Thursday, March 31, 2011


Sometimes you need to break the drudgery of the office. Tired of the phone calls, the paperwork; tired of eating lunch at your desk?

A colleague and I have begun to take brisk lunch-time walks in the hopes of improving our health, and to get out of the office. A one-hour walk takes us down to Ocean Front Walk, then north to the Santa Monica Pier where we walk all the way to the end and look out over the blue, blue water.

Then we walk back, passing the street performers, the TV film crews, the trapeze school, the arcades and the tourists, and climb the steep overpass to Ocean Avenue. We walk back through the city's streets to our workplace.

Today the temperature was in the 70s, the sky was crystal clear blue, and there was a pleasant breeze.

Forget the drudgery. With all the uncertainty in the world, we reminded ourselves to be thankful. We have jobs - at least for now - that pay well enough and have benefits. We have our health. We have our families to treasure.

And we work in Paradise. That's worth remembering.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


It's bunny season! Every morning as Jack and I take our walk, we come to a loop in the road that overlooks a wild hill. There always seem to be rabbits hopping in the grass along the edge of the pavement. Jack must think they're odd-looking, really tiny dogs, because when he sees them, he bounces and wants to play. They aren't having it. This bunny slips through the geraniums to safety. Jack investigates but can't follow. Won't someone play with me?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Thematic Photographic - March Madness

"Thematic Photographic" - Carmi at the blog Written, Inc. presents a weekly themed photographic challenge. This week's theme is March Madness.

Carmi says the requirements for this photo challenge are:
  • It must have been taken during the month of March
  • It should illustrate some semblance of madness, silliness or irreverence. If it makes you smile, it's good.
Here's my March Madness photos - a typical LA sight, a TV film crew grip truck, filled with props and tools and equipment and - hey, what the heck is that?

It's a gory amputated leg. (click photo to "embiggen")

Just another part of the props inventory for the CSI-Vegas location film unit that's been shooting in Santa Monica this week. (Episode airs on May 5).

Monday, March 28, 2011

Lyric Loop

We recently followed Walk #30 in Charles Fleming's book "Secret Stairs: A Walking Tour to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles." The walk starts at the corner of Hyperion and Lyric Avenues, in the western part of the Silver Lake neighborhood. This was just a pleasant walk, with some steep streets, but no real standout landmarks. It was just really nice. So here are some highlights of this walk. One of the best parts? the view above, of two iconic Hollywood landmarks. The neighborhood is known as an artsy one, and this garage right on Hyperion displayed a painted screen that was a tribute to boxer Muhammad Ali - Floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee. Further down, this amazing convertible. Is it part of the sale? Anyone know what make, model and year this beauty is? The houses in the neighborhood were charming, from this tiny stucco cottage..... To this street of little wooden homes

To this castellated mansion in the heights. The magnolias were in bloom, beautiful in the clear air.

And always, the stairs. The hamstring-popping, thigh-busting, heart-pounding stairs!

It's been a while since we were able to do a stairway walk. We haven't been able to do one in all of March. Perhaps April we'll get back on track.

Weighing in

Ahem. I gained .2 pounds this week. What's up with that?

UPDATE - I just weighed myself again on the same scale, a half hour later. It's different now. Now I've lost a couple tenths. I'll take it.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Almost April

It's grey one minute, it's bright another. The breezes toss the branches. It's an onshore wind - coming from the ocean to the land, and up the canyon.

In the lower garden, the sun shines through the branches of the plum tree, dappling the mossy stones.

The African daisies (osteospermum) grow like weeds, tumbling down the bank.

The wisteria on the pergola is in bloom.

That's how we know it's almost April.

Friday, March 25, 2011

FAD Friday

Guess some folks don't always appreciate ducks. This is a sign in the Venice canal neighborhood, where ducks roam free - too free, it seems.

But don't you worry. Nobody's goose is going to get cooked here. Let everyone know what makes you want to say Fuck-a-duck!!!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Who wants pizza?

