Monday, June 29, 2015

Done deal

I'll miss this view.
It's a done deal. Our house is sold. Escrow closed Friday, and today the money is in our bank account.

Escrow dragged on a little slower than we would have liked, but our realtor told us not to be surprised, since we were trying to go pretty fast. It was a nail-biter at the end, but now it's done.

Now for the next phase - moving out. We negotiated the right to stay in the house after close of escrow. Now it's time to pack up, clean up, arrange for storage, close utility accounts, arrange for shipping, etc.

We fly to New Orleans in a couple weeks. Jack is flying with us, so we're getting him used to his kennel and getting his papers in order.

Next chapter coming!

Friday, June 26, 2015


I took a photo of this rainbow on another June day, but today it feels like there are rainbows everywhere you look!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The eggs and I

I love fish eggs. Just think of them. Such small beads, translucent tiny globes, bright jewels that break on the tongue and release the pure essence of the sea.

Caviar is the first thing that comes to mind when considering fish eggs. Traditionally, this refers to the roe of wild sturgeon in the Black and Caspian Seas, rare and costing almost $200 an ounce.
At that cost, I think I've only tasted real caviar perhaps once or twice in my life.

But you don't have to break the bank to enjoy fish eggs - there are plenty of other, less expensive varieties of roe to try.

Japanese cuisine prizes fish roe, and tobiko, or flying fish roe is one of my very favorite roes. Americans have become familiar with it in sushi bars, where it's used as a garnish for fancy rolls  Its tiny eggs are firm and pop nicely in the mouth. Naturally orange in color, it can be dyed with natural ingredients, such as squid ink black, beets for crimson, yuzu for golden, or wasabi to make it green and give it a spicy tingle.

It's not just for sushi, either. I saw a recipe online for tossing tobiko and shiso leaf with spaghetti, I'm dying to try it!

Manhattan's Lower East Side purveyor Russ and Daughters makes a fine sandwich using wasabi tobiko called the Fancy Delancey - smoked tuna and dill-infused cream cheese on a bialy, with a generous layer of wasabi tobiko.

I had a craving for tobiko the other day which drew me to a Japanese market nearby in West Los Angeles. They had packaged sushi, with volcano rolls frosted with tobiko, or boxed assorted nigiri-zushi with a single tobiko gunkan-maki in the center.

But then I saw it. There, in the refrigerator case, was a small plastic container of tobiko. Pure. by itself.

How could I resist?

It was such a guilty pleasure to sit alone and chopstick up mouthfuls of roe. Though tobiko is briny and tastes of the ocean, there's also an underlying sweetness I can savor when I eat it like this, all by itself without rice or other ingredients to get in the way. There's also a slight bitter finish that makes me crave the salty-sweetness of another bite.

And of course, there's the sensation of the little beads bursting in my mouth, between my teeth, a pop-crunch that's simply addictive.

Such little eggs! It makes me feel so greedy!

Now, go away and let me feast!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Bites and nibbles

One of the nicest things about Korean cuisine is the array of banchan, or little dishes of goodies, that are served with the main entrée.

At restaurants, these come free with the meal, and are the chef's choice - they may vary from day to day. I've never been able to determine whether the banchan selection is based on your chosen meal, or whether it's whatever the kitchen happens to have that day.

Banchan are perfect for eating with rice, but they can be eaten by themselves, too. It's not rude to tuck right in while you're waiting for the main course. At the table, the little dishes are to be shared, and most people eat communally, directly from the little plates.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Hobby horse

Detail from Children's games by Pieter Breugel the Elder, 1560, Wikipedia
Some communities have very finely tuned areas of sensitivity, and the community where I work is one. Many people in our little beach town are very, very concerned about the treatment of animals.

In recent years, a children's pony ride concession, which was a long-standing attraction at one of our farmers' market, became targeted by people claiming the ponies were being treated cruelly. I have no opinion on pony rides myself, but the result of the activists' efforts were to shut down the pony ride by failing to renew its contract, and have the City ban any future pony rides at the market.

Back in 2007, the City's squirrel abatement program in the parks came under fire. Not because the City was killing squirrels - they already knew that wouldn't fly. But the abatement program called for chemical sterilization of squirrels. Activists protested, claiming such interference with the squirrels' reproductive rights was cruel.

This year, I spoke with a local school PTSA leader who wanted to know what permits might be required to do a fundraiser called Cowpatty Bingo, which involved cows doing what they do best.  Later, I heard back from him that they'd abandoned their plans. Some of the moms were concerned that such an activity violated the cows' dignity.

So today, I received a call from far up the food chain, our department director. An outraged citizen had contacted her regarding a newspaper ad for a children's event put on by the local Jaycees in a City park. The event, titled "Frontier Days," will feature "a day of family fun! Wear your best Western wear! Tots to twelve years old! Face-painting, water balloons, and pony races!"

