When Junk Food Doesn’t Count

A friend of mine has a grandmother who keeps kosher except when on vacation.

I’m not sure what the logic is in that. Is holiness so much higher away from home that non-kosher food is automatically ok? Or can supernatural beings only see you when you’re at home?

Whatever it is, I feel an affinity for her, because that’s exactly the same kind of logic I use when on road trips.

Have you noticed that whenever you stop at a gas station, the shops always have junk food that you never see anywhere else? While I haven’t seen “Bugles” at any grocery store near me for at least ten years; they’re at every gas station from LA to SF.

And I didn’t even know there were “TGIF” branded snack chips. But there are, and some are bacon flavored!

I don’t usually buy this stuff since losing the metabolism of a teenager (let me know if you guys find it, okay?) But put me on a three plus hour car ride, and it’s bring on the “Bugles”!

Perhaps it’s the weird, “in a bubble” feeling of being in a car by yourself for a long time. How many times have you seen someone swear, pick their nose, or otherwise behave in a manner that is inconsistent with how they would behave, even in their own home? How many times has that person been you?

So, it is in the same spirit of “cussing in the car doesn’t count” that “eating crap food in the car doesn’t count” has evolved.

I have not yet let myself descend to “Slim Jims” but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been tempted.

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OMG! Pie!

I have no desire to get into the hugely controversial pie vs. cake debate. For one, why must there be a debate? Forcing people to choose is just cruelty, and one of the many casualties in this current climate of polarization!

Anyway, pie and cake. Both good, and  the fact that I recently visited two places that focus on pie, is not indicative of me taking a side on this issue. #foodpolitician

The first place I visited Atticus Creamery and Pies, located in West L.A..

So the name instantly makes me think of “To Kill a Mockingbird”, but as far as I can tell, there is no egregious miscarriage of justice requiring the services of a good, noble man, taking a doomed stand against the racism emblematic of his time.

The second part of the name is accurate and not mysterious; you can get ice cream and pie. There are clever, somewhat hipster foodie combinations like lemon lavender and salted caramel popcorn.  But there are also plenty of options for people who complain “What’s wrong with just chocolate and banana cream!?!”

The pies themselves are more like tarts; small, single crust confections, with cold fillings; think coconut cream rather than apple pies. Atticus offers free samples of both their pie and ice cream options, which is a really nice touch.

It’s located across from the Landmark theater, so it’s easy to drop by before or after a movie. However, seating is limited and not really designed for socializing, so don’t plan on hanging out with there. I did smuggle some of my pie into the theater with me though.

For those whose pie in the sky dreams run more towards meat pies (cue: Sweeney Todd music), Aussie Pie Kitchen in Santa Monica is the place for you.

Now, I knew I was predisposed to liking this place because I have more of a salty than sweet tooth, and I was not disappointed. In addition to flakey, buttery crusts surrounding chicken, beef, and lamb fillings (with a vegetarian one for you joyless souls out there) they also offer what are essentially sausage rolls, but with croissant pastry, bacon, and cheese!  SWOON! I am coming back for you, bacon roll!

You can order said pies plain, or with any combination of mashed potatoes, minted peas, or creamy thyme gravy. For those who are unsure about the sides, the staff happily makes up little sample cups. I went for all of it, and it was delicious. The coffee was good too.

The pies are solidly into meal time, rather than snack time, territory, especially with the sides. Seating indoors is limited, but comfortable, and if you swing by slightly before or after lunch, it’s not a problem to snag a seat.

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Tea at the Getty Villa

I’m more of a tea person than a coffee person. I especially love high tea.

Now before you start imagining me as some “Downton Abby” snob, let me explain.

I have made some of my best friends over an invitation for high tea. Nothing is a better antidote to a disproportionately testosterone laden job (most of us work in tech) than tiny sandwiches, delicate pastries, all served on pretty porcelain plates.

After living years in San Francisco, I had gathered a nice little list of places for all moods. It’s been more difficult to find similar places in L.A., simply because everything is more spread out here.

