Thursday, July 31, 2008

Calendar girls

Angela Villalba's book examines the Mexican practice in the mid-20th century of printing gorgeous full-color calendars celebrating the culture of Mexico.

And what better method to use to celebrate culture than to print cheesecake images of women?

Of course, it helped to tweak the image of Mexico by making the women look like Delores del Rio and Rita Hayworth, instead of showing women of Indio ethnicity and color....

Villalba's book shows us what these colorful calendars meant to the people who hung them on their kitchen walls. She discusses how these images of women fit with the idealized view of women as seen in the pin-up girls of the 40s, and also how it fits with Mexican folklore female figures, from the Virgen de Guadalupe, the soldaderas of the Revolution, to the treacherous vamp La Malinche. She also provides biographies of the artists who created these images, crediting them for their work.

But enough of the critique and analysis! Look at these gorgeous images! Go visit Villalba's website and check out what she's into. You can get notecards with the Mexican calendar girls images on them. She also deals in festive papel picados for parties and festivals. For Day of the Dead, get your decorated sugar skulls here.

These images are from Alexander Henry cotton yard goods. What should I make with it?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Chaparral Chateaux

It's easy to forget that Los Angeles is a city bisected by a mountain range, and surrounded by some of the wildest, roughest, driest terrain you'll ever see. Drive through the canyon roads in Malibu, and you'll see rock formations that demonstrate the heaving and tilting of the earth's crust. You'll also see what grows on this land without the aid of mankind's hand. The natural growth here is called Coastal Chaparral. Even drier than the oak forests nestling in the meager streambeds, these hills are home to dry scrub with small leaves that can survive the summer drought.

It's a desert out there, folks. Chamise, chaparral, California buckwheat and sage grow here. It's no wonder the film industry came here to shoot Westerns.

I'm not sure what the reason is, but Southern Californians seem determined to deny the land's true nature, and strive to create fantasy worlds. Are mansions built to remind people of the ones they envied while growing up in South Boston or Baltimore or Des Moines? Are these homes the embodiment of storybook dreams? Can anyone explain why there are so many English Tudor manors, mini Taj Mahals, and Cape Cod saltboxes-on-steroids here?

It can get downright goofy at times, like this motel near Disneyland, designed as a snow-covered log chalet, complete with icicles dripping from the eaves, surrounded by high-power lines and palm trees. Not a ski-lift in sight.

Call it Environmental Denial.

There's a lot of money in Southern California, and a lot people with more money than taste. If you have enough money, you can afford to alter the natural environment that surrounds you.

Here in the Santa Monica Mountains, there are some pretty funny examples of this.

One house on a Saddle Peak Road hillside is planted all around with a forest of white-barked birches. Yes, you heard me. The property's owner has nothing better to do with his money than vainly attempt to change California Coastal Chaparral into New Hampshire.

This home occupies an entire hill off Saddle Peak road. The round, glassed-in room you see on the right of the picture faces east. Across the canyon, at our house, you can just see the round room cresting the peak. From our deck, it looks like a flying saucer just hovering over the canyon.

What is it? A massive living room? An auditorium? An enclosed swimming pool?

I have to give the house's designer props for using color that blends into the surrounding, and shapes that mimic the boulders and outcroppings surrounding the house - on the other hand, surrounding the property with an 8 foot high fence topped with razor wire, posted with signs showing vicious guard dogs, doesn't exactly say "Hi neighbor!"

Who lives there? I don't know. But I'm not going over to borrow a cup of sugar anytime soon.

Many homes are built of stucco with tiled roofs, in a vaguely Spanish style, perhaps a nod to California's heritage. Some of these are nice, while others are mega-mansions surrounded by sodded lawns and flowerbeds planted with gaudy azaleas and magenta petunias.

Until recently, there was an actual medieval castle on a hillside in Malibu, complete with battlements. The castle was lost in the Thanksgiving, 2007 Malibu fire.

One of my favorite examples of Environmental Denial is this chateau, nestled not in the lush, fertile vineyards of the Loire Valley, but high on a dry peak in Malibu.

The plaque on the gate proclaims this place the "Chateau Belvedere." My name for places like this is Chaparral Chateaux.

