Thursday, November 20, 2014

Cedar Lane

Hey there! Hope you're doing well. I have been reading a lot about the weather on the East Coast, and suffice it to say, I am not at all jealous. The temperatures here have been dropping into the fifties at night, and that is plenty cold enough for us. And these guys.


Since we've gotten back from Texas, I've been experimenting in the kitchen a bit. We've been getting shares from a couple of different CSA (community supported agriculture) programs via a local grocery delivery service, Good Eggs. With a CSA, you pay a local farm a set amount of money, either per week or in advance for a defined time period, and then receive a portion of the seasonal harvest every week. Simon's sister, April, and her boyfriend belong to a CSA, and have talked about how it gets them to eat a lot of vegetables and try new things in the kitchen.

I have been thinking about joining a CSA for awhile, since we don't always make it to the farmer's market on Sunday morning, but there are a couple of downsides to the ones available to us in LA. I didn't want to commit to one for a set period of time, since we do occasionally go to the market, and we travel fairly often. And I don't love that you have to pick most of them up every week at a set place and time, because our availability can vary from week to week. With this grocery delivery service, we can pick a CSA share from one of two different programs to be delivered to us, with no time or quantity commitments. Which is perfect.

We got this pile of vegetables last Wednesday from the South Central Farmer's Cooperative, which included kale, spinach, green leaf lettuce, potatoes, and swiss chard, amongst other several things. We've finished everything visible here except the bunch of cilantro, and I have no idea what we'll do with that since I hate it. Maybe I will throw it in some Asian chicken soup.


Though I have bought spinach, potato and kale plenty of times before, it was incentivizing to know I had to prepare them within a few days, and we ate out less because of that. I had never bought or even tried swiss chard before, and was happy to discover that I enjoyed it wilted as a side dish.

Since the first box went so well, we tried a box from the other CSA this week, Uncommon Good. That box didn't have a lot of duplicates, which I was grateful for, and we are still working our way through it. Both CSA boxes were well packaged and stuffed with fresh veggies, so I expect we will switch back and forth from week to week. So far, trying out CSA boxes has been a successful endeavor, but I will keep you posted.

Last Wednesday night, we took the bus to the Wiltern to see a newer favorite of mine, First Aid Kit.


We had seats in the loge, our preferred seating area of the Wiltern. We got there in time for the opener, Samantha Crain, who had a gorgeous voice that completely captivated the audience. Unusual for an opener, for sure. Following her were the ladies of First Aid Kit, with a much bigger stage set-up than when we saw them at the El Rey in May.


They had a string quartet to accompany them, which made their songs sound more like the recorded versions, and lent some depth to the live show. Along with playing songs of both of their most recent records, they did an acapella version of "Ghost Town, and then covered Jack White's "Love Interruption", both of which were stunning. Though the sound mixing at the venue was not great, the ladies sounded fantastic and I was happy to have seen them live again.

The next evening, we drove to UCB for an edition of Mantzoukas and..., a monthly(ish) improv show with Jason Mantzoukas and a guest, where they do a monoscene (which is one long scene, rather than a bunch of short ones like most improv shows). We haven't been able to see this show very often because it always falls on a day when something more desirable is happening, but this month worked out for us.


The special guest this month was actually the comedy duo of Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham, most recently from Playing House on USA. All three of the improvisers have been friends for close to twenty years, and that really showed in the improv. They were sharp, funny, and not afraid to say some crazy things. Simon and I both loved the show.

The next night, we headed to the new UCB theater at Sunset and Western.


Though I had been there for their soft opening back in October, Simon had not yet visited, so he was excited to see the new place. While we waited in line for Cook County Social Club, he took a walk around to check the space out. After a short wait, we were allowed in the theater to wait for the first show of the night to start.


We have seen Greg Hess (second from left) do improv with the Improvised Shakespeare Company before, and then we discovered that he has a team that performs at UCB. This show was their first hour-long one at the theater, and the format included a pair of musicians who played for a bit, inspired the three team members to do improv, then played more music throughout while they improvised. It was fun to watch, and made me wish more improv shows had a live soundtrack.

