The BEST Birthday Freebies List – 2021 Edition

Happy Birth (day, week, month) to me! and what better way to celebrate me than by redeeming free stuff! Here’s a list of what I redeemed during April 2021. Come check it out!

Habit (Free Cheeseburger), Paderia (Free Cookie), Del Taco (Free Premium Milk Shake), Hapa Cupcake (Free Cupcake), Togo (Free Sandwich), Tastea (Free Drink)

Food

Del Taco (Free Milkshake): Join the Raving Fan Club and they’ll email you QR code to redeem a free shake! The coupon expires with 1.5 weeks of your bday. I usually get the strawberry milkshake. Yum! (est. value $3.29)

Hapa Cupcakes (Free Cupcake): They’re known for their alcohol infused cupcakes, but have various options if that’s not your thing. Join their mailing list to redeem your free code!

Habit Grill (Free Burger): Join the CharClub and redeem a free cheeseburger! (value est. $4.29)

Paderia Bakery (Free Cookie): Get on their email list and they’ll send you a code to redeem a free cookie on your next visit! I got the triple chocolate which was devine! ($4 Value)

Tastea ($5 off any purchase): If you love bubble tea this is a fantastic perk! Sign up for their loyalty program on their app to redeem this free perk.

Togo (Free Sandwich): Pull up rewards from you app for free lunch! Most sandwiches apply! (Est Value $9.24).

Hot Topic ($5 Birthday Credit + $5 Anniversary Credit), Sephora (Free Deluxe Makeup Sample), The Makeup Shack ($5 off TMS Product)

Misc

Hot Topic ($5 Birthday Credit): Sign up for Hot Topic’s “Guest List” and earn a $5 Birthday Credit to use within a month of your birthday.  I signed up during my birth month I was also awarded a $5 anniversary credit. During my shopping spree I was able to combine both rewards towards a B1G2 Free clearance sale! This year I purchased a pair of Harry Potter workout pants, a Gryffindor raglan tee, and an Incredibles shirt for about $10 total!

Makeup Shack ($5 off any Makeup Shack Product): I purchased a new contouring brush and paid the difference. I think about $1.50 or so, and it’s a great brush! You’ll sign up at the store with your phone number!

Sephora (Makeup): For some reason I didn’t get an email this year, but if you’re a Beauty Insider be sure to redeem your free beauty or skincare deluxe sample. For the month of April I picked up a Laneige cleansing kit which included a sleeping mask, moisture cream and lip sleeping mask! How lux!

Did I miss a cool freebie? Comment below because sharing is charing!

Until Next Time,

Irene

April Favorites 2021

It’s that time of month – monthly favorites! and for the month of April I visited San Francisco and the surrounding cities during my Spring Break! (!!!) Woo!!! It was much needed.

During that trip I knocked off a few more of my bookmarks and several of them made this month’s favorites! Check out my list below to see who made the cut!

$ Falafel (Falafel Stop), Roast Pork Entree (New Lun Ting Cafe),Japanese Confectionary Treats (Osaka-Ya), Duck Chow Mein (Sam Wo)

$ Bargain

Duck Chow Mein (Sam Wo): This Chinatown SF staple has been serving the community for over 100 years, so they must be doing something right! I ordered the Duck Chow Mein ($9.05) and boy was I in for a surprise. I absolutely loved it. The noodles had a nice chew to it and it can easily feed you for two meals. Read all about it here.

Roast Pork Entree (New Lun Ting Cafe): The mysterious orange gravy may look off-putting to some, but boy that sauce slathered over a thick cut of roasted pork and rice is beyond amazing. See full review here. For $9.25 you can feed two people with that popular entree. I will DEFINITELY be back for this on my next visit to SF Chinatown.

Japanese Confectionary Treats (Osaka-Ya): Osaka-Ya is a Sacramento staple that has served their loyal customers since 1963 and their authentic treats are both beautiful and delicious! They have many different flavor combinations and while I ordered 2 sets of four types in a future visit I will need to order way more! This was by far my favorite stop in Sacramento and the prices were very reasonable although it’s very hard to just pick one: Mochi ($1.50) Manju ($1.60), Flavored Mochi Bites (Box of 12 small bites, $4.75). See my full review here.

Falafel (Falafel Stop): Healthy fast food for a reasonable price. For $7.11 you can get a very nutritious and filling meal. The Falafel in a pita bread, may look small, but it is packed with a lot of ingredients! See my full writeup here.

