THE LONG GOODBYE

Shortly after graduating from college, having decided to move to England with a vague and optimistic master plan on how to succeed in the music industry, I did the rounds to say goodbye to a number of professors I had particularly liked during the years. While visiting my French professor who, on hindsight, I liked more for his dashing looks than for any Proust he might have taught me, he asked me what I thought was a strange question: “Why would you leave a place where you can be a Queen Bee and move somewhere where you will be a nobody?”. I was slightly stumped at the time – other than a need to follow my instincts, I wasn’t quite sure why I was going. Call it wanting for some new experiences, broadening my horizons, or just being young and foolish, I knew I had to leave my hometown and move on.

As I live in a personal belief system that won’t allow me to look back, question decisions and play the what ifs game, in my world that original decision worked very well for me. I don’t know what kind of Queen Bee I would have become if I had stayed but I have certainly transformed into a butterfly, perfectly happy with my imperfect kingdom.

That question posed so long ago recently resurfaced when I decided to leave my latest job. I had been with a generous and interesting company for over 8 years; I was respected and beloved by my staff; I had a dream commute (not something to discard when living in LA) and I could have comfortably stayed on for many years to come. None of those thoughts did indeed cross my mind when I was mulling a change; rather, I was reminded of them this when the time came to say goodbye to my coworkers and clients,  a process that seemed to stretch beyond the last day and was filled with tears and vaguely nostalgia. I knew it was time t face new challenges, reinvent a third act that, on paper and rationally, has very few reasons to succeed. But how do I define success? Is it the paycheck at the end of the month? The number of people who will like me on Facebook?

On my last day, I told my mostly young staff not to forget their dreams. Ever. To water them a little bit everyday and to go after them, as outlandish and improbable as they are, because no one else will do it for them. In the end, it’s no so much the dream itself that matters but our willingness to embark on the journey to get there. That the “there” might not be the one we had originally envisioned matters little – we will have changed in the process and that is what I am seeking with my “foolish” choice.

It was probably foolish to leave a career path that a couple of university professors were more than happy to guide me on and to go fold children’s sweatshirts in a clothing store in London, pinching pennies to afford some meat  now and then, all the while sending handwritten and made-up resumes to every single record company, recording studio and management company in town, trying to get a foot in the door. It turned out I got both feet in, happy to relinquish the Queen Bee position to someone else who, I am sure, enjoyed it a lot more.

 

 

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SEVEN LOVELIES

Marcella of For Your Good Health was kind enough to nominate me for a Beautiful Blogger Award. Like all these awards that populate the web and that I am sure have the noble intention of making blogs more visible, the rules are:

  1. Add the image of the award to your blog post
  2. Thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link to their blog
  3. Post seven interesting things about yourself
  4. Nominate other bloggers  you feel deserve the award and let them know

Instead of posting seven interesting things about myself – could they really be that interesting? –  I would rather list seven books for the coming Autumn/Winter season. I know, it’s fairly hot today in Los Angeles and most likely wherever you are sitting  too but it’s too late to talk about Summer reads. All these novels require some time, possibly on the couch, with a cup of tea and the willingness to enter other worlds.

  1. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. My current favourite. I am obsessed with Tudor times and, at this point, I know more about the subject than I ever thought possible. Still, this Booker Prize winner, tells some of Henry VIII’s story from Thomas Cromwell’s point of view, in a fresh and detailed new voice.
  2. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell. At the moment I am reading David Mitchell’s better known Cloud Atlas, another masterpiece, but Jacob de Zoet drew me in with the richness of details and the delicate and unusual love story set in 18th century Japan, a country then still unopened to foreigners.
  3. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. Possibly one of the longest novels ever and, yet, I didn’t want it to finish. The story is centered around four Indian families and one woman’s effort to find a suitable match for her daughter.
  4. Saturday by Ian McEwan. I can’t wait for the release of Mr. McEwan’s new novel, an excerpt of which I just read in the New Yorker, as he is one of my favourite authors. The novel takes place in just one day in 2003, protests over the Iraq war in the background, when a surgeon’s week-end routine is disrupted by a violent act.
  5. War and Peace by Lev Tolstoy. If you have never read it, you must. That’s all I am going to say.
  6. The Moor’s Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie. When Rushdie’s books were still great – in this particular one, the narrator traces back the four generations that came before him
  7. Middlemarch by George Eliot. If you haven’t read it in school and have come to the end of the line with Jane Austen, this will satisfy your 19th century English cravings.

