Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Thematic Photographic - Shopping

Carmi at Written, Inc., posts a photographic challenge each week called Thematic Photographic - this week's theme is "SHOPPING." 
This one is easy! I went shopping at one of my favorite places - the Santa Monica Wednesday Farmer's Market. Look at these glorious peppers and eggplant!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Just busy, that's all!

Sorry for the light posting. I've just been busy!!

Here's Jack looking all smushed-face.

Sunday, August 28, 2011


While everyone on the East Coast is dealing with Hurricane Irene and the aftermath, we are having a heat wave.

It's been hot here - by 10 in the morning it's already in the 90s by our carport thermometer. By afternoon, it's above 100. And that's in the shade.

Jack has been spending his days in [The Man I Love]'s  cool air-conditioned office. We've chosen the height of the day to run errands.....down on the beach.

The amazing thing about L.A. is the climate variation. While it's 103 up here in Topanga, a mere six miles to the south on the beach, it's 73 degrees and breezy. Very strange.

Here's hoping that everyone wherever you are, is safe, comfortable, and dry.

Visiting alien creature

This odd-looking fella decided to hang out in our bathroom yesterday. He's Microcentrum retinerve, commonly called a katydid. The common name refers to the sound they make, using file-like organs on their hind legs to scrape against their wings. This sound-making method is called "stridulation."

They also do a great job of impersonating a leaf - which is useful, unless you hang out in someone's bathroom.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Pink Saturday - New neighbor

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

 Look who moved in next door!

It's Henri!

He's a micro-nano teacup pig!

Oh, you mean it's not PIG Saturday?

Friday, August 26, 2011

El Texate

It's a quiet little joint on Pico Boulevard, just four blocks from the beach. It's called El Texate, It's a little family place that has been right here, between the video store and the gas station, for a couple of decades.

We were in the outdoor dining area having lunch, and as we sat there, day-care groups of toddlers on their way to the beach trooped by, corralled by teachers, wearing special shirts or vests, or clutching long ropes to keep together. And as they passed the restaurant, with it's pretty entrance fountain, they clustered and exclaimed.



"Let me see!"

The waitress said, "Every day there are four or five groups, and they always stop! They're so cute."

They WERE cute. We were impressed at such appreciative and enthusiastic children. Amused that such a simple thing as a fountain would transfix them.

El Texate serves a menu of Oaxacan traditional foods, including a variety of sauces called moles - which are complex mixtures of ingredients including dried chiles, spices, nuts and seeds, greens, garlic, onions and sometimes chocolate. The ingredients are toasted and ground together and cooked down to a thick paste, which can be thinned with meat broth for serving. The Mexican state of Oaxaca is famous for its variations of moles in a rainbow of colors - Negro, Verde, Colorado, Coloradito, Amarillo, and manchamantela - or "tablecloth stainer".

Our lunch was great - I had chicken enchiladas in mole amarillo, with rice and beans. The salsa was mild and with a hint of spicy flavor. One of the things I love about El Texate is their black beans - it is obvious that they are cooked from dried beans, and they are perfect, sprinkled with a bit of cotija cheese.

[The Man I Love] had chicken in green pipian mole - sauce made from ground pumpkin seeds. It was served with squares of nopale, or prickly-pear cactus paddles. It was really delicious - the nutty taste and creamy, granular texture of the pipian spiked with the fresh grassy bite of the nopales.

El Texate also has a vast selection of tequilas, and a great happy hour featuring live music from Mariachi Alta California. If you're in Santa Monica, check them out.

When we finished our lunch, we walked out past the fountain and looked inside.

Ah! Turtles! That's what entranced the children!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Thematic Photographic - Vibrant

Carmi at Written, Inc., posts a photographic challenge each week called Thematic Photographic - this week's theme is "VIBRANT."  What's vibrant? It can be color, a person, a scene, a moment that moves your soul.
As always, click any pictures to "embiggen"
I was thinking of vibrant, saturated color and went to find these photos I took earlier this summer - this is a backstage sneak peak during a rehearsal of a show.

Since I last worked hands-on with theatrical lighting, technology has outpaced my knowledge. Now LED stage lighting fixtures are common on stage. They can give an intense color boost to a show and at the same time lower power consumption.