I never felt it

We had a little excitement here this morning. A 5.6 earthquake that hit today around 11:42 a.m. was centered in Chino Hills.

I never felt it. I was in the car. The radio was off, because reception is bad in the canyon. When I turned it on later, everybody was talking about it. I called Our Son, who was home and he said that it had shaken a bit, but there didn't seem to be any damage.

When I came home, I checked out a few things that should have fallen down in an earthquake - but they hadn't.

Hope you and all of yours are OK. What were your earthquake experiences today?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Blue Orchid Flower Shop

I had a little free time during my business conference in Orange County, so I was driving around the area. I encountered this little flower shop in the City of Orange. How unexpected a little fairy-tale place it was!

I went in to look around, and bought a $5 bouquet of carnations and chrysanthemums to bring back to my hotel room.

Three Things to check out - July 28 - August 3

Here are three sweet treats for you to check out for this week!

1) In Long Beach, at the Aquarium of the Pacific, enjoy the 12th Annual Tafesilafa'i Pacific Islander Festival this weekend, from Thursday, July 31 - Sunday, August 3rd. The festival celebrates Samoan culture. I particularly like the quote on their website: "All will definitely come away exhausted, tanned and blessed because they have communed with others." Now THAT's truth in advertising!

2) Find your inner hippie and spend Sunday spinning in circles, chanting, and blissfully celebrating Lord Krishna at the 30th Annual Festival of the Chariots, in - where else? Venice! Starting in Santa Monica, three towering chariots, decorated with flowers and balloons, each one dedicated to a god, parade south on Main Street and end up at Ocean Front Walk, where you'll find music, food, and booths promoting yoga and meditation. And you always wondered what the Hare Krishnas do with those donations they collect at the airport!

3) Take the rocker in your family to the Texas Guitar Show at the Pomona Fairplex, August 2 and 3rd. You can see every kind of guitar possible, new, vintage, one-of-a-kind. If you have a guitar you want to sell, you can get it appraised. If you want to play guitars, twiddle the dials on amplifiers, or talk about woodgrain and finish and all that stuff - this is your place. I took [The Man I Love] last year, and he had a great time playing vintage bass guitars.

EXTRA - check out this summer's Jazz on the Lawn series in Santa Monica. Each Sunday from 5:00 - 7: 00 p.m., catch a free concert on the lawn in from of Santa Monica's City Hall. It starts August 3 and runs through August 31. Go here for a schedule.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

At the top of the world

Last weekend we decided to take a hike out to the Topanga Lookout. We haven't been there in months. So we packed our water bottles and sunscreen and I grabbed a hat, and we set out.

Who goes hiking at high noon in midsummer? Only crazy people! The Outlook trail goes along a ridge high over Saddle Peak, looking down over the western side of Topanga Canyon. The trail splits and one branch leads to an old unused telecommunications tower, while the other branch dips and continues east along the ridge. It really is a ridge - it falls away steeply on either side of the dirt road that we follow.

The sun's so hot you can smell the resin in the chaparral and sage, baking in the heat. A hawk flies over. You swat the no-see-ums buzzing around your face.

The road ends at an abrupt rock outcropping, crowned with a scrubby pine tree. You can hear the wind whispering in the pine needles. Beneath this tree is the only shade along the entire trail.

Why would anybody be crazy enough to hike this trail? What's the pay-off?

At the end of the trail you climb a twisting dog-track, and suddenly there is a set of concrete steps leading to a wide concrete pad.

This used to be a fire lookout tower. Years ago the tower itself was removed, but the concrete pad remains. You stand here and you can see all the way from the ocean to the valley.

Its obvious that lots of people enjoy coming here for the view. I also think some mind-altering substances were consumed here over the years! The concrete pad is a swirl of crazy spray-painted color. Grafitti, names, stencils, artful pictures, poignant R.I.P memorials for lost friends, odd sayings and plaintive musings.

So step out onto the platform with me and take it in. Yes, you can get closer to the edge than that! It's not as scarey as it looks.

Here's the view. There's mind-altering for you!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Business Travel

I'm out of town at a business conference. It's evening. I am here in my room, in a 13 story hotel a block from the convention center. I have attended 4 sessions and one keynote address today; I have been fed continental breakfast, and reception goodies sponsored by a beer company. "Food stations" are the new event trend, and I have nibbled delicacies ranging from lollypop lamb chops served with wild huckleberry chutney to Thai papaya salad served in little boat-shaped cups made of wood fiber ("sustainability" in disposable serving ware is also the new event trend).

