Friday, May 29, 2009

Beautiful Gloom

Often, when people speak of the joys of Southern California, they talk about the weather and for good reason - it's usually gorgeous here, sunny and in the 70's with low humidity. But you know that line from The Lady is a Tramp - "hates California, it's cold and it's damp" Rodgers and Hart weren't just talking about the Bay Area. See the picture? That's the view from my bedroom window. It's pretty gray isn't it? Can you tell that part of the gray is sky and part of it is the ocean? Me neither and I'm actually looking at it. This is what we call "June Gloom" though it's been going on for about 3 weeks now. It usually does, but I guess since "June" rhymes with gloom and May doesn't... actually, according to my Google search, it's known as "May Gray" but I have never heard anybody use that term and I've been living here for 18 years.

The gloom is a layer of stratus clouds that extends to varying points inland. Sometimes you can drive right out from under the clouds, occasionally this is possible right around the 405, sometimes you have to go further inland to Beverly Hills and beyond. But many days the clouds cover the entire Los Angeles basin and, if you are anxious for the sun to come out, you just have to wait for the warmth to evaporate them, we say "wait 'til it burns off."

Many (most?) people do not like this approximately 2 month long weather pattern, morning clouds followed by hazy afternoon sun. I know people who sold their beach house and moved further inland in large part due to the gloom. Visitors coming at this time of year walk around in sweaters, their eyes scanning the horizon for a break in the solid gray ceiling, their faces wearing a confused "what the hell?" kind of look. People who live here say that they get seasonal affected disorder or SAD because of it. But you know what? I like it. Truthfully? I LOVE it. The sky reminds me of London, I don't feel like I'm constantly burning ( I even go out with out my giant hat on the grayest mornings) and, wow, all the green things are so beautiful. Under these soft gray skies I can so much more easily see and appreciate the beautiful subtleties of trees and gardens. When I walk on these gray mornings I luxuriate in the greens; blue greens, silver greens, gray greens, the greens with a bit of purple. It's gorgeous. And I cherish it because when it's gone, well, it can get pretty hot here. Lately the skies of Southern California have been gray too often for another reason. When the gloomy time is over, fire season will be upon us once again.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Hidden Treasure In And Around LA # 2: Frogs and Toads at Will Rogers

Something about frogs means summer to me. So what better way to kick off summer than with a Memorial Day trip to Will Rogers Park in search of the slimy little fellows?

Note - Will Rogers Park , 1501 Will Rogers Park Road, off Sunset Blvd in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of LA, does not advertise itself as a frog catching destination. They are proud of their other cool stuff; the former home of Will Rogers which you can tour, the miles of hiking trails, the big Polo field on which you can either catch a Polo match many weekends April through October or, as we did, play soccer, fly kites, set off air rockets, play badminton and try to get someone else to entertain your child for 5 minutes while you nap. There is also a lovely, big lawn for picnics and several stables where you can take horse back riding lessons through Westside Riding School: 310 904-9846.

Here's the secret - behind the stables just north of the ranch house there is a small stand of reeds and it's chock full of a variety of toads and frogs. Wear your water shoes and bring some plastic containers to study your finds before releasing them. Be prepared to get muddy and bring water to clean your hands because there isn't any around to wash with. Also, try not to scream when your son holds a giant wriggling toad up in front of your face, it scares the nearby horses.

Bring something to eat and plenty of water - there's no food for sale. Parking is $8 And, please, be a good citizen and pay to park in the lot instead of on the road leading to the park, will you? The park system needs the money.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Beer in the Afternoon

When I first moved to Los Angeles, 18 years ago, I had stars in my eyes. Everything sparkled in this hard sunshine, including almost everyone "famous." In the years since, reality TV has done it's part to rid the word "celebrity" of any real meaning and time has done it's work on me. I no longer find much "magic" in Hollywood and the people who make it run. Don't get me wrong, this is a great place to be. It's creative and funny, there is a tremendous sense of possibility every day, and I still believe that dreams can come true. But I understand now that they are dreams built of hard work, created by hand from the constant slog of word after word, audition after audition, cup of coffee for one asshole after another. And the people who make them happen are driven, hard working people. Not touched, not magical. Just people, sometimes with big egos that hide inner demons, sometimes cool and pretty normal.

