Thursday, February 28, 2013

Doing the heavy lifting

Photo by Laurent Schwebel
Sometimes you have to do hard things. It's easy to put things off if you're afraid of doing them, or if you don't want to face something.

This week I did something I've been avoiding for a long time. A good friend gave me a kick in the pants and told me to get it done with.

I had to talk to a powerful person who is in a position to help me, but of whom I feel deeply intimidated. I had to initiate the meeting and make my request for help, even though I was afraid my reception would be negative. My instinct had been to lay low, to avoid contact, to get along without making this step. But my friend said - "You have to do this first, before doing anything else."

So I did it. And what was the result?

The powerful person learned good things about me - that had been unknown before.

The powerful person has given me a chance to show what I can do.

The powerful person knows I need help, and is looking out for opportunities for me.

I am not afraid of the powerful person any more.

I feel pretty good.

About the photo - this photo was sent to me in a slide show. When I read more, I learned that the photographer, Laurent Schwebel, had recently been a victim of crime in Argentina. I usually don't like to use other peoples' photos, but this one said something to me.  So if you like it, go to Laurent Schwebel's webpage and look at the wonderful work that remains his legacy.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Roosting chickens

Today my neighbor's chicken decided to take a walk through my front yard.

It's OK, we need the eggs.

Monday, February 25, 2013

New buddy

One of Jack's best friends is my neighbor, Patty. Patty is a dog lover, and when we first got Jack and were worried whether he could endure being home alone while we worked, Patty stepped in to give him a daily walk, along with her dog, the elderly and venerable Mary Margaret.

After a bit, Mary Margaret was unable to keep up with Jack's energy, and since he was adapting well to life in our house, he no longer needed a daytime walk. But Jack and Patty had forged an enduring relationship.

Mary Margaret went to doggie heaven (where all good dogs go), and Patty embarked on many adventures, including some international travel. But finally, this month, Patty welcomed a new dog into her home.


Patty and I set up Jack and Seamus with a play date this weekend.

Seamus is a poodle, and quite a bit smaller than Jack. He is also a younger dog than Jack, with a lot of energy.

Still, they got along just fine. They played and wrestled. Jack kept mouthing Seamus, and since Seamus is small and hairy, within half an hour, Seamus was reduced to a white mophead soaked in dog saliva. But a happy wet mophead soaked in dog saliva.

After they calmed down a bit, Patty gave them both treats.

Seamus can stand on his hind legs. They're both good dogs.

Jack loves his new friend. And those treats.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Fruits of the sea

It's six inches across.
Friday night, we stopped by one of our favorite Santa Monica restaurants for an early dinner. Blue Plate Oysterette is a tiny place right on Ocean Avenue, known for its fresh seafood.

We like to sit at the little bar just inside the door, that overlooks the busy kitchen. Friday night, as we sipped glasses of King Estate pinot gris, we watched one of the kitchen staff working with a bin filled with huge scallop shells. He deftly shucked them open, cleaned off the shells, and laid them in a clean tub. Displayed on each shell, a full six inches across, the creature from the sea rested, still alive, glistening.

Most people are used to bay scallops, little tablets of sweet flesh no more than an inch in size, bought out of the shell by weight. Larger scallops, maybe two inches across, are called "sea scallops." Scallops are typically harvested by drag nets, shelled and the meat sorted by size before distribution and sale. But what we think of as "scallops" are really just part of the creature - the strong, white adductor muscle used to swim. Scallops are the only bivalves that actively swim, unlike mussels or oysters that attach themselves underwater, or clams that burrow down into the sand.

There's more to the beast than the muscle, however. The ruddy orange roe, or "coral" curves around the muscle, and the mantle is trimmed around with a fancy passementerie of fringe and tiny bead-like eyes.

In Europe, the whole scallop is sold in the shell. Here in the US, it's finally becoming more common to see "Diver Scallops"  or  whole scallops in the shell, harvested by hand. These here at Blue Plate were just flown in from Massachusetts, and still trembled with life.

[The Man I Love] had to try one.  While we waited for our order, we supported west coast fisheries with a dozen Washington, British Columbia and Mexican oysters on the half-shell.

