road of plenty

SUNDAY / 2

20140206-212855.jpgA busy one this Sunday, feels like it has taken me a week to get around to the post just catching up on sleep and washing and life, generally. Still, it was lovely. I took this picture somewhere between cake preparation, a brekky date, my volunteer shift and an afternoon dinner party at ours. It's a gift from my aunt, the youngest of eight on my mother's side and one of my favourite people. She lives not far and I love having her and her family close by. They just got back from a grand old road trip around the States. Much like our road of plenty, they drove from NYC down to New Orleans, hitting all the best parts along the way. I gave them whole lists of cafes and bars and galleries and museums, places I have a real soft spot for and thought they all might like. One of the best being Two Boroughs Larder in Charleston, South Carolina. It was, for me, a meal of a lifetime. Something about how casual and delicious the meal was, how sweet and homely the place felt, how kind and cool the staff were. It was how a place should be. And the O'Connor family took me at my word and shared a beautiful dinner there last month, and then went ahead and brought these beautiful over-seized matches all the way home to me as a treat.

LAST YEAR.

LA, IN FULL

HANDSOMEI'm sitting here in sunny old Sydney (and by 'sunny' I mean a revoltingly sticky 40-odd degrees, which is just over 100 if you're in the fahrenheit world) and working through the last of my pictures from our trip. Trying to file and organise them and work some order into my life and onto my computer. I'm kind of liking it, because it means I get to go back to LA - in my head, anyway. LA was a city I wasn't certain about when we embarked on our road of plenty, a city I didn't expect to like, but it has grown on me considerably. We landed there back in October, spent weekends there between our east coast and west coast drives in November, said goodbye to the year just past there in December, and managed to see a whole lot of wonderful there in January. It's one hell of a town.

It's also one big, sprawling, dirty and busy town, but kind of wonderful between all that. I have known a lot of friends to visit LA and say how awful and ugly it was, how difficult and overwhelming they found it. Which I get. But I'm certain that with a car, a GPS, a little time and some of the gems on the list below most people would fall a bit in love with it too.

These finds are a mess of Jordy's favourites, his brothers' tips, friends' recommendations, blog shout-outs (specifically JoyBriBonnie and Emma) and damn good luck.

Happy LA-ing folks...

EATS

  • We had a pretty big and wonderful night with family and friends and several jugs of sangria at Jordy's local favourite, Cha Cha Cha - super relaxed and homely, with killer jerk chicken and yummy plantains.
  • Heywood is heaven for grilled cheese - all kinds of cheeses grilled up juicy and oozy with a side of thick tomato soup, making for a wonderfully indulgent mid-week lunchdate (not to mention they serve huckleberry soda - I didn't even know that was a thing).
  • We had one of our best dinner's of the trip at Son of a Gun on 3rd St with some dear friends and quite a few cocktails - it's super cute and the quality was amazing. We feasted on mussels, oysters, king prawns and crab rolls very happily.
  • The Gjelina take away bar (GTA) on Abbot Kinney is a real charmer of a spot - we had a late lunch of ginger beer, Brussel's sprout salad and a spicy pork meatball sub thingy in the lovely shade of their courtyard.
  • Jordy and I had our last meal of 2012 at Saito's, a small and unassuming sushi restaurant behind a carpark in Silverlake - I can't tell you how amazing, fresh and delicious it was. The chef is a very sweet and old Japanese man who knows his stuff.
  • Ricky's Fish Tacos are probably the second reason I want to move to LA - it was our very first stop after we landed there in October and it changed my life. I'll never look at a food stand in a parking lot the same way again, or a taco for that matter. Ricky sets a standard that is hard to beat, fresh, full of flavour, spicy and so cheap. This place is a MUST...
  • I loved the Egg Slut food truck, which we sampled downtown near Mateo Street. So simple, so creamy, so eggy, so good.
  • In-N-Out Burger is my one concession to fast food and a delight at that. It feels like 1950s California and tastes like a burger should taste - enough said.

LATTES

  • Proof is a sweet little bakery cafe with about the best croissants I've had outside of Paris, and dreamy and creamy lattes. Intelligentsia at Silverlake and Venice treated me well, as did Sqirl, Lamill and Handsome Coffee Roasters (who, FYI, are lovely and professional and make a brilliant latte but don't serve tea or juice, JUST coffee, which I found rather pretentious - it was mighty good coffee and I do appreciate the idea of doing one thing and one thing well, but a cold juice wouldn't go astray some days).

