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Beauty product review: Cotz mineral sunscreen

Cotz mineral sunscreen. From Cotz Skin Care.

Cotz mineral sunscreen. From Cotz Skin Care.

Living in sunny Southern California, it’s a must to wear sunscreen daily. And since this stuff is going on your face, you want to ensure it’s good for you, right?

Check out Cotz mineral sunscreen, which uses zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to protect skin from harmful UVA and UVB rays. While I still love Jan Marini face sunscreen, Cotz is great because it’s tinted with a non-greasy, matte finish, making it ideal for everyday wear.

And even though Cotz mineral sunscreen is tinted, the pigment is darker coming out of the tube than when it goes on your face. It also feels really thick on your fingers, but it goes on smooth and light.

Cotz products range from 30 SPF to 58 SPF. The one I’ve been using, Cotz Face for Natural Skin Tones, has 40 SPF. Cotz mineral sunscreens differ from chemical sunscreens by creating a physical barrier reflecting harmful UV rays. When you slather on a chemical sunscreen, your skin absorbs laboratory-made carbon compounds that absorb UV rays and release their energy in ways that don’t harm the skin. Read about some of the debate between using chemical and mineral sunscreens.

Cotz mineral sunscreen is perfect for Angelenos commuting to and from work, whether it’s in the car (those UV rays are getting you through the window) or while walking to and from the Metro, like I do. I’ve also worn it to the beach, and it holds up just as well in lots of direct sunlight for an extended period of time. It’s my new favorite face sunscreen.

Note: Cotz mineral sunscreen was provided complementary in a gift bag given out at an Organic Spa Magazine event held at the Beverly Wilshire hotel.


07 2016

Travelogue: Anna Maria Island, Florida

I recently visited Florida for the first time since I was a child. I have to admit that I wasn’t very excited about it; I mean, I live in Los Angeles, so I don’t need to go to Florida to find a beach (and then there’s the humidity…). But I have to say that visiting Anna Maria Island in mid April was actually pretty darn nice.

We stayed in a rented house just a couple of blocks away from where Bradenton Beach meets Holmes Beach. The beach wasn’t crowded, had clean, white sand, and clear blue water.

Bradenton Beach on Anna Maria Island

Bradenton Beach on Anna Maria Island

We took a boat tour of Sarasota Bay with Capt. Kathe. Actually, since our group was so large, we needed two boats, so I was on a boat helmed by Capt. Kathe’s daughter, Capt. Katie Scarlett (I assume Kathe is a fan of “Gone With the Wind”). Katie Scarlett is easy-going and fun, and she took us from Cortez around the bay so we could see dolphins, some of which even played in the wake of our boat. We didn’t see any manatees, though it’s supposedly possible. We also made a stop at Beer Can Island, which is beautiful, despite its name.

So this happened today. #dolphins #nbd #florida #imonaboat

A video posted by Maya Meinert (@shopeatsleep) on

Dolphin action #dolphins #florida #video

A video posted by Hon. Rory Owen Delaney (@mbdfilms) on

Capt. Kathe docks at Star Fish Company Market & Restaurant. If you’d like to eat there after your tour — and you should — Kathe and co. will call in your order while you’re on the boat so you don’t have to wait in the huge line that forms at lunchtime. I had the fried grouper sandwich with cheese grits on the side. The grits are really, really cheesy, so maybe go for the fries if you’re not inclined to that kind of fish-and-cheese combo.

Fried grouper sandwich and cheese grits at Star Fish Company

Fried grouper sandwich and cheese grits at Star Fish Company

My husband and I also went parasailing, something I’ve always wanted to do. There are lots of parasailing companies on Anna Maria Island, but we went with Bradenton Beach Parasailing. We got 15 minutes up in the air, which came with photos, a higher height than the 10-minute flight and a dip in the ocean, for $89 per person (the 10-minute option is $69 per person). Those 15 minutes go by fast, so I can’t imagine how quick the 10-minute flight would be!

Going up! parasailing

Going up!



We had lunch one day at the City Pier Restaurant located at the end of the Anna Maria Island City Pier. While the food wasn’t necessarily anything special, the fish was cooked nicely, and the ambiance — which includes a view of the ocean while listening to a live musician — was spot-on. The blackened grouper on top of a Greek salad hit the spot. (You’ll find grouper on just about every menu in this area.)