LED backdrops or cycloramas can be programmed to display any image a designer can conceive - like this Rorshach- like blot behind the musicians. The animation on the backdrop along with the motorized lights' sweeping beams make  a show somehow organically alive, swirling and pulsing with color and motion.

But as I continued to look at these photos of vibrant, glowing colors in the dark, I began to look more closely at the spaces - both dark and lit - beyond the stage.

Here, viewed from stage left, as the performers glow beneath the lights, technicians work in the wings - at the monitor mix desk, or packing boxes, or re-arranging equipment, unconcerned by the fantasy world just beyond.

Another kind of vibrancy is the sound - the almost animal loudness of the music, echoing in the dark hall, vibrating at such a low frequency it commands your pulse.

It's a not a show, it's a rehearsal, so even though the stage is bathed in beams of intense, vibrant color, the empty floor yawns implaccably before them, and the stage seemed diminished in the darkness.

And as you pull further back from the bright, hot core of light, the darkness deepens.

The indifferent darkness, where an exit light glints, a hallway fluorescent emits a feeble glow. It's just a show. All this will be gone in a matter of days, but the empty hall will remain.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Weekly Jack - keeping it cool

It's hard to be an Arctic dog in Southern California. Jack tries to keep it cool. He enjoys breezy mornings on our deck, and then when the sun wheels round, he comes inside and lies on the cool slate floor of our foyer. As soon as the sun sets, thought, he's back out on the deck, taking the evening air.


Okay, so now you guys on the East Coast know what it feels like. Quit with the California jokes.

Now go post a nice comment on this guy's page for the great picture.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Smile for the camera!

Health is serious business for everyone, and so after my experience with complicated diverticulitis and colon surgery this spring, I took my referral for a colonoscopy seriously.

The procedure was today. I spent yesterday preparing for the procedure, which, if you've had one, you already know isn't pleasant.

I last had a colonoscopy - my first - about six years ago. It was routine. I remember Our Son was the one who drove me there, waited in the waiting room and took me home. I remember being SO HUNGRY during the fasting part of it, and dreaming of where I'd ask him to drive me immediately after leaving the hospital, so I could eat. But actually, that time I was really really out of it. I don't remember a lot about the procedure or the aftermath. And when it was all over all I wanted to do was go home, not go eat.

This time, I barely knew that I was put under, although I must have been because they were halfway through the procedure before I realized it was taking place. It was at that point I put my glasses on and watched the monitor - something I hadn't done the first time. My doctor kindly showed me the site of my surgery, telling me it looked perfectly fine. Then I watched the little camera navigate the pink, corrugated tubes of my innards. You can see examples of what it looks like HERE.

Then it was over.

This time around, I was surprised. I felt pretty good. I felt awake. I felt HUNGRY. I asked [The Man I Love] to take me to El Cholo in Santa Monica, just a few blocks away from the hosptial.

Mmmm. Chile rellenos!

I have a clean bill of health. Everything's good. It didn't hurt, and it was only mildly inconveniencing. If you're due for one, and putting it off because you're nervous or worried - don't. Do what you need to do. Take care of yourselves, everyone.

Taste of A-Frame

A-Frame's house-made pickles with creamy dipping sauce
Yesterday and this morning I'm fasting in preparation for a medical procedure later today. It's routine - no problems. But yes, it is a follow-up to my saga earlier this spring, so you can imagine what my day is like. And why is it that I'm spending my day reading about and thinking about FOOD?

I've been eager to go to A-Frame, chef Roy Choi's restaurant in Culver City after reading my friend Barbara's review of it on her blog, Table Conversation. Choi is known for the Kogi Trucks - serving Korean-Mexican tacos on wheels since 2008.

A-Frame is built in a former I-Hop (International House of Pancakes), with it's quintessentially 60's modern peaked roof, but transformed by wood paneling and sunny colors into a kind of hipster chalet. The menu calls A-Frame a "modern picnic," and cites as inspiration the chef's memories of sitting on concrete benches at newspaper-covered tables, cracking crabs with mallets and eating with your hands, sharing food with strangers.

We sat in the pretty outdoor dining area, beneath lampshades that spun and twirled in the wind like frilly white petticoats. The tables are set informally with bright yellow baskets of utensils you can grab if you want them, and the food is served on colorful tin enameled platters and bowls.