One of [The Man I Love]'s favorite dinners is homemade pizza. It's also one of the easiest.

My method, in fact, also helps tidy up the fridge. The end of an onion; the last mushrooms in the box; those cheese ends; the last bit of bell pepper, some bits of ham or salami - all these bits and pieces contribute to interesting and delicious combinations.

Of course, I have to acknowledge that we have tools that make it easy - a Cuisinart food processor, a pizza stone for the oven, and a wooden pizza peel that helps transfer the unbaked pizza onto the stone.

First the dough. I use the recipe in Marcella Hazan's book "Classic Italian Cooking", but honestly, I haven't cracked the book in decades - I have the recipe memorized, and have made my own simplifications.

1 1/2 cup flour
1 packet (or 1 tablespoon) active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup hot water

Put the dry ingredients (flour, yeast, salt) in the bowl of the food processor. Add the olive oil to the hot water. Start the motor and pour the water in while the dough is mixing. The dough will come together in a ball - let the motor run it around the bowl a few seconds to knead it.

If you don't have a food processor, put the liquid in a bowl, add the yeast and let it dissolve, then add in the flour and salt in stages, mixing them in fully.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead by hand a few minutes. If you're doing it by hand, kneed several minutes. Then gather it into a ball, put it in a bowl, cover it, and let it rise. The recipe says cover with a damp towel, but I use a Tupperware bowl and snap the cover on to keep the dough moist. If your kitchen isn't warm, you can put the bowl in the oven with the oven light on (DON'T turn on the oven!)

This recipe makes one largish pizza, or you could make two "personal" size pizzas. I often double it, to make three medium pizzas so we can have some creative fun with a variety of toppings.

The dough should rise for about two hours. In the last half hour, preheat the oven to 500 degrees. TAKE THE BOWL OF DOUGH OUT FIRST! If you have a pizza stone, put it in the oven when you start the preheat.

A pizza stone is a great thing to have. In addition to pizza, you can bake loaves of bread directly on it. Mine is round, and was sold in a kitchenware store years ago, but you can also use a large clay quarry tile, which is probably a lot cheaper. Never wash a pizza stone - brush it clean with a scrubby sponge, or if it gets really grotty, use a wire brush. Don't immerse it in water.

You'll know the dough has risen enough if you poke it in the center and the impression of your finger remains. Turn the dough onto a floured surface, and start patting it into a round with your hands.

I wish I could tell you how to spin a pizza around in the air above your head. But I can't because I don't know how to do that myself. I've tried it, and each time I barely manage to keep it off the floor. Perhaps I will ask my neighbor, a talented cook, to teach me someday.

Instead, once I've stretched it on the board, I pick it up by the rim and hold it vertically, letting it stretch with its own weight. I move my grip around the circumference so it stretches evenly. This method isn't very showy, but it works.

The amount of water in the dough makes a difference in how easy the dough is to work. If you make it often enough, you get a sense of how much to use. Too little water makes it stodgy and rubbery under your hands; too much water makes it sticky.

If you can't get the hang of shaping it by hand, you can even use a rolling pin to shape it.

A pizza peel is like a flat wooden paddle. Sprinkle the peel with corn meal, and put the round of dough directly onto it.

If you don't have a peel, you can use a large cookie sheet. You can oil it, or you can line it with parchment or use a Silpat sheet. The difference here is that a peel is used to transfer the pizza into the oven directly onto the stone. You can bake the pizza directly on the cookie sheet in the oven. (I've never tried using a cookie sheet or a cutting board to transfer the pizza to a stone, but I suppose it could work.)

One thing I've learned to beware of with my homemade pizzas - don't let the toppings get too wet. If you use sauce, don't overload it. If you use wet toppings like fresh tomatoes, let them drain before putting them on. Too much wet stuff will dribble off the dough, and make it hard to slide the unbaked pizza off the peel, and also to lift the finished product off the stone.

