December 24, 2004

The Day Before Christmas

Today was one of those rare days when my husband and I both had the day off. And it was a rarer day for being a crisp, clear day in Southern California where you could actually see miles away into the mountains. We were at my parents' house about an hour north of Los Angeles and we decided to go for a short hike in the mountains. My hubby(M) and I took my niece and headed out north toward the Santa Ynez mountains. It took us about 40 minutes to get there and we passed an Amtrak Surfliner going north along the coast. There's something about traveling next to a moving train that makes you feel refreshing and alive. It must have something to do with velocity... perhaps will ask M later.

We passed Santa Barbara, where my niece said, "It's beautiful here." Too bad the only people who can live there are the likes of Oprah.

We drove to the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains and hiked for about an hour beginning at a camp site at the end of the Paradise Road. Yes, that's the real name of the road. But we stopped along the way at the Paradise Store to pick up an ice cream drumstick, Hot Cheetos and a Coke. Paradise, indeed. Here's a view from the top of the mountain.

After we came down the mountain, we were driving next to the beach where we spotted the Surfdog. And you thought I would never get to food! Yes, life can be good. See the Santa hat on the Surfdog guy?

We got two Dodger dogs and he gave free lemonade and a bag of cheetos to my niece, whom he called "Precious." He then packed up and left. I hope he had a good day too.

We then took a leisurely stroll on the beach where we saw a heron. A sign of longevity -- the day was turning out rather nice!

By this time, it was almost 4 o'clock and we headed back home. We were to have dinner at Octopus, a new japanese restaurant in Encino, where the food was fantastic. The minimalist, zen-decor is quite beautiful, I must say.

December 5, 2004

There's nothing like watching and reading about the tsunami disaster to make you feel lame. M and I donate money but that's so little and passive. But,we aren't professional relief actors and we don't build roads.

So at the risk of sounding crass and insensitive, we headed to the mountains - Big Bear- with our niece Lauren to see some snow and go sledding. Part of the road to Big Bear is shared by those going to Palm Springs and Las Vegas, so the traffic was as you can imagine.

Once we got into the mountains, the air was crisp and snow pure. My husband was beginning to get impatient with Southern California drivers who don't know how to drive in the snow (or in the rain, for that matter) but it was worth it to play in the snow with Lauren. We bought a large plastic round disk that serves as a sled and pulled off the road where there was a clearing. We slid down a relatively steep hill for a while. By this time, it was getting dark so we headed down back to the city. Bad and stupid drivers is all I have to say.

Resorts like Big Bear are great when there are few people around. During the ski season, or other holidays, getting around the tiny city is a nightmare. Besides, it's not like a European ski resort with lots of cozy cafes stocked with yummy, not to mention precious looking, food. Here, it's fast food chains and family restaurants with questionable quality.

We happened to pass through Little Tokyo in downtown and M. suggested yakitori for dinner. Lauren, who before had been less than enthusiastic for Chinese food in Monterey Park, suddenly lit up and said "Yeah, yeah!" The best Yakitori is in Weller Court in Little Tokyo. Yakitori is bits of seasoned meat or vegetables skewered on a thin stick roasted over fire. Compared to Korean bbq, what I like about it is that they roast it for you, not at your own table, so that you don't get that smoky smell on your clothes. When I go out to eat, I'd rather not cook myself. Perhaps that's the reason why there were so many Koreans at this restaurant? And since the fire is within view of the diners, you can see where your food is coming from. The seasoning can be a bit salty, so be prepared. Order one of the combinations, since it's a better bargain than ordering many items separately. M also ordered cod roe soup but we both preferred the Korean version with more spices. But Lauren loved it and there's nothing like watching a child enjoy her food.

Yakitori Koshiji
Weller Court
123 S. Onizuka Street, #203
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Parking under New Otani hotel. Validated.

The Day After Christmas

In my family, we don't normally do Christmas gifts, except for the very young and the very old. But my 9-year old niece, for whom I got an Easy Bake Real Meal oven and who received a gentle warning that this may be one of the last Christmas gifts from me, (I know, aren’t I terrible?), was so excited about giving me a present that she had her mom buy me a crème brûlée set from William-Sonoma. She must have seen me drool over the store’s catalogue and its’ over-priced goodies

So we spent some of the day after Christmas in the kitchen. M made pizza with handmade pizza dough. Being a native New Yorker, he prefers the thin crust to our delight. We put on it tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, anchovies and spring greens with arugula. He also made a cheese pizza for the anchovy-challenged among us. The pizza dough is simple to make but it takes an hour to rise.

And a cozy, winter night would not be complete without roasted chestnuts, M’s favorite. At $6.99 a pound at Bristol Farms, however, it’s a small fortune and I had to stop him from buying more than 2 pounds. He cuts a small slit in the middle of the chestnuts and puts them in the oven at 400F for 45 minutes. When they are taken out of the oven, short of burning your fingers, they are quite easy to peel. Lauren loves to peel and less to eat them, so she’s a great chestnut companion to M.

And dessert. We had some trouble getting the flame to work on the torch so the crème brûlée was eaten without the burnt sugar crust. It was still sweet, creamy and fragrant. What more can you ask for?