Monday, April 30, 2012

Returning home

I'm back in Los Angeles. Seattle was beautiful, inspiring, and heartbreaking all at the same time.

Every time I go to Seattle, I am struck by the landscape - how different from Los Angeles. The ever-present deep green and jagged silhouette of Douglas firs on every horizon. The bright new green of spring-bursting vine maples and alders. The explosion of flowering cherries, dogwoods and apple trees.

I drove out of Sea-Tac in a black rental Chevy and took the 405 around the bottom of the lake toward the eastside. My destination was Kirkland, but I had a planned stopover in Bellevue. Heather and I met at the Bellevue Botanical Garden, where we took in the spring flowers, and then had lunch in a downtown restaurant.

Saturday, April 28, 2012


Does anyone know how to upload photos directly from a camera to an I-pad? I have some nice photos for you all but You're going to have to wait til Monday for them if I can't figure this out.

Friday, April 27, 2012


I'm off to Seattle this morning. Here's some pictures of the canyon, wreathed in morning fog after a rain.

What always startles me about this landscape is how the mists, while obscuring things, also bring out the contours of hills that I didn't know were there.

This white house is sited on a meadow across the canyon from us.

Have a good Friday and I'll talk to you again.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A pull over moment

Click all photos to "embiggen"
 This morning while driving on Pacific Coast Highway, I had a "pull over the car" moment. Just past Castle Rock, the sea was thick with a flock of pelicans, gulls and some kind of seabird.

I pulled over onto the shoulder and walked down to the sand to watch them. It must have been a truly arresting sight, because at least four other people did the same.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Abundance in spite of neglect

This spring, mild temperatures, good, gentle rain, and plenty of sunshine have all made my garden thrive, despite the casual neglect I give it. I must also thank Marcielo, our gardener, or what in my old Seattle neighborhood we'd call a "yard man."

Marcielo is probably a better gardener than I am, but since I work during the week, I am hardly ever present when he and his crew come to work. We don't get much time to talk. He is good about anticipating what needs to be done so that he can ask me about it in advance. In a perfect world, we'd have lots of garden talk, and we'd work together, but I've gotten lazy and leave it all to him.

Mr. Pinknose

Click to "embiggen"
 Here's Jack. Say good morning.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

In the Stockade

Sometimes I think we live a little bit out of sync with everyone else. On weekends, particularly, we tend to start our days late. We get up late, and if we get out of the house, it's also late. This means we're usually hungry around 3 pm - which is just the wrong time. It's when lunch is over but dinner hasn't begun.

Some places are busy enough and eclectic enough that this doesn't matter, but other times we've missed out on lunch, or else we arrive at an empty restaurant.

This was the case one Saturday after a trip to the Norton Simon Museum, The museum is in Pasadena, which is some 40 miles east of our home, Topanga. On our way home, we checked out the Yelp app on my phone, and came up with an option for lunch in Glendale.

Friday, April 20, 2012

In my garden this morning

Planted on the fence and clambering through the creekside oak trees, the old climbing Tea-Rose "Sombreuil" opens its flat-faced, quartered flowers.

The deep rich crimson blossoms of the low shrub "Eugene de Beauharnais" last only a day before they darken and bruise almost purple, but their scent is heavenly.

the back flower beds are becoming increasingly more shaded as the oak trees grow taller, and flowers planted there have dwindled for lack of light.

But in the lower garden, the roses are covered with promising buds, and the big showy bearded iris is blooming.

The delicate single blossoms of rose "Darlow's Enigma" festoon the lower yard. Cut back over the winter, this vigorous shrub will overrun the lower pavilion, which is already canting at an angle from the twining vines - they'll soon pull it down if we don't save it.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

What gives?

Click to "embiggen"
Living here, in a canyon that's a conduit between the ocean and the desert, we experience changes in a moment when the temperature shifts.

There are some evenings when, at sundown, the warm winds blow down to the beach, and the dry leaves suddenly rustle across the pavement.

Some mornings the fog comes rushing up through the canyon, runs into the Mesa where the creek splits, and piles up to hide the sunlit mountain.

This was taken at six in the morning, out my kitchen door, as a hawk flies out of view.

The western mountainside, just moments ago brightly lit by the rising sun, suddenly disappears behind the moving cloud of fog.

Now you see it, now you don't. What once was clear is now obscured.

That's been the way of things lately, it seems.

In the office, daily work is affected by unknown conflicts that are raging far beyond our blanket of fog. Sudden scrutiny is brought to bear on ordinary tasks - the submission of invoices for payment, perhaps. The too-carefully-worded email reminder that covers someone's rear ("just to recap our conversation this morning...."). The admonishment to cc someone, or, worse, to "talk to me before you call so-and-so!"  Trivial details suddenly take on an unusual importance, while the office's real mission goes ignored.

