Thursday, February 28, 2013

EMPTY NESTING IN LOS ANGELES

I miss having my kids around.  I miss the fun we had when they lived at home.  I miss the sound of the constantly ringing phone. I miss my kids' friends and the crazy things they used to do together.  I miss an appreciative audience for my cooking.  I miss hearing, "Hi, Mom! I'm home!" I miss forcing them to give me a hug, and then being shocked when they freely embraced me in public.  I miss their wide-ranging interests that somehow always drew me in, usually in the form of a last-minute deadline that resulted in working several hours past midnight.  I miss sweet talks in the early-morning hours.  I miss driving them to their bazillion activities. (Yes, I really do.)  I really miss having a good reason to make graham cracker brownies or chocolate chip cookies.

However, I don't miss waiting up for a child to come home after his or her curfew has expired.  I don't miss the laundry and the cleaning.  I don't miss never sleeping in or feeling like I never really had control of my time. I don't miss feeling like I couldn't leave town for fear of someone missing a deadline or running out of gas and needing the services only I could provide. I don't miss never having a free Saturday to just do what I wanted to do.

Last Saturday was one of those "We have arrived!" empty-nester days, a day when we could, and did, do exactly what we wanted to do.  I know, I know. We've been mostly empty-nesters for almost seven years.  All I can say is that it takes a while to adjust.

We started the day with a drive into Los Angeles to attend a cooking class called "Forget Cooking! Introduction to Raw Food Cuisine."    The class was taught by Raquel Smith, an accountant who has a degree from the Living Light Culinary Arts Institute and whose passion is obviously healthy food.  She was delightful--organized and competent, but also warm and funny and honest.  The two-and-a-half hours flew by.

We learned how to make:
    Almond Milk
    Cream of Zucchini Soup
    Mediterranean Kale Salad
    Not Tuna Pate
    Zucchini Noodles Marinara
    Chocolate Mousse

Every one of the dishes was made from all natural, raw ingredients.  Every one was pretty easy and quick to prepare.  Mostly importantly, every single one was delicious. We know because we got to eat a pretty good-sized serving of each one.  I'll be posting the recipes soon, starting with the Cream of Zucchini Soup.

After we left the class, which was, by the way, held at an elementary school near Fairfax Ave. and Pico Blvd., we went to our favorite vegan restaurant, Cafe Gratitude. No, we weren't that hungry after all those samples, but we had a couple of hours to kill before our next venue at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood, and it's hard to pass up an opportunity to visit Cafe Gratitude, especially when we would have to practically pass by it on our way to the theater.

Cafe Gratitude is a funky, hip little restaurant that focuses on whole, natural, vegan ingredients. I've written about one of our prior visits here.  On this visit, Bob and I were older than anyone else in the room by a good twenty years, and we were by far the most conservatively dressed and coiffed.  While we felt a bit out of place, it was fun to rub shoulders with the happenin' crowd, and the food, as always, was fantastic.

Since almond milk moves rather quickly through the system (along with the green smoothie Bob and I had  before leaving home), I took the opportunity when we arrived to visit the ladies' room, and it was so distinctive that I returned to our table to get my camera.  (No worries, the ladies' room was a one-seater.)  Just outside the bathroom is this poster that gives a nod to Hollywood film making:
In case you can't read the fuzzy words (I didn't take time to focus as it's somewhat embarrassing to be taking photos outside a bathroom), the words on the movie film read, "My life is a picture of my thoughts, speech, beliefs, actions, attitudes . . ."   Quite a nice sentiment, don't you think?

Inside the bathroom, the walls are painted with a colorful array of animals of various species and ecosystems, all harmoniously mingling together:

 I love the intricate lines that create a jigsaw puzzle effect.  Up close, there are many details that aren't immediately apparent, such as the eyes all over this elephant:
 Even the towel dispenser was graced with a beautiful figure:

The picture below is a shot of the mirror reflecting one of the murals. The all-seeing eye painted on the wall above the mirror looks at patrons through a heart, and those words in red, "I adore myself and everyone else," are written on the mirror's surface:
I'm pretty sure all of this would look extremely odd in my bathroom at home, but I love the way that even the bathroom promotes the restaurant's message of wholeness, harmony, and gratitude for the world around us.

We began our meal this time by sharing a spectacular salad:
I AM LOCAL Winter greens with roasted beets, maple toasted walnuts, diced apple and red onion tossed in a fig balsamic vinaigrette, served with cashew mozzarella and fresh oregano crostini 

Bob followed up with:
I AM GUAPO  Mexican torta sandwich on grilled Panini bread with pureed black beans, cashew nacho cheese, spicy red pepper sauce, crispy chipotle-maple coconut, romaine lettuce, tomato and avocado. Served with a side salad

I'm not one to get the same thing over and over, but I love this dish so much that I've had it every time I've been to Cafe Gratitude:
I AM WHOLE Macrobiotic  bowl with sea vegetables, stewed adzuki beans, raw kale, carrots , house-made red cabbage kim chee and sea whip and black sesame seed gomasio with your choice of quinoa or local brown rice, tahini-garlic sauce and teriyaki almonds 


Bob finished the meal off with a dessert.  I had a tiny little taste because I'm on a sugar fast.  It was okay, but I didn't feel like I was missing out on too much:
I AM AWAKENING KEY LIME PIE Creamy avocado-lime custard topped with coconut meringue in a pecan-macadamia date crust 

Gotta love all those self-affirmations, and after finishing this meal, I think I could say, along with the mirror in the bathroom, "I adore myself and everyone else."

