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Israeli Couscous Sweet & Savory

I adore couscous in all its various sizes, but I really think the Israeli style which features a nice large round ball of semolina goodness, is definitely my fave. It’s got a great mouth feel and soaks up all sorts of flavors. Here is a super-easy, very flavorful approach to prepping couscous to go with my Moroccan Chicken or other middle eastern recipes.couscous on fire.jpg

INGREDIENTS

2 cups couscous

2 tablespoons butter/ghee/coconut oil

1 minced shallot

1 cinnamon stick

1 bay leaf

zest of 1 lemon

fresh parsley

1/4 cup golden raisins

1/4 cup pine nuts

salt

 

STEPS

Start by melting the butter or ghee (clarified butter) (or a vegan fat like coconut oil if you prefer) in a medium-sized pot. Once the fat is melted, sautee a small diced shallot until softened, then toss in the couscous, and gently swirl the couscous around so that it gets a little golden and toasty. Once that’s done, add a cinammon stick, bay leaf, a pinch of salt, zest of one lemon, and 4 cups of chicken broth or water or veggie broth if you prefer. I also love to throw in a small handful of golden raisins, which plump up during the cooking. Cook the couscous over gentle heat until cooked through. Once the couscous is cooked,toss the bay leaf out and add a handful of freshly minced parsley. While the couscous is cooking, gently toast a 1/4 cup of pine nuts (pignoli) in a little pan over low heat. Sprinkle the pignoli nuts on top. Pile up on a plate and serve under a saucy dish, like my Moroccan Chicken.

 

 

Raising Our Daughters

By: Natalie & Kim Bergman

Just two days ago, our oldest daughter Abby Bergman, completed one of the most grueling events possible: swimming 20+ miles from Catalina Island to a promontory on Palos Verdes over 11 hours and 11 minutes, much of it done at night. Meanwhile, we sit and write this from our airplane seats headed to Chicago to watch our younger daughter, Jenna Bergman perform in a play, the culmination of a summer spent at one of the top summer theatre institutes in the country as she seeks her own path, forging a trail as a passionate actor/dancer/singer, with dreams of a future in live theater and making her own mark on the world.

Abby finishing Catalina 2016

Abby completing the Catalina Channel Crossing: 20+ miles in 11 hours, 11 minutes, most of it swum in darkness, overnight.

We are our daughters’ biggest cheer leaders, and thanks to social media our friends and family get to come along virtually for our daughters’ many adventures. As a result, we  often hear people praise our daughters and tell us what great girls we have. We have been quick to simply agree that we are lucky to have such bright, caring, hardworking and big-hearted daughters. And we are!!!! But the truth is much deeper, and given a little time to reflect, here are some of the parenting keys that have been most vital for our family.

LOVE—Sounds obvious but this is really the foundation upon which we have built our family. We have been together 33 years and have built a relationship based on loving one another with all of our hearts. From the moment both Abby and Jenna were just a plus on a little stick we have loved them fiercely, blindly and with all of our hearts.

CREATE TEAM – We have always been “the girl family”, a foursome to take on the world. We have taught by example and word that by working together anything is possible. Learning how to build, create and lead teams is something we have shown Abby and Jenna right from the beginning. We surround ourselves with people who have some role in causing what we are up to and we put ourselves out there for others. The power of a team to produce results is significantly greater than that of an individual, and both of our girls know that. For Abby to achieve her goal of swimming across the Catalina Channel required all sorts of teams and teamwork over the course of years of devotion and dedication. Our girls know that they can bring people together whom they can count on and who will have their backs.

LISTEN – This seems so simple but is so easy to skip over. How many times as parents, tired and irritable, we wish our kids would go to sleep, or be distracted by a video or good book, so that we have a little precious time to ourselves. Our daughters have from a very young age always had us there listening to them. Being heard is a powerful experience and starts so young. We remember Abby as a tiny little girl, always asking questions as she explored and sought to understand the world around her. What, why, how questions poured from her all through the day, literally. Ask any of her school teachers who would always joke with us about Abby’s questions. And we never fell back on the “Just because” response that cuts off conversation and inquiry. We always sought to answer as clearly and truthfully as possible. Jenna has always loved a good late-night conversation, right before bed, to sort out her day and gain understanding of the events that transpired. Being morning people, a nighttime conversation has often been one of the hardest things for us to hang in there and do, but we recognize that that’s the time she wants to communicate, so we stay up way past our bedtime, so that we do connect and listen and share. Our girls are used to having us listen to them, so they are very comfortable sharing and talking to us.