As to worthy bloggers, I recently came across :

Doves Today

and I reserve the right to nominate more in the days to come (having a hard time staying on top of all the blogs I come across)

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ADVENTURES IN LALA LAND – PICCA CANTINA

Anticucho black cod

Peruvian food has become extremely trendy and Picca offers a riot of flavors in what, I would imagine, is a personal and modern take on Peruvian food.  Ricardo Zacate, who first opened Mo-Chica (see review) in a funky part of town, has now graced the West side with Picca Cantina, which is garnering accolades and wonderful reviews.

Let’s start with the location, on that stretch of Pico Boulevard better known for kosher establishments – the stand alone building also hosts Sotto (check out the review), the excellent Italian eatery. Upstairs, however, is a modern cantina, with an open kitchen, sleek design and sleek customers to match, the latter handled with firmness and a smile by the capable hostess.

The noise level, once the restaurant is full, is beyond any reasonable conversation but my party and I were seated in a semi private room upstairs, around a sturdy and unusually large wooden table, and we were afforded an acceptable decibel level. Our server was professional, did not feel compelled to tell us her name and steered us through both the drinks and food menu with dexterity.

And what a menu it is. The  multitude of dishes are tapas size and meant to be enjoyed family style. To try the whole menu would require many reservations and a sizable savings account but the effort would be worth it.

My only other  experience with Peruvian food came courtesy of Mo-Chica (check out the review), possibly a more down to earth version of the food Mr. Zarate cooks at Picca, so I can’t say whether  what I ate resembles anything served anywhere in Peru. To accompany the various Pisco sour cocktails we ordered, we started by nibbling on Jalea Mixta, lightly fried seafood with a tartare sauce; Chicharrones de Pollo, fried morsels of chicken with salsa criolla and Papa Rellena, a Peruvian version of a jacket potato filled with slow cooked beef and a boiled egg. All three dishes were delicious, with the first two pleasing to less adventurous palates while the Papa Rellena will never make me look at another baked potato the same way. It was that good.

Egg, in the form of fried, made an appearance on another beef dish, a sort of stew, that was also excellent but the name of which I haven’t retained. If you do see it on the menu, do not hesitate though. The Ceviche Mixto also features thinly sliced potatoes in a citrus sauce and, if you are a fan of raw fish, the albacore tuna is a must. My personal favourite was served on a wooden board: Anticucho Black Cod with crisp sweet potatoes – a beautiful presentation and the buttery flavor of cod enhanced by a slightly sweet sauce. Seco de Paxo turned out to be duck leg comfit in a black beer sauce over cilantro rice. Despite my aversion for cilantro, at that point in the evening I was game to try anything and the duck was tender, flavorful  and highly unusual. As I said, bold flavors are the trademark of this restaurant.

Not sure if the Peruvian craze will continue or if Picca and Mo-Chica will keep on being the only game in town but if you are in for something different from the usual tapas, are in a festive mood and don’t mind a sign language conversation while munching on some pitch perfect and interesting food, make a bee-line for Picca and you won’t be disappointed.

Picca, by the way, means “nibble”.

www.piccaperu.com

 

 

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RANDOM THINGS THAT HAPPENED ON MY LAST DAY AT WORK

Image: trendytree.com

If it’s the small details, the ones we don’t notice, that gives our lives nuance, these are the little things that happened on my last day at work. Highly telling or not.