Sprinkle the toppings on after you've put the dough on the peel. I like to brush a garlic-infused olive oil lightly on the surface. It's up to you whether you want to put toppings on first and cheese on last, or the other way around.

You can get creative with toppings. I like a classic combo like fresh tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella, but I've also enjoyed pizzas made with shredded leftover chicken breast, barbecue sauce, and smoked gouda cheese. A pie with caramelized onions, chopped pecans, and a mixture of mozzarella and roquefort cheese is rich and tasty. A plain pie with onions, anchovies and parmesan is also nice.

The pizza at the top of this post is made with mushrooms, halved cherry tomatoes, and shredded swiss chard that was first sauted in garlic olive oil.

This one has pepperoni, onions, and sliced marinated artichoke hearts:

We like to use fresh whole milk mozzarella, but even the cheap rubbery part-skim-milk supermarket mozzarella makes a good pizza. If I have odds and ends of cheese in the fridge, I like to shred a mix of them for interesting flavor. Soft cheeses like goat cheese melt with a different texture, and crumbly cheeses like feta or blue are also tasty.

Sprinkle some corn meal on the pizza stone, then slide the pizza from the peel to the stone. It seems scarey at first, but it's easy to get the hang of it.

Let the pizza bake for about 12 minutes.

When it's done, you can use the peel to take it off, but I use a different method, since by that time there's usually another pizza being built on the peel.

I slide the oven rack out, hold a cutting board next to the stone, and use my broad chef's knife to nudge the baked pizza right onto the board. Easy!

Give homemade pizza a try! Take a look in the fridge and see what's there, and get creative.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Dude, we're floating!

This was our canyon road on Sunday afternoon during the storm. They're about a quarter of a mile north of where our road branches off and climbs the hill.

"Are we floating? Dude, we're floating a little bit. I think we're actually floating!"

[The Man I Love] and I (and Jack!) were some 200 feet higher in elevation than these guys, huddled safely in our dark house with candles and listening to the emergency radio, while this was going on.

NOTE: sometimes Explorer doesn't show you the comments buttons when I embed a Youtube video. If you want to comment, just click on the title of this post, and you should see the comment box.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Weighing in

Weight Watchers tells you not to have unrealistic expectations about your weight-loss goal, because sometimes there are periods of stasis and also periods of reversal. So it was with me - weighing in this week I've gone backwards, gaining four tenths of a pound.

So I felt discouraged, and on my way out the door for my morning walk, I had to talk myself into going the full length. I was cold, it was wet, and what the heck good was it, anyway?

I'm glad I shook off the feeling and continued on. Because if I hadn't, I would have missed this view of the setting, lop-sided moon, over the mist-covered mountain.

Here on the way back up the hill 15 minutes later, the mists are clearing away and the moon has disappeared.

Weight Watchers tells you to re-examine your eating habits if you experience a gain. Are you tracking accurately? Did you do something differently this week? Did you slip? Do you need to shift your exercise into a higher gear? I've got some thinking to do.

How's your week starting?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Big storm adventure

We've been hunkered down indoors all day. The rain hasn't let up. In the afternoon, it got heavier, and as we watched weather websites online, we saw dark red storm cells moving in on our part of the mountains. The rain pounded on the roof, overflowed the gutters, filled the storm-culvert beyond our yard. The jacaranda tree next to the house tossed in the wind, and gusts curling around the windows and chimneys moaned and howled.

At 4:19 the power went out.

See there's Jack looking out the window.

I went outside and gathered up some lanterns and lamp oil and some botanica candles - which are my favorite candles for times like these, because they have so much fuel and they're safe. [The Man I Love] found the hand-crank radio in the cupboard and some flashlights. I filled the lanterns and got them lit.

We pulled our chairs up to the window, looking out at the storm. The announcer on the radio said that the storm was just hanging over the Santa Monica Mountains and Malibu - and it was true. Gone were the strong winds of earlier in the afternoon. Now the trees were still and the rain just pounded straight down, relentlessly. The weather reporter said it was expected to rain two inches per hour.