But one recent discovery is the Getty Villa, which has high tea on Thursdays and Saturdays. It’s served upstairs from the cafe, in a room that is frankly, a little sterile (the downstairs patio for the cafe is much more idyllic). But the food is wonderful, and the kitchen very accommodating in that L.A. way that I find both comical and endearing. Gluten free? No problem! Pescatarian? Of course!

Even if you have no interest in tea, the Getty Villa is worth a visit. The locale is amazing, and it’s a fun contrast to its sister museum, the Getty Center. The Center is like a futuristic fortress for a vaguely European millionaire/supervillian; all clean modern lines and epic vistas. It was used as the setting for the Federation in the last “Star Trek” movie!

But the Villa is like an Alma Tadema or Maxfield Parrish painting; a “cosy” roman villa, complete with gardens and fountains. All that’s needed are flowers for your hair. As for its bit of Hollywood history, it was used for scenes in Elizabeth Taylor’s “Cleopatra”.

If you go, be sure to call and make reservations, even if you’re just visiting the museum. There’s no entrance fee, but it’s fifteen dollars for the parking and spaces are limited.

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I caught a little bug…and ate it?

There’s a restaurant in Santa Monica that serves bugs.

I don’t mean that families of cockroaches hang out, ordering drinks. I mean that bugs are on the menu.

Specifically, scorpions, crickets, ants, and pupae.

I know.

Gaaaaahhhhhh.

Recently, NPR did a story about “cricket flour” which is exactly what it sounds like: flour made from crickets. The creators of the product extol its virtues: high in protein, low cost, and gluten free! Although I guess not vegan or vegetarian friendly, since it’s made from crickets. You can even buy it on Amazon.

I’m hippie enough to understand, appreciate, and even respect all these pro “eat bugs” arguments. I also understand that the “ick’ factor of foods are largely cultural, and that there is nothing more inherently icky about eating crickets than say, eating shrimp, which are pretty much the insects of the sea.

But knowing something logically fares poorly when pitted again decades of cultural conditioning. I did not grow up eating bugs, so insects viscerally read to me as unsanitary. A few years ago, I had found a cockroach in my dish at a Thai restaurant, and my response had not been:

“If only they had put EXTRA cockroach!”

However, if you’re the kind of person who does have that response when finding an unexpected, exotic protein on your plate, then I highly recommend going to Typhoon in Santa Monica, CA.

My more adventurous friend ordered a plate of the fried crickets and I was impressed when he actually FINISHED it. He described the flavor as slightly grassy and reminiscent of something else, but he couldn’t pinpoint what.

The apocalypse, perhaps? I don’t know. I didn’t have the guts to try. Although I did like, in true gourmet fashion, the menu lists the provenance of the insects. Were I a connoisseur, I would have been able to debate the merits of Taiwanese crickets over say, those from Vietnam.

Instead my reaction was a pretty solid…ewwwww. Ew ew ew ew ew!

Typhoon is located at the Santa Monica airport and does serve a lot of other dishes. So even if you’re not inclined to eat bugs, you can order a drink, some non creepy crawlers, and watch the planes fly in, feeling rather continental.

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The Bone Collector, or the Missing Penises of Rome

After the previous post’s more philosophical ruminations on Rome, I’m going to bring it down a bit.

Let’s talk about penises!

See, in Rome, there are penises everywhere.

But a lot of them are missing.

On statues I mean.

It’s possible that they might be missing on the living people too, but I suspect that’s not the case. Otherwise the men would have been looking a lot more distressed than they did, and they seemed no more unhappy than the men in other cities I’ve visited.

Anyway, I found it strange that in a country that proudly owns and displays countless, beautiful, priceless works of sculpture showcasing the human form, that almost every single male one seemed…inadequate.

Turns out, the missing penii has a lot to do with a bout of religious prudery by Pope Pius IX during the turn of the 19th century. So, during that time, many priceless works of art were essentially vandalized, as the “offending” bits were covered with plaster fig leaves or lopped off. A mass-tracation, as it were.