  1. My staff gave me the most wonderful, handmade scrapbook which opens with the quote: “Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you” Carl Sandburg. As careful as I was on not giving too many details about myself, I have to give them credit: they get me.
  2. I am a sucker for a surprise party, especially the one I really don’t expect. How did they pull it off? I am more of a fool that I believe I am
  3. In all the commotion, I lost my reading glasses. Serves me right. I always thought that having two pairs is the thing to do and never got around to it.
  4. Saying goodbye is emotionally exhausting.
  5. Eating cake at 10 in the morning does indeed mean you will crash at noon. Good reminder not to load on sugar early in the morning.
  6. Being able to nap in the middle of the day is exhilarating.
  7. Loving what you do, makes everything worthwhile.
  8. Real friends lurk in all nooks and crannies. Always keep your eyes peeled.

 

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THE VOICES INSIDE HIS HEAD

Pippo means Goofy in Italian

The door clicked shut behind the wheels of my carry-on. “YOU ARE LEAVING ME BEHIND!” the shriek pierced my brain loud and clear and my heart started pounding, as I fumbled with those credit card look alike’s that pass for door keys in most hotels, always making me pine for the heavy brass keys of old to be dropped with the concierge on the way out. Of course I was checking-out past my due time and my credit card-key had been deactivated. A mad rush to the front desk had the door promptly reopened and there he was, lying among the crumpled white sheets, all ready to go, had it not been for my forgetfulness.

I stuffed Pippo into my carry-on and, on the way to the airport, I vowed never to bring him on another trip with me. That had been too close a call.

Linus had a blanket and I had Pippo, with the slight difference that Linus probably  outgrew his blanket at age 10 while I, at age 30, was still shuttling around the world with a teddy bear. And not just any teddy bear. Not a teddy bear from a long ago boyfriend or anything with a remotely romantic attachment to it. I actually stopped liking teddy bears at age 6, always recycling well-meaning boyfriends’ gifts of a stuffed toy nature as Pippo had no competition.

Old black and white photos celebrating my birth and my first few years prove that Pippo was indeed my first toy – his face bigger than mine sitting next to me on the high chair, his fur as shiny as my black hair, his eyes as alert and as big as mine. It wasn’t always a cozy relationship – abandoned for fancier toys for long stretches of time, Pippo would wait patiently in a corner of my room, awaiting my need for him to become my sleeping companion again. He always knew such need would arise and he would be there to fulfill it.

His relationship with my sister was contentious at best. To get back at my meanness, the little devil pulled Pippo’s eyes out during a particularly fierce fight and his world went black for many years. No matter. He still had me to tell him bedtime stories and recount my adventures once the lights went out. He made it to London with the few possessions I took when I left home and, at this point inured to his ragged appearance, Pippo had to depend, if not on the kindness of strangers, at least on that of friends and family.

It was a friend who,  moved to pity, restored his sight with a bright new pair of fancy eyes from Harrods and it was my mother, during one of her visits, who sewed his dangling neck and hid the wound with a red scarf. His fur was still a bit worse for wear but he was very pleased with his new lease on life. Besides, his globetrotting days had started in earnest: wherever I slept, he slept (or nearby at least) and, as my job demanded a busy, if not constant, travelling schedule, Pippo got to know very many hotels around Europe and beyond, until that fateful day in Cologne, Germany, where my lack of sleep and tardiness left him screaming between the sheets.

Pippo was retired from flying, unless it involved a full-on relocation. He flew business class to Los Angeles with me when I moved, my only friend and calming presence in a city where I virtually didn’t know a soul. Gradually, he started spending more and more time at the foot of the bed, rather than in it,although, when alone, sometimes I still resort to the warmth of his presence on the pillow next to mine. In his 50 years, he has not uttered a single word of complaint. He knows his lot has been much better than most of his contemporaries. He still listens patiently, he spends his days on a comfy pillow on a beautiful chair and still gets to talk to me. We have both grown up and aged gracefully. His Harrods eyesight is still going strong and the red scarf gets washed periodically. I even thought of sending him for a make-over to a toy repair laboratory but he reminds me he is not a toy, and shouldn’t be treated as such. And he is right: fancy toys have long come and gone while he endures, gentle breeze from the window tousling his fur, memories of fun trips taken together to liven up his days. And, still, my bedtime stories.