Blackened grouper on Greek salad at City Pier Restaurant

Blackened grouper on Greek salad at City Pier Restaurant

For my mother-in-law’s birthday, we had dinner at Beach Bistro. We started with a sunset cocktail hour, then moved inside for our meal.

Sunset cocktail hour at Beach Bistro

Sunset cocktail hour at Beach Bistro

We opted for the three-course $65 tasting menu (there’s an optional “exotics” course available for an extra $25 that includes your choice of tenderloin rillette, seared foie gras, seared scallops or “Lobstercargots”). I had the oyster mushroom farro, bouillabaisse and Prailine Alexandra, a house-made praline with vanilla bean ice cream and Frangelico. I heard a lot of good things about Beach Bistro from other visitors to Anna Maria Island, but in the end, I thought the meal was nice but not necessarily a standout.

Oyster mushroom farro at Beach Bistro

Oyster mushroom farro at Beach Bistro

Bouillabaisse at Beach Bistro

Bouillabaisse at Beach Bistro

Praline Alexandra at Beach Bistro

Praline Alexandra at Beach Bistro

This trip to Florida changed my mind about the state — well, as long as I’m staying on an island or beach (wink, wink).


05 2016

Do Catalina Island for free on your birthday

Catalina Island

Catalina Island

Want to do something fun for your birthday but don’t want to spend a lot of money?

Consider a staycation at Catalina Island, where you can get a bunch of free or discounted stuff on your birthday. That even includes a free trip to the island on the Catalina Express. You have to travel on your actual birthday and preregister online, but then you get to save up to $76.50 roundtrip. Score!

And once you get to Catalina, more freebies await: BOGO parasailing flights, free admission to the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden, a free meal at Buffalo Nickel Restaurant (online reviews are mixed) and more. Take a look:

~ Rent a bike for two hours from Brown’s Bike and get the rest of the day free until 5 p.m. plus a bottle of water

~ Two-for-one climbs at the Descanso Beach Club climbing wall (open weekends and holidays only)

~ Free cup of coffee at Catalina Coffee and Cookie Co. (must show Catalina Express birthday ribbon)

~ Free scoop of ice cream, buy one pound of salt water taffy and get an extra 1/4 Pound free, and buy any iced coffee drink or smoothie and get a second of equal or lesser value 50 percent off at Lloyd’s of Avalon

~ Buy the mani-pedi special at Island Breeze Spa and Salon for $50 and receive a 50-minute Swedish massage or facial for $69 (M-Th) or $79 (Fri-Sun), or a 25-minute massage or facial for $45

If you’re staying overnight, check out these discounts at Catalina Island hotels:

The Avalon Hotel: Receive a free bottle of wine or sparkling cider.

Hotel Vista Del Mar: Get a complimentary bottle of champagne or wine, celebratory balloons, continental breakfast, and evening milk and cookies

Hotel Catalina and Courtyard Garden Suites: Get 10 percent off one night; 20 percent off two nights

Catalina Island Inn: Receive a complimentary box of Lloyd’s of Avalon chocolates plus your choice of champagne or sparkling cider

Hotel Metropole: Get 20 percent off on any room and save $50 on a couples massage at the hotel spa


03 2016

Eat well without breaking the bank at Yalla Mediterranean

Yalla Mediterranean falafel and steak

Yalla Mediterranean falafel and steak

Yalla Mediterranean is quickly becoming one of my go-to spots for a quick and healthy meal. For someone who loves all kinds of Mediterranean food, Yalla is the perfect option, as it offers foods inspired by Greece, Morocco, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Tunisia and Egypt. Chicken, beef, lamb, salmon, falafel — you name it, Yalla Mediterranean‘s got it.

Yalla’s fast-casual set-up is kind of like Chipotle’s. You choose a preparation — a wrap, salad (including fattoush), or plate with rice, grilled vegetables or lentils, and three sides. Then you choose your protein — falafel, chicken (skewers or shawarma), steak skewers, salmon skewers or kefta skewers. There are even different wrap styles to choose from — Greek, Jerusalem street style, Moroccan and Lebanese. Doesn’t look like I’ll be running out of options anytime soon!