We love to watch the kitchen at work. Flames flashing on the big cooktops, servers drawing drinks or uncorking wine, shuckers laying out yet another dozen oysters on ice. We watched, transfixed, as one chef held a large live Maine lobster on a cutting board and smartly chopped it lengthwise, its legs still faintly waving as it met its destiny on the broiler. Ah, life is cruel, but lobster is delicious.

The scallop arrived in a sizzling hot cast-iron skillet, on a bed of rock salt. Baked with a sauce of sun-dried tomato and parmesan cheese, the flesh was sweet and nutty. The coral was milder tasting than the muscle, but sweet, and with a texture almost like a medium-cooked yolk of an egg. The whole thing was so delicious [The Man I Love] cleaned the shell - I think he would have licked it if he could!

I chose instead a pan-sauted fillet of striped bass, served with a piquant tomato and sherry vinegar condiment. I shared a bit with [The Man I Love], in payment for my taste of scallop and coral. The white flesh was perfectly cooked and delicate.

We've become such regulars at Blue Plate they recognize us now. With such fresh and delicious seafood, and a warm welcome, we always come back.

Friday, February 22, 2013

What the wind blew in

The weather turned cold and windy this week, and on Tuesday night it was bone-chilling cold. The sky was high, bright and blue, and the wind rattled the palm fronds on the beach. Up here in the canyon, the hills and narrow ravines channeled the wind even more fiercely.

What better to warm us up than a bowl of soup?

 One of my favorite soups is the ubiquitous Jewish deli favorite, sweet-and-sour cabbage soup. Tomato-y, full of vegetables, and with a tart piquancy, it's bracing, good, and not too rich. Variations abound - some with meat, some with raisins, some purely cabbage and others full of vegetables. It's easy to adapt to the contents of your crisper drawer.

That Tuesday night, my crisper drawer had a head of cabbage, some baby turnips, a couple of carrots, some leeks and a shriveled stalk of celery. There was also a bag of beet greens, saved from an earlier purchase and chopped - still looking fresh and good.  Ready to begin?

Sweet-and-sour Cabbage and Beet Green Soup

  • Cabbage - red, green, or savoy - about 1/2 a head, shredded
  • Beet greens, shredded (optional)
  • 1 or 2 carrots, diced or chopped small
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 leeks, white and light green parts, chopped
  • 2 - 4 baby turnips - mine were the size of ping-pong balls, so I used 4, peeled and diced or chopped
  • Celery - about two stalks, chopped - or if you have a shriveled, limp, ugly stalk of celery, throw away the outer stems and finely chop the pale green heart inside, including the baby leaves.
  • 1 or two slices of bacon (optional) or 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil or butter
  • 4 cups chicken, beef, or vegetable broth
  • 1 14 ounce can of crushed tomatoes
  • 2 - 3 tablespoons of vinegar or lemon juice
  • 1 - 2 tablespoons of brown sugar
  • Optional - shredded cooked chicken or beef
  • Sour cream to garnish
  • Chopped dill or parsley to garnish
If you're using bacon, cook it in a large soup kettle until crisp; remove and reserve and leave about 2 tablespoons of fat in the kettle. If you're not using bacon, heat the oil or butter in the soup kettle. Saute all of the vegetables except the cabbage, and greens if you're using them, in the fat until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add the cabbage and wilt for about 5 minutes.

Add the broth and tomatoes, and bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer.

Add the greens, if you're using them.

Add the vinegar and sugar. I use cider vinegar and a dark brown sugar, but you can use what you have. The proportion is roughly 2 parts sour to one part sweet, but everyone's taste is different. Some people like it really sweet. Some people like a strong piquancy while others like only a tinge. Some people add raisins for more sweetness. I've even seen some use chopped apples. You can experiment. I usually go easy at first, say 2 tablespoons vinegar and 1 of sugar, then I let the soup cook down and adjust again later.

Let the soup simmer for at least 30 minutes to cook down and soften the cabbage and greens, and let the flavors meld.  Some people add shredded meat - this is a great soup to make if you've got some leftover pot roast or corned beef.

