Thursdays with Fred

{What are you looking at?}

Fred, my cat, has a personality like no other.  We call him a dog-cat.  Because that's what he is.  I will say no more because his pictures do the talking.

{Fred in a laundry basket}


Paris in the Spring Time

{March afternoon at Trocadero}
{Magnolia tree near the National Assembly}
{Luxembourg Gardens}

I love Paris anytime of the year just like Ella Fitzgerald sings, but Paris in the spring time is a particularly wonderful season.  The last two years, I was fortunate to experience the magic that comes over the city.  It reminded me of my college days in New York.  The first 50-plus degree day in March, all the students would form a mass congregation (often ditching class) on the steps of Low Library at Columbia.  The New York winters were long and chilly and we didn't care that it was not quite warm enough weather, we were going to enjoy the sun.  Parisians do the same thing at the first sighting of spring in the forecast.  The flowers are in full blossom, people have a spring, no pun intended, in their step, and for all of France's secular proclamations, they still take their Easter decorations very seriously.  This makes for wonderful window displays.   There is also an abundance of chocolate fish all over Parisian bakeries, known as the "poisson d'avril" (April fish).  French tradition for April Fool's involves trying to sneakily stick a paper fish on the back of an unsuspecting victim.  Ah to be young and in Paris...

{Easter window displays}


A Food Review of LA

{Katsuya Brentwood}
{The Crawfish Festival in Long Beach}
{The Counter in Santa Monica}
{Gyenari in Culver City
{Chaya Brasserie in Beverly Hills}
{The Beachcomber at Malibu Pier}
{Cafe Brasil in Culver City}
{Ford's Filling Station in Culver City}
{Ketchup in West Hollywood}

Since I just posted on a recent trip to LA, I wanted to focus on a lengthier trip there I had last summer where I was able to eat at a lot of different places, some better than others.  

I'm going to admit this right now- my only previous exposure to Katsuya was from watching the Kardashians and all those other reality show starlets eat at the famed Japanese eatery.  I somehow decided their business must mean good food so we made dinner reservations for the Katsuya in Brentwood (11777 San Vicente Blvd.) as opposed to the more star-powered Hollywood location.  It was by no means a cheap meal and the scene might not be for everyone, but the food was spectacular.  I could eat the tuna and crispy rice rolls in my sleep (I'm sure people have dreams about them).  The shrimp tempura roll, dragon roll, eel roll, and crispy albacore were other favorites among our group.  And any restaurant that has a decadent chocolate lava cake on their dessert menu is a winner in my book.  We left stuffed but happy, and I made a successful effort to return there on my last trip for an equally as delightful meal.  Pizzeria Mozza, however, did not live up to the hype as Katsuya did.  The service was mediocre, they were out of several of the pizzas, and the quality did not live up to the price.  With so many competitive Italian-style pizza restaurants opening up these days, Mozza is not a unique concept and it did not live up to my expectations.

A few other food favorites in LA: 
The Park on Sunset (1400 Sunset Blvd)- a good place to stop by before a Dodgers game as we were doing, the Park has great classic dishes (think spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread) specializing in seasonal ingredients with a twist.
Cafe Brasil (10831 Venice Blvd)- a great spot on Venice Boulevard in Culver City- choose your meat/fish from the grill and it comes accompanied with rice, beans, plantains, and salsa.  The fresh fruit juices and drinks here are not to be missed, particularly the Passion Fruit.
South Beverly Grill (122 S Beverly Dr)- the Happy Hour in the piano bar guarantees a fun time- the menu is great- don't leave without having the mini crispy chicken burgers.  
The Long Beach Crawfish Festival- okay so this is only an annual event, but if you happen to be in town when it's taking place, I recommend a trip on the 405 to go see it.  There's crawfish, amazing grilled corn on the cob with tons of different sauces to try, zydeco bands, and lots of other entertainment.


Spaghetti alle Vongole

One of my favorite things about Italy is, without question, the bowls and bowls of delicious pasta the country has to offer from the castles in Pordenone to the seaside towns in Sicily. Interestingly enough, I first had spaghetti alle vongole at my favorite Italian restaurant, le Caruso, in Paris {3 rue de Turenne 75004} last year right near my apartment at Saint Paul. So during our weekly "Pasta Sunday" dinners a few weeks back, I decided to tackle this recipe. I ended up adapting a recipe from Martha Stewart's Dinner at Home cookbook and adding cherry tomatoes because as my Nonno always said- a meal isn't complete until it has the colors of the Italian flag in it.

Spaghetti alle Vongole (adapted from Martha Stewart's Dinner at Home)
(serves 4)
1 pound spaghetti (De Cecco is my favorite)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3-4 garlic cloves, minced (I added more than the original recipe)
1/2 teaspoon red-hot chili flakes (add according to how spicy you like things)
1 1/2 pounds of cleaned littleneck clams
1 cup white wine
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 lemon, juiced
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pints cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
parmesan cheese for seasoning (I know I am breaking a cardinal Italian rule by adding cheese to pasta with seafood- my relatives always cringe in Italy, but I think it adds a good flavor)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil (add a pinch of salt before boiling)
Add the box of spaghetti to the water once it's boiled.
Drain pasta 2 minutes before specified package directions cooking time, reserving one cup of the pasta water.  Set it aside.

