Monday, September 28, 2009

140 Days In - Playing at Domesticity

Chris has a mundane temp job for a few weeks. Of course he takes the car, so I am playing OC housewife, except without the money.

I am attempting to make the most of this domestic time by practicing my domestic goddess skills.

Those of you out there who grow vegetables, make delicious brownies or eat toast with homemade jam, please note that this is not a gift that I was born with. My mother, bless her, was always inventive, but not exactly refined with her cooking. My father has one meal: grilled beef burgers with tinned tomatoes.

My first step has been to purchase and pot herbs. What with the wonderful recipes of good-old Jamie including fresh herbs, it seemed a sensible step to have my own outside. It is also the perfect weather for growing herbs here. The sun shines with an intense warmth for most of the day, and the little plants are happier than Larry himself.

Unfortunately, the local insects are also happy. I used to love caterpillars; now they are just a sign of stolen food.

When you are living with relatives, and do not therefore have many of your own belongings around you, strange things can happen. I have become very attached to my herbs. I am suspicious too that this might have something to do with the tick-tock of the body clock. And of course there is also a little pride at stake.

Unhappily, yesterday I had to throw away my original basil plants, and pot a new little darling. Without wanting to apportion blame, I would like to mention that it was not my fault that it went brown from root to tip. Basil is very sensitive and does not like to be watered too much; when I would forget the gentle water for a day, a well-meaning fairy gave it a flood-bath. Then the brown began to appear.

Despite the ever-increasing rot, the little bugs still managed to eat what remained of the leaves. And the damn things are exactly the same colour.

My collection is now safely covered in some organic repellent, that I have been assured caterpillars despise. Time will tell.

The good news is that we have had some delicious food. Italian cuisine is a favourite in this household, and so it now comes adorned with fresh flavours. And my mother-in-law’s bread maker made a revival for some herb-bread.

So far, so good. A little careful measuring and it is amazing what you can achieve. Though I have not yet tried anything too tricky or temperamental; pastry is next on my list because no domestic is truly a goddess until she can make a tasty pie.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

128 Days In - Not so Green and Pleasant

Last I heard, the LA wildfires were 71% under control.

It seems they have been burning continuously for weeks now; one has spread over 157,220 acres. A football pitch is about one and a half acres.

Photos show bleached out landscapes where street upon street of former suburbia have been left as crumbled concrete and simple scraps of black metal. A large percentage of Los Angeles houses are built from wood.

It is another reminder, more brutal than most, that my new home is a domesticated desert.

Soon after our arrival, when in LA for the day, Chris and I decided to picnic in Griffiths Park. Wanting respite from the hazy, polluted, concrete city, the promise of wide green spaces interspersed with historical fountains is always welcome. But LA is not London, and Griffiths Park (the only sizable green space we have found so far) is not Hyde Park; or Green Park; or Hampstead Heath.

The first evidence of this is that we enter the park in our car, on a road; not by foot! We stop at the first flat, green area we come across, but it is hemmed in by steep, dusty cliffs which hamper the feeling of space somewhat. The frequent stopping of white trucks containing single men in tight white T-shirts pushes us to move on.

Not far off there is a larger picnic area, complete with tables and swings and slides. Here, also, is the famous 1920s Carousel, which is beautifully restored in places and left alone in others. The horses are all individual with differing expressions and of different sizes. They come complete with 1920s leather safety buckles, and the music pipes from it’s original organ. Apparently Walt Disney's imaginings for his "Land" came whilst watching his children ride these very gee-gees.

It is wonderful to see history, left exactly as it was.

Here we are not so hemmed in, but there is still no feeling of freedom and green and nature.
On the surrounding mounds, short angular trees barely shade scrappy, sharp bushes. The leaves are as dry and grey as the land is unforgiving. Scenes from Clint Eastwood westerns spring to mind; and it begs the questions of how and why this land was tamed.

I know that it is probably due to geography more than anything, but it makes me chuckle that the East coast of the US was colonised over 200 years before the West coast; and that the West coast was colonised about the same time as Australia was - they obviously had a thing for harsh dessert terrains that year.

