Aug 31, 2013

Made In USA Dog Treats at Costco

Can I just say "yay!" to Costco for finally replacing those Made in China chicken jerky with Made in USA ones. Granted my dogs never got sick from those Made in China jerkies, but I heard plenty of stories where healthy dogs die unexpectedly, and the suspected culprit were these jerkies -- specifically from Costco.

In addition to Made in USA chicken jerky, they now carry exotic meat jerky as well. During my previous visit they had alligator jerky. And then this time around, they had bison jerky. And yes, they're both Made in USA!

Thanks, Costco!

Aug 23, 2013

London Eats

Bugis Street Brasserie

We ate here the first night we arrived in London. It was getting late, this restaurant was located right next to our hotel. As a matter of fact, it's actually part of the hotel -- we were able to charge the bill to our room.

The food was pretty good. My char kway teow was pretty spot on, even had Chinese sausage mixed in it. Kangkung belacan was good a well, However, my husband's mee goreng was very disappointing! He ended up sharing my char kway teow and not really touching his.

Baby tips:

  • Heads up if you have a stroller, upon entering the restaurant, there are a couple of steps down to get to the main dining floor.
  • They have high chairs.

Mee goreng

Penang char kway teoy

Kangkung belacan

4-18 Harrington Gardens

Four Seasons

We actually wanted to try Royal China, another Chinese restaurant located just down the road from Four Seasons, but they lost power and showed no signs of getting it back anytime soon. We've been to Four Seasons before and knew it was good, so we decided to go back.

The service here is not the greatest. I can only describe it as... very Chinese! The food this time was not as good as I remembered it. They're famous for their roast duck, so of course, we had to order that. While it was good, it was a bit too saucy and not roasted enough. We also ordered snow pea leaves. I was a bit surprised they had it this time of year as it's typically a winter vegetable. Sure enough, it was very tough! The only decent dish of the night was the crab sweet corn soup.

Baby tips:

  • They do not have high chairs.
  • The restaurant is really tight, there's not much space to store a stroller, but we managed to squeeze it between the chairs right at the entrance.

Top (L to R): crab sweet corn soup, roast duck, chili condiment,
snow pea leaves

84 Queensway

Malaysia Kopi Tiam

We were meeting up an old friend in this part of town, so we decided to give this place a try. The Malaysian food here was just ok. It all looked and smelled so good when it came out, but the flavors lacked. The only good dish was the roti canai, but it's actually not from Kopi Tiam's kitchen. It's from a different business that shares same space as Kopi Tiam. They even have a separate menu. As pictured below, we were greeted by a friendly insect during our meal.

Baby tips:
  • They do not have high chairs.
  • The restaurant is pretty tight, but they weren't that busy, so we got to leave the baby in his stroller next to us.

Es kacang

Chicken curry roti canai from Roti King

Top (L to R): kangkung belacan, nasi lemak, asam laksa, char kway teow

Well, hello there!
67 Charing Cross Road

Couscous Darna

This restaurant got pretty good reviews on Yelp. It was near our hotel, so we decided to check it out one night. When we got there, it was pretty crowded on the patio, but there were plenty of tables available inside. It's probably best to make reservations, but with a jetlagged baby we couldn't plan anything ahead.

I don't have much experience with Moroccan cuisine, but I thought the food was really good! I also ordered a Moroccan mint tea and I really liked their version -- it wasn't too sweet.

Baby tips:

  • The main dining room is quite spacious and enough distance between the tables that we were able to keep baby's stroller next to us. I don't even know if they have a high chair since we didn't request one.   

Chicken B'stilla (large) -- delicious!

Couscous Vegetarian w/ mint tea

Couscous Darna

Tagine Kefta

Couscous Merguez

91 Old Brompton Road

Royal China

Our last night in London, we finally checked out Royal China, the restaurant we originally wanted to try a few nights before, but couldn't since they lost power. Compared to Four Seasons, the service is night and day -- they're a lot more professional here.