However, I prefer to imagine that throughout the ages of the civilized Western world, there was a penis thief. A criminal with a penchant for geological genitalia, who stole sculptural dongs from ancient masters and Renaissance greats such as Michelangelo and Bernini, criminally adding to his collection through the centuries.

This collection, an awkward, yet undoubtedly priceless collection of dildos, passed on, generation to occasionally dismayed generation.

“Son, I have something important to show you. It’s our family legacy.”

[A father takes his son to the vault where each penis, some made of marble, others of granite, most flaccid, are stored and labeled.” Zeus” says one. “St. John” says another.]

“You seem very quiet, son.”

While no one went around replacing the missing appendages, it seems Rome has since gotten over its discomfort with at least hinting that “there’s something there”, if this mannequin at the airport is any indication.

He has no head, no arms, or legs…but hey, at least he’s carrying heat!

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On Being Spoilt for Time in Rome

In California, it’s a big deal if a place has been around for thirty years. We look at each other and say, “oh, it’s so charmingly old school! It’s been here since the 80s!”

And heavens, if it’s been around since the 1930s, it’s an institution! Did you know that this court yard was used to film a scene in “Casablanca?”

The east coast gets to be a little snobbier, scoffing at us and showing us places that Gilded Age Barons used to frequent, or George Washington once slept.

But let’s face it, no U.S. city has anything on Rome, a city with thousands of years of civilization and opulence under its belt. This is the civilization that set a standard for grandiosity whose aesthetic is still followed today. It’s style continues to be loved by those who wish to show wealth and power; a visual language that can be see not just in the carefully maintained Renaissance palaces and churches of Rome, but whose origins date back to the days of the ancient empire. Need to make something look expensive? Use columns, gilding, marble floors, statues, frescoes, wood paneling, elaborate lighting fixtures, and stained glass.

You know who also had all that? Julius Caesar.

Here in the new world, I like to call this “The Cheesecake Factory School of Design”, since every “Cheesecake Factory” I’ve been to, uses this aesthetic. I suppose it’s so that people can feel like they’re in for a more luxurious experience than say, a “Chili’s” or a “Chevy’s”, onion rings are more luxurious when experienced surrounded by wood paneling and marble floors.

Time collapses histories, and a human lifetime is but a blink. When in Rome, this sense of the fleeting nature of time is constantly and subtly reinforced. A building that was around “only” two hundred years” seems recent. Renaissance works, so vibrantly and casually displayed in a public fountain without security, feel as if they were created only a generation before, instead of the sixteenth century.

And ancient ruins, with their crumbling, yet easily discernible foundations and still standing columns, perhaps their time was only the more recent 1800s, the time of great grandfathers, instead of two thousand years ago.

In San Francisco, the remains of the Sutro Baths are in far worse shape than the Colosseum, and the baths were standing and functional during the last turn of the century.

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Without the aid of carbon dating, or intimate knowledge of building materials of each era, which one seems older? Wouldn’t they seem contemporary to each another? While I tend not to like the modern aesthetic of opulence, finding it insincere in its mimicry of the old world, I’m realizing that the old world itself, mimicked the ancient one, using many of the same markers.

If an alien race came to earth, thousands of years from now, they will come across artifacts from an old “Cheesecake Factory” or perhaps one of those shopping malls that try to mimic old Roman squares, such as the Glendale Galleria, or the Grove LA.

And from their vantage point, the Renaissance and our present won’t be that distant. So they might posit that the Romans made their way across the ocean and settled in LA, deciding to create a variant of what existed.

Because it’s the same idea, right? Create an area of shops and habitation, surrounding a statue or some work of art. And people will come, stroll, purchase some items, perhaps see some entertainment, eat, and go home. It’s odd and comforting to think that we haven’t changed all that much as a species.

Except for that watching people get killed as a sport thing.

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Part 2: Why you should rewatch “Gladiator” instead of watching the new Transformers movie. (Or, I think Michael Bay is hate-f**king us)

Now that I’ve made my impassioned plea that you rewatch a good, old movie instead of a new bad one, it’s only fair that I write a critique of the movie I’m asking you not to see.

