Sunday, 26 February 2012

High stick

We spent the weekend down in Palo Alto, visiting the Singers who we haven't seen for ages (although they did give me a meal when Hannah was away in the Philippines).

Palo Alto is in the heart of Silicon Valley, home to all the local billionaires and Stanford University - Berkeley's arch enemies!  But we swallowed our pride and had a nice walk around "The Dish", a wild hilltop where Stanford has a couple of radio telescopes.

Today mostly consisted of going to a local farmers' market, where all manner of strange goodies (miso-marinated tofu?) reminded us that we were still in Northern California.  Elise whipped up a delicious homemade pasta with magical spinach-like leaves, and I assisted (in a consultancy role) in the building of a fairy house in the front garden.  Then it was back on the train to the somewhat less techno-rich environs of the Creek.

A bunch of other children seem to have appeared since we were last here, but apparently they're from across the road.

Hannah Singer: serious artist.

The girls help their aged father up the hill.

Here is the dish at The Dish.

Some cheeky Cal students have been here before us!

This was much easier when she was four year old.

Hannah and Sofia tuck into roast duck and steamed fish.

Dancing with (the other) Hannah at the farmers' market.

All food is improved by serving it in a cone!

Elliot and his pink bodyguards/swarm of locusts.  Free samples disappeared from stalls very quickly.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

The demon drink

It's Lent again, which means 40 days off the sauce for me.  It's tough - I have to find something else to have for breakfast, but I try to suffer with dignity.

Being on the wagon has an added disadvantage this year as I'm unable to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of my favourite Californian winery: Charles Shaw.

Charles Shaw's wines are carried exclusively by Trader Joe's where, for the past decade, they have unerringly sold for $1.99 a bottle.  Joe seems to understand his product; pairing suggestions on the website include "80s movies" and "games of Jenga".

As you can imagine, "two buck Chuck" is a local institution, and became something of an internal currency in Uni Village with bottles making their way from party to party.  I heard that a certain Cabernet Sauvignon survived two years of re-gifting without being opened!  I can only imagine how the complexity and smoothness developed over that time.

There's no danger of cases being laid down for posterity in this house, even if the current vintage will have to remain in the bottle for another 30-odd days before I can toast Mr Shaw's health.  Although I'm sure a white wine spritzer doesn't really count as alcohol, does it?

Floral overtones, with an underlying structure of cheap!

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Drawing up short

The Oscars are almost upon us, which means it's time for one of my favourite cinema trips of the year - the Animated Short Films!  Five more films are up for the golden statuette, with England represented by A Morning Stroll.

The problem is, the first time we saw the shorts in 2010 not only did we get Wallace and Gromit on the big screen (cinematic joy as yet unrepeated) but also the ridiculously cheeky eventual winner Logorama.  This is the trouble with expectations: they simply wait around to be dashed.

But ignoring previous triumphs for a moment, two films stood out.  One was The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore "inspired, in equal measures, by Hurricane Katrina, Buster Keaton, The Wizard of Oz, and a love for books" says the website, and the gorgeous La Luna from Pixar, about three generations who have to clean stars from the moon.

The British entry, which involved a time-travelling chicken, was blood-soaked and disappointing.  There was also a lot of death in Dimanche/Sunday and Wild Life, both from Canada.  Make of that what you will.  A few "highly recommended" ones were also included, most with environmental messages, and an Australian one that was very...Australian.  I'll link some below:

A little of the somewhat crazed British entry.

What Sundays are like in Canada.

The gorgeous one from Pixar, though sadly only a clip.

This seems to be the full Flying Books animation!  Well worth it if you have time to spare.

And, okay, here's the full version of Logorama, still one of the best things EVER.  Not for children...

Friday, 17 February 2012

Department store

A few weeks ago we donated (almost) all of our CDs to our local charity shop.  There were a lot, so I shouldn't have been surprised on entering our local thrift store this week to see that we've been given our own section!  Oh yes, fame indeed.

I was a little shocked to see them selling for $2 each.  It was also odd to see "St. John's Camarata", our old college's a cappella choir, listed under rock music.  Anyway, if you're in the Creek area and want to pick up Suede's complete back catalogue (pre-Bernard Butler's departure, of course) you know where to go.

Criminally undervalued.  And it's spelt "indie"!

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Exchange and mart

Shopping in the OC.  It's a way of life!  Frankie's first complete sentence was "I want to go to the mall."  The only response to that is: which one?

Today Gen found us something rather different.  The Orange County Market Place is a huge weekend market, where sellers of everything from fruit to fountains turn up with their tents and hawk their wares.  It was certainly an eclectic bunch.  We got to sit in the new 4x4 Mini, which was parked on the same aisle as someone selling emu oil (one step up from snake oil?)  The place was certainly popular, even with a $2 entry fee (Gen, of course, got us a free coupon).

After that we needed a return to the safety of a proper mall, and had lunch at old-favourite Ruby's.  It was a final meal in a whole weekend of fine dining, and amazingly our flight back to SFO wasn't delayed due to fog.  Thanks to James, Gen and Frankie for another wonderful weekend in the beautiful south.

Why won't they let me in to shop?

 Finally inside, and not alone.

From now on I will never eat a pickle any other way.


Hannah takes the business of buying kitchen gadgets very seriously.

That's a big claim, which Jim was unable to verify through extensive Internet research (i.e. Wikipedia).

Frankie and her dragonfly.

