Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Radishes


I did it again. I bought something and now I have no idea what to do with it. I know this sounds very last economy so before you judge me (let me do that, will you?) please know that I didn't buy an expensive pair of too high heels or a dress that in the store seemed interesting and fashion forward but, upon arriving home, turns out just to be ugly. I bought radishes.

Look. Aren't they beautiful? But what the hell do you do with them? I wish I were a person who could answer that question. I want to be that person. I know that at the moment I bought them I was pretending to be that person. I'm also pretty sure that if only my parents had had the wisdom to raise me in France instead of Reading, Pennsylvania I actually would be that person. But I'm not. So -now what?

I keep thinking of Scarlett O'Hara in the dirt behind Tara, finding one left over radish ( yes it was a radish, I read the book 17 times) the tiny vegetable a last vestige of the former glories of her fields that the Yankees didn't either steal or burn. Desperately hungry she claws it from the dirt and stuffs it in her mouth, chewing and sputtering like an animal at a carcass. A moment later, she retches - the dirty spice of the thing too much for her empty stomach. This is a magnificent scene, ending with her rising in those burned fields with her fist in the air vowing never to be hungry again. Now, Margaret Mitchell could have used a carrot. Certainly the Irish O'Hara's would have had many acres of potatoes. But it was a radish that showed Scarlett's mettle and the chick was one fantastic piece of work. I'm thinking there must be something to these things.

Here's a recipe from The Herbal Kitchen by Jerry Traunfeld. He used to run the kitchen at The Herbfarm Restaurant, a really special place about 25 minutes outside Seattle. Now he's cooking in the city at Poppy. Friends say it's good.

Green Bean, Basil and Radish Salad

1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
2 Tbs. sherry vinegar
1 lb. fresh, thin green beans
1 bunch radishes cut into wedges ( about 2 cups)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped basil
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
fresh ground pepper
1/2 cup thin shaved parmagian0-reggiano

Stir shallots and vinegar together in a bowl and let sit a while to mellow the bite of the shallots.

Boil the beans in a pot of salted water until just tender but still crunchy. Drain the beans and plunge them into an ice bath ( a large bowl of ice water) Drain 'em and dry 'em.

Add the beans to the bowl with the shallots. Toss in the rest except the cheese. Mix well. Taste for salt. Turn on to plates and top with shaved cheese.


I don't have any green beans. I'm going to use sugar snap peas which I do have. I'll let you know.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

FIG

We had a perfect table at FIG last night - center of the patio section over looking the pool with the fire pits beyond, out to a peek of the Santa Monica mountains. We sat down at 7pm prepared to enjoy a beautiful sunset and, hopefully, a good dinner. In the food we were not to be disappointed but, first, a word about the space itself. Meh.

Other reviews have described it as cozy. I don't agree. I understand what they are going for; casual, white walls with a brush of pink in the long banquet, a tiny bit funky (a collection of mirrors over the bar, mixed rather than matching lighting fixtures) but while nothing is really wrong, the space isn't especially comfortable. Dark but not warm lighting and too many hard surfaces. There are no cloths on the too small tables, no cushions on the chairs. It was cold. I was cold in long sleeves. I didn't want to linger. It's unfortunate that FIG doesn't do a brunch service because it would be a great place during the middle of the day with the patio doors opened and the sun streaming in across the pool. Right now it's dinner only Tuesday - Saturday 5-10 SEE UPDATE BELOW

I am loving the still fresh take on cocktails that has been going on all over town for a while - fresh fruit or herbs that are blended ( or smashed or pureed or, my favorite, muddled ) into new or traditional drinks. I started with an Elderflower Royal, FIG's take on a traditional Kir with smashed purple elderflowers floating throughout. It was delicious if a bit messy, I had to throw my head back to finish the second half of the glass because the berries kept getting on my nose. A vodka cocktail had rhubarb in it and I was tempted to try one but two cocktails and I would have been unable to really taste the food. That would have been a shame.

