Tag Archives: california

Life List #71

If you check out my life list, you’ll see it’s a work (life) in-progress. #71, Return to the Santa Ynez to walk in the fields and write, was one of those Lift List goals that snuck up on me and that’s part of what made it so enjoyable.

Last month, I traveled to California for an extended period of time to see friends, meet babies, and work from a different location (as lovely as my apartment/workspace is, sometimes I need a change of scenery). During that trip, I visited a friend in Santa Barbara — a place I had only been once before, where I fell in love with and vowed to return to the Santa Ynez mountains.

Since I had a few work days to kill before my friend and I went on an adventure to Hearst Castle, I decided to spend those days writing up in the mountains. At 9am every morning, I made the 30(ish) minute trek up through the gorgeous mountains and settled on the deck of  Corner House Coffee, in Los Olivos. While I typed away on my laptop, I watched the citizens of this small town come in for their morning coffee, stop in for a muffin or a lunch time sandwich or meet up with a spouse after their work day. I heard their local gossip, learned about new construction underway, and pet a few adorable dogs.

During my lunch breaks, I shut my laptop, got into my rental car, and drove around aimlessly through the mountains, marveling as their peaks changed from purple to green and taupe. There were times where I’d comment out loud to myself how it didn’t look real. When you daily commute consists of pavements and subway tunnels, winding roads and expansive views that look as if they were painted with watercolors makes it harder for an urban brain to absorb. It almost makes you feel giddy. Since I was already in a state of euphoria (or maybe it was the altitude), I would follow whatever small sign struck my fancy. One day it was “Lavender Farm, keep right.” Another day “Miniature Donkeys for Sale + Petting Zoo.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I turned down long driveways and was greeted with the smell of fresh lavender or manure. I bought linen spray and almost walked away with a miniature donkey. I walked through an olive grove, picked a few olives off a tree, and absently put them in my pocket — where I rediscovered them a few weeks ago, shriveled and hard as rocks, but they made me smile. I’ll keep them in that jacket to remind me that I took a risk, went off the beaten path, turned off the GPS, didn’t follow Mapquested directions or my hour-by-hour itinerary and just drove — only turning when I encountered small hand-painted signs to destinations that sounded interesting. This freedom from schedule, even from knowing where I was, was exhilarating.

After my lunch break adventures, I went back to the coffee-house and moved indoors, where it was warmer and I could plug-in my laptop. From there, I’d lose myself in World War I and lost romance while the milk steamer hissed and the baristas chatted with each other during their downtime. When the local school children started pouring in and ordering frappes, I emailed my collaborator my rewrites, turned off my computer, and prepared for the trek back down to Santa Barbara. I wrote (and rewrote) two scenes during those days in the Santa Ynez and, not surprisingly, they are my favorite moments in our musical. I’d like to think I first recognized a magic in those mountains that provoked me to add #71 to my Life List — something that lead me to include  the words “and write.” An instinct of sorts. Maybe even a connection to nature. Whatever it was, I’m so happy I listened to it, took advantage of my days there, and had the opportunity to be inspired by such a breathtakingly beautiful region.

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Per Se by Day, Tacos by Night

Bushwick is the new(er) hipster capitol of Brooklyn. Populated by 20-something writers, artists, musicians filmmakers, muses, freePicture 1 spirits, and, until recently, a hipster grifter or two. As yet ungentrified, this neighborhood provides the perfect juxtaposition of irony and a laid back blase attitude common among the suburban-raised, middle-upper middle class Net Generation. They might wear thrift store skinny jeans and old Chuck Taylors, but they accessorize with the latest iPhone and the perfect pair of Ray-Bans or Moscot glasses.

Bushwick and its close brother, Williamsburg, are places I’ve been finding my un-ironic, un-hipster self in more frequently due to my job locale and my group of friends. This is where I also found myself dining one night at the apartment of a friend of a friend. I was told it was a “taco night,” but that the invite was a much coveted one, given the chef and the crowd. The chef is Cameron Wallace, a fellow 20-something who also happens to be the bread baker at the gastronomic heaven, Per Se.

Entrance of Per Se

Entrance to Per Se

The day of Taco Night, I was sent a text message with an address. I arrived promptly at 7p, my requested $10 in hand to “tip the chef,” and pushed through the apartment building’s blue door (also the same color as the doors at Per Se) spray painted with the number 855 (a decidedly un-Per Se detail). Our chef de cuisine was en-route, so we sat around drinking PBR or Corona (it was BYOB, can you guess which one I brought?) Chef Cameron arrived shortly after, armed with bags from Whole Foods and a box shipped all the way from San Diego (where Cameron was raised) containing flour tortillas and fire-roasted peppers in olive oil. “I’m taking a short cut today,” Cameron confessed to me, “I’m using store bought flour tortillas. Normally, I make my own, but there wasn’t time.” He continued to explain as he unpacked tins and Tupperware full of half-fried fish and marinated pork, a head of cabbage, and various & sundry spicy sauces and homemade crema. “But, these tortillas are fresh from California, my mom shipped them to me just yesterday.”

fist_taco

Almost looks like Cameron's fish taco

In no more than a 35 sq. foot kitchen, Cameron got to work, frying the fish up again in pots. “I half-fry them in advance,” he explained. “I don’t want them soggy and they need to be eaten hot. But I like to do my prep work.” Cabbage was shredded by our hostess, Mariah, who is a caterer, while Mariah’s sister, Ariana, took out plates and utensils for the twenty guests that packed into the apartment. Everyone taking up the small square footage in the kitchen served a purpose. Mariah as sous chef, Ariana calling in the orders, Cameron cooking and plating, and I, serving. Watching Cameron cook and prep masterfully in such a small space brought to mind the word that hangs over the door in Per Se’s kitchen, “Finesse.” Chef Cameron illustrated every aspect of finesse, with his “refinement and delicacy of performance,” execution and artisanship. Each taco was hand-crafted and made in small batches. The pork had been marinating since early morning. No detail was left untended.

