Friday, December 9, 2016

Cinemark's newly renovated Arden theaters. Century Arden 14 and XD

For months we've watched and waited as the Century Cinedomes at Arden and Ethan were demolished and rebuilt as a brand new, shiny theater - the Century Arden 14 and XD as they are known.

As the name denotes, there are 14 theaters. While there is still a medley of big and small, all now have "Luxury Lounges". Basically, they are nice, cushy, wide, electronic recliners. They have buttons on the right so that you can move back and forth. My complaint is that they don't push back very far and have no lumbar support, so I'll be stashing a back pillow in my car for if I ever go to these theaters again.

large theater

The more important thing to note is that every theater is reserved seating, meaning as you buy your ticket, you'll be asked to select a seat. This is going to take some getting used and will definitely encourage people to load the app on their phone. After all, once you make a decision to go to a movie, you should choose your seats because if you wait to the last minute and just show up, all the decent seats might be already assigned. This will mean a real change in thinking and prepping to go to a movie at a Cinemark. 

I happened to go on a weekday matinee and so the theater was pretty much empty. Typically, as people enter, they would choose a seat or more away from someone else. Human behavior is for people to put a space between. Well, I was seating in the nice center seat I had chosen and a couple came in and sat right next to me because these were assigned seats. The whole place is almost empty and yet here they were, right at my elbow. To make matters worse, they reeked of smoke.

Later I talked to Greg, one of the managers. He said that if there are lots of empty seats after the previews, then you should be OK to change seats. But that won't be possible during busy showings. 

small theater

The screen itself is very large. So much so that it was a bit much for me. I was in a small theater in the 2nd from the back row and I was wanting to move back as far as I could, which was only another row.

There are some changes in the lobby. First, you don't have to stand out in the weather to buy tickets. The box office and line are inside the theater.

Second is that you can now buy beer and wine at the concessions. They do not have a full bar like the Studio Movie Grill in Rocklin, but still, those that like a beer will be happy.

As a reminder, if you know you are going to go, buy your tickets online or via the app as soon as possible to pick good seats. And if you have a bad back like me, then take a pillow with you.  

Expect the newly renovated Cinemark theaters downtown by the arena to be a similar setup when they reopen next year. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Sacramento Natural Food Co-op's new cooking classroom

Since it's opening in October, the new Sacramento Natural Food Co-op has been a busy hive of activity. So much so that they even extended their hours till 11 p.m. While the downstairs is abuzz, there's great things happening upstairs as well.

The second floor houses the Co-op's business offices but also has a wonderful new classroom. The room itself is probably at least four times the size of the old classroom. It houses a demonstration kitchen with all the latest appliances and plenty of counter space. There are a number of tables with wheels that can be moved around for events or set for class. Behind all this is more kitchen where additional grilling, cooking, and prep can done, as well as the washing of all the dishes.

Not all of the classes that are taught are cooking classes. There are also wellness seminars, gardening workshops, and special events. While learning how to make gnocchi is always popular, there are opportunities to take a class on nutrition or how to create a terrarium. 

I was offered the opportunity to check out one of the cooking classes at the new digs. I opted for Indian Fusion Cooking because it was being taught by my friend, Shankari Easwaran. Shankari and I had been members of a dinner group years ago but lost touch. I hadn't seen her in over five years and so I was excited to take one of her classes.

Not all classes are the same and so I cannot say how others are run. Shankari has four or five dishes and she has the class split into groups and each group preps a dish. Basically getting the mise en place ready with chopping vegetables and grinding spices. After each dish is prepped, the group gathers round as each is then cooked by one or two students and Shankari supervising.

Because this is a class on Indian cuisine, Shankari did take the time to discuss spices and preparation. Instead of using ground spices in jars, she encouraged us to get whole spices and grind them ourselves in a mortar and pestle. She demonstrated toasting the spices first to release the oils and essences and then how to grind them, explaining how long you can generally keep these spices in your kitchen.

Pilaf and paneer picata at the top, tacos left, chili right

Co-op staff were also on hand to fetch things, wash dishes, and generally assist with class. When dishes were all finished, they plated and served them to us. Wine and beer tastings were available and glasses were available for purchase.

I left with a full stomach, reconnection with old friends, and a packet of recipes. I also left with a new excitement about the wonderful classroom facility of the Co-op.

A list of current classes is located here.

Happy Me! (the blog)

OK. It's really a double birthday. My birthday is December 8th, but the bigger news is that this blog is 9 years old. One more year and it will be a decade! 

That might not seem like much, but in blog years nine is a big deal. When I started there were only a handful of Sacramento food blogs and about a thousand worldwide. Now there are many thousands and the blogging world has changed a lot.  It's always been more of a hobby based on my love of good food.  

What started as a hobby turned into SactoMoFo, the Sacramento Food Film Festival, and Have an Offal Day. I am so thankful to all the fans, restaurateurs, chefs, and supporters for helping me along the way. Most of all, I send my love to the city I love so much...Sacramento!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Sneak peek: Meadowlands in Sloughouse

Sneak peek disclaimer: This is not a review as I was invited to taste the menu before the official opening. I also know the owners and chefs of this restaurant.

