There's a ridiculously good restaurant on Maui – Lahaina's Star Noodle, which sits up on the mountain over looking the town. I'm afraid we went there three times (and would have gone more had we not restrained ourselves); once after arriving at the airport, once for dinner and once on the way home.
Imagine something like London's Wagamama or New York's Momofuku on a smaller scale – a deliciously modern, light space, filled with knowledgeable, kind people (props to Justin and Zane) and some of the best Asian food we've ever tasted.
The menu ranges from ramen to local saiman (local noodles with spam, fish cake and green onion in a delicious broth) to Vietnamese pancakes to spicy pickled vegetables (namasu) to yuzu sorbet to tiny donuts on sticks (malasadas) with three dipping sauces.
My favorite thing about book club is that I get to hang out with some of my favorite women in the world. It has become a highlight of the month. We're a diverse lot: both Brits & Americans; a full-time student, a pilates instructor who's writing her first novel, a painter, a former big-time film exec, a pr maven, an ex-pat marketing exec who now raises chickens (and is most generous with her eggs), an actor turned set decorator, a talent manager and me.
The way we've set it up, one person hosts and cooks a main course, and other people bring starters, puddings, wine, etc. Miranda, this week's host, is completely fabulous – an American blue blood, Ivy League-educated, a beautiful blowzy blonde who speaks her mind and loves to have people around her dining room table. Her stepfather, a famous painter, once gave her this piece of advice "Lay the table so that it still looks good when the food is finished" so her tables are filled with glasses and plates in shades of blue and green and turquoise, and bushels of flowers from her garden, and mercury glass candle holders.
This is how grumpy I am: I refuse to make up a pseudonym to make the people at Starbuck's happy. My problem is this: My name is Bumble. Yes, Bumble. And please, don't ask me "Is that your REAL name" because that's just rude. No, it's not my REAL name. I wasn't christened Bumble, but I have never been called anything other than Bumble for my whole life and hence, I am Bumble. However, as fabulous and memorable and jolly as my name may be, it has its downside. First of all, most people repeat it back when they hear it. They say "Bumble?" in a questioning manner, as if saying "Excuse Me?" in the Southern Californian/Gossip Girl cadence. Or they say "Barbara?" with their voice swinging upwards at the end. They say Barbara so much that my husband calls me Barbara in public, which amuses him, and him alone, enormously.
My name SUCKS when it comes to ordering things. For example, just fifteen minutes ago I stopped into the lovely Sweet Butter for a coffee (and, truth be told, a slice of bread & butter pudding) and the woman serving me said, "What is your first name?" Now, for most people this is a very easy question. For me, it involves elaborate lies, some soul searching and a huge dose of tamping down the effrontery. Is it my age? Is it that I'm English, that I feel it's forward to ask someone you've never met before their first name? How many years have I lived in Los Angeles, you may ask? Surely, I would've gotten used to this? No, I haven't.
There is something sweet and rather interesting about having a new person in the house, especially when that new person is a particularly elegant old man. Pepper is an awfully nice chap, a decent type of dog. He is willowy and whitening around the muzzle, kind and dear, but he has sore hips and his hind legs don't work as well as they used to. He's madly in love with Bean, the younger, and lesser spotted, and somewhat wary of Dotsie, the policeman of the house.
He conducts himself with great aplomb, only having to be told once that he may not lay on the human sofas, but that there are two dog sofas to which he is more than welcome (this has to be extremely complicated for the canine brain, but he has learned, quite deftly, which is which and adheres to the rule). He is finally eating his food after a week of trying various combinations of kibble and wet food, metal bowls and his own favorite Lakers purple and yellow bowl, and placement. In his former life, his food was put down and left all day, so for 9 years he's been on the grazing menu. One can imagine that this must be quite a change.
It would seem churlish to complain about the cold in Los Angeles, when all my English friends are under six feet of snow, but the canyon has been cold, nonetheless, with temperatures down to 20F at night. My mother braved it very well in her little hut (my office transforms quite magically into a guest bedroom) with the sturdy space heater, and I found her there every morning, when I brought tea, looking cozy in bed with Antonia Fraser's memoir propped up on her lap.
