Thursday, December 31, 2009

Apple Pie

I am so late with this post.

My work laptop, a.k.a. my lifeblood, decided to die a sudden and inexplicable death while I was in Santa Maria for work. Not only did the thing die, it died on the first (of two) days that I was going to be away from LA. I was distressed, needless to say.

After much hullabalooing and ballyhooing and sobbing, I got a new laptop yesterday. Thank goodness for roaming profiles, or I would have been extraordinarily upset.

(And that concludes the nerdy section of this entry.)

Not only did my beastly computer decide to snub its filthy nose at me, but my schedule! It has gotten completely out of control. These things happen, of course- the last show was no exception. It seems to be a little more intense on this film- between the high expectations, the dizzying feat of having to make something worthy of Tim Burton, and the scope of work, it's a lot of do.

We'll get through; we always do.

For now, so I don't have to think too hard, here's the apple pie recipe that I used on Christmas:

This pie is beloved by everyone but my sister! It was a hit last year, the first year I made it. Then I lost (!) the recipe, so this year, I tried a new one, from Paula Deen, since her pumpkin pie recipe has never failed me (well, after I tweak the amount of spices and canned pumpkin, that is).

This apple pie is a great first pie to make, I think, because it's ridiculously easy- even easier than the pumpkin pie, really! It's messier to make and a bit of a pain, what with the lattice crust on top, but the actual assembling of the filling is very quick, with very few ingredients.

Apple Pie
adapted from Paul Deen

3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Dash of salt
4 - 4 1/2 cups peeled, chopped cooking apples (I slice rather than chop)
1 16-ounce jar of applesauce
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons of butter, cut into small pieces
pie crust

The dry ingredients, measured out and waiting to be whisked together. Okay, honestly, I didn't use a whisk. I used a fork. Sometimes, I can't be bothered with a whisk.

Applesauce plus spices and sugar? Delicious! It really is good- I smeared some on my hand (accidentally!) and tasted it. I used unsweetened all-natural applesauce, because this pie does not need any more sugar in it.

Apples- I used one Jonagold, one Yellow Delicious, and two Granny Smiths. Maybe I added a third Granny Smith, I don't remember anymore. I also snack while I slice, so who knows how much of the apple actually makes it into the pie.

I like to peel the apple and then slice them into thin wedges. I don't chop them as suggested in Paula's recipe, because I, being the strange obsessive-compulsive person that I am, like to place each apple slice into the pie crust. That way, I get more apples into each pie. Seriously.

The pie, after I've wedged every single slice of apple into it. I take a little bit of the leftover applesauce mixture and dollop into the empty spaces, but using sliced apples eliminates the big gaping holes in the pie that chopped apples would yield.

I usually cut up the butter as I peel the apples and then put the butter in the fridge. I take out the butter just before I need it. Butter melts so quickly that I don't feel the need to let it come to room temperature. Plus, I like to use the knife once and be done with it.

I didn't make my own pie crust, don't be silly. I bought one pie crust in the tin and then I bought another pie crust that's sold without the tin, rolled up. I slice the non-tinned crust and arrange it in a lattice. As you can see, I rather like the crust that's on top of the pie, so I leave the lattice quite wide.

Sometimes, I sprinkle sugar on the top. Sometimes, I go crazy and brush egg white onto the top crust (leftover from pumpkin pie) and then sprinkle with sugar. This time, I was lazy and left it plain. I cannot figure out how to prevent my lattice from cracking, and I've pretty much decided that I don't care. It's still delicious!

There's always leftover pie crust from the lattice, and there's always leftover applesauce mixture from the filling. I always slice up another apple (Granny Smith this time), smear it around in the leftover applesauce mixture, and then make a little cobbler-type thing. My sister made the leaf shapes- I usually just chop up the crust and press onto the apples.
Yum. This is devoured first, as it's very thin and so it cools very fast.

And this concludes my blog for 2009.

It's been a zany year, but I'm too busy to reflect back on it! After this movie's done, I'll dwell a bit and see where I'm at.

Happy eating!



My work laptop broke (BROKE!) on Monday while I was in Santa Maria, far from my systems support group. And I did not have my own laptop, just my phone.

So pardon the silence, I'll be back soon!