Anyone who drives the Jackson Highway is familiar with the two landmarks in Sloughouse. There's the Davis Ranch farmer's market on the left side and on the right side has always been the Sloughouse Inn.

The Sloughouse Inn is no more and in its place is the new Meadowlands Restaurant from the owners of Lucca, Roxy, and Lucky Dog Ranch. This means you'll get the same great service and food that you've come to love at the other restaurants. Many of the ingredients come from Lucky Dog Ranch. The beef is all grass fed and free of antibiotics and hormones and many of the vegetables come from their own gardens. 

The menu is farm to fork, new American and with similarities to Roxy. For instance, you will find the Elvis Burger and the Lucky Dog Ranch Burger on both menus. The idea here, though, is to showcase the seasonal produce that is produced in the area and that you might find down the road at Davis Ranch market. 

The interior has been completely redone with new furnishings that give a comfortable, rustic vibe. It feels like an American farm restaurant.

We were invited to a preview dinner and to provide criticism of the menu the night before opening. There was not much to comment on as everything was so good! Presentation was excellent as well as the dishes having lots of flavor. Let's take a look at a few favorites.

I'm really picky about biscuits. After all, they are hard to do really well. No problem here. These small biscuits are an appetizer served with butter and honey. As the server took the plate and I grabbed the last one, he asked if I wanted the butter and honey. No. If you can't eat a biscuit on its own, it's not good enough. Meadowlands' biscuits are soft, flakey, and have enough salt to make them tasty solo.

We also loved the Brussels sprouts appetizer. Nice and sticky with a maple jalapeno reduction, I loved them on their own, but the server insisted we not forget to squeeze the lemon on top to cut some of the bitterness. Good either way.

LOVED this Shaved Cauliflower Salad with apple, fennel, pomegranate seeds, and a ginger vinaigrette. I described it as "bright and energetic" because it woke me up with bright flavor.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Visiting Angkor Wat

outside Ta Prohm
Many people have a visit to the famed Angkor Wat as part of their bucket list. I have a Things to Do Before I Die List and it's definitely been on there for some years. When my friend told me he was heading there last month, I was a bit jealous. Then I got an awesome airfare and ended up joining him.

There are several, general misconceptions that people often have about visiting Angkor Wat that I shared myself. One is that it is a single temple. (Wat, by the way, means "temple".) This is partially true. There is a temple called Angkor Wat, but it is only one in a group of temples that make up the Angkor Wat park. That's why it can take you several days if you are a person who wants to see it all. The park sells tickets to suit those desires. One day is $20, three days are $40, and seven days are $60. Keep in mind that there is a rumor that the prices will be doubling in 2017. 

A visit at the park requires an early start as the afternoon heat can be brutal. Bring a large liter of bottle per person minimum! You need to drink a lot of water to avoid heat stroke! Many people like to go super early for the sunrise or go late for the sunset, but keep in mind that the park does close at 5 p.m.

Dress appropriately, especially women. If you want to enter temples, you must have cap sleeves, no strappy tops! You also have to have down to your kneecaps covered, by skirt or pants. If you want to climb to the top of the temples, you are better off buying some of those loose Cambodian pants. The stairs are very steep and we saw women being turned away for having skirts. Perhaps because people could look up your skirts as you climb the stairs. 

Let's talk about how to get there, which will generally be tuk tuk if you are going yourself or just a few people. You can always pay more for the big, guided tour buses, but they aren't necessary. There are two recommended routes for the park. The short route takes in the three most popular temples. This is the route we did and it took us from 6:30 a.m. to noon and then I was absolutely exhausted from the heat. The large route hits many other smaller temples. The short route will be about $12-15 from the tuk tuk driver depending on your negotiating skills. If you go with a tuk tuk that is tied to a particular small hotel (like part of their extended family), then it could go down as low as $10. We paid $12.  The long route will generally go for about $15-20. The tuk tuk will drop you off at one side of a temple and then tell you that they will meet you at the exit end of the temple grounds. 

The first thing you'll do is stop at the park's ticket office to purchase your park pass. Keep it on you at all times as it will be checked at each temple you visit. If you wish to buy a guidebook, wait until you get to the park and buy it from a local. It costs them $5 to buy it, so the lowest you will get it is $6-7, but if you can, be nice and give them $10 for it. After all, they need the money more than you.

Speaking of shopping, if you want to buy clothes and souvenirs, you can actually bargain lower prices within the park than in town.

Our first stop Ta Prohm, one of the temples that the government has left a lot of the jungle around and over it. You'll see all sorts of giant trees growing over walls.

Bayon was our next stop. It looks largest on the map, because it included all the surrounding land, but the temple itself was not as large as Angkor Wat. Bayon was built by the favorite, benevolent king, King Jayavarman VII. He is known for building over 100 hospitals and just as many rest houses along the major routes throughout the country. 


Angkor Wat behind me

Finally, Angkor Wat. It is definitely the largest temple restored. Sadly many of the carvings have been defaced by artifact thieves. A sculpture of an aspara, heavenly dancer, might have it's head missing because thieves have come in during the night and hacked it off. Ankor Wat park is too large to be patrolled and secured at night. 


