Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Cramming it all in

We're back in the UK for our annual trip, and working hard to cram it all in. Last year we came for a month, which was indulgent, and not entirely successful: we couldn't take holiday for that whole time, which meant doing a slightly poor job of keeping up with work and of catching up with friends and family at the same time. This year we are here for just two weeks, which in theory means better quality time, if less of it.

So far, so good. Within 12 hours of landing I had eaten more cheese than in the previous 12 months. Cheddar, stilton: quite a reunion we had. Within 24 hours of arriving at our first base camp we had caught up with a dozen friends and their children, done a fair amount of reminiscing, and drank a solid volume of Pimms. The next day we packed up and headed north.

And within a day of arriving in Saltburn, Lady P has played - joyfully, I might add - with 4 out of her 6 cousins, seen several steam trains, and more cows and sheep than she could even imagine. Certainly we could go a long time in Hermosa Beach without seeing so much livestock, so many steam-powered vehicles, not to mention so many family members. She is beside herself, and so am I.
Skipping through a tunnel with cousins and aunts 
Grosmont station

We are only a few days into our trip and loving the quality, and the extra intensity of this year's experience. Only one thing may not - ever - be compressed: the time it takes a wash to dry, on a clothes horse by the radiator, on a wet day in May.

We definitely will have a brilliant time up here. But will the clothes I washed today be dry before we leave Saltburn? I will keep you posted.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Want milk with that?

Sometimes it takes a guest from home to point out a transatlantic gap I had stopped noticing. Like, as my oldest friend asked me last weekend, 'what's the deal with all the different kinds of milk?'

She has a point. There is an insane amount of milk choice here. It's one thing that the supermarket, on top of fat free, low fat or whole milk, offers a range of anti-milks for the faddy or geninuely allergic. So almond milk, soy milk: we have those at home too. But here, of course, every simple choice is then multiplied by several more choices, like flavoured almond milk - and in seven different flavours, no less.

And at coffee shops or diners there's not only the usual range of milks and anti-milks, but actual cream too. On reflection it's probably ultra pasteurised crap that hasn't seen a cow for several months, but they call it cream and it looks pretty thick. It's astounding to me that cream is still brought as standard to the table with coffee. Even at 8am. Who has cream in their coffee? What is it, Christmas? A banquet? Madness. Of course you can always be restrained and have the  mysterious 'half and half'. Mysterious because I'm still not sure what the point of creamy milk is - I mean, isn't that just whole milk?

Then there's the home where you're offered a coffee and then 'Milk or half and half? Or creamer? We have vanilla, macademia, chocoloate - oh and there's this new snickerdoodle flavour they just brought out'. Too much choice, people! Plus creamer truly horrifies me. So far as I can tell it's a mixture of sugar, ultra pasteurized milk and chemicals you pour into coffee so it doesn't taste like coffee any more. I bet if banning it would put a dent in the obesity numbers way faster than Michelle Obama's Move It campaign.

If I didn't already prefer my coffee black, I think a short while in the States would have me changing my preference sooner than you can say 'espresso'.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Busy being spoilt

A happy spell of house guests and celebrations have kept me from blogging much lately. The celebrations were for my birthday, and for Mother's Day.

Mindful, perhaps, of the myriad treats I provided when he turned 40, TLOML laid on an abundance of fun excursions.

One such was a family trip to the Hermosa Community Theater to see Shrek was one - Lady P loved the singing so much she shouted 'more! more!' loudly after each scene. Yes, we did have to remove her before the intermission for reasons related to 'too much enjoyment'. But given my love of a musical, and of seeing Lady P enjoy herself, it was a treat.

The previous weekend, as a pre-birthday treat, TLOML took me to the Magic Castle. This LA institution is a members club for magicians. No, we are not magicians. But we know a man who is, sort of. He's an 'associate member' which allows him a silver owl pin: he's working towards one day getting full 'magician member' status and that prized gold owl pin. I had to stifle a snigger as we said 'open sesame' to an owl in a book case to gain entry, but these magicians are serious. There is a library full of magician's books which only magician members are allowed into, for example. Gob Bluths and Phil Dunphys everywhere and tricks being performed in every bar and parlour in this strange oversized folly. Photography is banned and so is any visible scepticism or scoffing. Rather bizzarre, very LA, and a lot of fun.

We also had a couple of fantastic dinners, including a date night in Hermosa's excellent Mediterraneo, where I ate more cheese in one night than I have since we moved here. You only turn 40 once, I thought. Then the next night we went out for dinner in Venice, with our favourite South Bay buddies, at a place called Scopa which has a beautiful bar and a dessert called a Peanut Butter Flutter. Again, 'you only turn 40 once', I thought.