Thrifting (St. Vincent De Paul Thrift Store): There are multiple branches of this charity good store; however the San Mateo location has a great assortment of garments and misc items. See full review here.

$$ Pad See Ew (Bangkok Spice), Boba Drink (True Dan), Beef Wrap (Zen Noodle Bar)

$$ Moderately Priced

Pad See Ew (Bangkok Spice): This Anaheim mom n pop shop is legit! The portions here are enormous and very reasonably priced. An order Pork Pad See Ew was $10.95 and could easily feed you for two meals. See what else I ordered here.

Boba Drink (True Dan): This small 3 chain boba shop serves Taiwanese drinks with a twist. I visited the Burlingame location and tried the “Fresh Milk With Brown Sugar, Crema, and Oreos” with Oat Milk Substitution (+$.50) = $6.50 and wow it was amazing! Honestly, it beat out my 2020 favorite boba drink (see list here), and that’s saying a lot! See my full review of my True Dan experience here.

Shanghainese Food (Zen Noodle Bar): If I want authentic Shanghainese food in the Bay Area Zen Noodle Bar will definitely be my top pick! Their Beef Wrap ($8.96) was amazing (perfect marriage of all flavors) and all the other dishes were solid. For a variety and a party of two I’d recommend three dishes. See what I recommend here.

$$$ Afternoon Tea (Malaya Tea Room), Fruit Flavored Sugar Cane Drinks (Sugarmama), Artisanal Pastries (Baker Doe)

$$$ Splurge

Afternoon Tea (Malaya Tea Room): For about $33 a person, you can enjoy finger sandwiches and an unlimited pot of tea of your choice, in a classy, tropical destination. I tried Butterfly pea for the first time (See Video here) and seeing it change from blue to purple was pretty cool. To see the breakdown of my tea experience click here.

Fruit Flavored Sugar Cane Drinks (Sugarmama): I grew up drinking sugarcane and when I found this home-based small business up in Oakland called Sugarmama, who specialized in fruit flavored sugar cane beverages, I was eager to check her out. At the time she did glass jugs – See my IG post here. Many flavors were in the $30 – $32 a flavor, and a jug can yield 5 cups. I think now you can buy a large jug (since she moved to plastic) for $23-$25 (though Durian is $29). I loved the strawberry sugarcane drink as it was very refreshing! If you’re local to Oakland you can pick up on Wed, Fri, or Sat or for a small fee you can have it delivered within the Bay Area. She also does individual sized drinks ($6-$8), but I thought the jug was great to share!

Artisanal Pastries (Baker Doe): You can get a dozen croissants from Costco for about $5, or you can get one Croissant that’s basically a work of art for $6. I won’t lie it took me three attempts (meaning three different days) to get an order in, since he sells out super fast! You can read my instructions and review on each pastries here. He has a different menu every week, but my writeup will give you some insight on the experience. Honestly, probably the most beautiful and buttery croissants I’ve ever had and if you want to see what all of them look like click here. I ordered two of everything that was available that week and the total came out to around $70ish.

Which of these finds are you hoping to try?

Until Next Time,

Irene

February Favorites 2021

Some of you know that I do a forty-day fast each year for Lent. I usually pick eating out as my sacrifice, but this year I wanted to try something different. I decided to give up meat and poultry (which started back on Feb 17th), but I will still eat eggs and seafood. So for this and next month many of my food picks may be vegetarian/pescatarian. But don’t fret, I will never compromise my reviews for the quality of taste and I had some pretty amazing finds to share (both food, art, and fashion). So without further adieu, lets see the Top February picks!

$ Fortune Cookies (Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company), Thrifting (Pick of the Litter), Number Cake (Sweets from Liz)

$ Bargain

Number Cake (Sweets from Liz): Sweets from Liz (IG) is a home baker in North Orange County who creates custom sweets. I ordered a number of different items including her Micky and Minnie Cocoa bombs, and chocolate covered strawberries, but her Number Cake ($20) was definitely my favorite. The presentation was spot on and everyone in my family loved eating it. The cake was light and the berries were very fresh. I cannot wait for another opportunity to order it! Also, if you live in Orange County she delivers for $3! You can read all about why I was celebrating 8 years here.

Thrifting (Pick of the Litter): I’m quite picky about my thrift shops and “Pick of the Litter” was definitely top dog on my recent thrift adventures. Not only do proceeds benefit the humane society, but I really liked the assortment of curated items they had and the prices were very reasonable. I bought a hair of dress slacks for $2.50 and a gold formal gown for $5. See my full review here.

