Posts Tagged ‘ Food ’

Aftel Archive of Curious Scents

My nose needs a nap after taking in dozens of smells this morning from the 300 note perfume organ at the Aftel Archive of Curious Scents. The Archive is a tiny museum located next door to perfumer Mandy Aftel’s home in Berkeley.

Mandy and her son graciously answered our questions about the artifacts on display. Mandy showed us her collection of ambergris, which is used as a natural fixative in perfume. When sperm whales eat squid, they produce ambergris to protect their stomach linings from sharp squid beaks. Sperm whales puke or poop out waxy lumps of ambergris, which then float on the ocean until they are collected and sold. In 2016, three fishermen from Oman harvested 80 kilograms (176 pounds) of ambergris valued at $2.8 million USD! Ambergris smells better than expected – it is musky, earthy, and sweet. Mandy’s son opened a small vial of oud oil and held the stopper under our noses. To me, oud oil evokes a dank moldy forest. It is distilled from agarwood using steam. High quality oud oil may sell for as much as $50,000 USD per kilogram.

We were invited to take home paper strips dipped in our favourite essences. Scott chose dill, plai, and massoia bark. Dill is Scott’s favourite potato chip flavour. Plai is a Thai ginger. Massoia is an evergreen laurel from Papua, New Guinea that smells like sandalwood and coconut. As Scott put his strips in a single glassine envelope, the plai and massoia bark aromas were quickly overpowered by the dill. I chose citronellol, tolu balsam, and ravensara. Citronellol is a compound found in rose oil. Tolu balsam is a dark sticky resin that smells warm and spicy. Ravensara, an evergreen from Madagascar, reminds me of anise and fennel.

Our sensory experiences included not only smells but also tastes. After eating dark chocolate spritzed with essences of cardamom, ginger, and peru balsam, Scott bought a pink peppercorn spray to flavour our salads and ice cream at home. Yum!

Julia’s Restaurant

Hearst Castle architect and engineer Julia Morgan was the only woman to graduate from UC Berkeley civil engineering in 1894, and the first woman awarded a certificate in architecture from Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1902. She designed the Berkeley City Club and led its construction in 1929. Tonight, we dined at the Club’s restaurant, which is named after her. Both are local gems.

Dragonfly

20130714 Dragonfly

Last Saturday, we drove with Scott’s Indian colleague Aditya and his wife Kamakshi from Berkeley to Bolinas for lunch at Coast Café and a hike along part of the Point Reyes National Seashore.  We had plans to hike between the Palomarin Trailhead and Bass Lake.  But first, we took a quick detour down to the beach.  I’m glad we did; I found this lovely dragonfly sitting on the rocks.  He and his stained glass wings were ready for their close-up, and I was happy to oblige!

Schlumpfdorf

Yesterday, I had lunch with two German colleagues and the conversation shifted to the topic of fungus as Christopher described his brother’s research to me and Eva.  At one point, Christopher couldn’t find the word he wanted to say in English, so Eva prompted him in German and he responded in kind.  All I heard was “German German German FUNGUS German German”.  This happens to me quite often, and not only at work.  Earlier this week, I accepted an invitation to Skype with my German friends Julia and Eberhard tomorrow morning.  They seem to forget sometimes that I’m not German as I had to run part of their email through Google Translate to understand it.

I took this photo of fungus growing along the Santa Ynez Canyon Trail in Topanga State Park a week before last Christmas.  My Canadian friend Lisa inspired the shot as she had once told me that she wanted to capture a wild mushroom’s point of view in a photo.  To me, this juicy cluster of Armillaria solidipes resembles a Smurf village, or Schlumpfdorf as my German friends would say!

Mentors

In bookstores, I pick up books at random and flip them open to see what phrases move me.  A copy of Damn Good Advice (For People with Talent!):  How To Unleash Your Creative Potential by George Lois recently caught my eye.  Lois bills himself as “America’s Master Communicator”.  I was curious yet skeptical.  However, he had me at bon mot 113.  “Extoll your Mentors.”  This post is dedicated to three of my mentors:  Bob Lank, Sandy Thornton-Trump, and Ron Vermette.

In the past four months, I have:  quit a job; traveled with Scott to Italy, Germany, and France; renewed many friendships; visited Mama Chow in Canada; started a new job; and helped Scott move to Berkeley, where he will be working for the coming year.  A major catalyst for this frenetic cycle of good fortune is my mentor, Bob Lank.  When I lacked the confidence to leave my job for the unknown, Bob advised me to take a leap of faith.  He declared, “Helsa, this year is going to be about betting on yourself.”  I heeded his counsel and traveled to Venice, where Scott was attending a conference; I took this photo of the Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco as Scott and I walked to Harry’s Bar for dinner one evening.  Bob was assigned to be my mentor during my second year of business school.  Over the years, Bob has coached me through several professional and personal transitions.  He has become my confidante and my friend.  He and his wife were guests at our Chinese wedding banquet; Scott and I have been guests at their Sunday dinners.  Now that we live 2,200 miles (3,500 km) apart, it’s difficult for us to meet for dinner but Bob always has a few words of wisdom for me each time I contemplate a job offer or move to a new city.

Sandy Thornton-Trump was a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at my alma mater.  I don’t remember how we met.  I do remember the hours we spent talking in his office as I transcribed his lectures on Automotive Design, typed his correspondence, and tidied his desk.  He was visually impaired, so he needed an extra set of eyes to stay organized at work.  Even though he was blind, he could see that I felt a bit lost at the time.  He was generous with his sympathy.  Before and after I graduated from engineering school, we would meet for lunch at the Faculty Club to gossip and puzzle over the small intrigues of our lives.  We shared sorrow and joy:  he and his wife helped me to cope with my father’s death; I had the pleasure of meeting their little grandson; they vetted and approved of Scott.  The final time I saw Sandy was soon after my honeymoon.  Scott’s parents had hosted a reception on their farm to celebrate our marriage but Sandy and his wife had declined to attend.  I paid Sandy a visit and sadly found him in ill-health.  He passed away three months after our visit.

Ron Vermette was my teacher in Grade 3.  Mr. V made learning fun for me.  More importantly, he proved that it’s possible to do great work and remain true to oneself:  his long hair, Chuck Taylors, Winnipeg Jets jersey, convertible, and proficiency at air guitar were incidental to his talent for opening minds to new ideas.  He shook up my eight-year-old reverence for orthodoxy and for that I remain grateful.  He taught me how to tie-dye fabric, tool copper, and mold plaster of Paris.  I still enjoy getting my hands dirty to learn something new.  He used to print math exercises on top of cartoon characters, so that his students could colour in the cartoons as they learned to add and subtract.  I still have a collection of booklets that I wrote and illustrated in his class – he had taught me how to sew the pages together.  A couple of years ago, I wrote Mr. V and asked him if he had continued to play floor hockey, build reading caves, and make art with his students.  He responded to my note and I was happy to learn that after 33 years of teaching, he was still having fun.  He still plays floor hockey once a week and he still has a reading cave in his classroom.  He still has long hair but has “traded in the hot car for a Jeep“.  Mr. V plans to retire next year.  Before he retires, I will send him another note.

Chocolate Mousse Taco

Yesterday afternoon, I wandered into Sweet Lady Jane on Melrose Avenue and discovered their Chocolate Mousse Taco.  Imagine a Florentine folded into the shape of a taco, filled with Mousse au Chocolat, and topped with wide curly ribbons of dark chocolate.  The delicious result is a mash-up of traditional Tuscan(?), Mexican, and French treats!

I took a photo of this fine dessert to share it with you.  If Willy Wonka‘s Television-Chocolate Room / Wonkavision were real, then I would use it to broadcast a piece to you right now!

The 84th Annual Academy Awards

Yesterday afternoon, I ran some errands in Hollywood.  As I drove north along the 101 from DTLA, I noticed that my car was running on fumes so I exited the freeway and headed toward the closest gas station, a Chevron on N Highland Avenue.  When I saw that traffic was at a standstill near the gas station, I realized that I’d driven straight into Oscar madness!

The former Kodak Theatre, now known as the Hollywood and Highland Center Theatre since Kodak filed for bankruptcy recently, is where the 84th Annual Academy Awards will be held this evening.  The Theatre is 0.3 miles (0.5 km) away from the Chevron station.  Since I had my camera with me, I decided to fill ‘er up, park my car on a side street, and walk towards the Theatre to see what was happening on the red carpet.

Hollywood Avenue was shut down and a chain link fence kept the curious at bay.  Having shepherded many visitors through the Hollywood and Highland Center to take photos of the Hollywood Sign, Hollywood Walk of Fame, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, and Kodak Theatre, I’m familiar with the nooks and crannies that afford a good view of the street below.  I took this photo of the red carpet while standing in front of Sun Taco on the third floor of the Center.  If you watch the ceremony tonight on TV, Sun Taco’s signage will be hidden from view by a glamorous gold curtain, which is hung each year to hide storefronts.

Mike’s Cafe

This week, we enjoyed a brief visit from my Australian friend Penny and her younger brother Ian.  Ian had backpacked his way around the world for several months before he visited Penny and her “registered partner NOT husband” Chris in the Bay AreaLos Angeles was Ian’s final pit stop before he flew back to Australia on Wednesday night.

Penny had chauffeured Ian from the Bay Area to Las Vegas for two days of gambling before they arrived on our doorstep Tuesday evening, bearing gifts of 99 Ranch Chinese roast duck, Sun Tropics mango passionfruit juice, and a Cuisinart immersion blender!  Penny and I used to shop at the 99 Ranch in Mountain View on Thursdays after volunteering with Habitat for Humanity Silicon Valley.  Chinese roast duck was and remains a treat, but cartons of Sun Tropics juice were staples in our fridge back then!  We inherited the blender from our German friends Julia and Eberhard, who are moving from Menlo Park to Hamburg next month.  To repay Julia and Eberhard’s kindness, I sent Penny home with a small framed print of Death Valley Desert Gold for them, as they had visited Death Valley over Christmas.  To repay Penny’s kindness, we enjoyed comfort food together at the Nickel Diner in downtown L.A. and Tender Greens in Santa Monica.

Penny’s kindness manifests itself in countless ways.  She pours love into the meals she cooks for her friends and family.  She makes my long commute bearable by Skyping with me once a week as I inch along the freeway.  And despite her occasional tantrums when I’ve taken “too many” photos during a hike or party, she encourages my photography.  She arranged for Ellen and Mike, the proprietors of Mike’s Cafes, to display my work at their Palo Alto restaurant for three months this past summer.  This is a photo of my prints on display at the restaurant.  Scott hung the frames; he did an excellent job.  If you scan the mirrored wall closely, you will see the reflection of Penny chatting with Mike.

Angels Flight

On the final night of Mama Chow’s Christmas visit, we walked to dinner at L.A. Prime atop The Westin Bonaventure where we admired the Los Angeles skyline, had a nice meal, and then fought over the bill as good Asian families do (Mama Chow won).  On our way to the restaurant I took this photo of the Angels Flight railway, which we rode up Bunker Hill from Hill Street to California Plaza.  

This photo was a happy accident.  I had set the shutter speed at 15 seconds as it was dark outside, but then I forgot to turn off the camera’s flash.  The camera captured the train in motion.  The illuminated tower that hovers over the train is Los Angeles City Hall.  City Hall, which was completed in 1928, wasn’t even around when Angels Flight was built.  A plaque mounted onto a boulder next to the train station reads: 

Built in 1901 by Colonel J.W. Eddy, lawyer, engineer, and friend of President Abraham Lincoln, Angels Flight is said to be the world’s shortest incorporated railway.  The counterbalanced cars, controlled by cables, travel a 33 percent grade for 315 feet [96 meters].  It is estimated that Angels Flight has carried more passengers per mile [1.6 km] than any other railway in the world, over a hundred million in its first fifty years.  This incline railway is a public utility operating under a franchise granted by the City of Los Angeles.

Between 1901 and 1969, the railway ran along tracks which connected Hill Street and Olive Street at Third Street.  The railway was dismantled in 1969 to make way for redevelopment and was finally re-constructed in 1996 to operate at its current location until 2001, when its gear train failed.  The railcar at the top of the hill, Sinai, hurtled down the hill and crashed into the other railcar, Olivet.  One man died and seven people were injured in this accident.  Angels Flight re-opened in March 2010 and a one-way ticket to ride now costs 25 cents.   

In the film “500 Days of Summer” (2009), the main character Tom takes his girlfriend Summer to Angels Knoll Park.  The park is his favorite spot in Los Angeles as he can look out over a number of buildings he likes, although the view is spoiled by parking lots.  Seven dots of white light shine from these parking lots in my photo.  The Angels Flight railway runs through Angels Knoll Park.

Malibu Freestyle Sun Salutation

On Saturday, I was going blind taking photos of the sunset in Malibu when this man suddenly appeared and started meditating beside me.  I took a couple steps back and snuck a snapshot of him as I knew no one would believe this story unless I had photographic proof.

Earlier in the afternoon, Scott and I had gone hiking along the Stunt High Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains.  It had rained all morning, so we waded through the muck for four miles (6 km) before we decided to sully our car and drive to Real Food Daily (our favourite organic vegan restaurant in Santa Monica) for some surprisingly tasty meatless enchiladas and dairy-free fettucine alfredo.  We drove along Saddle Peak Road until we reached Tuna Canyon Road, where Scott pulled over to make sure we were headed in the right direction.  I could see in the rear view mirror that the sunset was going to be stunning so I grabbed my camera and ran out of our car.  I stood on the shoulder between a barbed wire fence and a telephone pole, looked straight into the sun (don’t try this at home, kids – it’s bad for your eyes), and took pictures until I heard a car pull up, a door slam, some rapid footsteps, and then some loud beeping.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man fiddling with his beeping iPad:  the time was flashing on the screen in large red numbers like a digital alarm clock.  He dropped his iPad on the ground and started gesturing methodically at the sun.  Although it was 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius) at sunset, there was a strong humid wind blowing up from the ocean.  I regretted that I had left my toque and mittens at home.  I couldn’t believe that the mysterious meditator was wearing only a t-shirt and white linen pants (after Labour Day).  He must have been chilled to the bone.  It wasn’t long before he picked up his iPad, ran back to his car, and sped away.

“Where The Streets Have No Name”

Bono wrote the lyrics to “Where The Streets Have No Name” after hearing a story about how a person’s address in Belfast is indicative of his or her religion and income.  In 1987, U2 filmed their guerilla video for “Where The Streets Have No Name” on the roof of the Republic Liquor Store at 7th and Main, a block from where we now live in downtown L.A.  The intersection marks the southwestern border of Skid Row, an urban wasteland where the streets have names but not much else going for them.  In 1999, the Los Angeles City Council passed an Adaptive Reuse Ordinance which enables developers to convert vacant office and commercial buildings into renovated live-work spaces.  This shift in urban policy spurred gentrification in the city’s Historic Core.  These days, transient hotels and loft conversions share the same zip codes in our neighbourhood.  A graph of gentrification vs. time for downtown L.A. would show an inflection point at x = 2010.  For the time being, the area supports the demographic diversity which Belfast lacked in Bono’s mind.

The Republic Liquor Store has given way to a 24-hour Mexican greasy spoon called Margarita’s Place.  By staging their video on a rooftop, U2 paid homage to The Beatles.  In 1969, the Beatles played atop the Savile Row roof of Apple Records.  No. 3 Savile Row in London is much more posh than 103 E. 7th St. in L.A.  At the entrance to Margarita’s Place, a sign states “No Drugs, No Drug Dealers, No Loitering, No Weapons, The Los Angeles Police Department Makes Regular and Frecuent [sic] Patrols of These Premises”.  Consider yourself warned.

During U2’s video shoot, fans lined the street in front of Dearden’s.  Dearden’s is a furniture store which recently celebrated its centenary.

The Beaux Arts-style Board of Trade Building which Bono serenaded in the video is now SB Main, a loft conversion.

Two blocks away, developers have converted the old Rosslyn Hotel into Rosslyn Lofts.  A refurbished rooftop neon sign glows with pride over the building’s original “1100 – NEW MILLION DOLLAR – HOTEL ROSSLYN – FIRE PROOF ROOMS – POPULAR PRICES”.  Bono’s fascination with the “Million Dollar Hotel” likely inspired the large replica sign that served as a backdrop for the video.  The replica was mispelled; it read “1100 – NEW MILLION DOLLAR – HOTEL ROSLYN”.

In the video, a big blue sign advertised The Cecil Hotel’s “LOW – MONTHLY – WEEKLY – RATES – 700 ROOMS” as Bono sang “I want to reach out / And touch the flame / Where the streets have no name”.  The sign is now red, and it’s been modified to promote the hotel’s “LOW – DAILY – WEEKLY – RATES – 700 ROOMS”.  Several floors of this flop house have been renovated and re-branded as Stay, a cheap and chic hotel which shares an elevator with its gritty parent Cecil.  We stayed at Stay while we were loft-hunting in downtown L.A. less than two years ago.  It was an eye-opener to ride the lift with guests who had checked out long before they checked into the Cecil.

Theme Building @ LAX

A couple of weeks ago, Scott met my flight at LAX after I flew “home” from Canada. “Home” has become an abstraction for us and many of our friends. “Home” is not necessarily a house, it’s not where we keep our stuff, and it’s somewhat exclusive of where we pay tax. In the kitchen of our loft in downtown L.A., I’ve hung two photos of the little house we own in Canada. When we first moved to America, I worried about our tenants painting our old bedroom pink. Now, I’m satisfied when our tenants send us a cheque each month. My Canadian brothers-in-law are saints: their basement in Toronto is filled with our belongings. Back in the day, American colonists cried, “No taxation without representation!” to express their resentment over being taxed by the British parliament. We happen to pay tax both in Canada and in America. Although it’s frustrating to pay tax to the Canada Revenue Agency, at least we can vote in Canadian elections. We pay state and federal tax in the U.S., but we don’t have a say in how this money is spent as we aren’t able to vote in American elections. But I digress…

We go “home” to visit family and old friends in the country that issues our passports. And then we go “home” to our spouses or partners in the country where we work and live. If we’re lucky, our spouse will meet our flight and, broken elevator be damned, carry our heavy suitcase up six flights of stairs to the car. I set up my tripod and camera on the roof of the LAX parkade to take this photo of the Theme Building.

The flying saucer-shaped Theme Building at LAX was designed by architects James Langenheim of Pereira & Luckman, Paul R. Williams, Welton Becket, and Robert Herrick Carter. Construction of this mid-century design icon in 1961 cost $2.2 million. The spidery legs of the 135 ft (41 m) high parabolic arches are made out of steel-reinforced concrete, and the crossed arches are a hollow stucco-covered steel truss. The building is now home to the Encounter Restaurant and its observation deck now offers free admission to the public on weekends.

“Where the Sidewalk Ends”

Yesterday, I ran seven miles and renewed my love of running in the rain.  The temperature outside was 14 degrees Celsius (57 degrees Fahrenheit):  it was warm enough for me to run in shorts and a T-shirt; yet cool enough for me to feel refreshed as I motored along the pavement at turbo turtle speed.  The rain washed away the salt which otherwise streaks my face as I run.  I’m visiting Mama Chow this week and I am so happy to escape the oppressive heat of Los Angeles for the crisp weather of Vancouver.

I ran along No.3 Road in Richmond towards the Fraser River.  At the intersection of No. 3 and Steveston Highway, suburban sprawl suddenly gives way to farmland.  In the words of Shel Silverstein, I ran “Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow…  To the place where the sidewalk ends.”  No. 3 ends at Dyke Road, where a trail hugs the bank of the Fraser River.  The river was a grey satin ribbon, shiny yet subdued.  The water’s surface kept breaking like there was someone standing beneath me skipping stones.  I listened to the splashes and tried not to blink as I scanned the area.  I quickly realized that I was alone except for the large FISH that were leaping out of the water – to them, the river was a trampoline.  Because I was mid-run, I didn’t have my camera with me – the rain would have made picture-taking difficult anyway.  I watched the life aquatic until I started shivering.  And then I turned around to run towards a patch of blackberries I’d passed earlier.

DIGRESSION:  How would you determine the number of times these fish might jump in an hour?  Use the Poisson Distribution!

A mile from Mama Chow’s, there is a large house that is surrounded by overgrown blackberry bushes.  Cars were parked all over the lawn yesterday and the front sidewalk was slick with ripe and rotten berries that had fallen to the ground – such a waste.  I stood on the sidewalk and ate a bunch of blackberries off the bush.  Thorns dug into my elbows:  a small price to pay for easy foraging.  The berries were sweet; they gave me plenty of energy to finish my run.

UPDATE:  The Sockeye Salmon run in the Fraser River is newsworthy!  The next day, Mama Chow and I drove to the river to see the salmon run.  The river was choppy and the fish weren’t very active, but I managed to take a snapshot of one sockeye as it poked its head out of the water.

Cemetery Cinema

The Hollywood Forever Cemetery is a unique setting to watch a film on a Saturday night.  Cinespia is in its tenth season of transforming this famous cemetery into a moonlit cinema.  Last weekend, we watched “The Sting” (1973) with 3,000 other movie lovers and the spirits of screen legends interred nearby.

In the daytime, the cemetery is popular with tourists who want to commune with dead celebs such as Looney Tunes voice actor Mel Blanc; producer Cecil B. DeMille; actor Douglas Fairbanks Sr.; “Golden Girl” Estelle Getty; philanthropist Griffith J. Griffith; guitarist Johnny Ramone; gangster Bugsy Siegel; and actress Fay Wray.  Hollywood Forever is bordered by strip malls and car repair garages so its glamour is a bit frayed at the edges.

As the sun set, we enjoyed a picnic with our Canadian friends Ethan and Zarene on the grass beside the mausoleum which holds Rudolph Valentino’s tomb.  The lawn was cool and damp so we sat on an unzipped sleeping bag as we dug into stromboli, salad, corn on the cob, and cake.  The group next to us huddled around a tablecloth covered in tea lights, so we were in fine company dining al fresco.  DJs Hair and Carlos Niño spun Bob Dylan and Portishead to keep the crowd feeling groovy.  Most smokers were kind enough to congregate near the porta-potties next to a field of parked cars.  Scott was smart to pack our camping headlamps so that we could find our way in the dark.

Just after sunset, “The Sting” was projected onto the side of Valentino’s mausoleum.  “The Sting” stars Robert Redford and the late Paul Newman as Depression-era grifters who con a mob boss out of half a million dollars.  The film won seven Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director in 1974.  It’s fun and exciting to watch – such a crowd-pleaser!

Big Sur: Overcast

 

It was cloudy last weekend when we camped in a Sibley Tent at Treebones Resort in Big Sur, a resort known for its oceanside yurts, off-grid power system, and delicious lamb tajines

I had forgotten how grey the sky can be in Northern California during the summer.  On our previous trips to Big Sur, the blue of the sky was rivaled only by the blue of the ocean.  At first, I was disappointed that the sun was smothered under a thick pillow of clouds and that there was nearly no horizon to separate sea from sky.  But then I realized that not everything was greyscale:  the hills were green and lush in a way they never are in Southern California, where the chaparral seems withered year round.  The overcast sky and cool weather were a welcome respite from the heat that can spoil afternoon hikes.  In Big Sur, it’s pretty easy to find silver linings in grey clouds.

Santa Catalina Island: “The Vanishing Canadian”

“I found my love in Avalon beside the bay / I left my love in Avalon and sailed away…”  Unlike Nat King Cole, I lost my love near Avalon this past weekend. 

On Sunday, I took a wrong turn near the end of our hike on Catalina Island.  That morning, we had taken a bus from Avalon up to the Airport in the Sky which is located 1,602 ft (488 m) above sea level.  After a delicious picnic with our French friends Aude and Adrien, we hiked five miles before hopping on a bus headed towards Avalon.  Along the way, we saw several bison.  Bison aren’t endemic to the area:  fourteen bison were brought to Catalina in 1924 during the filming of Zane Grey’s “The Vanishing American” (1925).  After shooting wrapped, the bison were set free to roam and propagate on the island.  Before the Catalina Island Conservancy thinned the herd to its current count of 150 to 200 animals, there were as many as 600 big brown beasts dotting the island’s grassy hills.  

Two miles from Avalon, we got off the bus so that we could walk under the eucalyptus trees which line Stagecoach Road.  We were on the outskirts of town when I lagged behind (again) to take photos.  Scott, Aude and Adrien kept walking as they assumed that I would eventually catch up with them.  This had been our routine all afternoon.  Unfortunately, I assumed that Scott had taken a staircase carved into the hill between two houses, which was a more adventurous path than sticking to the main road.  After I descended the staircase and walked for a bit, I realized that my party was nowhere in sight.  By then, I couldn’t find the staircase again, so the best thing I could do was walk through Avalon back to our campsite at Hermit Gulch.  Fortunately, Scott and our friends returned to our campsite as well once they realized I had taken a wrong turn and wandered away.  I’m sorry my stupidity caused them to worry and I’m happy we weren’t apart for long.  We cleaned up and went for a satisfying dinner at The Lobster Trap in Avalon:  the cioppino is excellent. 

Ironically, I was in a similar situation two years ago when I hiked the Manly to Spit Bridge Scenic Walkway near Sydney, Australia with Mama Chow.  During that hike, I was the one who had walked ahead on the trail and she was the one who had lagged behind to take photos.  Neither of us realized that there was a fork in the trail (it wasn’t on the map).  We took different paths and because hers turned out to be a shortcut, she ended up a mile ahead of me:  hikers I met on the trail told me that they had seen a small Asian woman with a big hat and that I needed to run if I was to catch up to her!  We were very relieved to find each other.  We finished the hike, took a taxi back to Sydney, and celebrated our final night in Australia by going out for sushi.

Independence Day Fireworks

Last night, we celebrated America’s 234th birthday by watching the Independence Day fireworks over the Rose Bowl from Ethan and Zarene’s roof in Pasadena.  Our Canadian friends had made us an excellent dinner:  homemade chicken burgers dressed with the tastiest guacamole I’ve had in a long time, and seafood pasta salad.  Dessert (brownies, strawberries, and champagne mangoes) was just minutes away when I took this photo.  Most of my photos were blurry, but the last one I took turned out really nicely.

Portuguese Point, Abalone Cove

The beach along Abalone Cove in Palos Verdes is covered in large smooth stones.  When the tide rolls out, the ocean rakes away the top layer of stones.  The sound of the stones scraping against each other is very similar to ice cubes rattling in a cocktail shaker.   During low tide before sunrise and around noon, starfish and sea anemones are visible in the tide pools that form along the coast.  Abalones were once abundant in this area before over-fishing drove the population to extinction.  It was late afternoon and the tide was rolling in as I took this photo of Portuguese Point.

Allied Arts Guild: The Artisan Shop

Allied Arts Guild is an artists guild in Menlo Park where Ansel Adams once maintained a studio.  Prints of my photos are sold at the Guild in the Artisan Shop and The Barn Woodshop.  Since 1929, the Guild has provided an inspiring environment for working artists, beautiful gardens and shops for visitors, and support for critically-ill children at Stanford’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital.    

When I first moved to the Bay Area, I booked a string of “blind dates” with people who had graduated from the same schools I did in Canada.  I met Grace, a fellow alumna of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, over coffee in March 2009.  We had such a nice time that we arranged to meet again at one of her favourite haunts:  Allied Arts Guild.  We had lunch at the Guild and stayed all afternoon to smell the roses.  

In January 2010, I decided to start selling prints of my photos.  Although we live along Gallery Row in L.A., I considered the Guild a better place to try my luck.  I called the Artisan Shop and introduced myself to the manager to see if she would help me make good on my new years resolution.  We arranged to meet the following weekend.  She looked over my work with her assistant and chose several framed prints to display in the Shop.  I sold my first print that week:  a picture of the Berkeley Campanile which I had taken after meeting another Rotman alumna over lunch at UC Berkeley.  In March, our friends Maricki and Castaña visited us in L.A.; I enlisted their help to deliver more of my prints to the Shop.  Now, I deliver prints to the Guild whenever I’m in town.

Clouds

A couple of weeks ago, I was having lunch with my mom on the Tsawwassen – Swartz Bay ferry when we sailed past these clouds. I stopped eating and ran onto the deck with my camera. In L.A., the sun melts clouds away so I was very happy to see these “ice cream castles in the air / And feather canyons everywhere”. Joni Mitchell, I could drink a case of you!

We were on our way to visit old friends in Victoria, former Winnipeggers who now live on the Island. I was excited to see Terry and Bob, who were newlyweds when they first moved into the house across the street from my childhood home in Waverley Heights. My parents would occasionally send me across the street to visit Terry and Bob, who knew how to entertain me: the crawl space in their basement was filled with toys and books so that young visitors always felt welcome. As I enjoyed doing menial tasks, they would give me piles of receipts to sort before tax season. I amused their accountant by drawing cars on the envelope which held their car expenses. Each Christmas, we would dip cherries, nuts, and caramel in melted chocolate before placing them on cookie sheets to harden outside on the snow-covered deck in their backyard. Terry and Bob liked having a kid around enough to have Spencer, who is now fourteen. He is such a nice kid. Terry likes to tell the story of why she calls Spencer “the kid”: my dad used to refer to me as “the kid” whenever they talked, so once Spencer came along it seemed natural for her to call him “the kid” too.

I had renewed my friendship with Terry and Bob when I was first engaged to be married, but my mom had not seen them since my dad passed away ten years ago. Being kindred spirits, we picked up where we had left off and reminisced about my dad’s endearing eccentricities. He used to scour garage sales for tools he already owned so that he could lend tools to neighbours without worrying about them ever being returned. For fun, he cut a sunroof into a car once. He and Bob would disappear into our basement and listen to Mahler or Bruckner symphonies with the volume cranked so high that heavy furniture on the main floor would shake. My dad was an audiophile who built his own speakers: we owned the first CD player on our block in the mid 1980’s. It was a Philips.

Terry had given me and Scott “The Artist’s Way” and “The Joy of Cooking” as wedding presents. “The Artist’s Way” had influenced her career as an artist so I understood why she wanted me to have my own copy. Scott and I had assumed that she chose “The Joy of Cooking” as a handy reference guide for us newlyweds. It wasn’t until she showed me her hardcover edition of the cookbook in Victoria that I understood its significance: on the first page my dad had signed his name in Chinese and in English, and stamped his old address at St. John’s College. Terry had bought my parents’ copy of “The Joy of Cooking” at our garage sale years ago. As we sat in Terry’s kitchen, my mom confided that she had received the book as a wedding present, but had decided to sell it before we moved out of Waverley Heights when I was fourteen. Whenever we had guests for dinner, my dad would cook so my mom didn’t feel the need to hang onto the book. It looks well-used and I’m glad it has such a good home.

We had a lovely visit.

False Creek Reflections

I was waiting for my friend Kathryn to meet me in Yaletown for dinner at Provence during my first night in Vancouver when I took this photo of condo balconies as reflected in False Creek.  The cloudy day was fading fast without a sunset to light up the early night.  As The Weakerthans played in my head, I watched people kayaking through the creek, walking their dogs, and running along the water:  “Between the sunset and certified darkness / Dusk comes on and I follow the exhaust from memory up to the end / The civil twilight.”

Vernazza, Italy

At brunch today with our friends Mariana and Michael, we traded stories about travel plans gone awry.  Our tale of sleeping in a tiny rental car at Milan’s Malpensa airport on the final night of our honeymoon was totally eclipsed by their account of lurching through the Andes on an all-night bus ride prior to hiking Machu Picchu.  All this reminiscing led me to look through our honeymoon photos tonight.   

We had received our first digital camera as a wedding present from my mom, so it’s evident in the photos that I was learning how to use the Canon S2IS as we traveled through Italy.  I hadn’t been bitten by the photography bug yet, so I didn’t take as many shots per day as I do now.  Still, I did take some nice pictures such as this one of Vernazza in Cinque Terre.

Union Station, Los Angeles

On February 6, 2010, I took this photo of Union Station in downtown Los Angeles.  My friend Dave and his wife Debbie were visiting from Canada so Scott led us on a walking tour of our neighbourhood.  We waded through the crowds along Broadway towards the Grand Central Market for shrimp ceviche tostadas:  the breakfast of champions.  Sated, we carried on towards dim sum in Chinatown.  Along the way, we decided to wander through the Walt Disney Concert Hall as its shiny titanium exterior drew us from a block away.  The hall’s interior is warm and inviting and it’s a shame that LA Philharmonic tickets are so expensive.  We’ve been spoiled by the Toronto Symphony’s tsoundcheck program, which enables young music lovers to attend concerts for as little as $12.

We decided to take the Metrolink from Chinatown to Union Station as the terminal is a beautiful historic landmark.  There were several photo shoots underway inside the station:  brides kissing grooms; models posing; and tourists admiring the architecture.  I stood behind a velvet rope and shot this empty wing as it was being transformed into a ballroom.  Debbie remembered seeing several bridal parties on campus last summer when she and Dave had visited us at Stanford.  I wonder where our next home will be and look forward to Dave and Debbie visiting us there.

Chino Hills, San Bernadino Mountains

I took this snapshot of Chino Hills in the foreground and the San Bernadino Mountains in the background as we hiked the Telegraph Canyon Trail in Chino Hills State Park yesterday.  I didn’t think my camera would do justice to the snowy peaks so I took only one photo and kept walking.  It was a hot and sunny afternoon so I didn’t linger in any one spot too long.  On the trail was a large sign warning us of mountain lions, bobcats, and coyotes that kept me on track as well.

Scott packed a lovely lunch for us to eat before we hit the trail:  a baguette, prosciutto, avocadoes, hummus, Greaves raspberry jam, Lindt Gaufrette, strawberries, and mango smoothies.  It was a parade of my favourite foods marching across the picnic table straight into my stomach!  I now realize that we fine-tuned our al fresco dining skills in Palo Alto last year, where we made regular use of our Coleman cooler chilly bin for potluck birthdays, weddings, and weekends.  In Canada, eating outside is a rare treat; in California, it’s an everyday pleasure.

Neptune’s Net, Malibu

My German friend Arne convinced me to mount my camera to his tripod before I took this photo on my birthday in 2009.  We decided to drive up the coast to watch the sunset in Malibu after an afternoon of ogling antiquities at the Getty Villa.  Scott sat on a rock and ate crab cakes while Arne and I took pictures of the sun disappearing into the ocean.  Once it was dark, we ran across the highway to Neptune’s Net for supper. 

Neptune’s Net has great reviews for its fresh seafood.  I was the only one who insisted on washing my hands before digging into my shrimp cocktail.  The sign next to the portable hand washing station behind the restaurant stated that the wash water wasn’t potable, but I wasn’t too concerned:  I wasn’t drinking the water, just cleaning my hands.  I don’t know if it was the prawns or the hand washing, but I got food poisoning later on that night.  Fortunately, it was after midnight and no longer my birthday, so it wasn’t like my birthday itself was spoiled.

Arne has since returned to Germany.  When he left, he gave us a tray on which he had painted all the places we had visited together.  I gave him a framed print of this photo to hang in his new apartment.  I hope he and his girlfriend Bianka think of me and Scott when they look at the print.

Tulip, Stanford

I took this photo on May 4, 2009 during my friend Lisa’s visit to the Bay Area.  We walked around the grounds of Stanford Medical Center, taking photos of the flower beds while our husbands went for a beer at CoHo Tresidder.  We were amazed at how flowers in California are gargantuan compared to flowers back home in Canada.  We were really happy to discover that even though we haven’t lived in the same city since 2003, we continue to cultivate similar interests independently. 

I met Lisa while we were both training for our first half marathon.  We’ve run seven races together.  Through snow, rain, wind, and sun…  earning our reward of chili fries, Korean BBQ, Indian butter chicken, or pancakes…  lots of great talks over great meals.  I miss her.  It’s time to give her a call.

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