It is backyard picnic food, it's true - chicken wings, baby back ribs, barbecued chicken - but this picnic is Asian inspired - the flavors and techniques are Korean, Japanese, Hawaiian.

As we considered the menu, I had a cocktail man with rum, pineapple, lime - and hot chiles. We also ordered a bowl of furikake kettle corn. Every review of A-Frame raves about this Hawaiian-style snack - popcorn and corn pop cereal sprinkled with a Japanese condiment that's a mix of sesame seeds, salt, sugar, dried bonito flakes, and chopped dried nori (seaweed).

The waitress dumped half the bowl onto a sheet of butcher paper on the table, and we tried it. Salty-sweet-tingly hot, with an umami-like mix of flavors, the stuff is highly addictive!

Next, we ordered a platter of pickles served with a creamy dipping sauce. I had not seen these mentioned in reviews, but [The Man I Love] likes pickles, so I thought it would be worth a try. What arrived was a selection of pickled cukes, radishes, fennel slices, tiny organic carrots, and big chunks of Asian pears. They were sweetish, tangy, and dipped into the sauce, they were delicious! The serving was generous enough that we took some home.

If all you're up for is a cocktail and some munchies, these two dishes are perfect, providing salt, sweet, and tang to go with a drink. But if you're still hungry, move on to the rest of the menu. There's a heading for "to pass around" and another heading for dishes "to get your hands dirty." It was hard to decide.

Sesame leaf wrapped shrimp tempura are three plump crispy fried bundles on skewers - like little spring rolls, except the sesame leaf replaces rice paper.  There's a creamy dipping sauce that seemed peanutty to me. Though they're called "shrimp tempura", the filling in the little rolls seemed to me more like a shrimp paste than whole shrimp. They were tasty, though, and perfectly fried. They're served with fresh cucumbers sprinkled with seasoning and perhaps a touch of vinegar, and fresh chopped herbs.

Next up spit-roasted lamb served with salsa verde, and a side of kitchen fries. The fries are wedges of purple Okinawan potatoes, Korean yams, and sweet potatoes, with a kim chee and sour cream sauce.

I have to say that the lamb was probably the least successful dish we had. I thought the meat was a little fatty, and the flavors undistinguished. But other than this one miss, everything at A-Frame is tasty - a bit salty, sweet, vinegary and spicy. Next time we'll try the Cracklin' Beer Can Chicken, or the Knuckle Sandwich!

Oh, man, now I'm really hungry.

We arrived at A-Frame right when it opened, at about 5:15, and had no trouble getting a table. But when we left about 40 minutes later, the place had filled up.The menu encourages you to share the dishes among your party, but since most of the seating is at communal tables or the bar, you'll more than likely end up talking with your neighbors. Maybe you'll get to taste other dishes, too!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

We're flipping our lids!

There's been no conclusive evidence that our car fire was caused by rats in our engine, but we're pretty sure they had something to do with it. Whether the little buggers chewed on the high voltage cables of our hybrid car, or whether their nesting materials caught fire inside the engine compartment, the results were the same.

In ongoing attempts to foil the rodents that destroy cars out here in Topanga, we've started doing as recommended on one website - we're leaving our car hoods open when we're parked. According to one expert, this takes away the sense of protection and enclosure rats seek when they build nests in car engines.

Who knows if this is really true? We're going to have to figure out what to do during the rainy season for the car that parks outside. But at least for now, it makes a habit out of checking the engine for nests every time we drive!

Tastes of summer

What's better than tomatoes, eggplant, garlic and basil? 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Baby, you can drive my car

Our burned-up car was finally towed away - it took three visits by Malibu Towing to figure out how to do it. The fire damaged the transmission so badly it was stuck in Park, pointing face-in to the carport. And our  narrow Topanga driveway was too steep for one of the trucks to navigate down. The car disappeared on Friday, and both [The Man I Love] and I were not around to see it, but our neighbor said it took them hours to do whatever they did.

No determination was made as to the cause of the fire, but I suspect rodent damage. With hybrids, its more dangerous because there are high voltage components inside.


Everyone now go open your car hood and check to see whether there are droppings or nesting materials inside.

We finally heard on Tuesday that the insurance company deemed it a total loss. No duh. Then we waited for them to tell us what they would pay us for it. We were worried that the payment would only barely - or not at all - pay off our loan.

