YOU WENT TO L.A. ON A DARE

Here’s the trip tik tok …

1.45 CET - alarm
3.15 - driver arrives to take us to Florence Airport
4.00 - arrive at airport
4.10 - check in
4.25 - wait for security to open
4.35 - Covid security check
4.40 - baggage security check
4.55 - get to gate
6.15 - boarding
6.40 - wheels up
8.15 - arrive Frankfurt
8.40 - passport control
9.00 - buy (obligatory) pretzels
10.15 - boarding to L.A. delayed
10.30 - boarding
11.00 - wheels up
Flying
Still flying
Yet. More. Flying … 11–½ hours worth of flying
13.25 PT - arrive Los Angeles
13.45 - passport check
14.00 - waiting at baggage carousel
14.20 - exit Tom Bradley International Terminal
14.30 - pick-up by driver
14.45 - arrive Avis in Culver City

That’s our secret … instead of picking up our rental car at LAX, we save a couple hundred dollars (including the driver who takes us to the agency), by getting it off-site.

On to Trader Joe’s for essentials. Avocado … sourdough baguette … Jack cheese … dark chocolate-covered pretzels … milk … and an impulse purchase, plumcots (the fruit formerly known as “pluots” and “dinosaur eggs”). These are a delicious and juicy cross between plums and apricots … not apricots and plums, mind you, because those are called apricum (really, you can look it up).

The guest house where we’re staying sits behind a beautiful Spanish-style home on a tree-lined street in a quiet neighborhood. The one-bedroom place is lovely … spacious, open, and inviting. We chatted with Nancy, the gracious owner, and I am happy to say that during our stay, we became friends with her and her wonderful, golden lab named Summer.

Next on the agenda … since, after being awake for about 24 hours, everyone wants an agenda … was to reconfigure our phones. Somewhere over the Atlantic, we always switch out our Italian SIM cards for ones with our American phone numbers, and this (unfortunately) is not the first time we’ve had to talk tech upon arrival. Seems our phones are not quite as smart as they claim. 45 minutes holding … 20 minutes conversing … 5 minutes reviewing the instructional email … 15 minutes changing some perimeters. Success … our phones were smart again. When did I become such a tech person? Ha.

By now, I hear you’re asking … why L.A.? We’d planned on going to my high school reunion … and when it was canceled, we decided that since we’d been house-bound, locked-down and locked-in for m o n t h s, we deserved a trip. Plus it’s nice to see friends face-to-face, rather than face-to-facebook …

UNTIL THE SUN COMES UP OVER SANTA MONICA BOULEVARD

Our first full day found us driving around West L.A. As we were cruisin’ along Santa Monica Boulevard, I noticed ONO HAWAIIAN BBQ. David loves kalua pork … so that’s what we ordered. It was served with 2 scoop rice (as they say in Pidgen), mac salad, plus steamed cabbage and broccoli. David gave it a thumbs up. Full disclosure: I’m a novice on this aspect of Island cuisine, so relied on David’s expertise and excellent taste buds.

Our friend Stan says that while on vacation, you should do things you do not do at home. So that evening, we did something that would get the seal-of-approval from baseball fan Stan - watching the Dodgers on TV. But shhh, don’t tell him … he’s a Giants fan.

And, of course, every Sunday we watched futbol americano.

GO GRANNY, GO GRANNY, GO GRANNY GO

For lunch, we decided on a Mexican. It’s almost a requirement in Los Angeles. We headed to KAY AND DAVE’S CANTINA on Sunset Boulevard in Pacific Palisades. Wood-paneled and welcoming, it has an eclectic style with colorful, handmade wares for sale. We gobbled up crispy chips and mildly-spicy salsa, sweet and oh-so sippable mango margarita, flaky and flavorful fish tacos with red cabbage, and an overstuffed and yummy chicken/black bean burrito with extra guacamole (duh!) and extra lime.

I got a message from my friend and high school classmate, Fredde, asking if we wanted some of the stuff she had baked that morning. Without hesitation, I said YES.

Standing in her front yard in the afternoon sun (to be extra safe since we had traveled so recently), we chatted and caught up with this and that. Her cornbread was crumbly and sweet, with that wonderful characteristic crunchy texture … the poppyseed-lemon cake was moist and amazing, made even more delicious with a luxurious cream cheese-butter frosting. Thank you Fredde! [Heart emoji.]

AND SHE CRUISED TO THE HAMBURGER STAND NOW

The next day, Debbie, another high school friend, invited us over for an impromptu lunch. It was perfect timing actually … we were just getting peckish … and many days find us busy driving hither and yon.