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Burton-y Christmas

Lots of posts today. Busy Saturday!

We received crew gifts today for the holidays. And they couldn't be more amazing:

"The Art of Tim Burton" is a hefty book full of pretty and creepy pictures. It's very Tim Burton, with his silhouette on the cover, wild hair and all (yes, his hair, it really does look like that).

I love it.

Also, if you look at the list of contributors on the publisher's website, scroll down. See that name? No, not Helena Bonham Carter, keep going... no, not Deep Roy, you went too far! See Ken Ralston?

That is a person that I see every single day, the man that is at the top here at Sony Imageworks. He's been in the industry a long time, and most people in visual effects know his name. He's also published in Tim Burton's book!

Makes it seems that much more real ... this movie's coming out in less than three months. I usually don't have these realizations until much closer to the release date, but this show's been different in many, many ways.

Back to work I go.


Overheard ...

At work today...

Me: I can't believe "Avatar" made so much money.
Producer: How much did it take in? Seventy-something?
Me: Seventy-eight, I think.
Producer: That was the first weekend, wasn't it? What about this weekend?
Me (puzzled): This weekend?
Producer: Oh. It's still the weekend.

Working on Saturday = awesome.


Pumpkin Pie

Back at work today. There's nothing like working the day after Christmas, especially when that day happens to be a Saturday and the rest of the world is all snug and warm, with no prospects of leaving their homes. Sigh.

I did say I would post about food, so here it is. Pumpkin pie, a.k.a. the only thing my sister loves that I bake. She really loves pumpkin pie. It's funny and also touching, because I love it when people, particularly family members, enjoy what I make for them.

My cousin also likes pie, but he prefers the apple pie to the pumpkin (recipe coming tomorrow or Monday- let's be realistic, how likely is it that I'll get two recipes up in two days??). He loves apple pie, we've all discovered. Hooray for all-American desserts!

I've been using this pumpkin pie recipe for years. I love it because it has cream cheese in it and it's fairly easy to whip together. It requires a bit of fussiness (I consider separating eggs and having leftovers halves of eggs to be fussy) and the baking time seems to fluctuate rather wildly- sometimes, the required 50 minutes will do it. Other times, I have to let the thing bake for up to an hour and a half! I don't know what's causing the strange variations, but I don't mind. Easy, easy pie.

Pumpkin Pie
adapted from Paula Deen

1 8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened to about room temperature
2 1/4 cups of canned pumpkin, mashed
1 cup sugar (I use a scant cup)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg plus 2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1 cup half-and-half
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Pie dough (this makes enough for 1 deep-dish pie)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

If you make your own dough or buy dough that is sold by itself, without the aluminum pie plate, prepare the crust, pressing into the pie dish. Do what you normally would, freezing the pie crust and then par-baking it- I use frozen pie crust from the store and let it thaw out while I mix together the filling. I don't have time to be making pie crust.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese with a hand mixer. Add the pumpkin and beat until combined. Add the sugar and salt and beat until combined.

In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs, half-and-half, and melted butter (make sure the butter's not hot or it will cook the eggs). Add the egg mixture to the pumpkin mixture and beat until combined.

Add the vanilla, cinnamon, and ginger, then beat one final time.

Pour the filling into the pie crust and bake for 50 minutes, or until the center is set. I place the pie on a cookie sheet and test the center by shaking the entire cookie sheet. If the center jiggles, it's not set. The edges will set faster than the center, so make sure to check the center.

Cool on a wire rack. Cut into pieces and serve alone, or with ice cream, whipped cream, or, my sister's favorite, Cool Whip that's been frozen.

Deliciously pumpkin-y and not too heavy, even with the cream cheese. This pie will be made in my family for many more years to come, I'm sure.

Happy Boxing Day!


Friday, December 25, 2009

Holly, Jolly Christmas!

We always open presents on Christmas Eve in my family. I think my mother used to blame us when we were children- "the kids want their gifts!"- but these days, it's very apparent that it's my mother that doesn't have the patience to wait until Christmas day.

Last night, we had a larger family than usual, what with my cousin on town and all. Because of my work schedule lately, my sister did the huge majority of shopping, while I barely managed to get her gifts by yesterday (online shopping is my new best friend).