We began to worry. What kind of car could we get? We hoped we'd get at least enough for a down payment. But what if we didn't even get that? Would we have to get some old beater?

1981 Chevette
As it turned out, the market value for a Ford Fusion hybrid is quite high! They are in demand, and they are also scarce, because production was interrupted by the earthquake in Japan (some important part is made in Japan.) Plus - having never made a claim before on a car, I didn't realize that the insurance company also includes sales tax in the payment. So we actually came out better than even our best hope.

Well, then the thoughts of a new car changed dramatically! We contacted Autoland through our Credit Union.

A brand new Ford Fusion hybrid would be great. Or maybe a Toyota Camry hybrid. Our Autoland guy even proposed a Lexus hybrid. Wow! What about a BMW?

The rental car we got from the insurance company is a Toyota Prius, and we knew we didn't want one of those, because it was so low it had the same problem going down our driveway that the tow truck had. I've been driving the Prius to work, and [The Man I Love] has been driving my pretty little Honda Fit.

And as he thought about it, he realized he was really enjoying the Fit. Zippy little thing, easy to get in and out of. Not only that, it will hold a string bass - which, in our family, is a requirement. Hybrids are nice, but for the same reason we were awarded such a large payment, they are expensive. So why not get something a little less pricey and use the rest of the money to pay off some bills?

So yesterday afternoon, we met at the Credit Union to sign papers and pick up a cute little 2011 Honda Fit.

A bright orange one!

Ain't it purty?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Burning Man - and Woman

We returned to Jitlada Restaurant, in Hollywood's Thai Town. It's our second visit, and the long menu is full of things we wanted to try.

I don't think we are as ambitious as LA food blogger Jo at My Last Bite, who is methodically going through the menu trying every single dish, but we certainly want to become acquainted with more tastes of amazing Southern Thai cuisine at Jitlada.

This time around, we had four dishes.

First, Khao Yam Songkhla, or rice salad in the style of Songkhla province. This had rice mixed with vegetables and julienne strips of mango, in a sweet-hot sauce.

Then Plaa Thawt Mamuang, deep fried fish fillets "smothered" in spicy sweet chili mango sauce. Delicious!

Mel Mint Leaf Prawns stir fried tiger prawns with chili and garlic sauce topped with crispy basil leaves.

We also had something we'd really enjoyed at our last visit, Crispy Morning Glory Salad - fried chinese water cress with  fresh shrimp and a spicy house dressing.

Washed down with a large bottle of Chang beer to share. And lots and lots of water!

Okay. Next time, we go for the green-lipped mussels and the fish kidneys!!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


I can't help but feel overwhelmed when I see this snippet of video from this weekend's collapse of an outdoor stage in Indianapolis. Five people were killed in the collapse.

Among the dead was a 51 year old stagehand named Nathan Byrd, a member of Local #30 IATSE. He was a truss spot operator. The operators had been sent up on the truss in anticipation of the headline act, the band Sugarland, though the weather was threatening and management was consulting the weather service.

According to sources, there were four operators up in the truss. When it came down, two were uninjured, one was hurt, and Nathan was so severely injured he died in the hospital the following morning.  He leaves behind a 15 year old son and a 13 year old daughter.

Take it from me, working at heights is an acquired skill. If you do it regularly, like I did for 20 some years, you take particular care. Falling and injury is never far from your mind. There's a funny dichotomy you play with - on the one hand, you want to be careful, cautious and protect yourself from accidents. On the other hand, you don't want your imagination to run too wild and let thoughts of the potential danger paralyze you. In the end, you trust your instincts, your equipment, and your union brothers and sisters.

One of the scariest places I've ever worked was in a performing arts center in Florida where the front-of-house lighting bridge has a floor of clear plexiglass - it looked as if you were walking on air when you were working up there. It was perfectly safe, yet so un-nerving I still have nightmares about it sometimes.

I can only imagine what was going through the minds of the four truss spot operators as the rig came down.

On my last visit to Indianapolis, my theatre company played the Murat Shrine, a great Byzanto-Moorish confection built in 1911. While loading in the show, one of the electricians on my crew asked me if I wanted to go up and see the tower, or the minaret crowning the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and New Jersey Street. During a coffee break, he guided me up a narrow stairway, and then we came out onto the parapet, into the brisk night wind. We were on a narrow spire, high above the rooftops, high above the street. It was wonderful, exhilarating, terrifying all at the same time.

