Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Long Journey to the Far South, Part 3: There and Back Again

                              A Long Journey to the Far South
                                 Part 3: There and Back Again

I hadn’t seen my old buddy  Satch (Tom Satriano, look him up!) since we used to eat lunch at the Cheesecake Factory on my trips to LA in the previous decade. He was difficult to find but finally we spoke on the phone and agreed to meet at P.F.Changs near his office. We were on the way to Mission Viejo and might as well stock up on Chinese. Satch appeared, and like Proctor looking alarmingly young, though they are the same age. He says it’s exercise. He was a professional baseball player long ago, and retains a propensity for health. Although he was transitioning from baseball to accounting when I first met him in 1972, he now finds accounting as thrilling and involving as baseball, “team work” which must keep him young.I asked if he's seen Bill Lee recently. Former Montreal Expo Bill is frequently interviewed on Canadian radio when the topic of baseball comes up. Satch told us of the last time he saw Spaceman, at a Red Sox reunion, where he came in dressed as Steve Irwin (minus the Sting Ray poison) and bearing the name time of quite a different player. Lee always had to be different.
Fumiyo enjoyed her egg drop soup, which I found oddly lacking in taste. My chicken lettuce wraps were identical to the same meal in the Las Vegas airport a few years back. Satch insisted we see a nearby mall called The Village. Fumiyo was looking for a bank to exchange all the US coins she’d brought down, several dollars with, to convert to paper dollars. We failed to find one at the Village. Instead, we found a David’s Tea, our favourite tea merchant, from Montreal. We had no idea it had branches in the States. The mall reminded us of the mall across from our motel in Monterey. Only the Village was full of greenery, which grows much better in the warmer weather.
The drive to Mission Viejo was long, just like the whole trip itself. I remember visiting my friend Cliff, a medical student at the University in Irvine in 69. Now Irvine seems to go one forever, instead of its village status long ago.
I know Guitar George from a mutual job we had teaching English on the telephone for an encyclopedia company in Tokyo in early 1979.  The last time I saw him was in 2006 when he showed me the initial construction stage of his new house. It’s finished now, and is spectacular. All designed by GG and full of all the perks you would want if you were designing a house. A Japanese toilet for example (warm seat, bidet). Big fans Immense rooms. 

 Here Guitar George shows guitar-playing Fumiyo and George’s wife Sanae his room full of guitars.

Later, he takes me to the largest liquor store I’ve ever seen. Inspite of that, they didn’t have Normandy Cidre, something I had found in small liquor stores and markets throughout Cal. We decided to pick 6 and have a cidre tasting. Angry Orchard sells a fine cidre in the B.C. Liquor Stores but I’ve only seen the other Angry Orchard cidres on their website. We began with their yellow label Traditional Dry. It filled my mouth with the taste of apple, then the aftertaste of apples. GG was unimpressed, finding it hollow. Our next was also from Angry Orchard, their Apple Ginger Cidre. Sanae had made curry and it went splendidly with the gingery cidre. Next up, a truly terrible cidre called Joker Hard Cidre Ace. The label said “champagne characteristics,” but we detected them not. Only drinkable drowned with ice. Spire Mt. Dark and Dry apple. A seasonal cidre. I’m impressed. GG isn’t. It would benefit from a food pairing. Although there was no Normandy cidre, there was a cidre From Normandy called Clos Normandy. I’d had it with crepes at a creperie in Vancouver. It went superbly with the crepes. Without them, not so much. My favourite American cidre has long been Hornsby’s Amber Cidre, which is available in many stores. It comes with a sister cidre Crisp. I wish it wouldn’t. Should have stocked up on Hornsby’s Amber. Will on my next trip.
We were in a hurry to get back to Vancouver. It took us almost 3 hours to get from Mission Viejo to north of the Valley. We were hungry, so stopped at an IHOP. Maybe the first time I’ve eaten at one since it was called the International House of Pancakes in the 60s. I’m not even sure it was a town we stopped in, but it had Gas and Food. I had the Chicken Florentine crepes which were excellent. Fumiyo had a Belgian Waffle. Neither of us had the pancakes.
We drove and drove and finally there was a beautiful sunset covering half the sky north of Sacramento. A sign? We stopped at the first “town” big enough to have more than one motel, and perhaps a restaurant. When we checked into the Ramada Inn, the desk guy asked what brought us to Williams. “Too dark to go any further,” we told him. Really a vastly better room than the Day’s Inn in Monterey, well worth $114 (that’s including tax.)
Williams even had its own Chinese restaurant. My scallops, prawns and broccoli, heavy on the ginger were very tasty. Fumiyo got enough fried rice to feed a lot of hungry people. I think I’ve only had really bad Chinese food once, in Sienna. Well, if you want Chinese food, it’s a good idea not to go to Italy for it. The Ramada even had omelets for breakfast. That would be our last real meal of the day. Geri and Rick and given us some granola bars and some cheesy crackers left over from Halloween. We nibbled on them, along with leftover food from the last two restaurant meals. Stuck in Portland rush hour traffic, we discovered Star Talk. I’d seen the TV show but it’s better on the radio.
Throughout the trip, we ate quite well. Either people paid for our meals, or the restaurants we found ourselves in went out of their way not to poison us.
My Vegas friend David Ivy, also an LA native, had recommended a Mexican restaurant and dim sum in Chinatown. After the soft taco filled with black beans and chicken in Berkeley, Fumiyo pronounced “No more Mexican food on this trip,” so the Mexican place was out. We never went downtown, unfortunately, as I really wanted to see the Disney concert hall. Probably see Gehry’s Bilbao building before I return to LA. I never had sand dabs in Monterey, nor Linketts, nor boysenberries in LA. Geri found Vernor’s ginger ale, so we brought a bottle back home. Must come again.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Long Journey to the Far South, part 2: LA

