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April 2010

The Valley and All Her Foodie Finds


I just spent 3 days in The Valley.  Yes - horror of all horrors.  I was taking a workshop over there - you know, enhancing some skills and what I found was just incredible - it was the food I've been looking for all over LA!  All within a few miles of where I was spending long, long days holed up in front of a computer.

Koko's - I kid you not - maybe the best Middle Eastern I've had on the West Coast.  One bite of the velvety hummus and I was braving the dusty streets of some two-horse town in Lebanon.  Same goes for the fluffed out rice and the perfect feta salad (now, this was before the vegan comment, mind you - haven't had dairy or eggs since then).  Located in a dreary strip mall.

Next day was Thai.  Kinnara - found in a bustling little strip mall.   Full transport on over to Thailand - with nothing but a backpack and loose sense of hunger leading the way to the freshest papaya salad in the world and a pile of smoking green beans.  Joy.

Final day was a jovial joint run by a Vietnamese dude named Kevin (I know this cause every single patron called him by name).  A tiny spot called Vinh Loi Tofu - where they have a full blown tofu factory set up rocking in the back.  Yep one bite in, I was over in S. East Asia, to Vietnam...a place I've never been but have been dreaming about since birth, I'm sure.  I slurped down a loaded down bowl of tofu curry and slammed a Thai Iced Tea from the happy folks at the Viet shop next door.  Again, strip mall heaven.

So, turns out the valley is good for one thing - good eats.  And, who knew Van Nuys had an airport. only took me a half hour to get there.  LESS than it takes me to get to friggin Hollywood.  Good to know, good to know.

And - don't you know it on the way home that final day, I stopped by my fave Mexican joint and ordered up a horchata...and the f'er was half frozen.  Most insane treat of all time.  I guess if you can't hit the road, may the road hit you.





Baja Beckons


Oh so many years ago, I took off like a light down to a land I'd never been privy to.  I was on a short mission to learn to sail, cause you see, I'd bought a small vessel (25 sailboat) on ebay and had no idea what to do with the mini-beast.  My dad - sage of all sages - said, "MST, when you want to learn to sail the only place to do it is the Sea of Cortez."   That one phrase began my wildly untamable Mexico musings....and, off I went. 

I shot my old trusty Explorer down Highway 1 all the way to Loreto, a small colonial village about  a day and a half from the border (via LA).  The man of the sea I was to meet - I can't remember his name for the life of me - had built an interesting life down there - instructing for NOLS, teaching sailing to intrepid individuals like me, and maybe rousting up a bit of coin giving sunset sails on his 24' sloop.  He biked everywhere, had a small house with fruit trees that he shared with his family, and seemed generally happy to have made a life in a land very few outsiders frequent. 

I was thrown into sailing like a tornado.  It was just me and him, day after day. 

Me - "Ummmm, this weather seems a bit tsunami like!"  Him - "Take the help, girl!" 

In that short week, I learned as much as I could, chomped on sleeves of oreos while hove to in the middle of the sea, weathered nasty swells (at least in my inexperienced, panicked eyes), and had the time of my life.  Then it was time to go.  I still use  my face to read the wind to this day - even when I'm not on my boat.

Now - next week - I'm headed back to the wilds.  This time to get my advanced diving certificate from PADI.  My new teacher/dive instructor is a funny cat who happens to own a dive shop in Mulege.  The stories, I'm sure, will be epic.   Night dive in the Sea of Cortez, with the water all salty hot and a storm of stars leading the way.  God, sounds divine.  

Who knew I'd develop such an affinity for Baja and all she has in her underbelly.  Same goes for the ocean.  Who the heck knew.  Wonder if the salty old sailor is still there in Loreto?  I know I once had a chat with Hemingway there.  I'm telling you - it was HIM!!!  He even bought me a coffee.  Not sure I can expose his photo though - he must be on the slippery slope of off-radar'dom.  Much like Elvis.