 

 

 

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ADVENTURES IN LALA LAND – Malibu Pier Beach

Image: flowtv.org

Excellent news. If you ever doubted the Californian man, he of high cheekbones and impossibly blond hair, toned and tanned abs, carefree attitude and that I-just-woke-up-this-way kind of beauty was an invention of Hollywood surfing movies and Calvin Klein ads, let me reassure you, he does exist and doing very well.

A couple of hours spent on the Malibu Pier beach will be enough to validate my assessment. Up until a few years ago, my friend Silvia, a few days after landing in LA, would invariably ask “Can we go to that surfers’ beach?” It was best friend’s code for “I want to go see some surfer dudes before I go back to Italy”. And I happily obliged.

There are very many surfing beaches, depending on what board one uses, long or short, what kind of waves one wants, the level of difficulty and many finer points any surfer would be more than happy to discuss. But the Malibu Pier is indeed a premium spot – right in the heart of Malibu, next to the lagoon and the Colony of movie stars’ abodes fame, impossibly beautiful specimen abound, parading on the sand, black wetsuits dangling from their waist, copper skin and perfectly bleached hair from countless hours spent in the sun, gleaming teeth and chiselled cheekbones. Where do they make them exactly?

More entertaining still, it’s to watch them dance on the waves, with a grace and a lightness that probably required years of practice but seem engrained in their being. And, indeed, to spend time on such a beach doing more than just sunbathing but taking an interest in what goes on in the water (forbidden to mere swimmers to avoid hapless tourists being whacked on the head by a board) will reveal glimpses of a culture that has always been synonymous with  Southern California.

The old man, trimmed and dark, face shaded by a wide-brimmed straw hat, proudly points his granddaughter falling in the foam and his son, a renown surfing teacher, slicing the wave he has caught to alight gracefully nearly on the sand. If you have ever tried surfing, you know how hard it is to even find the balance to stand on the board, let alone becoming conversant with the waves. The most dedicated will be in the water in the middle of winter, before heading to the office, mapping storms and tides. There is a meditating aspect to surfing, way out there, far from any noise or voice, other than the clamoring of the waves, just with yourself, testing the limits of what you can do.

As to me, I never even bought a board, perfectly happy to discuss the finer points of surfing from the comfort of the beach, away from the freezing water and a step closer to understanding this uniquely Californian way of life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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DIAMONDS MIGHT NOT BE A GIRL’S BEST FRIENDS


In case you haven’t noticed, recently it was the 50th anniversary of Norma Jean Baker’s death. Marilyn Monroe. Words and pictures and tv shows abounded in the last few weeks, most notably reviewing the case of her death, accidental or otherwise. While I am at work, I think my mother must have gobbled up too many of these shows, because yesterday, apropos of nothing, she came out with “Would you take me to see Marilyn Monroe’s grave site?” Say what?

I am not one for cemeteries. Countless visits to Paris never inspired me to trudge to Pere Lachaise and even when staying in Highgate, London, I never made it to the famous graves. The Hollywood Forever cemetery, sprawling green hills where many beautiful and famous are laid to rest, will attract the likes of me only because of their movies on the lawn programming. But how can you refuse one’s mother? A brief internet search informed me that Ms. Monroe’s latest abode is not at the Hollywood Forever, as I suspected, but at the Pierce Bros. Memorial Park, right in the heart of Westwood.

And sure enough, located behind the Wilshire corridor’s skyscrapers and not too far from UCLA, is this quiet oasis of green, enormous Jacaranda trees and simple crypts dating back to the ’30’s, with  more contemporary and much more lavish granite tombs in a newer addition (that is where you will find Farrah Fawcett, for example). It’s actually quite serene – not that I have given much thought to my burial (or cremation as the case may be) but this is a cute little place where to end up, if one really must.

