Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Back to Olympic

Pinatas for sale
We took another trip to the Mercado Olympic, the totally unofficial weekend gathering of food stands in downtown Los Angeles.

Here are some sights and flavors.

Mango and chile.

A trompa for al pastor, roasting marinated pork.

Tacos al pastor

Tacos with chorizo

A steam table with ingredients for quesadilla, huaraches and sopas. There's chorizo and cecina on the grill, and in the foreground, stewed mushrooms and vegetables.

Squash blossoms for stuffing quesadillas.

Fried chicharrones - crispy pork fat.

Churros - snipping the fried dough into bite sized pieces, then rolling them in sugar and cinnamon.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Went to a garden party

You can't please everyone, so you got to please yourself . . .

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Soup of the evening, beautiful soup!

Visit Derfwad Manor for my guest post about the joys of phở.

Cowards, all!

Amanda deserves flowers
A woman just came into our office reception area from the park. "Do you hear that?" she asked. "Do you hear that high pitched whine out there?"

Amanda sits at the front cubicle in the main room, and she is charged with reception duties. "Um, do you mean the lawn mower?"

"Of course I mean the lawn mower! What do you think I mean? It's going on and on and on. No matter what time or what day of the week I come to this park, there's always some machine running around making noise and spewing out fumes. Can't they do it in the early morning, when nobody's here?"

She went on and on, alternately running her mouth and challenging poor Amanda to do something about it. Whenever Amanda opened her mouth to speak, hoping to explain that our unit does not have control over the landscaping contractors and their schedule, but that she would pass along the complaint and even give the woman the name of someone to contact - the woman charged onward, drowning her out.

She started telling stories about her grandfather, who loved landscaping, and invoked his holy name as someone who would be appalled at the fact that a person like Amanda could sit at her desk and not immediately reschedule the lawnmowers.

My office is a separate little room down the hall from the main area. I can't see the reception area. I was wondering whether Amanda was all alone in the room. I was biting my tongue, wanting to say "Hey lady, give her a break already! Do you think an Administrative Assistant is going to be able to intervene in another department's business?"

In my previous job, we often got some eccentric members of the public wandering in our reception area, and my office staff was pretty good and handling them. If I heard it start to spiral out of control, though, I'd go in and intervene, sometimes bringing one of the guys with me. What usually works is a kind of tag-team effort, offering a business card or a phone number, and promising to pass along their concerns right away.

"The Recreation Department, eh? Well, I'd like to be able to recreate maybe, but who can recreate with those mowers going all day. And those sprinklers! It's all wet out there, who can sit down? You're supposed to be able to sit down in the park!"

I thought about intervening, but realized at that point that another Administrative Assistant - me - jumping into the fray would probably not help things along.

So I waited until the woman ran out of steam, and I heard the front door close behind her before I stepped out the hallway to Amanda, who was laughing a little. "Wow, Amanda! I'm so sorry! I thought about rescuing you, but it seemed like it would have made it worse, so I stayed put!"

And then, my colleague next door, who manages the athletic fields, opened the door of her separate office. My boss's voice came from her office, just next to Amanda, but also invisible from the reception desk. Beyond her, the City's arborist poked his head out of his office, and at the very back of the main room, the financial administrator and manager of the Park Maintenance unit, came out of their offices, praising Amanda for her customer service skills. They are the ones who actually oversee the landscaping contract.

So we were cowards, every one of us!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Fire burn and cauldron bubble

I think I first had soon tofu in a modest little joint in a college town, years ago. It was a hot soupy stew with chunks of tofu in it. It was okay, I guess, but nothing special.

So when I began my exploration of the food and culture of Los Angeles' Koreatown, I didn't pay much attention to the restaurants that specialized in soon tofu.

But I didn't realize until recently that soon tofu, a dish that is popular throughout the Korean diaspora and even in South Korea itself, may have actually been invented in Koreatown.  Similar to the great Los Angeles French-dip sandwich debate, there are two established restaurants vying for the name of being the first to sell soon tofu.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Friday, April 18, 2014

Getting comfortable

A little too comfortable. I came into the living room to find Jack curled up comfortably on the couch, a pillow behind his head.

He felt so entitled to be there, he didn't move at my command, and I had to push him off physically. Chagrined, he sat blinking at me while I scolded him.

Then I led him to his dog bed, across the room, and he snuggled into it while I told him he was a good boy.

We have to put a footstool on the couch when we go out to prevent dog-napping on the couch, but he did this while I was home!!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Under the fog

Click to "embiggen"

This morning the coastal fog fills our canyon, but the sun breaks through - it's like the whole green valley glows with sunlight beneath the fog.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Sprung spring

Finally! Some spring flowers!

This has been a weird spring; a weird year. Drought, seemingly endless. Hot days in January. Cold days in April. Fog and off shore winds.