"I am very disappointed that the City is sponsoring an animal act in a City Park," read the email. "I was under the impression that there is an ordinance prohibiting animals in parks, except for dogs on leashes. The City recently banned the exhibition of exotic animals in P_____ Park and also ended the pony rides at the [redacted]Farmers' Market on Sundays.

As you know, many residents objected to the pony rides on ethical grounds. Now many more farmers' markets are eliminating pony rides from their activities. So, this announcement about having pony races at "Frontier Days" takes me by surprise. 

Is it too late to cancel the pony races?"

Hence the urgent call from upstairs. Apparently, certain City Council members' phones were ringing, too. I was directed to get to the bottom of this.

It didn't take long. One phone call to the event organizer. "Oh," she said. "They're ponies on sticks. You know. Toys. Stuffed ones?"

"You mean hobby horses?" I asked.

"Oh, is that what they're called? Yeah. The kids are going to ride them around."

Another impending crisis averted.

I think someone's riding a hobby horse, but I'm not sure it's the kids in the park!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Cheese in the Labyrinth - an Exegisis

“Who Moved My Cheese?”  by Dr. Spencer Johnson is said to be the most popular business book in the world. As an employee motivational tool it’s ubiquitous, but it can be oddly counterproductive as a morale-booster. Indeed, so many managers hand out “Who Moved My Cheese?” before layoffs or re-organizations that just the sight of it telegraphs to workers that they should start checking the job boards.

So when our newly hired manager announced at a staff meeting that he wanted us all to read “Who Moved My Cheese?”, several people just rolled their eyes at one another, behind his back.

I read it back in 2002 – that was three or four departmental re-organizations ago.  And of course, I love my cheese.  The book is a simple parable, designed to help people adapt to change. But now I’ve read it with a fresh eye, I’m seeing something I missed the first time.

“Who Moved My Cheese?” is a tale of a dystopian, cruel and arbitrary world, ruled by an anonymous and invisible monster, where captive creatures carry out desperate lives bereft of meaning, to no purpose.

Four characters – two mice, and two “littlepeople” - are trapped in a maze and forced to seek out their food, or Cheese. They spend frantic times racing through the maze searching, and getting lost in frightening blind corners, empty-bellied.

When they finally find a huge store of food, they mark its location, and adapt their lives around it.

Then, one day, their Cheese vanishes.

Like characters in a movie, each of the four learns to cope with the disastrous loss of Cheese.

The mice Sniff and Scurry collaborate, and go off to find New Cheese.

Littleperson Hem has a mental breakdown, and refuses to leave the empty Cheese Station.

His counterpart Haw, after much indecision, ventures out into the maze to seek New Cheese. He must overcome fear, self-doubt, and experiences a few set-backs, but eventually he finds not only New Cheese, but is reunited with Sniff and Scurry.

Haw considers and then discards the notion of rescuing Hem. Hem is left to survive or die. His fate is unknown.

Haw’s story is like the classic hero’s journey, a concept introduced by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949). Joining Hem in denial of the problem, he first tries to ignore the call to action, but eventually he is drawn forth into the strange and frightening world of the maze, as Campbell says, “beyond the veil of the known into the unknown,” on a quest for the ultimate goal.

There, he travels what Campbell calls the “road of trials.” The epiphany he experiences becomes a series of simple, obvious truths. Change Happens. Anticipate Change. Adapt to Change. Enjoy Change. It's as simple and obvious as the message another hero, Dorothy Gale of Kansas, brought back from her journey to the unknown Oz, There's No Place Like Home.

Haw writes these truths as messages on the wall, markers to guide others – an Ariadne’s thread, like that used by Theseus to evade the Minotaur. The message is both a means of rescue for others, and the Gift itself, brought back to humankind.

The world of “Who Moved My Cheese?”, which is meant to mirror the corporate environment, is a strangely closed one, containing only these four characters. They are powerless and unaware, with no one to rely on but themselves. They don’t know what institution or person has trapped them here. They don’t question the reason they’ve been imprisoned instead of being free. They have no wider world-view, their lives revolve only around Cheese.

The smart ones, Sniff and Scurry, form a mutually beneficial alliance. To succeed, however, they abandon Hem and Haw to a fate of starvation and possible death. (When Hem rejoins them at the new Cheese Station, the reader may wonder how the balance of power between Hem and his murine rivals has been tipped. But that’s another parable!)

We are asked to accept the fact that Cheese just gets moved arbitrarily without explanation. Though overconsumption is cited as one reason, the vanished Cheese, moldy as it was, was simply taken. Why? Was it justified? What greater good came from the moving of the Cheese? Or was its removal a criminal act?

The book’s title is “Who Moved My Cheese?”, but that question goes unanswered. We never learn the identity of the person or thing with power over the Cheese. Yet it is a compelling question. Who is this omnipotent agent?

In myth, the Minotaur is monstrous, an unnatural creature neither man nor beast. Not unlike a multinational corporation, the Minotaur must devour people to sustain itself. In “Who Moved My Cheese?” the maze’s Minotaur seems to move the Cheese around for his own cruel amusement. The book assumes the reader will accept this tyrannical state of affairs without protest.