We peeked out the front door. Here's our front steps, with its own little waterfall.

What to do? The phones don't work, if you have a typical modern wireless phone (oh, where is that cheap old push-button phone that doesn't need electricity?). Even our cell phones didn't work - couldn't get a signal.

Our laptops worked, but couldn't get on line without power to the modem. So our only lifeline to the world was the hand-crank radio. It got darker and darker.

We opened the dark refrigerator and poured two glasses of wine. A package of crackers and a bunch of grapes; a wedge of packaged cheese. [The Man I Love] opened a little can of smoked oysters. The candles and the lanterns gave a warm amber light. Jack lay down on the floor between our chairs. We watched out the window as the rain came down, listened to it pound on the roof, and listened to the radio.

It didn't sound good. Traffic reports told of mudslides on the 405, closures on Sepulveda. Storm cells moving in. Water over the roadway on Topanga Canyon Boulevard at Old Canyon. Cars being washed away.

It got darker and darker. We carried our lanterns into the living room. We gathered blankets. [The Man I Love] could use his Droid to read a downloaded book. I thought about how long the food in the fridge would last if we avoided opening the door.

I started cleaning the wicks of some of the candles to keep them from guttering out. Hey! That really made a difference! It's a lot more bright!

Oh, wait. The power's back on. The familiar hum of the refrigerator, the clacking as my printer boots itself up again.

Three hours with the power out. Some pioneers we are.

It makes you think, though, doesn't it? Keep your emergency supplies in order, friends. You never know. My thoughts are with those in more dire circumstances, everywhere.

UPDATE at 9:51 pm: So much for the calm. The wind is back with a fury. We're keeping those flashlights and candles handy.

Rainy day, wet dog

It's been raining since late last night.

Jack's been out in it this morning. It's amazing how much water his coat can soak up.

Sorry, L.A. Marathoners. Hope you finish soon and dry off.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Pink Saturday - Holi Festival

Pink Saturday - Beverly at the blog "How Sweet the Sound" hosts Pink Saturday. Let the color pink inspire you!

It's pink, it's purple, it's every color in the rainbow! Holi is the name of a spring festival celebrated in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and other countries where there are Hindu communities. In 2011, Holi is celebrated on March 19 and March 20.

People celebrate with bonfires and by throwing colored powder and colored, scented water at one another. The celebration commemorates the miraculous escape of Prahlad, a devotee of the god Vishnu, from the fires of the Demoness Holika. The festival really celebrates the end of winter, and people let loose.

Here in Los Angeles there are several Holi celebrations taking place. One is at Will Rogers Beach in Pacific Palisades, near our home. I'm hoping to stop by and enjoy - and will share what I see with you all.

Photos taken from online sites.

Friday, March 18, 2011

FAD Friday

Did you know that Venice, CA has an ordinance to protect the ducks in the canals from undue molestation and harassment?

Here at FAD Friday (Fuck-a-Duck Friday!!!) we should feel equally protected. You are free here to express whatever you might want to tell the world to GO FUCK A DUCK! you can vent your feelings here.

Let's get it on, friends! Let 'er rip!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

St Patrick's Day feast

Since I'm doing Weight Watchers this year, I guess I won't be having corned beef, cabbage, mashed potatoes with butter, and a few pints of Guinness.

Ah, well. Here's a photo of the St. Patrick's Day feast we held last St. Paddy's Day, with our son and his friend Kate, brother-in-law Davy and his wife Kurly, on the Gulf Coast near Tampa, FL.

What if I just burp to celebrate?

UPDATE: Gilly's question in the comments made me look into the history of corned beef as a traditional St. Pat's day food, and it's fascinating. What the British think of as corned beef was invented in the 18th century, and is chopped up beef put in a can, and preserved with nitrites so that it could feed armies and navies and be shipped to the colonies. Many of the packing and curing factories were in Ireland, using Irish cattle that grazed on land that the British had cleared of Irish farmers and peasants.

