Category Archives: Tips

What to do?

A friend’s birthday is just days away and you have no ideas for a gift or an event….  When we were younger it seemed like we needed everything and could afford nothing!  Now the things we need are  $$$$ and still we can afford little.  What to do!?

Dinner with a coupon, affordable but not that interesting….Hmm, what about bar hopping? Was fun in my 20’s but that was 30 years ago, but now bars seem expensive, loud and the worry of a DUI real.  Maybe a combination of the two – what about appetizer hopping???   The appetizer part of the menu is usually a good deal if you can stay away from the drinks (your wallet and head will thank you).  You can easily split 3 or 4 spots of appetizers and finish with dessert!

Next question is where?  Plenty of chain restaurants have a large selection of appetizers, but that is not very original, and as a small business owner I want to support the “little” guy.  This weekend, a girlfriend and I set out to appetizer hop around town.  Our goals were to stay on budget, taste a little bit of everything and have fun. We started at Hopyard Brewery (American food) we had a soup, then to Prickly Pear (Mexican food) we had chimichanga with cream cheese and jalapeno – very yummy and one order of Chimichanga’s has 5 small chimies.   Next stop Uncle Yu’s for a salad with honey walnut prawns! Amazing!!!  At this point we were full, so we skipped our last stop and went direct to Esin for dessert.  A fig cake my friend loves and super chocolaty espresso tart which I liked finished off our evening.   I wish the chocolate was less intense so I could have tasted the coffee, but I would go back for their Snow Clouds.  What are snow clouds you ask?  They are an amazing drink which that had whiskey, milk and other yummies, and was so good, I really didn’t need dessert.  It was a really fun different evening, and we did not over eat, over drink or over spend the budget!


Mission accomplished!!!


Blogging….. I would love to do this more, but just don’t.  I really need to figure out a way to make it a habit.

HEAT… it has been hecka hot in the East Bay area of the San Francisco Bay, at or close to 100 degrees for 3 days and my little house has no air conditioning, and limited insulation.  A whole different blog post about why I have not changed that situation, but the short version is $$$, the end.

But today I had a client come by and when she walked in from the 90 degree outside into the 73 degree house, she commented on how nice it was to have the air conditioning on, as her hubby did not like the bills.  So I told her, no air conditioning. She could not believe it. Figured I had to share how to do it.

You cannot do it if you are not detail oriented (that’s the politically correct way to say “a bit of an anal control freak!”) .

The first thing is to stop adding heat to your house – so  look over each room in your home and figure out what you have that generates heat and try to eliminate or control it.  That means incandescent lights – out!  Take a look at your TV and feel the back of it – it is hot, it is hotter when on, but it is even hot when off –  get a power strip –plug in the TV and the DVD player, turn off the power strip when you are not using it.   The same goes for the printer, computer, game system you get it if there is a little power light, feel it – warm then unplug it.

Ok now you need to get the house as cool as you can – the coolest time is at night, so when the air outside is cool get it inside!  Open windows and doors, including the garage door (even if it is a little bit) to let the cool air in.  This works great when you are awake in the evening, but  it will get late and you will want to lock up to go to bed.  Living Gourmet does not recommend leaving your house insecure in a effort to keep it cool, so what I did is close all the windows except one at each end of the house. In one window place a large commercial fan (I got a table top one at Home Depot a few years ago it is about 24 inches across) place it so it is blowing out. Turn it on to high. Close and lock every other window and door except the one at the other end of the house.  Leave that one open.  For me, this means that one window is in the kitchen and the other is the master bed room. The fan will pull air in from the open window, through the house and blow it out.  I can knock 10 degrees off the inside temperature in 6-7 hours, and the fan costs very little to run.

When you wake up, you’ll find yourself in a cool house.  If you are like me and get up early, open everything back up!  You can generally drop the temperature a few more degrees in the morning and every little bit helps.  As the sun comes up and begins to shine in the windows close the blinds/shades/drapes.  Do NOT let the sun in!!  When the outside temp is the same as the inside temp shut the windows and doors. Open drapes as the sun is no longer shinning in the windows, you’ll change which window covers are closed as the sun moves.  The other trick is to not go in and out too much. Every time you open the door you are letting out cool air and letting in hot air.  During the day, try not to generate heat.  Don’t make a batch of cookies at 3 in the afternoon or turn the oven on.  You would be supprised how much ‘baking’ you can do on a barbeque.  I can keep a 20-30 degree temperature difference between the inside and outside of my house and this is with all the crummy insulation in my house.  I do have insulated doors, and double pane windows, but no wall insulation and the roof is r13.  Most newer homes will have so much more insulating potential, that you should easily be able to do what I do.


The other upside is all the money you save by leaving the air conditioner off. And really, who doesn’t like more money?



Soul searching is a very complex task that is often boiled down to “Only you can do this for you”.  The journey takes many forms and no two experiences are the same.  Some find life’s meaning through meditation, others through exercise.  Here at Living Gourmet, we recently went on a soul searching experience and have done our best to record our findings below.  Taking some advice from these guys our particular method of divination was an exploration of the taco.  These are not your average Taco Bell tacos, or even the elusive left-over Taco Bell taco(because really, if they don’t get eaten the first time, who is going to keep it around to let it age).  These are your true authentic tacos that we liberated from some local taquerias.