A co-worker under pressure is allowing stress to affect her health. Such illness and frequent absences delay other colleagues' work, adding more stress.

Plans to close an operation were announced last year, and the employees learned they would be let go. Now the closure has been rescheduled six months later. The employees are not sure what to think.

A sharp-tongued rebuke is given to a staff member in front of colleagues from another department. Everyone looks away in embarrassment.

I'm not used to office politics. I'm used to definite tasks - loading trucks, painting walls, moving furniture, or building something. Planning an event, and paying the bills. Finish the draft, mop the floor, serve the meal, and make sure the curtain goes up on time at eight.

I'm not used to spending the workday covering butts (mine or someone else's), trying not to offend, eavesdropping, second-guessing, looking over your shoulder or turf-grabbing. That kind of stuff fills me with a sense of dread and paralysis.

What's going on? It's all hidden in the fog.

What's it like in your world - are there moments of intrigue and uncertainty? How do you navigate the shifting currents?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


I'm home from class, having finished my exam. I think I did all right. Much of the material was about grammar and conjugating verbs. There are still some things I just can't memorize, but I really did study hard, so I think I will get a good grade.

I'm really tired now, but I think I'm happy with my work.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Back to work

One last chance to relax in the sun
Spring break is over, and I'm back in class. I have a big test on Wednesday, and I'm spending most of my free time studying.

This weekend I went on the Theodore Payne Foundation's Native Plant Garden Tour - this is the third year in a row I've gone. When I get time, I'll post about what I saw.

I'm also planning a quick trip to Seattle to visit a friend. I'll let you know as plans work out.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Spring beans

Fava beans are among the most ancient cultivated crops in the world. In ancient Greece, the dried beans were used to tally votes.

Also called broad beans, in many parts of the Mediterranean, vicia faba is sown in the fall and harvested in the spring. The fresh young beans are much loved in Italy, where they are eaten fresh, with a sprinkling of parmesan or a touch of fresh mint.

We don't see fresh fava beans much in the US, except at farmers' markets. In Santa Monica, they are here for a short time in spring. The pods are long, lumpy and curved, and the beans inside are cushioned by a kind of cottony inner fuzz.

Once you've shelled your favas, the beans inside have a tough skin that also needs to be peeled.  The easiest way to do this is to boil them for about three minutes; then the skin can be slipped off with your fingers. You can eat them lightly blanched like this, or cook them longer if you like.

Even so, it's a little tedious, since you have to handle each bean. But I think the fresh, green, earthy taste of fava beans is worth it.

Here we made crostini with some good country bread brushed with oil, and roasted for ten minutes in a hot oven. We spread the toasts with some fresh whole-milk ricotta, and then with a mash of blanched fava beans with salt and pepper and a little chopped fresh mint leaves.

It's spring!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Market bouquet

I should have posted this photo for Pink Saturday! Pretty roses from the Santa Monica Farmer's Market!

But what with my laptop drama, I forgot. The laptop is now in the hands of a repair technician. If it can't be repaired, he'll extract my data from the hard drive, and we'll go from there. Meanwhile, I'm borrowing [The Man I Love]'s laptop.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Dog the destroyer

last night as I walked to my desk carrying a glass of liquid (oh, all right, you scolds, wine!), Jack the dog hurtled himself down the stairs from the back hallway, collided with me, and a good half-cup of wine splashed all over my laptop.

I mopped it up, turned off the power and propped it up to dry overnight. This morning, when I tried to turn it on, the blue lights flashed, the screen lit up hopefully, and then it went dark and the speakers emitted a high pulsing, keening sound.

It is no more.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Collecting the lettuce

The lettuce, kale, cabbage, the green, cash.

I've been working with a delinquent client all week. I was chasing him for his second payment when the bank called that his deposit bounced.

The Seven Stages of the Cancellation Threat:

1) Evasion - don't answer the phone, don't respond to voice mails and emails.

2) Make something up - "my computer was down."

3) Counteraccusation - "you didn't send me the contract so I didn't know how much was due." (yes I did.)

4) Negotiation - "Can I bring you half of it today?"

5) Stall - "I have the money but I can't make it there by 5:00 - you have to give me more time."

6) Acquiescence - show up with the cashier's check

7) Put it all behind you - after receiving the receipt, sit and chat as if this were a casual visit and we are all the best of friends. Take an extra 15 or 20 minutes to make sure we have a nice conversation and then leave the office as if none of the earlier unpleasantness ever happened.

Made it, Ma! Top of the world!

Click all photos to "embiggen"
 In the 1949 noir film "White Heat" James Cagney, as a thoroughly despicable criminal with a soft heart for his mother, ends his life in a blazing explosion atop a tank full of gasoline. As he goes out, he shouts, "Made it, Ma! Top of the world!" The scene was filmed in the South Bay, at a Shell refinery in Torrance, California, looking out over the Pacific Ocean.

