Some Awesome New Things: The Habit, Sunday Cats, and Vellabox Candles

New Things That Are Awesome!

vellabox candles

Vellabox Candles and Gifts

My family and I tried some new things recently and three of them were awesome enough to share with you here. Picture me curled up on the love seat with a tasty burger in one hand, an organic freezer pop in the other, enjoying the light from a flickering candle. (That’s not at all how it happened, but it’s the way I would like you to imagine me.)

The Habit’s Golden Chicken Sandwich

habit golden chicken sandwich

The Habit is a fast casual burger restaurant on Canwood between McDonald’s and Trader Joe’s. I have been there a few times since it opened a few years ago when the mood has hit me. It’s a little bit more newsworthy now because a new location will be opening at Thousand Oaks and Westlake Blvd, which means I’ll have two Habits to choose from when the mood strikes again.

habit agoura hills

The Habit announced its limited-time Golden Chicken Sandwich ($6.25) on October 5. It’s the first fried chicken sandwich the restaurant has offered, and this one comes “hand-dipped into house-made seasoned flour and buttermilk, fried to perfection and topped with a new spicy red pepper sauce.” Since I don’t like spicy things, I made my food taste-tester (my husband) sample this one. He liked it but would not give me any more details. So there you go.

habit agoura hills interior

I rate this entry awesome because The Habit is nicer than a fast food burger joint, serves up the food quickly, and prepares their “charburger” with a relishy sauce that gives it some extra flavor. Plus, they have soft serve ice cream for dessert.

The Habit Burger
29145 Canwood Street
Agoura Hills, CA 91301
(818) 707-7300

Sunday Cats Freezer Pops

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Sunday Cats has nothing to do with cats, as a matter of fact. But when a box of the freezer pops came in the mail, my kids ripped it open and immediately assumed these organic freezer pops (the company calls them “freezies”) were treats for the cat. Sigh. I mean, the box did come with little cat-themed scissors…

boy with sunday cats

I did not pay him to pose like this.

Sunday Cats makes “the first organic and natural version of the pop! Real fruit juice, whole food electrolytes (perfect for those little soccer players), NO sugar, NO artificial flavors, and NO preservatives. Vegan, non-GMO, gluten-free.”

pineapple sunday cats

They come in watermelon, strawberry, and pineapple. Strawberry is super sweet, like a power-punch of very ripe actual berries. Watermelon is my favorite – refreshing but not too sweet. Pineapple actually tastes like real pineapple. Because it is.

I’m actually lucky I got to try one myself. The kids pretty much devoured these all by themselves.

Sunday Cats Freezer Pops
Order online. Box of 6, including shipping: $11.29

Vellabox

vellabox october

So, I still haven’t tried any of the subscription boxes of things and stuff that I keep seeing in my Facebook and Instagram feeds. Clothes, books, crafts, cooking supplies…meh. I just haven’t been interested. But then I read the description of Vellabox. It’s candles, you guys! I love candles! I mean I really love candles. This subscription service sends you candles! “We source the highest quality candles hand-poured by American artisans and combine them with a bonus lifestyle gift and a unique packaging style to create a memorable unboxing experience each and every month.”

And what an unboxing it was. I actually let my son open this one because to be honest, I had forgotten I agreed to review this thing, and so I didn’t recognize the name of the company. He didn’t do too much damage, and he really enjoyed opening the beautifully-wrapped candles. And then I enjoyed smelling them. For a long time.

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This box is the Vivere October box with a fall theme, complete with pumpkin spice granola bar. The big candle filled my house with a crisp apple-cinnamon scent and made everyone think I was baking something. Psych! I think a Vellabox subscription would make an excellent host/hostess gift for that family member whose home you’re crashing in for the holidays.

Vellabox Candle Subscriptions
Order online. $10-$30 per month plus shipping

I received complimentary samples from each company. All opinions are my own.

LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens for Wii U

LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens is finally out on several platforms. We’re working through the Wii U version and it’s our new favorite game.

lego star wars force awakens cover

When my boys were 4 and 2 years old, our family got its first Wii console, and the first game I purchased was LEGO Star Wars, the complete series. In the game, your favorite Star Wars characters explore and fight their way through each major scene of all 6 of the first Star Wars movies. One night I was awake until 3AM playing the game all by myself!

