Friday, October 16, 2009

The Hyper-Realist Place on Earth

I know I'm supposed to look on the place as some kind of gluttonous monument to capatalism, a wasteful, overpriced, and unnatural way to spend the afternoon.

And even my boss, who does not view the place as any of the above, expressed confusion over my reference to a day spent there with Tech Support as romantic.

And yes, I guess I can see how spending an overcast and drizzling day in a theme park based, loosely, around a talking mouse and his friends and the dreams of a man who died over 40 years ago, might not be considered the perfect date. But then, I've never really been a champagne and chocolate strawberries kind of girl.

This morning I asked Tech Support: "Do you think Disneyland is romantic?"
"What?! Huh?! Yeah, I guess," he exclaimed defensively. He had only gotten out of bed about three minutes earlier.

The day was cool, the sky overcast, intermittent rain drifted down and scared away crowds, keeping the lines short. We walked around for hours, chatting about things both deep and shallow, and laughed over the ridiculous. Then, with Tech Supports thrilled whoops of joy from riding Space Mountain still lingering in my ears, we went home.

But we did not go on It's A Small World.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Sweat The Small Stuff

The other night I had an epiphany. I'd known for months that part of the reason writing my book has taken so long is because I spent almost a year trying to polish scenes and plot points that didn't work -- an effect that is like constantly rearranging furniture in a house with no bathroom or windows. But I hadn't fully understood why I did this, besides being buried in denial about having built a house with no bathroom or windows.

Then it came to me -- I'd been too obsessed with the details. Why? Because I love the details in books. That's what make books worth reading to me. Those little bits of information that build onto a whole and offer insight and truth.

But you need to have a whole first.

I remember watching the movie about Ed Wood years ago, and thinking that he had all the enthusiasm in the world but didn't realize he needed to pay attention to the details. Part of the reason I decided not to go into film despite having a degree was my hatred for the details involved. I hated figuring out the fstop of lighting, the frame rate of film, where the music needed to swell. I loved the stories, I didn't care at all about the technicalities.

Meanwhile, I love working on the details of my real house (which thankfully has a bathroom and windows). At some point in the last two years I realized that if I wanted my house to look a certain way, I'd have to Do It Myself. Perhaps if I had a large disposable income I could hire someone, but even then, I fear I'm too much of a control freak.

I don't have any particular style or goal. I don't know Interior Design, but I know what I like -- A little Jane Austen, a little Steam Punk, and anything else that hits my fancy.

I made those curtains. I'm proud.

The apartment overlords must have realized I'm on a home decorating mood, because they helpfully removed large parts of the trees outside (a bit too much perhaps) and now my patio is getting more light than ever.

Details... details...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Paperback Writer

The first real completed draft, the draft where the importance of having a good plot on which to build good writing finally sank into my dense skull, is done and weighs in at 104,233. At 250-300 words per page, I've written a whole lot of pages.

Time for a break. Step back, get a little perspective so I can be critical of the New Improved Plot. Get back to the blogging I stopped doing when life got busy and I got so focused on my writing that writing anything else inspired mental tantrums.

Meanwhile though, I have continued to use the donabe.

I love that all you need to do to make something in the donable is chop some stuff, saute some stuff, and then throw the lid over it. Nothing takes more than 1/2 an hour to prepare.

Here's a picture of my writing partner and his associates. Every morning I get up before Tech Support, around 7am, make tea, and do some writing -- and I never lack company. Now that I'm on break from writing, I'm not sure what I'll do. I'll figure something out. And I'm guaranteed company.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Paradox

Last month I was overwhelmed with house guests, conferences, work and fun. I had a lot to blog about but either lacked time or energy. This month life has returned to normal and I've got time and energy and not much to blog about.

Sure, I could toss up another picture of a donabe and yakisoba and you'd show polite (and perhaps genuine) interest. However, I must admit my own creative inspiration needs a little more to work with than, 'look! yakisoba! yummy!'

So, nostalgia!

The Blackirby B & B hosted the young Kitchen Gnome for another visit, and at the same time the Aunt from Santa Cruz came down for some fun.

We overcame a combination of laziness and weariness of the Los Angeles Freeway system and made it out to Pasadena and the Gamble House.

I'd been there before, years ago. I don't rave over everything Arts and Crafts, but I admire it. The houses in the neighborhood I grew up in were beautiful, turn of the century bungalows of a similar asthetic. Sometimes I miss them.

All the polished wood, the carvings, the carefully chosed furniture, made me want to run home, tear down the apartment building, and start over. For now, I'll settle on continuing to work on the parts of my apartment that I can change (more on that someday...).