                             A Long Journey to the Far South
                                            Part Two: LA

I’m from LA. I haven’t been there since 06. I haven’t lived there since 68, but there are memories, parts of myself on its freeway exits and quakened buildings. Although it’s been almost half a century since I lived there, it would always be a certain kind of home.
I’d forgotten how to get to Geri’s house. We still found it. Geri had promised lobster bisque for dinner. I’d never had lobster bisque so full of lobster it would be considered an entree in any good restaurant. An almost science fictional occurrence in food land. Paired with a salad of Mandarin orange slices, walnuts and lettuce. Perhaps other things. Great salad dressing heavy on the Asian sesame aesthetic.
Fumiyo knew little of Geri nor Rick and greatly enjoyed getting to know them. My father’s real estate partner Jeanet wanted to meet us, so we lunched the following day at Café Bizou  suggested by Geri. It was close to where my parents used to live, and even closer to a French restaurant I last ate at with my parents. Their palates had radically evolved towards the end of their lives, possibly because great restaurants began opening near where they lived. They always ate out a lot, just never for fine dining.
Jeanet told us the seafood was good here, so I ordered the Tuna Tartare, or more accurately, ordering the surprisingly cheap Lunch Menu. It came with an appetizer so that’s what I chose. Very tasty. Next, a filet mignon burger. Filet Mignon Cheeseburger: with smoked apple wood bacon, caramelized onion, cheddar, romaine, frites and tomato on a brioche. No, it wasn’t what I’d expected, but it was very good.
 I had planned lunch the following day at Hamburger Hamlet, a treasure from my teen age years on Van Nuys Blvd, which used to feature the “Filet Mignon Steak Sandwich,” which was just that, a filet mignon between a toasted bun. Another fave was the Russian Burger with Russian dressing on a fine burger. All the burgers tasted of quality in those distant days, mid-60s. There was a real competition to see who could make the best burger in an area, and Hamlet won the competition for Van Nuys Blvd. But I’m jumping ahead. Back at Café Bizou, Jeanet is telling us delightful tales about my parents. They are the reason for the journey, and it’s great to hear of the positive impressions they made in their many years in this city.
One of my favourite childhood foods was called Linketts, a vegetarian hot dog sold in cans by the Loma Linda Company when my parents were vegetarians prior to the Cuban Missile Crisis, in Oct, 1962. We abruptly switched to 3 steaks a day when Russian missiles didn’t kill us, but I relished the occasional day when I would be sent off to school with a Linkett instead of a meat hot dog. A small health food store across from HH was my supplier of Linketts when I visited my parents in the previous decade so maybe? I asked if they had veggie hot dogs and was told they no longer had a freezer. “They're in cans,” I inform them, and yes, they do have them. Er, not quite, but something called Little Links. They are universes from edibility. All the store’s Linketts have been sold. They offer to order some for me, but alas, they can’t ship them to my alien land. We drove by my parent’s old house up near Mulholland. Their street now featured scarily drooping trees and stop signs, which when you’re driving up a steep hill, are oddly annoying. The house itself has been so severely remodeled it no longer appeared of the same century. Hope the current inhabitants are enjoying it. My parents sure did. 
We hit up a couple of nearby grocery stores in search of Linketts, but fail to find them. Instead we buy a bottle of Chardonnay for Geri and Rick, considering how much of their Pinot Grigio I’ve been consuming. When we return to their house, we are stuffed with Scampi and an Uncle Ben blend of brown and wild rice. Also desert, not something I am used to. My stomach rebels. I soon retire.
On Tuesday we plan to meet Edgar Bullington around 12:30 at Hamburger Hamlet. Phil Proctor should be joining us at 1:00. "A great combination," offers Ossman. It was of vast delight to finally meet Edgar. He had my dream job, a librarian until his recent retirement. Fumiyo asked how he enjoyed his retirement. He missed the kids, but not the job. “The kids aren’t paying my salary,” he confided. Geri and Rick also expressed great glee at their retirement. Edgar is addressed on various Firesign radio shows, as if he’s part of their crew. I assumed he was their first fan. “Fan One” I’ve named him. “Is it even possible to be that mellow?” Fumiyo wondered. We were impressed. Later, Proc shows up. He tells us of his recent 75th birthday, though he looks 2 decades younger. When I return to Vancouver a few days later, I talk to David Ossman on the phone and relate the oddity of Proctor’s age. “All that Hollywood make-up” he explains. 

