Monday, June 30, 2014


In our yard, seen through the bedroom window. It's 1:00 in the afternoon, and the deer brazenly come into the yard, browsing on any green vegetation that's left in the droughty summer.

They are so much smaller and more delicate-looking than you expect.

This one was soon joined by another with bigger antlers. They lept lightly off the retaining wall, then stepped through the garden.

Our yard, and the dry creekbed that runs alongside it, has become the deer-trail up and down the mountain as more and more property owners fence their yards.

One morning last week, as I turned from our street onto the canyon road to the coast, I came upon two stopped cars beside the road, two drivers standing outside. A fender-bender?

As I grew closer, I saw the deer lying on the pavement. Its delicate big-eared head was tilted up like a flower from the gravel shoulder. Its entire back end was laid open from the crash, the blood and meat a deep, dark crimson, like velvet, and I could see the pale rack of bone exposed.

I could not stop. Morning rush hour traffic bore me onward.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Winston Street Streetscape

Stenciled art on the sidewalk on Winston Street at Werdin Place
If you walk down Winston Street between Main and Los Angeles, you'll get a feel for how neighborhoods change. Los Angeles Street is in the heart of Skid Row, a stretch of small wholesale businesses and immigrant-owned shops valiantly trying to survive, amid the misery of the street - homelessness, substance abuse, prostitution. Yet there are signs of change - industrial buildings transformed into trendy residential lofts, new condominium complexes, and trendy restaurants like The Must, where we had dinner yesterday.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Geoduck martini?

At The Must in downtown LA after seeing Citizen Kane at the Orpheum Theatre. Chris has  a martini with cornichon-stuffed olives and the whole bar is singing along with "Psycho Killer."

World class world cup

One night last week, I stopped by El Texate, a little Oaxacan joint on Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica. The World Cup game was on TV, and I sat at the bar.

In honor of the game, I had a caipirinha, Brazil's national drink, made with cachaça, sugar and lime. I had a plate of taquitos with mole colorado.  Delicious, and only $4 for each on the happy hour menu. It was a perfect dinner.

Ecuador won!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Where'd the week go?

Wow. This week just zoomed past. It's a beautiful day in Santa Monica. It's still a little foggy in the morning, but right now in the afternoon, it's gorgeous.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Edible gems

It was the Summer Solstice and our son's birthday. As a treat, we were going to have the nine-course tasting menu at Alma, named Best New Restaurant in America in 2013 by Bon Appetit magazine.

There was a film shoot on Broadway at Olympic, cameras and reflectors set up on the sidewalk, LAPD officers in their lime-green safety vests. "Back to the Future" was playing at the renovated United Artists Theatre at the Ace Hotel as part of L.A. Conservancy's Last Remaining Seats series, and the line snaked down the block.

We pulled into a parking lot clogged with tents, trailers, dollie-trucks, and a location manager with a radio on his hip stopped us. The lot was closed. "Do you know where else we can park?"

"You going to the show?"

"No, just to dinner." He suggested another lot nearby, and we pulled in to snag the very last space.

We scanned the block to find the restaurant, and realized it must be the unmarked space, faced with blonde wood, next to the Las Palmas Dance Club, and also steps away from the film shoot cluttering the sidewalk.

At the door to Alma, as though by magic, the very same location manager appeared. "Oh, you're going here, are you? You'll love the food," he said.

That's LA.

Just ask the guy parking trailers in the movie base camp where you should eat!

Friday, June 20, 2014

10th Avenue breakfast

Lali's Restaurant on 10th Avenue in Hell's Kitchen is a narrow little place; just a counter with eight or ten stools, and the kitchen behind. The walls are painted bright Barbie pink, and paintings of tropical scenes hang on the wall.
A chalkboard high on the wall runs the length of the counter, with the menu chalked on and drawings of palm trees and flowers. In front of the stool I chose, it said this: "Pura Vida - Pure Life."  And there was a model of a sailing ship.

