Category Archives: Away from it All

road trip: LA

I just got back from a weekend in Los Angeles, visiting my good friend Harriet. Even though airfares are shockingly low at the moment I decided to drive. There's nothing that clears my head more than hitting the open road alone–moving forward through changing terrain, uninterrupted in my own little world for hours and hours on end. (Check out photos from some of my other roadtrips on Flickr.) 

Once in LA, the theme of the weekend turned out to be Downtown/Little Tokyo and good inexpensive food. My first night in town we went for ramen at the legendary Daikokuya. This is one of those hole in the wall eateries where people line up for hours to get in. Normally I refuse to participate in that kind of lemming behavior, but I was fighting a cold and really wanted what I'd heard was the best bowl of ramen in town.

Even though we didn't get a table until close to 10PM, I have to admit it was worth the wait. For starters, the broth is not the usual clear fare, it's a dense buttery (and by butter, I mean pork butter) stock made from boiling pork bones and soy sauce all day long. And the pork itself is not just any pork, it's kurobuta (Berkshire) pork. Even the hard boiled eggs are pre-boiled in a secret sauce (the waiters were very cagey when I asked them about it) that impart an incredible flavor. The overall result was the most satisfying ramen I have ever eaten, all for a whopping $8.50. (I'd love to hear about any place that thinks it can top it!)

The next night we tried a much newer spot, the hip "exotic sausage grill" Wurstk├╝che. I liked the simple raw industrial space and long communal tables but was even more impressed to find 24 imported beers on tap (I was very happy with my Belgian Tripel Karmeliet). The next choice was deciding from 21 varieties of sausage. As curious as I was about a lot of the inventive offerings (such as Rattlesnake & Rabbit or Duck, Bacon & Jalapeno) I went for a classic Bockwurst with two toppings (in my case caramelized onions and sauerkraut). My favorite part of the meal though were the crisp double-dipped Belgian fries which came with a choice of imaginative dipping sauces (I was intrigued by the Coconut Curry Mayo but ultimately couldn't pass up the Blue Cheese Walnut and Bacon). Not the finest or fanciest meal, but definitely a good concept, well-executed and fun.

The last notable meal of the weekend (not counting the numerous snack stops at Pinkberry) was breakfast at Square One. They have a great breakfast menu and do a flawless job of preparing the food, but my dining experience was overshadowed by being sandwiched between two tables engrossed in "industry" talk. I guess it wouldn't be a trip to LA if at some point you didn't feel like you were in a scene out of a Hollywood satire. At the table to my left was the idealistic young film student (fresh out of college and new in town) looking for advice from a seasoned screenwriter about how to break in as a writer-director. To my right were two cynical TV sitcom writers whose entire worldview seemed not to extend beyond the backlot. I had a hard time having my own conversation because the eavesdropping was endlessly entertaining.

winter walk

We finally started getting some much needed rain yesterday. Great for the environment, but the dreary gray skies don’t do much for my state of mind. This morning I really needed to clear my head so I went out in the light showers for a quiet walk in the woods near my house. It was so soothing to be alone in the stillness of winter, just the sound of water dripping off of trees and the soggy squish of wet leaves underfoot. It gave me an opportunity to slow down and focus on the small things (in a good way) like water drops on leaves,

moss and lichen covered rocks,

and sculptural rain-slicked trees.

The walk made me think about two different Rilke quotes that I’ve always liked:

“if there is nothing you can share with other people, try to be close to Things; they will not
abandon you”

and

“Being an artist
means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn’t force its sap, and stands confidently in the
storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come.”

Words to live by.

summer in winter

For the last week or so we've been having these freakishly sunny and warm days. Of course the lack of rain and what this hot spell means in the larger environmental context is extremely concerning, but in a nearsighted, selfish way it sure has been pleasant!

This afternoon my brother and I took the boys for a bike ride in the marshlands along the north end of the San Francisco Bay. The air was so still and the light so crisp it made me want to keep riding and riding and never turn back. 

When we did return home, the fresh evening air inspired me to have a spur-of-the-moment cookout in the garden. Rather than using the barbecue, I set up a grate on our open fire ring so we could sit around campfire style. The boys put their jackets on over their pajamas and we grilled sausages and roasted marshmallows.

It was such a beautiful day. More than the weather and the activities and the food though, what gives me the most joy is being able to share my sense of spontaneity and the importance of celebrating the moment with my children.

yes we can!

I try to keep my personal life out of this blog but I've been going through some rough relationship stuff that's made it hard to write here lately (and probably for awhile to come). Without getting into it, I just wanted to give some kind of explanation for whatever lackluster (or plain lack of) content there is to come. Apologies in advance.

When I'm struggling with my own issues though I find it helpful to try and focus on the big picture, something outside of myself. So this weekend I drove four hours to Reno with three friends to volunteer for Obama's campaign in the battleground state of Nevada.

After the 2004 election I was so disheartened (depressed, devastated etc.) I felt compelled to make a short narrative film to express my concerns about what I saw happening in the United States. Little did I imagine that four years later we would have a Vice-Presidential candidate (I'm talking about Sarah Palin now) who is frighteningly reminiscent of the cautionary fictional character we created in the film. (Worse than my worst nightmare!)

This time I don't want to wake up on November 5th feeling sick to my stomach and trying to incite change after the damage has already been done. I want to participate in our democracy NOW while I can actually accomplish something. This is my country too, and it won't reflect me if I don't get out there and make myself heard and seen and counted. I hope everybody who can is doing the same.

woods lake

All summer I've been jonesing for a camping trip to a high alpine lake. I love that granite scenery of the Sierras. This week the kids are in-between summer camp and the start of school, so I talked my brother into joining us for a three day midweek trip. We just returned from an idyllic alpine experience at Woods Lake. Hiking, swimming, and cooking over an open wood fire. Summer perfection.

portland

Just got back from a fun 3-day trip to Portland. I didn't really do too much of the tourist thing because I was primarily there to spend time with my friend Inese and her baby, but I still managed to enjoy quite a bit of the city.

Of course I was most thrilled about the food scene there. Amazing restaurants and impressive produce at the Farmers' Market. And lucky for me it was the peak of the berry season–my favorite! There is such a great variety of berries–very high quality and also so inexpensive compared to what we pay for them in the Bay Area. I was gorging on them at every meal!

I also had the chance to spend a morning at Powell's Books and had a hard time tearing myself away. I could have spent all day (all weekend!) in there. Room after room of amazing books. Just an overwhelming selection and in such a satisfying literary environment. All the things I didn't even know I was dying to read! I know it's a cliche to rant about how corporate chains pale in comparison to independent retailers but this is such a screaming example of that it's hard not to note. 

The other thing I really appreciated about Portland was the very apparent DIY ethos that permeates the culture. In stores and results and in local press you really get a strong sense of a youthful and vibrant community that takes a hands-on, personal approach to life. I really appreciate that independent, can-do spirit a lot. One of the craft blogs I read, Angry Chicken, is based in Portland and is a perfect example of what I'm talking about.

Can't wait to go back!