I see a Nicoise salad on the menu. That’s something I often make at home. This one came with artichoke hearts. I’m going to have to try that. Absent eggs, any really important potato presence and not enough olives nor tomatoes but the artichoke inclusion is a really good idea. I read in the HH website how they were going back to their origins, which meant great Lobster Bisque. Hope Phil enjoyed his. No Filet Mignon nor Russian burgers on the ancient menu re-visitations, unfortunately. I’ve been drinking a lot of ice tea at home recently. I put a tea bag in a warmed tea pot with two slices of lemon, then pour in boiling water. Then add a package or 2 of stevia. The sweetener melts efficiently into the tea. In Hamburger Hamlet, we are all served unsweetened yet heavily iced tea. To get it up to drinkable level requires a package of sugar. Then they refill your glass, and you are forced to introduce yet more sugar. Not in the realm of drinkability. Just a bad idea.
Phil talks a lot about his new projects. I’m delighted to hear how active he is, doing lots of new writing and acting. The recent diminution of the Firesign Theatre doesn’t seem to diminish his productivity. He has worked with many actors over the decades and enlargens our appreciation of them with his tales. Soon to play Ricky Ricardo in an upcoming project, I look for ways to interject “Oh Lucy, I’ve brought Fidel Castro home for dinner, “ a quote from my audioplay Red Shift, starring Phil Proctor, David Ossman, Phil Austin and a host of others, but the opportunity never occurs. Instead, I learn of Ricky’s invention of the re-run and more. We are relentlessly entertained.
Fumiyo had brought Icy-approved dog treats in the car with us on the trip. We gave some to May May in Portland. Fumiyo asked if Phil Proctor knew any dog lovers and he said he did indeed, Oona. As he was planning to visit Oona soon, we’d be able to get the Icy approved treats to Oona and Phil’s pack of dogs. How wondrously that worked out. Phil in return offered us Ralph Spoilsport license plate frames. My dad would have enjoyed such, as his Ford dealership on Van Nuys Blvd was a competitor with Ralph. From Edgar, an armful of CDs of his creation. I gave them my latest collage, a mix of Firesign, Beat generation authors, the Grateful Dead and the Credibility Gap. Phil suggested I get these things played on the radio, a good idea as this is what I was listening to and creating in the late 60s-early 70s when Firesign was aborning.
Our last meal with Rick and Geri is at an Italian restaurant they like called Maria’s Italian kitchen. I had the Chicken Picatta. I should make this at home, with the wonderful chicken available from 3P, a specialty butcher shop in North Van. Lemon, capers, wine, chicken. What’s not to like?
One of the many delights of being at Geri’s place is all their cats in the back yard. They never come in, being basically feral, but Rick and Geri feed them everyday. One they’ve named Wendy has a particularly arresting coat. Although it’s entertaining to see a yard full of happy cats, it also reminds us of our two cats waiting for us at home. Hopefully they’re being well fed.
Many photos greet us around the house. Photos of relatives unknown to me. A photo of our daughter Monique who also enjoyed Geri’s company when she used to come to

to spend time with her grandparents here in the 90s.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A Long Journey to the Far South, Part 1: The road to LA