Lali's offers the usual New York breakfast - eggs and bacon, home fries and your choice of toast. But Lali is Dominican, so there's also a Dominican breakfast. This is mashed green plantains, fried egg, fried cheese and fried salami, with onions. That's what I opted for.
Wall painting at Lali's
"Spanish or American?" the counterman asked when I ordered coffee. Spanish is like Cuban coffee, strong and thick. I chose American, and he brought it to me already lightened with milk, the way I like it.
Breakfast was good. The eggs were fried in hot drippings, the edges were crispy. Fried salami is just what it sounds like - thick slices of salami browned on the griddle. The fried cheese was white, like mozzarella or jack, and it came in slabs, crisped on the surface and molten inside. Mashed green plantains are a good starchy foil against all this grease, but I have to be honest and say I didn't eat much of them. They were better with a few drops of bright orange habanero hot salsa. The onions were a treat, sautéed with a splash of vinegar, they were sweet and tangy.

At Lali's Restaurant, there's a special for each day of the week, pork chops, steak and onions, beef or chicken stew, ox tail or pig's feet. It all comes with yellow rice and beans - and those delicious sautéed onions.
Lali is a grandmotherly lady who, when I met her, was bringing fresh pasteles, or meat pies, from the back kitchen to stock the window display case.  You can tell the food is delicious by Lali's smile.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Waiting for the A Train

Down in the IND. Everybody's looking at their phone, but there's no signal. (Click image to "embiggen")

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Summer Snow

Sakagura is hard to find.

Sakagura is probably the best known - and best hidden - sake bar in the U.S., if not the world.  The non-descript office building it's located in on E. 43rd Street is now even harder to find, since it's shrouded in scaffolding.

At the door, a discreet Japanese character is the only sign it's there. Once you step into the building, you think you've made a mistake. It looks like the lobby of an office building, complete with security desk. On one stairwell door, you find the twin of the mark on the street. Behind it, a lone hostess desk - clearly for use on busier evenings - shares a niche with a fire hose.

Down you go, into the basement. At the end of a dark and dingy hall, you step into a Japanese fantasy-land.

Wood and bamboo, bonsai trees, little candles and - everywhere - sake casks and sake bottles.

It's a tough ticket, and reservations are a must, but as a single diner, I can usually snag a table at the bar, and I was in luck. I got a seat, and a nice waitress to help me choose from the vast library of sake available.

I felt a little foolish because I was not able to tell her any favorites I'd had. I asked her to select for me some nigorizaki, which is an unfiltered sake cloudy with rice solids. Nigorizaki is sweet and flowery, and is served quite cold.

She let me sample a few choices, and I chose Kamoizumi "Summer Snow." It was quite intense, almost fruity, and perfumed. It's a good choice for sake novices like me. The waitress helpfully told me which prefecture each sample came from; "Summer Snow" is from Hiroshima prefecture.

Sakagura is an izakaya, a drinking establishment that served bar snacks along with drinks. Although here both the snacks and the drinks were exquisite.

I chose three items. The first to arrive was Onsen Tamago, which was a bowl of cold dashi broth, rich with flavor, in which floated uni, or sea urchin roe, ikura, or salmon roe, and a lightly poached small egg. The uni was sweet and ocean-flavored as I expected. The salmon roe was amazing, like little jewels that burst with flavor. The poached egg's yolk burst forth when I touched it with chopsticks, and it clouded the rich cool broth, adding a rich, viscous texture. The combination of flavors, the coolness, the textures were so compelling I drank every drop.

Then came some hirame sashimi, a white-fleshed fish, garnished with a grated daikon and ponzu relish. Delicate and tasty.

My third order was called maguro tartare on the menu. Maguro is fatty tuna; this was chopped and mixed with scallion and perhaps a little soy sauce for flavor; it was pressed into a small hockey-puck shape and garnished on top with flying fish roe flavored with yuzu (a citrus fruit) and black caviar.

I adore the sensation of eating fish roe and feeling the little grains burst in my bite, and this was both fun and delicious.

