Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Mario Batali Bistro Clogs

My dad was half-Japanese, and growing up, my sister and I always removed our shoes before walking into the house.  Now I'm married to a Chinese guy, so the tradition continues.  It never occurred to me that walking around barefoot in the kitchen might pose any problems.  Then two weeks ago, I dropped my box of food processor blades and spent the next 4 hours in the ER waiting for someone to stitch up my right toe.

Suddenly, kitchen clogs sounded like a really good idea.

After reading way too many message board discussions about the pros and cons of Dansko and Sanitas clogs, I decided to go with the much, much cheaper Crocs favored by the chef Mario Batali, seen here in all his fashionable glory:

Yes, I am now the proud owner of obnoxious orange kitchen clogs.

They are hideous, but I love them!  It's impossible for me not to feel cheerful and energetic when I look down at them, which is exactly what I need first thing in the morning.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving with all the (Christmas) Trimmings

Last year, I didn't decorate for Christmas.  The Merry Husband and I spent the holidays in Brooklyn, and it seemed silly to put up decorations if we weren't even going to be in town.  I, of course, regretted the decision and have been itching for a do-over for eleven months.  So yesterday, MH hauled out the tree for me, and I put on the album my parents always played while decking the halls.

It just wouldn't be Christmas without hearing Tammy Wynette's "(If This is What You Call a Merry Christmas) We Must be Having One."

My tree has seen better days, and I think this year may be its last.  It's always been a bit of a Charlie Brown tree, skinny and sparse, but yesterday, no amount of floofing its plastic branches seemed to help.

Nevertheless, I was happy to see my favorite ornaments again, like my Radko hula girl and the miniature Belleek plates from my sister.

As I dug through the decorations, I came across a small embroidered tablecloth that I bought in July at the Long Beach flea market.  It is just about the right size for my side table.

I filled a bowl with circa 1960 German ball ornaments I found at Alpine Village in Torrance.

Diana Vreeland once said that a little bad taste is like a nice splash of paprika.  Well, here's our big heapin' spoonful - the jackalope head that MH just *had* to have when we saw it last October at the Indian Trading Post in Calumet, Oklahoma.

I love vintage and retro Christmas decorations, and am currently on the lookout for a candle carousel similar to this one:

I'd be thrilled to find some vintage bubble lights like these too.

What are your favorite decorations?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

On the Road: The Eastern Sierra Scenic Byway

“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road."
~Jack Kerouac
The Mojave Desert
On Wednesday, the Merry Husband and I packed up the Subaru and drove up Highway 395 through deserts and forests, valleys and mountains.  The highway bisects little frontier towns like Lone Pine, Independence, Bishop, and Bridgeport.  I half expected to see the ghosts of Jack Kerouac and his Dharma Bums eating slices of apple pie in road-side diners or hitchhiking to the next outpost of civilization.

Lone Pine

Kerouac and his friends used these towns as base camps for their hikes through the Sierra mountains.

At 14,505 feet, Mt. Whitney (left) is the highest peak in the Lower 48.
We sped past Manzanar, where over 100,000 Japanese Americans (including several of my aunts and uncles) were interned during World War II.  

A watchtower at Manzanar.
We had a lovely lunch at Whiskey Creek in Bishop, and stopped to admire the view at Lake Crowley.  Then, all at once, we were surrounded by trees.

We took a detour to Mammoth Lakes, where the ski slopes were packed.

And another to Silver Lake, where it seemed we were the only people in the world.

Finally, we arrived in Incline Village, on the shores of Lake Tahoe, just before sunset.

In Los Angeles, it's so easy to forget just how close and accessible the wild places are.  Today at lunch, the Merry Husband and I wondered why we don't go to the National Parks more often.  I think Big Sur is calling.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Nice List

The Merry Husband and I spent the bulk of yesterday driving through rural Nevada and California on the US-395, avoiding the retail hell that is Black Friday.  We stopped long enough in Bishop to make a purchase from Mahogany Smoked Meats, where, luckily, there was enough smoked salmon and habanero buffalo jerky to feed us and our fellow shoppers, scary-looking but polite bikers.

Nevertheless, I won't be able to avoid the mace-wielding crowds forever.  It's time to tackle the Nice List.

A Lenox cocktail shaker for Sis, the entertainer.