I started with the blistered "little gem" romaine hearts and ordered a fresh goat cheese with lavender honey for the table. Both were terrific, the seared, soft bitterness of the romaine offering a wonderfully original taste. The light, almost fluffy texture of the goat cheese paired well with the not too sweet honey but I was glad to have the baguette offered in place of a bread basket for the table because the cheese didn't come with anything to spread it on. A few crackers, perhaps with a hint of black pepper, would have been a nice addition. One of my companions had the roasted tomato soup which he enjoyed and my husband had the pacific mussels, beautifully presented in a lidded pot and swimming in a white wine and tarragon broth. He said they may have been the best mussels he's ever had.

Two at our table ordered steak frites, one the bavette and the other the entrecote. Both were flavorful, well cooked and he who opted for the peppercorn sauce was pleased. The fries were delicious if a bit heavy on the herbs. I had the vegetable risotto which was really nice - a gorgeous beet-stained red with lovely little red, orange, and white carrots and the perfect amount of creme fraiche, placed along the sides of the bowl rather than smack-dap on top so you don't have to blend it in if you don't want to.

We split three desserts; the FIG bars, too fresh from the oven for their own good as they fell apart when handled. The accompanying Greek yogurt ice cream was a disappointment, full of tiny ice crystals. The Meyer Lemon Tart on Raspberry Meringue was fine. The Chocolate Pot Au Creme was amazing. AMAZING. When I die and if, as I'm pretty much counting on, the afterlife is one long dessert station, here's where you'll find me - floating forever in eternity between the Butterscotch Budino from Mozza and the Chocolate Pot Au Creme from FIG.

As mentioned, the tables are small. When they brought our plates, they whisked away the arugula spread to make room for everything else. Don't let them do this to you, it's yummy.

Service was good. Dinner for 4 with 3 cocktails, 1 bottle of wine ($75), 3 other glasses of wine, 3 desserts and 2 cappuccinos was $410 with tax and tip.

FIG: in the Fairmont Miramar Hotel 101 Wilshire Blvd at the corner of Ocean Blvd, Santa Monica www.figsantamonica.com

UPDATE - I am happy to report that FIG is now serving Breakfast from 7 - 11, Lunch 11-2 and Sunday Brunch from 11-2

Friday, April 24, 2009

When life gives you lemons, pick them up


Yesterday, when I was out for a walk, I saw this lemon in the gutter. This is not totally crazy. After all I live in California, not Bangor, and lemons actually do grow on trees here. At some point, those that aren't picked must fall off. But still, when I saw it, I didn't really know what to do. It was so sudden and unexpected and out of context. I wasn't looking for lemons in the gutter. I was looking for pretty flowers. I was thinking about what to make for dinner. I was trying to get my heart-rate up. Sudden citrus at my feet? No.

So, what did I do? I walked away. I gave it a disapproving look and I moved on. After a few steps something stopped me.

What are you doing? this something asked in my head. There is a lemon in the gutter. Are you just going ignore it?

I maybe got a little defensive - SO? What am I supposed to do about it?

Voice -Don't you think you should pick it up?

Me -It's not mine. What if someone thinks I stole it from their tree? (honestly, with 5 years of therapy too)

Voice- That's stupid

Me -I thought we were working on you being a little more gentle with me...

Voice -Something magical has landed at your feet, literally there is a free lemon right there and it's all for you.

Me - See that is so much nicer. I really do much better when you use that tone...

Voice -Pick it UP!

So I did. It was a little dirty. I brushed it off. I sniffed the end and, even though I couldn't see a lemon tree anywhere it was obvious it had just fallen because it smelled incredible. This tiny, perfect thing and I almost missed it because I wasn't looking for tiny, perfect things just then. I snapped this picture with my phone and then I picked it up.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Lilacs


The lilacs are here, my favorite flowers. They remind me of Pennsylvania, girlhood, springtime, warm earth and wet wood. I love the sprightly green of the leaves and the delicate shape of the flowers. And the smell. Oh, the smell.