This realization, this people are people thing, comes with the territory when you live in LA and work, or your partner works, in "the industry." It's a little sad, the loss of magic. But thank God or I'd be an idiot every time I have to deal with someone who has been on a screen. I am now pretty comfortable meeting almost everyone ( Okay - I might get a little stupid in front of Obama, maybe even George Clooney, but other then them...) If the situation is comfortable and I find someone's work interesting, or we have something in common, I might even introduce myself and if I do I can talk while feeling like an equal, not a rube. I have spent a night with Jim Carrey, (a super nice guy and my husband and one other person were there too if you're wondering), had a conversation with Sarah Silverman in the ladies room at an awards show that she started by admiring my gown and nearly been run over by Brian Grazer while trying to cross the street. This is the way it is here.

Still, I know it when something was especially fun - and could have only happened in LA. Yesterday we spent the afternoon at a fund-raiser for Shakespeare Festival/LA. It was a keg party at Adam Carolla's beautiful house in Malibu. The Sierra Nevada was flowing and the wines from local Malibu vineyard Cielo were delicious, especially the Redhouse, a big wine but soft. Really nice. The sun was shining, the comedians, including Patton Oswald and Jim Norton, were funny and a lot of money was raised for a good cause. And look, there's Jay Leno!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


What is it about things falling apart that makes me feel like I'm falling apart? Above - my dryer. The nice Russian men who are here to fix it currently have their hands down the drain of my sink because I casually said, " Well, since you're here, why don't you take a look at the dishwasher - it's been spewing water out of the air gap for 6 months and I just haven't been able to deal with it." The thing has been creating small floods on the counter every time it runs and I just turn my head and grab another towel. This is not the way to run a house.

I hate to think that I am so fragile, unable to face the truth of the slow breakdown of something as small as a dishwasher hose. But it's true. When things start to fall apart I go into total denial until something goes really wrong. The insane banging of the dryer that started yesterday, the distinct possibility that the thing was about to explode, had to happen before I was willing to handle the problem. It's the same with my marriage, with my health - it's the same thing my hair. I ignore problems, small but stubborn pains, roots and split ends until, well, it's just ridiculous. I don't want to be this way - I want to be on top of stuff. But when I think of being a person who is on top of stuff I can't get Suzy Orman's face out of my mind and that scares me.

Well, the nice Russian gentlemen just told me it's a week to a week and a half before the dryer parts come in. Maybe I can spend all my upcoming hours at the laundromat finding a happy medium...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Birthday Treats

Friday was my birthday. I had a lovely day, thank you. I was traveling and I had lots of birthday wishes and some nice presents. I like to get presents from my husband and children on my birthday and if I don't I'm not happy. They don't have to be big or expensive but they do have to be real, made or purchased with the express purpose of making me feel thought of and loved. I think this is easy. My husband thinks otherwise. He thinks it's totally unfair that all my kids have to do is make me a picture with hearts on it and I am in mommy tears. He thinks he has to work too hard. But that's not true (and he knows that it's not really true, too.) All he has to do is listen.

Here's what I've learned in 43 years. Be clear about what you want from other people. I no longer play games like "if you really knew me and loved me you'd know what I want for my Birthday, Mother's day, Christmas, whatever." Holiday's are important to me and my family knows it. Look, life is short and can really suck sometimes, how can we not take every chance we get to show people we love them? Slow down a second, put a pretty ribbon on something and give me a treat, Dammit! I am very clear with my husband that this is what I expect (it's also something I love doing for my family in case you were wondering.) I may still be disappointed occasionally but it's an adult kind of disappointment as opposed to the kind of disappointment that comes from magical thinking (if you really cared about me you....) Another adult lets me down for all kinds of adult reasons, forgetfulness, a sudden case of bad taste - Santa didn't forget to stop at my house.