Reread Part I , but add “the opposite of this” for all the positive parts.

In “Transformers 4”, there are no emotional moments that are earned, no lowest common denominator left unpandered to, no cliché remade to feel fresh.

No, the clichés in this movie feel old, moldy, and ridden with salmonella.

Is that slow moving American flag shot a hint about the nation in decline? Who cares?!? [EXPLOSIONS! BWWAAAAAMP!!]

Familial love, also a theme in “Gladiator”, is demonstrated by yelling variations of “You’re my baby and I WILL PROTECT YOU!” The whole endeavor is as subtle as a truck ad, which for as far as I could tell, was the only thing not being promoted in this movie. (But nice job on the Budweiser and Victoria Secrets product placements! Those were not obtrusive at all!)

While it would be easy to make fun of the actors in a movie like this, I don’t think that it would be fair. What is the point of trying to act in a spectacle like this? Everything is loud in this movie. So, so, so loud. The music, the effects. Stanley Tucci seemed completely aware of this, scaling up his acting to match, which is why he is the most fun to watch. Interestingly enough, he hammed up his expressions to the point that he would have been perfectly legible in a silent movie.

All this leads to the inevitable conclusion that Michael Bay actually hates his audience. Stay with me on this bit of theorizing. His time in Hollywood could not have possibly raised his opinion of humanity. So he must be deliberately making movies as terrible as they can be to validate his hatred for the public. And his audience never falls to disappoint him by consistently showing up.

He’s like that broke guy who complains that all women are golddiggers. But when he becomes rich, only targets the golddiggers. So every time they say “yes” to his proposition, he hates them because they prove to him that he was right about their shallowness, but he also proves that the only worthwhile thing about him is his money.

Moreover, now he’s known as the “guy who only dates golddiggers” so even if he wanted something else, those are the only people he can attract. No one shows up when he tries something different.

Likewise, with Michael Bay. For example, I heard that Bay’s smaller film “Pain and Gain” was pretty fun. Did I watch it? No. Because I, like many others, have been taught by past experience, that the Michael Bay brand meant a certain kind of product. So in the same way I don’t go to Burger King for fine dining, I don’t go to a Michael Bay movie for anything other than a noisy mess. Imagine if Burger King started advertising a $30 burger, promising quality ingredients. Would you go? You wouldn’t! Because it’s Burger King! You’d rather take your risk with the new, cute little place that opened up on the corner.

Does it mean I won’t ever go to Burger King ever again? Of course not. I will!

And feel bad afterward.

The thing is, Michael Bay must be spectacularly bored by now. There are only so many yachts, mansions, and golddiggers one can buy. So wouldn’t it be great if with his buckets of cash and connections to really good craftsmen (the vfx and camerawork are always well done), he sponsored better content, even if it’s not made by him?

That would be crazy right? Michael Bay starting a boutique film production house that makes good films? It could happen. After all, the robber barons of the Gilded Age rehabbed their legacy by building concert halls and schools. It’s like how a PBS show lists all the endowments that made the show possible. I doubt those people sponsored good and decent programs (social or otherwise) during their lifetimes. But that was so long ago, and now I get Masterpiece Theater and Frontline!

But it won’t happen. In a year or two, we will get “Transformers 5 – EVEN LOUDER!” And Michael Bay will blithely collect his completely superfluous paycheck, buying another god knows what/who with it. He’s been on record as saying he doesn’t care about criticism. And he’s right not to: it makes absolutely no difference to him; the audience keeps showing up regardless.

In this way he’s like Russell Crowe in Gladiator, sneering at us while we cheer “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!”

Except less cool. And uses robots.

(And for those of you noting the hypocrisy of my complaining about something that I went to see myself, it was a free screening. And even then, it wasn’t worth it. Save your money. If you must watch a new movie, Planet of the Apes was good. Edge of Tomorrow was good. Go see one of those!)

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