Before and After Pintxo

With twelve hours to spend in Los Angeles between flights, tapas at Bar Pintxo wasn’t the only way I spent my time.  As I mentioned, Gary was kind enough to shuttle me around the west side of the city, checking a few items off the to-do list and engaging in a wild goose chase to buy a DVD for a friend in Singapore, only to discover after stopping at a few different stores that the DVD hasn’t been released yet.  Yea for iPhones…

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Funniest airplane-related site: a Southwest Airlines gate that is right next to a public area between terminals 1 and 2 at LAX.  It looks like the wingtip almost hangs over the wall.  One wonders what happens if he pulls into that gate just a wee bit fast.

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Gary’s magnetic personality attracts the reflection of palm trees at the Westside Pavilion.

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We also stopped at the Century City shopping center, where I had my first chance to see the new AMC Theatres.  Back in the mid 1990s I actually managed the old AMC Century 14 that used to be at the front part of the mall.  Even then, plans were afoot to build a new mega-cinema but I had not been back in the five years of so since the new cinema opened.  This cinema (or, at least, the old one but I think it still holds true for the new one) is where many of the who’s-who of Hollywood, especially the power brokers, come to see their films.  On any given weekend evening there would be a full log at the Guest Services counter of passes that had been approved by AMC’s film department for studio heads, movie stars, directors, etc. 

There was also no shortage of people who were not on the list who would try to pull the “do you know who I am?” routine to try and score free tickets or, worse, free tickets and seats specially reserved for them.  Pathetic, when you think of how much money these people have.

One person who was always a charmer, though, was Faye Dunaway.  Somehow she got hold of my name and then would call and ask for me.  She never asked for free tickets and I don’t recall her asking to reserve a seat for her.  She just wanted to make sure we would save a ticket so she could get into her movie, and most of the time it was for a matinee performance when there was plenty of room anyhow.

“Hi, Chris?  It’s Faye,” she would say as if we were the best of friends.  “Look, I’m circling around downstairs looking for a parking space and I’m worried there won’t be any tickets left when I finally get upstairs.  Of course I’ll pay for it, but can you set a ticket aside for me?”

“Sure, Ms. Dunaway, it would be my pleasure.”

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After dinner we strolled the few short blocks from the restaurant to the Santa Monica Pier, which was quite crowded despite it being an overcast and chilly evening.  I asked if anyone wanted to ride the roller coaster which, I might add, is only a kiddie coaster.  Nobody was brave enough!

 

Food in LA: Bar Pintxo

On my way back to Bangkok, I had a twelve-hour layover in Los Angeles.  I’m super-fortunate that Gary seems to have an infinitely flexible schedule (although he swore that if I had been in town the following day, he wouldn’t have had any free time) and an inexplicable willingness to spend the afternoon running me around town.

I also really fortunate that Gary and W are such foodies and do all the legwork of trying and evaluating restaurant, so that when I stop by for a brief visit they always have the perfect recommendation.  Tuesday evening’s recommendation was Bar Pintxo, a Spanish tapas bar in Santa Monica.  We were graced with Steve’s presence, as he had a break in his globetrotting and drove up from the OC to join us.

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The restaurant is just a block from the beach, conveniently located near the Third Street Promenade.  They have a happy hour until 6:00 and we managed to sneak in just beforehand and order our first round of drinks and some of the tapas specials.

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The restaurant isn’t very large and is built around the kitchen area.  It is very cozy with tall tables and bar stools and bottles of wine and a huge mirror adorning the walls.

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Of course, one must start Spanish tapas with some sangria, right?  This red wine concoction was very good, not too sweet.

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The happy hour specials include 6 pintxos (“pinches”) for $6, so they loaded up two platters for the four of us.  The platter above has crimini mushrooms stuffed with mushroom mousse and manchego cheese; fresh tomato and garlic; and huevos rellenos con vinagreta vasca, deviled eggs with a pepper and onion relish in a vinaigrette dressing, all on grilled bread.

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The second platter had Serrano jamon (ham) on grilled bread with olive oil; chorizo Bilboa (spicy sausage) with cherry tomato halves; and tomato conserve and manchego cheese, all served on grilled bread.

The pintxos were all very tasty, a nice variety of simple but bold flavors.

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W continued the ordering with frisee and shaved manchego cheese dressed with a quince vinaigrette and served on a flatbread.

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Next came a paella with razor clams.  Very nice and clean flavors.

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You can’t order tapas without ordering tortilla espanola, the Spanish style frittata with egg, potatoes, and caramelized onions served with a side of aioli.