She treated us to the ultimate grilled cheese sandwiches … Pacino truffle cheese with ham on brioche … irresistible with earthy mushrooms, slightly salty pork, soft yet crispy bread. Sitting in Debbie’s garden, nibbling potato chips and sipping a fresh French rosé, it was a lovely lunch, even better with a good friend.

INSIDE OUTSIDE U.S.A.

My rule for “no Italian restaurants outside Italy” has one exception … CA’ DEL SOLE on Cahuenga Boulevard near Universal Studios … because our friend Rodolf is the owner. We met him in Los Angeles through mutual friends … and then found out he owns a large estate across the valley from us (small world, eh?). We see him when he’s in our neighborhood … and when we’re in his.

Our lunch companions were DeeDee and Chris, Andee and Barry, and we sat outside on the beautiful patio. We chatted and nibbled sourdough bread with tapenade. Andee and I had similar salads… arugula, mango, goat cheese, and grilled salmon, to which I added avocado. It was wonderful, full of favorite flavors that were different and delicious together. David and Chris both enjoyed rigatoni in pink sauce with sausage and peas … creamy sauce with the low spark of sausage and punctuated with light sweetness of peas. DeeDee has a weakness for potato gnocchi, and she loved this version with basil pesto. Barry was a traditionalist, and had a crispy Caesar salad, followed by yummy spinach-ricotta ravioli enhanced with sage and butter. Grazie Rodolfo.

Before David & I could decide on dinner, Debbie called. “I have some of my fettuccine Bolognese for you,” she said. She had told us about it at lunch … saying she perfected her recipe on a recent stay in Sardegna. We were happy to accept her offer. She’d meet us at Nancy’s … since they are good friends … and it turned into an impromptu meal en quatre. We enjoyed her delicious dish, along with butter sautéed zucchini sprinkled with parmigiano. And wine … a bottle of red, a bottle of white.

BRIGHT AS THE SUN ON THAT CALIFORNIA COAST

For dinner, we invited Vickie and Mickie to the guest house … and David fired up the grill. We went to the legendary SANTA MONICA SEAFOOD on Wilshire Boulevard. We made several visits there during our stay, salivating over the selection from seas near and far.

We sipped Chardonnay that our friends brought and nibbled on peanuts … before switching to Prosecco with our meal. David grilled salmon and ahi to juicy perfection, and we also enjoyed sweet potatoes, perfectly charred corn-on-the-cob, and Vickie’s green salad. Dessert away from my oven was grapes and a big bar of dark chocolate with hazelnuts.

DISTANT LIGHTS FROM ACROSS THE BAY

On to Long Beach, to spend the day with Leslie and Rich. The girls just wanna have fun … the boys, they be golfing.

Leslie and I went to UBUNTU “The Greatest Neighborhood” CAFE, on Nieto Avenue for lunch before our traditional Nordstrom stop. Open and airy, we sat under one of the large umbrellas on the patio. We shared two tasty dishes … a yummy salad combining farro, tender chicken, arugula, and char-grilled broccolini (something to make at home) AND crispy and flavorful cod balls, squirted with fresh lime (yum).

For dinner, the four of us went to ROE on 2nd Street in the Belmont Shore area of Long Beach. On the new back patio, we sat near a space heater. I ordered mahi mahi tacos with brown rice, black beans, chips and salsa, and blue corn tortillas. I’m not sure why, since I don’t even like the smell of corn tortillas … but the other components were good. David happily ate them … since the waiter forgot his order of mahi mahi (and we’d waited quite awhile, so he didn’t re-order the fish). His dinner was chicken fried rice and baguette with butter, plus half of mine. Leslie & Rich enjoyed their fish and chips and the mahi ceviche. Next time, I’ll have what she’s having.

… To be continued …

ROSEMARY AND RED WINE CRACKERS

2–½ cups flour
1–½ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbl. finely-chopped fresh rosemary
½ cup red wine
½ cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

- Preheat the oven to 350°F (170° C). Line 2 cookie sheets with silpats.
- In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients, then add wine and oil. Stir to create stiff dough.
- Take walnut-sized pieces of dough, and roll into balls.
- Place on cookie sheets. Using a cookie press or the bottom of flat glass, press into discs.
- Grind black pepper on top.
- Bake for 20–25 minutes until lightly browned.
- Makes 32 to 34 crackers.
Enjoy!

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Life … and cooking … in the Tuscan countryside.

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