We visited two places on our journey, Rancho Grande in Pleasanton, CA  and Taco Azteca in Dublin, CA

Rancho Grande is you stereotypical taqueria: the menu is in two languages and the pictures have Spanish captions, Radio Español is blaring over the old speakers and they serve more flavors of Fanta than Coke.  It also passes the Living Gourmet Litmus test for Cultural Foods; if the people whose culture the food comes from eat there, you know it is good.  Based on looks alone, this place should serve good food.  The Living Gourmet Executive Staff (one of who you know, the other is hiding in the shadows, secretly controlling the operations MUWHAHAHAHAAHA) ordered two tacos here: the grilled chicken taco and the BBQ pork taco.  For the record, each of these has a Spanish name, although neither of us wanted to butcher the language by attempting them.  At $1.85 a piece, we weren’t quite sure what we were going to get.  This falls into the grey area in taco pricing where it isn’t obvious if you are going to get a low price on a good taco or an overpriced wanna-be taco.  Fortunately, we got the former.  Both tacos were delicious and came with a hidden, but very tasty surprise.  In the tacos, there were grilled onions which went very nicely with meal.

In addition to the tacos, the remainder of the meal was good.  Chips are complimentary if you spent more than $5, so if you bring a friend they are free.  While we only had one each, if would be very easy for one moderately hungry person to eat three of these tasty snacks.  While it was no Pleasanton Hotel, there was a certain charm to the place.  It had just enough grime to feel right.  We both gave it 3 out of 5 stars in terms of an overall experience.

Next, we wanted to try a different kind of taco experience.  We wanted a place a little more, shall we say, experimental in their approach to tacos.  We decided on Taco Azteca, which traded in the Spanish music for one of the best decorated Mexican restaurants I’ve ever been in.  In lieu of scientific consistency, we ordered the Chili Colorado taco and the Carnitas taco.  With two tacos and a drink coming in at just over $8, we were expecting something special.  Chips and salsa were free, which was nice, at the restaurant itself was spectacular, but the tacos were found wanting.  The Chili Colorado drowned out the beef flavor leaving us with a slightly disappointed and reaching for our drinks.  The carnitas was boring.  Not bad, but it just lacked in the something special that made you want to take that next bite, nothing justified the jump in price.  We decided that they would only get 2 stars out of 5.

Before you decide to hunt us down and correct our erroneous conclusions, hear us out.  We spent a single afternoon going to these two places, trying a grand total of 4 tacos, two sodas, a basket of chips and some napkins.  You could go into either restaurant and order something different on the menu for a month and still not have tried everything.  What I’m trying to say is the easiest way to find a hidden gem of a Mexican restaurant it to go out and try a bunch. You will find your favorite little hole in the wall and the place that does them just right.

But neither of us think we have found our favorite little hole in the wall Mexican food place yet – so this summer when the Executive staff of Living Gourmet get back together (we run the biz virtually) we will try a few more of the TriValley Mexican holes in the wall to see if we can find our 5 out of 5 stars!  So if you have a suggestion of a place we should try let us know and sometime this summer we’ll pick a few and check them out.

One of the staff had an opportunity to try the fish tacos at the Lodi Beer Company the other day (I know not even close to the tri valley) but they were very good – 3 fish tacos for $10.50 – not worth the 2 hour drive in traffic, but if you are going that way – the Lodi Beer Company and their fish tacos were a good find.

In this time of fiscal uncertainty, there is one tax that parents all around are more than happy to get behind.  This tax, called the Parent Tax, is a tax on all consumed goods by children and that allows up to one parent to take a single bite or swallow of any food or drink item.  This tax is doubled if the parent was directly responsible for the child’s access to the food item, known also as a Handling Tax or Opening Fee.  Like all good rules, there are exceptions.  Tax exempt foods are any food items received as a gift and not designated for group consumption (a individual box of See’s Candy would be exempt for example) or items that are small enough that one bite or swallow would render them significantly compromised.  In addition, children who purchase food items with their own money earned from a weekly allowance or from can petition for a tax exemption on their goods

To collect this tax, the parent must declare their intentions upon first encountering the taxable object.  This must also occur before the child has consumed 25% of the item to insure that the tax is not exorbitant amount.  At any point in the taxation process, either side my call for arbitration from a 3rd party or protest the taxation with no more than one gentle tap and foot stops not to exceed 3 in any one minute period.  There are variations of this tax in almost every municipality so check with local specifics.

It seems like oranges are in everyone’s yard this time of year, big juicy oranges. I love to pick and eat them, add them to salads, or stir fry, and to juice them.. BUT don’t juice before you grate the rind. There is always a recipe that calls for grated orange rind and the time of year you want to make it oranges are not so sweet and way too expensive. So before you juice your oranges take just a few minutes and grate the rind (or zest it if you like strips) and put the zest or grated rind in a zip lock baggie (LABELED!)and tucked in the frezzer then grated rind is waiting for you when ever you need it and didn’t cost you a thing!  I do it with lemons too… But keep the rind in separate baggies and label each one.