full-time career yet feel like a bad mother for missing out on things like school drop offs and pick ups and the occasional recital or sports competition or you're just plain out of energy after a 8-10/hour (or more) workday and the thought of cooking a nutritious dinner plus baths, brushing teeth, pajamas and reading before lights out is enough to make any grown-up cry.

Or you decide to stay at home with your child(ren) and while you're thankful YOU get to be the one witnessing all the firsts (first laugh, first steps, first playdate, first solid meal, first homework assignment, first heart-to-heart talk in the car after school), there's this longing coming from deep within you, inside this secret box with nagging questions like, "Should I be doing more? Shouldn't I be using my college/post-graduate degree? What is becoming of my life?" 

I know because I've been there. 

I've held down a full-time job with two kids (at the time, my son was a preschooler and my daughter an infant). I've also put my career on hold to stay at home. 

For me, there was no "balance" in either scenario. 

When I worked full-time, I gave my best to my team -- fresh-faced and ready to tackle the world together -- meanwhile I felt awful because I came home beyond exhausted. I felt like I was giving my family second-best, the crumbs off my work table. I remember picking up my baby girl from daycare and smelling another woman's perfume on her. I just about died from guilt.

When I decided to stay at home with my son, I left a career that was just beginning to take off. I had my dream job: writing about Arts & Culture as well as penning my own column about impending motherhood for a small Southern California newspaper. I had hopes of taking that experience and going to a major metropolitan newspaper then moving to magazines and eventually giving New York City a shot. But after my son arrived, naturally my heart felt pulled in two different directions. Eventually my mother's heart won. I savored every newborn/infant/toddler moment with him and wouldn't have traded that for even the most fabulous job. But I would be lying if I told you I didn't have days where I wondered, "Where would my career be if I just kept going?"

You can't be in two places at once. Something's gotta give. That's why discussions about work-life balance and leaning in leave me rather annoyed. It took me years to finally reconcile the fact that you can't have it all (and while we're on the subject, what does "having it all" mean?). Can a woman (or a man, for that matter) have a stellar, jet-setting, on-top-of-the-world kind of career AND be the parent who's there for all of those little things like drop offs and doctor appointments and school plays and firsts?

For Max Schireson, CEO of billion dollar database company MongoDB, the answer was no.  

In a recent post on his blog, Schireson writes about stepping down from "the best job [he] ever had" to spend more time with his family. "I recognize that by writing this I may be disqualifying myself from some future CEO role," Schireson admits. "Will that cost me tens of millions of dollars someday? Maybe. Life is about choices. Right now, I choose to spend more time with my family..."

Schireson made headlines with his memo and while I applaud him for being so open and honest, I also look forward to a time when a CEO leaving a high-profile, high-paying job to spend more time with family doesn't make front-page news.  

Perhaps we're having the wrong discussion and it isn't about balance or leaning in or opting out or giving it up or having it all. Maybe it's about seeking, trial and error, being allowed to make mistakes, not having all the answers and releasing our expectations to be perfect.    

Work and life and family: it is what it is and we're all doing the best we can.

Read CEO Max Schireson's full blog post here. (

Friday, August 15, 2014

California is thirsty

While in California this summer I couldn't help but notice how parched it was. Granted much of the Golden State is in the middle of the desert, but even in the desert things grow. It was as if I could hear the land crying out, screaming to me, "I am so THIRSTY!!!" 

And no wonder. Nearly 82 percent of the entire state is experiencing extreme drought conditions. This means mandatory water restrictions -- you can't wash down driveways or sidewalks, you're not supposed to water outdoor landscaping and in many restaurants patrons are being asked to pay for drinking water.

My friend Jeff Goodman (a son of Ohio and an honorary Californian) and his family spent a month visiting family in California. In this stunning and dramatic photo he captures the sad story happening right now.   

And it's not only California that's suffering. Six other states are also running out of water. Scary.


San Luis Reservoir
By Jeffrey Goodman

...This is my first photo documenting the severity of the drought in California. 

My boys are standing in the San Luis Reservoir in Central California. The reservoir is 74 percent empty. You can see the old water line to the left of my boys. If you look waaaay far in the front you can see a little black speck of where the water is now. 

I didn't ask my boys to put their arms around each other. That just spontaneously happened. 

Photo by Jeffrey Goodman.