The food was pretty good. The only thing I didn't like was their crispy aromatic duck. Since it was fried, it was really dry! I should've ordered their Peking duck instead. I did, however, like the pancake served with the duck -- it was very airy! Everything else was delicious! Added bonus: they have fresh squeezed juice!

Baby tips:

  • They do have high chairs
  • We parked our stroller in the lobby, along with everyone else's.

Top (L to R): snacks, crispy aromatic duck, sauteed asparagus,
sauteed beef w/ chili & black bean sauce

13 Queensway

Aug 21, 2013

London Whole Foods Kensington

The hotel we stayed at wasn't too far from this Whole Foods store. I'm such a mom now! The baby section was the first thing I checked out when we entered the store. I'm sure you're just as curious as I was, so here are some pictures of what they store:

I can't leave the store without drooling over their cheese section!

And of course, my husband had to check out their beer section!

This store was massive! It reminds me a lot of the Whole Foods Bowery in New York City.

Whole Foods Kensington
63-97 Kensington High Street
The Barkers Building
London, United Kingdom

Travel with Baby: London's Millennium Gloucester Hotel

While we were in London, we stayed at the Millennium Gloucester Hotel. This is the first time we traveled with our baby and stayed at a hotel. Usually, we either rent an apartment or a holiday house that has a kitchen and plenty of room to store all his accessories. But, the Millennium was a pleasant surprise!

First of all, it had AC!! We escaped Houston hoping for cooler weather only to be greeted by England's first heat wave in some 10+ years! Most places in England don't have AC, so the fact they did was God send!

As you can see from the picture below, the room was very spacious for a London hotel. When we booked our room online, we requested a crib and it was there when we checked-in. Even with the crib set up, there was still plenty of space to move around. You can't see it, but right across the bed is the TV and it was sitting on a very spacious entertainment table. I was able to lay out my baby's knick knacks there.

Spacious room even with a crib set up!

The bathroom was spacious as well with plenty of counter space to put our amenities, his, and his bottle brush drying kit, which I specifically bought for this trip.

Bathroom had plenty of counter space

The hotel is conveniently located next to Gloucester Rd tube station. There's plenty of good restaurants nearby. It is a bit far from all the tourist attractions, but it worked out fine for us since we weren't there for that anyway. Customer service was excellent. The only downside to the hotel is their breakfast buffet - it was extensive, but the quality was mediocre at best. 

Millennium Gloucester Hotel London Kensington
4-18 Harrington Gardens
London, United Kingdom

Aug 20, 2013

I Survived My First International Solo Trip with Baby!

Last month, I traveled to London with my 6-month old baby... solo! My husband was already in Paris for business and we were to meet up in London. At 6 months old, my baby was already sitting up, although still a bit wobbly. I had to really plan ahead how I was going to get through security, etc. with him... by myself.

For sure I was taking his stroller on this trip. And just like the last couple of trips, I shared a big suitcase with him. That allowed me to push his stroller with one hand while pulling the suitcase with the other. The key is to limit the amount of stuff you have to handle, the less the better. In addition to the suitcase, I had two bags that I carried with me to the plane - the baby's travel diaper backpack and my camera bag. Both bags fit under or hang over the stroller perfectly.

I gate checked the stroller, but that meant I had to fold it to get it through security. In order to do that while still holding on to the baby, I had him in a baby carrier. The security in Houston allowed me to go through the metal detectors while my baby was still in baby carrier. They just tested my hands for residues after I went through.

After I went through security, I put my baby back in his stroller until we boarded the plane. During boarding, once again he was in the baby carrier while I folded the stroller to put it in it's gate check bag.

During the flight, the baby carrier came in handy when I needed to use the toilet and when he was fussing and wanted me to walk around.

Once we landed and we got his stroller, I put him back in it. After being in my arms for 9+ hours, he was very happy to be in his stroller. It also made it easier to go through immigration and pick up our suitcase.

How do you manage on your own?

