Thursday, August 25, 2016

Exotic imports

We are off for our annual trip to the UK and I'm, predictably, beside myself. The prospect of two glorious weeks with family and friends is making me beam from ear to ear.

But it's not just the people. It's the stuff. There are some things you just can't buy in the US. Or if you can buy them, they're just not the same as the British versions. I'm not saying whose version is better and whose is worse. I'm just used to the British way of life. (Okay, I'll say it, I think sometimes the British way is better).

Marmite and M&S tights are probably obvious. But did you know it's really hard - almost impossible - to find mint flavoured toothpaste for children? It's all bubble gum or strawberry or sparkly. Since Lady P enjoys minty toothpaste I'm not sure why I'd want her using something that tastes like candy.

And birthday cards too. It's SO hard to find a card which isn't elaborately verbose, covered in glitter, or both. I can go out of my way to an artisanal gift shop and buy a witty letterpress one overtime someone's birthday comes around (but that takes time and I'm short on that) or I can just stock up on nice, simple British cards for the year ahead.

So here's to reconnecting with loved ones - and here's to my annual spree at Boots, M&S and John Lewis.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Tastes change

Has my brain atrophied? Is it LA's fault? The advancement of middle age? Or parenthood?

I used to go to the theatre, and galleries, a lot. I mean, like, most weeks I'd consume some culture. And I'm talking legit, intellectual culture. Heck, I once went to a gamelan concert at the Barbican.  I used to read newspapers and even occasionally go to political rallies.

And now I read about 30% of the NY Times on a Sunday. And I recently went to a Guns N'  Roses concert... and liked it.

It's fair to say I'm not a huge Guns N' Roses fan. As far as I knew I had only been exposed to their work in a couple of times.  That Moth story by Duff McKagan, which I loved. And that time Axl Rose was in Sex and the City. I  know, it turns out to be Jon Bon Jovi. Okay, well, so I think I've made my point. It's not that I think they're not an interesting band, it's just that I was too busy listening to Tom Waits and reading Prospect to notice.

 But TLOML is a huge fan. So he bought awesome seats for their recent gig at the Dodgers Stadium and - news flash - I had the time of my life. It turns out I LOVE Guns N' Roses, and know at least 5 of their songs. Probably we all do. Anyway, I loved it. The rock'n'roll, the noise, the crappy beer, the long guitar solos, the pomp, the fireworks, all of it. It was unchallenging, high octane, pure and simple fun.
Hard not to love
So. Are Gn'R, as TLOML has long maintained, one of the top 5 bands of their time (and I'm just late to the party)? Has my brain atrophied, and now all I can handle is fireworks and Paradise City? And if so, what's next? Cow tipping? Following The Bachelor? Subscribing to Us Weekly? Time will tell and based on recent experience I'm not ruling anything out.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Keeping it real

One of the many things I love about Hermosa Beach is a faintly scruffy, surfy vibe. I like to kid myself it's a little more real than neighbouring Manhattan Beach - with its pristine boutiques and bankers driving Teslas.

Painting a town where real estate costs $1k a square foot and we have an IV hydration clinic across from the library as 'keeping it real' might be a bit of a stretch. Still, there are enough barefoot surfers walking from the beach, and tattooed punk kids skateboarding along the Strand, and cottages with peeling paint and massive collections of tchotchkes on their front patio, to allow me to delude myself. I'm not the only one. Hermosa is frequently described as a 'sleepy beach town' in press.

Meanwhile, gentrification marches on, relentlessly. Pier Plaza, which mainly exists for drinking purposes, is going upscale. A new hotel is going to be built here soon which will be quite swanky, in a very beachy way of course. A crappy souvenir shop was replaced by a hipster coffee shop (which failed - gentrification too soon?) and is now a nice looking poke shop, and our favorite coffee shop which was always beset with pigeons and a little tired looking has had a facelift.
New poke shop: cleaner and fresher than some of Pier Plaza's occupants

But is it all getting a little anodyne? The plaza remodel involves some totally generic white planks in the so-called coastal chic style you see everywhere.
Also cleaner and fresher: our favorite coffee shop on the pier
It does seem that our City elders are doing their best to retain a little Hermosa spirit. Punk and surf-themed graphics pepper the improvements.

Punk surfers

I think as long as Scottys retains the same paint job its had since the 1950s, Yer Cheating Heart tattoos and Sharkeez bar are still in business, and there are tattooed skateboards in knee socks and bikinis cruising the pier, the scruffy heart of Hermosa is still beating.
The unimproved (unimprovable?) side of Pier Plaza

Prime beach real estate and also the tattiest breakfast place in town
All (soul / scruff) is not lost

Nothing says Hermosa like a tattooed skateboarder in bikini and knee socks

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Speaking like a native

On the one hand, America, hats off for attempting pronunciation felicity for so many non-English words. It's a brave endeavour. Well done for saying 'ris-oh-dow' (for risotto). Never mind that few Italians pronounce risotto with a 'd' in the middle. It's nice that you try. Your 'he-ro' (for gyro), and 'rio-ha' (for rioja) put our 'giro' and 'rio-kah' to shame.

I think the Brits just decided, generations ago, that we would Anglicize all the foreign words we appropriated. Probably we decided that around the time we were teaching those pesky colonies how to play cricket and make a proper cup of tea. The cultural imperialism is a shameful stain on our history. But at least we are consistent.

Meanwhile, well meaning Americans have got it all confused. Two cheeses will make my point amply.

First, may I present 'Bleu cheese'. Not a typo, it is apparently a proper noun. And French. Even though it's being presented as cheese not fromage. This makes no sense.

Secondly, can we talk about parmesan? There is parmesan, as we call it in England. Then there's parmigiana, as they call it in Italy. And then there's 'parm-ah-jahn', as Americans would have it. Which also makes no sense.

On balance though I think America gets full marks for effort. They could have taken the easy, British way out and just said it as they see it. Instead they do their best to pronounce foods in a manner true to their origins. There are a lot of foods from a lot of places: no wonder they are a little confused.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Lessons learned

Every day is a school day, so they say.

I learned about a whole new species of shellfish last week. We were bombing around H-Mart, TLOML's new favourite Korean grocery store, stocking up for a Korean feast we were planning for Lady P's godfather, The Gambler, and another old friend. After the unfeasibly inexpensive vegetables and before the yards of chiller cabinets full of frozen dumplings, is the seafood section. Including the flukes.

Here they are, great big long elephant trunks. Yikes.

I'd never seen a fluke before. No thanks, said I, and on we went to stock up on frozen gyoza.

A few days later we were out for dinner with WeHo friends at Providence, and what should pop up on the tasting menu but fluke sashimi. Not wanting to appear picky, I didn't object. Besides I was curious to see what kind of sashimi one of those grey schlongs would make.

Imagine my surprise when this arrived.
It turns out fluke is a fish. A mild, slightly sweet kind of flounder. Delicious. I suppose that label in H-Mart was for a different tank.

I was also surprised when the duck turned up with a delightful little sliver of rhubarb.

I had no idea you could get rhubarb over here. certainly not in California. I guess I just hadn't looked hard enough.

I was so excited I went to Vonn's the next day, where sure enough it nestles in between the courgettes and the beetroot (seriously! not with the fruit! no wonder I could never find it). I made rhubarb crumble this weekend when we hosted our dear South Bay friends, the reason we moved here. (I may abbreviate them to The Reasons, going forward).

Which is all another, long-winded way of saying that in one week we enjoyed discounted Korean groceries, fine dining in Hollywood, and some good home cooking. A sweet spot indeed.