There is no better place to disappear than Baja, I tell you that.  And, it's the unsung hero's, teacher's, instructor's, maestro's, guide's, expert's, and straight up folks-who-have-cojones to ditch the map of life and take chances in lands deemed unfit by the masses that make dreams possible for people like me. 

If they are out there, I will find them.





Vegan'ism - Is it Possible for the MST?


I've never really been one to preach that much, but the pages I'm turning every single night have caused a great, dramatic pause in my soul.  One that I have to share.  It's a incredibly informative book by Jonathan Safran Foer called "Eating Animals," and I can guaran-damn-tee you that once you plow thru Chapter 1, you won't ever touch meat again.

The sight of a KFC sign will truly repulse you and when you see animals - be it a duck, a bird, a cow, goat, a pig, a chicken - you will smile and think that you are just plain happy that creature is alive.  You'll be horrified when you hear the word slaughterhouse and you will leave those pages on your nightstand with so much knowledge trippin' out of your mouth, it'll hurt.

Now all that said - I'm not quite done with the book yet, but once I am - it looks like I'm gonna have to give up eggs and cheese for good (I haven't hit that chapter just yet).   Eggs and cheese are pretty much my last remaining bastions in the animal world.  I've found insanely tasty renditions of both - especially this vegan/tofu quiche I grab at the Mar Vista farmers market (above photo).  But, nothing really compares to real eggs.   Sure, I buy organic, free-range, grass-fed, sustainable...all that jazz.  But,'s still an animal - and it's popping out of a bird that ain't treated that great.  A bird that lives a short, dank, miserable life even.  Which makes my lovely creation of the below omelette disgustingly bittersweet. 

Just read the book - you'll instantaneously see/hear/feel what I mean.


Corner Bistro NYC, No Cell, and Nothing But Communication Surrounding Me.


When I very, very first moved to LA at the tender age of 20, I had no cell phone.  Did they even exist then?  I somehow made my way to Hollywood and moved straight into a youth hostel til I found a little place up in the hills.  Livin' on a dream and a 3k limit credit card.  God - I wish I could be that naive again...or maybe I am.  I just somehow knew I'd "make it" - whatever that meant then, and whatever that means now. 

How did I even get around?  How did anyone ever contact me - I had no phone!  How did I get jobs, how did I communicate with the world?  I think I got a beeper minute one.  Could you imagine toting around a chunky pager these days? 

Everywhere you step - and I mean from the dang volcanoes of Indonesia to the outlaw desert lands of Baja to the yummy smelling kitchens NYC, every single person has a cell phone.  Some even sport the dreaded blue tooth.  You can skype from the iphone - ring back home to anywhere in the world for pennies.  You can work the floor, or the kitchen, or the trails, or the dusty backroads - all while making shit happen on your cell.

Chores get done, errands get run, fun is had, work is completed no matter where you are in the universe.  I met a pal at Corner Bistro in NYC a bit back and while I sat there sipping martinis awaiting his arrival, I tucked away my cell and made buds with the regulars and the Mexican employees - hopping behind the bar to snap photos of anything that caught my eye.  I let them do the communicating for once - all things happening while watching the tele, sizzling up incred burgers, frying up crispy fries, texting on their phones, taking incomings on the blue tooth and watching me ignore my phone and focus all attention on them.

Back to the basics - it felt real good to disconnect, open up my eyes, and really watch dark bar moments unfold.

And, I guess I never had the opportunity (until that day) to show someone how to pound on the raised 57 on a bottle of Ketchup to make it pour out.  No more shaking til a migraine sprouts up!











Navigating the High Seas - A Very Good Skill to Have.


Chart Navigation 101 - last weeks class was absolutely bananas.  So much math goes into chart plotting, I tore out of the Del Rey Yacht Club with my mind reeling and my head justa throbbing.  Ahhhh, but nothing a steaming hot pile of fried rice couldn't fix (I'm telling you, the secret is grapeseed oil).  This weeks class, however, was way more up my alley.  That's cause we did all sorts of hands on exercises.  We figured out how to literally determine where we are on a chart without using any sort of GPS intel.  Nothing electronic.  All just lat/long coordinates and if you do xx and go xx where do you end up and how deep is it?