But here's the thing -In the language of flowers the purple ones mean death. They are famously used by Walt Whitman in 'When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloomed', his elegy for Lincoln, to symbolize death and reoccurring mourning every spring. This annoys me. After all he did for grass ( "the handkerchief of the Lord" for God's sake) and live oaks in Louisiana, why did he have to associate my beloved lilacs with an assassination? I realize I should just ignore this and the whole 'language of flowers' stuff too, but I like it when everything works together. I want my favorite flowers to have been given by randy Victorians in a posy that meant "you and I could have a great time together out behind the apple trees if you could get away from your chaperone and loosen up a little." I don't like that people associate my flowers with death. It makes me tenser ( or is it more tense?) and I'm a tad too tense as it is sometimes.

There is an idea I've been working with for a while. By working with I mean trying to take in to my life and make it my own because I know that if I could do it my life would be better. The idea is "holding the tension." Do you know what I mean by this? - letting things be what they are even when they are tense, uncomfortable, with no clear answers. Staying with the tension of a situation rather than constantly try to smooth it out or over or under. Not drink or shop or sleep or fantasize it away. This is not easy for me.

Parenting is full of inherent tensions. You try to make things go smoothly. You do your hopeful, tidy best. Uncertainties remain. Am I messing up my children because I work? Am I messing them up because I don't? Is it good to force them to take piano or am I just being mean? Should I look to the past when things have changed so much or is it better to forge a totally new path? Should I jigger things so my husband only thinks he has an equal say while I mostly do what I think is right or should I truely commit to co-parenting even when I have an internal conflict about the appropriateness of the Nerf Dart Tag Super Blaster he bought them.

Parenting is the hardest job in the world. People say this all the time but nobody ever says why this is true. It's not because it can be loud, annoying, expensive, all consuming and boring. It's because it can be the most wonderful, the funniest, happiest, most deeply satisfying and purely loving thing you will ever experience. It's the one thing you'll work your ass off for day after day and you'll do it without being able to guarantee the outcome. The piece you can be sure of? If you've done a good job your children will grow up and away. That's hard. That's the tension.

It's spring. The lilacs are in bloom.
They make some people think of death. They make me happy.
They remind me of springs when I was a child and they remind me of a hard, beautiful truth of adulthood. It has something to do with tension and vibrancy and what it means to be truly alive. Hold on to that for a little while if it means something to you. I'm going to go smell my flowers before car-pool. The man at the farmer's market who sold me the lilacs said "It's going to be a short season this year. Enjoy."

Monday, April 20, 2009

Oh my G-D it's so freakin' hot!


Los Angeles is having a heat wave. I don't have any air conditioning in this old place and I'm tempted to forgo the usual afternoon activities and spend the next couple of hours wandering the frigid aisles of my nearby grocery store ( I am always freezing in the grocery store!) But, whatever the temperature, there is still school work to do and piano practice to get through so my children are sitting at the table with a fan blowing on them, complaining about their homework in their underwear.

And, in a little while, we will have to eat something other than popcicles. Here's the perfect recipe for a hot night - adapted from a recipe given to me by my dear friend Kathy.

ASIANISH NOODLES WITH WHATEVER KIND OF OIL YOU HAVE IN THE CUPBOARD AND SOME GREEN VEGETABLE IF YOU CAN GET IT TOGETHER:

1/4 Cup sesame oil ( I don't have any, I used olive oil tonight)
3Tbs dark sesame oil ( try to use this it's a nice flavor)
7 Tbs soy sauce
3 Tbs balsamic vinegar ( I don't have any, I used rice wine vinegar)
3 Tbs dark brown sugar ( this is best for flavor you can use light brown or even white if you don't have it)
1 tsp salt
chili oil to taste
1 clove minced garlic ( more if you love it but it's raw)
Some minced ginger if you like it
chop in some cilantro if you want

Cook the noodles. Rinse them in cold water ( Do it. This is not an Italian recipe and you do not need the starch to help an Italian sauce adhere to the noodles. You want this dish slippery and fun.)

Toss in the sauce.