However - I really don't like the "just pick out whatever you want" thing. Depressing. Lacking all surprise and I love surprises. Take out credit card- insert present here. Sure a little shopping can be part of a special day but if that's all you've got... not happy.

So, how does this work? Well, I make it easy. I drop hints, tear pictures out of magazines, sigh over the state of something worn out. I read restaurant reviews aloud, let me husband know that someone fabulous is playing at Disney Hall in May and even, if I'm feeling desperate, talk about something beautiful or sweet that some one's husband gave her (I'm not proud of this one.) I am very clear while allowing the essential element of surprise to be preserved. See, all he has to do is listen.

Through out our years together I have received nice jewelery, good dinners, and great seats to a performance of my favorite symphony. I've had perfume that was not then available in the US carried home from Paris by a relative and I've had poems written about my butt. I am a lucky woman. Oh - and I often get some kind of never before tried by me chocolate. I've been especially clear about how I feel about that.

This year's treat - John Kelly Chocolates - Truffle Fudge Bars ( 12 assorted flavors)
These chocolates, made here in Los Angeles, are fantastic. Just as they sound, a cross between truffles and fudge, they are dipped in semi sweet chocolate. My 2lb box of 12 includes chocolate peanut butter, chocolate mint, and assorted other flavors that my husband was able to hand choose to fill the box. The new, sea salt topped chocolate caramel are spectacular. He knows how I feel about this kind of thing and got me 3.

John Kelly Chocolates 1506 Sierra Bonita Ave., Hollywood.
They ship and I happen to know these chocolates travel well, I opened them in New York.

Monday, May 4, 2009


We on the westside of Los Angeles have been waiting. In the last several years we have been given Abbott Kinney and it's many good cafes, we have Shutters with it's lovely lobby bar and a few other popular hotel bars with fair to pretty good food; the scene of the Viceory, the haunted Del Mar and it's great view. We are the proud neighbors of Michael's, Valentino and Joe's, fans of Josie, Capo, Georgio Baldi and Melisse, friends of Rustic Canyon, Wilshire and Toscana. But, still, we have been waiting. We have been waiting for Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne. Ladies and Gentlemen, Tavern is open.

After a fantastic performance Saturday by the Ballet Preljocaj ( check for them coming to your town, go) at Royce Hall my husband and I headed for dessert at Tavern. We had no reservations and didn't know if we could get in. We could and we did. It was 10ish and they seated us in the lounge, a pewter colored rectangle of a room that, in my opinion, could use a little glass, perhaps behind the bar. Peeking into the gorgeous dinning room I could hardly wait for a real reservation. It's all blond and white with a white washed brick wall and a beautiful, full ceiling length skylight turning the whole place into an atrium. The place was full but not packed. There were at least 2 seperate parties of big drinkers. They kept ordering these beautiful pink things in martini glasses that I will try on my next visit. I had a glass of wine from the small ( 6 white, 6 red) very reasonably priced wine by the glass list. My wine was fine, not worth noting especially but my husband's second glass, the $12 ( not the $24) pinot noir was terrific.

Our plan was dessert. Our plan crumpled into dust upon being given the dinner menu and we began the first of what turned into 4 courses. My Green Goddess Salad with Avocado and Dungeness Crab was great, perfectly dressed in a light but creamy buttermilk dressing. It was a generous size and would make a nice light supper all by itself. But if you want to know why we have been waiting with such anticipation for a little taste of AOC on this side of the 405 order the Roasted Asparagus with Polenta. Served on a puddle of soft polenta with an egg, first poached, then briefly deep fried resting on top of the spears, large shavings of peppery pecorino tops the whole beautiful thing. There are 6 starter offerings including an escarole salad for $12 and diver scallops for $15. Happy, happy and ready for the second course.