Folks in my organization tend to dress casually. I saw a lot of Hawaiian shirts in the sessions today, and khaki Docker pants on attendees of both genders. There were also a lot of polo shirts, with the embroidered logos of everyone's company. Some women wore business suits or dresses; the men were more casual, some even wearing cargo shorts and sandals.

My industry is still a man's world - a large percentage of the attendees were large beefy white men with brush-cut hair dressed with pomade. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

We're not the only group holding a meeting here; this morning when I slung over my shoulder the black nylon messenger bag stuffed with goodies and the conference schedule and imprinted with my orgnization's logo, I noticed a lot of other people with blue nylon messenger bags imprinted with a different logo, walking toward the convention center with their attendee badge placards hung on lanyards round their necks. They were in the northern wing of the complex, while we were in the south, so I passed their entrance before mine.

What a sight, and what a contrast with our khaki-clad attendees! Clustered together for group photos were dozens of Asian women wearing traditional costume. High-waisted puffy-skirted Korean garb, or elegant cheongsam, or sleek Ao Dai complete with embroidered crowns! Pastel colored Filipina dresses with the bell-shaped cap sleeves! Men in brocaded jackets in jewel-toned silk! What was it all about? They clustered together and shouted in unison at the moment the shutter clicked.

The convention center must have some plan to stagger schedules to avoid lunchtime conflicts, because when we broke, I did not see the Asian conventioneers. I attended seminars in topics such as "Ecologically sound practices for your operations", "New technology in our industry's future," and "Maximizing sponsoriship opportunities." At the opening reception for the Trade Show, I wandered through the exhibits eating hors d'ouevres and sipping Merlot, and picked up giveaways like imprinted pens and glow-in-the-dark keychains. I saw exhibits for accounting software, the latest in basketball equipment technology, banner stands, stackable chairs, flooring material, and popcorn machines. I encountered people who I knew ten years ago, people who knew people who I knew ten years ago, people I went to industry retreats with, people who knew my boss ten years ago.

Then I went back to my hotel, bought a glass of wine at the bar and brought it up to my room. And here I am. Sigh.

I Google the name that was on the blue bags of the other convention. It is a direct sales company headed by a Taiwanese businessman. They sell herbal health supplements. This is their Grand Convention.

My hotel, thankfully has real windows, and I have the slider to the balcony open to get some air. Children are shouting and playing in the pool patio at the lower-priced hotel next door.

The world-famous amusement park is just to our north. Each evening, they set off fireworks and tonight's display has begun, fiery chrysanthemums blooming and bursting in the sky.

I can hear slider doors opening above and around me. The Chinese conventioneers come out on their balconies to look at the fireworks. Their voices rise and fall, clanging raucously, communicating not only in words, but in tones and contour. They laugh and shout at one another, calling from balcony to balcony, up and down the face of the hotel, as the sky darkens and the sparkles light up the night.

Just another night in an Orange County hotel.


I am attending a business conference in a town a few hours away. So Friday I packed my bags and, after tying up loose ends at the office, got in my car to drive to the town the conference was in.

I don't know about you, but for me, there is an inverse relationship between the distance I'm traveling and my organizational competence. A trip around the world? No problem. I have everything packed, everything scheduled, contingencies planned for, all essential needs anticipated. A weekend stayover 10 miles away? I forget my toothbrush.

I also tend to lose a sense of priorities. I mean, yeah, if I were traveling to Hawaii and forgot my swimsuit, it would make sense to buy one on the road. But on a business trip to Orange County, where all four days are scheduled with seminars, I probably shouldn't be driving around looking for a place to buy swim goggles on the rare chance that I might take a dip in the hotel pool.

A couple of days ago, I anticipated my trip to the conference. I'd have a whole afternoon to myself. There were cool places along the way. Maybe I could stop for Vietnamese food. Or in Little India! I could go explore the area, maybe see some sights. Or arrive early at the hotel and check out the spa.