God, I love this stuff.  Incredibly empowering - especially when I remember - like baby bolts of lightening - "OH YES! I own a sailboat! How could I have forgotten you??"

Thanks USCG!  Oh - and I had to register my boat in LA the other day at the DMV and those fools, those crazy fools.  The batty old loon was like - So....we're gonna need you to bring the boat in here.  I was like - where?  She's like - the DMV.  WTF?  I said - LADY, the boat is 41' long - you mean to tell me I need to pay thousands to haul it out of the water and get a 50' 18-wheeler to bring it over to Culver City so you can make sure it's actually in the state of Cali.  OK - no problem!  That's what the USCG is for - they come verify the vessel, duhhhhhhhh....

Left in a fury.  Then I made shrimp ceviche and all was well in the world again.  

And, for all of you out there that think you might get lonely sailing to remote lands - read this bit that I spotted in the LA Times this week.  You are never, ever alone out there.  And, don't forget to go see "Oceans" on Thursday - it's Earth Day!


Costa Rican Tamales Rule in New Jersey Para Mi.


There's a strip mall tamale place out my way in Cali.  A little too gourmet for me, but good to have nearby when a steamed tamale fix is in great demand.  I've also located a tucked away Oaxacan joint on Santa Monica Blvd. that puts shame to mole smothered tamales anywhere in the state of California.  Yah, I've found a few more, but, the tamales that I crave all the friggin' time come from a sunny Costa Rican restaurant in a small town in NJ (just around the way from where we filmed "Jerseylicious").  

Addictive isn't even the word.  The banana leaves practically steam themselves off.  The actual tamale biscuit is so soft and has an added touch that I rarely see - RICE.  Small strips of peppers add jolts of color.  I pick around the meat inside and instead douse the whole mess in lime and spoon it down, leaving nothing but a pile of pork or chicken in my wake.

Everything the busy kitchen churns out is amazing.  Empenadas, chicken soup, black beans, seasoned rice - the whole lot of it is a guaranteed smile.  I can't believe I'm saying this, but I guess I can't wait to go back...simply for the grub - truly the best Afghan I've ever had, not to mention the most insane veggie Italian sandwich in the world.  Who knew NJ was loaded with such glorious food finds? 

Man.   I thought I was done for a spell.   Guess my sake fascination is taking point again soon.  Real soon.






4th World Love - Another Solo Volunteer Creates a Legend


This is what happens when you travel to faraway regions all by yourself to volunteer.  You become a complete and utter superstar.   There you are, just on the make for something more, and you find an outfit like 4th World Love and before you know it, you're in cahoots with me and Lis, getting details about how to get to the mountain village of Sembalun, Lombok.  We get you sorted, and next thing you know, you're stumbling off the jam-packed ferry on a remote Muslim island...waiting to be picked up by our happy-go-lucky team of field ninja's.

Once you are in the village, you barely get any sleep cause you are so excited, nervous and happy to be rolling into the CDC (Community Development Center) to see what our little set up is all about.  You are beyond delighted that there is a fridge and you can't help but notice the beautiful world map and post-its full of Spanish words littering the walls.  Lots going on here.

Time to get down to business and teach English - at CDC and the local schools.  The kids go absolutely ballistic when you roll in.  Every time. In fact, the adults are beyond joyous too.  They can't believe you've made your way to their tiny village from some real faraway land just to help them have a better future.

A couple days pass.  You eat the best food you've ever tasted.  You've stared out your bedroom window and contemplated trekking Rinjani (2nd largest volcano in Indo).  You've gone to the secret waterfall and almost drown (from happiness).  You've made a gazillion friends already who all know you by name, and somehow you remember theirs.  You see progress in students that seemed impossible 72 hours ago.  You actually participated in a late night jam session on the village guitar.  And nothing ever felt more right in the world.

