Books to Read on Your Holiday Travels

Right about now, I’m flying across the country, engrossed in a new book. I won’t notice where we are until the plane lands or I get to the last sentence, whichever comes first. Likely the latter.

I don’t hear anything or anyone when I read. You can be talking right at me, but all I hear are the words on the page. G describes it as if I’m in a coma, which is fairly spot-on.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes the best way to fly long distance is with a glass of in-flight Kendall Jackson, two Dramamine, and a neck pillow. But for people who love to read, but also want to pay the bills and have a social life, traveling can be a sweet opportunity to finally have all the hours you need to finish one more book.

And if you’re thinking of purchasing or gifting a kindle, I adore mine and I’d be happy to tell you all the reasons why. Email me.

Here are my suggestions for your holiday travels:

Room by Emma Donoghue

Creeptastic. Fictional novel narrated entirely by 5-year-old, Jack. For him, Room is his entire world, made up of his mother and “Old Nick” who sometimes visits his mother in the night. One day, his mother tells him the truth – that there is a world outside of Room, and she needs his help to escape to it. This book just came out in 2010. No way you can read it and not think about Jaycee Duggard.

I’m with Fatty by Edward Ugel

A hilariously sarcastic memoir written by a middle-aged father who embarks on a mission to lose “50 pounds in 50 miserable weeks.” His honesty and humility are laid bare in truthful accounts of everything from wearing a sleep apnea machine to bed to going on a green juice cleanse, complete with enema. For me, it was an insightful look into someone with true food addiction – understanding how his mind and cravings work against the life he so wants to be leading with his family. In addition, it is LOL funny.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Good luck not immediately devouring the whole trilogy, but you can start with the first one. Technically a YA series, but this one hooked me with its futuristic, postapocolyptic setting. A young teenage girl is forced into a Battle Royale (fight to the death) with other teenagers from the Districts for the amusement of a bored Capital. Lots of underlying commentary on reality television and political power, but the character development is off the charts. The heroine is a scheming survivor to the core, but you’re rooting her on until the end.

Other notables:

  • Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (Movie is coming out soon, get on it.)
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett (People are probably already telling you to read this book. Believe them.)
  • Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay (Historical fiction based on Jews in France during Nazi Germany.)
  • Bitter is the New Black by Jen Lancaster (Such a funny, relaxing beach-type read. I love Jen for a plane trip.)

Any more suggestions? I’m always on the lookout. Leave them in the comments!

Lazy Girl Penne Puttanesca

This is such an easy recipe for such a delicious dish, you’ll be applauding your inner-lazy girl as soon as you make it. And make it, quick.

I was feeling especially blah on a blustery SF weekday recently, and really craving some hot Italian food. Pasta Puttanesca is one of my favorites to order out because I always assumed it was really hard to make. Not so! In fact, it is one of the easiest dishes a lazy home cook could hope for. Why? Well, everything basically comes out of a can, but enough simmering (i.e. time while you sit on your butt and drink wine) gives it that homemade flavor we all strive for.

So I ran out to the store for some Southern Italian wine, put on Buena Vista Social Club, tied on my apron, and made actually better Penne Puttanesca than I usually order. Oh and cheaper, far cheaper.

Not counting the spices and olive oil, there’s only 5 ingredients in this dish, 3 are canned, and 1 is the pasta in a box. You could even use already-diced garlic to make this even lazier, but seriously, use fresh garlic.

Serves: 4


Olive oil
3 cloves fresh garlic, diced
1 28 oz. can fire roasted crushed tomatoes (Muir Glenn)
3 heaping tablespoons canned non-pareil capers, drained
1/3 cup canned kalamata olives, pitted and halved
Red pepper flakes
S&P to taste
1 box penne pasta, cooked


Heat olive oil over medium heat. Throw in garlic and cook until aromatic (about 3 minutes). Add the spices and cook one minute more. Toss in the tomatoes, including liquid, and reduce heat to simmer. Simmer as long as you want, stirring occasionally.

When you’re ready to eat, cook the pasta according to package instructions. At the same time add the olives, capers, and any more spices to taste to the tomato sauce and heat until warmed through. Toss sauce with pasta and serve alongside salad and wine.

Speaking of the wine, might I suggest …

How to Find Your Kind of Wine

I enjoy big wines. Seriously the bigger the better (TWSS?) Thick and heavy on your tongue, flavorful, but not too jammy-sweet, with a lingering coat on the tastebuds. I never thought I’d be the type of person who’d be able to describe what kind of wine I like, and it seems pretentious to even say it now. But I am that kind of person, I do know what I like, and once you do too, you’ll be oh so thankful and realize there’s nothing pretentious about it.