I didn't know Nate Byrd. I don't remember the names of local crew members anymore. But Nate was a rigger and an electrician, and I know at some point in the twenty years he worked with Local #30, he must have stepped out onto that narrow parapet high over the city, and felt that thrill that working at heights gives you.

Who knows? He may have been the guy who shared that experience with me, so many years ago.

Saturday's accident was at least the fourth stage accident this summer. A windstorm toppled a stage for the band Cheap Trick at a festival in Ottowa. Earlier this month, wind blew over a lighting rig at a music festival in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and lightning toppled a stage near Quebec City. Be careful out there, brothers and sisters.

A fund has been set up for Nate Byrd's family. Send your contributions to:

IATSE Local 30
Attention: Nate
1407 East Riverside Drive
Indianapolis, IN 46202-2037

Monday, August 15, 2011

Deep into code

Sorry for the light posting. Working on a website at work has wrung the creative juices right out of me! Enjoy a contemplative rest on a bench at Yamashiro.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Heroes and Villains

Click all photos to "embiggen"
When your GPS guides you to the corner of Palmetto Street and Santa Fe Avenue, you think maybe something's gone wrong with the software. Here looking over the railroad tracks, low roofed warehouses, and the beautiful 4th Street Viaduct spanning the wide, flat Los Angeles River, it doesn't seem to be the right place for a watering hole reputed as an edgy, gothico-steampunk saloon serving great cocktails.

But then you see the sign, and the entrance from the parking lot, guarded by black-shirted bouncers, and on the roof, a pair of golden Foo-dogs above a black-and-gold striped tent.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Step right up

Won't somebody think of the children?
At the Santa Monica Wednesday Farmer's Market.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


This is what's left when a car's engine burns up. We're waiting for the tow truck, which will take it to where the claims adjuster can examine it. What we learned so far:

  • In any emergency, the first thing to do is call 911. Do it before you do anything else.
  • Hybrid cars have a lot of high-voltage components, which the industry marks in orange, and fire-fighters have special training to deal with them.
  • Because of this hybrid car fires can be especially hazardous until the battery is disconnected.
  • Water is still the best thing to use, or a fire extinguisher. Car batteries are DC current, not AC, and so there is no danger of the current traveling up the water stream.
  • We did the right thing to pop the hood release, even though we did not unlatch and lift the hood - this provided a vent for the heat, and made it easier for the firefighters.
  • There's a reason every building in LA is covered in stucco. The stucco ceiling of our carport saved our house.
  • A couple of minutes sure seems to take a real long time while you're watching something burn.
Towing it is a little more complicated than we thought - because it is front wheel drive, and the front is where the fire was, the tow-truck driver couldn't get the car out of Park. Now we have to wait for a mechanic to come and take the gear box apart. UPDATE: The mechanic was unsuccessful, since a lot of parts have melted. He did suggest just dragging the car onto the flat-bed, because, as we realized, it's not like we care about it being damaged.

But now our notorious Topanga driveway has complicated the issue. Mechanic number one called mechanic number two for assistance, but mechanic number two's truck is too low to get over the hump at the top of our steep driveway. We need mechanic number one's truck, which can make it down without bottoming out. Sigh.

We don't know for certain, but it's highly likely that the cause was an electrical fire. There's a lot of high voltage under a hybrid's hood.  I hope they'll find out more information when the examine it.

And just to repeat - In any emergency, the first thing to do is call 911.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Thank you, Engine 69

Click all pictures to "embiggen"
We almost lost our house tonight.

[The Man I Love] came home, drove into the carport as usual, got out of the car and came in the house. By the time he had walked across the kitchen, he smelled smoke.

We ran down the back stairs to find smoke pouring out from under his car's hood. I ran back upstairs and called 911, then got the little fire extinguisher from beneath the sink, and gave it to him while I talked to the dispatcher.

Soon, the engine compartment was in flames. Despite the fact that the dispatcher warned us not to try to use the extinguisher or the garden hose, he sprayed down the area, and the hood. The carport is underneath our living room. If it had gone up, the house would have gone up.

Cooling it down - it will stay hot for a while
All is well. Jack is safe. We are safe. The house is safe. More later. But - hey - the guys at LA County Fire Station 69 in Topanga Canyon are AWESOME!