I’ve tried the harissa-marinated tri-tip and falafel on a plate with rice and lentils. The proteins were cooked perfectly, and the lentils were flavorful without being overpowering. The Israeli couscous and Greek potato salad sides were my favorite. I’ve also had chicken shawarma on a fattoush salad, which is a tasty low-carb option. My husband liked his ground beef and lamb kefta wrap, which he got Greek style per the restaurant’s recommendation.

Chicken shawarma on fattoush salad Yalla Mediterranean

Chicken shawarma on fattoush salad

Not only is the food at Yalla Mediterranean delicious (it’s all made to order, so that’s a definite plus), it’s also hormone-free, responsibly raised and locally sourced, according to its press release. There’s even compostable plates, cups and cutlery.

And there’s beer. And wine. And Greek frozen yogurt topped with chopped baklava. I repeat: fro-yo with baklava.

Yalla has locations in Northern and Southern California, including one in downtown Culver City, where I’ve visited a couple of times.

Perhaps the best part? For the ample amount of food you get, the mains are reasonably priced at just under $10. Healthy, tasty and economical? I’m there.

Note: A meal here was hosted.


03 2016

Sweat your butt off with WundaBar Pilates

WundaBar PilatesI consider myself pretty adept at the art of pilates. I’m by no means an expert, and I know I still have a long way to go, but I take classes two to three times a week. So when WundaBar Pilates approached me to try one of its classes, I thought I would perform pretty well.

WundaBar Pilates uses the WundaFormer, a patented version of the classic reformer machine that incorporates all major pilates apparatus in one machine. The reformer, chair, jump board and ballet barre are all in one machine, saving space and making workouts more varied and efficient.

For 45 minutes I sweated my butt off while planking, crunching, bridging, lunging, jumping (on the board) and more. Classes are focused and fast-paced. My instructor, Bridgette, was tough but also allowed us to modify the moves if we were struggling (and I was definitely struggling). I actually overheated, so make sure to hydrate and bring a towel!

Wundaformer Wundabar Pilates


The first class is free, but after that it’s $30 per class. Luckily there’s a Gilt City deal for WundaBar Pilates in California (there’s also a New York City location) being offered right now.

Note: This class was hosted. Photos courtesy of WundaBar Pilates.


02 2016

Cafe Diva Steamboat Springs offers eclectic seasonal menu

Elk sausage and manchego empanadas at Cafe Diva

Elk sausage and manchego empanadas at Cafe Diva

Every year I visit my in-laws in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and I try to visit a different restaurant each time. This year we went to Cafe Diva, a favorite among the family.

Located in Torian Plum Plaza at the base of the ski mountain, Cafe Diva Steamboat Springs focuses its menu on local, seasonal ingredients. Dish preparations vary in style and include influences from Latin, Asian, European and other cultures.

My favorite dishes came at the beginning and end of the meal.

My starter of elk sausage and manchego cheese empanadas with a poblano-pepita pesto and cilantro-lime cream was an interesting take on the Latin-American snack using very-Colorado elk meat. This was my first time eating elk, and I liked it a lot, mostly because it wasn’t as gamey as I thought it would be. My husband’s elk tenderloin was really nice, too.

The dessert we shared — a take on bananas foster with Grand Marnier-vanilla bread pudding, roasted banana gelato, rum salted caramel and candied pecans — was also a standout. All the flavors worked together nicely, as did the different textures. The roasted banana gelato was my favorite part, as I love everything banana!

Bananas foster at Cafe Diva

Bananas foster

When it came to my main dish, seared diver scallops wrapped in bacon and served on a bed of spinach spaetzle with lemon-vermouth butter and capers, I wasn’t as impressed. The dish was too salty, which made it hard to enjoy. I should have ordered the sablefish with white balsamic-orange miso served in a coconut broth with snow peas, shiitake mushrooms and crispy ramen noodles. I had a taste of my sister-in-law’s, and I found it much more balanced. However, she thought it was a bit on the sweet side, so maybe I just liked it because my dish was so salty.