Fully satiated, we finally made our way to meet some friends at the matinee performance of Jekyll & Hyde at the Pantages Theater.

Let's just say that of the four things we did in Los Angeles on Saturday, this ranked third, barely beating sitting in a traffic jam on the 101 freeway.  I'm not sure why this musical was a hit on Broadway.  The script focuses on Hyde's sexual deviancy, something not present in the book at all.  (The only female character in the book is a maid.)  The characters of Jekyll and Hyde are drawn for shock value rather than depth. The music, for the most part, is forgettable.  In fact, there were far too many screeching, screaming numbers that we hope to never hear again (but probably wouldn't recognize if we did). The acting and singing were mediocre and the some of the funky techno staging decisions were just plain weird.  "Been there, done that" is what I have to say about Jekyll & Hyde.  We purchased tickets for four different plays at the Pantages this season.  (EMPTY NEST! EMPTY NEST!)  Let's hope the next one, West Side Story, is substantially better.

Still, it's always a treat to attend a performance in the Pantages, a beautiful theater where every seat is a good one.  And in spite of that grueling drive home, we had a blast on our Empty Nest Day.

Next up: Raw Vegan Creamy Zucchini Soup

Friday, February 22, 2013

FLORIDA: THE LITTLE WHITE HOUSE AND A LONG JOURNEY HOME

Our last significant stop in Florida was "The Little White House," a large home in Key West where Harry Truman spent his vacations.  We have enjoyed previous visits to several Presidential libraries, and this site, although not a Presidential library, was a similar look into some interesting American history.
We were there on the day of the Presidential Inauguration, and the staff of the Little White House was getting ready for an inauguration party.  Note the sign on the tree below:

We got there shortly before the last tour of the day began, and much to our amazement we were the only people on the tour.
Scan of the tourist brochure given to us at the site
No photography was allowed inside the house, but I found this picture of Harry's poker table on the internet.   Bess didn't like others to know about her husband's poker games, so she had a top made for the table that completely covered up all signs of fun and games. That's it leaning against the windows.
Photo from here
Harry and Bess had separate bedrooms.  I think this one is Harry's.  It doesn't really look like a Presidential suite, does it?
Photo from here
There was a little museum area with great information on Truman's Presidency:



There were also a few exhibits that encompassed other Presidencies, including this catalog of White House Christmas cards and another one of the annual White House Christmas ornaments:
I was excited to find the one that hangs on our own Christmas tree every year.  Andrew brought it home to me from his sixth grade trip to Washington, D.C.:
Florida may have voted for George Bush, but it is clear that Key West is all about Barack Obama:

Our wonderful trip to Florida ended with a less than wonderful trip home. We were scheduled to fly out of Miami on American Airlines on a Monday at 3:30 p.m.  We boarded the plane on time, left the gate on time, started our taxi down the runway on time, and then, just after the plane's nose came up, it went back down and the brakes were applied.  We taxied back to the gate, and after some time, we were told the flight speed indicator had not come on.  We sat on the plane for 2 1/2 hours before they finally told us we could get off for a stretch, but to come back in an hour. (Just as we were leaving the plane, we heard an announcement that everyone they had to get off because somehow the plane's passenger list had been erased and they would have to check everyone back in.) We checked back in an hour, then in another hour, then in another . . .

Eventually American brought in another plane and changed our gate, but by then the flight attendants had walked out in what the lady at the desk announced was a "contract dispute." I think that's a euphemism for "Hey, dummies, we aren't going to stay here all night like the rest of you."  At 11:00 p.m., 7 1/2 hours after we had started down the runway, we were finally told that our flight had been rescheduled for 6:00 a.m.  They sent us on a trek to the other side of the airport to get in line at the American Airlines Booking Center.  There were lots of people who had to rebook connecting flights, and since we had a direct flight to Los Angeles and didn't need to do that, we didn't push to get at the front of the line.
The airline was offering hotel accommodations, but they only had ONE LINE for over 400 passengers, and so it moved at a snail's pace. By the time we got to the front of the line, it was 1:30 a.m.  By the time we would have gotten to the hotel, we would have had only an hour or two before we would need to return. It seemed pointless, so we opted for alternative accommodations:
In their defense, American Airlines did one thing (kind of) right: They gave us one of their super lightweight blankets. It was really cold in the airport, and we had no access to our luggage. In addition, everything was shut down, so there was so way to get anything to eat. It was a pretty miserable night.