After CCSC, we left the theater and got back in line for the next show, Your Fd Up Family. They take an audience member, interview them about their family, and then do improv based on the interview. We've seen this show a few times, but this is the first time we've seen it for an hour, since it used to be paired with Soundtrack at the Franklin theater.


There was an eight member cast that included a couple of our favorite improvisers, so we were happy about that. Between the two shows we saw, we tried out two different sets of seats and were able to take some mental notes about the new theater, which we would use on Saturday night....

When we came back to UCB Sunset for two more shows! What can I say, we had to make up for the improv we missed while we were in Texas. We spent the hour and a half before the shows searching for ramen places - our original choice was packed, and our back-up choice was closed early, so we ended up at a third choice, which wasn't great. But we ate and drove back to UCB Sunset for Hot Sauce...


in name only, since of the trio that makes up that team, only Ben Schwartz could make it to the show. He had a few other improvisers (Horatio Sanz, Alex Fernie and Eugene Cordero) fill in for Adam Pally and Gil Ozeri, who cancelled at the last minute. The four of them were fun together, and we were happy to see the show despite the fact that it wasn't actually Hot Sauce.

Next up was Casey and Woods, another favorite, and with both Neil Casey and Zach Woods in attendance.


It was, as usual, a great show, with the two of them playing off each other perfectly.

The next day, we hung around the apartment, went for a walk in the gorgeous 70 degree weather,


and attended our final show of the weekend, Shitty Jobs, at UCB Franklin.


Despite only three of the regular six improvisers showing up, it was a really funny show. Unfortunately, afterward we discovered that someone had their way with my car.


I filed a police report and am getting it repaired, but it's frustrating that people are so inconsiderate. A jerk with thirty seconds and some car keys is costing me hours of my time and my insurance deductible. We parked on a street we've been parking on for two years with no issues, so I assume (and hope) it's an isolated incident.

Since Sunday, we've been keeping a low profile. Simon's been a little under the weather - not even a full blown cold, but fatigued regardless - so we've been watching a lot of basketball and Cosmos. Tonight, we are getting out of the apartment and walking over to LACMA for a live read of the movie Diner, which neither of us has seen. Fingers crossed that it's good! Talk to you soon, guys.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Deep in the Heart of Texas

Hello! Hope all is well for you; Simon, the cats and I are all fine. We have a fair amount to report on from our recent travels to Texas, as well as what we've been up to since we've gotten home, so I might as well get started.

On Thursday, October 30th, we went to UCB for another edition of Playhouse Masterpieces with Paul Rust and Neil Campbell, the show where they take the basic plot points from a story and improvise between them. The play this time? Frankenstein. Here's Frankenstein and his monster having a chat after an exhausting chase across the stage.


The next morning, we drove to LAX and caught a regional jet to the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport in Texas.


The flight went smoothly, and we landed on time. We met up with Simon's mom, Mary Jo, who landed right after we did, and then picked up our rental minivan to round up Tony and April, who had flown into a different airport. After driving by the town where Simon was born, our first stop in Fort Worth was a bar and restaurant that April pointed us toward called The Bearded Lady


We sat on the outdoor patio, enjoyed some beer and food, and caught up with one another for an hour or two.


After we'd had our fill, we decided to go get checked in to our hotel in Forth Worth.


We met up with various Morris relations at our hotel, including Simon's aunt Ann, cousin Jonathan and his girlfriend Lauren. Later that evening, a large group of us went to a restaurant called American Food + Beverage for dinner. While the food was subpar, they had a lot of local beer to try out, as well as some interesting cocktails. I had an amazing pumpkin beer, from Stevens Point Brewery in Wisconsin, called Whole Hog Pumpkin Ale. It tasted like pumpkin pie in a glass, and I highly recommend it to any pumpkin beer lovers out there. I completely forgot to snap pictures, but it was a nice evening.