But things happened. First I needed to pick up something I'd forgot to pack. Then I remembered something else. So I found myself searching around West Los Angeles for a Radio Shack, caught up in all the construction and detours around Culver City. And I was starving! The thought of getting on the 405 without eating lunch was not pleasant.

Oh look! a Radio Shack! I turned south on Sepulveda at Washington Blvd - and ended up in a bumper-to-bumper crawl.

For 15 minutes traffic crawled half a block. There was the Radio Shack, and next to it, a little restaurant - the Jasmine Market & Deli. So much for exotic food in Orange County - here I could get what I needed and maybe grab a bite. "How's the food next door?" I asked the kid at the Radio Shack.
"Oh, it's okay. It's Indian," he said.

There were signs in the window offering lunch specials, combos with chicken tikka and vegetable curry. Another sign claimed that only Halal meat was served. I went past the tables out front, and into the tiny store. Inside, there were only a few tables, a refrigerator case, and a long counter separating the kitchen from the room. Shelves at the back held packaged and bottled Indian spices and pickles. At one table, two couples dined, the men in traditional garments, women in salwar kameez with shawls covering their hair. At another a man dined alone, reading an Arabic newspaper. High on the wall, in a glazed wooden case, an open book with ornamental calligraphy was displayed - the Koran, perhaps?

A cheerful young guy in a UCLA t-shirt handed me a menu. I ordered a lunch special called Keema Curry, which was described as "ground beef cooked with special sauce and authentic spices."

The lone diner finished his meal and as he paid, he laughed and teased the waitress, who wore a shirt that said "California Girl" on it as she brought me my food.

There was a basket of naan, dark blistered and hot from the grill, a touch of ghee brushed on its crusty surface. A 3-compartment plate held basmati rice, a spoonful of vegetables in sauce, and a slaw-like salad. And a bowl of the keema curry, looking and smelling, for all the world, like a bowl of spicy Cincinnati-style chili! I though, pretty good for a hole-in-the-wall curry shop!
My keema curry lunch special cost me about $6 with a bottle of water. The keema, sprinkled with chopped cilantro, pooled with delicious rich oil, tasted wonderful with the fragrant rice. The cabbage slaw had chopped sweet onion and green serrano chiles, dressed with lemon or lime juice. It was really refreshing, but with a bite from the chile. The veggie curry was mellow with coconut milk. I could feel the jangly, traffic-induced tension dissipate, replaced by satisfaction and contentment.

After I finished my meal, I read a newspaper review posted on the wall. Turns out that the Jasmine Market & Deli is no ordinary curry shop. It is the only Burmese Muslim restaurant in all of L.A. County, and Muslims of all nationalities flock to it for its fresh, delicious halal foods.

How lucky I was! For all my disorganization, the missed turns, the traffic jams, the worries and regrets of unrealized plans, I had stumbled upon a genuine jewel, a rare and wonderful thing to experience in this city which continues to amaze me, Los Angeles.

Pink Saturday - Pink Hacienda

Beverly at the blog How Sweet the Sound has a great idea! It's Pink Saturday. Post about something pink, on Saturday. Here are the rules if you want to Get Pink!

Everyday I drive to work along the Pacific Coast Highway and pass this pink house. It's a Spanish revival house probably built in the 1920s. It's just a few yards away from Thelma Todd's restaurant. It's cherry blossom pink. Pink oleander pink. Strawberry mousse pink. Pepto-bismal pink. With green trim.

The house rambles and fits its contours to the slope, nestling down the bluff. A set of steps, protected by an old stone retaining wall curves down to the lower level from the roadway that rises up from the beach highway. Its balconies and walkways view the ocean.

It's surrounded by pampas grass and palms, and big leaves of giant birds-of-paradise plants. A bright pink bougainvillea cascades over the railings. There are potted pink geraniums and herbs. There are aloe and yuccas and succulents. There is a wicker chair on the balcony, big earthenware ollas to hold flowering plants.

Lately there have been workers patching the stucco, touching up the trim, resetting roof-tiles, and adding another course of blocks to the retaining wall. It's nice to see this house get some loving care.

I hope they keep it painted Pink.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Where in Los Angeles?

Well, last week's "Where in Los Angeles?" remains unsolved. So this week's puzzle is a place that may be familiar to people even if they haven't visited it in Los Angeles.