A few weeks more pass and it's time to go.  There are tears.  There are small, incredibly thoughtful gifts.  There are promises to come back.  But you must go.  The journey of life and travel is still out there and for now, your time in SMBL is over. 

But, on the four hour journey back to the ferry, you think - I LOVE IT THERE.  I LOVE THOSE PEOPLE.  I LOVE WHO I AM BECOMING.  AND I CANNOT WAIT TO RETURN.

Trust me - it happens every time.  

Thanks for the pix Kasey!



And Then There Are Days Like Yesterday...


So funny - I can throw down a post about the confusion of happiness and where does it even sprout from - and then outta nowhere, 12 hours later...I can almost drown from unbridled elation.  Just literally a perfect day can happen out of nowhere and bring me back to my senses. 

Started with a killer workout with the best trainer in the world - my pal Willis.  Rolled into an impromptu sail with my bud Lisa - surrounded by seals the whole way out the marina channel.  Realized almost instantaneously I could sneak away to Mexico and points further at any given moment and not feel an ounce of regret.  Joy.  Get back to an email from the good folks at Apple - they finally released the brand new Mac Book Pro.  Been waiting on if for YEARS and immediately tore off to Santa Monica to buy one.  Now this is AFTER I made the best fried rice of all time (with pea tops!).  Then, while walking around digesting the most delicious jalapeno Wetzel's Pretzel ever, randomly discovered a new Asian spa - and it's spa week.  Half price everything.  So relaxing.  Suddenly, get a call from my truck mechanic and lo and behold, the man has finally figured out what is wrong with my Land Rover.  That little monkey has been on the hurts for months and nobody could figure out what it was...but finally - FIXED.  Picked it up, rocked a perfect pedicure, slammed two Baja-style fish tacos and went to my first ever navigation class at Del Rey Yacht Club.  Very interesting how little I know about navigation.  However, recorded the entire 3 hour discussion on my iphone for reference.  2 more classes and I will have that tackled.  Delighted to know that I will be able to dead reckon.  And, then of course - Glee.  Enough said.

Guess happiness is all relative.  Once again - I'm on top of the world)









The Last 5 Times Happiness Came Round...


I was trying to think today - what were the last 5 times I was for real, truly, madly, gleefully happy.  Not 10.  Just 5.  Should be easy to name.  I named one and hit a real hard wall.  I mean - I'm always happy.  That's just my nature.  But bliss - well that is a different beast.  Toes in the sand, feet in grass, hair in the wind, butterflies in the air, just straight-up naturally happy.  Hard moments to come by.  Why though?  Life is beyond good.  Beyond compare really.  So - why the internal struggle?  The angst-ridden nights of sleep.  F'ed up slumber if you wanna call it that.  Gotta get to the root of that one.

Last 5:

1.  Learning to scuba dive in Indo.  And getting certified.  Then seeing my official PADI card. 

        Reason:  Brutal Accomplishment.

2.  Wheeling around on golf cart on Isla Holbox...and Isla Mujeres before that.

        Reason:  Simple Windy Freedom.

3.   Hauling my trailer through Mexico - Alone.

        Reason:  Had No Final Destination.

4.  Swimming in the slam-on-the-brakes blue ocean - in Cancun of all places.

        Reason:  Tourist Illusion Shattered.

5.  Perfecting fried rice (with grapeseed oil)...over and over again.

        Reason:  Take Out Forever Obliterated.

The Cancun wave-fest was a good one.  Each one crashing harder than the next, ripping the bikini bottoms off - not that anyone could see, or cared.  Water freezing - but then warm after five minutes.  Plane taking off in a few hours, yet still in the water, still waiting on the next wave coming from who knows where on the planet.  Savoring 'til the very last, very wet second.  Not wanting to leave.  Ever.  Go back to What?

Riddle me that one.  Back to What?

Living In the Unknown - Just a Dang Good Song that makes me happy to be alive.