The wedding we were in Fort Worth to attend was scheduled for Saturday at 7pm, so we had all day to explore the city. After a quick breakfast at the hotel on Saturday morning, our group drove over to the Fort Worth Stockyards


to check out the shops


and watch the morning cattle drive.


There were a couple of these guys serving as photo ops for the tourists who would pay to get on their backs - it was hard not to feel sorry for them. Those eyes!


After seeing all there was to see at the Stockyards, we drove a couple of miles away to the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens.


The weather was cool, much more so than in California, but the sun was still very bright. We spent a good deal of time walking through the various paths in the garden,


and saw at least two wedding parties.


Halfway through our time there, we met up with Simon's uncle Chris and aunt Linda, who had driven into town for the wedding from Houston.


After we'd seen all the vegetation we could handle for one day,


we headed back to our cars and drove to nearby barbecue place called Angelo's.


From outside, you could smell the sweet, smoky scent of barbecue. Once you walk in, you go up to a counter, order your meat in whatever configuration you'd like, get a cheap ice cold beer in a glass chalice, and sit down at long tables to eat your bounty. We all ordered our meat on baked potatoes - I got brisket, Simon had pork, and we all had Shiner Bock. Everything was tasty, not fussy, and inexpensive, which is kind of what I was expecting from Texas in general.

After lunch, April and I went to get manicures at the biggest, fanciest nail salon I have ever seen, while the boys had beer at the Mexican restaurant near the hotel. We came back, met up with the boys, got showered and dressed, and attempted some selfies in the hotel room


before meeting up with the rest of the group and driving to the ceremony.

Simon's second cousin Marianne was the woman of the hour. I have never met her, and Simon doesn't even know her all that well. But her mother had come to our wedding, and I had never been to Texas to visit with Simon's family, so this was a great opportunity to see family at a happy occasion.


The ceremony was lovely; not too short, not too long, with some personal touches. Afterward, we headed back to the hotel and arranged for an Uber to the Fort Worth Club, where the reception was being held on the top floor.



The interior was gorgeous, and they had plenty of pictures of the bride and groom set up in the entry.


We found a place to sit, ate some food,


had several beverages, found the Photo Booth,


and eventually danced the evening away.


At the end of the night, we collectively ushered the bride and groom out of the building in a gauntlet fashion to the elevator,


went to a bar, and didn't get to bed until after 2am.

After we woke up and got packed on Sunday morning, we spent several hours at a family brunch hosted by the bride's mother. While we didn't know that many people in attendance, there were a lot of family photo sessions going on. All of the flowers from the wedding were there, and they were stunning. This is just one of the centerpieces from the reception.


After the brunch, we started out on our drive south to Conroe, TX, stopping for lunch at Schlotsky's.


The five of us drove to the home of Simon's Aunt Gail and Uncle Bill in Conroe. We hadn't seen Gail or Bill in a while, so it was great to catch up with them. Gail's son David and his wife joined us for dinner, which was a surprise since Simon and April had not seen David since they were very young. The nine of us had a delicious, home-cooked Mexican dinner, and though again I forgot to take pictures, it was an enjoyable evening. After a few hours, we said our goodbyes and left Gail & Bill's home to spend the night at a nearby hotel.

The next morning, we continued driving south to Houston. Since Simon is often there for work, he spent part of the drive pointing out the various chemical refineries along the way. We eventually met up with Simon's cousins Jennifer and Jonathan at the Kemah Boardwalk.


We walked around for a bit, catching up with Jennifer, who I hadn't seen since our wedding.


The boardwalk is apparently hoppin' in the evenings, but it was pretty quiet on a Monday morning.


We ate lunch at a seafood place on the boardwalk called Landry's Seafood, then parted ways with Jennifer so that she could pick up her kids from school/daycare. We decided to check out the Houston Museum of Natural Science, mostly because Simon vividly remembered their butterfly garden being excellent. Nearby was one of the approximately fifty thousand statues of Sam Houston in Texas.


A Butterfly Center sounds like a fairly innocuous place,


and it was for everyone else, who all enjoyed seeing various types of butterflies fluttering about.