As you drive around the relatively balmy Orange County coast, the deception of natural green is given away through the regular eruption of sprinklers. A sprinkled lawn juxtaposed to a non-sprinkled highlights man’s interference here.

Of course, there is currently a water shortage.

Luckily we have not been affected by the wild-fires; but they found their way to steep and rugged terrain that the forest service described as somewhere “not even the mountain goats would venture”. All we saw of it (other than on the news) were hazy skies and bright vermillion sunsets.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

120 Days In - The Family Visits

Chris’ brother, his wife and their two-and-a-half year old daughter came to stay. They have gone now and the house is eerily still; filled with the exhaustion of those have had to say goodbye again.

But for two weeks our lives have been brimming with the vibe of holiday. Wine has flowed, banquets were had, and most importantly the squeals of a tiny voice echoed through the house - as uncle Chris took on his duties of throwing, flying, spinning and even reading to a niece that he was relieved had not forgotten who he is.

And the presence of visitors who were keen to make the most of their short stay pushed us into doing things that we had just been procrastinating around. Chris got out his surfboard; I pottered around Laguna Beach; we went out to take advantage of Martini Mania night; and we had a night party on the beach, around an open fire, eating barbeque food.
This of course all highlighted how we have not been taking advantage of our surroundings. Chris’ parents have a pool and Jacuzzi, and there is a beautiful beach five minutes walk from the house. Before our recent visitation, I had been in the pool once the Jacuzzi maybe six times and the sea twice.

I know, it’s shocking!

My sister mentioned, when I described my new living situation to her, that it sounded like we were living on a holiday resort. A shame that life gets in the way and stops you enjoying it.

But I suppose if we don’t enjoy it, it is not life that is getting in the way, because we are not living life - what exactly is the point in moving across the world if you are just going to shut yourself away?

So we now have a new resolution: to explore somewhere new at least every week.

Let’s hope we can stick to it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

113 Days In - Fast Food Mania

We have now eaten at “In and Out Burger”; not the most appetising of names, but it’s probably intended to indicate convenience rather than taste. I am hoping that is the case.

Feeling nostalgic for her youthful years in America, Chris’ Mom (usually a stickler for the right amount of balanced vegetables with your meal) insisted we try “Carl’s Junior”. So much so that we were treated to lunch there. Chris made the mistake of not ordering the classic Star Burger, and we listened again to how his Mom used to have a Star once a week, as a young worker.

To me the burger tasted of mustard and pickle (much the same as most fast-food burgers), but the fries were chunkier and we got table service. At “In and Out Burger” a multitude of eager teenagers worked in a productive flurry to toast our buns, cook our burgers and chop fresh potatoes into fresh French fries. It really was something to behold.

So, three California fast-burger chains down (I had a cheeky “Taco Bell” the other week), many many more to go.

Like the ignorant Brit girl that I am, feeling I know America because I have see Friends until I know it off by heart, I simply expected there to be a McDonalds or Burger King on every corner, but the choice is so much more plentiful. One presumption that I did get right, is that the American’s like their burgers.

Not being a fast-food fan, I am not that impressed by the fact that Carl’s burgers are freshly broiled (that means “grilled” but sounds far far worse), or that Wendy’s boneless chicken wings are cheaper than those at a bar (as their current ad campaign gloats). But, like going to the Mall, eating at these places is some sort of initiation into American living - so my mother-in-law sees it, and Chris is very happy to reflect her shock at the fact we have not yet been to this place or that if it gets him a burger for lunch.

In the current economic climate, it does make one wonder how these chains survive. “Jack in the Box” has brought back it’s stuff-of-childhood-nightmares mascot (apparently “by popular demand”), and introduced the Mini Angus Meal, where you get four or six mini burgers in a meal; McDonalds (as may or may not have made it across-the-pond) have introduced the Third-Pounder Burger.

In July even the BBC announced that obesity had risen in every state in the US this last year, to over 25% in 31 of the 50 states, over 20% in 39. They attribute much of this to comfort eating through the recession, which can only be aided by the rising sizes of the cheap cheap fast food meals.

But I suppose once in while it can’t hurt.