Lots of photos of family shenanigans follow (숙모, 오빠 잘 있어요!):

Our teeny tree with a massive amount of presents under it. We go a bit overboard- these are gifts for five people. (Yes, that's Hello Kitty wrapping paper.)

Mom in a Snuggie (!) that I received from a visual effects company. I had my dad wearing it earlier, but my mom got cold and stole it.

Dad is pondering one of his gifts while my mom and cousin are watching my sister be the gift-distributing elf.

Mom and cousin. Aren't they so cute?? My cousin received the scarf, which is a practical gift, as he's going to the East coast on January 1 for a couple weeks (to visit schools).

Hai got Dad the "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" DVD and he got Mom an airtight Oxo container. Hi, Hai!

The sister got Mom and me sheep ornaments. The one on the left is a boy, with a gray face and little gray feet, and the one on the right is a girl, with a pink face, feet, and little bow. Very cute on the tree.

Mom is molesting my gift, a full-sized boy sheep, while the cousin looks on in amusement. The Snuggie has made its way down in the world, becoming a blanket.

My aunt, this cousin's mother, bought us all silly gifts, including this sheep-shaped hat for my sister. Everyone's happy with torn wrapping paper and balled-up tissue paper strewn all over the room.

Dad's opening his big present, wrapped in a plethora of Hello Kitty paper. What could this enormous box be??

Why, that logo looks quite familiar....

It's a guitar! Dad looks shocked.

He serenades us with hits from the 60's and 70's. My dad's still got it.

Then he serenades us while wearing the sheep hat. If only I had thought to get the Snuggie on him, as well! Wasted opportunity to torture my father.

The hat. It's very cute.

Christmas is almost over! Won't happen again for another whole year. Sigh.

Post about Christmas food coming tomorrow. Once I'm over my food coma...


Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

I've just finished baking one apple and one pumpkin pie (recipes and photos coming soon). We opened the presents, a tradition stemming from my mother's complete impatience in waiting to see what she got, my cousin was surprised and delighted by our family's zany Christmas goodness, and now I'm sitting in bed, winding down from a day of work, my mom's delicious Korean seafood stew, and unwrapping tons of gifts.

I feel like it's the first time I've really sat and just breathed in weeks. Though I wasn't quite prepared for Christmas, I'm glad that it's here. I'll be working on Saturday, but at least for Christmas, I can stay completely away from my computer and my e-mail and work in general.

Lots of photos to come, I'm sure. Meanwhile, some images of the house, inside and out:

Decor of the window in the living room. I know, Venetian blinds are hideous, but they're very functional. I love the windows all around with the house when they have their Christmas clothes on.

The tree. I forgot (oops!) who gave me back in the day, but I've had that heavy red glass ornament for years. I love it. Most of the ornaments on our tree are from different people and have a story.

My sister, the Hello Kitty fiend, received these ornaments during past Christmases. They're too heavy for the tree, even our fake tree with sturdy metal branches, so they're decorations to pretty up the TV in the living room.

More gifts from people. I love the idea of this Winnie the Pooh stocking holder for all those people that don't have fireplaces. I didn't have a fireplace for years but did have a stocking, this would have been very useful then.

My parents bought these awesome LED lights for their house this year. The old lights were getting a bit worn, the color was rubbing off, and they weren't energy efficient. These are brighter and much more ... LED-looking, but they're very energy efficient and work well.

At dusk, with the lights on. They're brighter in real life than they are in pictures.

My dad's insane orange Suburban Blazer (my dad came and said to me today, "It's a K5 Blazer, not a Suburban!" Oops!) and the house during sunset. I love the rosy cast over this photo, which I did not add in with Photoshop or anything.

I can't wait for tomorrow and for Christmas lunch! It will pretty much be like Thanksgiving, just with a few swap-outs.

Merry Christmas to all!


Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Gift of the Magi, by O. Henry

One of my favorite short stories of all time is by O. Henry, or William Sydney Porter. My father was an English major in college, and he had an old, yellowed book of O. Henry's short stories. I believe I picked it up and read it for the first time in sixth grade, then again in junior high school. And then I kept re-reading it, because the stories are so good, so unbelievably succinct but poignant.

