Friday, January 23, 2015

On the move again. But this time, we won't go far.

We've been living in the Sugar Cube for almost a year now - longer than we've lived anywhere together. And we like it so much we'd like to live here forever.

But the call of home ownership is strong. And we do love Hermosa Beach. I may never get over the fact that it's not actually Saltburn, or Kentish Town, but despite those drawbacks it is a wonderful place to live. Time to put down some roots, we think.

So we're house hunting again.

For once, refreshingly, we are looking for a home close to where we currently live. And when I say close, I mean really close. Like, less than a mile.

More than even half a mile east would involve being too far from the beach. More than a mile south would take us too far from Hermosa proper. More than a mile north would involve being in Manhattan Beach where the lots are bigger, the cars are flashier, and our best chance of a home there is a 1000 square foot tumbledown beach cottage with a 1950s kitchen. Aka a 'tear down'.

Which brings me to the other criteria: 3 bedrooms, a little outside space, and a reasonably liveable condition. And something else that's harder to express, but we'll know it when we see it: a street which looks like it might have good trick or treating, and a generally neighbourhoody vibe.

And so, the boundaries of our search are clearly drawn. It's a slightly larger area than the one I outlined for our London flathunt back in 2012. But not by much. Our criteria are somewhat more specific. But not by much.
The pink patch is our bubble: Hermosa, Manhattan Beach and El Porto

This is the roughly single square mile in which we can realistically live
The advantage of searching in a small area, where we already live, is that it's very easy to drive, run or walk by any prospective homes. And we know most of the streets pretty well.

The disadvantage of our nice, tight, close, boundaries? At the current count there is a total of 1 family house for sale* in this area. Just the one.

Good job we love the Sugar Cube. We may be here for some time yet.


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*within our budget. Which rules out that $16m mansion on The Strand, sadly.

Monday, January 19, 2015

In America, there is no coffee in coffee cake

There is no coffee in American coffee cake. That's right. You read it correctly. There is no coffee in American coffee cake.

Our stylish friend and neighbour, who happens to be a great cook, sent a holiday card this year with a coffee cake recipe on it. Although I knew it was a much loved family recipe, and was assured it was delicious, I didn't rush to make it. The thing is, I'm not a huge fan of coffee cake. By which I mean coffee flavoured cake, of course.

Then I read the recipe. No mention of coffee. 'Oh, how embarrassing,' I thought. 'She missed out the main ingredient.'

But she's quite switched on, this friend. Not the sort of person to miss out a recipe ingredient. So I read the recipe again, more carefully this time. It almost seemed like it didn't need coffee. It sounded like a delicious, buttery, sugary cake, with honey and nuts.

'That's right,' said TLOML. 'There's no coffee in coffee cake.'

My turn to be embarrassed. Schooled, and salivating, I made the cake.
Readers, it was delicious.

But why is it called a coffee cake? TLOML tells me it is so-named because it's a cake designed to be eaten with coffee. I scoffed, until he pointed out my love of a nice Yorkshire tea cake. Which doesn't have tea in it at all. Touche.

For what it's worth, I ate it with coffee, with tea, and just standing up at the kitchen counter without a drink at all.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

We are all Californians now

With startling originality, TLOML and I have decided to embark on a bit of a health kick. Nothing too crazy, but just a few tweaks to our regular diet. We decided that during the week we're going to eat more lean protein, whole grains and veggies. Our repertoire for that kind of food is somewhat limited, and there are only so many times in the week he wants to eat my Asian salad or I want to eat his stirfry.

So I dashed out in search of a healthy eating cookbook. Don't you just love it when you urgently need to rush to a bookshop?

Now, I didn't want one of those strange Cooking Light type cookbook where all the recipes sound really lardy but strange substitutions are made. Like lasagne with kale instead of pasta sheets, or chicken al fredo where the sauce is made out of almond milk. We want to eat food that happens to be inherently healthy.