At the Getty yesterday, where we'd gone seeking sunshine to warm her bones (and mine) before the tedious flight back to London, a docent on the garden tour was overheard telling her eager-beaver tourist group that Los Angeles' lack of seasons is a misnomer. How true. And yet, yesterday, up on top of the hill in Brentwood where the Getty museum sits so magnificently, it was a sunny day. Not a summer day, but a sunny winter day with a sky full of whimsical chemtrails (I do dislike myself for admiring them so) and a bright, burning sun. We stood at the top of the building, by the entrance to the remarkable French manuscripts exhibit, staring out over the Veteran's hospital and tree-lined west LA and I remarked that, looking this way, this is a city you'd choose, you know, to live in.
My daughter is learning to drive and I'm experiencing the sensation of whizzing around familiar corners at unfamiliar angles. And I'm trying very hard not to grip the side of the door or jump away from the curb as we get a little close, but as much as one tries not to become one's parents, the traces leak through.
A driving instructor I once had, in Tring, to be precise, liked to slam his clipboard down hard on the dashboard as a not too subtle indication that an emergency stop was required. But he also had floor pedals. I love this idea. I love the alarm of it. But Minky drives well. "Keep under 30" I say as the speedometer inches up to 36. "Don't worry about the bugger behind you." (Can you imagine learning to drive with irate, impatient Los Angeles drivers on all sides?). "Your hair is fine." "Both hands on the wheel."
I'm a passenger in my own car, driving in streets I've never seen. It's the real estate pornographer's dream, really. Did you know that Briarcrest, off of Alto Cedro, off of Hazen, nearly connects with the Laurel Canyon streets and has the best view of LA, both east and west as it's on a crest? Did you know that even though it's a private street, there is a lovely round bottom at the end of the cul-de-sac, like an onion bulb, in which to turn? Did you know that there is a whole network of streets in Westwood, behind Century City which are perfect for learning about stop signs? Did you know that if you drive endlessly up and down your friends' streets, they're bound to see you, even if you don't see them?
Every Wednesday evening, I drive down Sunset Boulevard towards the beach. Now that it's summertime, the sun can almost blind you; it hangs low and bright in the sky to the west. There's a certain release and relief you feel driving towards the ocean. You can see the sun glinting off it as you round the wide curves of the road. Gardens are full of roses and apple trees. Kids are riding bikes, walking dogs.
I was listening to Sam Cooke with the windows down, the warm air blowing around, when I passed the traffic light at Cliffwood where an enormous shrine has been set up. Banks of flowers and candles, mostly flowers now, some in long planting boxes that you might put outside your front door, mark the spot where a little girl was killed earlier this year, as she crossed the road to get the school bus. She was 13 and as she ran across the road to get the school bus, in full view of her mother and her schoolmates, she was struck by two cars.
It's odd, but every week I forget it's there, and every week I find myself choked up as I pass it. It could have been any of our children, I have to remind myself.
I'm spending a few days in what I'm told is the Mid-West of America (albeit the Northern Mid-West), a place I've never been to before. It's a land of lakes and fir trees and glittering silver birches, and flying in I was startled (and a little homesick) by the landscape's resemblance to Norway. Of course everyone who lives here is either Norwegian or Swedish.
My Minnesota hostess (who is also one of my best girlfriends) adapted a corn pudding from the book Local Flavors by Deborah Madison. Don't be put off by the name. The recipe is delicate and delicious. I've found that using a mellifluous deep-South accent – as in "coooorrn puddin'" – assures its proper status in culinary Americana.
This is an American staple, transformed and updated by the use of fresh herbs and goat cheese. Up here, there is a farmer's market three times a week, and she used fresh corn as well as fresh parsley and chives cut from the selection of clay pots outside her kitchen door.
There are apples from a tree in Laurel Canyon that sit in a bowl on my hall table. The bowl, with its pie-crust edge comes from Rhinebeck, NY and reminds me of my son who's at school near there. The apples were pilfered by Miss Monica who defied the laws of gravity, heaving herself over the iron fence to find the tree in the grounds of the Houdini mansion, hidden by old rock walls that line this part of the canyon, white lilies and cactus.
They are apples from another era, knobbled and imperfect and of an unsurpassed sweet:sour ratio, the kind Mrs. Beeton would have you pick for a Victorian apple crumble, the kind that grew in abundance in espaliered rows in the garden of the house I grew up in. Bordered with roses and Michaelmas daisies, in front of the rhubarb and the horseradish, the trees had been there for as long as I could remember, as as long as my father could remember before. Planted presumably by the Reverend John Wood who lived in the house with the crucifix windows with his two sisters.