For the past couple weeks, I have desperately tried to start reading "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" for William's quasi-book club. It has not worked at all. I've been so consumed with work lately that I don't even have time to check out my favorite websites, something that doesn't even take very long. Taking time to change into pajamas feels wasteful- that's how immersed into work I have become.

I'm too tired to do much, and I'm in disbelief and shock that tomorrow is Christmas Eve (technically, it's now Christmas Eve- it's past midnight already!). I'm certainly not ready for Christmas. We're doing a secret Santa gift exchange at work tomorrow, and my level of desperation is such that all I did was buy $25 worth of See's Candy. Literally.

This evening, driving home from work, NPR suddenly aired a piece that gave me pause and forced me to look up from my breakneck pace. It was a woman with a lovely, mellow, slightly creaky voice reading "The Gift of the Magi."

I almost broke down in tears. What a fine kettle of fish that would have been- me, sitting in my car on Venice Boulevard, almost midnight, crying because of a short story. That's my mental state right now, though, and honesty is good, I hear. Something about bottling up emotion leading to something bad?

I stayed in my car for the brief (I think it was only fifteen minutes) broadcast, driving around the city, seeing what changes have taken place in my neighborhood that I have been too busy to notice. I haven't read the O. Henry short stories in a few years, and they all came rushing back to me. Not just "The Gift of the Magi," but also "The Last Leaf," which always made me cry, "The Cop and the Anthem," which always made me laugh, and "A Retrieved Reformation," which always made me think.

"The Gift of the Magi" is wonderful and perfect for Christmas, of course, but also great for those times when we forget how much we have. We, as human beings, tend to forget all that we have, all that we take for granted, and dwell on what we can't get, no matter how much we try. Though the characters in "Magi" are certainly not disadvantaged to the point of poverty or absolutely uninhabitable lives, they are challenged in a very real way- financially.

I sometimes forget what life was like just a few short years ago, when I lived paycheck-to-paycheck and worried constantly about money. It's been such a brief time since I have not worried about how I would pay my bills, but already, my fickle brain has forgotten what that worry felt like.

This story brought all my initial "adult" hardships rushing back to me and made me truly realize- Christmas is here.

The Gift of the Magi
O. Henry

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one's cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty- seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.

While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad.

In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name "Mr. James Dillingham Young."

The "Dillingham" had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, though, they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called "Jim" and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.

Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn't go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling--something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.

There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a pier-glass in an $8 flat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art.

Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.

Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim's gold watch that had been his father's and his grandfather's. The other was Della's hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty's jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.

So now Della's beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.

On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.

Where she stopped the sign read: "Mne. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds." One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the "Sofronie."

"Will you buy my hair?" asked Della.

"I buy hair," said Madame. "Take yer hat off and let's have a sight at the looks of it."

Down rippled the brown cascade.

"Twenty dollars," said Madame, lifting the mass with a practised hand.

"Give it to me quick," said Della.

Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim's present.

She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation--as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim's. It was like him. Quietness and value--the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87 cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.

When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends--a mammoth task.

Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.

"If Jim doesn't kill me," she said to herself, "before he takes a second look at me, he'll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do--oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty- seven cents?"

At 7 o'clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.

Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit for saying little silent prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: "Please God, make him think I am still pretty."

The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two--and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.

Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.

Della wriggled off the table and went for him.

"Jim, darling," she cried, "don't look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn't have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It'll grow out again--you won't mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say `Merry Christmas!' Jim, and let's be happy. You don't know what a nice-- what a beautiful, nice gift I've got for you."

"You've cut off your hair?" asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor.

"Cut it off and sold it," said Della. "Don't you like me just as well, anyhow? I'm me without my hair, ain't I?"

Jim looked about the room curiously.

"You say your hair is gone?" he said, with an air almost of idiocy.

"You needn't look for it," said Della. "It's sold, I tell you--sold and gone, too. It's Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered," she went on with sudden serious sweetness, "but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?"

Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year--what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.

Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.

"Don't make any mistake, Dell," he said, "about me. I don't think there's anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you'll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first."

White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.

For there lay The Combs--the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jewelled rims--just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.

But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: "My hair grows so fast, Jim!"

And them Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, "Oh, oh!"

Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.

"Isn't it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You'll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it."

Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.