Slippery slope

Most things in life can be left to chance; education, marriage, food, etc.  Something that should not be treated with such a laissez-faire attitude is your footwear.  Specifically: slippers.

The slipper is, after all, the shoe you spend most of your time in.  And when I say "you" I really mean "me".  Even on the days I decide it's worth getting dressed I'll usually laze around in my comfy moccasins, sometimes even wearing them for my daily trip to the Pyramid Brewery.

My latest pair gave out earlier this week, so I had to travel to LA loafer-free.  As if in sympathy, REI held a clearance sale on all their comfy shoes, and under Gen's exemplary shopping management we were there as the store opened.

The range was extensive, but thanks to the in-store fake mountaintop and Frankie I was able to walk out with a fantastic pair of Keen Cush Men's, with a water resistant bunched and pleated outer, elastic-gored side panels for easy slip-on, and plush microfleece lining to keep my feet toasty.  Now I'm ready to get back to some serious relaxing.


Climbing the mountain of consumer choice together.

Them there hills

As everyone knows, California is here because of the gold!  Unfortunately the gold miners never really made that much money, but the influx of population and entrepreneurs in the mid-18th Century put the place on the map and we remain the Golden State.

Today we learned all about finding gold at Irvine Regional Park, home to the Irvine Park Railroad 4th Grade California History Education Program!  Normally reserved for school children to discover something of their heritage, twice a year they throw it open to the general public (that's us!)

We were placed in the Argonauts group - the people who took the perilous journey from the East Coast by sea, all the way around South America and up the other side.  We learned about the overland trails, mining, panning, claim jumpers, water wheels, and how to eat, drink and stay alive in 1850's California.  Hannah and Frankie led the way when gold panning, but Hannah was bitterly disappointed to find her treasure was only spray-painted gravel.

She was consoled by dinner out at Playground in Santa Ana.  This is part of a new craze down here, where gourmet food trucks open up "bricks and mortar" establishments.  It's a little trendy; they cook their food how they say it should be cooked - so no chance to order well done instead of rare, or to ask them to leave the cheese off - everything is brought out as soon as it's ready, and they encourage "communal eating" (i.e. everyone shares).  When the results are this good you don't mind at all.  Seeing Frankie hoover up a bowl full of fries and organic ketchup was an inspiration, and a mark of quality.

Being from Irvine, Jim and Gen obviously look down on Santa Ana (and everywhere else), a view they felt confirmed when two riot-ready mounted policemen trotted by the restaurant windows.  The officers stopped to caution a tramp and check people's car registrations, but they allowed all passers-by to pet their horses.  This is the Orange County definition of a bad area...

I know you're here for photos of Frankie...

I take it upon myself to continue her education.

Out and about at Irvine Regional Park.

A friendly welcome.

Go Argonauts!

Heather, who came across by wagon.

A little harsh.  He was very nice in the film.

He's been here a while.

On the train!

Down the mine!

 A gold miner ready to stake his claim.

Hannah's really only interested in black gold, but any wealth will do.

Frankie dives in.

Wasn't this meant to be for fourth graders?


Even when it was time to move on, some people just couldn't be shifted.

A "long tom", a different way of finding gold.

A water wheel!  The invention of the Pelton wheel revolutionised mining.

Dirty Dan, a prospector.

Frankie gets to join in with horseshoe throwing.

Hannah shows her true colours.

After throwing its shoes, Frankie gets on the horse.

And enjoys it very much!

Dinner out.

Did you enjoy your fries Frankie?

A wider food range, including rabbit, brussel sprouts, and kale.

The interestingly named Death Row Meal Course Four.  Made from Thanksgiving leftovers.

Ahhh, look at the nice horsey!  But be careful, because he can legally shoot you.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Muscle pizza

We jumped on good old Virgin America last night and headed down to see Jim and Gen in LA.  Unfortunately there was no pre-boarding lucky penny competition, so the 1944 one I'd been saving in my wallet did me no good.  Hopefully on the way back.

Today Frankie went to school (it was ballet day...I wish I'd been allowed to wear a pink tutu to school when I was little...) and so we had that rare thing: time as adults!  While it started with the best intentions, things didn't really work out.  No, we didn't spend the free hours watching Peppa Pig or reading Dr Seuss, but we failed in our one aim of going to the hyper-weird Museum of Jurassic Technology.

What we did manage was a walk through Venice, including a pilgrimage to Muscle Beach where Arnie himself was spotted as a future governor all those years ago.  We then had an extended lunch at Pizzeria Mozza in Beverly Hills, a famous establishment that has re-inspired Hannah to experiment with pizza bases.  Pizza six nights a week instead of four, then.  They also had the most incredible tomato sauce ever, the trick being (so the waitress said) to not heat it until it's on the pizza.  Experiments with that might account for the seventh night.

The day was sealed as genuinely LA by the four-plus hours we spent in traffic.  Even that wasn't too bad, as we cut through a couple of Hollywood streets marveling at the houses.  Unfortunately a pizza, a bottle of wine, and two desserts left Hannah and me feeling rather sleepy, so thank you to Gen for the driving duties as we snored.  Luckily, Frankie's game for the evening involved me lying on the floor under a Disney Princess towel, only now and again being jumped on.  Mostly relaxing.

Three wannabe stars on Venice Beach.


Locals lie out in the sun.

Strolling down the boardwalk.

No time to pump iron today sadly.

Plenty of time to eat a fennel sausage pizza.

James's marvelous tomato sauce.

Hannah and enough wine (for lunch, at least).