Aug 19, 2013

Travel with Baby: Flying to London on United Airlines

Let me start by saying I was a big fan of legacy Continental! When it merged with United, I kept an open mind even though everyone I knew complained profusely. It was just not the same airline anymore and unfortunately, not for the better. We have our loyalty program with them and prior to this trip, we were still loyal customers. But, I'm afraid they've ran us off. Our family dynamic has changed. We have a little one now and it's evident from this trip they're not a family friendly airline.

Yes, it was a last minute trip for me and the baby, I think we booked it about two weeks prior to departure. And yes, it was right in the middle of summer when everyone else is going to London. I knew before booking the flights all the bulkhead seats were taken, but we called the Gold member services ahead of time and requested a bassinet. That's the problem with flying United internationally compared to other international airlines. United sells these bulkhead seats as Economy Plus and anyone, with or without a baby, can reserve them. Most international airlines reserve bulkhead seats for families with infant ticket.

What really irritated me about United this time was their unwillingness to help. I was traveling with an infant on my own. I knew those bulkhead seats weren't available, but I requested the desk agent if she could ask passengers sitting on those seats if they were willing to switch with me. It's not like I had a bad seat since I, too, was sitting in Economy Plus and I had an aisle seat. At boarding time, I checked back with the desk agent and she said the passengers haven't come forward yet, that I should board and get the flight attendants to help me. Ok, fine! I got the sense she didn't seem too thrilled to help me out anyway.

I boarded and asked a flight attendant. He seemed more enthused to help out, although he kinda vanished after that. I finally tracked him down and it seemed he'd forgotten about me. Another flight attendant simply said, "Oh, those passengers... they usually don't want to give up those bulkhead seats". Well... did you even ask? How about the guy sitting in the middle seat, did you ask him if he wanted my aisle seat? No, you didn't!!

Bottom line, they kept dismissing me and I ended up holding my 6-month old baby for the entire 9 hours to London!

Truthfully, the only reason we fly United internationally is for the points. Their loyalty program is probably one of the better ones out there. However, when it comes to everything else - food quality, beverage selection, entertainment choices - they can't compete with other international airlines. But, living in Houston, domestically, they do offer the most direct flights to anywhere.

Anyway, I got to experience their Dreamliner going to London. It's a nice plane, but I'm definitely not a fan of the adjustable tinted windows. Since we were flying overnight, we experienced sunrise midway through our flight. And since those windows are only tinted, even at it's most opague, at certain angles the sun would shine directly on your face. And of course there are passengers who couldn't stop playing with the opacity of the tint. So, call me old fashion, but I still prefer the plain window shutter.

Economy Plus seat

Funky adjustable tinted windows

On our return flight to Houston, I didn't even bother requesting a bulkhead seat in London. My husband was flying back with me and the baby so there was an extra set of arms to hold the baby. I was however, disappointed to the plane itself. We came back on a 767 and it must've been a legacy United plane. It was old and the entertainment system was very limited. I couldn't complain too much, at least we had individual screens. But, what a let down!

Check out how tiny the monitor is on this 767!

Aug 11, 2013

Eats: Mamak

When Mamak first opened, one look at the menu and I was really disappointed! Basically, it was another Banana Leaf just in a bigger space located right across the parking lot from the original Banana Leaf. On top of that, Banana Leaf itself opened a second location in the shopping center across the street from the original. So, you had three Malaysian restaurants serving the same menu just a few yards from one another. How lame is that? My mom got the Chinatown scoop, turns out the original chef from Banana Leaf is the guy who parted ways and decided to open Mamak.

The first couple visits to Mamak, we weren't impressed. The food was just ok, we still went to Banana Leaf. I think the turning point was when we had a big family dinner here back in October 2012. The food was better, more like what Malaysian food should taste like. Ever since then, we've been Mamak regulars. It helps they serve one of my favorite dessert here, the es cendol. It's not the best, but sometimes something is better than nothing.