In a medium-sized pot, heat olive oil, garlic, and chili flakes over medium heat, stirring constantly as not to burn the garlic.  Add the clams and wine bringing them to a boil.  Cover and cook, shake the pan around until the clams have opened (after about 3-4 minutes.)  Throw out any clams that didn't open.  Add in the sliced cherry tomatoes and cook until they maintain a softer consistency.  Add in the chopped parsley.  Transfer this mixture to a bowl.  

Turn the medium-sized pot back on and add the reserved pasta water and lemon juice reducing it slightly (about 3 minutes cooking time.) Turn off heat and whisk butter into mixture.  Add the cooked clams and spaghetti and cook for a few more minutes until al dente.  Transfer to a large bowl, add salt and pepper.  


New England Autumn

Fall in New England brings so many things to look forward to including the crisper weather, the foliage, and the enthusiasm of business-owners and residents alike for putting out autumn and Halloween-themed decorations. Last October I got a few quick recordings of the fall displays in action as well as the beautiful wind and rustling sounds created from the falling leaves.


Snow Walk

This video was taken last November during our first (and only, really)  snow of the winter.  Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, you learn not to be greedy with snow- some years you're lucky, others not so much.  So when the flakes kept coming down this particular November day, we made the most of it and dusted off the snow boots in the basement that hadn't been used since the 2008 snow.  I love walking around the neighborhood during an evening snow because even though night has fallen, the brightness of the fresh snow lightens up the entire neighborhood.  And who doesn't love that crunchy sound when you walk on tightly-packed snow? 

Quick Trip to LA

When I noticed a three-day break in my work schedule, I ran to the computer and snatched up a decent fare off of Virgin America's website. We booked a hotel T. told us about just off of Doheney Drive in Beverly Hills. Since this was my sixth or seventh trip to LA, I wanted to see some of the sights we had never seen before. First stop: Getty Museum. We wandered around the beautiful courtyard since it was a sunny (warm) late January day. Lunch at the museum's restaurant provided a filling (albeit overly rich and creamy) meal with a spectacular setting. We spent most of our time in the beautiful gardens, topping off our visit to the Impressionist Room continuing our quest from France.

Other fun moments this trip:
-Hike up Runyon Canyon (amazing view, great workout, fun people-watching)
-Yummy weekday sidewalk "brunch" at BluJam Cafe
-Crashing a Hawaiian-themed tech (read: nerd) party complete with Tiki-torches at the Fairmont Hotel in Santa Monica after a lackluster Happy Hour at the hotel's restaurant FIG


What to Do in Martha's Vineyard in the Offseason

{The Hob Knob Inn}
In all the times I've spent back east on the South Shore in Massachusetts, I had never ventured beyond Cape Cod. Last October, we decided to change that and booked a long-weekend stay on Martha's Vineyard. I loved the hotel we stayed at in Edgartown, The Hob Knob Inn, and we were lucky enough to be able to take advantage of the low-season prices.  They serve a lovely, delicious breakfast and afternoon tea/snacks (there's lemonade in the warm season).
Tip: If traveling by car to the island, you must buy/reserve your ticket in advance through Steamship Authority (well in advance if during the high season).
Where to stay: Hob Knob- a luxury boutique hotel in Edgartown- the main town on the island. Rates are steep during the high season (between Memorial Day Weekend and Labor Day Weekend.) Try booking an off-season stay.  Enjoy an afternoon on the porch with a glass of lemonade and an intriguing book.  
What to Do: Take a drive around the island for scenic views. Don't confine yourself to the picturesque yet touristy towns like Edgartown and Vineyard Haven. Wander into a local, independent bookstore and be charmed by the local authors, including a personal favorite, Susan Branch.  Be sure and check out Oak Bluffs and its beautiful "gingerbread" style homes.  Go off the beaten path and head towards a less inhabited part of the island- venture down to Aquinnah, a beautiful seaside village with a spectacular view, a historical lighthouse, and a bit of history to go along with it.
Where to Eat: Despite the well-to-do crowd of vacationers it attracts, Martha's Vineyard is unfortunately lacking in restaurant choices- both in terms of quality and variety.  Waterside Market in Vineyard Haven was one of the few places that satisfied- go there for lunch- they have a large soup and sandwich menu.

{Gingerbread-style architecture in Oak Bluffs}
{Ferry from Woods Hole, Cape Cod}
{Gay Head lighthouse in Aquinnah}

Wandering Voyager

It's been awhile. The last time I tried this, my Sony laptop crashed when I was living in Paris. Let's try this again. I've got my Mac and I'm ready to go. My life plans always end up involving travel (small or large). I am terrible with directions and often get lost- and so begins- the musings of a wandering voyager.