Jenna jean jacket theatrical

Jenna Bergman, in one of her theatrical headshots

RESPECT – From the time of infancy, our children have gotten our respect. We have always valued our daughters’ thoughts and opinions, and treated their point of view and input as meaningfully and as important as that of an older person. We certainly have not always agreed with every opinion, request or desire, but we have always given them a great deal of respect. And for our girls, respecting others is just part of being human.

SUPPORT – We have always believed in our daughters’ dreams. We exposed our girls to lots of different experiences (soccer, volleyball, gymnastics, dance, painting, etc) and then followed their lead. We encouraged them to try new things but also were not attached if they didn’t like something, just as long as they were willing to give it a try. Then when something did stick, we supported them in every way that we could. When Abby got serious about her swimming, we took turns being up before the sun rose to drive her to swim practice before school. We knew which Starbucks opened at 5am, knew the local homeless folks who took refuge there for warmth, or we would sleep in the car as she swam, when the pool wasn’t close enough to head home. Meeting her with a hot Chai (and always a coffee for the coach). We connected her with a great swim team, drove and sat for hours at swim meets (we do mean hours and hours), just to watch her swim for a few minutes of thrilling competition. Similarly with Jenna, it has meant driving all over Los Angeles for voice lessons, rehearsals, auditions, dance classes, acting training. We have worked to seek out the best possible opportunities for our daughters in their respective areas of passion – the best possible teams, coaches, teachers, advisors, mentors. We were their very willing sherpas!

EXPECTATIONS – We always expect our daughters to DO their very best. We expect them to show up, put in effort, complete what they started, follow through on their commitments. We do not expect them to BE the best and we do not constantly tell them that they ARE the best. What we have always told them is that they are the very best “Abby and Jenna” and that we expect them to bring their best self to all they do. We have never cared if our daughters had a perfect GPA or the fastest swim time, or the biggest role on stage. What has always mattered is that our children put in their best effort, so that they have no regrets and leave nothing on the table. Both Abby and Jenna have developed into incredibly hard workers – with very different styles and approaches. And both are known for how hard they work. We also expect them to be respectful, be generous, be loving to others.

DISCIPLINE – We discipline without shame. We are very clear about what we expect from our girls but we also know that they are not perfect, that they will make mistakes. We don’t take it personally when they mess up, but we do expect them to clean up their messes. We are softies by nature so we’ve never been harsh, and sometimes we fold when we shouldn’t, but our girls know that there are lines that can’t be crossed.

ETHICS -We are Jewish, and we have raised our daughters on the foundation concept of “Tikkun Olam” – which means the repair of the world. For us this means asking ourselves, how can we make the world a better place? How can we make a difference and contribute? In our family this includes the act of Tzedakah – giving to charities in meaningful ways. Our daughters have always given to charities that matter to them. Abby raised money and bought a chair at our synagogue in the name of her grandfathers who had passed away – she paid for it little by little over a few years from her allowance and from gift monies she received. For one birthday as an elementary schoolgirl, she raised money to donate to the local aquarium, as the ocean and sea life have always been a passion. Both of our daughters volunteer for a variety of causes as often as they can. Jenna most recently, has phone banked at Planned Parenthood Los Angeles to help Hillary Rodham Clinton be elected and to protect a woman’s right to reproductive freedom. Jenna cannot pass a homeless person without buying them dinner or a cup of coffee. We always feed and take care of our girls’ coaches, mentors, teammates—letting them know that we have THEIR backs, just as they have our girls’ backs. Our girls are not spoiled but they are privileged, and we have always taught them that it’s their responsibility to give back, to pay it forward to help others. They know this at a cellular level. Kim’s grandmother had a saying, “always be the good one” and we have passed that onto the girls.

FAMILY and COMMUNITY – We are so lucky to have a wonderful and close family—of origin and of creation—who surround us with love. We have taught our girls to care deeply about our community, and we actively seek ways to connect with others.  We are involved locally in our home neighborhood, building friendships and relationships with our neighbors. We are involved in our city. We are involved in our professions, in our synagogue. Our daughters are used to being surrounded by loving family, community and even strangers. Our family is our team.