Add to this a shower of cards and gifts and well wishes, an afternoon gathering with pear pie and champagne, and I felt very loved and really quite happy about turning 40. And almost - almost - partied out.

But fast on the heels of my 40th came another celebration. The US doesn't celebrate Mother's Day in line with the Christian calendar, like they do in the Old World. Here it's always the second Sunday in May and it involves everybody going out for brunch, or lunch, or dinner. After his largesse for my birthday, and with house guests to consider, TLOML can be forgiven for not booking a table for Mother's Day.

Instead, we (me and my oldest friend, who has a beautiful English rose of a baby) celebrated with a dad-cooked brunch in the Sugar Cube. A cooked breakfast, an elaborate fruit salad, and macaroons. I don't think there's a single restaurant in the South Bay that could have made me so happy.

So, forgive the lack of posts. But as you can see, I've been having too good a time indulging myself. Sorry not sorry, as the saying goes.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Hurry up and grow

It's about this time of year that, if I were in England, I'd be planting peas and tomato seeds and crossing my fingers for a growing season warm and wet enough for stuff to grow, but not so warm and wet that the slugs eat it all. Because that did happen most years.

Anyway, here in LA those planting days are long behind us. We planted early partly just because we can. There was an unseasonable shower a week or so ago, but other than that it's been summer here since March.

We also had to plant early because - sobs and celebrations collide here - we will be leaving the Sugar Cube in August. Since we sowed, so should we reap. And hopefully soon.

Last year we planted early, and then nature swept in with plagues and pestilence. So we planted a second, late set of crops with mixed success. No, that watermelon never did appear in time for Thanksgiving.

Hopefully this year we'll get the chance to enjoy more of the fruits of our labors. The peas are already looking good, though I will need to break my new habit of picking off a pod and eating them with Lady P if we ever want enough to serve for dinner. The chard too has bolstered a few soups and salads already. And our sunflowers, planted in the toxic bed where we committed beetle genocide last summer, are almost as tall as Lady P already.

This weekend we added corn, coriander and zinnias, and talked encouragingly to our tomatoes. We pulled up yards and yards of apple mint roots, making a little room for the new stuff to grow. I think the next people to live here will thank us for that: it was taking over the whole bed in a creepily effective way.
 Fingers crossed thanks to our efforts we can enjoy a bountiful harvest before we move. And if the next Sugar Cube residents benefit too, so much the better.

One thing's for sure: we will miss this yard, and afternoons spent getting our hands dirty, clearing weeds, planting seeds and in Lady P's case, moving small amounts of sandy earth around with mysterious, but serious, purpose.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The slummier end of Hermosa

I'm just kidding. Clearly there are no slums in Hermosa. It's very name means 'beautiful'.

Nonetheless, there are the streets south of the pier. They are further from the charming, tree-lined streets of salubrious Manhattan Beach. And closer to the redundant power station that looms on Hermosa's southern border. Compared to North Hermosa, there are more ramshackle teardowns, and many more buildings full of rental units painted that ugly shade of brown that was favoured by SoCal developers in the 70s and 80s.

Our new house is south of the pier. In fact, we have a view of that redundant power station from our deck. Its location is one of the reasons it was affordable to us, and since that power station view comes combined with an ocean view, we're pretty happy with our South Hermosa find. Plus I like the scruffier edge, I feel more at home there. It's Kentish Town to North Hermosa's Hampstead.

But then, there's the park. South Park, to give it its full name. We walked down there recently to check it out. 'Look,' we said to Lady P, 'this is going to be your new park'. She had a half-hearted go on one of the two swings, ignored the lame train and the broken plastic slide, and sat down in the sand with a discarded toy.

 Meanwhile, on a disused icerink behind the playground, a drunk couple of twenty-somethings were playing a game of al fresco hide the salami. No, really. They thrusted away for a while and then emerged, buttoning themselves up, to rejoin their hipster buddies in some afternoon park drinking.
Lady P was oblivious. TLOML and I were horrified.

Compared to Valley Park, where she usually plays, this really is rather slummy. Valley Park has many slides, and swings, and climbing structures, and monkey bars, and cool musical instruments, and those animals on springs, and just all sorts of nice stuff. And I've never seen a couple there having sex, either. From our new South Hermosa abode just over a mile away (about an hour's walk at Lady P's pace), a trip to Valley Park will become a weekend treat rather than a daily pleasure.
We were starting to go off our new neighbourhood. But then I saw the sign. The sign that explained why South Park looked so abandoned, and why there was a construction sandwich board propped up in the sand.

Readers, the gentrification of South Hermosa has begun. They are rebuilding the park. Grand promises of play structures for 2 to 12 year olds have been published. In fact, the work has already begun - last time I passed, the ice rink was all dug up.

The project is set to complete in mid August, just after we move in. Coincidence? I'd like to think they're building it just for us.