                                     A Long Journey to the Far South

There are people who love long car trips. I am not one of those people.
My wife Fumiyo drove from Vancouver to Montreal and back in 2007, Her east-west trip. Another year, she drove from Vancouver to Northern British Columbia to visit friends, another long road trip.  After my parents’ deaths, I was thinking about a good place to spread their ashes. Finally, I decided to take them to Carmel, a place dear to my parents’ hearts. Now, Carmel does not have an airport. The closest would probably be San Jose. I’d have to drive to Carmel from their. Driving anywhere for more than half an hour is very painful to my back. But driving even vast distances seems to not bother Fumiyo at all. She wanted to do a long north-south road trip anyway, and now we had an actual reason.
Fumiyo had been out late on Wednesday night in Diwali celebrations with her Hindu friends. As a result, we didn’t get out of the house until near noon. Portland was not supposed to be a long drive.  I had driven through there with my parents in 1972 on our trip to Vancouver, and had been a passenger in their car as they drove up from LA to the Seattle World’s Fair and to visit their friends in Esquimalt on Vancouver Island in 1962. But Portland remained totally alien territory to me. I took advantage of the month of free Netflix when Fumiyo was walking across Spain for 6 weeks earlier this year, and enjoyed the program Portlandia. Now I actually knew people in Portland. I’d met Gretchen, her husband Ed and their dogs at a weekend of Firesign shows at the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in 2011. We shared a Facebook friend as well. The Portland artist Michael Brophy had stayed at our house with our mutual friend, the Sydney sculptor John Petrie  a few years back. We now had reasons to stop in Portland. Apparently, a beautiful city. We’ll see. Or, not.
It was dark and wet when we inched into the city. I’d printed out Google Maps directions and Fumiyo’s smart phone should make it impossible to get lost, right? Our new Impreza, like all cars sold in Canada, calibrates distance and speed in kilometers. Not miles. A distance of 4 miles seemed strangely long, as if we’d missed the street we were looking for. I went into a Vietnamese beauty parlour, which was closing, and asked if they knew where the street was. The woman was incredulous that I’d even suggested the street was close. “Far away” she insisted, hoping we would soon be equally distant.
  We’d called Gretchen after we’d crossed the border into Washington and were in a rest area near Bellingham. “That’s about 6 hours away,” she’d told us.  It didn’t look that far on the map. Indeed we were in Portland an hour earlier. Only, we were stuck in rush hour traffic in sodden darkness before we finally saw the sign for Tigard. At a gas station, I’d asked if the 1-5 we were on would take us to Tea Guard. The woman had no idea what I was talking about. You need a guard for your tea? Is it really tea? “It’s a suburb south of Portland,” I exclaimed. “Oh, TIGER’d. Yeah, this is the right road.” Those dumb Canucks!
Eventually we arrived at Gretchen and Ed’s. Their small dog May May came out to gleefully greet us. Gretchen thought May May may remember me from the motel on Whidbey Island where we’d first met 4 years before. I suspect the cause of her enthusiasm was due to Fumiyo’s presence, and presents. Our great white dog Icy had died in August, 2014, and Fumiyo continues to give away bags of Icy’s favourite treats to dog lovers she meets.
Then it was time for the humans to eat. Delighted to no longer be driving dark mysterious streets, we got into their vast vehicle and were driven to a favourite local restaurant, Seasons and Regions The chef is a fan of the Firesign Theatre, Gretchen told us, regaling us with tales of putting up Firesign posters in the restaurant and then bringing the lads themselves to Seasons and Regions when they played Portland in 2012. “Bergman ordered Gluten-free” she informed us. Sounds more like a Bergman joke than a Bergman activity. I ordered the halibut cakes and was delighted at how wonderful they tasted, and how small the meal was. “Just Cat’s size,” Fumiyo said. Well, yes, if you mean for two days. The tinyness of my appetite has astounded one and all for almost 2/3rds of a century. She ordered a warm seafood salad, and couldn’t finish it either.  We lunched well the following day on the long drive to Berkeley.
Sangria is my beverage of choice at home since our sojourn to Spain in November, 2002.  Seasons had a very seasonal-sounding sangria:

 Autumn Sangria: White wine, schnapps, fruit, spices, Heirloom Ridge apple juice.