POSSIBILITY – We live that anything is possible. We know that sometimes there are challenges but we continually teach our girls that the world is full of possibilities to create and own. We have always taught our girls that they can lead with intention. That they can set their minds to something and reach for it. We have taught them to be bold.

—————

We are almost completely “empty nesters” and it is really true that the time flies. We are not perfect parents by any means and we were blessed with two amazing kids. We probably over parent them at times, we certainly overindulge them, we are often too forgiving, we put them first more than we maybe should and looking back we are not even sure how we had the energy to parent as intensely as we did. We spent more time and money on our kids than many would choose to do, or could do. We probably didn’t say no as much as we should have. We are headed to a time that will be just the two of us, like the 10 years we had before Abby was born, and we look forward to that time together. But we have no regrets. We have always parented Abby and Jenna with our whole hearts and souls, a bit of magic, a great deal of good luck and wonderful fortune, and mostly just always, no matter what LOVE.

Kim and I 2016

Killer Banana Bread

Banana Bread fresh out of the ovenSo, having a few bananas getting to the point where they were almost beyond redemption – so ripe the skin has darkened and thinned out – is the perfect opportunity to magically turn it into a delicious banana bread.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of ripe bananas, mashed
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream or whole plain yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon of high quality vanilla extract
  • 1 cup brown sugar (or sub your preferred sweetener)
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 stick unsalted butter (European style butter preferred such as Plugra or Kerrygold)

Optional Add-Ins:

1 cup mini bittersweet chocolate chips, or toasted & chopped up pecans or walnuts

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (180 Celsius)
  2. In a medium bowl mash bananas, add dairy and vanilla
  3. In a separate bowl, sift the flours, flaxseed, salt, baking powder and baking soda
  4. In the mixer using a paddle, cream the butter, then add the brown sugar until fully incorporated and somewhat fluffy
  5. Add the egg and beat until mixed in
  6. Add the flour mixture and beat until mixed. Make sure to stop the mixer and scrape the paddle and scrape the sides and bottom so that batter is fully incorporated.
  7. Grease and flour a standard baking breadpan; pour in batter which will be quite thick).
  8. Tap baking pan on counter a couple of times to remove air bubbles.
  9. Place on central baking rack in oven and bake for 45-50 minutes, until a lovely golden crust develops and the inside is no longer wet with a toothpick tester.
  10. Pull out of the oven and let it cool on a rack. Turn out onto a platter, slice and serve.

Bon Appetit!

 

 

 

 

 

The Rise of the Small Lot Subdivision

As the price of land soars ever higher here in California, city planners and developers are turning to novel solutions to maximize housing development on small lots. Having just navigated the sale of a 3-lot parcel in Los Angeles to a large multiunit developer, I know how complex and how rare it is for developers to be able to secure multiple parcels of land in a row in highly desirable neighborhoods. In fact, on the block where we sold 3 duplexes, a 4th owner held back, resisting the opportunity to sell. As a result, this one duplex property will be sandwiched between two large multistory apartment complexes…and its future resale value will likely decrease, due to the loss of privacy and increased density on both sides.

The City of Los Angeles has made the opportunity to build multiple homes on small units a more efficient way to generate the greatest utility/value for these small lots. The original law passed in 2004 has helped small lot developers like Modative and Minaret to provide new housing in a far more affordable and efficient way than the traditional 5000 square foot lot formula for a single house. US Dept of HUD Case Study for Small Lot Subdivisions goes into further detail on the history of the passage of the small lot subdivision ordinance in L.A. Approximately 2500 of these small lot subdivisions have been built since the ordinance passed.

I recently helped a young couple purchase their first home: a gorgeous tri-level modern 3-bedroom property on the Culver City/L.A. border. With central air, plenty of glass for natural light, two-car garage,  clean and modern design, and other amenities including a ten-year warranty from the home builder, my clients were able to buy brand-new construction in an increasingly hot neighborhood (a short walk from Helms Bakery and the new Culver City Expo train stop). In comparison to this newly constructed house, existing single-family homes at the same price point in the same neighborhood are significantly smaller and in need of major repair including upgrading electrical, plumbing, roof, as well as updating of the kitchen and bathrooms. Meanwhile, once my buyers scraped together the fairly hefty down payment, they essentially moved into a turnkey home, which required little if any upgrades.  A NEST thermostat and Ring video doorbell were installed to prevent having to run up and downstairs to adjust the a/c and see who is at the front door.