The sooner you learn your “type,” the sooner you can describe to shop owners, bartenders, and waitresses what you’re looking for, and the more likely you are to spend your hard earned dollars on something you’ll actually enjoy drinking.

One of my favorites.

This is not to say you shouldn’t continue to experiment outside of your comfort zone when the opportunity arises. There are a lot of fantastic wines out there that you can still appreciate even if they don’t fit your “type” (crisp, sharp Savignon Blanc; bright, spicy Pinot), but just like having a go-to cocktail (vodka soda, double-lime), having a go-to type of bottle takes the anxiety out of ordering.

So how do you go about determining your “type”? There’s an easy answer – drink more.

But more important (probably) is to pay attention to what you’re drinking. When you go to a party and the host offers you white or red, check out the bottle you’re drinking from and look for a few things:


Most bottles of wine aren’t straight Zinfandel or straight Cabernet Savignon. More likely they’re a mixture of Cab Franc, Zin, and Cab Savignon, or something of that nature. The amount of which type is present in the bottle will likely be listed on the back of the label. By checking out what type of wine makes up the majority of the mixture, you can get an idea of the type of wine you prefer.

You can also use this later when checking out wines in the grocery store – see if the percentages look similar to the bottle you bought earlier that you remember enjoying. Likely you’ll enjoy this one too. When you order at a restaurant, the only information you might get is “House Cabernet” or “House Pinot.” Which percentages did you prefer when you were drinking those bottles earlier? The one made up mostly of Cabernet or the one with a high percentage of Pinot?


I used to think Zinfandel wasn't my thing, until I tried the ones from Sonoma County.

This is where things can get a little tricky. What if you’ve decided you like Pinots, and you go ahead and order a bottle of Pinot Noir from Spain, only to discover that it’s way too spicy for your liking? Now you’re getting a sense of region. The Pinots from Spain tend to carry more of a kick, whereas the ones from California Sonoma Valley can be more mellow. Grapes differ based on the climate and soil in which they’re grown, so take a quick peek to where this wine is coming from as well (usually on the front of the label).

Soon, you’ll have a few favorite regions for your favorite types, which will really help narrow it down at the store where most wines are separated by country, and then type.


Now you’re really getting it. You have a few favorite go-tos and you feel fairly confident picking out a range of bottles from your local shop. This is where you have to push all fears of pretentiousness aside and learn how to describe what you’re looking for. The people who can do this are much happier wine drinkers – I assure you. They know that no matter what is offered, whether they’ve seen it before, they can pick out something to please their palate.

The key to this one is the same as the rest – pay attention. Most wine bars and restaurants will have descriptions listed. If something is described as “crisp” and “floral,” swirl the wine around in your mouth and think to yourself, “this is what floral tastes like.” Really. When someone describes a wine as “floral” they pretty much always mean the same thing.

Now when you’re in a wine bar and ask for a Savignon Blanc recommendation, you can say, “do you have anything crisp and almost floral-tasting?” Don’t you sound fancy?

Remember, this is not about being pretentious, it’s about knowing what you like and having a good go-to so your money is being spent on tasty wine that you’re going to enjoy. Notice price is not one of these differentiators. It’s just not. There are $8 bottles and $80 bottles that are both excellent and stick to the description of my “type” of big, heavy Cabernet Savignon, preferably from Napa Valley. Can I tell the difference? Hell yeah. But they both satisfy what I’m looking for, and I can be happy with either. Figure out your “type” and you will too.

True Life: Recruiters

I get contacted by job recruiters constantly. Mostly while I’m at my current job. It’s one of the perils that come with agency life (see also: billing your time, the worst invention known to man). Your information is all over the internet and has been forwarded to everyone everywhere in the hopes that your company can get clients because it’s a word-of-mouth, relationship-type business. So they know how to contact you. That’s all it takes.

Sometimes they call:

Lauren, I have the perfect job for you. We’ve done our research and you’re perfect for it. Oh you’re not interested? Well do you know someone else who might be?

I thought I was perfect for it.

Sometimes they LinkedIn:

Hi Lauren,

I know we spoke three years ago when you really needed a job and would have KILLED to have me find you one, but now that you’re gainfully employed and no longer need anything from me, I’m going to finally contact you. I have this job opening which is exactly what you told me you were NOT interested in when we first spoke, but what the hell, that was three years ago! Are you interested?

If you aren’t interested, can you forward this to someone who might be?

And sometimes, like today, they send an email to your entire team alias (including your supervisor) but addressed personally to you:

Hi Lauren,

My name is Sue* and I am the assistant to Someone More Important, an executive recruiter for Random Acronym Search. We are particularly looking for candidates with a background in what you did when you first left college and have not done since then. If you know of anyone who may be interested in these opportunities, please feel free to pass on our information to them. Or, if you are interested, please forward on a copy of your resume and I will be happy to schedule a call for you and Someone More Important to get acquainted. Thank you for your time and I hope to hear from you soon.