Serve it up with a blob of sour cream and some chopped dill to garnish. If you've used bacon, you can crumble the crisp bits on top.

It's warm and tangy and perfect to eat by the warm fireplace with just a slice of dark pumpernickel and melted cheese. It improves with age, and makes a delicious lunch with a BLT sandwich.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Fishing on the Venetian lagoon, near San Erasmo Island

Sorry, there's just not that much going on right now.  Things are quiet, still, motionless; the water before me is glass-smooth.

They say wind is coming in this evening. Maybe that will swell the sails and raise my spirits to flutter.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Year of the Snake

Confetti against the sky

The 114th Golden Dragon Parade took place yesterday in Los Angeles' Chinatown to mark the lunar New Year. We joined in the fun

The Chinatown Rotary Club had a group of young people carrying American flags. They're wearing red because red is the color of luck.

The sidewalk along North Broadway was crowded. The sun was hot, and lots of people brought paper parasols and sunshades.

Brilliantly colored flags and banners passed.

Lion dancers thrilled the crowd.

Then, the golden snake appeared.

And finally, the dragon himself. Happy New Year!

Friday, February 15, 2013

A bowl of noodles - and temptation averted

Yesterday I made a point of getting out of the office. I was craving a bowl of noodles. I couldn't think of a place near work, but Sawtelle Boulevard is just a short drive away, so off I went to Little Osaka.

Kara kara ramen at Chabuya
Once a quiet neighborhood of Japanese nurseries, shops, and small groceries, Sawtelle is now teeming with artisanal noodle shops, Asian-fusion restaurants, and even a gourmet burger joint. Sprinkled among the older karaoke bars and sushi joints, there are Japanese toy stores, boutiques with edgy tee shirts and accessories, frozen yogurt shops and boba tea places.

Sadly, some of the older Japanese groceries are gone, their windows papered over while inside construction workers put the finishing touches on the newest Japanese fusion gourmet burger establishment.

But in one multi-level strip mall, you can still go buy Shiseido cosmetics, houseware, bento boxes and Japanese gummy candy at the Nijiya Market.

I'm always fixed with indecision when I go to Sawtelle. Do I want artisanal tonkatsu noodles at Tsujita? Or should I still with the old-timey ramen joint, Asahi Ramen? Sushi at the venerable Hide Sushi? Or vaguely frenchified cusine at Sawtelle Kitchen? 

This time, I picked Chabuya, a noodle joint on the east side of the street. It's named after a famous Tokyo Ramen shop, and claims to serve Tokyo-style ramen, which is made with pork and chicken stock flavored with dashi (seaweed and dried bonito stock) and soy sauce, or shoyu. Egg noodles in the broth are topped with a variety of extras - slices of roast pork, called chashu; strips of dried nori, bamboo shoots, chopped scallions, and sometimes a boiled egg. There are an assortment of condiments, too, from sesame seeds to pickled ginger and chile paste.

Ramen is a very casual meal - noodles and soup and accompaniments. In Japan, despite the prevalence of instant ramen with its packet of salty flavoring and the ubiquitous block of dried noodles, real ramen is handmade and each region has its own style. This aesthetic has moved to Los Angeles, thus the odd phenomenon of celebrity "ramen chefs" and artisanal noodles.

Chabuya's ramen offerings included one named "Bruin" after UCLA, and another named after a fraternity - so clearly there is a connection with the university that's just up the road.

I chose the Kara Kara Ramen, which includes spicy ground pork along with the toppings. My bowl came topped with lovely fried crunchy slivered garlic.

And then I did something totally out of character. It has to do with this little 6 oz. bottle. The rest of the story is HERE

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day

We're not making a big deal out of Valentine's Day, and it's in the middle of a busy work week.

But tonight, [The Man I Love] made me a before-dinner kir royal to sip while I sat at my computer.  What a sweetie!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Triple threat

3 folk-art carved wooden statuettes from Zimbabwe

When you're job hunting, you imagine yourself in a lot of different roles.

I work in a specialized field, but even in my field, there are branches, variations, internal specializations. I am in many ways a generalist, but when job hunting, you pick the opportunities that are out there and tailor your application to them.