Diver scallops

Diver scallops



Even though there were some hits and misses, because my family likes Cafe Diva Steamboat Springs so much I’d be willing to try it again, especially since it is one of the few nicer restaurants in town (which is not very big).


02 2016

BFree gluten-free bread won’t crumble in sad, dry mess

BFree gluten-free bread Multiseed Bagels on board

I’ve tried many gluten-free breads. Not because I’m one to (blindly) follow food trends, but because my husband has a gluten intolerance (for real, OK?). Most GF breads just aren’t up to par; they’re often dry, crumbly and tasteless. But I’ve finally found a brand that is none of those things, which means it’s pretty darn close to bread with gluten in it.

BFree gluten-free bread, based out of Dublin, Ireland, with U.S. manufacturing in Montebello, California, offers a range of products that you’d swear had gluten in them. The sliced bread, bagels, rolls and wraps are all close approximations of their conventional counterparts, though some succeed better than others.

The sliced bread, which comes in both white and brown seeded varieties, tasted best to me in terms of both flavor and texture. The bagels are also decent. The rolls are a bit doughy, while the wraps are a bit dry, though not dry enough to fall apart when handling them. I did notice that none of the products toasted like bread with gluten in them, though I’m not one to toast my bread too dark anyway.

BFree gluten-free bread Brown Seeded Sandwich Loaf

BFree gluten-free bread is made with a blend of buckwheat and corn flours, and gets its protein and fiber from peas, apples and potatoes. The products are billed as allergen- and vegan-friendly (no gluten, wheat, dairy or egg), low-fat and high-fiber, and non-GMO. And for the calorie-conscious, the multigrain wraps contain only 100 calories.

You can’t buy the breads online yet, but you can find BFree gluten-free bread products in California at Ralphs, Lucky’s, Raley’s and Save Mart stores, as well as at DeMoulas Market Basket in the Northeast, ShopRite on the East Coast, Meijer in the Midwest and BJ’s nationwide.

Note: Complimentary BFree products were provided for this review. All photos courtesy of BFree.


01 2016

Unique gift guide: shop UncommonGoods gifts

Still looking for that perfect holiday gift? Try UncommonGoods gifts, which feature unique designs and handcrafted gifts. Part of UncommonGoods’ mission is to support and provide a platform for artists and designers, with most products created in the United States and about one-third incorporating recycled and/or upcycled materials. And $1 from every purchase is donated to your choice of its not-for-profit partner organizations, including the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, American Forestry Association, Women for Women International and Reach Out & Read. So you can shop while feeling good about it!

Some of my personal picks from UncommonGoods gifts include these wine pearls ($24.95), which cool down your drink without diluting it as an ice cube would (you can also use them with spirits), and this bell ring you can use while running to alert people you’re coming up behind them. These gifts would make great stocking stuffers.

UncommonGoods gifts Wine pearls

Wine pearls

UncommonGoods gifts Running bell

Running bell

Looking for something a bit more substantial? UncommonGoods’ gifts under $50 is a good place to start. I really like the set of four wood coasters ($36) that show maps of cities and the set of eight puzzles set ($30).

UncommonGoods gifts Map coasters

Map coasters

UncommonGoods gifts Puzzles


If you don’t want to spend too much but still want to get something special, then check out UncommonGoods’ gifts under $25. Two favorites of mine include dish towels ($20) with cute ski towns on them, and a glass ($12.50) with a map of your favorite city etched on to it.

UncommonGoods gifts Dish towels

Dish towels

UncommonGoods gifts City map glass

City map glass

Shipping information for the holidays

Place your order by 5 p.m. ET on the dates below to receive your order on or before Dec. 24:

  • Dec. 17 – Choose economy shipping or faster
  • Dec. 18 – Choose standard or preferred shipping or faster
  • Dec. 21 – Choose expedited shipping or faster (not valid for P.O. Boxes)
  • Dec. 22 – Choose express shipping (not valid for P.O. Boxes)

Orders placed after 5 p.m. ET on Dec. 23 will leave the warehouse on Dec. 28.

Note: Some of these gifts were complimentary.



12 2015

2015 holiday gift guide for foodies

Art of Tea sampler

Art of Tea sampler. Photo from Art of Tea.