North to Malibu
Well, we have no blazing tommy guns, but here I am yesterday atop the roof of a tall structure in Santa Monica, looking out over the bay. I can't tell you how I got up here, but here's a hint:

Don't be scared - I wasn't. It was perfectly safe. Check out those cirrus clouds!

Top of the World, Ma!

South to Palos Verde Peninsula

East toward downtown LA.
If you enlarge it, you might be able to see the Hollywood sign!

What an incredible day it was. We were between rain storms, with sun and a light breeze. The sky was amazing!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Where I'm at

Stormy skies and busy traffic on PCH
 It's been a busy couple of weeks. Not long ago, a very competent and valuable colleague of mine accepted a job at another company. Although I valued her before, now I really have come to understand how much work she did - because I'm doing all of it now! Along with my own work. At least until the powers that be decide what to do next.

That and going to class at night and various other tasks and obligations are keeping me from this blog lately. It's not so much the time it takes as the thought and energy. It's hard to sit down and think about writing when what you really need is rest and a chance to veg out.

But I'm hanging in there. Thanks for sticking around.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Thematic Photographic - Single people

Carmi, at Written, Inc., posts a weekly photo challenge called Thematic Photographic. This week, the theme is SINGLE PEOPLE. Take a picture that supports this week's theme, then share it on your blog or website.

Click to "embiggen"
 Here's my first one on this theme. A brightly lit event venue, a dark night, a single guest walking toward the glamour.This classic Mid-century Modern building is a Santa Monica landmark.

When I took this photo, I stood in front of the building for almost a half hour, and ran through all the white-balance variants my camera could do. The moody tone is probably because the exposure is totally inappropriate. Still - it's nice, isn't it?

Only in this shot did I catch a single person walking toward the building, in a chill and lonely, moody light.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Everything's popped!

It's been warm this weekend, and the heat has made the flowers open up!

Here in the front yard, the Pacific Coast Hybrid Iris have all popped out into bloom.

The classic blue.

A yellow-veined white

Golden, with violet veins.

And a red-violet parti-color.

Beautiful, drought-tolerant and easy. What pretty flowers for our California gardens. Spring is here.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Cat of Topanga

This oversized fiberglass cat presides over Old Topanga Canyon Road, on a beautiful Easter morning.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The war on caterpillars

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus was recently asked about news stories that his party is losing support from American women.

Though polls clearly indicate this is the case, Mr. Priebus disputed that. Here's what he said:
If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars and every mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we’d have problems with caterpillars...It’s a fiction.
In fact, American women have become increasingly dismayed and disturbed by legislation introduced by Republicans that restrict access to abortion and even contraception, and make access to reproductive health care in general more difficult and demeaning.

Not to mention the many cases where Republican policy-makers have, through means both subtle and overt, shown their disdain for womens' role in shaping American health policy, and impact our very ability to make our own decisions.

But Mr. Priebus thinks it's all a myth, with an analogy that compares American women to caterpillars.

You know something, Mr. Priebus?

Caterpillars don't vote.

We do.

Good luck with your efforts to win women voters. The way you're going, I'm sure that'll work out well.

Want a suggestion?  Quit comparing us to insects.

Spring Break

I woke up yesterday morning to see stories that an incident occurred at a Board of Trustees' meeting at Santa Monica College on Tuesday night. The Board was meeting to decide on a controversial plan to raise tuition for certain popular classes given during the summer. Students who wanted to speak out against the plan were turned away, and a confrontation ensued. 30 people were pepper-sprayed by Campus Police.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Old World dining

Lenhardt's Restaurant, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1979
 Do you remember your first time in a fine restaurant? Do you remember white linen tablecloths, waiters in tuxedos, gleaming glasswear and silver? Cloth napkins, dishes placed before you with a flourish? How old were you, and what do you remember of the meal?

I began dining with my family in restaurants when I was around eight or nine, I think - the place in St. Charles decked out like an old country inn that served a dozen variety of pancakes on Sunday mornings; the Chinese restaurant in Chicago my dad loved. But my first memory of a really fine restaurant experience wasn't until my family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio.

Although a small city in 1967 when we moved there, Cincinnati had a reputation as a city of culture with a European touch due to its German immigrant heritage. Its symphony and opera were renowned, and for over 40 years, Cincinnati was home to one of the most highly rated French restaurants in the United States - The Maisonette.

My parents couldn't afford to take all six of us to Maisonette, but beginning when I was 12 years old, they took us to Lenhardt's, a venerable Austro-Hungarian restaurant down by the university, housed in a Romanesque brick mansion. It was a long drive into the city from our suburban home, which made it seem even more special.