It tasted more like a mulled cidre. Went superbly with the Halibut cake.
The House of Gretchen and Ed is filled with fine art. Emphasis on the word “filled.” They are soon to move to much larger place in Salem where the art can get the perspective it deserves.
Ed gets up early to save lives. We get up early to try not to get killed driving south. Over 600 miles to Berkeley. A daunting distance.
What we could observe of Portland through the rainy night on its clogged freeways looked intriguing. I love big cities in general. All that glass. Outside of Portland, not so much. Hurtling through Oregon’s hills and valleys, its beauty eludes me. There are folks who might find it appealing. I’ve read and been told by traveling friends that the Oregon coast is beautiful.  Is it full of glassy buildings? We saw it not.
Eventually we were in California. Before they let us in, we had to testify we were not bringing in any fruit. We were not. We picnic’d on the remains of our Portland feast. Mt. Shasta dazzled. I shot some vid. I had planned to shoot a lot on the trip, but ended up with only a few minutes of footage the whole trip. It just wasn’t that visually interest. When I say “Mt. Shasta dazzled,” I mean it leapt out at both my and Fumiyo’s eyes, and demanded we look at it, photograph it, pay attention! I expect that at the Musee D’Orsay or the 5th floor of MOMA but not so much in “nature.” We live with mountains in our backyard in North Vancouver. Mt. Baker looms Shasta-like in nearby Washington State. But Shasta drilled shafts into our consciousness. Another nearby Mt. looked like a dark pyramid, almost Mt.Doomish.
By the time we got to the Bay Area Traffic Zone, the sun was in our eyes. Our car came with Sirius XM, which although it no longer featured a Firesign show, brought the CBC into our car as we snailed towards Berkeley. We were about to enjoy a show from home when the news was hi-jacked by the dieing French. My favourite city, under attack. We missed our darkened turnoff and were lost in Berkeley longer than Philip K Dick knew Ursula K Leguin at Berkeley High. Thankfully Fumiyo’s old friend Minako and her daughter came to find us and guide us to their relatively close by unfindable house, by our absent technical non-skills and staggering ability to get lost.
Soft chicken tacos from a favoured Mexican take-out more than filled us. Bob introduced me to a beer that was not a beer. Magical complexity. Perfect pairing with the spices pervading the tacos. Wish I could have finished them.
With the great maps Bob had printed out, we were able to find John James in Santa Cruz. His weekly radio show The Surrealist premiered my play Neal Amid. The radio play, about the muse of the Beat Generation, Neal Cassady, actually reached San Jose through this broadcast, the land of Neal and his son. I brought John some of my recent collages, also involving Neal and the Firesign Theatre, and he played a Firesign concert he’d attended in the 80s. His then infant daughter providing sound effects. Although it appeared simple and we were well instructed, it took us numerous wrong moves to finally get on the road to Carmel.
I hadn’t remembered Carmel and Monterey being that close. I hadn’t been there since, probably late 60s. My parents first began going there in the late 50s a couple of times a year or so.  Why aren’t we in Carmel, my parents would ask after too many months back in LA. From a Carmel hotel room, we could get radio from both LA and Frisco, so we could listen to the same Dodgers-Giants game covered by Vin Scully in LA and the Giants broadcaster. One of the many delights of  our Carmelization.
Great pancakes I recall. Sambo’s apple, raspberry, boysenberry etc pancakes, crepe-like and fruit-stuffed, a highlight of my young tongue.
As we were hungry, we looked for a place to have lunch. Most restaurants seemed packed. An Italian place full of Mexicans call La Balena was open. Apparently we were its first customers. I had a delightful warm salad with apples slices, squash, pancetta and assorted greens. The whole trip would be one great salad after another. Fumiyo had a feta and spinach omelet. The little shops around Carmel looked familiar. Would have liked to wander through the many art galleries, perhaps have tea somewhere as I recall doing in the 60s, but we were short on time.
I remembered the beach as having really white sand. Nope. Slightly lighter than average, but far from white. Interesting trees, as I remembered. Fumiyo thought I’d spread my parents’ ashes there on the beach, but it was full of other people busy having fun. I remembered how much my parents enjoyed the trees and views along the 17 mile drive so we got on that, endlessly imperiled by impatient drivers behind us and the small print identifying 17 Mile Drive as opposed to the wrong way into private lane land. Eventually we found the right place. My father spent a life time nourishing flora and my mother enjoying nature’s fecundity. They continue. 