After serving a few tacos, I finally got to taste my own. First, the fish taco. Perfectly fried, but not greasy, you could still taste the fish and how deftly it blended with the cardamom flavor of the lightly drizzled sauce. The cabbage added an extra crunch while the squirt of lime gave the fish a little zing and some chopped cilantro cleansed the palate. It was more than a taco, it was an experience. As I savored the first (and then second) fish taco, I asked Cameron what brought him from bread baking to taco making. “Actually, it’s because I couldn’t find a decent taco in New York. Believe me, I tried. I’ve gone everywhere, but nothing like the ones I grew up with in California.”

Even still, other San Diego and California natives at Taco Night felt Cameron’s tacos take it to a whole new level. After some coaxing, I got the full story out of Cameron. “After I quit my job at different restaurant in New York, I went back to California for six months and studied the tacos I liked,” he told me. “I traveled up and down the coast and as far down as parts of Mexico, just to see how they did it there and where our tacos evolved from, what worked and what was unique to each area.” Just like the discipline at Per Se, there is discipline to Cameron’s tacos. “I combined the best of what I liked,” he said. “What was essentially pleasing to the palate, what textures worked, ingredients, preparation in advance, last minute. Sometimes I have to take out what I love if it doesn’t work within the combination. But I still continue to experiment. That’s why we have taco night.”

There is another method to the Taco Night madness, as I soon learned, between bites of the juicy, spicy pork taco with crema and bits of diced, raw onion. Cameron, as modest as he is about admitting it, also desires to have his own taco stand. “He wants a little place in the East Village, somewhere downtown or in Brooklyn,” Ariana (Cameron’s biggest supporter/Taco Night waitress) told me. “By opening up Taco Night and spreading the word, we’re hoping it will lead to investors for Cameron. It boils down to word of mouth in the end.”  Abra la boca. Spread the word.

After serving a few tacos, I finally got to taste my own. First, the fish taco. Perfectly fried, but not greasy, you could still taste the fish and how deftly it blended with the cardamom flavor of the lightly drizzled sauce. The cabbage added an extra crunch while the squirt of lime gave the fish a little zing and some chopped cilantro cleansed the palate. It was more than a taco, it was an experience. As I savored the first (and then second) fish taco, I asked Cameron what brought him from bread baking to taco making. “Actually, it’s because I couldn’t find a decent taco in New York. Believe me, I tried. I’ve gone everywhere, but nothing like the ones I grew up with in California.”

Even still, other San Diego and California natives at Taco Night felt Cameron’s tacos take it to a whole new level. After some coaxing, I got the full story out of Cameron. “After I quit my job at different restaurant in New York, I went back to California for six months and studied the tacos I liked,” he told me. “I traveled up and down the coast and as far down as parts of Mexico, just to see how they did it there and where our tacos evolved from, what worked and what was unique to each area.” Just like the discipline at Per Se, there is discipline to Cameron’s tacos. “I combined the best of what I liked,” he said. “What was essentially pleasing to the palate, what textures worked, ingredients, preparation in advance, last minute. Sometimes I have to take out what I love if it doesn’t work within the combination. But I still continue to experiment. That’s why we have taco night.”

There is another method to the Taco Night madness, as I soon learned, between bites of the juicy, spicy pork taco with crema and bits of diced, raw onion. Cameron, as modest as he is about admitting it, also desires to have his own taco stand. “He wants a little place in the East Village, somewhere downtown or in Brooklyn,” Ariana (Cameron’s biggest supporter/Taco Night waitress) told me. “By opening up Taco Night and spreading the word, we’re hoping it will lead to investors for Cameron. It boils down to word of mouth in the end.”  Abra la boca. Spread the word.

johnny_automatic_open_mouth

Downtown Goes Coastal, a linked list of my travel highlights

I’m live-blogging from Santa Monica, in a beautiful house right off of Montana, where I’ve been for the past 24 hours. First, I was here, which sort of sucked since they lost my reservation and then charged my card three times for my stay and the room wasn’t so hot. But then all ended well after a massage here and dinner with my Italian friends at their home, which looks out over all of Los Angeles and the Pacific. We had some great conversations aboutold and new Italian movies — a little hard to follow since some of the discussion was actually in Italian, but I managed to get the gist of it while responding in English.

Yesterday I spent the morning at the beach and the afternoon at the Getty Villa, where for some reason, I felt the need to take 9,000 photos of beautiful things, but things I’ve already seen and taken pictures of in Italy.

Last night I cooked dinner with family friends (another Italian feast) and heard the story about how they met and their weddings — one in Wales and one in New Jersey. Picture the English parents coming to meet the Italian-Jewish in laws. I was cracking up as they were telling the story.

Today has been more leisurely, just hanging out until my New York family friends stop by as they vacation their way down the coast with their children (ages 11 and 14). The afternoon will be devoted to the ultra-tourist stops like the Walk of FameMann’s Chinese Theatre, and Hollywood &Highland. But will promise to be fun when seen through younger eyes.

The rest of the trip will include singing and dancing our way to the Mamma Mia premiere, visiting old friends,new friends, and then off to Arizona to see my best friends of all, my family.