Need a holiday gift guide for that foodie in your life? Check out some of my personal picks:

Art of Tea sampler sets: For just $25, you can gift someone four small tins of hand-blended organic teas. The Holiday Tea Sampler, with Winter White Chai, Pumpkin Pie, Butterscotch and Dark Chocolate Peppermint flavors, is a favorite and seasonally appropriate. Use code “hellohandmade” for 15 percent off (good through March 31, 2016). Order by midnight tonight, Dec. 11, to guarantee delivery by Christmas!

Ocha Teapot: The handy (and cute) personal Ocha Teapot brews the tea and dispenses just the right amount into your cup. Just place over a cup when ready and watch the tea flow! Great for people who like to control the amount of tea in their cups or for sharing with others. I first encountered this at Max Brenner in Las Vegas and thought it was so cool. Teapots are 30 percent off right now for the holidays.

Big Sur Bakery stollen

Big Sur Bakery stollen. Photo from Big Sur Bakery.

Big Sur Bakery stollen loaf: This holiday bread loaf, with layers of butter, almond paste, rummed raisins and house-candied citrus zest, all coated with granulated sugar is an elevated take on the traditional German stollen bread. Big Sur Bakery’s stollen would be a treat for anyone who appreciates artisan foods.

My Fat Dad by Dawn Lerman: Author Dawn Lerman, who has written for the New York Times’ Well blog, tells the story of growing up with a parent who struggled with his weight in her book, My Fat Dad: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Family, with Recipes. Part memoir, part cookbook, My Fat Dad offers insight into how our parents affect the trajectory of our lives, as Lerman’s father’s near-constant diets and yo-yoing weight prompted her love of food and cooking, as well as healthy eating. At the end of each chapter, Lerman gives us recipes for some of the dishes mentioned, many of which come from her beloved grandmother. An easy read with lots of heart.




12 2015

Hanjip restaurant brings elevated Korean BBQ to Westside

Hanjip restaurant banchan

Hanjip banchan

Stephane Bombet is on a roll. First, he opened Terrine. Then, he opened Viviane. Just a week later, he opened Hanjip restaurant, an elevated Korean barbecue experience in Culver City.

Bombet and Chef Chris Oh of Seoul Sausage fame are offering top-notch meat, seafood, sides and banchan right in the heart of downtown Culver City, giving the Westside a new KBBQ option. But Hanjip restaurant is definitely not your run-of-the-mill Korean barbecue joint.

In addition to the marinated and non-marinated beef and pork, there’s also beef tongue (which I didn’t think I’d like but ended up loving), lamb, baby octopus, hamachi collar and gigantic Carabineros prawns. Oh, the prawns. Huge, sweet, tender. And expensive at $88 for a plate of three, but hey, it’s the holidays!

Hanjip restaurant Carabineros prawns

Carabineros prawns

Also in the pricey column is the Tomahawk chop topped with foie gras butter. At $120, you’re definitely splurging. But what a splurge it is. So much meat, so much umami.

Hanjip restaurant Tomahawk chop

Tomahawk chop

Hanjip also offers some great side dishes, from the traditional seafood pancake and kimchi fried rice served in a tin box (shake it up to get that eggy goodness all over) to the fancy uni steamed egg and bone marrow cheesy corn. The banchan offerings aren’t as extensive as other KBBQ joints, but the selection here is well-edited and includes the addictive pepper-and-garlic-sauce-lathered dried squid dish ojingeochae-muchim. I could eat that all day.

Hanjip restaurant Kimchi fried rice

Kimchi fried rice

Hanjip restaurant Uni steamed egg

Uni steamed egg

Hanjip restaurant Bone marrow corn

Bone marrow corn cheese

As a Westside restaurant that caters to a more mixed clientele, Hanjip’s interior is a bit flashy and a bit funky, perfectly reflecting Bombet’s and Oh’s personalities. The only thing about this place that weirded me out was how the server cooked all the meat for us, which meant there was someone leaning over our table for the better part of our meal. Maybe Hanjip restaurant feels this is necessary for the guests who aren’t used to this kind of dining experience, or maybe this is meant to be part of the elevated offerings, but I could do with less of this babysitting. Let me at the meat!

Note: This meal was hosted.

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12 2015