But as someone who hates insects in general and also abhors being startled by them, the garden was a rather harrowing experience for me. There is no separation between you and the butterflies; they can fly in your face and land on you if they so choose, which I was not digging at all. I made it through, but I think one trip through a butterfly garden was enough for my entire lifetime.

After my brush with death by butterfly fright, we watched an extraordinarily brief & vague video about black holes, then wandered around the nearby park for awhile.


There was a Japanese Garden next to the park, and though the most Japanese thing about it was Koi fish, there were some good spots for photo ops. And it's a good thing, because we had very few group pictures from this whole trip.


After our wanderings, we checked into our Houston hotel and stopped by the Cottonwood for a drink.


The bartender was pokey and the drink selection was slimmer than advertised, but we were all impressed with the space itself. The building was huge, and the outdoor area with picnic tables to sit, drink and eat at was very inviting. I'd love having a spot like that to walk to near our apartment in LA.

After our drink, we met up with Jennifer, her husband Chris, their kids, cousin Jonathan, Aunt Linda, and Uncle Chris for dinner at Jennifer's favorite Mexican restaurant. Once we had eaten all we could possibly eat from the heaping dishes we were served, our group headed over to Jen and Chris' to have a drink and talk some more. The weather was pleasant that night, so we sat outside (and I still have the mosquito bites to prove it). A couple hours later, we said our goodbyes and retired to our Sheraton for the evening.

The next morning, we had some made-to-order coffee and a quick breakfast at Boomtown Coffee in Houston. Then, we hit the road for Austin. On the way, we stopped at Blue Bell Ice Cream, a favorite of Mary Jo's that I have never even seen before.


The reason I have never seen is because it started production in Texas, and has not yet made its way to PA or CA. We took the tour, which was very thorough and demonstrated how the ice cream was made, and then we each had a cup at the end. I am sad now, because I just realized we never got a pint of the Christmas Cookie while we were in Austin like we said we would. Oh well, next time.

Our entry into Austin was marred by the start of the rain that would continue for the next two days, as well as being in a bit of a rush trying to return our van on time. Once we procured a new vehicle, we went to the Airbnb place we were staying for the next couple days.


We shook out our legs from the long drive, then drove through on-again-off-again rain and absolutely miserable traffic to have drinks and dinner at Lambert's downtown.  


While the table setup was kind of weird, the drinks were good and a nice antidote to the car ride. We shared some appetizers, had more drinks, then eventually shared some barbecued meats for dinner while a talented guitar player took the corner stage.

Once we were through with dinner, the boys dropped us off at The White Horse, a dive-like bar with live music that I was eager to check out.


They had a great beer list, so we ordered a couple and waited for Tony and Simon to walk from our house to the bar, less than a mile away. They were both pretty soaked by the time they arrived, as the rain had picked up. We found a table, had a few rounds, and enjoyed most of the Urban Pioneers set.


Once we noticed some drooping eyelids at the table, we opted to head back to the house. We should have called an Uber, and even discussed doing so, but instead we decided to walk. The rain picked up considerably, to the point where we were soaking wet by the time we got back.

Wednesday morning, we decided to go to Joe's Bakery for breakfast. I was craving breakfast tacos, and this place was supposed to be one of the better places on the East Side for them. It was easy to see that the place was popular, because it was super crowded on a Wednesday morning. I ordered a couple of tacos, one egg and bacon and one migas, and I was in heaven. They were both super good, and just what I was looking for in a Texas breakfast. It is hard to find a good breakfast taco in LA, for sure.

After breakfast, we dropped Mary Jo, April and Tony at a coffee shop, then went back to the house so Simon could get a shower. We picked them up a short while later, and since it was still raining, we drove to the Texas State Capitol Building.


The dome is probably the most impressive part of the building


though we spent over an hour checking out all of the publicly accessible areas.


Afterward, we dropped off Mary Jo, April and Tony at a Gone With the Wind museum exhibit on the campus of the University of Texas. Since there was no parking anywhere nearby and I have never seen the film, we decided to drive a few blocks away from the school and get a drink at a barbecue place called Freedmen's.