"Dell," said he, "let's put our Christmas presents away and keep 'em a while. They're too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on."

The magi, as you know, were wise men--wonderfully wise men--who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.


Monday, December 21, 2009


View from my hotel room. Santa Maria is so lovely. All that asphalt.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Darya Restaurant

My cousin, the elder son (of two) of my eldest uncle, flew into town from Korea this past Monday. I didn't get to see him until last night, when my cousin, sister, sister's friend, and I all gathered in West L.A. for dinner.

This cousin is the only cousin out of my 22 first cousins (one of whom died as a child, so really 21) that is older than me (he's a year older), so I really love him. He takes the Korean pressure to get married and have babies right off me, at least on my mother's side of the family. I'm the oldest in my generation on my father's side of the family, so no reprieve from the nagging there. Sigh.

I haven't seen my cousin in fifteen (!) years, and I was a bit nervous about meeting him, a virtual stranger. But it wasn't awkward at all. We fell into a rapid-speed conversation right away and I realized that though we are older, we're still the same people. I am so glad he's here.

(Don't judge us by this photo, I don't have a lick of makeup on and we all just ate an enormous meal of Persian / Iranian goodness. Also, he's not that short- he's stooping to try to be at the same height as my sister and me.)

Since the cousin is so very new to America (he came in 1994, I think?), we decided to broaden his horizons. We decided, adventurously, to take him to eat Persian food, which he'd never had before. Ever. In his whole life. My sister is really the one that goes adventurous, I tend to stick with what's close, so she picked the restaurant.

Darya Restaurant
12130 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025

Telephone: 310.442.9000

Call for hours.

There was soft mood lighting, which helped the strange ornamental plaster pieces stuck to the ceiling, walls, and random columns. There was also, and this was my favorite part, a gently rotund man with two electric keyboards that serenaded us. He was awesome, curly mullet (!) and all. He sang everything from "Just The Way You Look Tonight" to some Beatles all the way to what I would assume were traditional Persian or Iranian songs. And he also played and sang "Happy Birthday" for some woman that shrieked when the waiters emerged from the kitchen with a cake, ablaze with a large candle.

Such a kitschy place, this one! Their ... fresco? ... on the wall was one of the highlights, for sure.

(please excuse the crap iPhone photo)

Hai and I work next door to each other (literally), so he drove me there. This is considered "saving gas" in L.A., that we only had two cars among four people. My sister and my cousin got to Darya before we did, and my sister, the most impatient hungry person I've ever met in my life, decided to go ahead and order everything before we arrived. It was actually fun to not know what was coming and just sit down and start eating.

We started with dolemeh (is the plural dolemehs?), which are ground beef, rice, tarragon, split peas, green onions, basil, parsley, and other herbs wrapped and cooked in grape leaves. They are vinegary and delicious, especially good when smeared with yogurt sauce and wrapped in thin, flaky lavash. I think lavash is a type of naan (or nan), but much thinner and less yeasty, almost crisp.

The main dishes came out all together, family style. I loved our waiter, who came over after the dolemehs disappeared and started clearing the middle of the table, pushing our plates closer to the edges to make room for the enormous square platters that emerged, piled high with deliciousness.

We had baghali polo, Basmati rice mixed with dill and lima beans, giving the rice a green tinge. The beans were soft and wrinkly, very yielding and almost creamy. Next to the baghali polo was a pile of regular Basmati rice. I like mixing them so that the rice-to-lima-bean ratio is altered a bit.

We got a platter full of meat. Literally, platter o' meat. The unanimous favorite was the chicken koobideh, ground chicken that's been seasoned and charbroiled on skewers. It's really good and the only way that ground chicken is delicious and not throat-parchingly dry. The koobideh at Darya was just a tiny bit dry, but saved by the yogurt sauce and the seasoning.

There was also shish kabobs, which are mandatory because they're steak and very recognizable for someone who's never eaten Persian food before in his life. He needed something he felt comfortable with, after all. It was fine. Not seasoned or anything, and cooked to a passably good medium-rare. It wasn't the best cut of meat, so it was a bit chewy- again, saved by the yogurt sauce.

The last of the meat was lamb chops- very small chops that were marinated and charbroiled. I don't like lamb but I always try it, because I feel like maybe I'll like it someday. Nope, still don't like it. But the marinade was good, at least. I felt that it was just slightly undercooked- pink lamb weirds me out, for some reason.