We had a reservation at the Day’s Inn- Monterey Bay Aquarium and Fisherman’s Wharf, so we expected the motel to be near those tourist attractions. Certainly it wouldn’t be far, right? Well, they sounded easy to find. Didn’t see any parking near the wharf and wound up parking in the parking lot of a large grocery store next to the aquarium. It was $40.00 to get in. I greatly admire the Monterey Bay Aquarium for its pioneering work raising global consciousness about imperiled fish stocks, but not $40.00 greatly. If I’d gone it (it was now 4:00) I would have needed two hours to do it justice and did not want to drive back to the motel in the dark. I asked for directions at the supermarket. “You should go visit Carmel and the 17 mile drive,” I was told. Didn’t tell her we’d just come from Carmel and barely survived the treacherous drive. But those directions didn’t get me far. I went into the Tourist Information office where a kindly informative woman showed me where to go on a map. It looked so easy. Then I was mistakenly on the freeway again. Not so easy. Finally made it back to the motel. In planning this trip, I’d looked at seafood restaurants on Fisherman’s Wharf on line and found one serving Sand Dabs. The Firesign Theatre named a Jr. High Soccer team The Sand Dabs in their audioplay Give Me Immortality or Give me Death so I wanted to try this fish. I was not going to try and find the wharf in the dark. As there was a large shopping center across from the Day’s Inn, we assumed it would have food. The only place that had seats was a sushi place whose name is not worth recalling. I wasn’t particularly hungry, so I ordered the BBQ tuna. A tiny meal but it greatly magnified my appetite, Fumiyo ordered some udon with chicken and vegetables. It was terrible. Now hungry, I ordered the yaki tori. Fumiyo was dubious because of her most unpleasant chicken experience but yaki tori is a small dish, a few tiny pieces of chicken on a skewer in a sauce. That’s what I expected. That’s what I’ve had thousands of times before. That’s not what I got. Perhaps a whole chicken on a couple of overwhelmed wooden skewers, and Pineapple. I would never have imagined pineapple with yaki tori, but it went wondrously well. Fumiyo found the sauce too sweet but its sweetness was more than offset by the unexpected fruit.
The Day’s Inn is not worth $134, even if it’s only Canadian money. Cramped, gloomy, and not particularly clean. We were promised “Greek breakfast” for the following morning but the only thing I could eat was a piece of  cinnamon toast. A hot cup of tea. Maybe the motel woman had really said “Geek breakfast.” Lots of cereal options but I’m not a cereal person. Fruit would have been appreciated. Pineapple maybe? No, only apples which are too daunting for breakfast. It was raining heavily. We were elated to be out of Monterey and on our way to LA.
I remember Northern California as being quite scenic. Not particularly. Fumiyo has a particular aversion to the ocean, which admittedly, smells vile. We drove through Santa Maria, where I once had relatives. Also Stockton and Lodi, where I once had uncles. Pismo Beach is supposed to be famous for something. All the towns I recall as being quite small when I was, now stretch on for many exits. Following our Google directions, we came to what was supposed to be a traffic circle and then found ourselves on the wrong highway. This one went through Solvang, which I recall fondly. Now, it’s quite spread out, with none of its remembered charm. Shortly after that Anderson’s Pea Soupery which was thankfully close to the entrance to I-5 South. I recalled not liking Anderson’s pea soup at all, but for some reason my parents would always stop there on our travels to Northern Cal. Fumiyo had the pea soup in a bread bowl. I had maybe the best cup of tea on the whole trip, Bigelow’s Apple Cidre tea, along with a pot roast sandwich with mashed potatoes and a thick, satisfying gravy. I thought I’d recalled Andersons from 50 or more years ago having great bathrooms. That was certainly not the case now. Later my cousin Geri would correct my memory, informing me that place with the great bathrooms was the Madonna Inn, which we also drove by but remembered it not. We tried to call Geri who was awaiting us in LA, but had the wrong area code (Thanks, Google!) We hoped they’d be home when we got to Northridge. As we drove down the coast, Santa Barbara seemed 10 times bigger than I remember it. The whole of Southern California is far more populous than in my days there. We finally arrived at the Garcia’s at 3:00.
Geri has been a sort of older sister to me all my life. When her family moved to LA from Chicago, she was in high school while I was in elementary school. She greatly expanded my intellectual horizons, first by turning me on to the Peanuts comic strip (little kids with big vocabularies, just like me!) and then what I’d mistaken for a children’s book, George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Much later, when I was a teenager and in my early 20s, Geri was my companion at numerous concerts (We sat so close to Keith Jarrett that he was sweating on our rum and cokes; I was so enthralled with Cannonball Adderley at my singular attendance at the Troubadour, Geri thought I'd lost consciousness) and meals (she took me out for dinner on my birthday in 1973 at a West Hollywood place called Lost on Larrabee, while George Harrison dined at a booth behind us and worried about being old and poor). I hadn’t seen Geri since my last trip to LA in 2006. Fumiyo hadn’t seen her in several decades. Here she was. Along with husband Rick.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