BUYS

  • I loved the odds and ends at Mohawk General Store in Silverlake - eclectic, warm and full of far too many sweet things I wanted.
  • Reform School was a fun place to buy presents and browse quirky finds - such brilliant displays, too.
  • I bought some lovely things for my little nieces Harriet and Daisy at Tomboy, including a wonderful book by a local artist which just happens to be their new favourite read.
  • I'd been haunting the Clare Vivier website for a long while, so almost burst at their beautiful collection of handmade bags and purses in the flesh.
  • Steven Alan is another online favourite that I loved in real life, especially the floral silk dress I picked up at their Venice store on super-reduced sale.
  • Madewell is all over the country, but a must-mention because I love about everything they do. Bold colours, stripes, spots, prints, and denim make me happy.
  • Sadly I didn't make it to Creatures of Comfort (though I've ordered from then online to great success) or Dream Collective but both are quite wonderful.
  • Poketo is in downtown and another fun place to browse for gifts and interesting things. I fell in love with their ceramics, but (due to the long flight home) just left with some stationery and a paper aeroplane kit, as you do.

SIGHTS

  • We hit LACMA on the last day of the year and while it was busy, we had a ball taking in both the Kubrick and the Caravaggio exhibitions (the former I usually find intense, though appreciate the mastery and scope of his work after this show).
  • The Getty is a whole other world and one of the best things we did in town. Aside from the epic and sprawling collections (we saw 15th century French tapestries alongside Robert Mapplethorpe photographs) I'd happily go for the grounds alone - the view of the city and the coast is spectacular and the gardens are ripe for picnics and wandering.
  • The only true touristy thing I managed was a walk in Griffith Park on new years day - feeling a little tired and delicate from the night before, this was a lovely way to kick off 2013 right. I love how the park is relatively raw - the paths are rough dirt and the wilderness is mostly left to itself. We hiked the 'other' side, away from the Hollywood sign where the evening was quiet and the sunset was golden.

* Image from our afternoon at Handsome Coffee Roasters...

SILVERLAKE

FLORALI think one of the reasons I loved LA so much was Silverlake. I'm biased, as Jordy has a house there and knows the parts worth knowing, but it somehow feels different than the rest of LA. It feels a bit more like a community, a bit more like a small town and a lot more like somewhere I'd like to live. It's all cracked pavement and climbing vines and bright flowers, hidden stairways and hilly streets. And of course, there is the reservoir. We went by just before dusk, watching the light change and the long shadows from the hills fall slowly as families and runners and people with dogs circled the silverly water.

CEMENT

HOME I loved all the Mexican markets and the army supply thrift store, and was happy to line up with all the locals to get my fix of Intelligentsia. I bought birthday presents for old friends at Mohawk General Store and Reform School, and a little something for myself from the always amazing Clare Vivier (a little something I'd had my eye on for a long while, actually).

INTELLIGENTSIA

That LA is always blue skies, even in the depths of December, makes it all the nicer.

MISSED

DAMPI suspected this might happen. In our quest to take in as much of the South as we could, we tired ourselves out and ended up missing a little of the charm. Also, it rained. I'm referring of course to Chattanooga, an old railway town we passed through in Tennessee back in November.

Above is a glimpse of the twenty or so minutes we spent there, and I think you can imagine how well I liked it (though I did manage to get a lovely and warming bowl of Greek lemon and chicken soup with rice). But here I find (through the glory of Pinterest) a very lovely and talented lady over in Chattanooga making wonderful food and singing the praises of this here little town. It was bound to happen I suppose, and we did only have lunch there, but I'd love to have caught a glimpse of a little more.

At any rate, I'm pleased I can head over to Local Milk for recipes, pictures and some lovely Tennessee stories anytime.

CHRISTMAS EVE

MULEMuch as I miss my loved ones, it’s nice spending Christmas with someone else’s family and experiencing all of their traditions. Jordy’s family puts on a European seafood feast every year on Christmas eve. Aside from the spectacular food, I love that the three days prior are spent mostly in the kitchen, shelling prawns, cleaning squid, preparing octopus and shucking oysters – for me joy really is in the making. I spent two hours at the sink on the 23rd, shelling prawns, smiling at the snow in the fields beyond and listening to Christmas carols with Jordy’s mother. It was a pretty lovely way to spend an afternoon. And since I love to bake, I put together a favourite strawberry cake the morning of Christmas eve, with a little help from Jordy and Bing Crosby. By the afternoon, once the cake was baked and the dishes done, Jordy insisted we get outside in the cold and have a little fun. And my goodness, we really did.

Jordy’s family have an enormous property outside of town where you can see for miles. Last summer his brother Jesse planted apple, pear, cherry and peach trees which thankfully look good, their second winter in. There is new ground set aside for a greenhouse and tractor shed, an icy creek and some very frosty dams at one end, and then nothing but fields of prairie grass and thick snow. It’s actually one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.