Fortune Cookies (Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory): I’ve never really liked fortune cookies since they often tasted stale, but these at Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory were freshly made and gave me a completely new outlook on what they were suppose to taste like. They offer a variety of flavors including Sesame, Green Tea, Strawberry, Chocolate, and their original flavor. I loaded up on a bunch of bags (roughly $6ish depending on flavor) to gift family and friends. Suffice to say they were all gobbled up. If you’re in the Bay area you should definitely check them out. They’ve been a huge part of SF Chinatown for the past 57 years! Read the full review here.

$$ Laska (Lion Dance), Macarons (Macarons by Natalie), Chicken Wings (Capital Restaurant)

$$ Moderately Priced

Chicken Wings (Capital Restaurant): If you love chicken wings the Salt and Pepper Chicken wings from Capital Restaurant in SF Chinatown is the bomb. It is THE place to grab wings, and on my visit EVERYONE included it in their order. See my full review here.

CNY Macarons (Macarons By Natalie): I recently discovered Macarons By Natalie (IG), who is a home baker based in Oakland, CA, who specializes in character macarons. At the time she offered preorders of her Chinese New Year Macarons ($30) and they were adorable! She currently does local pick-up in the Bay area, but maybe one day she’ll do shipping or open up a brick-and-mortar. I stocked her IG stories and the brick and mortar dream is a very definite possibility! She does custom orders, but it looks like her $30 assortment boxes happen during major holidays so St. Patty’s Day and Easter must be next! Want to see what flavors you incorporated with her designs? Read it here.

Laska (Lion Dance Cafe): I’m usually suspicious on a hipster’s take on authentic cuisine, but with lots of praise from various press including the San Francisco Chronicle, Eater SF and more I was very curious to see what the fuss was all about. Lion Dance Cafe is known for their Shaobing sandwich (photo here), but I was blown away by all the complex flavors in their Laska ($16). Order open up on Wednesday for Friday, or Saturday pickup. See my full review here.

$$$ Crab (PPQ Dungeness Island), Beskar Baby Yoda Doll (BeskarBabyYoda), Pizza (June’s Pizza)

$$$ Splurge

Pizza (June’s Pizza): $30 a pie is expensive especially when it’s all vegetarian. However, June’s Pizza (IG) uses the freshest ingredients available that week and honestly I didn’t even notice that it was meatless because it was so flavorful. Every week they have different “special” pies depending on what’s in season. On my trip it was butternut squash, ricotta cheese, and fresh cracked black pepper *drool*. It was so good, and when when I’m not doing a meat-fast I definitely want to go back and try more pies! It is somewhat of a process to get since they only serve 60 pies a day, but worth it! See my cliff notes on how to order and the full review here.

Crab (PPQ Dungeness Island: I haven’t had crab in a long time, but the crustaceans at PPQ Dungeness Island were top notch. At the time of my visit they did offer outdoor dining, but we had to reserve in advance. I want to say it was $60 a crab or market price, but the way they prepared it is definitely worth a visit! The Peppercorn and their signature “roasted” were my favorite, but click here to read the entire review.

Beskar Baby Yoda Doll (BeskarBabyYoda): Beskar Baby Yoda (IG) $249 + $20 Shipping. If you love “the child” Shawn is an incredible artist who really takes it to the next level. He does Baby Mando, Baby Boba-Fett, and Baby Armorer. He’s also working on Jedi Grogu now! You can see my unboxing video here to get a closer look at all the details.

Which of these look the most interesting to you?

Until Next Time,

Irene

Who is that girl I see…

It’s definitely been a hot minute since I last blogged; however, considering this year’s lockdown orders and the evolving status of Covid-19 I’ve had a pretty low key year in terms of adventures and discoveries. Nevertheless, as I reflect on this chaotic year I’ve come to the conclusion that life is short and we too should grow and evolve.

Photo Credit: my mom; Photo Editing: Alan K from Portraits.n.cosplay on IG

I’ve had the username @yurockstar or Rockstar for the past 5 years maybe? and while I will still be known as Rockstar by some of my friends I think Insider Irene is much more inclusive of my interests and also allows others to get a peak into some of my latest finds – whether it be restaurants, fashion, nerd culture, historical landmarks, etc. I think at my core I’ve always liked discovering new things, supporting mom n’ pop shops, and sharing it with everyone so for the coming years I hope that I’ll be inspired to share more consistently. If you like my cosplay stuff go check out my other alias @cosplaycounselor where I integrate counseling with cosplay. I’ve posted tons of video content www.cosplaycounselor.com.