Interior View Fay Ave

Interior view of the fully staged model home at 3266 Fay…the project my clients bought into. Photo courtesy of Pardee/the MLS listing.

More of these small-lot subdivision single family homes are coming online via developers who specialize in such development are bringing them to market. There has been some pushback from residents who may dislike the modern style as being disruptive to the existing neighborhoods’ architectural heritage, or complain of rental units being lost to homeowners, but in Los Angeles where sprawl has reached its limits and the need is urgent to increase density, I would anticipate that many more such small lot subdivisions will be popping up all over town.

 

 

Is Your Home Smart Enough? Part I.

For those of us who are lucky enough to have owned homes for a while, it is definitely worth considering some “smart” technologies to upgrade your home system functionalities. Smart technology can save water, save electricity, save gas, and overall reduce your home’s energy consumption and ecological footprint.

First, I recommend swapping out the old thermostat for a new smart design. There are several on the market but personally I love Nest. The thermostat is sleek, elegant and intelligent. You can precisely control your house’s climate either manually or via the simple app which you can access on your phone, ipad or computer. You can also create a custom schedule for your Nest thermostat, so that you can start the a/c or the heater 30 minutes before you get home to cool or heat your house as needed. The thermostat also has the ability to “learn” from your prior selections and senses when you are home due to motion near the thermostat. The thermostat costs only about $250 and takes very little time/effort to install.

nest thermostat

How about watering your outdoor landscape? In California, with our endless drought situation, saving water is a huge imperative. The old controller for sprinklers had no ability to sense if it was raining, could not be fine-tuned at all for quantity of water, and had to be controlled directly at the source. Check out Rachio, the smart water irrigation control unit. Rachio controls your outdoor landscape irrigation usage in three ways: 1. by monitoring weather patterns and reducing/eliminating cycles of watering if there is rain; 2. by adapting to varying climate needs during the year; 3. by eliminating/reducing water runoff by running shorter more frequent cycles to allow water to soak and penetrate into the ground. As with Nest, Rachio can be completely controlled remotely – no more trudging outside while its raining to turn the sprinklers off.  Rachio has also developed next generation software to work together with other home functionalities including Nest and Alarm.com

rachio-social-graphic

Can’t get to the front door but want to know who’s knocking? A variety of cool devices have recently hit the market including one of my favorites: Ring Pro. This ultra-cool doorbell has a built-in camera/video function and microphone so that you can literally “see” who is knocking and respond to them. You don’t even have to be home to respond to Ring. The UPS delivery person can ring your bell and you can tell them to leave the package at the door, while you are actually sitting in your office, or on a beach in Hawaii or Mexico.

doorbell_pro

The Ring Pro camera can also be setup to monitor various Motion Zones which are also helpful as a deterrent which you can use in conjunction with an alarm system for your house.

screen-motion-pro-8811e7b33b9b856bd448fb99025bafa9

 

In Part II, I will touch base on other “smart home technologies” including the latest in light bulbs, smoke detectors, cameras/alarm systems, and more. Pretty much every aspect of our home can be made more efficient and versatile with the use of these technologies.

As a residential realtor in Los Angeles, I am seeing more and more incorporating of smart technologies in homes for sale, especially remodels and new construction. Buyers are expecting more convenience and efficiency.

If you have any questions regarding any of the above, feel free to email me at natalie @architecture8.com

 

 

Home Sales Surge Locally

Home sales surged by 24% in February, with the buying season kicking off early this year, possibly driven in part by our very mild winter. Home sales are up 12% this February, compared to Feb of 2015.   Interest rates are lower now than they were at the end of 2015 which is enticing more peeps to get into the home-buying fray. Of course, if you can manage all cash versus getting a loan, your chances of snagging the home of your dreams definitely increases, as it makes you a much sexier buyer. Interest rates have crept up a tiny bit over the past two weeks, but overall are still quite low (under 3.7% for 30-year fixed loans, and 2.96% for 15-year loans).

It’s definitely an excellent time to list your home – with inventory at significant lows – buyers are willing to pay a hefty premium to secure the home they want. 2016 is looking good for continued appreciation here in SoCal.