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the inevitable cupcake post

August 11, 2010

Ever since Sprinkles opened its doors on Little Santa Monica about five years ago, we have been in the middle of a veritable cupcake explosion here in LA.  There is now a boutique cupcakery on what feels like every corner, each with sleek architectural shelves and distinctive packaging, most of them run by women who look like they have never let refined sugar pass their lips.

It took me a while to adjust to this.  As far as I know, cupcakes are the smeary and delightfully lowbrow desserts my mom brought to my second-grade classroom for my eighth birthday, not haute cuisine.  Now all of a sudden they come in flavors like chai latte and ginger lemon, with not a flake of Funfetti in sight, and they keep appearing in beribboned towers at weddings, benefits, graduations, you name it.  I’m unclear on whether this is endemic to LA or happening nationwide, but either way, cupcakes are suddenly cool.

hotcakes bakes, originally uploaded by maitaimai99.

Me personally, I’m more likely to crave salts than sweets.  Given the choice between Andrew’s and Sprinkles, I’d take Andrew’s any day.  And — full confession — I’m not a huge Sprinkles fan, because I think the cake/icing ratio is off and the icing is too sweet, anyway.  (Hordes of Sprinkles fangirls are on my way to burn down my house as I type this, I’m sure.)  But even with those caveats, you get sucked into the madness sooner or later.

Which brings us to an email chain from a Thursday afternoon, a couple of months ago:

Roommate #1:  Sooo, coincidentally there was a lone mini cupcake stranded in my work area this morning, just begging for me to eat it for breakfast.  Being a humanitarian, I had to oblige.  It reminded me that there is a bakery that I ALWAYS pass on Centinela & Culver called Hotcakes… and it is delicious.  AND they have a Tres Leches Spicy Mango cupcake that was the 2009 Food Network Ultimate Cupcake winner.  Shall we try it??

How did I write that much about cupcakes?  I’m clearly a heifer.

Me: Tres Leches Spicy Mango cupcake?  Um.  Clearly I need to eat half a dozen of those.  Let’s make a cupcake run this weekend!

❤ Fellow Heifer

Roommate #2: Fatty McFat Fat reporting in from downtown LA.  Just had 2 Mrs. Fields cookies because of you whores and your sweet talk.

So when I got home from work on Friday, it was not at all surprising that there was already a tray of mini cupcakes sitting on the kitchen table.   The three of us had plans to go to hear Dave Barry lecture at Bergamot Station, so we had to leave the cupcakes long enough to listen to him discuss dogs, colonoscopies and other miscellany with Jane Smiley, while we sipped wine and generally attempted to look like grownups.

Then, of course, we came home and abandoned all pretense by putting on pajamas and sitting solemnly around the kitchen table, a  glass of water at each of our elbows.   We took turns selecting a tiny cupcake from the tray, and split each one into exact thirds, then tasted and passed judgement.  Then gossiped for a little while, to clear our palates.  Then repeated.  (Verdict:  Spicy mango and chocolate peanut butter are to die for.  Icing on all of them is like a tiny little cloud of heaven.)  Did I mention these cupcakes are created and sold on a daily basis, five minutes from our house?

Which explains why I received the following emails three days later, after a zesty 3.8 temblor that jolted everyone out of their Monday afternoon stupor.

Roommate #1: Please make the house stop shaking.

Roommate #2:  It’s the after-effects of Cupcake Week.  Stop walking around.

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who are you wearing?

August 8, 2010

Last night I was out at a birthday party in Venice, wearing a ruffly turquoise dress with which I had become besotted in the Macy’s dressing room a few weeks ago.  (It’s girly, summery, and best of it all, it has pockets I am pretty much sold on any dress that has pockets.)  One of the girls in the group — a slim brunette with a brilliant smile — asked, “Is your dress BCBG?”  I said, “It is!  How did you know?” and she said, “Actually, I designed it.”

saints and poets

July 28, 2010

Some interesting things to do with your weekend, when it’s May in Southern California:   (Yes, I realize that it’s now July, but the weather has been so persistently gray that it doesn’t actually feel like summer.  I’m again practicing a little escapism by posting old scribbles from when it was warmer.)