Remember, the first person who correctly identifies the location in the photo above wins a prize -a high resolution "Doves Today" photo with permission for your unlimited use. The winner will be offered 5 photos to choose from.

AND - the contest is still open for last week's post. So check it out.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Grand Hotel story

It's always fun to people-watch, right? A while ago, I was meeting friends in the lounge of an old and venerable hotel. Recently restored, it possessed a new and exclusive cachet. The lounge crowd was a mixture of wealthy tourists, well-heeled business clients, and the trendy young.

The room was elegant, with high bowed windows facing out at a gorgeous view. The large space was separated by 20s era columns paneled in wood, with Art Deco sconces. Comfy padded chairs and sofas were arranged in clusters, and tables had wicker chairs which lent the place a kind of tropical, yet old-fashioned air.

You know how it is when you sit facing a room, your eyes just naturally drift beyond your close surroundings and take in what's in your sightlines? Beyond my friend's shoulder, a red-haired woman, sat at a table all by herself, enjoying her cocktail.

I had one of those moments where imagination takes off, and I wondered what her story was. She was younger than me, but still a mature woman. Her hair was classically styled, her attire modest. Her face was pretty and her manner was poised. I could almost picture the scene set in an earlier era, the Jazz Age, old Hollywood, or Capote's Manhattan.

Or maybe not. She had an I-phone, which she consulted frequently, putting on her reading glasses, and then pushing them up off her face. Was she a busy, powerful executive, checking email for the latest sales figures? Was she meeting someone?

After reading the posts from friends who recently attended BlogHer, I wondered if she was traveling to a conference or business gathering, or meeting. Did she have kids at home she missed? Was she an expert in her field, invited to town as keynote speaker, putting the final touches on her speech? Was she an actor, meeting her agent to negotiate a deal? A writer, an artist? A journalist, meeting a source for a deep undercover story?

Was she here for intrigue, a stolen moment, a romance in a luxury hotel? Or did she want to be alone? So many stories.....

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A sudden craving for Swedish meatballs

You know how easy it is to get used to a situation if it happens gradually. There's that old story that says if you drop a frog into boiling water, he will immediately leap out to safety. But if you put a frog in cold water and turn the heat on, he'll stay as the water gradually heats up and kills him.

Whenever I hear this story I get distracted wondering why anyone would want to boil a frog, and then wondering how anyone could do such a cruel thing. So I usually don't think about the larger meaning of the story. But today it occurred to me, as I was looking around my living room, that my house, once merely simmering with messiness, has become a boiling cauldron of disarray and clutter!

Our habit of indiscriminate book acquisition is partly to blame. But it's not just books. Newspapers. Garden catalogs. On top of the bookcase, there's a jumble of earrings, bracelets, and necklaces, discarded after coming home from work. There are old board games tucked away underneath the armoire. Be careful before you open the armoire, though - the Christmas wrapping paper will fall out.

Okay, this area is particularly disgusting, with Mr. Lumpy's dog-bed, with half-eaten dog biscuits on it. The DVD player is set up on one of our outdoor side tables, since we got the new TV. There are shoe-boxes with family photos. The paper star lantern is leftover from Christmas.

Time for some organization! Time for shelves and bookcases! Time for attractive containers and boxes! Time to go to IKEA...for some Swedish meatballs!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Sometimes it's great just to sit and relax at the end of the day. Catch up on the daily paper. Sip a cocktail or glass of wine.

Enjoy the garden as dusk falls. The roses and lavender smell sweeter in the evening. Sometimes, a bat may flutter across the darkening sky.

Watch the sun go down.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Three Things to check out - July 21 - 27

Here are three cool things to check out this week.

1) Do you know about Grand Performances in downtown L.A.? I'm so impressed with the work of this arts organization. Each summer, they present a season of fantastic, fun and free entertainment in the watercourt nestled in the center of California Plaza. You can bring in your own picnic and enjoy the fun under the night sky. This coming weekend they present Rupa and the April Fishes, Delfoes Danza Contemporanea, and Slivovitz and Soul.