RIDEAnd one of the best ways to see it, I have to say, is screaming around on the back of a four wheeler at 40 miles an hour. I squealed and laughed and clung on to Jordy’s back as my hands slowly froze up and my thighs raged against the cold wind rushing towards us. It was exhilarating and amazing and probably my new favourite pastime. They also have a thing called a ‘mule’, which is kind of like an off-road golf cart that seats up to five and can go on all terrains. Jesse raced it up hills and along the bank of the river, across patchy fields and through banks of trees, branches hitting the sides and snapping beneath the tough wheels. I was terrified and cold and couldn’t stop smiling.

HOLY SNOW

WOOD SHEDI thought the snow looked amazing from the train, but it is nothing like the depth and bite of walking deep in the woods at our friend’s tree farm, a few days after it has all settled. I was so excited about the whole business, stomping and jumping and squealing with delight the minute we got out of the truck and my boots started crunching the white underfoot. I’d layered up, wearing near everything I own, so was super warm, and was pleased with my new Hunter rainboots, which I thought would keep me dry. And they did, but keep me warm they did not, in spite of three pairs of socks (one being wool). They are rainboots, but not snow boots. We hiked about the property for over an hour, up hills and down (enough to warm my little toes, thankfully), over fallen trees and brambly bushes, all buried under piles of snow. Every footfall was deep and soft.

TREE SHINE

SMILESWe came across a creek, and, much to my dismay, the boys skimmed clear across the frozen parts, not worried that it cracked behind them. I made a firm decision to brave it, and not whine and fret as I might usually, and was across the first part and scrambling up the bank, my gloves wet with snow, before I even knew it. I felt confident and daring and so on the way back, at a slightly wider point twenty minutes later, I had my shining moment. Screaming as I made the first step and heard a gaping crack, I leaped and skimmed and just a few moments later was in the arms of Jordy’s friends, laughing hysterically. Others took a fall, one got rather damp, but I’m told my crossing was the most majestic, and that the ice cracked and broke apart moments after each step like I was in a film. You might say I walked on water. It was terrifying and by far the most fun I’ve had in a very long time.

JORDY* Friends by their wood shed / house - the cosiest and sweetest thing I've seen in a long while. * A little of the winter wonderland I can't stop sighing about * Jordy making a safe crossing

IOWA

SNOW TRAINI’m writing this from the train, somewhere between Illinois and Iowa. Jordy is in the dining cart with his friend Evan and his uncle. They’re playing cards and drinking beer. I’ve been sleeping on and off and I just woke up to snow. Snow as far as I can see outside the window, a blizzard actually, that the driver expects to delay the train considerably. I don’t mind at all though, not a bit. I couldn’t imagine a nicer way to drift through this storm. I’m seeing the mid-west for the first time – it’s a whole other America, all wide streets and quiet towns, neat houses and wheat silos, covered in white as they are. I’ve never known this kind of snow, deep and thick and lasting for days. I’ve only known Adelaide or London snow which falls once every five years and promptly melts, save a few muddy patches here and there. This snow is everywhere, blowing in the wind and resting on trees and cars and houses and schools. I can’t imagine living here, like this, between these white spaces. The ride is only 5 hours or so, and we bought Italian sandwiches from Jordy’s family’s favorite place in Chicago. We had fresh mozzarella and prosciutto and San Pellegrino orange sodas and watched the city drift by, disappearing into white.

I’ll probably fall asleep again soon enough, but for now, the carriage quietly rocking and the sound of the occasional train horn is beautiful. And all this white.

MID-WEST

RAINY CHICAGOChicago is unlike any other city we have visited in the States. It’s actually where Jordy was born, and where he spent summers working while he was at college, so he knows it well. He also has a favourite uncle there, who’s now a favourite of mine. We stayed in his spectacular terrace near Wicker Park, which is full to the brim of more art and artefacts than I’ve ever seen. It is a cornucopia of sparkly, ancient, beautiful finds and I literally explored for a good hour in awe of his collection before I could sit down to join he and Jordy and a glass of wine. From 200 year old Czech glassware to an effigy of Pope Augustus from the 17th century, alongside walls crowded with modern art and bookshelves heaving with antique wares. Three days later I was still finding favourite new corners and items to swoon over. Naturally, he knew all the best vintage stores in the area, and we browsed mid-century furniture and Victorian jewelry out of the cold and wind of the city. The Chicago Art Institute is easily a favourite of the trip, housing a pretty wonderful and varied collection of modern, impressionist and American  art that we immersed ourselves in for a few hours, walking off the traditional Italian lunches Chicago is so famed for.

What I liked about Chicago, what I found endearing and kindly in spite of the rain, was the wide streets and the way the city seems to sprawl, from the great lake back to the tree lined suburban streets. It’s a city that feels like a town, and the green parkways and brick houses look like homes.

Surprisingly, to me anyway, it’s a city I wouldn’t mind living in - if I could just get over the cold, cold days.