California's drought launches a new gold rush. (National Geographic)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Fashion prodigy: the jeweled "evening gown"

I consider myself a pretty lucky gal to be a part of the Anthropologie family. It's my most favorite shop in the world and so wonderfully reflects my style sensibilities: eclectic, free-spirited, romantic.  

Izzy calls it "the fashion store" and loves visiting me when I'm at work. Her favorite thing to do is try on the clothes -- especially the dresses. It never crosses her mind that she's about 12 years ahead of schedule. If it doesn't fit then use a rubber band to cinch the waist! Or tuck it in at the sides! Or roll up the sleeves!

For Izzy, there's always a way as long as there's imagination.

On this particular afternoon it was all about evening gowns. This dress was her favorite. "I feel like a princess!" she said as she pranced around the fitting room. Izzy asked me to take a few snaps (see photos below) then walked to the front of the store to look for more dresses. That's how I got the pic (above) with that thigh-high slit.

I must say, the look works. Nice job, Iz!

Another Anthropologie number: the LBD.

Monday, August 11, 2014


I've never seen anything in cinema like Boyhood. Shot with the exact same cast over a span of 12 years (!), Richard Linklater's masterpiece is like watching time lapse photography in real time. 

If you haven't seen it yet run, don't walk, to your nearest theater. Watch. It. Now.

The critics almost unanimously love Boyhood. (The New York Times)

Friday, August 8, 2014

Paper robot

I learned about the coolest thing yesterday. The wondergeeks at the Harvard School of Engineering and MIT have created a real life transformer -- a flat sheet of paper that turns into a robot! 

Check it out.

Origami and the rise of the self-folding robot. (The New York Times)

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Tired in that way...

I'm reading Still Life With Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen (on my summer reading list) and came across this sentence, a sentence I haven't been able to get out of my head:

"...Rebecca had just been tired, tired in that way a woman with a child and a husband and a house and a job and a life gets tired, so that it feels like a mild chronic illness."

People email and text and hashtag LOL and it's usually meant to express amusement, agreement or even bewilderment. But in this case I really did laugh out loud. "Oh my God!" I said to whoever was listening (in this case it was to no one in my empty living room). "I can totally relate to this woman!" 

I don't know what impressed me more -- identifying with this character's honest and unapologetic sentiment about balancing work/life/motherhood or how Quindlen so succinctly and simply packaged it in 37 words.

I'm in a season of life where "mild chronic illness" accurately sums up my physical state. Like Rebecca I'm spinning a multitude of dishes from two young children to marriage to running a house to managing a career to living a life where meaning and fulfillment and intentionality are paramount. All the while making sure those dishes don't crash at my feet. 

I guess I looked pretty haggard when I came home to California last month. "You need to take your vitamins!" my mother announced in her sunny and immaculate kitchen (the sunny and immaculate part in stark contrast to my ashy skin and bloodshot eyes). Right away she packed my bag with a year's worth of vitamins B-12, D and Super B-Complex. 

In an effort to feel more energetic I've been binging on green smoothies (yesterday kale/avocado/banana, today spinach/pineapple/orange/banana, tomorrow kale/spinach/blueberry/avocado/beet). And to tell you the truth, while the vitamins are great and the smoothies are delicious it still takes me over an hour to fall asleep (I can't turn off my brain!) and in the morning I often feel an annoying crook in my neck. 

You know when you're so tired the thought of looking in the fridge and wracking your brain for dinner ideas makes you want to yell to everyone, "Make your own damn dinner!" Or when listening to little voices saying, "Mommy, Mommy, Mommy!" for what seems like the 400th time in the past five minutes causes you to completely zone out? Have you been so tired you can't find the energy to laugh at your spouse's jokes (even when they're bona fide genius?).

Yep, sounds like mild chronic illness to me.

Do you ever feel this way?

Illustration by Anne Taintor.

Monday, August 4, 2014

This week's obsession: the topknot

Summer weather means gorgeous weather. But it also means heat, and here in Cleveland that equals muggy heat! If you've got long hair like mine, the fewer days you spend letting your hair down means less time dealing with frizz. And that's why topknots are a life saver.

I could wear a topknot every day, especially as we head into the hottest weeks of summer. It takes little time, is still big on style and all you need is an elastic, bobby pins and a few practice rounds. (Added bonus: if you want to skip a wash -- or two -- just use a little dry shampoo and topknot to your heart's content!)

Click here for a variety of great topknot tutorials on Pinterest. Good luck and stay chic (and cool!). 

Three twists on a classic topknot. (Marie Claire)