And I didn't want a vegetarian cookbook, because we do like to eat meat and fish, and preferably not as a side dish. I lingered a while over Ottolenghi's 'Plenty' but ultimately decided against it for that reason.

So it is that I ended up buying the much derided Gwyneth Paltrow's 'It's All Good'. It's derided for some good reasons, like the dodgy science and ridiculous recipes ('olive oil fried egg'...), and all the pictures of Gwynnie (actually I quite liked those but they are a bit superfluous, I suppose). Still, she has some really good recipes in there. And it's all very Californian too, with plenty of Asian-inspired stuff and a bunch of veggie juices. We have already enjoyed a couple of interesting, tasty, zingy salads, some great Thai chicken burgers, and an excellent fish recipe.


And then there was the kale juice. Fail #1. It was actually chewy. TLOML will not be having that for breakfast again.

And then there was Day 3 of our new lifestyle, when we went to Love & Salt, and ordered a pig's head. Oooops. Fail #2.


We'll start again with renewed enthusiasm and focus on Monday.

Meanwhile, Lady P has been juicing for months. Her nanny blitzes her fresh juice up every day, often including kale or carrots or both. And she has also taken to squeezing orange segments into a cup and drinking it. It's a messy process, but so quintessentially Californian of her that I am all in favour.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

On orthodontists and dermatologists

I'm off to see my orthodontist this morning. How American is that?

At my first appointment Dr Hom asked me, as people do from time to time, what big differences I had observed between life in the US and the UK.

'Orthodontists', I told my orthodontist. I explained how in Britain we go to see our dentist to have our teeth checked, filled, straightened and whitened. I don't know anyone with an orthodontist.

Dr Hom thought that was sort of crazy. After all, you don't ask your GP to carry out surgery, do you?

Well no, you don't. But in Britain you do ask your Doctor to take a look at suspicious moles. You also take your child in when they sustain a minor head injury or are poorly. Again, not in America. Here I have a dermatologist, and Lady P has a pediatrician. (Which rather begs the question, what does my actual Doctor actually do?)

This difference strikes me as typical of lots of transatlantic contrasts. Essentially, us Brits bumble along as happy generalists.

Americans, by contrast, specialize. And early. Schoolchildren 'run track' (like, seriously, not just in PE). Graduates go on to get additional degrees (all my friends in the US have MBAs, JDs, etc). Waiters are actually professional waiters, and the busboys do a different job (as opposed to the UK where all the serving staff unite in ignoring their customers). And Doctors, even for basic, gatekeeping, primary, care, are specialists.

The American model, that thrusting ambition and refusal to accept generalists, is doubtless more successful. But I think I'll always have a soft spot for the enthusiastic amateurism of my compatriots.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The joys of suburbia

When TLOML and I were living in Malibu we came down to the South Bay for drinks with a friend, and parked in the Metlox Center in Manhattan Beach. 

I remember dismissing Metlox as really boring. It was all newly built, populated by bland chains (Le Pain Quotidien, Papyrus, etc) and I thought it was rather suburban. Provincial, even. I think we even said, with faint disdain, 'it's like we're not even in LA anymore'. Those were our salad days, of course, of cocktails at Moonshadows, date nights at Nobu, and brunches at Gjelina. 

Fast forward five years and I finally get it.  I understand the appeal of a branch of Le Pain, where I can get a decent mid-morning snack for me and Lady P.
Even better, a unchallenging, reliable restaurant where TLOML and I can eat a proper, relaxed grown up brunch while Lady P runs wild just within sight.
 The beauty of a carefully designed, car-free, kid-friendly plaza.



A place where we can relax and let Lady P have her freedom, because all grown-ups are either accompanied by a child, or a well behaved labrador, or both.


 Shoot me now, I guess, but the appeal of suburban living has started to become wonderfully clear. As we say, with delight, 'it's like we're not even in LA anymore!'.