A new mall comes to Richmond

Well, part of it anyway. Most of the stores are still empty, but of  those that are open, here are a couple of reflections:

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Portugese popular art, Mission restaurant

My favourite place in Vancouver, the University of British Columbia's Museum of Anthropology, is hosting an exhibition of Portuguese popular art this summer. Subversive ceramics and such. Reminded me of the comic strip art at the subway station they built for the World's Fair in Lisbon. Portugal seems to share with Japan, not only a lot of cuisine (borrowed by the Japanese) but a youthful, fun culture, though the Portuguese tends to be far less cloying than the Japanese immersion in cuteness.
After the museum, I had a reservation at the new restaurant Mission I had read a loving review of in our entertainment weekly, The Georgia Straight. The review said it was as good as Bauhaus, where I recently had perhaps the best meal I've ever had in Vancouver. And far cheaper. Ok, that was enough to convince me. And it was on my home from the Museum. How convenient.
There seems to be a goat theme happening at Mission. A large image of a goat greets you from the wall, little goats appear symbolically on the menu (they indicate a lighter meal) and the waitress tells me of plans to have someone dressed in a goat suit stand outside the restaurant and invite patrons in. Is goat cheese to be as prominent an ingredient here as for example, pears are at the Pear Tree restaurant? My amuse bouche certainly makes fine use of goat cheese, combined with fava beans, caramelized onions and herbs. I order a mocktail (I had asked about them on my reservation phone call), and was delighted with a beverage my mixologist later tells me he made from passion fruit puree, grapefruit juice and a citrus soda. It provided superb accompaniment to the food.
I normally avoid bread offerings, but the small sage roll looked manageable, and combined with Mission's mushroom jelly, it became an even more amusing bouche than the superb fava bean thingie.
As a child I remember eating, what were then called dollar pancakes. Larger than an actual silver dollar but smaller than regular size pancakes and meant to be consumed in volume. Apparently they're called blinis. At least on this menu. I look up the word and discover it is a Russian crepe. Doesn't taste like a crepe at all. Salmon with crepes makes sense, with pancakes it is, shall we say, novel. I'm told the blinis are infused with shrimp, but they just taste like ordinary dollar pancakes to me. The roe creme fraiche is refreshing. I would never have imagined salmon pancakes, and when I tell Fumiyo about them, she is just as skeptical. But the dish works! That's why I go to restaurants!.

Next up, a zucchini flower stuffed with ground pork, eggplant, puffed rice and herbs. It is a wonder. The only time I've had a stuffed zucchini flower  was at a restaurant in Florence when Fumiyo and I spent the fall in Europe in 2002. Bathed in egg whites and then deep fried, it reminded me of a ground pork and eggplant dish Fumiyo makes, but the puffed rice, as odd as the salmon sitting atop the pancakes, was a revelation.