And while we’re at it, can we address for a moment how the author marginalizes the achievement of Sniff and Scurry? These are the true heroes of the book. While the littlepeople fall apart, these brave, proactive mice exhibit teamwork and diligence. They’ve already learned to anticipate change, the lesson that was so hard-won by Haw. Why isn’t their accomplishment celebrated? The author even dismisses them with casual, institutionalized speciesism as “simple rodents” with “good instincts.”

While it’s true that Haw learns a valuable lesson, it seems sadly pointless. What’s the purpose in teaching these poor incarcerated creatures to anticipate and react to change, when their lives are, essentially bereft of meaning? What will they do with their new wisdom, if they’re doomed to be trapped in a maze?

Haw endures a heroic journey of trials, but unlike Campbell’s heroes, his journey is entirely solipsistic. There are no dragons in this story, no wise protectors or temptresses. His struggles with fear and doubt are internal. Even his final epiphany comes from within. In a fulfillment of the libertarian ideal championed by the book’s corporate promoters, the true moral of “Who Moved My Cheese?” seems to be that every littleperson has to look out for himself.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

A bushel and a peck


"I love you, a bushel and a peck
A bushel and a peck, and it beats me all to heck!
Beats me all to heck how I'll ever tend the farm
Ever tend the farm when I want to keep my
Arms - about you -
About you!
About you!
The cows and chickens
are goin' to the dickens!
'Cause I love you a bushel and a peck
You bet your pretty neck I do - "

We're feeding our neighbors animals while they're gone this weekend. Dog, pig and chickens.

The chickens are amazing - there are several varieties. Pure white, ruddy red, and golden, with black markings. The feathers of the black hen are iridescent in the sun. The eggs come in brown, white and pale green.

There are half a dozen young pullets that are black and white with fluffy top-knots and fuzzy booties, but they don't stay still enough to take a good photo.

Henri the pig has sure grown!!

Better beat the birds!

My ornamental grapevine is bearing grapes this year - but only until the birds find them!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Tower of Power

It's become all the rage nowadays for seafood restaurants to serve something called a plateau de fruits de mer. A luxurious variety of chilled shellfish are presented on two elaborate tiers of ice, with plentiful sauces and lemon, packing a visual wow. It's an ostentatious display of abundance, and we weren't ashamed to indulge in one.

The acclaimed Manhattan Beach restaurant Fishing with Dynamite offers three sizes of towers; they are named the SS Minnow, the Queen Mary, and the Mothershucker.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Stinky Cheese

This is a workplace fable - any resemblance to actual individuals is coincidental

The new boss sent out an email to staff.  "Hopefully, most of you have had the opportunity to read the Who Moved My Cheese book. If not, I have two copies in my office available and strongly recommend everyone read it. I think we can all identify with the characters in one way or another. Some questions to ponder:
  1. Which of the characters do you best identify with?
  2. What is your "cheese"?
  3. Do you think Hem ever changed and found new cheese?
  4. How will you view change after reading the book?
  5. If you have not read the book....Why?
  6. Where do you find yourself in regards to the change of re-shaping [our division]? "

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

NIght out in Koreatown

Since our son is visiting us for a week or so, we'd planned a weekend trip to Jun Won, a great home-style restaurant in Koreatown that I wanted to explore. They're famous for spicy steamed casseroles of fish, recipes the owner's grandmother taught him, and for the good panchan, or complimentary side dishes his mother makes.

Saturday we went to the movies and had pizza on the Westside,  so we figured we'd go to Koreatown on Sunday night.

But I guess I got my wires crossed. We arrived at the parking lot only to find the place closed. We quickly consulted Yelp on our smartphones.  There was a nearby place that specialized in smoked duck, how about that?


"It's kind of a change-up," our son said, "but what about El Parian? It's not far, and on weekends they have birria."

Guadalajara stewed goat isn't exactly Korean steamed cod, but we're nothing if not flexible when it comes to exploring LA's diverse food feasts. We piled into the car and headed off to Pico and Union.

Closed, the accordion gate locked over a dark storefront.

Where to go? What was nearby, and open on a Sunday night?

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Listening to music again


It's a warm April night and I'm sitting on a vinyl-upholstered bar stool, wearing pajama pants, an Eileen Fisher camisole top, sneakers, and a cheap sweater from Target, sipping a mai-tai from a plastic cup.

At the Allways Lounge down on St. Claude Avenue in the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans, it's nearly eleven, and we're partway through the first set. It's a CD release party for Dayna Kurtz's new album, and everyone in the place is transfixed by her voice as she sings.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Lessons in leadership

A workplace fable. Resemblance to actual individuals is purely coincidental

The new boss called his senior administrative staff together for a meeting.

Someone should have brought a recorder. The meeting begins at 3:00 and for a solid hour he talks at the six people sitting around the conference table. Motivational seminar clichés pour out as though from a fire-hose.