Their charbroiled tomatoes, onions, and green bell peppers were charred in black stripes but still raw in the middle, perfectly smoky and so simple but so wonderful alongside the assortment of meat-a-palooza.

We ate really shockingly quickly, which explains the lack of food photos. It was about 8:30 or so by the time we ate, and we were all starved. Everything, we concurred at the end of the main course, was yummy.

Then came dessert, where things went slightly awry. We all shared, which was good, because we didn't finish what we ordered.

There was pistachio Persian ice cream, which had more of a texture of a strange sorbet- it seemed icy rather than creamy. The only thing that redeemed the ice cream was the fact that it had large chunks of pistachio in it. It tasted like soapy coconut more than anything else. Weird.

Since bakhlava is traditional, we ordered one. It was teeny-tiny and overly sweet and overly gingery. I couldn't taste the pistachios or almonds or walnuts at all, just the overwhelming taste of honey and maybe corn syrup. Something was off. Their pastry chef, perhaps?

My sister got a Turkish coffee, and that was good, as any strong drink full of caffeine is. The cup and saucer were adorable, and I wish that I had had the wherewithal to snap a photo- even a crappy iPhone photo. Regrettably, I was too full of koobideh to do anything but sigh by that point.

It was fun, the restaurant was fun, the conversation was great (a Korean man and a Vietnamese man make for funny dinner companions), and it was more amazing than I could say to see my cousin again (though I want to chop off his hair, which is longer than mine).

We went to my house at the end of the night. In the photo, my cousin and my sister are on the porch swing (porch rocker, really) that's on the front porch- they ran up the brick path and plopped down. Aren't they cute? None of us look alike, really, but that's okay. We all talk and laugh and eat alike, and that's what's important.

The sister, the cousin, and I are meeting up for a cousinly dinner tonight. We don't know where we're going yet, but I'm sure there will be a post about it soon.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Comfort and Joy

Why, yes, I did title this post "Comfort and Joy." Because kale, like nothing else, brings me great comfort. I've been prattling on and on about kale lately. I vaguely recall a time in my life when I did not know what kale was ... but I don't know what I would be eating now if not kale.

Oddly, despite all the fancy-schmancy designer grocery stores near me (*ahem* Whole Foods *ahem*), I cannot find dinosaur kale (lacinato kale). I'm sure I could find it at the Culver City Farmer's Market, which is about a block and a half away from my work, but the market shuts down at 7:00. 7:00, internet, is when I am just beginning to see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel that is my day. So there's no way I can frequent the ol' farmer's market, which means that it's all curly kale all the time for me.

Not a bad thing, of course. I love curly kale. It's lovely and delicious and soothing and earthy and somehow just plain good in the most simple, bare-bones way possible.

My go-to winter dinner when I'm cold and tired and need a distraction is cooked kale. Sometimes I like it in a ratatouille-type dish, with eggplant and bell pepper and onions, a tin of diced tomatoes, and maybe some cheeeese. Other times, I like it very quickly. That involves nothing more than a few vegetables, a tiny sip of oil, and a pan.

Quick Vegetable Braise

1 bunch kale
1/2 onion
1/8 head of cabbage
1 small zucchini
oil, about 1 tablespoon (I used vegetable)

I prep all the vegetables first, before heating up the pan, because kale can be a bit time-consuming to clean and chop. I give the entire bunch a quick rinse, then chop out the stem and coarsely run my knife through the leaves. In ratatouille-type stews, I chop up the stems and use them, cooking them far longer than I cook the leaves. After I get the kale chopped up, I wash it. Much easier to chop and wash than to try to wash big, curly leaves of kale thoroughly.

I sliced the cabbage, onion, and zucchini into roughly the same lengths, the zucchini staying thicker than the cabbage or onion. I usually start heating about a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a pan while I'm chopping up the easy-to-clean vegetables, just after the kale's been washed. I use vegetable oil because I can really taste olive oil, and I don't like olives. For me, olive oil is fine to use for foods that will overpower the olive-y essence of the oil. In this particular dish, I can taste the olives too much and I don't like it.