Next up, cauliflower porridge with broccoli and brassicas. Hmm. I thought cauliflower and broccoli were already brassicas. Perhaps there are additional greens. I love broccoli and eat it often. Cauliflower is one of my favourite foods. Nonetheless, this combination did not work. It was far too bitter. Even the wonderful mocktail couldn't save it.
Last item was roasted potatoes and foraged mushrooms in walnut creme. Flavourful, particularly in contrast to the previous unpleasantness, but a bit too starchy, and far from revelatory.
2 for 4 isn't bad and the mocktail was a delight. The meal cost about half what I paid for an equal portion of food at Bauhaus, but not in the same galaxy in terms of flavour. You get what you pay for. Mission shows promise.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Keefer Bar again.

 What is a good drink? A drink that takes you to a better place. A new, but comfortably familiar recliner, with stars appearing in only your skies. And your throat is so thankful.
For the second time, friend Frank and I ventured into the Keefer bar. I was anxious to savour its libations after the latest issue of the BC liquor store mag Taste awarded the Keefer queen Danielle Tatarin its bar star of the season. I follow the stars. Alas, she did not appear, but instead, Monsieur MacAlpine minus dreadlocks appeared to evolve realms of taste and intoxication I would otherwise have doubted existed. Good work, Mac. He was the bar star Frank and I had hoped to meet when we were last at the Keefer bar 2 1/2 years ago. It's rare you encounter someone who is trying to elevate the universe of taste possibilities. More often in cheffery, but the best things to enter my taste buds in Vegas have been extraordinary drinks, even better than the sublime food.
I told Gez I'm a man of sangria and this menu item immediately came to mind. Although the egg white made it somewhat heavy, it was worth every molecule. "Fantasy Island:
absolut elyx vodka, pomegranate, lemon juice, fantasy island tea syrup, Chinese happy wine & egg white - served up with a toasted coconut & cacao sugar rim." I had seen it in the online menu, described there as "fruity." It certainly was that. A wonderful drink.
We ordered some soft tacos, mine with shitake, Frank's with duck, as well as shrimp spring rolls. The spring rolls were amazing, but I made the mistake of allowing my taco to touch the hot sauce on the plate. Frank wisely avoided it. We also ordered chicken skewers with peanut sauce, but they never appeared. I'd never had Happy Wine before, but the Keefer specialized in using Chinese ingredients (it is in Chinatown). I was offered a sip of the wine of happiness and it slightly reminded me of a port wine that came in an endless bottle at a hotel I stayed at in Lisbon. A very good memory.
"Next was the mother of dragons: The west winds gin, lemon juice, dragon pearl green tea syrup, dry curaçao & apothecary spitfire bitters." Another delicious cocktail. I'm particularly fond of the tea chain David's dragon fruit tea. It is both a refreshing and a substantial fruit when liquefied. Two of the best drinks I've ever had, both in Vegas, were made from green tea; though I find green tea undrinkable on its own. This was wonderfully drinkable. A lot of wonderful cocktails are being made in Vancouver with homemade bitters these days.
From the note from Gez:
"After this was the one you weren't so fond of which is a shame! It's usually a big crowd pleaser. It was a twist on the tangerine dream, which I usually make with rye, but switched it up as you don't like whiskey. Hennessy vs cognac, ramazotti, tangerine dry vermouth & general Ambrose aromatic bitters."
My first sips of this reminded me of the last time I was in Paris, around Halloween, 2002. Odd in that I drank Normandy Cidre, Calvados and Orange Widow while in France, not cognac that I can recall. Although initially involving, I think the cognac eventually chased away my enjoyment of this drink.
"Finally we got back on the right track with a twist on a paper plane. Havana club anejo blanco rum, aperol, amaro nonino, lemon juice and a touch of creme de violette."  I think violet was the way to go with this one. Yet another fine beverage. Once more I experienced mixology at its best. Yet again I am excited by the possibilities of flavour. Now I know where to take thirsty out of town guests. In the press clipping section of the Keefer website, they link to an article naming Keefer one of the best bars in the world. All the other bars are in distant countries, but the Keefer is in my city! Lucky me!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Fun with photography