But finally, April 15, my Pacific Coast hybrid irises are blooming in the front yard. They are a good two weeks later than 2012!

And oddly, too, milkweed, which is a summer bloomer, is blooming in the backyard.  Oh well. The Monarch butterflies like it.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Cheese it!

Grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup at Coles, downtown L.A.

April 12 is National Grilled Cheese Day!

Who doesn't love a grilled cheese sandwich?  Whether it's artisanal cheddar melted on sourdough with locally sourced fresh organic tomatoes, or a slice of processed American melted under the broiler on white sandwich bread, a grilled cheese sandwich is both a comfort and nourishment.

What are you having for lunch?

Friday, April 11, 2014

The cat's away

All of the cats, actually. It's Friday, and my supervisor is on vacation; her supervisor is on vacation. Even our former manager, who got promoted to an at-large special-projects position, is on vacation.

A rush job came in yesterday afternoon, and although I am usually required to have every official document I produce proof read and approved before I dispatch it, there is no one in to do it. Since this job must be finished today, I'm on my own.

I had a co-worker proof read my work just for typos and misspellings, and now, secure and contented with my own authority, I've sent it off.

The phone hasn't rung. It's quiet. I am reading essays and watching the dappled sun move across my desk as the clock ticks.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Today's phone call

While I'm on the other line, I get a message on my office voice mail from a man whose name is unintelligible.  I call the number he leaves.

He's got a large collection of bags, he says, and he wants to know whether he needs a permit of some kind to lay them all out in a public space so he can take photographs of them.

I start asking questions, partly to figure out what he wants to do, and to determine whether I need to refer him to the Film Permit office, for a still photography permit.

But no, he's not a professional photographer doing a photo shoot. He's an artist and he wants a space large enough to lay out these bags - I'm still not sure what he is talking about - because he has so many of them. And maybe he wants this to be an art project.

I'm looking out my office window at the park with kids on their scooters and playing on the swings, and I say, "Well, you could do it in a park, but you'd want to be careful about foot traffic, I guess."

He says, "Yeah, that's why I don't want to do it on the Promenade or someplace like that. What I was thinking was the Civic Auditorium lawn."

"That would be a great place for it."

"Say whatever happened to that place, that was a great place, all kinds of great shows. Why'd the city shut it down, anyway?"

And I feel, unexpectedly, a spur of anger again, at the way things had gone. But I reel it in and I relate the story to him objectively - the plan created through years of community outreach and consultation, the partnership negotiated, the renovation planned, the lost funding, the shutdown.

"Such a shame, that was such a good place," he says. "How could they do that?"

It sounds almost like he's accusing me too, and I just blurt out, "Well, I lost my job!" I'm horrified at losing my composure. He murmurs something kind, and we return to discuss his project.

"The funny thing is," I tell him, "that space is kind of unregulated now. It's public property so anyone has access to it, but it's not a park so there's no rules for it."

I encourage him to do his art project  there, and ask him what he's going to do with it when it's done. He starts to tell me that back in the '80s he was a musician with his brother, who went on to be a success with some big name bands. But he worked with more arty groups on project that they hoped would be a big hit. He named a name I recognized.

"That must have been fun, working with him," I say.

"It didn't work out, it broke up over money," and I hear in his voice an echo of my own blurted out anger and disappointment. Like mine, a distant grievance brought back into sharp remembrance and pain.

I listen as he goes on to tell me how the world changed, the record business died, and 9/11 happened. He got into marketing, which resulted in the collection of what I now learn are gift bags distributed to guests at celebrity special events. He's written a song about them. He wants to photograph and make an art piece about them.

I listen and he talks, and then as I take a breath, I can feel another shift; it's like we both remember the context we're in again. I tell him I think his idea sounds interesting, and it should be fine for him to use that open lawn for photography. He thanks me for my time.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Heart of Peepness

It's the season of Peeps.

“The mind of man is capable of anything.”  - Joseph Conrad,  Heart of Darkness

The horror!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Round and round it goes

Hokkigai, or surf clam sushi
 Kula Revolving Sushi is located on Sawtelle Boulevard, in Los Angeles' Little Osaka neighborhood. It's the perfect place for sushi lovers who might be intimidated by the etiquette and ritual interaction between customer and itamae, or sushi chef, when sitting at the sushi bar.

Here, in a celebration of the Japanese culture's embrace of technology, customers choose small plates of sushi rolling past on a conveyer belt. Like an automated dim-sum cart, the final bill is tallied up by counting the number of empty plates at the end of the meal.

I pulled up a chair at the bar. Instead of a sushi chef and refrigerated cases, the  conveyer belt ran on an elevated shelf  before me. Small plates, each with its clear plastic protective dome, rolled past me, with pairs of nigirizushi or four pieces of cut roll. You simply choose what you like and take it from the belt. Helpful cards identify the items, which travel in threes or fours, followed by another helpful card and another group of items.