For now I’ll just leave you with this announcement and pose this question: What is something that you think EVERYONE should know about. It can be a restaurant, a cool shop, landmark etc. Let me know below!

Love, Irene

Enjoying a little bit of France in Fresno

I love bread, but it all goes to my hips, so, I seldom eat carbs now in days. However, on my recent Fresno trip I stumbled upon a little bakery called The Brioche Lady – the name alone perked up my ears and I was eager to try her baked goods. When I entered, to my right were two racks of fresh Brioche with little colored stickers indicating their flavors. They have a lot of traditional, as well as asian inspired fillings, so my parents and I bought a couple of loaves: strawberry cream cheese, taro, and red bean.

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cute decor and my three loaves!

We also tried the chocolate chip croissant warmed up and a Croque Madame (brioche, ham, egg, sandwich). The appearance of the Croque Madame wasn’t as elegant as I imagined in my head, but it tasted good, and the chocolate chip croissant was buttery and flakey. Definitely worthy of the calories.

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We asked if they could slice and warm up for us – it was heavenly 😀

I gifted one of the loaves to my uncle who loves bread and even though we were going to have lunch, he dug in and wanted to try some. Little did I know his little piece turned out to be 1/4 of the loaf (!!!) but I can’t blame him, since I myself also kept eating my leftovers.

If you’re in the Fresno area this little bakery is definitely a wonderful charming place to indulge in carbs – especially if you’re not baking sourdough at home. Did I mention that they’re award winning too? (2017 People’s Choice Award – Fresno Food Expo)

 

XOXO,

Rockstar

 

The Brioche Lady

1085 E Herndon Ave #101

Fresno, CA 93720

Stuffing my face with the BEST chicken pot pie ever!

When most people think of the Ontario area they don’t think of it as a hot foodie destination, but I beg to differ! A couple of my FAVORITE restaurants are located out in the Inland Empire including Marisco Jalisco in Pomona, and Ashiwad The Blessing and Daddy O’s in Upland. Over the weekend, I visited the area again to attend Anime Los Angeles and found another epic spot! Home Pie Bakery & Cafe in Ontario, CA is certainly a place worthy of a visit!

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Chicken Pot Pie $5.95

This small mom n’ pop shop is located in an unassuming business complex and seems to cater to local businesses for lunch. Their hours are limited as they’re only open from 9am-4pm Monday-Friday. Thankfully, I scheduled a visit for Friday lunch and boy am I glad I did! My friend and I each ordered a savory pie – Roasted Chicken and Leek for me, and Chicken and Mushroom Pie for him. We also shared one hand-held savory pie. Lets just say that we licked the plate clean and are planning to come back here for our next Anime Los Angeles visit.

img_2697Personally, I loved the chicken and leek better than the mushroom. In my opinion the mushroom overpowered the compact dish, whereas the leek and chicken have a much milder flavor. Yet it still made you feel comforted like a warm hug.  It’s such a simple dish, yet the crust was flaky and the chicken was incredibly moist and tender. I’m trying to cut down on my carbs, but I feel this dish was a worthy guilty pleasure.

What dish is your kryptonite?

 

XOXO,

Rockstar

 

 

Home Pie Bakery

1960 S Archibald Ave

Ontario, CA 91761

Glancing at the Garden of the Gods

Colorado Springs is a peaceful and serene place, and while I nearly died on the Manitou Incline (Post here), I was blown away by the beauty of the Garden of the Gods. This natural rock formation evokes a type of Jurassic World meets Cars Lands (from Disneyland); It’s really a sight to see and these photos don’t do the attraction justice.   Visitors can choose to hike, drive, horseback ride, or bike around the mountain to admire the landscape. I came here twice during my Colorado trip and got to see it from various vantage points – up high and right at the base. Spanning a 1,367 acres the size alone would warrant a name worthy of the Gods – yet it was originally called the Red Rock Corral. The name was changed in 1859 from a group of surveyors who thought that was was a place fit for the Gods and since then the name stuck!

You honestly feel like you’re in another world, and even though I’m not really an outdoor girl, I can certainly appreciate the natural wonders!

How would you enjoy this park? Driving? Hiking? Horseback riding?