The first thing I said to my kids after we saw The Force Awakens in December was “I can’t wait until the Wii game comes out!”

star wars rey jakku

LEGO Star Wars Returns

Imagine my joy when we returned home from our summer travels to find a copy of the game for Wii U in the mail. I received a complimentary game for the purpose of this feature. My association with Nintendo is going strong after seven years. As a parent, I appreciate that games for the Wii U and DS models are imaginative and easy on the violence. As a player, I take great delight in the humor, inventiveness, and creativity that goes into them.

Blaster Battles

After years of playing the original LEGO Star Wars for Wii, I have to say I felt like a bit of an old timer when playing LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It took me a while to get used to some of the more complex maneuvers. For example, a cool new feature is that in certain scenes, you can crouch down and dodge laser shots in a fire fight, and then pop up and move your nunchuk button to put a target right on your enemy, and fire with the B button. (It took me a while to get the hang of this. That’s a lot of sensory input and output. My kids, of course, figured it out right away and they are rock stars at it.)

Multi-Builds

Building is more nuanced in this game, too. When you encounter a pile of hopping bricks, in the old game you press Z and your character builds a contraption to complete a task that gets you to the next step, like making a bridge or pulling down a ladder. In LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens, you can build not just one contraption, but a selection of a few different options, made obvious by the glowing outlines that appear when you approach the pile. The trick is to aim your character at the right spot while pressing Z, otherwise you’ll build the wrong thing.

As you might expect, the advancement in the graphics quality is notable, but it’s not the star of this edition. No, the main thing that draws me as a player is the storytelling, and in LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens, creator TT games made a point of employing the snarky sense of humor that the LEGO games are now known for. You might see a stormtrooper hanging out in the jacuzzi, or falling asleep at his post. Or a character will be drinking a milkshake (random) when you meet him. Or a bad guy will draw a weapon on you, only to realize that it’s…a banana.

Side note: I love that when you “kill” a bad guy, all he does is fall apart into a pile of digital LEGO bricks. When you “die,” the same thing happens to you but then you pop right back up after a few seconds. This is typical of the LEGO for Wii games – no blood, no guts, just the joy and satisfaction of smashing stuff and getting “coins,” or little digital LEGO studs that count as money.

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Harrison Ford’s video game debut

Star Power

The game also features original dialogue from key members of the theatrical cast, providing the most authentic Star Wars experience for players, including Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn), Adam Driver (Kylo Ren), Carrie Fisher (Leia Organa), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Domhnall Gleeson (General Hux), Gwendoline Christie (Captain Phasma), Lupita Nyong’o (Maz Kanata), Max von Sydow (Lor San Tekka), Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron) and other top stars from the film.

If the original LEGO Star Wars gave me so many years of enjoyment, I can only imagine that LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens for Wii U is going to be a family favorite. You can buy it for Wii U at any major retailer (suggested price $49.99) and it’s also available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Nintendo 3DS, PC, Mac and on the App Store for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.

Cocina Condesa For a Fine Meal in Studio City

Cocina Condesa dresses up street food for a delicious dining experience in a colorful, welcoming restaurant.

cocina condesa taco platter

photo courtesy of Cocina Condesa

As the weather warms up I find myself making more excursions east of the grade. Those adventures are made even better when I get to have wonderful meals at the end of them! Here’s a spot I’d like to recommend if you are going to Universal or anywhere in Hollywood. On the way home, hit Cocina Condesa for dinner. It’s a bustling Mexican restaurant and mezcaleria on the south side of Ventura just east of Colfax.

cocina condesa exterior

You can’t miss Cocina Condesa, because its colorful exterior and welcoming patio tables stand out from the surrounding businesses on Ventura Blvd. The dining room and bar welcome you with the lively conversation of its many patrons, and the warm natural wood decor. Families, dates, business meetings, and girls’ nights out were all around us when my friend Suzanne and I recently dined there as the restaurant’s guests.

Cocina Condesa markets its food as “Mexican street food,” but it sure doesn’t come across that way. The dishes have roots in Oaxacan cuisine, and with chef Eddie Garcia and mixologist David Rubin’s influences, the blends of taste and texture are at times fully satisfying and also surprising.