Onions first, of course. I love softened onions, expound their virtues, and don't like onions in any other way (perhaps maybe in onion rings). I salt them (with garlic salt) as soon as they're in the pan so that their juices give and they start turning limp and translucent.

Zucchini go in when the onions are about halfway cooked (so, halfway to mushiness galore). A little Lawry's seasoning salt and a little sauteing fun. The cabbage goes in shortly after the zucchini. When things are getting a touch softer, just a few minutes later, I add a little bit of water.

Not much- it doesn't even come halfway up the side of a zucchini matchstick. Just a little bit, because kale needs the moisture. Once the water's a bit hot, a minute or two later, I add the kale.

Delicious. I just let it cook and cook and cook, stirring every now and then, until the kale has relaxed into slippy little tendrils of green goodness. Lovely and good and healthy, too! I love kale.

... Wait. Have I mentioned that I love kale??

p.s. This weekend and the beginning of next week are going to be a zoo. I have a movie to work on, and it comes out in less than three months (!). Plus, next Friday is Christmas (!!!!!!!) and I'm not ready.


Thursday, December 17, 2009


I'm exhausted. Really, I am. It's all my fault, of course, because I don't sleep when I have the opportunity to and I generally stay up until all hours of the night, fretting about work. It's what I do, and it's part of what makes me good at my job.

The trip to Santa Maria for work wasn't necessarily tiring because of the travel, it was tiring because being in a new place, surrounded by new people, having to get used to a new building and new methods? That's tiring. I was on edge and wired all of Monday and Tuesday and got by on adrenaline until about midday yesterday, when I just sort of collapsed into a heap in the screening room and let my brain shut down for a much-needed fifteen minute break.

It says a lot about how focused I was on work that the only photo I took of the hotel was of my granola.

And this with my phone, not even with a proper camera. I remembered thinking while I was having it that I should take a picture for when I blog about the recipe to make this granola, which I find is great for breakfast with a cup of low or nonfat plain yogurt. I really like Greek-style plain yogurt, and I don't like sweetened yogurts at all, so I need a little something to boost up my yogurt when I eat it. This granola is great- not too sweet (not very sweet at all, really), crisp, flavorful, and delicious.

adapted from Nigella Lawson's granola in "Feast"

5 cups rolled oats
1 cup sesame seeds (I used black sesame seeds, of course you can use white)
1/2 walnut halves
1/2 cup pecan halves
1 1/3 cups slivered, blanched almonds
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 cup applesauce, unsweetened
1/2 cup maple syrup (I used grade B)
1 tablespoon canola oil (or vegetable oil)

Mini chocolate chips
Dried cranberries

Very simple, this one:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Stir the wet ingredients together in a bowl, preferably with a beloved spoon from childhood memories.

Measure out all the dry ingredients and dump into a large mixing bowl. Mix them all up so that the cinnamon and ginger are dispersed.

Combine wet ingredients with dry ingredients, stirring with a rubber spatula to coat everything as well as you can. Divide the ingredients in half, pressing onto two rimmed baking sheets, spreading out the mix evenly.

Bake in the oven for a total of 40 - 50 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. I stir the granola and swap out the cookie sheets, so that what was on the top rack is now on the bottom and vice versa. I also turn the racks, so the left side is now on the right side. I'm very weird about that kind of thing.

Take the granola out and let cool. Contemplate what to add to the granola as you wait. I added half a cup of mini semi-sweet chocolate chips to the jar that I knew that I would put half the granola in.

I dumped the chocolate chips onto the cooled granola and mixed around, then put the mixture into my jar.

The other half of the granola, on the other baking sheet, was poured into a freezer bag, plain. I like some plain, some flavored. I've been eating the plain granola with yogurt and prunes.

But the morning after I made the granola, I had the plain one with a cup of Fage yogurt. It was delicious.

A word of warning about this, though- it really is very, very unsweetened. The original recipe calls for honey and brown sugar, I believe, whereas I just put in a very insignificant amount of maple syrup. I don't like very sweet food for breakfast, never have, so I'm never going to go full-sugar on my granola. Maybe add half a cup of brown sugar to the above recipe to appease the inner sugar-craving child?

Time to get some more work done before I go to sleep, too exhausted to think coherently (much less type out recipes!).