(I advised Tech Support that this would be a fun place to take his Mom.)

After the Gamble House we went over to the Huntington and had lunch. We wandered through the exhibits, finding even a little more Green & Green for my Aunt's inexhaustible appetite. We then went out and sweltered with the plants (it was a hot day).

And then we were done. (Except for some traffic, but we're being nostalgic and have already forgotten about it).

Thursday, August 13, 2009

And for just five dollars more...

As promised, the night before last, Tech Support came home to curry yakisoba.

I'd planned on saving some for lunch the next day, but wound up finishing it off instead.

Then, last night we did the Kurobuta Bulgogi.

That too was delicious. Both dishes were too easy to make, requiring only a little sauteing, piling everything up and putting the lid on top for a few minutes. I feel like I'm cheating, or part of an infomercial for obscure Japanese clay pots.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Entering My Experimental Phase

I've been reading Naoko's blog for at least two years. Who knows where she gets the energy to work hard, make dinner, and then blog about it almost every day, but I'm grateful. Over the past year or so she's started using and importing Japanese Donabe, clay pots. She makes it look good.

I wanted one.

I had a birthday.

Tech Support is a wonderful boyfriend.

And in return for being so, he gets a large share of smoked salmon and asparagus. Tonight he's getting curry yakisoba, and later this week he'll get kurobuta pork bulgogi.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

One Thing (One Thing) Leads to Another...

I figured out how to make ricotta gnocchi sometime within the last year. Since it was so easy to freeze and cook up and so tasty I wound up making it 5-6 times within a number of weeks. Tech Support's eyes turned the color of tomato cream sauce and he said "Ricotta gnocchi again?" like a man facing a firing squad. After finishing up the last frozen bag-full I laid off of the ricotta for several months.

Months and months later, the Kitchen Gnome in town, and Meggish and her Nick due for dinner, it was time to dive into the gnocchi once more. For kicks I decided to make the version from Apples for Jam which is simpler than the Cooks Illustrated version, but has a tomato pesto sauce.

Good food and good company go well together.

Though I'd seen it done and understood the basics, I'd never made pesto before that night. The tangy, garlic infused sauce inspired me and within the same week I had to make it again. I also made focaccia (a name I will never pronounce correctly), using Apples for Jam's recipe for that too. I laid it all out with some feta cheese.

Despite having forgotten to put salt in the focaccia, it made a wonderful, snacky dinner.

I'm going to lay off the tomato pesto for a bit though, to make sure Tech Support doesn't get sick of it too soon.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Don't Do It Half-Way

When we got to the booth the lights were on bright. Everyone sat down, but after a moment I got back up again and headed for the knob on the opposite wall.

That's better. Karaoke was not meant to in the harsh light of reality. After all, who are we kidding? We're not there because we're talented singers on the way to the top. We're not practicing. We're not going to be the next White Stripes or Patsy Cline.

But we like to pretend.

To karaoke properly you have to put your whole body into it. That's why I don't do karaoke bars. I'm not interested in exposing myself to strangers that way.

In the comfortable companionship of friends and family, the lights dim, the sound turned up loud -- we rock. I lay down across one seat and start taking pictures at odd angles, timed to be blurry and indistinct.

I'm operating on far too little sleep. The plot of my story still vexes me. Everyone else is dealing with the stress of daily life. But belting out Major Tom, 1234, Kids, Wheel of Fortune, I love College, Starlight, and whatever Japanese songs have tickled J-Po's fancy, who really cares about such petty crap?

After all, I can do a mean version of Jealous Guy.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

I think embarrassed is spelled wrong

If I were in charge I would spell it emberass. Actually, I spell it that way on a regular basis, but an awful red underline forces me to change it into the 'correct' spelling. Pah!

Moving on. Though I can put on a good show, I've discovered that having a single night of bad sleep can throw me off for the next several days. I slept poorly on Tues, okay on Weds, and well Thursday night, but by the end of work on Friday I was falling asleep on a student who'd come in for a private lesson. Luckily I still managed to help her fix her lace, which she proclaimed 'saved her life'.

On the bus ride home I contemplated dinner. We were supposed to do burgers. I was so tired. Yawning tired. I ran through a list of local restaurants in my head, and argued with myself internally.

Pro: I am tired and won't have to do anything if I let those nice peoples make my dinner.

Con: I will feel like a weak failure and probably won't enjoy the ill-gotten food that much.