Our server explained that Cocina Condesa is primarily a “small plates” restaurant, and by now Los Angeles is pretty accustomed to this sort of thing. Plus, we lucked into visiting on the restaurant’s Taco Tuesday, during which selected tacos are only $2.50 each. Bring on the plates! Pair that deal with $8 house margaritas, and you have one fine hora feliz.

To start, we tried a few of the new drinks on the menu along with the requisite (and satisfying) chips & salsa & guac.

cocina condesa chips and salsa

First course

In the mule mug is the Bronco: Whiskey, Fresh Ginger, Soda, Fresh Watermelon Juice, Fresh Lemon Juice. For a ginger-lover, this is a solid, refreshing beverage. The watermelon juice makes it taste like summer. I tried the pink one, the Paloma: Tequila Blanco, Pinch of Salt, Squirt, Fresh Grapefruit Juice, Fresh Lime Juice. It was delicious. The best margarita I ever had in my life was at a tiny streetside bar in Loreto, Baja California Sur. The Paloma is the first drink that reminded me of that!

Then we tried some of the tacos from the Taco Tuesday menu – the asada was our favorite with perfectly cooked steak and toppings, but the vegetarian entry, with squash, sweet corn, and mushrooms, was a surprisingly sweet counterpoint to the other items we tasted. Everything we tried was quite delicious but another taco, this one on the regular menu, was our hands-down favorite: the Cerveza Battered Camarones Tacos. Basically, shrimp tacos. Topped with papaya jicama slaw and avocado sauce, this taco was the perfect combo of flavors.

cocina condesa shrimp tacos

Cerveza battered camarones tacos – photo courtesy of Cocina Condesa

Another favorite was STREET CORN, which I put in all caps because it is not to be missed. The chefs will take the corn off the cob for you but we opted to eat it the authentic, messy way. This corn is prepared with tapatio aioli, cotija cheese, chili and lime.

cocina condesa street corn

Street corn

Between the small plates and sampling a few of the bigger meals (meant to be shared), we had to try some mezcal. It’s a tequila-ish alcohol that Cocina Condesa serves with a wedge of orange with chili powder on it. The act of drinking it is meant to be similar to tequila: down the shot and then suck on the wedge of orange. But I decided to sip this, and really savor the flavor. Basically it tastes, to me, like liquid smoke, perfect for the barbecue lover!

cocina condesa shot of mezcal

We tried the short rib birria dish, which is braised beef short ribs, topped with grilled frisee tomato salad and sautéed shitake mushrooms and served over pureed potatoes. The beef was so tender and savory, this was a very close second to the shrimp tacos. There was nothing left over.

cocina condesa short ribs birria

Everything about this dish is good

We also had to try the mole. I mean, if there is mole on a menu, isn’t a requirement to eat some? So we chose the chocolate mole chicken enchiladas served with Mexican rice and a scene-stealer: refried white beans. First time I’ve ever seen that.

cocina condesa chicken mole enchiladas

Refried white beans, upper right

Like good researchers, we saved room for dessert. There are a few good options, but the most “street-foodie” seemed like the right choice, and boy were we happy with it.

cocina condesa mini churros

These are mini-churros served on a nest made out of a brown paper bag alongside a bowl of caramel dipping sauce which honestly, you can just eat by itself with a spoon. What a satisfying end to a delicious meal in a great place.

A few cool things about Cocina Condesa:

  • Easy to get to off the freeway – from here, take the 101 to Laurel Canyon, south to Moorpark, east to Colfax, south to Ventura, turn left. Roll on up to the brightly colored Cocina Condesa and if there’s no street parking just valet for $6. Make it easy on yourself.
  • All dishes are served on unique plates made of wood, like slices of trees preserved and shined up for admiration and use. This is a small detail but every dish that came out was served on these and I was delighted by them
  • There is a back room with its own bar that you can rent out for parties.
  • The location is studio-close, so the staff is beautiful and you might be dining or drinking alongside cast, crew, or executives from shows in production.

Cocina Condesa
11616 Ventura Blvd.
Studio City 91604
818-579-4264
Website