This is why this week, I am applying to three different openings that seem almost schizophrenic in their diversity.

1) There's a job opening for a position with a local city government, working in my general field of public programming.

2) There's a job opening for a position managing a facility for a major multi-national corporation.

3) There's a job opening for a position fundraising for a local arts non-profit.

These are all natural outcomes of the work I've done in my career. But they are wildly divergent from one another. I feel like I have to embark on a personality change just to transition between writing one cover letter to writing the other.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Weather changes

I hope everyone in the East is staying warm and dry, in the face of the snowstorm.

Here in Southern California our weather has been changeable. Rain was predicted this past Friday, and as I drove into work, heavy raindrops pelted my windshield. I dashed through cold, wet wind from the parking lot to my building.

But then I suddenly looked up from my desk an hour later and the sun was bright out the window.

This weekend, clouds have been scuddering across the sky, alternately blue and glowering. This morning we took a walk in Tuna Canyon, and as we stepped along the trail toward the hazy blue coastline, threatening stormclouds loomed inland.

The hills were bright green with new grass.

You can tell spring is coming when the small flowers begin to bloom. Here, even in the most infertile places, between the rocks. A sign of hope.

Keep following the path. Where does it go?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

I met a man who loves his job

My office is closing down, after operating for 54 years in the same building. Our building is so big that we've had the luxury of being able to store everything on-site, so for 54 years we were blissfully ignorant of the complicated policy about the retention of records and documents that my employer has put together over the years, in compliance with laws, ordinances and regulations.

Some records must be kept permanently, and cataloged, so that they may be retrieved in case there's a request. Other records, mostly financial, must be kept for a certain period of time pending audits. Yet other records should be destroyed on a regular schedule - to protect my employer from liability.

With our vast space, we simply stored everything. Boxes and boxes of it. About five years ago, we sifted out the things we were required to destroy, and sent them to a shredding company. We also labelled other boxes with a "destroy-by" date, and shred them on schedule. But anything that wasn't required to be shredded just piled up in boxes, yellowing and crumbling.

But now we're closing the office, we have to do something about this stuff. Some of it's valuable for its historical content; some of it's valuable as artifacts of another time. Some of it must be kept because it's required by law. Because my supervisor has retired, it's my responsibility to make sure what needs to be saved is saved and what needs to be shredded is shredded.

So I contacted D. He is in charge of the off-site storage facility, and he knows what's in every single box of paper in there.

He came to a meeting and explained the whole procedure to us. There's a web-based interface to log in the content of your file boxes, and he trained us to use it. He's even written a manual that guides you through every step. While he was training us, he gave examples of the kinds of records he's been required to retrieve, and talked about the records saved in the vaults. Deeds from 1875? Minutes of public meetings from 1984?  Purchasing bids from 2004?  D. can find them in a minute.

He spoke with a passion that was infectious. Now I'm inspired about organizing our big mess. What was once an almost overwhelming nightmare now seems achievable!

So I asked D. how he got into this job. Had he been trained as a librarian, or an archivist, perhaps?

No, he said. What really got him into the job at the beginning was that he'd joined the army and been assigned as a file clerk. And he really wanted to do a good job with the files. Even now - after having had some more specialized training and knowledge - what's important to D. is that stuff that's supposed to be kept is kept, and that someone can find it when they need it.

Never let anyone tell you that being a file clerk is a dead end. I love meeting someone who cares so deeply and passionately about their job.

Whatever you find a passion for, that's something that can help you succeed.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Job search

When a job application requires you to submit a "writing sample" - what kinds of writing do you submit?

Has anyone had experience with this?

Busy with stuff

I've been busy with a lot of little stuff. More posting later!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Welcome to February

Happy February!  Today we shopped at the Saturday Santa Monica Farmers Market, and brought back a huge haul of delicious produce.

I'm working hard in the kitchen, preparing to serve brunch tomorrow to some guests. There's a banana bread fresh out of the oven, and some vegetables already chopped in the fridge, ready for cooking tomorrow.

A few branches of Acacia in a vase and a bowl of oranges looks nice on the table..