Another use for lipstick

Marilyn’s tombstone, I believe arranged by Joe DiMaggio (the source of this tidbit is my mother and her tv shows and wholly unverified by me), is simple: just her name and the two dates book-ending her life. One or more women felt inspired to dab bright red lipstick and kiss the marble. Some flowers were left in the tiny vase. That’s it. Not sure what I expected but, if she is looking from somewhere, I think Marilyn would be pleased with the location and the little bench right nearby (erected in somebody else’s memory), where a stream of young girls kept on replacing one another, paying their respects to a star who, if alive today, would look incongruous within the parameters of our skinny and toned female ideals and where an airhead (real or made up) has little place in what we find attractive.

Uneducated maybe, but certainly not a airhead, I think Marilyn would be bemused by the throngs of females of all ages who keep her myth alive. Because it’s women who are drawn to her movies, her rag to riches story, her sad ending. She might not be the poster child for anything we apparently stand for but she left an image of unabashed sexuality not to be ashamed for, and the impression that a strong mind  can get you anywhere.

Three Italian young men took pictures and, upon hearing me speak Italian, asked me if I knew where Roy Orbison’s tomb was. Not a clue but their Lonely Planet stated he was also buried there. A funeral in the Persian section of the cemetery was wrapping up and I felt like I was intruding by peeking at grave stones of people I didn’t know. Although, we all knew Marilyn – she gave women, in her own way, a legacy of independence. And that is no small achievement.

 

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DUTCH BABY

Photo credit: bluejeangourmet.com

It was a friend from Portland who, a few years ago, promised to come over to cook me breakfast and, upon arriving, uttered “Do you like Dutch Baby?”. Dutch what?

It has since become a breakfast item I like to make for guests as few people are familiar with it and it tastes spectacular just out of the oven.

Essentially it’s a cross between a giant popover and a pancake and it has its roots in German pancakes. According to a Wikipedia entry, it was first introduced in Seattle (where it remains immensely popular)  early 1900’s. To my knowledge, there is nothing Dutch about it but, if you know any different, please let me know.

What I most love about this dish is that it’s served with a sprinkle of lemon which doesn’t make it as sweet as a traditional pancake. And it’s also much lighter.

The recipe I have been using for years was originally sourced from Gourmet magazine but I reworked it taking away vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg and substituting lemon sugar for powder sugar and lemon juice.

RECIPE – Yields 4 to 6 servings

1/3 C Powder Sugar (or less, according to taste

1 Lemon

3 Eggs

2/3 C Whole Milk, possibly room temperature

2/3 C AP Flour

1/8 ts Salt

2 oz Butter (half a stick)

 

  1. Put a 10” cast iron pan (or other skillet) in the oven and pre-heat at 450F
  2. Beat the eggs with an electric mixer (or in a blender) until pale and frothy, then add the milk, flour and salt. Beat until smooth. The batter will be thin.
  3. Remove the pan from the oven and put the butter in it, swirling the pan to melt it. Add batter and immediately return the pan to the oven. Bake until puffed and golden brown, about 20/25 minutes.
  4. Squeeze some lemon juice all over it and sprinkle with powder sugar. Serve immediately.

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MAKING YOUR VERY OWN LOX

Photo credit: trissalicious.com

Colazione is Italian for either breakfast or lunch. That there isn’t a proper word for breakfast befits most Italians’ habit of gulping down an espresso or cappuccino while munching on some carbs, possibly a croissant, a cookie or some toast with jam. Even the introduction of breakfast cereals hasn’t done much to change ingrained habits. Pancakes, waffles and eggs in general are most definitely not a breakfast item. My mother still curiously peeks at me when I poach eggs at 7 am. Which is why I decided to introduce her to all manners of Anglo-Saxon breakfast goodies. Pancakes were a hit but no surprises there, they are carbs. But even lox and eggs, a very Jewish dish, went down very well.