This makes enough for 1 to 1 + 1/4 lbs of pasta. Use udon or any long, thin white flour noodle, it doesn't have to be Asian. Top with a green vegetable like blanched asparagus, snow peas or even brocolli. You can add tofu too. Even a meat if you must but, really, this is a great veggie dish so give it a try that way. Top the whole thing with sesame seeds and serve with cold beer.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Hidden Treasures in and Around LA: # 1 Lacey Park Rose Arbor


Every year I make a pilgrimage to the Lacey Park Rose Arbor in San Marino. It takes me about an hour to get there so I make sure I have a nice coffee for the ride and something good to listen to. I usually take a journal though this year I didn't write anything.

The arbor is a gorgeous place. There are a variety of roses, climbers and other wise. Many are old fashioned, meaning they aren't as hardy as some newer varieties but they smell heavenly. I go there with no agenda other than to be with the roses. I walk around slowly. I sniff. I sit on a bench for a while. It's a day of pure sensual pleasure. I go there to be covered in roses, in their colors, the way the light shines through the petals, the different scents. If I could get away with ripping my clothes off and literally covering myself with them I would do it but I don't think that would go down well in San Marino.

Twyla Tharp wrote a wonderful book called The Creative Habit. In it she talks about discovering what "focal length" you use to see the world, that is, what distance works best for you to really see and appreciate the world's beauty. Do you love to stand right in front of something or do you see it best from a distance? Your natural, go-to focal length is a piece of what she calls your own "creative DNA ." She illustrates her idea by pointing out, among other examples, that Ansel Adams had an expansive focal length and if you think of his photographs and the broad views he captured you'll see that this is true. I love this concept and found in it a really exciting way to further understand and develop my own creative leanings. I am someone who wants a creative work to wash over me, to be almost consumed by the feelings I get from wonderful work, whether it's a painting, a poem or a flower. I don't want to analyze and I don't want to judge, not at first. I simply want to be with the feelings. I hope that long conversations about interesting work will come later, I love those. But right off the bat, I give over to feeling. One day every spring, on a warm bench in Lacey Park you'll find me doing just that.

Lacey Park is located at 1485 Virginia Road in San Marino. The park is 30 acres with a lot of places to picnic and a nice playground. There is a fee to use the park on weekends - along the lines of $5. The Rose Arbor is on the west side of the park and you can enter on St. Albans. There is no fee to enter the rose arbor. If you can, go during the week. It's quieter.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I have an idea...


How is it possible to go from deep, profound gratitude to petty, shallow bitterness in a few hours? Well -I'm bitter at the moment, so consider yourselves warned. If you know me, or you're a follower of this blog, you know that my husband and I have been struggling with what to do about our house. It's small, our boys are growing blah blah blah. The truth is nothing is wrong with the place - well, my cat knocked over a glass of water on my bedside table and it dripped down through one of the holes in the floor into the kitchen below but nothing is really wrong with this place. But I am a reader of "shelter" magazines and this habit makes me feel like something is wrong with this place. I could stop, and I'd probably feel better if I did, but I LOVE magazines - cheap, beautiful fantasies of food, fashion and houses. I simply can't give them up.

So - I have an idea. I'm going to start my own magazine! And I know just what I'm going to call it - LOOK AT THIS DUMP. You love it, right? It's going to show real houses - small and filled with ...stuff: toys, paper, pet business, water bottles, recycling, tvs - all the things you never see in Architectural Digest or the Town and Country home addition. In the master bedroom there will be "the husband's" underwear on the floor, in the kitchen "the wife's" empties. You'll see where people with cats keep the litter box and how there are always small, sharp plastic toys directly in the path of an on -coming foot. Natural light will be forcing it's way through dirty windows and landing on dust. If I get enough advertising revenu I'll add a scratch and sniff feature and you'll be able to know who had what for dinner the night before the photo shoot.

Admitedly it's in the early stages but I really think there is a vacancy in the market place , a need if you will. So - what do you think? Any investors?

Birthday Presents


My youngest child is 9 today. In the hectic jumble of classroom brownies and present suggestions for grandparents I bow my head in gratitude for my second son. Born weighing under 3 lbs, he spent the first 2 and 1/2 months of his life in an incubator at Cedar Sinai. There were many moments I thought he would never have this or any happy birthdays.