2) Catch the final screenings at the Old Pasadena Film Festival. This film festival is free to the public, and shows films in outdoor locations like courtyards and on rooftops. On Friday night the classic "Roman Holiday" with Audrey Hepburn is shown at 8:00 p.m., followed by Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai" at 10:00 p.m. On Saturday, catch Hepburn again in "Funny Face." Or power-nap during the day so you can stay up and see the entire "Lord of the Rings" Trilogy shown from 10:00 p.m. until dawn.

3) Go take a trip down to Long Beach, and visit the Long Beach Museum of Art. This little gem of a museum is set in an historic Craftsman bungalow overlooking Long Beach harbor. On July 27th it opens an exhibition of its Robert Rauschenberg collection. It also has a wonderful collection of California Plein-Air paintings, and a beautiful outdoor dining patio.

Today's photo is three blooms of the fragrant David Austin Rose, "Jude the Obscure."

Sunday, July 20, 2008


Last night we went down to Santa Monica, to the beach and the park and the pier, for "Glow" - a new, all-night-long arts event. Here's what we saw.

Palisades Park was crowded with people. They were selling Starbucks coffee in the park, and everyone was standing by the fence at the bluff, looking out at the lights on the pier. There was an installation of Japanese carp windsocks, with lights in them, that looked ethereal and beautiful.

The park was crowded, but the Pier was packed. You could hear the music thumping from a big outdoor stage on the south side. DJs were spinning inside the carousel house, and colors and patterns were projected onto the white-painted, peaked wooden ceiling. Overhead the rides and roller coasters rumbled and riders happily screamed.

The steps down to the beach held bright beads of light beneath the treads. You could stay on the concrete of the path and parking lot, or you could venture out into the sand, feeling your calf muscles bunch and tense with the effort of walking. Here and there, little clusters of people gathered, with their own lighted art installations around them, unsanctioned but just as festive as the official pieces. One group surrounded their beach blankets with luminarios, brown paper bags weighted with sand, holding a lit candle. Kids ran around chasing each other with light-sabers from "Star Wars."

Others had fancy light-up costumes, like this couple here.

Closer to the surf, a mock campfire glimmered red, for supposed sea-shanty singing. Across a broad sweep of the beach, a field of colored glow-sticks were stuck into the sand. The scent of incense and marijuana drifted gently and mingled with the scent of the ocean and creosote from the Pier's timbers. All along the bike path people rode, ran, strolled, some with luminescent rings around their necks, some with pulsing lanyards marking them as festival volunteers or participants. At an apartment house facing the beach, people on the narrow balconies drank beer and watched the crowds below. Others hung around the tailgates of parked cars, with their coolers. Up on the glass-railed patios of the beach hotels, outdoor bars serving cocktails catered to fancier guests viewing the festivities, the ladies with pashmina shawls draped over their shoulders.

Taking the bike path north again, we passed beneath the Pier itself, where fantastic undersea shapes hung. They were made of plastic bags and milk jugs and other flimsy stuff, illuminated from within, like phosphorescent creatures in the depths of the sea. They held tiny fans and motors to make them breathe, pulse, rotate, and sway, waving their plastic tentacles in the dark. I wish I had been able to get a good photo of this installation, and capture its weird watery beauty, but the best I got was this:

North of the huge beach parking lot, rising above the crowd of people, was a pulsing dome of colors that seemed to have no substance at all, but rose right up into the air. We moved closer to it, curious.

It was water vapor, sprayed in a huge circle of fine mist. digital projectors surrounding it shone bright colors and moving shapes into the mist. The gentle breeze from the ocean tossed and pulled the edges of the cloud so that the colors moved in the air. You could feel the gentle spray on your face if you stood near the fence.

Every face I saw was filled with wonder and delight at such a fine party. It was a night to play.

Throughout all, the lit Ferris wheel sparkled like a jewel in the night.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Lumpy report

Mr. Lumpy went to the vet yesterday to get his shots and a check-up. Mr. Lumpy is going away to summer camp - that is, the boarding kennel - while we go on vacation this August. We're really lucky that there are two great pet boarding places here in Topanga that allow the dogs room to roam and play together.

Of course, that doesn't mean much to Mr. Lumpy at his age. The kennel refers to Mr. Lumpy as a "senior." I think the senior dogs get to sit on the porch in lawn chairs and bark at all the other dogs to get off their lawn.