Like most people, I tend to buy lox at the market – it’s not cheap and I always intend to cure my own but I never do. Like most people. Yet, it is so simple.
Start with a piece of raw salmon. I will not give measured ingredients as it all depends on how big your salmon piece is.
Mix 1 part kosher salt to 2 parts sugar and add your spirit of choice, usually vodka. To infuse the lox with other flavors, you can use flavored vodka but I stick to regular one. Mix with your hands – you want a sandy consistency, like a paste, and you want enough to cover both sides of the fish evenly. To this paste you can add herbs, like thyme for instance.
Coat the salmon on both sides, covering it completely with the sugar/salt/vodka mix. Place it on a perforated pan (like the top of a roasting pan) so it can drain while it cures. Cover it with a flat pan, like a baking pan, on which you will place something heavy, for instance,  a few cans of whatever is in your pantry. Refrigerate for 3 days. On day 2, flip the salmon. On day 3, you will  see how it has cured and acquired that shiny patina and deeper color we associate with lox. Remove whatever paste is still on it, slice it and reach for the bagels.

Photo credit: kitchenrap.blogspot.com

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WORKING IT OUT

The alarm clock went off at 5:45 this morning. I dragged myself down the stairs, sleep still in my eyes, for a pre-work yoga session with my iPad (some apps are indeed useful), under the vigilant gaze of Ottie, strategically positioned in front of the open window, trying to catch whatever early morning breeze he could get. The yoga lady in the animation video, and her steady and soothing voice telling me to essentially do the millionth push-up when my arms already ache, is not helping the overall feeling that I should have stayed in bed for an extra 45 minutes. And then I think of my toned arms and I give in to her instructions.

I am not obsessed with exercise the way I used to be in my 30’s but I do make a point of finding time for a workout of some sort between 3 and 5 times a week. With a full-time job that can have crazy hours, driving distances that need to be factored in my social life, two dogs and a house to run it can be easy to find excuses not to work out, hence the early morning sessions from time to time. Going to a proper gym has rarely worked for me – my local yoga studio, 5 minutes drive from my house, is all I can muster. A gym would require a 3 hour time commitment I can rarely spare. So I get creative: besides a mix of hard-core and tamer yoga sessions at home or with a teacher, I stocked up on dance aerobics dvd’s and invested in a good pair of shoes, years of Pilates have left me with a solid mat work I still practice, I sprint and jog with the dogs up and down the surrounding hills where I live. If I am anywhere near a pool and nobody is watching, I will push myself to see how many laps of my shoddy swimming I can get to. Sometimes it’s challenging to find the motivation, sometimes I am really good at talking myself out of it but, mostly, I do it. Just like in those Nike commercials. Why? I have recently wondered.

Common sense and doctors tell us we should. I live in a city where looking fit and youthful has become a tourist landmark. It makes me feel good. These are all valid reasons I am sure I share with many of you but when I stopped to really think why on earth I would willingly rise before the sun to work out, I found a subtle shift in  motivation. In my ’20’s, 30’s and, possibly even 40’s, I wanted to look good – I wanted my legs to be mini-skirt worthy, my  butt to look perky in jeans and leggings, my abs to shine under cropped t-shirts. In essence, the motivation, if not explicitly, was sexual. Look at me: I could be your worthy mate, for a night or a lifetime.

Now that I have finally gotten to the point where that kind of validation has no meaning anymore, now that I am old and confident enough to like most of who I am and live comfortably with what I don’t, I really do it for myself. Now that I wouldn’t dream of wearing cropped anything or any skirts above the knee (unless thick tights and boots are involved –  maybe), it’s just for my  own pleasure that I gaze at my flat stomach or wear a 20-year-old pair of jeans.

 

Image Credit: Freepik.com

Last week  I noticed a co-worker, a bit on the heavy side, wearing a pretty white blouse I complimented her on. Yesterday she sported a lovely embroidered top that revealed her recent weight loss. She has still some way to go to get to where probably she wants to be but her pride and satisfaction make her glow and she has clearly rewarded herself with some new clothes. Herself, she is doing it for herself which is the biggest motivation of all.

 

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