A statement necklace from Cristina V. for Mom, the Scorpio. 

Running socks for my husband, the marathoner.

A giant Elmo for my niece.

(Okay, maybe not that giant, but you get the idea.)

And a little something for myself.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

When Holidays Go Wrong

Thanksgiving dinner presents a unique challenge for the cooking enthusiast.  Egomaniacs Hostesses like myself jump at the opportunity to amaze our friends and family members with our perfect pie crusts and mad turkey-brining skills.  But expectations run high.  James Beard used to say, "Anyone who doesn't think the best burgers are to be found in his own hometown is a ninny."  So it is with Thanksgiving.  Every guest knows in his heart-of-hearts that his beloved Meemaw made the best Jell-O salad ever.

Knowing that we cannot compete with remembrances of meemaws past, is it any surprise that some years we are tempted to ignore tradition and forge our own way forward?  Bitter experience has taught me to avoid that landmine-fraught path.  In the wake of a family member's health scare in 2001, I insisted on cooking all sides and desserts from my depressingly large collection of heart-friendly cookbooks.  I was especially excited about creamed chard with a twist - soy milk and (because my grocery store didn't stock the usual green) red chard.  It had not occurred to me that the beet color would leach from the stalks, turning the dish a shade of puce that my sister compared unfavorably to McDonaldland's Grimace.

Then there was 2007, the Year of the Tofurkey.  The less said about that year the better.

This year, it's back to the basics.  The Merry Husband and I have been invited to join the celebration at my sister's in-laws' home in Incline Village, Nevada.  These tried-and-true recipes will make an appearance.

Mom Parson's Cranberries

Roasted Parsnip Bread Pudding

Carrots with Ginger and Honey

Chocolate Pecan Pie with Bourbon

The turkey has been ordered from Willie Bird.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Thematic Option - Sunday Night Dinner at Lucques

Theme nights have become a time-honored tradition at LA restaurants, from grilled cheese Thursdays at the recently-closed Campanile to Donut Shoppe Wednesdays at BLD.  Last night, the Merry Husband and I met friends at Lucques in West Hollywood for its Sunday Supper.

From the menu:

leek egg drop soup with kale,
young pecornino and basil
grilled market fish [albacore] with white bean purèe,
eggplant peperonata and bottarga breadcrumbs
beef brisket with ricotta gnocchi,
grilled escarole, mushrooms and fried sunchokes
warm persimmon cake with streusel,
crème fraîche and maple-pecan ice cream
Fifteen hours later, I am still thinking about the soup. Our fellow diners deemed it "interesting" (not a particularly encouraging word in the language of food), but I noticed that every single drop disappeared from our bowls. Egg whites formed delicate layers around a poached yolk sitting in a broth that tasted primarily of parsley and leek.  It seemed that the flavors would fight for domination at any moment, but somehow, magically, they all worked.  I am now obsessed with getting this soup again, but as next week's menu will be entirely different, the chances for this happening are nil.
This is, I suppose, the allure of theme nights for restaurants.  After six days of listening to picky LA diners whine about their gluten allergies and dairy aversions, chefs must feel some satisfaction in saying Mom-like to their customers, "You'll eat it and you'll like it."
And we did.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Going to the Getty

As usual, the art came in a distant second to the hilltop views of the Los Angeles basin and the Pacific Ocean.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Potluck Season

Thanksgiving is *gasp* less than two weeks away, and for many of us the next six weeks will be a blur of potlucks.  Casseroles, pies, cookies...we'll make them all, arrange them on pretty platters, and tote them off to our offices, churches, and friends' houses. 

On the surface, potlucks seem especially suited to the holiday spirit of sharing and cooperation, like that Stone Soup story come to life.  But let's face the ugly truth.  These things are a viper's nest of culinary competition.  God forbid two ladies somehow sign up to bring the same dish - oh the horror!  You'd better avoid them both for the rest of the night, lest one of them discovers you didn't find her chicken salad superior in every way.

With the stakes so high, it's worth considering first impressions.  Planning just to walk into the party with tin foil slapped on top of your casserole dish?  Well, Vonny has got you covered.  Based in Southern California but run by Southerners, this little company makes the cutest casserole, pie, and market totes you've ever seen. 

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

And if everything you own must be monogrammed, In This Very Room can help (or enable, as the case may be).

May the best pie win.
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