People began to report to the gate at 5:00 a.m., and boarding was complete by 5:45. Then we sat.  At 6:15, a flight attendant came on the intercom to tell us the pilots had not yet arrived. They finally showed up, and then we waited some more.  A disembodied voice finally told us that the routine safety check before take off showed that the plane had a leak.

SERIOUSLY?

Finally, after having sat on the plane for three hours, we began the journey home.  Our last meal had been at 6:00 the previous night, and nothing in the airport had opened before we boarded the plane at 5:15.  We were hungry, and the flight attendants were generous with what they had--sodas and dry granola bars.  About three hours into the flight, Bob asked if there wasn't something else on board to eat, and they comped him a pretty bad ham and cheese croissant that would have normally cost $9.  They had a very limited number of those and were only giving them out when someone asked for food.  We couldn't believe that they hadn't loaded extra food on the plane for the hungry passengers who couldn't possibly have found anything to eat before boarding the early flight.

We made it to Los Angeles at about 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday (4:00 p.m. Florida time; no wonder we were starving), 19 1/2 hours late.  I had to cancel a day's worth of classes, and Bob had to cancel several appointments.  In return, American gave each of us a $150 travel voucher and some frequent flyer miles.  We weren't impressed.

We do love to travel, but I think we'll be avoiding American Airlines--that is, after we use up our vouchers and free miles.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

FLORIDA: THE HEMINGWAY HOUSE

A few years ago Bob and I visited Louisa May Alcott's house in Concord, Massachusetts.  It was really interesting to see where Alcott did her writing and to place her in a physical and historical context.  With that in mind,when I learned that we were going to Florida and that Hemingway lived for a time in Key West, I knew we had to visit his house there.

It is no easy task to get to Key West.  It is about 160 miles from Miami to the tip of the Florida Keys, which is where Key West is located, and if you are driving, the only route is a mostly single-lane road known as the Overseas Highway. Speed limits are low, but the scenery is beautiful.

The road got its name from the fact that much of it is actually long bridges between the pieces of the coral archipelago that form the Keys.

At its southernmost tip, Key West is only 90 miles from Cuba.  No wonder Ernest Hemingway was so often linked to Cuban politics and politicians.  I could also understand why he would like this region with its out-of-the-way location and surrounding wild sea.

Hemingway House, Key West, FL / Souvenir Chronicles
The price of admission included a tour led by a dryly humorous older man who filled our heads with the basic facts laced with quirky details.

The yard was being decorated for a wedding to be held that evening.  I can only imagine what it costs to rent the Hemingway House.  Yikes.

The house itself is filled with Hemingway memorabilia.  I enjoyed the posters for the movies made from Hemingway's books and was impressed by the line-up of very famous actors and actresses who starred in them.  There was also a copy of the July 1961 Time magazine that featured Hemingway on the cover shortly after he took his own life:





Hemingway lived in this house from 1931 to 1939 with his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer.  He had left his first wife, Hadley Richardson, for Pauline in 1926.  Hemingway and Pauline were married from 1927-1940, at which time Hemingway left Pauline for the woman who would become his third wife, Martha Gelhorn, with whom he had been having an affair since 1937.  He was definitely a man you needed to keep an eye on.
Photo from Wikipedia
He was a very handsome fellow.  I think that helped him get away with an awful lot of bad behavior.
The most fun thing about the Hemingway House has to be the cats.  The story is that the Hemingways loved cats, particularly a breed that is know for having six toes (polydactyl cats).  The house today is full of cats, all supposedly descendants of the original Hemingway cats.  The organization that owns the home employs several vets to care for them, each kitten's lineage is carefully documented, and a stable population of around 50 cats is assiduously maintained. About half of the cats have six toes. There is some discussion over whether or not Hemingway actually did have cats here. Some believe that he only had cats when he lived in Cuba, but never when he lived in Key West.  Regardless of what the truth is, the cats are a charming addition to the house, and our guide was able to convince several to join our tour by offering them treats kept in his pocket.




 Even the window curtains contribute to the cat theme:
 Isn't this the most awesome bathroom floor?
 Behind the main house is a small two-story guest house where Hemingway did most of his writing.
Heminway writing house, Key West, FL / Souvenir Chronicles

Heminway writing room, Key West, FL / Souvenir Chronicles

 The grounds around the house are really beautiful:
The pool in the backyard cost $20,000 to build, in part because of the difficulty of digging the hole in the hard coral ground.  It was the first in-ground pool in Key West, and during the 1930s it was the only pool for 100 miles.
 Finally, next to the pool stands a most unusual fountain, made from a urinal from Hemingway's favorite Key West bar, Sloppy Joe's. Today it serves as a handy drinking fountain for the Hemingway cats.

We have another author's home visit planned for next month.  Stay tuned!
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