Once they were finished with the exhibit, we picked them up and drove downtown to see a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse. I'd wanted to go to the Alamo anyway, and since it was raining and they were playing the 70mm print of Interstellar, it was a no-brainer.


We bought our tickets and ordered beer, and after a little while, we were able to sit down in the theater. Not only can you drink beer at the Alamo Drafthouse, you can order food to be delivered to your seat. The inside looks like this


with a long table that runs along the front of the seats, where you can set the food you order. Between each row of seats is a walkway where servers can stand and take orders, which is also great for legroom. We all tried out some of the food. I had a burger, while Simon had chicken fingers, and we split a bowl of popcorn. Everything was surprisingly good for movie theater food, and the servers were very swift and unobtrusive.

The movie itself was interesting.


I had some issues with the dialogue, and that it borrowed ideas from other media, but it was visually stunning and very ambitious for a mainstream movie. Simon agreed that the dialogue was cheesy, but thought it was the best movie he's seen this year and one of the best movies ever simply because it's a sci-fi movie where technology is not the enemy. I am definitely interested in re-watching it at some point, though I am really glad we saw it in the setting that we did.


After the movie, we leisurely barhopped along rainy 6th Street for the rest of the night. We had cheap Mexican beer at Chupacabra Cantina, stepped it up to local drafts at Shakespeare's Pub, and continued drinking Texas beers at the Blind Pig Pub.


Two of the three spots had live music, though none of it was quite as good as the music had been the night before. Everywhere we went was pretty empty, either because it was Wednesday or because it was raining, or both. For a nightcap, we stopped at Roppolo's for a quick, decent, and necessary slice of pizza.


Back at the house, we watched the end of the Clippers game and said our goodnights & farewells to Simon's mom. She had an early flight, and the rest of us weren't leaving until late afternoon, so she would be taking an Uber to the airport.

Thursday morning, the four of us that remained packed up our stuff and set out for a long wait at Franklin Barbecue. Thankfully, the rain had finally stopped.


Franklin Barbecue is easily the best reviewed barbecue place in Austin, and was universally recommended to us by everyone that we talked to about our trip to Austin. People start lining up there as early as 7am, but the place doesn't open until 11am. You order meat, they cut your meat to order, and then you sit down and eat or take it to go. This process gets repeated until they are out of meat for the day, so if you show up at noon, you might be out of luck.


While I held our spot in line, Simon, April and Tony ventured to the Quickie Pickie, an excellent convenience/take-out store that also made breakfast tacos. We were thankful to have eaten something after being in line for a couple hours, because the smells coming out of the barbecue place were absolutely drool worthy. With the rain gone, barbecue close at hand and the extremely friendly staff selling beer to those of us waiting in line, we were in relatively high spirits despite the wait.


We didn't get inside until after 1pm, and by then, you could almost taste the meats.


Finally, we got to the front of the line, and ordered more than we originally intended because they were not yet out of some things they warned us they would be out of, like smoked turkey and pulled pork. Our 2.5 pound bounty:


I'm appalled at how blurry this photo is, and extend my deepest apologies. But trust me, MMMMMMMM doesn't quite cover it. The fatty brisket (bottom right) was absolutely heavenly - every bite basically melted in your mouth. The chopped beef (top left) was a close second for me, with the smoked turkey (top right) and the pulled pork (center) coming in just behind. I could not even bring myself to put sauce on the meat, as it was so good plain. We made a decent dent in the meat, but each couple had a good amount leftover to take with them on their travels. Simon took ours for lunch on Friday, and said it was excellent even after being reheated.

From the time we got in line until the time we were finished eating, 4 hours had elapsed. Franklin Barbecue isn't something you can do any day, but I am so glad we took the time to do it. No barbecue I have ever had remotely compares, though I look forward to trying more next time we're in the city.


After our meals, we dropped April and Tony off at the airport. Then, we drove to South Congress, a popular shopping area, to do some window shopping and walk off some of the barbecue.