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We also ordered the brocheta de cerdo, mojo verde – the pork loin skewer with vegetables and a herb and lemon pesto.  The pork was nice and juicy, although the meat itself didn’t have a lot of flavor.  The sauce, though, packed a punch.

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Me enjoying the meal.

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For dessert we shared a plate of churros with a chocolate dipping sauce.  This was pretty unexceptional and the sauce was like thick hot chocolate, not really thick enough for dipping.

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The arroz con leche, rice pudding with fresh peaches, was much nicer.  They bruleed the top slightly, adding a nice texture.  And of course rice pudding is a favorite of mine.

The service was friendly although not super-attentive, the atmosphere was convivial, and the food was tasty.  Just what I needed before a long flight back to Thailand.

 

Grandparents’ 90th Birthday Reception

The big event during the weekend family reunion was the Saturday evening reception.  This was for family only and we had about fifty people gathered in the church’s fellowship hall to celebrate my grandparents’ 90th birthdays and 67th wedding anniversary.

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Jennifer and the girls made these mints as party favors and packaged them with cute little ribbons and paper flowers.

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Helping hands on the assembly process.  There was a lot of bickering about who was getting to help out more, since it was essentially a one-person job.

The catered dinner was very nice.  While I don’t have pictures of it, I do have pictures of the cakes that were on the tables for dessert.  Very pretty, no?

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The highlight of the evening was a 20-minute video I had created in collaboration with my mother, sister, and cousin Alex.  Over the past three years I’ve been scanning old photos from my grandmother’s well-organized albums.  I’ve also been conducting audio interviews with them and also my mother, trying to capture stories, memories, and anecdotes to craft into a family history.

The 20-minute video was just the first stage of a larger project, but I have to say I’m pretty pleased with how it came out.  Since 20 minutes is too much to upload and you probably don’t want to see lots of pictures of four children, ten grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren you don’t know, I’ve created an edited version of the video, just 9 minutes long, which focuses on how my grandparents met and were married.  It is quite an interesting story, and I hope you enjoy it!

When Tawn watched it before I left for the US, he had tears in his eyes because he wanted to be there to see their reaction.  As expected, my grandparents and all the relatives were very pleased with it.  So much so, in fact, that Sunday morning cousin Bill and I were burning copies for everyone to take home with them!

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My grandmother had some words to say afterwards, thanking everyone for being there and for being a part of their lives.  How wonderful is it to be able to live to such a ripe old age and to still have your faculties about you?  We should all be so fortunate.

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I think I’ve written enough about the anniversary and birthday celebration over the last week, so I’ll let this be the final entry on the subject.  Let me just conclude by wishing my grandparents many more years of good health and great happiness together.

 

The Unofficial Post-Reunion After-Party

Greetings from EVA Airways’ lounge in Taipei’s Taoyuan International Airport, where I am enjoying a three-hour layover on my way from Los Angeles to Bangkok.  The outbound flight was kind of a challenge.  First, it departed at 1:50 am, which is just a really late departure time, all the more so when considering that I am operating on Central Daylight Time, making it feel like a 3:50 am departure.

To top it off, as much as I like EVA I think that their economy class seat cushions are uncomfortable to sit on for long periods of time.  After a few hours, my butt bones hurt.  The person sitting next to me made the same observation, so I’m not alone.  The final thing that made the flight kind of tough was a combination of sleeplessness – I only dozed for a short while before I would wake and shift myself into a new position – and an inaccurate air map.  For some reason the data on the map froze just before the halfway point of the flight.  So each time I would wake up and try to determine how much longer we had left in the flight, it seemed that we had not made any progress.  In my dazed state, this was very… disorienting.

All in all, though, it was a fine flight.  Leg room is good, the food is decent, and service was friendly and attentive.  For the price, it is still a good value.

I’m skipping an entry on the main reunion event, as there is some video material I want to post.  In the meantime, I’ll share with you the unofficial post-reunion after-party, which we held Sunday evening after the public reception at the church.  Most of the more immediate part of my family (my mother’s siblings and their children and grandchildren) made it over to Jennifer and Kevin’s house.  We stopped at the market to pick up some meat and salad makings and just had a casual meal.

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Still quite a few people hanging out in the living room of my sister’s house.

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Cousin Alex braided my niece Emily’s hair while her son Tommy looked on excitedly.

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Cousin Brad from New York and his father Carl.

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Uncle Dick and his son Michael enjoyed the warm summer evening as my cousin Bill (Alex’s husband) manned the grill.