It was only the 3rd night serving and problems were to be expected. Something "happened" to our order. It wasn't ready. It would be a few minutes. Here, the waitress said, taste this. A small plate of spring vegetables with burrata appeared next to a bowl of gourgeres. The vegetables were perfectly cooked, still crisp and sweet but I didn't like the dressing, too much lemon and not a nice fit with the buratta. The gourgeres, deep fried here and filled with melted but not molten gruyere were really good.

Our entrees arrived after a few minutes but truthfully, I was almost full. We plowed on. I had ordered the Wild Mushroom Ragout with Farro, Spinach and Walnuts. Beautiful and delicious. If you love mushrooms and the full bodied, rich, almost gravy like sauce they can make you'll love this dish. The crunch of walnuts and the slightly wilted spinach make a terrific addition. Over there on the other side of the table my husband was staring at the dish that is likely to become the restaurants signature - The Devils Chicken. Served in a terra cotta dish with soft potatoes and even softer leeks the meat is coated in mustard breadcrumbs. Smelled great, tasted even better. Main courses range in price from the farro for $19 to the hanger steak for $32.

I ordered dessert, but just one. A chocolate tart with a caramel under layer, sprinkled with Fleur de Sel. It was good but doesn't join the Pantheon of favorite LA desserts ( see Fig post). Other dessert choices included a walnut gallett and a huckleberry bread pudding. All desserts are $10.

I slipped into the Larder part of Tavern, now open, for lunch today. There are 4 sandwiches available including 'The Angeleno" with burrata, artichoke and cavolo nero ( what is this? olives?), a ham (with butter, bless them!), a tuna and "The Pilgrim" with turkey, cranberry etc. Lots of salads packed up and ready for you to take - I had an absolutely great farro salad with carrot, beets and feta. There are several nice cheeses, some lamb, beef short ribs, veggies like roasted beets and curried cauliflower. The selection will grow no doubt and so will the take out business - there's a lot of variety and we don't have a Joan's on Third over here either so well prepared take out is very welcome. You can make everybody happy at home with some cupcakes, today chocolate with peanut butter icing, hazelnut with coffee and, I think, a carrot. The cupcake was good but had been kept refrigerated which mucked with the flavor ( don't tell me I should have waited a few minutes that's no fun) The panna cotta, made with creme fraiche and citrus, was really yummy. Finally, they have a few ice cream sandwiches with 3 different cookie choices, each filled with coconut sorbet, as well as a creamsicle type one I made myself a promise to try next time.

Dinner Saturday with 2 starters, 2 entrees, 1 dessert and 3 glasses of wine was $147.49 before tip. The take away salads are $10 and really could serve 2. Service both times was very friendly and attitude free - even from the hostesses.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Free Bread - the homeless, the hungry and you

I took this picture outside a church in Hollywood yesterday.

One of the most difficult things to accept about being a parent is how loudly your own actions, not your words and all their good intentions but your actions, speak to your children. You can't think about this too much- you'll be wracked with guilt or embarrassed and forced to call yourself a hypocrite on an almost daily basis and who needs it -parenting is hard enough as it is. Shortly after my second child began spending a few morning hours in preschool I developed the habit of getting a cup of coffee and a piece of cake (yes I said cake - with frosting and everything) for a private breakfast in my car. I would pick up my treat, park under a beautiful tree, listen to the radio and enjoy. Now, I'm not advocating this. I know it wasn't good for me. I know there was a lot going on that I wasn't dealing with while I drove around on a Tuesday morning deciding between carrot and coconut. I gained weight and developed chronic stomach problems. I wouldn't want my kids to know that I did this ( and how long I did this, I won't even tell you but it was long) and I would never want them to deal with stuff this way themselves. I want them to be healthier than I was, ready to deal with whatever comes their way with exercise and, I don't know, talking maybe. But, still, I'm okay with that period of disconnect between my behavior and what I was telling my kids. First, I'm better now. Secondly, this morning ritual got me through a tough time. Yes, it was hypocrisy but it was basically harmless hypocrisy. The cake, the occasional extra drink, the tiny, infrequent little cigarette -of course it should go without saying that you can't hurt yourself or others, but that fun, harmless thing you do that you don't want your kids to do or know about, the kind of hypocrisy that doesn't require you to turn off a piece of your heart - this can allow for good parenting with out the threat of becoming an insufferable bore.