The fact that we were eating out all weekend pushed me back into the "no, I will be STRONG!" arena of thinking (though I suffered a setback when I realized I had also planned on making fries). Then a blast of inspiration, what if I topped the burgers with caramelized balsamic onions and brie? Memories of the burger at the Bistro in Independence tantalized me.

I think this is why I get lazy about cooking sometimes, I seem determined to always make more work for myself.

But surprisingly, the fries and the onions were very easy to make and didn't require much more than slicing and putting over heat.

Tech Support came home and I put him in charge of the burgers.

In about a half an hour, we had brie burgers. Not quite as good as the ones in Independence, I think we needed a milder brie, but delicious anyway. Very satisfying after a long day of saving lives.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

In The Family

On Sunday a Kitchen Gnome showed up.

And I got him to do the dishes somehow. He also helped me make Pasta alla Norma which I discovered in the latest issue of Cooks Illustrated. I like eggplant, but have had issues with cooking it before (so have other people, I've received eggplant dishes that were entirely too firm from restaurants). This dish had some creative way of cooking the eggplant to guarantee it wouldn't be chewy and unpleasant.

And it wasn't.

The next morning the Kitchen Gnome got to work with my Cooks Illustrated baking book, and by the afternoon, this had appeared.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Poseidon Worship

June gloom has been aggressively persistent this year. I didn't even realize it was summer until the sun came out about a week ago. We were all set to go to the beach on Sunday with Meggish and her husband, but Meggish's schoolwork got in the way. The morning was cold and overcast, but I still demanded we go down to the beach and say hello to the summer ocean.

Intimidated by the cloudy sky, we didn't get into our bathing suits -- a mistake. Once I touched the water I wanted to get my whole body into the waves. But, there are still several months of summer. We settled for getting significantly splashed.

I haven't been food blogging lately because I've been making a lot of dishes that I've already blogged about. I'm quite proud of my repertoire, but at a certain point it comes off more like taunting and less like a journal. Ala: I made Chicken Tikka Masala again last night, and it was even better this time. You shoulda been here.

Sunday night though, I pulled out Let's Cook Japanese Food! and tried a new one. Spicy ground beef curry with vegetables. Tech Support was in charge of vegetable prep and I think he did a delightful job.

I love colorful food. I think that presentation is definitely a part of an enjoyable meal, though sometimes I'm too lazy to bother. Of course, after cooking these vegetables for a bit and adding the bright yellow curry, they had lost some of their shine.

Perhaps not the most beautiful presentation, and my shots are still coming out blurry, but it was pretty tasty.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Rainy Days and Mondays...

I've made a lot of mistakes writing my book. The kind of mistakes I had to make in order to learn how to be a writer. But still. Big Mistakes. Frustrating Mistakes. Tiring Mistakes.

I spend hours in my kitchen/office. From the window and brief ventures outside I see the sky is clear and blue. The morning glories or the jasmine or some flower is blooming. Birds are chirping in one of the trees. Southern California has gorgeous weather and wonderful days 95% of the year. They're hard to escape.

I let the blinds down low. I stare at the computer screen. I angst. I need to go get some whipping cream for desert tonight but I can't get myself to go outside again.

Monday something clicked. The writing flowed. Went places I didn't expect. New places I was excited to go. Tuesday I'm still going. Nervous flutterings have started in my stomach. This can't last. This won't last. There's something horribly wrong that I'm not seeing. Tomorrow I'll look over what I wrote today and discover that it's pure trash.

Wednesday morning I go over yesterday's writing. I like it. I love it. I have to go to the work that actually earns money.

Wednesday night sees me at massive coffeehouse chain. There were no seats inside so I'm stuck outside, waiting for over 45 minutes (at least I was forewarned) for Tech Support to join me for dinner at the intersection of two busy streets. The day is gray, it rained earlier. The two men sitting next to me are having a loud conversation in a foreign language. My drink is too hot and every time I put it down a little bit spills.

What a wonderful day. I can hardly wait for the next.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Long Road Home

We'd stayed in a B&B, a roadside motel, a cabin, a chain hotel, and we finished up the trip in a suite with a view of the ocean.

I enjoyed each style of lodging for very different reasons. On the last day of our trip I took great pleasure in sitting by one of the windows with the ocean view, breathing in the salt air and looking at the ocean through the binoculars they'd provided.

I'd missed the sea. The mountains along the 395 had a jagged majesty that overwhelmed the landscape. Traveling alongside them, I'd seen how someone might be a mountain person. Waking up in the morning and looking out at the massive landscapes, always part of the view no matter how built up the city, had been a pleasure.