Irish people were generally too poor to buy the canned preserved beef, and resorted to eating potatoes they grew on the poorer soil, with maybe some salt pork for flavoring.

In 19th century America, Jewish immigrants made a cured beef product with salt - koshered. Because it was cheap and available in the urban neighborhoods Irish immigrants shared with the Jewish community, over the generations it became identified as a Irish ethnic food.

So, Gilly - you're right, it's a different corned beef than you're familiar with in England. It's a beef brisket, cooked in a spiced brine.

L' Chiam! Slainte!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Clown clothes

I have no shame anymore. I just throw anything on in the morning.

Pajama top? pajama bottom? I'm not ashamed to wear them out on the street.

So I'll pull on a pair of jeans or sweatpants, but leave the pajama top on under my jacket.

Or sometimes I sleep in a t-shirt, and pull on pajama bottoms in the morning to keep my legs warm while I fix breakfast. I'll wear them out on the street.

But you know what's weird? I draw the line at wearing both outside at the same time. That's just not right.

Crocs - the only place I'll wear them is on my street in the morning.

A colorful scarf around the neck because my chest gets cold. An old cable sweater. Or a zipper sweatshirt jacket I got from my mom.

Capri-length yoga pants. It's cold, I need socks. How about these lime-green soccer socks?

I used to care more about what I wore on the street. Then I met a neighbor, wearing her plaid cotton pajama pants at four in the afternoon.

And then I met another neighbor on a morning dog-walk, wearing pajama pants printed with dog pictures.


Anything goes. I guess. Even Crocs.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The floating world

"The Great Wave off Kanagawa," Katsushika Hokusai, about 1820 - from Wikipedia Commons. In the public domain. Click to "embiggen."

is a genre of Japanese woodblock prints produced during the later part of the 18th century and the first part of the 19th century. "Ukiyo-e" means, literally, "pictures of the floating world."

One of the most famous artists of the genre was Katsushika Hokusai, who lived from 1760 - 1849. And one of his most famous prints is the one above, titled "The Great Wave off Kanagawa."

Created in the 1820s and the first in a folio of prints called "Thirty-Six View of Mount Fuji," it shows three fishing boats tossed on turbulent seas while the peak of Mount Fuji appears on the horizon.

"The Floating World" is a notion taken from writer Asai Ryoi's 1661 novel "Tales of the Floating World". It takes the Buddhist teaching that life is transitory and nothing material lasts forever, and, rather than counseling us to focus on the spiritual, instead celebrates the enjoyment of fleeting pleasures when you have the chance.

One translation goes:
... Living only for the moment, turning our full attention to the pleasures of the moon, the snow, the cherry blossoms and the maple leaves; singing songs, drinking wine, diverting ourselves in just floating, floating; ... refusing to be disheartened, like a gourd floating along with the river current: this is what we call the floating world
It was an urban culture; entertainers, courtesans, actors and merchants enjoyed themselves in the city of Edo, or Tokyo. They told stories, attended theatre, read novels and bought pretty things. Books with scenes of urban or rural life, or travel were very popular. Illustrations of popular theatre, myths, or ghost stories sold well. Woodblock prints made picture books inexpensive - from each carving hundreds of prints could be struck and sold.

"South Wind, Clear Sky," Katsushika Hokusai, about 1830. Click to "embiggen."

In the 1840s, Japan opened its ports to Western trade after many years of isolation. As western technology like photography became popular in Japan, these woodblock prints fell out of favor at home, but in Europe they inspired artists such as James Abbot McNeill Whistler, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Frank Lloyd Wright and Mary Cassatt. Claude Debussy is said to have written his symphonic suite "La Mer" after viewing Hokusai's print of "The Great Wave off Kanagawa."