Best regards,


Sure, Sue. I’ll just reply all so my supervisor is sure to know that I’m leaving their company for YOURS because your email was just so exciting, I couldn’t help myself.

After some fun emailing back and forth with my team members, my supervisor replies to Sue:


Lauren is our employee. She has signed her life away to us in blood. We will have contractual ownership of her spawn and her spawn’s spawn and so forth until the end of time. Mwahahahah.

Go bark up another tree…

-Lauren’s Supervisor

More random emails back and forth between team members discussing if my supervisor has ruined my relationship with all recruiters henceforth (which would be awesome), and suddenly we get an email back from Sue:

Don’t listen to them Lauren. It is your destiny. Join me, and together we can rule the industry as father and son!

In all seriousness though, I apologize for the mix-up and I’ll make sure my research assistant avoids sending emails to the group alias from now on. 🙂

Best regards,


At least it seems like recruiters have a sense of humor.

*Names and details changed to protect the innocent and my job

Giants Win the World Series!

Congratulations to the SF Giants on their first world series since moving to the city by the bay!

Coworker dressed as the pitcher Wilson for the first game of the world series in SF.

Scene at AT&T park last night in San Francisco after the Giants won the world series.

Flashback Friday

In honor of the Flashback Friday Queen, a halloween post for you.

Unruly soccer fan + tremendous athlete.

I had just signed up for swim lessons to learn how to swim, and Michael Phelps had just won 8 gold medals in the Olympics so it seemed like the stars aligned for this costume.

G was an unruly soccer fan, which allowed him to yell at people, get increasingly dirty, and carry around a mug of beer all night.

True story: That halloween night we went to a huge, inappropriate, costume party in a house reminiscent of your favorite fraternity (not where this picture was taken). The next day, we went back to the house to finish off the kegs with a friendly beer pong tournament. My conversation with one of the guys visiting:

Him: Hi, I’m [name hidden to protect the notsoinnocent]. What’s your name?
Me: I’m Lauren. I think we met last night. I’m soandso’s friend.
Him: Really? I don’t think so ….
Me: I was dressed as Michael Phelps.
Him: YOU were Michael Phelps?? Wow … well, you look a lot better with hair.

Somehow, I don’t think he appreciated my costume to its fullest. But it’s all homemade except for the Phelps swimcap ($2.99 at the swim outlet online!).

Have a SAFE AND happy Halloween weekend! And go Giants!

(giants colors=halloween colors. Coincidence? I think not.)

Fighting Back!

Half my office has been laid low by whatever cold/flu-type thing is running rampant these days. I don’t usually get colds anymore, but I was down and out for awhile myself, which got me thinking about the home remedies I turn to when I need to fight back. I won’t lie and say I don’t have a stash of Nyquil and Suddafed packed away for a sick day, but this list is my first resort for a variety of ailments:

When you need to fight a sore throat:

Start by gargling with salt water. Heat up some water, crack in your sea salt or kosher salt, and gargle the heck out of it. Don’t swallow, obvs.

After you’ve thoroughly exfoliated your throat, soften it up with hot water with fresh lemon squeezed in.  Sweeten to taste with agave nectar or honey. It is SO soothing.

Another option you can take back to work with you, Throat Coat, available wherever hippy teas and remedies are sold (Whole Foods, Real Foods).

When you need to fight a hangover:

Who does this? Winners, that’s who. Well if you’re gonna need your sick days for actually being sick, you’re gonna have to suck it up and make it to work somehow.

First, drink a lot of water. It can only help.

Next, take two Vitamin B12, and they will perk you right up. If you were feeling particularly ambitious the night before, it’s good to also take two before you go to sleep. I take Vitamin B12 pretty regularly, but ALWAYS when I’m feeling sleepy or um, less than steller, in the morning. It’s magic.

When you need to fight heartburn:

This is never something I thought I would ever experience, and low and behold, you get older and spicy dinner + red wine can take you by surprise.

First, start with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar diluted with water. Pretty soon you’ll get so good, you barely need the water. The effect is almost instantaneous. People who have regular heartburn are advised to take a tablespoon a day – I just take it whenever I’m feeling a little unsettled. Megan Fox swears it cleanses her system.

Arugula Pesto Pasta

I don’t have much to say about this recipe except that we eat it constantly, it’s super easy to make, and I thought for sure I’d posted it here already, but a quick search revealed otherwise.

Other fun things my search revealed: the top search term for people finding this website is “chicks”. And the top post is naturally … “Chicks” So now I know a foolproof way to drive people to your site – ambiguous titles that are sexually suggestive in nature. Score.