Here are a few of my favorite dishes at Mamak:

Es Cendol - it's considered a dessert, but I order it as a drink.

Inside the Es Cendol

Tom Yum Noodle Soup - not as spicy as it looks.

Roti Canai - they never give enough curry sauce...

Mixed Vegetables w/ Belacan

Asam Laksa - my go to dish! I'm glad they started serving this with
the proper noodles. Sometimes they skimp on the fish (as you can see here),
but if you point it out, they'll fix it. 

Just like Banana Leaf, if you pay cash you get a 5% discount.

9889 Bellaire Blvd (Dun Huang complex)
Houston, TX

Baby Stuff: Activity Gyms

We have two baby activity gyms at home for reasons I will not bore you with. Here's how they compare:

Bright Starts Start Your Senses Safari Activity Gym
This is the one I registered for and the one Conor had since birth. I think this gym works really well for newborns since the 3 main toys are black and white, yet the mat itself is very colorful. It didn't take long for Conor to love the tiger with blinking lights, he lights up every time it's on. We'd also bring it with us when we're out and about, it'll hang on his car seat handle and him up occupied.

After about 4 months, I noticed Conor was getting bored with this gym. He wasn't as interested in the tiger anymore, he'd grab on the two rattling toys but it didn't take long for him to get bored with them, he wasn't really into teething leaves - it just seems there wasn't a lot of activity he could do with it, which is why I think it's great for newborns but not older babies. We still have it up and he'll still play with it every now and then, but it doesn't keep him occupied for long.

Tiny Love Super Deluxe Lights and Music Gymini Activity Gym
I got this activity gym when Conor was about 3.5 months old and he loved from the get go. There's a lot more dangling plush toys on this one than the Bright Starts one. It kept him very busy whether he was trying to grab them or just suck on them. I'm glad I got this gym after Conor was 3 months old. I don't think he would've enjoyed it as much as a newborn, as he did the Bright Starts gym. We still use this gym everyday and now he's exploring the different textures on the mat itself. He didn't start doing this until about a month ago.

Aug 9, 2013

Baby Stuff: Stroller and Accessories

Uppababy Cruz Stroller
I spent hours researching strollers. We travel quite a bit so, I wanted something compact that will grow with the baby. I liked the Chicco KeyFit Caddy a lot but, it would only be useful for about a year. I didn't want a travel system stroller, because of its bulkiness. Uppababy Cruz became my compromise. I also considered the Vista model but, we didn't need a bassinet plus the Vista is slightly wider than the Cruz. We bought the infant car seat adapter separately and it fit like a charm. Overall, I really like this stroller! My only complaint is how sticky the foot brake can be. Quite the pain, especially when wearing sandals or open-toed shoes. carries this stroller but, I bought mine at Baby's 1st Furniture since Amazon didn't have the color that I wanted.

Uppababy Cabana Infant Car Seat Shade
We bought this at Right Start in Rice Village when our baby was just a few days old and it was drizzling a lot in Houston. We bought it thinking it could double as a rain shield and sun shade when in reality, because of it's design, it doesn't do well as either. It fails as a rain shield because of the mesh sides. Sure, the fold out layer covers the baby from the top but not from the side. It fails as a sun shade for the same reason. Plus, the fold out layer doesn't close very securely, it just clips at the end so it often gets blown by the wind. I feel like its only useful as a bug screen.

Stroller Hook
A really nice (if not necessary) accessory to an Uppababy stroller!

Eats: Eatsie Boys Cafe

If I were to blog every time I go to Eatsie Boys, I'd have several entries by now. They are one of my favorite cafes in Houston. We usually go for Sunday brunch but, sometimes we do lunch here as well. My favorite breakfast item is their Eggman Sammy. The combination of fluffy challah bun, gooey egg yolk and Grateful Bread's bacon is just delicious!

For lunch, I usually get one of their salads but, last time I got their MBLT sandwich. It was really good! I dipped the sandwich in Grateful Bread's sriracha sauce - great combination!