I had a lot of loss as a child. I don't exactly wish things had been different because it's not in my nature to think that way. I mean of course there are many days I wish for my own mother to help and guide me as I navigate adolescence, a long marriage, raising my children. But I know, too, that I have developed a truly compassionate heart and that it's the gift of loss. Take what life has to give you and, after a panic attack, make the best of it. That's my motto.

What's also true is that because of my early experiences I have an absolutely extravagant imagination for all the things that can possibly go wrong with my own body and with people I love. When my water broke at 26 and 1/2 weeks I thought "That's it, the baby is dead." Maybe this shocks you ( you might be an eye on the prize kind of person) but expecting the worst is really a fantastic protective mechanism for people like me. It steels you to take any further news, to be ready to drive home with one car seat empty that 2 hours ago was occupied, to, just a few days later, stand at a grave site. And it even has it's perks. I am always pleasantly surprised, for example, when my plane doesn't go down in flames. Early loss can make you constantly grateful.

When my son was born I had no idea about premature babies, tachacardias, bradicardias, bronchial tubes. It had never occurred to me that you could hook yourself up to a breast pump 7 times a day and keep your milk flowing, or that you would learn when a hospital has a shift turn- over because around that time, twice a day, you would get a phone call with good news or bad. I had no concept that a baby to one side of my child in our very special nursery could max out his $500,000 health insurance policy at 3 months old and that a lovely, fragile little one on the other side would never go home. I didn't know that old friends I hadn't seen in a while would show up with tulips, that another friend would take my older child every Friday so I could be at the hospital a little longer than I had been every other day of the week, and that she'd often bring a casserole. And I had no idea that every April 15th for the rest of my life I'd would be the one really getting the gift because I get to kiss my boy's head and whisper in his ear,"Happy Birthday."

Monday, April 13, 2009

A certain kind of Monday


I have been awake since 3:56 this morning. I had to get my son and 2 of his friends to Long Beach to catch the 7am boat to Catalina for a special science fieldtrip. I was worried that the alarm wouldn't go off, worried that one of the other kids alarms wouldn't go off, worried that there would be traffic, that I would get lost, that for some reason my child would miss the boat. I know, a therapist could take a vacation on all the meanings of this anxiety, not to mention the fascinating depths of the "missing the boat" thing. So - when some mysterious, peri-menopausal (thank you, Oprah) night-time sensation woke me at 3:56 I went with it and got myself a cup of tea.

We made it to Long Beach in plenty of time and I turned around for a long drive back up the 405 to Inglewood for Jury Duty. Seriously, this was my day. Did you know that when you do jury service, which I believe in doing by the way, I am a very big believer in things like civic responsibility, but did you know that when you fulfill your civic duty someone has the power to make you watch Muary Povitch? I don't think this is reasonable. But I didn't say anything, of course. I'm working on that about myself. Thankfully an older man in the corner, with no hang ups about wanting to be fair and accommodate others yelled " I HATE this show!" and we changed the channel.

Oh - I forgot to tell you. The picture? It's what's for dinner.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

New Things


There are things I never thought I would do and one of them is ski. Cold, fast and expensive are lovely words for beverages - not my favorites for an activity. When it comes to vacations I am not much of a beach person either. Hot, sandy and more than likely to give me another melanoma? No thanks. I am a museum person. A nice hotel person. A foreign country with enough money to spend person. But I am married and I married a skier who has a fantasy of skiing with his children so - I have been skiing. I actually tried for the first time 3 years ago when, having gone down the bunny slope ONE TIME my teacher decided we (the group of "beginners") were ready for the larger beginner slope. I left in tears and disgrace, with an hour and a half remaining in the lesson and a string of curses aimed at my husband. I swear the other woman in the group was in the Olympics in the 60s (yes she was that old - she still kicked my frozen tush) I vowed never to feel that way again.