I had thought I might order another item, but the intensity of the maguro, plus the fact that it was a solid chunk of pure protein, really filled me up and satisfied me. I sipped the last of the sake, this time a daijingo sake called Yuki no Boshi, from Akita prefecture.

I don't normally get dessert, but the waitress brought me the menu. I asked her which choice she'd recommend between a millefeuille with pear and a creme brulee flavored with black sesame, and she urged me to choose the creme brulee.

It was yet another incredible taste. A crackled caramel crust over the creamy custard; a nugget of ice cream swirled with black sesame. All topped by a curled tuille, studded with the black seeds.

The custard was the color of wet cement, a little unusual, but the whole was infused by the caramelized sugar and the rich flavor of sesame seeds.

A secret place - hidden away - like a treasure. Search it out next time you're in New York City. But shhhhh! Don't tell anyone else!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Around the corner

Here's what I discovered around the corner from my hotel, on 48th Street. Chateau Theatrical Animals, AKA Chateau Stables  rents horse-drawn coaches for weddings and events, and has provided animals for theatrical performances on Broadway.

The thing I like about New York is that you always find something unexpected, right around the corner.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Fishy business

Russ & Daughters Appetizing has been on Houston between First and Allen since 1914, selling the best quality smoked fish on the planet.

On a Sunday morning at 9:00 am, it was already packed when I got there but I took a number and waited patiently along with everyone else.

It's good to have the time to look at everything in the deli case, anyway. There's smoked trout, sturgeon, sable and nearly a dozen variations on salmon, from hot kippered to cured and dilly gravlax. They have several varieties of caviar, worth their weight in gold.

Although I've never had pickled herring I was almost tempted by the New Catch Holland herring, which comes in seasonally, and is here in time for Father's Day - but alas, I'm by myself without a kitchen, so I had to pass. It wouldn't be good to keep pickled herring in my hotel room.

No, instead I chose one of their sandwiches - the Fancy Delancy. Smoked tuna with creamcheese and wasabi roe on a bialy, and a little side order of beet, apple and herring salad, it was the perfect brunch.

There's no seating at Russ & Daughters, so I found a picnic table in little Sara D. Roosevelt Park on Second Avenue, under the trees watching some old fellows practice tai chi.


Friday, June 13, 2014

Rooftop bar

Because rooftop bar!

The view from the bar on the roof of my hotel is awesome!

Rainy day

It's a rainy day in New York City.

I went out for breakfast at a diner, and while I sat there eating my two-eggs-over-easy-bacon-and-hash-browns, the skies opened up. I had another cup of coffee but it didn't seem to let up. My hotel's three blocks away, so I just figured I'd get wet, go back to my room and dry off.

On the way there, one gentleman sitting the the foyer of the diner offered me the use of his umbrella if I wanted to walk south two blocks to 7-11 and buy one of my own - "Just as long as you promise to come back." I thanked him for his kindness, but told him I would take my chances going north.

As I stood at the corner of 45th and 11th waiting for the light to change, cold rain running down the back of my shirt, a woman with an umbrella moved over to me and held it up to shelter me, then as the light changed we walked in tandem across the street. I thanked her, too, and walked with her to a hardware store, where I ducked in hoping to find an umbrella of my own.

The beefy guy behind the counter rang up a cheap folding one for me. "What's the price on 'is?" he asked his co-worker.

"Nine ninety nine," the other man said.

"Fuh dis? Y'kidding me right?" He looked it over. "This ain't worth that. Fi' dollar," he said, and rang it up.

People are kind.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A really fun thing I'll never EVER do again

Like riding a gondola in Venice, New York City's pedicabs are a tourist rip-off, but the taxi line at Penn Station was miles long, and I only had ten blocks to go to my hotel. On impulse, i took a pedicab.

Rush hour, going up Eighth Avenue past the Port Authority Terminal and 42nd Street. What an experience! The young man who drove it was fearless and must have had super-sensitive antennae on each protruding part of his cab, the way he slipped past the bumpers of cars, taxis and buses!