Overall a good visit. By noon I was feeling the onset of heat exhaustion - achy muscles and minor headache. I was spent. So remember, take a lot of water!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Visiting a Cambodian floating village - Kapong Kreag

Tuk tuk drivers are always on their toes as salesmen. As I've mentioned in Bangkok to Siem Reap - Train or Bus?, drivers will try very hard to become your driver for the duration of your stay. They will also try to sell you sites as distant as they can. Such was the case with Mr. Song who convinced us to go the floating village an hour away. Having him for the afternoon to do so would cost us $15.

We were a bit miffed to arrive, after bumping over unpaved roads, at a boat dock and told it was another $15 each to see the floating village. We had naively been under the impression he would take us ashore from the village. We later discovered why. The floating village really is floating in the middle of Tonle Sap Lake's shallow shores. 

When we finally reached what is considered the actual lake, we realized the lake was much bigger than Lake Tahoe, but smaller than the Great Lakes.

Wat on a small island

enjoying the shade and a breeze

boat captain and Rod

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Cambodian (Khmer) Food

We know the country as Cambodia, but the history and region are Khmer. What's that? The empire that built Angkor Wat and many other temples through Southeast Asia was the Khmer empire. The empire ran through today's Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam and ran from about the 8th century to the 13th century. Today the term "Khmer" is still used throughout the country. 

When you walk through areas that cater to tourists the restaurants will often have signs saying what foods they serve: Western, Thai, Khmer. The difference between Thai and Khmer food is primarily spiciness. Thai food uses a lot more peppers to get really firey hot in spice level. Khmer food is spicy in terms of flavor versus heat. Thai curry will be hot spicy, Khmer curry would be considered mild and often doesn't have any peppers in it at all.

The two national dishes would be considered Amok and Lok Lak. Amok can be made with any meat or fish and can be described as close to a green curry, but again, without the spicy heat. Lok Lak, usually beef, is served on a bed of lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes and dipped in a sauce consisting of lime juice, salt and black Kampot pepper. 

Khmer BBQ pan
The other most common thing you will see is Khmer BBQ. Many are familiar with Korean BBQ where you grill your meats and veggies on a shared tabletop grill. Khmer BBQ differs in that the grill plate has a well rim for soup. The grill is round and on the top of it you grill the meats, but around the rim is a well that they fill with chicken broth. The juices of the meats run into the broth and you put your veggies to either grill or cook in the broth. In the end you get a nice, flavorful soup as well as your grilled items. 

Khmer BBQ buffets are probably the best deal you can get money-wise in Cambodia ($6-$8). There will be a huge selection of meats, seafood, and vegetables to choose to cook. Nearby will be sauces and spices to flavor your soup and grilled meats. You will also find prepared dishes such as salads, rice, fried rice, noodles, etc. Finally you'll find a selection for dessert consisting of some fruit and then a chè making station.

Chè station
Chè is a dessert that is made according to what you like. It consists of ice, a sweet tea syrup, and then whatever you want to add including jellies, tapioca pearls, fruit, beans, basil seeds, coconut cream, and more. 

instructor with a kaffir lime
While in Siem Reap we took a cooking class where we made a fish cake on sugar can sticks, Khmer curry, and coconut crispy pancakes.

the fish cakes
The minced fish is spiced and then formed into logs around sugar cane skewers. They are then fried in a little oil and served with sweet chili sauce.

Khmer curry in a banana leaf bowl
I made the curry paste below for the curry above. It had onion, sweet potato, eggplant, and chicken.

my freshly pounded curry paste

making the coconut crispy pancakes

For the coconut crispy pancakes you needed a special pan. Once the finished crepe is removed and cooled, it gets crispy like a tuile cookie.

Now look for my second post on Cambodia/Khmer food with photos of the local market and a roadside snack.

Cambodian (Khmer) Food - at the market and roadside

My first post on Cambodian food covered national dishes. This post is mostly photos from my visit to the local food market in Siem Reap. First, let me share a video of a roadside snack. I had read about these rice snacks on the internet and so when I saw them on the road to Tonle Sap Lake, I had our tuk tuk driver stop.


This is a chè vendor. It's a dessert made with sweet syrup or pudding and then whatever you want: beans, jellies, tapioca pearls, fruit, etc. 

dried fish

another food vendor with various dishes

so many varieties of rice

These fresh water clams are the size of the tip of your finger. They lay them out in the sun to cook for three hours and then sell them in bags tossed with salt and peppers.

banana blossom salad

I've had freshly pressed sugar cane juice before, but it's the most refreshing when you buy it from a street cart after dying in the humid heat of Cambodia.

fried duck tongues and garlic

Rolled ice cream has been popping up in the U.S., but it started in Southeast Asia with the street vendors. I haven't had it here yet, so I'm not sure if they do it "raw" like they do there. What I mean is, the method of making the ice cream. Watch the video below, but basically they take your choice of fruit and put it and pour some cream on the freeze plate. No sugar. No additives. Just cream and the fruit. I chose banana and pineapple ice cream with honey and dragonfruit on top.