But here's the thing about being a parent. It's hard to encourage your children to try new things if all you want to do is sit by the fire with a cup of cocoa. What am I supposed to say " It's too fast, embarrassing and horrible for me but you'll love it!"? So I tried skiing again, last year with friends, and then just this past week when I skied 3 days in a row in beautiful Mammoth, California. Guess what? It's fun. I felt brave and, you know what? I felt cool! I really did. And young and fun and like a good parent and most of all, like I was being good to myself because I did the thing those people I've always found a tiny bit annoying are always telling you to do - I did something that scares me. I highly recommend it. Wear a helmet.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Green Peas


When you make frozen green peas, unless they are the petite & sweet kind, add a pinch of sugar. Then, once cooked, still popping bright green, add a nice piece of salted butter. Do it.

Friends for the weekend


I have wonderful, interesting, loving friends. A few of them live here in Los Angeles but some of the oldest and dearest are up the coast in Berkeley and in Seattle. I don't get to see them as much as I'd like to. I've always wanted an Ethel and Lucy, pop-in, coffee cake, let me see your new dress kind of relationship with each of them. But wonderful, interesting people have wonderful, interesting lives and I can't beg them to live near me just so I can borrow a cup of sugar.

One of my dearest and her family came for the weekend. Because we only see each other a few times a year the too short days are conversation heavy and wine soaked. I worried, briefly, that we would feel crowded in this cozy place. I want the people I love to feel comfortable and taken care of in my home. I don't want anyone walking out and breathing a sigh of relief and I know too well that a tight space can do that to a person. But like all true friends she complimented the really lovely and left the square footage alone.

I am an early riser, wine or no, so I was up with the kids Saturday morning and we made French toast. Now, I had enjoyed making the dinner the previous evening; roast chicken, scalloped potatoes, asparagus, an abundance of cookies - but what is it about making breakfast for a small crowd that feels so right? French toast, pots and pots of coffee, fresh California orange juice and the sleepy faces of people you love. I often imagine that some day we will be able to spend more time together, but for now I take comfort in their faithful friendship across years and miles and I cherish the fact then when we are together we all get to hang around in our pajamas.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

What is a house renovation worth to you?


I live in a small house. 2 bedrooms, 1 and 1/2 bathrooms, about 1600 square feet. Large by the standards of most of the world, I know. Small for my growing boys, my eardrums, my bathroom dreams. My kids are mostly old enough to stop themselves from opening a closed bathroom door though curiosity got the better of my 8 year old this morning and, after turning the knob and hearing me yell "I'm in here!", he just had to take a peek before pulling the door shut.

My bathroom fantasies have grown alongside my children like my very own imaginary friend. I still love a few minutes alone in a tiled white space but what I really want now extends beyond the bathroom. About 15 feet in all directions beyond the bathroom. I want peripheral privacy. I want the bathroom, the hallway and the airspace on the other side of the wall. Is this too much to ask for?

That is literally one of the questions we ask ourselves as we debate doing a remodel on our small but affordable house. Our conversations go something like this -

Me - What are we going to do about the house?
Him - I don't know. Let's see what the numbers are.
Me - 'Cause I'm asking myself how much is it worth to me just to have an empty hallway outside the bathroom and I mean, you know, like when I have my period? I don't want to be unreasonable.
Him - Jeez....
Me -Well, how much is it worth to you to have a house large enough to watch TV at the volume you want?
Him - Yeah.
Me - What's the actual value of not having to permanently use one of the chairs around the table as a shelf because we don't have enough storage?
Him - We don't do that.
Me ( pulling out said chair as a bunch of papers slide to the floor) you don't even see the chaos...
Him - I see it. Let's see what the numbers are.
Me - But I don't want to be house poor. Big house but no life.
Him - I know.
Me- I want to go to Europe.
him - Okay.
Me - I mean, like, regularly.
Him - You got it.
Me - Don't patronize me.
Him- Let's see what the numbers are.
Me - I want to entertain.
Him - I know.
Me - There's no where for anyone to even sit. And the boys are getting bigger. They need room privacy. You know.
Him - It's okay. It'll work out. We'll make it right.
Me - These are serious questions.
Him - I'm serious.
Me - What is the actual value of something is a real question.
Him - I know.
Me - So?
Him - Let's see what the numbers are.

We have been having variations of this conversation for 7 years.