We wove through traffic with inches to spare! Those buses could have crushed me like a grape, but I wasn't scared, I was delighted.

Pedicabs charge $4 a minute, though, and though the young man was fast, it took longer than I thought (although, to be fair, it probably took about the same amount of minutes a taxi would have, given how bad traffic was.)

Would you ride one?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Just in time

It's time for some June Gloom again.

It's Southern California's little secret.

It's not always sunny and bright here.  In late spring and early summer, we have cloudy skies and fog, especially right along the coast. I drove into town through thick fog, mist speckling my windshield. It is overcast, and grey.

Thought it's not the stuff of movies and TV, June Gloom can be kind of charming, with moisture kissing your skin and a respite from the glaring sun. I can get used to a little June Gloom - especially at the beach!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Not my problem

I just got off the phone with a customer who needs our office to issue him a certain kind of permit that he needs by June 14. Months ago, he received a check-list of things he has to do before the permit can be issued, with a deadline of last Friday to complete them.

He has dutifully completed most of them, but there are some important items remaining, one of which is an official document from another government agency.

I contacted him this morning to let him know that I need him to forward me that item before noon on Wednesday, because I'll be out of the office on Thursday and Friday.

He told me he wouldn't be able to get it until Thursday, so if I needed it, I should contact that other agency myself. 

What is it about people who just rub you the wrong way?  This fellow has also told me, in reference to this permit he needs, that it's "just the same as last time,"  - I guess meaning I should look up last time's record and fill in the blanks on his application for him?

So, this morning I gently reminded him that it's his responsibility to complete the requirements if he wants the permit.

I restrained myself from adding that as far as our office was concerned, it didn't matter whether he got his permit.

Instead I gave him the name of another contact he can work with on Thursday and Friday.

Happy Monday!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

I owe you

I owe you an explanation. Why I've been so inactive at this blog lately. So okay.

There's not just one thing, it's a confluence of several things.

First - I've been taking a writing course, which has been wonderful. But working on assignments takes up most of my writing time, time I would usually spend here.

Second - I got a new computer back in March, and while I love and adore it, the Windows package I got with it does not include Windows Picture Manager, which I am so accustomed to using for my photos. Windows Picture Manager is boring, dull, and limited, but it was easy and I got used to it. So now I'm using Picasa, which I'm not totally happy with. When I think about putting together a post, I have to think about photos, and I just feel frustrated. Anyone got some recommendations for some good photo organizing/processing software?

Third - Life is not very exciting right now. My job is boring, and I'm not really doing anything much worth sharing. [The Man I Love] is very busy at his job right now - this will ease up by summer -  and I'm kind of knocking around on my own on weekends.

Fourth - I'm sad about our garden. The septic tank work this winter pretty much devastated the backyard, and disabled the sprinkler system. We're in the middle of a terrible drought, and everything that's not already dead is dying. I got a lot of inspiration from the garden, and I miss that - I also feel guilty for allowing it to die. It's hard to see the bare ground, the shriveling plants.

We don't have the cash to redo the garden yet, and even if we did June/July is not the time for planting, it all has to happen later. It's foolish to fix a sprinkler system if you don't know what it's going to sprinkle. Plus we're in a drought. I know this sounds like rationalization, and it is.

But, things are looking up. As I mentioned, the writing course is going well. I'm almost at the end of spring term, and trying to decide what to take in the summer.

And I'm going on a trip! My writing project requires research, and I've got a surprise chance to fly to New York next weekend. I will be seeing some old friends, and revisiting some old haunts. Hope to share my experiences with you all, and come back re-energized.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Shaken, not stirred

Another shaker at 7:36 pm.

This one rocked and rolled. My husband watched our flat-screen TV teeter for a bit and then stabilize.

Jack the dog has taken advantage of the open door to go up to the street. We're keeping a lookout for his return.

UPDATE - He's back, no worse for it. I gave him his dinner and he's relaxing.

It was a 3.8.

UPDATED UPDATE: They've upgraded it to 4.2. It certainly felt that way to me!