Raising my children in 2009 in Los Angeles there are some heart breaking truths we face everyday. Approaching these, my words and actions have to work in tandem - no hypocrisy here - otherwise, I risk breaking hearts. There are more than 73,000 homeless people in Los Angeles. My children can't understand how there can be even one. It's right and good that they feel this way. This is the way I felt once. It's the way you felt, too. And yet, every day most of us pass at least one homeless person, often without even a glance. This has been the situation for years and we've adjusted to the sight of people sleeping in doorways, digging through trash cans for food. We have become inured to it. Our children have not. One of my greatest fears is that they will if we don't unite our words and our actions to do something about it.

Frankly, I'm not holding my breath until this country makes the financial commitment necessary to truly end the problem of homelessness and it's attending evils of untreated mental illness and drug addiction. I wish we, as a nation, would commit. I would vote and pay taxes for real, lasting, effective programs. But I can't see it happening soon. Still, I, as an individual, as a mother, must do something. How can I teach my children to be kind, fair and just if I'm willing to walk by someone who is hungry? How can I tell them to share if I won't?

Here are a few simple things you can do to help the hungry and the homeless. You may do some of these and more. If you do, thanks. Your children and mine are growing up together. I'm so grateful to know they'll be in good company.

1 Help your child organize a canned food drive at her school, then drive her and the food to the local food bank to make the delivery

2 When my kids were in preschool I organized a toothbrush and tooth paste drive for a local homeless outreach organization. We had a dad, who was a dentist, volunteer to come and give a lesson on proper tooth brushing too. This was a fun, helpful way young kids could help others and learn something themselves. It was so successful we did it 3 years in a row and, I think, it's still happening at the school.

3 Volunteer to make meals at a homeless center. My second grader will be doing this as part of a field trip this week.

4 This last is my favorite thing to do because it's really challenging for me. We call it dinner for 5. When my family of 4 has dinner in a restaurant we pack up all the leftovers nicely and ask the restaurant for plastic utensils and napkins. We take the bread. Then, we go for a walk and find someone to give the rest of our dinner to. This is not easy because you have to do exactly the opposite of what you might be inclined to do. You have to go up to someone homeless and talk with him. You need to look into his eyes. You need to ask him if he is hungry and tell him what you have and that you'd love to share it with him. You need to be prepared to be rejected because some people will scoff at your offer. That's happened to me more than once. Don't take it personally, someone else close by will want the meal. Move on and ask again. You need to be prepared to have someone take it without looking in your eyes. Smile anyway, believing she can feel it. You need to be prepared for heartbreaking excitement at the offer of a meal, especially in the young men. You need to be able to have someone who looks a little like your son smile at you as if no one has ever been so nice to him before in his life. You need to be prepared to reach into your wallet because his eyes will remind you of your boys' eyes and you'll want to tell yourself that in the morning, when he's hungry again, he will buy breakfast with the money you give him. You need to decide if you will take the hand of the grateful old man who offers you his rough, dirty one. Take it if you can but it's okay if you can't. You need to be prepared for your child to resist participating. He's scared. She's uncomfortable. You know how that feels, don't you?

Look, I know these small gestures won't solve the homeless situation in America. But that's not what I'm going for here. I'm looking for ways to empower my kids, to keep their hearts whole and reclaim what I fear is a missing piece of mine, of all of ours, as we accept that homelessness has become the norm.

There are many things we as individuals and families can do until we, as a nation, come to our hearts. I take a little hope that this difficult economy will increase our collective compassion. But, you know, I'm an optimist.