What I love about them is they serve quality stuff. Most ingredients are either locally-sourced or they make it themselves, like their ice cream.

They serve menu items Monday through Saturday. Sunday, they only serve brunch from their "Trust Us" board. Keep in mind, to keep things fresh they only stock limited inventory and sometimes they stop serving an hour before closing just because they're sold out.

Seating inside is limited but they do have several picnic benches outside. We've taken Max there several times when the weather was nice. It's his favorite cafe!

MBLT - Mozarella, bacon, arugula and tomato

Mmmontrose Cafe
4100 Montrose
Houston, TX

Houston Restaurant Week at Kata Robata

I haven't been excited about HRW this year as I have been in the past. I finally looked at the menus when my friend, Patty, twisted my arms. No, she didn't literally and I exaggerate. She just had a baby and needed to go out, HRW was a good excuse. I can totally relate! Apparently, I'm not the only feeling bleh about HRW. When I posted it on Facebook, I got a similar response from several of my foodie friends. I also didn't know that some restaurants charge $45 this year! Kata Robata is one of them but, they had one of the more attractive menus to me so I didn't mind paying the price. Plus, as you can see from the pictures the meal was totally worth it.

HRW Menu

Edamame Hummus

Hawaiian Amberjack w/ Foie Gras

Kobe Beef w/ Grilled Sushi Rice

Strawberry Shortcake

Kata Robata
3600 Kirby Dr.
Houston, TX

Aug 4, 2013

Happy Hour at Benjy's Rice Village

In between the two James Turrell exhibitions, we decided to fuel up at Benjy's. We made it just in time to catch their happy hour. Seating in the lounge is first come first serve. Their happy hour menu is quite extensive and reasonably priced. Of the two Benjy's, I usually prefer the Washington location but, I haven't been to both in a while. This time, the one here met my expectations.

Cornflake crusted shrimp w/ pickled tomatoes and jalapenos

Chicken sausage pizza w/ feta

Yangnyeom crispy spicy chicken w/ Korean red chili, scallions and homemade kimchi

Benjy's Rice Village
2424 Dunstan
Houston, TX

James Turrell in Houston

Last Thursday, with my friend, Jenny, I finally checked out the James Turrell's light exhibition at MFAH. Before we went, we made advance reservations on MFAH's website for the 5pm viewing slot. Since we went on a Thursday, both general admission and reservations for the exhibition were free. Going at 5pm wasn't bad at all - parking was plenty and the crowd was almost non existent. I don't know what was going on when we left around 6:30pm but, I had 5 cars stalking me for my parking spot.

This exhibition is at MFAH is going on until September 22, 2013.

Photography is not allowed but, we couldn't help ourselves in one of
the seven rooms included in the exhibition

Keeping up with the James Turrell theme, after a quick bite at Benjy's, we went to Rice University to catch the light sequence at his Skyspace. We also made reservations for this but, upon arriving we realize we didn't really need it. Apparently the light sequence happens twice a day - sunrise and sunset. Obviously, we caught the sunset one.

The Skyspace has two viewing levels. We sat at the bottom which offered a much better viewing perspective than the top. But being summer time in Houston, the top viewing level did have a lot more breeze.

James Turrell's Skyspace during "Twilight Epiphany" light sequence

Before the start of the light sequence

During the light sequence. Notice how the sky is darker in the middle
part than the outer. You don't get that perspective sitting on the
top viewing level.

Both events are baby friendly but, I decided to leave baby home this time for a little "me" time.

James Turrell: The Light Inside

James Turrell: Twilight Epiphany
Skyspace at Rice University

Downton Abbey

Last week, I made the mistake of watching the first episode of Downton Abbey when I should have been clearing the house, getting it ready to sell. It's also the reason for my absence from blogging. But, I've finished all three seasons now! To all you Downton Abbey fans out there, what did you think of season 3? Quite shocking and quite the tearjerker, eh?