We ate weiner schnitzel, spaetzle, goulash, and chicken paprikash. I have a vivid memory of waiters delivering baskets of pizelles, wrapped in white napkins, delivered to our table. And above all, the sense of European pomp and refinement - the right fork for each dish, stemware glasses, tablecloths and napkins.

In the 1930s and '40s Hollywood, the film industry welcomed refugees from Eastern Europe, like Billy Wilder and Ernst Lubitsch. A host of "continental"-style dineries sprang up, run by entrepreneurs like Mike Romanoff - a self-promoter claiming to be deposed Russian royalty.  Cocktails, Chateaubriand, shrimps a la Russe, tournedos Rossini, wiener schnitzel and chicken Kiev were offered with flambeed and cream-topped desserts to finish.

Not much of that remains - Hollywood is more into hip, modern design and snout-to-tail boutique pork than derivative bourgeois frippery. But there's still a taste for European food in Los Angeles - and we enjoyed some recently.

Maximilian's restaurant is located in North Hollywood, in a rather drear stretch of Tujunga Avenue. North Hollywood, long the home of auto-body shops and tire stores, is now a burgeoning arts district, with theatres, galleries, acting studios and coffee shops.  Maximilian's is a veritable compound, with outdoor patios and dining gardens, and a parking lot safely enclosed with spiked steel fences.Chef Lazlo Bossanyi has been cooking here since 2009.

We began with a cocktail - a kir, made with champagne and a touch of pomegranate sirop for me, a glass of Austrian Gruner Veltliner white wine for [The Man I Love.] It came with a basket of crusty bread and a complimentary slice of terrine. It was good, slightly gamy with garlic, studded with sausage and garnished  sliced peppers. The sauce tasted like a roasted pepper relish but could just as easily have been Heinz chili sauce.

The appetizers sounded wonderful - from potato latkes garnished with caviar to baked brie - but we knew that the food was likely to be filling, so we split an appetizer of stuffed cabbage.

Stuffed cabbage - we started eating before I could take the photo
Remind me how much I love stuffed things - stuffed peppers and cabbage seem perfect foods to me, offering vegetable and meat all together. This was delicious, with a mild veal and rice stuffing. It was served with sauerkraut and creme fraiche.

[The Man I Love] was interested in trying the sausages, and at Maximilian's the menu offers three different kinds.

I took my time over the menu. I like wiener schnitzel, but the classic Hungarian chicken paprikash sounded good, and so did an offering of duck leg and breast served with red cabbage. I decided on veal paprikash - a good meaty stew served with homemade dumplings and a side of pickled cabbage salad.

[The Man I Love]'s mother is of Hungarian ancestry, and he remembers her making this simple dish of sliced cukes with onions, sprinkled with paprika and dressed with vinegar that has a touch of sugar. It was good and refreshing to take a fresh puckery bite after the richness of the veal.

Frm L to R - Debreceni, duck and veal sausage
The sausages were pretty amazing. One was a veal sausage, a typical bratwurst. There was a Hungarian-style sausage called Debreceni, deep brick-red and redolent of garlic and paprika. And there was a duck-meat sausage, with a dark, rich gamy flavor. They were served with a dish of mustard and Hungarian-style sauerkraut - sort of half-sour cabbage, less pickly than the kraut you're used to on hot dogs.

You can get sides of potatoes, vegetables, or mushrooms, but what we had was so filling we knew we'd bring some home.

Near the end of the meal, Chef Lazlo made rounds of the dining room and stopped by our table.  A bluff man with a shock of white hair, he reminisced about the past and the movie moguls he'd served in his heyday.

We went home with boxes of food, including an assortment of dessert strudels - the cherry and poppyseed strudel was so good I didn't wait to photograph it.

Will we go again? Certainly - I've got to try the weiner schnitzel!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Spring swing

This sign painted on a building in the 900 block of South Broadway in downtown LA made me stop and come back for a photograph.

A dreary place, the block is an example of the demolition and paving of downtown Los Angeles. Facing the crumbling but beautiful gothic United Artists Theatre, a vast parking lot lies behind steel fences, with only a few buildings standing.

They include a narrow, boarded up loft building, with a graceful gothic-inspired facade. On the blank side facing the parking lot, a girl on a swing kicks her heels from bright red letters.

What's it mean? Did some inspired graffiti artist alter the ubiquitous advertisement for PARKING in a plea for more green space and family amenities in downtown LA?

Or is it painted as originally intended? This photo from January, 2010 shows  no advertisement on the building's side.  Who knows?

Enjoy the mystery - and glimpse of the beautiful turquoise terra-cotta Eastern Columbia building beyond.

UPDATE: Sheila is absolutely right, the artist is Banksy!