 

 

XOXO,

Rockstar

 

 

Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center 
1805 N. 30th Street in Colorado Springs

Chowing Down on Authentic German Cuisine in Colorado Springs, CA

Colorado is known for it’s picture perfect scenery, but when its came to food, I hadn’t the slightest clue as to what to expect.  It was my first time visiting this state, so when my coworkers (who were based out in Colorado) made reservations to their favorite German restaurant I figured I’d be in for a treat! And right I was! Upon entering I noticed several awards and accolades and crossed my fingers that Edelweiss Restaurant would be all that and more.

Live Entertainment

Our party of 20 entered the restaurant and it was truly decked out in an old world fashion. It seemed as if we were were transported to a German square and I had major Pinocchio vibes. There were many wooden furnishings and while the restaurant was spacious it had a cozy warm feel to it. We were seated quite promptly in a long table and menu had many traditional offerings. A singer came by and serenaded to use with his accordion, as we were deciding on what to order.

Rahmschnitzel ($20.50)

After thoughtful consideration I ordered the Rahmschnitzel, a breaded boneless pork cutlet sautéed and topped with a mushroom cream sauce, house spatzle, and fresh vegetables, as it came highly recommend. Boy! let me tell you this is definitely not diet food, but considering I almost died on the Manitou Incline (Post here) I felt this dinner was worthy of the calories.I essentially polished off the plate and looking at my coworkers entrees it seemed that everyone enjoyed their meal as well.

Do you have a go-to entree when you eat German food? Schnitzel? Bratwurst? Something else?

 

XOXO,

Rockstar

Conquering the Manitou Incline in Colorado Springs, CO

If there’s two thing that my friends all know it’s 1) that I’m not a morning person and 2) I definitely do not like hiking; however, on a recent work trip in Colorado Springs, CO I did the unthinkable. I woke up at 4am (Colorado time, so it’s in essence 3am California time) to go (you guessed it) hiking *Gasp* But hear me out… It’s not everyday I get to visit a new state, so when some coworkers volunteered to lead a group up the Manitou Incline before our professional development training it seemed opportune to experience one of Colorado Springs most popular (and fatal) attractions.

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Sunrise on the way up

At the beginning of the the hike I was very optimistic, but with each step I felt increasingly more light-headed and fatigued. If I’m being brutally honest, I felt like I was going to die. The top was 9000 feet above sea level and we were starting at 7000 feet and for someone who lives at sea level this drastic change in elevation was really hard on my body. It became increasingly more difficult to breath with each step and the stairs were extremely steep.

The Incline

There were so many moments when I wanted to quit and go back down although it might have been more dangerous had I done that. I eventually made it to the halfway point where hikers can take a safer and much more even way down and while I am slightly disappointed that I didn’t make it to the top, I am proud that I at least did the halfway since I remember wanting to quit 1/4 of that!

Would you do this incline? I didn’t notice the sign until I looked more closely, but people have died from this hike!

 

XOXO,

Rockstar

A Dozen Delicious Tamales Demolished From The Tamale Lady in Chicago, IL

I live in Southern California so I have very high expectations of Mexican food so when I learned that Chicago has a thriving tamale scene I had to see it for myself. After extensive research many reviewers gave high marks to “The Tamale Lady” in Pilsen and raved about her hand-made pockets of joy especially the ones with spicy green sauce. A few even stated that there would be long lines bright and early in the morning and that they were worth the wait.    

Green Chicken (Spicy) and Red Pork (Mild) Tamales

The weather forecasted rain, but since I saw photos of her standing in the snow during the winter months I had no doubt she’d sell her goods in case it poured cats and dogs – and I was right! There was no line at 9am (probably because of the rain and humidity) and she had everything available. I decided to grab a dozen of the tamales with green chicken (spicy) and a half dozen with red pork (mild) to bring back home for my family and friends to enjoy a piece of Chicago. But before packing them up, I took it upon myself to be a guinea pig and taste test one of the red ones. Oh-Em-Gee, it was delicious!! The corn to meat ratio was perfect and the flavor brought everything together cohesively.

Tamale Cart

I recently went to a “must eat” tamale shop in LA recently, and I would rather have the tamales from THIS lady. For $15 a dozen or $1.25 for a single, I would definitely come back and buy more!

Between the two tamales – if you could only have one which would you pick? Red Pork (mild) or Green Chicken (spicy)?

 

 

XOXO,

Rockstar

 

The Tamale Lady
21ST Pl, Chicago, IL 60608

Hours
Sun – Sat: 7am until they sell out