Mr. Lumpy's not doing so great. The cancer on his hip has spread, and is affecting the nerves in his right side back leg. The vet performed a test that revealed he has almost no feeling in it. Which explains why he falls down sometimes, and why he stumbles along like a jalopy with a flat tire on the passenger side rear wheel. When it affects both legs, Mr. Lumpy won't be able to walk. Our vet thinks he may have another year.

But for now, Mr. Lumpy's feeling all right. They like him at the vet - he's so well-behaved they gave him a pedicure while he was there. He got some new pills for his arthritis, and some leftover lambchops and chicken for dinner. This morning he's lying in the sun on the deck.

Friday, July 18, 2008

An intimate evening

The other evening, [The Man I Love] called me at work and suggested we meet for a 6:00 p.m. reservation at our favorite little restaurant on our route home.

It's the only really fine restaurant in the neighborhood, and we've been going there since it opened. We always sit in our favorite waiter's section.

On this occasion, I came to the intersection where I turn for the restaurant's strip mall, and the traffic lights weren't working. I parked and walked into....a completely dark restaurant!

The waiters and cooks were clustered about the hostess's desk. The manager was on a cell phone, looking urgent. [The Man I Love] hailed me from our favorite table. "The electricity's out! I'm having a glass of wine!"

"Buona sera, signora!" It was Fabrizio, with the bottle of wine. A server poured olive oil and balsamic vinegar into my bread plate, and placed a bread basket on the table.

"The lights went out about ten minutes ago. They're trying to find out what's going on. We'll just sit, drink our wine and see what happens."

Behind us another table was occupied by two ladies, conversing in hushed tones. I got a flashlight out of my purse to go to the ladies' room. The door at the end of the back hallway was open to the evening, and the kitchen staff was outside, laughing and talking.

Neighborhood customers came in to dine. Some turned away, but others entered and sat down. There were perhaps four tables occupied. Lit candles glimmered on every table. The pony-tailed chef, in his crocs and chef's smock, leaned on the bar and talked with a customer. People speculated how far the power outage stretched. "I hear parts of Malibu are out," said someone. The atmosphere was excited and merry, as if all of us - diners, waiters, cooks and bussers, were sharing an adventure together.

Suddenly there was a "Pop!" of a cork. The waiters and bussers moved through the room, setting champagne flutes before the diners. "A glass of prosecco," said Fabrizio. "Compliments of the house!"

After the prosecco, platters of the restaurant's signature carpaccio appeared at each table. Of course - this delicious appetizer of raw, thin-sliced beef must be served or perish, without working refrigeration. We mopped up the tender meat with the olive oil and spicy greens, the thin shards of delicious parmesan.

Another platter - the equally delicate tuna tartare, sweet and touched with balsamic vinegar. More prosecco, signora?

Seven o'clock. The evening light was fading. The manager's face looked resigned. They would have to close. No - they could not process credit cards, don't worry, signor, it's all on the house. We left a pair of twenties on the table.

We were strangely satisfied, happy. Nourished by the camaraderie, the generosity, our shared experience. Good night! Grazie!

Where in Los Angeles?

Here's this week's mystery photo. What is this, and where in Los Angeles is it located? The person who correctly identifies it gets a prize!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

What's in the Fridge Salad

I was too tired to stop at the store on the way home from work, and the kitchen was too hot to cook hot food, anyway.

So I made a great dinner salad with what I had in the fridge.
  • Three slices of bacon, fried crisp and drained
  • Iceberg lettuce, broken into bite-sized pieces
  • Baby salad greens
  • Savoy cabbage, shredded
  • Cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • Sugar snap peas, blanched for 30 seconds in boiling water, drained and halved
  • Mozzarella cheese, cubed
  • 1 tablespoon light mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon creme fraiche
  • Juice of one lime
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped basil
  • salt, pepper, pinch of cayenne
Salad: Mix lettuces and shredded cabbage on platter. Evenly distribute quartered cherry tomatoes, mozzarella cubes and snap peas on top. Top with crumbled bacon.

Dressing: Mix mayonnaise, creme fraiche, lime juice, sugar, and basil. Add water by 1/2 teaspoon if needed to thin consistency. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne.