Monday, January 30, 2012

Week 4: Contracting and Catching Up

This week I became an independent contractor, which is definitely something I have never done before. It's exciting and more than a little bit scary to be, for all intents and purposes, self-employed. I am super excited about the non-profit that I am now working for, and I know that I'm going to get to do all kinds of new things in this new role. More on my new gig soon. We're working on getting a new website up and running, so I'm going to hold off on sharing until everything is polished and shiny.

Since photos of me hard at work are a.) hard for me to take and b.) dull, I'm going to share another new thing that I did recently - I attended a "secret" show that was being recorded and will be televised in the next couple of weeks. A week or so ago, Tom used his magical powers to procure tickets to a secret show that Mayer Hawthorne was performing at a secret location. I don't know how he did it; it's a secret. In case you are unfamiliar with Mayer Hawthorne:


The show was held in a ballroom at the Grand Plaza Hotel downtown, a lovely old hotel in a somewhat questionable part of town.

Randomly, the show was sponsored by Southwest, so instead of a bar, they had a table set up with bags of pretzels and roasted peanuts. Weird. Anyway, the show was being recorded and will air on PBS as part of their Artists Den series.

The show itself was a lot of fun, and I'm looking forward to reliving it whenever PBS airs it.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Family Fun - Part II

The weekend after Mo and Buckley came to up, my parent's arrived to scope out the newish digs and see some L.A. sights. On Friday we had a leisurely dinner at Taste. Taste has been one of my favorite L.A. restaurants since the old days when Tom and I were splitting weekends between L.A. and San Diego. It was also the site of of my first major celeb sighting - Mila Kunis and Macauley Culkin, back when they were still an item. An item? Do people still say that? People under eighty? Anyway, they sat at a table right across from me and Tom; I played it cool for a second and then went to the bathroom to text my roommates. I realize his star has faded, but, man, Macauley Culkin! I loved him. Annnyway, dinner was delicious and the Stags Leap brought it to a whole new level of dining experience fabulousity.

On Saturday afternoon, we headed up to the Getty for another visit to the gardens and some more QT with our friends the Impressionists.

{The Portal of Rouen Cathedral in Morning Light, Claude Monet}
After our Getty-lite tour, we headed downtown by way of my dad's old stomping grounds at USC. We cruised by fraternity row, and Dad pointed out his old frat house, the restaurant he used to work at, Dedeaux Field, and other things that we had to imagine because they've been replaced by Taco Bells and Starbucks-es. Eventually, we made it to Olvera Street, the birthplace of Los Angeles. Olvera Street is on my list of things to do in L.A., but I think I'm going to need a return trip before I can really cross it off.

The sun had just about set by the time we got there and a lot of things were closed, but there was an undeniably festive atmosphere, and there was music and dancing around every corner.
{I always know where to find Tom.}

Olvera Street is right across from Union Station, L.A.'s beautiful, old train station, so we strolled in for a look around. I'm glad that I don't have to spend day so on a train in order to visit the East Coast, but man, airports got nothin' on train stations. Train stations, hand-written letters, hard cover books - I guess we have to sacrifice a certain amount of beauty for the sake of efficiency and expediency... I don't have any plans to give up airplanes, email, or my Kindle, but it is a little sad.
 Look how in awe they are of the beautiful architecture! Actually, they kind of look like they are expecting to be beamed up to the mothership... Either way.

The "birthplace" of any Southern California town is always steeped in Mexican culture - probably because it actually was a Mexican town originally, but that is an entirely different post... Anyway, point is - we had Mexican for dinner, and it was delicious. El Paseo Inn - highly recommended. They passed my dad's test of a good Mexican restaurant (warm tortilla chips), my mom's (good, strong margaritas) and mine (guacamole made tableside, ok, and the margaritas).
After dinner, we decided to cram one more classic, L.A. activity into our day. We headed to the Santa Monica pier, by way of Tommy's Burgers, to ride the Ferris wheel.

{Me, Tom, and a creepy, little man with green wing hair}

Our classic L.A. weekend was complete when we (might have) spotted a couple of celebs a Mass in Beverly Hills. To be honest, I'm not entirely convinced, but Dad was pretty sure that we were sitting two rows behind Max Von Sydow (yeah, I didn't know either), and he was very confident that we walked out next Joe Torre. Who knows? Anything's possible in LaLa land.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Week 3: Adventures with KitchenAid

It's time for a recap of my new thing for the third week of 2012, so a review of fun with the parental units will have to wait until tomorrow. Speaking of my parents though, this week's new thing came courtesy of a generous Christmas gift that they gave me - a fancy-pants KitchenAid mixer. Look how pretty!

I'm not sure what it says about me that I was excited to find a kitchen appliance under the tree, but I totally was. Fifteen-year-old me was probably shaking her head in disgust, but 31-year-old me was super pumped. I know the mixer is going to be awesome for baking, but in the spirit of New Year's resolutions, I'm trying to steer clear of that for the moment. I was anxious to give my new toy a test run though, and a nice, whole wheat pizza dough seemed like a reasonably healthy option. Making pizza dough in the mixer? Way easy.

It took longer to get the ingredients out than it did to make the dough.

I opted to try out a recipe for winter pizza - caramelized onions and roasted butternut squash.  Actually, now that I think about it, this recipe involved several culinary firsts. In addition to the first go round with my new mixer, this was also the first time I have ever successfully caramelized onions, and quite possibly the first time I have ever made a pizza without tomatoes. This is fascinating stuff, isn't it? Annnnnnyway, inspired by my success with the mixer and giddy with the confidence that comes from perfectly caramelized onions, I decided to freestyle and deviate from the recipe, so I roasted a head of garlic and sautéed some swiss chard. End result? Yumbo!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Family Fun

So far this month, I've been lucky enough to have been visited by 50% of my family. It's been fun to show everyone around my new-ish hood. Tom, in particular, stepped up to the challenge of changing Shackford family views on La La Land.

Our first visitors were Mo and Buckley who came up for the first Friday night of the new year. There visit consisted less of seeing the sights and more of introducing them to our local watering holes. Actually, now that I think about it, Buckley actually provided the only real culture of the weekend when he led us to a hidden architectural museum just four blocks from my apartment.

Designed by architect Rudolph Schindler and built in 1922, the Schindler House is, according to Wikipedia, "considered to be the first house built in the Modern style."  The house was apparently intended to be a living and working space for two families, and it is made up of two connected L-shaped buildings that frame a huge (by Southern California standards) yard. It was dark by the time we got there, but the internet didn't let me down - pictures are courtesy of Wikipedia.

{source: Alan Ferguson}
Inside the museum were photographs of the view from the house at the time that it was built. Back in the day, you could see all the Hollywood Hills from the windows of the house. Now, sadly, innumerable apartment buildings, hotels, and stores tower over the little house and block the view.
{source: Alan Ferguson}
The house itself wasn't really my style, it was all concrete and wood, but it also had sleeping baskets! Apparently, the architect decided to forgo bedrooms in favor of these "baskets," areas on the roof that were protected by canvas canopies.

{interior: living room, kitchen, studio}
After absorbing some Southern California history, happy hours commenced, first - the Belmont.

The Roger Room is a spectacularly hip, prohibition-style bar, and as such, it is very dark and features gruff bartenders serving very strong cocktails. As a result, my only photographic evidence of the evening are these two underexposed, grainy pictures.

{Moscow Mules - thanks for the rec, Oprah!}
{Even their coasters are hip.}

We had planned planned to hike Runyon Canyon the next morning but ended up cheating by driving up to the Mullholland entrance to the park where we walked maybe half a mile, took in the view, and called it a day. Damn those Moscow Mules and Tijuana Brasses! [For those of you who haven't had the pleasure, a Moscow Mule is a cocktail made of vodka, lime, and ginger beer. It is also one of Oprah's favorite things, so naturally, it's awesome. Just like Stedman. I don't know where I'm going with this... Annnnyway, a Tijuana Brass is a Roger Room specialty and one of my favorite things - it's made with tequila and topped with a magical cucumber foam.]

I have been working on and abandoning this post for two days now, so consider this Part One with a thorough recap of adventures with Mom and Dad to follow soon.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Week 2: Book Signing

This week actually involved several new adventures, but this was first so this one gets recorded. On Thursday, I met Tom in Pasadena to see Ry Cooder read from and sign his new book, Los Angeles Stories. Now, Ry Cooder is a mixed bag for me - I love Buena Vista Social Club, but One Meatball makes me want to tear my hair out, but I'd never been to a book signing before, so I braved the redonculous traffic and headed to Pasadena.
{source: @vromans}
Making things even more fun and adventure, the signing was being held at Vroman's Bookstore, the oldest and largest independent bookstore in Southern California. I love me an independent bookstore, and this one was topnotch.  Amazon is so convenient with it's free two-day delivery and bargain prices, and Barnes and Noble has Starbucks, but nothing beats an independent bookstore.

Although wandering around the store was my favorite part, I actually ended up enjoying the book talk more than I expected. I hadn't done any research before had and had just assumed that the book would be about music stuff that I didn't understand. As it turned out, the book was a collection of short stories set in L.A. in the 1930s and '40s. I haven't read any of it yet, but I'm intrigued, and Mr. Cooder is clearly fascinated by his subject.

So, to sum up, Vroman's is rad, Ry Cooder is super smart and interesting, and book signings are cool. I have signed up for Vroman's mailing list, so hopefully I'll be back soon.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Week 1: Mt. Hollywood Trail Ride

Seeing as we're already into the second week of the year, I'm a bit late in kicking off this new project, but this idea came to me as most of my ideas do, at the last minute. I decided that, in the spirit of the Year of Yes, I will try to do one thing each week that I have never done before. I also decided that I will do my absolute best to document this novel event here, on my oft-neglected blog. My goal will be to get the weekly post up by Sunday night. I realize that it is Monday, and I have, therefore, already failed to reach my goal. Happily, this is my blog and I make the rules, and I say that I can start today.

My new thing for the first week of 2012 came courtesy of a lovely, thoughtful Christmas gift from my awesome husband. In addition to a Sodastream (two new things - I made my own soda this week!) and a Michael's gift card, Tom gave me a gift certificate for a trail ride with Sunset Ranch.

Even though it's been years since I last sat atop a horse, I often think about how much I miss riding, and I actually have dreams about it all the time. Anyway, I was a little worried that a canned trail ride on a pokey old pony wouldn't live up to my memories. As it turned out, I was pleasantly surprised. It actually felt really good to sit on a horse again, and since I vainly declared myself an "expert" equestrian, I was assigned to Roxy, the liveliest of Sunset Ranch's fleet.
{Sadly, being an expert equestrian does not earn you an exemption from the dorky helmet requirement.}

The best part was that none of the other would-be riders who showed up at the ranch while we were waiting for a guide were hardcore enough to want to join us on the two hour ride, so Tom and I were the only people in our group. Our guide was Lila, a sweet girl from Alabama who moved to L.A. six months ago to guessed it, acting. I always thought it was an over-hyped cliché, but Lila was the second person we met that day who had moved here with dreams of seeing her name in lights. Hopefully, one of the many Hollywood heavy hitters who read my blog will be inspired to head to Sunset Ranch and give Lila her big break.
{Tom and Neptune followed by Lila and Tracer}

Our ride took us from Sunset Ranch to the top of Mt. Hollywood, with views of the city, the sea, and the Hollywood sign in between.

The ride was a really lovely way to spend two hours. I could almost forget that I am sharing this city with 3,792,620 other people. [Tangent: The last time that Tom and I were stuck in traffic on the drive from San Diego to L.A., I attempted to distract myself by looking up population statistics about all of the places I've lived. Population density pretty much sums up the differences: L.A. - 8,092.30 people per square mile, San Diego - 4,002.6 people per square mile, Shelburne, Vermont - 294.0 people per square mile.] There were other people on the trail, but on the back of a horse, you are literally and figuratively above it all. That combined with the Roxy's rhythmic rocking gait made for a very relaxing couple of hours.

So, to sum up, week one of The Year of Yes and Doing New Things was a success indeed. I had almost forgotten how very much I like to view the world through a pair of horse ears.

P.S. - Just 'cause they're cute - gratuitous pictures of the ranch's baby chicks.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Backing Up

I was so excited to kick off 2012 that I failed to properly wrap up 2011. Tom's parents came to town to celebrate the holidays, and after spending Christmas in Big Bear with Tom's brother, they had a few days left in L.A. before they had to head back to Florida.

To make matters even merrier, my brother and Erin came up to L.A. for a night, and we all headed to LACMA to catch the Urban Lights display in the dark.

The day before Mary and Charlie had to leave, we managed to visit the one L.A. sight they hadn't managed to see in all of their trips to the West Coast, the Getty. It was a lovely day, perfect for exploring the Getty's indoor and outdoor treasures.

As usual, the Impressionist room was first on my list.
{The Rue Mosnier with Flags - Édouard Manet}
{Sunrise - Claude Monet}
{Once again, I was barely able to restrain myself from running my fingers over the brushstrokes.}
{Wheatstacks, Snow Effect, Morning - Claude Monet}
{Irises - Vincent van Gogh}
After taking in the photography exhibit (where I was not allowed to take pictures) and visiting with  van Gogh and friends, we stopped for lunch and for me to take an absurd number of pictures of this maple (?) tree.
Then I played around with my telephoto lens. I call this one Hipster Eating a Sandwich.

It's only a matter of time before the Getty commissions a whole series.