I’M SEEIN’ SIGNS FOR CALIFORNIA

We weren’t going to attend my high school reunion. We’d gone to L.A. a year earlier, even though that reunion had been Covid-canceled prior to our trip. But, finally, we said why not … especially when we attached it to a couple weeks in Hawaii.

We were lucky to get the guest house in Pacific Palisades … which made attending the reunion 2 miles away … very easy.

My elementary school friend Doreen traveled across continents for work, and we had been unable to connect on my most recent visit. Today we’d have a girls’ lunch. She suggested CA DEL SOLE, on Cahuenga Boulevard near Universal Studios … and I was happy for the chance to see its owner and friend, Rodolfo. (He knows it’s the only Italian restaurant outside of Italy where I’ll eat.)

Sitting on the umbrella-covered patio, chatting and reminiscing, Doreen enjoyed Chinese chicken salad … I had a delicious salad of field greens with mango, avocado, and grilled salmon.

A couple days later, I had another girls’ lunch … this time with Leslie, while David played golf with her husband, Rich. Living in Long Beach she picked UBUNTU THE “GREATEST NEIGHBORHOOD CAFÉ” on Nieto Avenue. Leslie had a mixed salad while I picked a salad-style dish of cucumbers, buckwheat, hummus, and guacamole. As I always do, I asked for “salsa on the side” … but the young man must have heard “sausage,” since large slices of something akin to chorizo appeared on the plate. Lots of interesting tastes and textures.

I organized a micro-reunion with high school friends Fredde and Jeff G. Though Fredde didn’t bring the husband (as she often calls him), Yelena came with Jeff. She has become a friend over the years, so I was glad to spend time with her, too. Fredde picked the rendezvous site … BARNEY’S GOURMET BURGERS in Brentwood.

I had the falafel salad. The orbs of chickpeas and chunks of feta were good, but romaine lettuce uninspired. David enjoyed a juicy burger and sweet potato fries.

Then we walked across the courtyard to stare at the chocolate-covered pretzels at EDELWEISS CHOCOLATES. Their Beverly Hills location is where I first tried these … my ultimate snack … when I was a girl.

I’ve known Jeff B. for decades. I met him at work … when I saw a photo of a black cat on his credenza, I stopped to tell him I had a black cat, too. Over the years, he and his wife Susan have also become Italophiles … so we share lots of common interests.

They suggested CONNIE AND TED’S in West Hollywood. Industrial and open and loud, we sat in a cozy booth next to a front window.

We shared our antipasti. Breaded and fried calamari were oxymoronically crispy and tender … the signature homemade Saltines with smoked fish dip was similarly a combination of two different, great textures and flavors.

I had my fave, salmon. It was grilled with salt and pepper. I uncharacteristically didn’t say “no pepper” … I can now officially say that I don’t like pepper on fish. Secondo me, it overpowers delicate flavors. The accompanying mac and cheese was super yummy.

David had juicy grilled halibut, and his side dish was spinach with large chunks of bacon. Susan and Jeff each ordered the bountiful seafood soup/stew that arrived with corn in the cob.

David’s dessert pick was a chocolate sundae … which was gobbled up with 4 spoons.

Another evening, we went with elementary school friends Barbara and Peter to REEL INN on the mauka side of Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. Oil-cloth clad tables create a casual setting with large windows facing the ocean. The order window is the fish display, and each selection is tempting.

I had flavorful grilled ahi with roast potatoes and steamed carrots/broccoli/zucchini. They even brought me olive oil and pats of butter (instead of the traditional tartar sauce and catsup offerings). Said oil was just what the veggies needed. David ordered his ahi with mashed potatoes and Spanish rice … and was appreciative of the butter. The 4 of us shared a basket of tender, though too heavily-battered, calamari rings.

We have an ice cream tradition, so we went to our favorite spot … McCONNELL’S in The Village in Pacific Palisades. I opted for the wonderful, fudgy triple chocolate ice cream … and I lost track of what the others ordered. Suffice it to say, we were quiet as we savored and scooped our scoops.

While David went to discuss golf clubs with a buddy in Glendale, I had lunch with Mark. We rendezvoused at LE PAIN QUOTIDIEN in Sherman Oaks, sitting under large green umbrellas as Ventura Boulevard went about its business. My pick was farro salad with goat cheese and roasted brussel sprouts (though I skipped the candied cranberries and raisins), along with their justly famous fresh bread. Mark decided on soup and fruit salad. It was good to catch up, and see new photos of his grandson.

We have a tradition of sushi with Agat. Her suggestion tonight was SHOGUN SUSHI in Santa Clarita … and even though her favorite chef was busy on the other end of the counter, we had a veritable feast. I began with miso soup (my warm beverage while Agat and David sipped hot sake). The palate-pleasing parade of plates included yellow tail, uni, spider roll, salmon, mackerel, and eel. Agat even splurged on a baked dish with lobster, emerging hot and bubbly in its foil basket.

The reunion was great … a picture perfect setting, with oodles of tasty tidbits to eat and libations to sip. I think I can easily say a good time was had by all.

Yes, we made the mandatory trips to Trader Joe’s … and yes, I bought the “We Missed You” can of Wild Alaska Salmon for the kitties. Two cans.

HEART TART

Graham/cookie cracker crust
1 cup fig jam … or your favorite flavor
Chocolate hearts

- Preheat the oven to 350° F (160° C).
- Bake the crust and hearts for 5 minutes. Let cool.
- Spread jam onto the crust.
- Bake for 10–15 minutes (so the jam will “set”). Let cool.
- Top with the hearts.
- Serve.
Enjoy!

**GRAHAM CRACKER CRUST

2 cups graham cracker or other cookie crumbs
2 oz. butter, melted

- Combine the ingredients in a small bowl.
- Place some of the cookie mixture into the bottom (⅛-inch) of 3 or 4 heart-shaped cookie cutters.
- Press the remaining cookie mixture into the bottom and partially up the sides of a 9-inch round false bottom pan.

**CHOCOLATE HEARTS

6 oz. dark chocolate
1 oz. butter

- Melt the ingredients.
- Pour/spread the hot mixture onto the cookies in the heart molds. Let set … either at room temperature or in the refrigerator.
- When set, gently remove the hearts from the molds.

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