There were dozens of shops and art galleries to check out, and we stopped in quite a few. One of my favorites was Uncommon Objects, a huge store filled with things like this:


They had old chests, drawers full of handkerchiefs, old photographs and postcards, trays, glassware, little figurines... if you would find it at an estate sale, they had it, and they probably had more than one. I don't know what I would do with any of it, but it was neat to browse through all of the stuff they had on display. My mom would have LOVED it.


After spending a couple of hours browsing, we stopped at Gourdough's, another place that came highly recommended, to get a donut.


Of course, we couldn't agree on one, so we each got a different kind and ate three bites before declaring that we'd save the rest for later. They were hot, airy, and delicious donuts covered in various toppings, and they also reheated well.

After our pitiful attempt at eating donuts, we drove to the tiny (but really nice) Austin Bergstrom Airport for the third time in as many days and (eventually) boarded our flight home. We both slept really well that night - a day of eating heavy foods and traveling will wear. you. out. Our Texas trip had its ups and downs, but it was wonderful to see family and check out new cities. Next time, I'd request 100% less rain.

We spent the weekend doing our typical LA things, and it didn't rain once. We went to the Dead Authors Podcast taping on Friday night at UCB, where Paul F. Tompkins (as H.G. Wells) interviewed Mary Holland (as Virginia Woolf).


This was hilarious, and I absolutely recommend that you listen to the podcast when it comes out. Mary Holland is one of my favorite improvisers (I know, it is a very long and constantly growing list) and she really nailed the part. Sometimes, it is clear that the author has done very little research about him or herself, but Mary was very well prepared, and that made her improvised Woolf all the more funny.

Later that night, while Simon watched his online class, I walked across the street to the El Rey to see Shovels & Rope.


They are a bluesy, folksy, countryesque husband and wife duo. Simon is really not into their sound at all, but I enjoy it, and decided to go check them out on my own.


The El Rey was packed, and they sounded fantastic together. I didn't stay til the very end, because my feet were tired from all the standing around we'd been doing for the past couple of days, but I enjoyed over an hour of music.

Saturday, Simon caught up on some schoolwork, we made all of our meals at home (a definite change from a week of meals on the road), and we watched some TV we missed. Not an eventful day, but it was great to take a day to relax. But Sunday was a bit busier. We had to go to the Farmer's Market, and then we stopped at Homestate for (more) breakfast tacos, which sadly do not live up to the Texas versions.

Later that afternoon, we drove to Atwater Village to attend our first Independent Shakespeare Company production of the season, Doctor Faustus. We are season ticket holders, thanks to a promotion that ISC ran over the summer at the Shakespeare in the Park sessions, but we had never been to their indoor space before, and we were both unfamiliar with this play from the 1600's.

 
Thankfully, the direction and actors of the production made the 400+ year old play understandable and relatable. Doctor Faustus is a brilliant man who is constantly seeking more knowledge. He decides to make a deal with the devil - complete omniscience, in exchange for his soul in 24 years. This play was incredibly controversial when it was first produced, and it is easy to understand why. I don't know that we'd seek it out again, but I'm glad we saw it and that ISC did such an excellent job translating it to the stage in 2014.

After the play, we came home to make dinner and relax for awhile before going over to UCB for Shitty Jobs. We've seen this weekly show a few times in the past, but never on a regular basis. It started at 11pm on a Sunday night, which is late for Simon on a work night, and I didn't love all of the cast members. But when I saw the show at the soft opening of UCB Sunset a few weeks ago, the cast members I didn't care for weren't there, and they announced it would be moving to 9:30pm on Sundays - much more doable for us.


We were glad that we decided to go to the show. Ben Schwartz isn't always there, but he was this week, and the cast as a whole was really cohesive & firing on all cylinders. So much fun. We'll definitely be going to more of these in the future.

And that brings us to the present day. Yesterday, we just spent the night catching up on TV we missed, and tonight, Simon has classwork to do. Hopefully, the next entry will be a bit shorter! Talk to you soon.