These fresh and brilliant Japanese images revitalized and inspired American and European arts just at the same time Japan embraced American and European technology, giving rise to an era of rapid industrialization and growth.

It's been over a hundred years since American Admiral Matthew C. Perry entered Japanese harbors and our two nations began our relationship. We've been enemies and allies. America defeated Japan, devastated it by fire, helped rebuild it, and watched it overtake us.

When one of America's greatest cities was deluged by storm and flood, Japan helped us. Now we need to help them. People are hungry, thirsty, and without shelter. And now as we watch, it experiences the worst crisis of its history, as the nuclear crisis at Fukushima unfolds.

Sara-yashiki, or "The Plate Mansion Ghost" - Katsushika Hokusai, 1830s. Illustration of ghost stories. The ghost of a murdered woman rises from the well where she was buried. Click to "embiggen."

It's a floating world. Things drift, dissolve, go with the current. You can't contain them or escape them. Water finds its home; oil floats and so do houses pulled from their moorings; vapor and unseen things waft through the crevices and up from the depths. Minute particles travel on jetstreams across continents and oceans, linking us all across the earth. How will we deal with it?

Although Hokusai's "Wave" is one of the most familiar images of Japanese art in the world, when I see it now, after the earthquake and tsunami of March 11 and the fears of today, it amazes me afresh with its terrible power.

In the face of towering waves that dwarf the very mountain itself, the fishing boats with their brave sailors deftly navigate them. The sun is in the East, on the ocean - it's morning and the water sparkles with a terrible beauty. Hokusai, inverting the traditional formula of landscape composition, places the tiny pyramid of the mountain as the still point around which the swirl and movement, the jagged crests and spangled droplets, the storm and the exhilaration all revolve.

What can we do to help bring the sailors back to safe harbor? What can we do to shelter them and ourselves?

You can see an exhibit of the art of ukiyo-e at the Library of Congress site, here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Weighing In

If you don't get out and walk, you'll miss the blooming jasmine.

I've completed the first week of a return to Weight Watchers. I weighed myself this morning and I've lost 1.8 pounds.

What are the biggest changes I've made over the week? Well, there's two that stand out.

Bunnies eat veggies
First - although I often think of myself as having a pretty good diet, I realize now that I was not eating enough vegetables and fruit. Weight Watchers recommends at least five servings per day. With prompting from their plan, I've added these back in. Sometimes it's as simple as tossing a tangerine into my purse for an afternoon snack. I've started a morning routine of making carrot and celery sticks for my lunch. I've tried to add vegetables back into my dinner - in recent months it had just felt like too much trouble.

Second - I walk the dog every day. But in the past, especially with a cold and wet winter, my dog-walking has been ....shall we say...."results oriented." That is, I've only spent as much time as it takes for Jack to do his business. This week, I've returned to the idea that the walk should last a certain amount of time, and should cover a certain distance. I'm walking a mile each morning, with some serious uphill work. I'm planning to extend that to 1.6 miles next.

Because I did this before, it's easy to fall back into some good habits I learned the first time around. I know, for instance, that oatmeal for breakfast fills me up and keeps me from getting too hungry mid-morning. I know that protein for lunch - meat, egg, or fish - fills me up more than salads. Sushi is a great Weight-Watchers lunch, because it's protein and low in points. I know that soup is hot, satisfying, and almost zero points. It's good to remember the list of low-points snacks that help slake the mid-afternoon hunger - mini pretzels, low-fat string cheese, Ry-Krisp crackers, and frozen peas!

I remembered how you can plan for a little indulgence by taking an extra walk to earn more activity points.

I also recognize the bad habits I fell into, like indulging in that bowl of M&Ms on the reception desk! Just deciding to not have cheese on my sandwich makes a big difference.

C'mon, let's go for a walk!

Right now I'm feeling pretty good about this. I don't know how long I'll feel this way, but my plan is to try to stay on it until at least June, when we are going to travel to London to see our son.