The belt snakes its way through the entire dining room, then back into the kitchen, where it is replenished.

The kitchen is just around the bend, so my sushi is fresh!
It's as fascinating as TV.  One sits and watches as the plates roll past, glancing ahead to the corner for the next card to appear. What should I take? Do I want marinated tuna? Squid with shiso leaf? If I let the scallop go past now, will I have another chance at it?

 For my first selection, I sort of lunged at a plate bearing two masago gunkan-maki, fearing it would escape my clutches.

Masago gunkan-maki and albacore nigiri-zushi
Next, I nabbed a plate of albacore nigiri.  It was served with a little plastic tub of ponzu sauce. Both the masago and the albacore were good, tasty, and fresh, although lacking in the refinement one might expect from personal service.

It's not just sushi that rolls past like boxcars on a train track. There are dishes of edamame, dessert items like mochi, and crusty fried chicken. I took a little dish of sunemono, or cucumber salad that I'm fond of, relying on the label. I didn't realize it also included slivers of tamago, or egg omelet, and octopus, but it was impossible to put it back.  Still, it wasn't bad, and the portion was generous.

Sunemono with octopus and tamago (egg omelet)
This is one drawback to conveyer belt sushi - once you commit, you are stuck with it. It's wise to study items as they go past you, and if you're not sure about them, pick them up on the next go-round.

Kula Revolving Sushi is a popular place. When I went, the four and two-top tables were full, and even the bar was full with singles and couples.  This made me feel confident about the freshness of the offerings, which were snapped up quickly instead of making multiple orbits. This could be a concern if the restaurant were slow, especially with items using mayonnaise, or avocado, which browns with age.

Still, I think it's a better deal than the all-you-can-eat joints where items sit out in trays for ages. Everything I saw on the day I went looked fresh, and the chefs were bustling in the back to load the belt up with new things.

Even though the menu offers popular items like Philadelphia and California rolls, it also has things that many Western customers are less familiar with, like Spanish mackerel, surf clam, and nattō, which is a strong-smelling fermented soybean. It smells like stinky feet and is served as gunkan-maki.

 Kula offers all items for $2 per plate, which is a pretty good deal. If you want to try out different kinds of sushi, but you don't want to embarrass yourself at the sushi bar, it's a safe way to experiment.

It's a good way to introduce kids to sushi - they will have fun watching the little dishes roll past. And the gadget-lovers in your family will love it! 

Mystery revealed

The mystery location of yesterday's post is the Hotel Figueroa, in downtown Los Angeles near the LA Live complex. (M. Bouffant wins!)

Its hidden treasure is a courtyard bar, moody and romantic, with Moroccan-inspired decor.

A former YMCA, the Figueroa is a small and quirky hotel with - truth be told - mixed Yelp reviews of its  unspectacular accommodations and service.

And, indeed, the service was non-existent at the hour I went in hoping for a cool mojito near the pool before catching the Expo Line back to the West side.

But I'll be back another time. It's just intriguing enough for a second try.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Friday, April 4, 2014

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Thematic Photographic - Logos

Carmi at the blog "Written, Inc." hosts a photographic get-together, based on a weekly theme. This week's theme is LOGOS. Carmi asks you to consider - "How is it that a simple icon of an apple, for example, seemingly works while something else might not? How can you even measure whether a logo accomplishes its stated goal?"

This is a timely topic for me. I've got logos on the brain. A new policy at work is making me pay far more attention to logos than I ever did. I'm charged with enforcing some very restrictive rules about signs, and logos seem to be everywhere I look.

That said, my photo isn't a logo I have to think about for work, but a photograph I took last year when we visited Mexico City.

A basalt death's head, its tongue lolling out from between its bared and grinning teeth, encircled with a pleated or rayed sun-disc. When I saw it, displayed in Mexico City's National Museum of Anthropology, the first thing I thought was, "what a great logo this would make!"

This is the God of Death.

Death is part of the museum's exhibition on Teotihuacan, an ancient city built on the high, swampy lake basin north of Mexico City.

The city itself is still something of a mystery, though, as scholars disagree even on the ethnic make-up of the people who lived there. Established around 100 AD, when it reached its peak by 500, it may have been the sixth largest city in the world. This artifact celebrates the importance of Death to that culture.

By the 13th century, as the Aztecs civilization blossomed, Teotihuacan was a ruin, but impressive enough that they named it "birthplace of the gods," in Nahuatl.

Death was a popular brand, in pre-Hispanic mezo-America.

In Mexico City, the "Aztec" dancers in the Zocolo decorate their gaudy costumes with a death's head motif that looks very much like the one in the Museum.

But they could also be modeling extreme sports loincloths and dance gear. Today, you may see lots of similar logos promoting popular culture - bands, extreme sports, motorcycles, video games, electronic gear or skateboards.

When you think about about staying power, Death has done an excellent job of maintaining its brand.