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Cousin Silvia (Brad’s wife) took care of the grilling, which went fine until…

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We started getting some flare-ups after the chicken was finished.  I was worried that Kevin’s grill might spontaneously combust.  Thankfully, grillmaster Bill was able to get the flames under control.

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Two KC Strips and two Rib Eye steaks on the very hot grill.  I was looking for some grass-fed beef at the local store but couldn’t find any.  These seemed to be the best alternative, “vegetarian” fed (isn’t grain vegetarian?) with no “sub-therapeutic antibiotics” (what?) and no growth hormones.  That all struck me as kind of meaningless phrases along the lines of “all natural”.  But the beef did taste good.

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Finished Italian sausages and chicken.

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Charred steaks.  Ostensibly, two were done rare and the other two were supposed to be medium rare.  Despite five extra minutes of cooking, the second two still looked rare when cut into.  Thankfully, I like them that way.

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Dinner – chicken, sausages, and steak (did I mention it was rare?), with beans and salad.  Yummy.

 

Mochi Cake

It is late Monday evening and I leave early tomorrow for Los Angeles and then continue on my way to Bangkok via Taipei.  A long travel day.  There are still some more pictures and stories to share from the reunion but those will have to wait.  In the meantime, I’ll share this Mochi Cake recipe (originally from Gourmet Magazine) that Joanne Choi at Week of Menus wrote about recently.

For anyone who doesn’t know, mochi is the glutinous rice that is pounded into a sticky semi-solid and used as an ingredient in several dishes, including various Japanese desserts like daifuku.

Mochi Cake
Gourmet Magazine | May 2005
Makes one 9X13 pan, or 24 squares

1 lb box of mochiko flour (3 cups equivalent)
2 1/2 cups of sugar
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 14 oz cans of coconut milk – not lowfat (I used two cans of 13.5 oz)
5 large eggs
1/2 stick of butter (1/4 cup) melted and slightly cooled
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

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Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 9X13 baking pan.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk together mochiko flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.

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In a separate bowl or large measuring cup (4 cup capacity), beat eggs, then add coconut milk, melted butter and vanilla extract.

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Carefully pour the wet ingredients over the mochiko flour mixture and whisk until mixture is smooth and uniform in texture.

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Pour batter into greased 9X13 pan. Carefully smooth out the top. Bake for 90 minutes (yes, 90 minutes!), until top is golden brown and the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan.

Allow cake to cool for about 30 minutes on a rack, and then carefully flip it out and cut into 24 squares, or the size of your choice. Can store mochi cake for three days, covered.

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The texture is really fun – very moist and chewy.  I think it would be excellent topped with some fresh fruit like peaches, strawberries, or mangoes.  It also is quite nice just as a snack cake.  Try it out.

 

Are you my first cousin once removed or my second cousin?

The family reunion’s first full day went very well.  We had about fifty people in town and started with a reception in the afternoon at the church, a chance for everyone to visit.  It is kind of funny that when I’m at these events with extended family, I’m sometimes confused with my brother-in-law, who also has a goatee.  If I’m standing near my sister and nieces, people will come up and say, “Hi, Kevin!” 

Usually, I just play along.  The next day, one of my great-uncles came back up and complimented me on being such a gentleman and not correcting him.  I guess someone else corrected him.

After the reception, we gathered in the church sanctuary for photos.  This is always a fun process.  Several family members also had their cameras so I was able to quickly capture images without having to take any on my own.  How convenient is that?

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My grandparents with all of my cousins, minus two who weren’t there.  I’m the oldest of the bunch.

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One side of the cousins – Bradley, Kelly, Kari, and Silvia.  Brad and Silvia live in New York City and we visited them there in March.

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The great-grandchildren, Tommy, Emily, and Ava.

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The entire extended family.  I won’t give you the names and relationships of everyone because you probably don’t want quite that much information.  But, to tell you the truth, I wasn’t always clear on those details.  This led to a conversation with some of my cousins, trying to understand the difference between first, second, and third cousins, and relatives “once removed”, “twice removed”, etc.

So we googled it.  And it turns out Wikipedia has a very useful article and a great graphic.

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So you if you were confused, now you know the difference between them.  More later…

 

CHiPS the Musical – Is this Necessary?

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My cousin Bill brought this to my attention.  The Falcon Theatre in Burbank, California is staging (through July 25 – hurry to see it!) CHiPS the Musical, based on the NBC television show CHiPs, which aired in the late 70s and early 80s. 

The show, of course, was incredibly corny, even in its time.  That there is any fodder for a musical in the original material is beyond my ability to believe.