But I'm an ocean girl. I love the cool breeze, the crash of the waves and even the smell of rotting kelp.

After another continental breakfast, I dragged Tech Support out for what was to be a short walk.

We headed up the wooden walkway, toward the park at the north end where Meggish and Nick got married over a year ago. There was road construction in the way, so we couldn't get all the way there without climbing along the shore.

We met two little bunnies along the way. The lady at the Fogcatcher said they were some kind of dwarf cotton tale, a wild version of the dutch miniature. They definitely weren't much larger than the fat, fat squirrels which threatened to chase us down and paw through our pockets for food.

There were beautiful wildflowers in bloom.

On a whim, I decided to drag us down to the beach to look at the tide pools. I read Cannery Row for the first time about a month ago, and Steinbeck's vivid descriptions had stuck with me. But I didn't see any octopi murdering any crabs, though I did see some crabs.

And sea anenomes.

And star fish.

And eventually we noticed this handsome harbor seal watching our progress toward him. We watched him with equal care, until eventually we noticed we were surrounded by at least 3 other harbor seals sunning themselves awkwardly.

This one climbed up onto the rocks while we watched, and then proceeded to do his best imitation of The Little Mermaid.

While standing out on the rocks we met an older couple who'd seen otters out in the ocean the day before, when they hadn't had their cameras. They had an accent, but I couldn't tell if they were from Britian or New Zealand. They'd been in Palm Springs and found the chilly weather in Cambria a bit shocking. Their son was trying to decide between medical schools in San Francisco and San Diego, and had almost been seduced by the sunny weather of the latter.

After all those comments on the cold weather I became convinced they were from New Zealand, as I think England is cold year-round.

We were feeling pretty cold by then ourselves, and were startled to discover we'd been out and about for over an hour. We packed up and got back on the road about a half an hour later than we'd intended.

In Lompoc we had a picnic and movie date with my parents. At their complex we found an ill acting little sparrow sitting in the middle of the road. Tech Support attempted to transplant the poor thing onto the grass using a newspaper, to at least get it out of the street, and ended up re-enacting a scene from "The Birds" instead.

We had our picnic at La Purisima, which has to be one of my favorite of the missions. They have a lot of land to hike around on, as well as animals and gardens.

After lunch my mother and I had to pay our respects to the resident bull. We both have a crush on bully, which my mother has written about on her own blog.

Next road trip I go on, I have to remember to take a hair tie.

My father, wanting to be sure we wouldn't be late for the movie, took us on a whirl-wind tour of the mission buildings.

He hikes around the mission about 3-4 times a week, leaves flowers on the grave of the padre, and has favorite pieces of art and furniture.

Apparently one day they even let him up on the bell tower.

After the mission I had to stop by at a nearby fruit stand and pick up a half-flat of strawberries for half of what they would cost in Los Angeles.

Thanks to dad's speedy tour we were more than on time to see Star Trek. Though I'd already seen it twice before I was happy to see it again. I also knew that the only way I could get my mother to see it was by dragging her there myself.

Determined not to confuse anyone about what goes on in the building, their local theater is called "The Movies." Tech Support, used to Los Angeles prices, had two twenties out and ready before the cashier told us the total was $14. About half what it would cost in Los Angeles.

The theater was about half of a Los Angeles theater too. The screen about half as wide and tall. The volume about half as loud. At least they ran the entire movie. The experience was charming.

My mother loved the movie.

After that interlude we were back on the road again.


We hit that part of the 101, just north of Santa Barbara, that snakes through some hills and spits us out by the ocean and always makes me feel like we're on the home stretch.

Then we hit that area of Santa Barbara that I hate.

Traffic was not something I missed, but since it was memorial day weekend I was expecting it. We crawled along behind a green Toyota Corolla for about an hour. The navigation system in Tech Support's new Element cheerfully kept us apraised of the fact that this should only have taken five minutes.

At one point we saw smoke, and worried that another big fire was up ahead. It turned out to be someone's car, the entire thing engulfed in flames. The traffic continued on for another fifteen minutes before we finally picked up speed again.

Another train to wave at.

We stopped in Oxnard at Cabo, recommended to us by my parents, and absolutely gorged ourselves on mexican food. By the time we were done we wanted a nap far more than we wanted to get back on the road.

The navigation system was far kinder to us this time, reassuring us that we were only about an hour away from our final destination. I convinced Tech Support to take the 1, so we could return home along the coast rather than traveling through the valley on the 101.

The ocean was an endless darkness to our right. Eventually I saw bright lights, and knew we were almost home.