Things are looking on the up and up here in the land of dreams. The weather has finally turned, my first Fleet Week aka Blue Angel spectacular is next weekend, and I’ve checked out a lot of fun new places recently. I realized I’m just about hitting the year mark of living here (craaay-zy) which is right when a place starts to feel more like home and less like an extended vacation. I’m shooting for both.

Arugula Pesto Pasta

1 box whole wheat linguine
4 huge handfuls arugula
6 tbs. pesto (alternatively you can make your own)
2 tbs. large capers, drained
15 cherry tomatoes, halved
Shaved romano cheese (optional)

Could. Not. Be. Easier.

Cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain, then pour into a large bowl. Mix pesto with pasta to taste. We use an awesome local brand (which unfortunately has cheese) but you can make your own if you’re crafty like that.

Next, mix in arugula, capers and tomatoes. Top with cheese if desired.

Growing up, we always had a side salad with our pasta. This is like pasta and a salad all in one!

Late Summer Heirloom Salad

It hit 83 degrees in San Francisco today. Last week there was a heat advisory. True story.

Tahoe. We went to escape the cold and it was 60 degrees and windy for the only weekend this summer. Still beautiful though.

All I can say is this semi-heat wave is more than welcome given our overly chilly summer. If I have to read one more blog post about how “it was so hot, I just wanted a fresh salad” or “I couldn’t even think about turning on the oven” or “so I had some fresh watermelon” while huddling in my hoodie eating Asian comfort food … I’ll have to move to San Diego or something.

Last week during the heat advisory we were reminded why we don’t like it getting too hot around here – there’s no air conditioning. No where. Not in the mansions on top of Pacific Heights, not in the Full House house, and certainly not in my tiny apartment on Filbert St. Because you only need air conditioning about 4 days out of every year, and the night last week was one of them.

It was the kind of night you sleep with a cold washcloth on your head and the window wide open, but the air is too heavy and hot to be of any help. It was pretty fun as a novelty. I took advantage of the heavy heat, two overly ripe heirloom tomatoes from the farmer’s market, and leftover cooked couscous to make a delicious late summer salad. Well late for you all. My summer’s only just beginning.

Late Summer Heirloom Salad

Serves: 1 hungry, hot person for dinner

2 large heirloom tomatoes
1 cup cooked couscous
2 tablespoons large capers
2 heaping handfuls arugula lettuce
1 part apple cider vinegar (could sub red wine vinegar)
2 parts olive oil
1 half fresh lemon juice
Cracked S&P to taste

Mix tomatoes through arugula in a large, and I mean large, bowl. Mix vinegar and oil, and dress the salad. Squeeze half a lemon over, and sprinkle salt and pepper. Enjoy with a cold beer or ice tea.

Macrobiotic Fried Noodles

Ever since reading The Kind Diet, I’ve been getting more interested in macrobiotics. This recipe is born of an hour of google searching macrobiotic blogs and recipes and finally settling on a hodgepodge of everything that appealed to me. Because that’s what I do in my free time – google search macrobiotic.

The most curious thing about the macrobiotic diet is that everyone claims they lose weight on it (notables include Gwyneth Paltrow and Ms. Silverstone) yet the main staple is grains, pretty much the opposite viewpoint of South Beach lovers everywhere. I get that they’re whole grains, but when you’re eating a plate full of fried noodles, it just doesn’t seem like diet food, does it? That’s the BEST part.

If you haven’t cooked your own Udon noodles before, they look exactly like dried pasta you’re used to, but you find them in the Asian aisle of your grocery store. Udon noodles are either partly or completely made from rice flour, which gives them a sweeter, nuttier taste.

Macrobiotic Fried Noodles

Servings: 4

1 package dried Udon noodles
1 onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
10 cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 large head bok choy, cut into bite sized pieces
1 carrot, peeled, cut into very thin slices
sesame oil
soy sauce

Cook noodles according to package instructions until just al dente (7-8 minutes). Drain thoroughly. Meanwhile, heat about 1 tbs. sesame oil in a large wok. Add garlic and cook for a minute. Add onion slices and cook until almost translucent, about 4 minutes. If needed, add a little water to keep from sticking. Season with black pepper while cooking.

Add mushrooms and carrots and a dash of soy sauce and sesame oil each. Cook until mushrooms are just tender, about 4 more minutes. Add drained pasta on top of the vegetable mixture along with another 1-2 tbs. soy sauce. Do NOT mix. Top with chopped bok choy and cover the wok. Cook covered for 2-3 minutes until bok choy is still crisp, but not bitter.

To finish, mix together and season to taste with more soy sauce and pepper, if needed.

**Edited to add: The first time I made this, I had some fresh scallions on hand, so I tossed them in at the same time as the noodles/bok choy. Definitely adds extra flavor and a summery touch!