– Get dressed for a charity benefit, channeling your inner Jackie O.  Wear a brocade jacket the color of champagne; vintage earrings; red lipstick.   Stroll through the Grove in the warm air and realize two things:  1)  That summer is here, and 2) That you have become amazingly comfortable in this city you never thought you’d entirely like.  Is that good or bad?  While you ponder the question, give your name to the girl with the clipboard, and slip into the Gilmore Adobe.  Tucked away from all the crowds at the Grove, it’s a magic slice of old, old Los Angeles — the one that was built on money from the Gilmore Oil Company, before Hollywood was even a twinkle in a developer’s eye.  Tonight, salsa music throbs through the low clay house and the rambling garden full of bougainvillea.

Bougainvilleas., originally uploaded by calebk.

Find yourself a margarita.  Find your coworkers.  Having learned your collective lesson last year, avoid the man with the sombrero, the whistle, and the tequila bottle.  Laugh.  Dance.  Have a second margarita. Maybe some tacos, too.  Twirl.

– The next morning, get up absurdly early.  Put on cutoffs, sneakers, a straw cowboy hat.  Grab your turquoise plastic sunglasses, the ones you bought for $6 at Forever21, and that mix CD that you made at 3 a.m. last night.  Jump in the Jeep.  Drive up the 405, the 5, out to the 14, out into the Mojave Desert, past where the pavement ends.  Crank up the CD — it’s almost exclusively country.  Roll the windows down and sing while the dust flies around you.  Enjoy your four-wheel drive.  When you get to where you’re going, you can spend the afternoon in the sunshine, watching rockets fly (or occasionally explode) and munching on powdered sugar donuts.  Enjoy being around the kind of people who are completely self-sufficient, even in the desert, a million miles from everywhere.   Think about the grand tradition of aerospace in California, out here where we have nothing but room.

– On Sunday, put on a cute top and go home to have a belated birthday lunch with your family.  Spend the afternoon eating tri-tip off the barbecue, watching basketball (since when does your family watch basketball?), baking a key lime pie.  Hang out in your old room with one of your best girlfriends, piled barefoot on the bed like you used to do in high school.  Squeal a little more over her new engagement ring.  Stand on the front porch and look at your street — the passing bicycles, the golden retriever; Everytown, USA.  Revel in the normalcy of it all.

– Think of that line from Our Town, that play about the unbearable beauty of an ordinary day.  Emily asks, “Do human beings realize life while they live it?  Every, every minute?” and is told, “No.  The saints and the poets, maybe.  They do some.”

hard things

June 23, 2010
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Logan wants to know how long he is “going to stare at this damn picture of your Jeep,” and Pat has started using all caps when insisting that I get off my butt and write something.  So, courtesy of all the demanding men in my life — or at least on my Gchat list — here I am.

A text message, Sunday, June 20, 7:24 pm: “It is really weird when someone comes to visit you from out of town and you have to explain things in LA culture that seem perfectly normal to you.”

Me: “Such as?”

Her: “Why you have to arrive at a popular movie theater a half hour before showtime of a movie in its first weekend.”

Me: “Dude, is that abnormal other places?”

Twin-Clouds, originally uploaded by Wandering 101.

I am having that familiar urge to be other places, so I’m bound for Seattle this weekend.  Annie Dillard wrote of the Pacific Northwest, “I came here to study hard things — rock mountain and salt sea — and to temper my spirit on their edges.”  I am going to bring my journal, and sit on the seawall, and temper as best I can.

about a car

April 13, 2010
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I write to you from the very nerve center of America’s much-chronicled obsession with cars.  In this city with me tonight, lovingly garaged from Studio City to San Marino, is a collection of Maybachs, Bentleys, Porsches, Aston Martins, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Jaguars and Maseratis that probably keeps Henry Ford continually revolving in his grave.  Even Angelenos who can’t afford the upper tier of automotive luxury put colossal amounts of time and thought into their cars:  selection, purchase, upkeep.  But selection more than anything.  Here, I’m told, you are what you drive.

Well.  Meet my car – which, as a friend observed with only slight exaggeration, was assembled sometime during the Reagan administration.

DSC_0123, originally uploaded by csouers.

(Ignore the snow.  Clearly there is no snow here.  And actually mine is white, not red, but you get the idea.)

I take a certain amount of perverse pride in being an Angelena who drives a clanking, crashing, completely uncool pile of of junk from 1991.  It’s especially entertaining when you’re going somewhere that has a valet.  I’m opposed to valet parking on principle, and avoid it whenever I can, but the occasions when you can’t are usually dressy ones.  So there I am, a passably urbane woman in a cocktail dress, emerging from a car that looks like Jethro Bodine should be behind the wheel.  The valets have gotten less quiet about the disparity with every year I’ve owned it.

It is, on the other hand, incredibly utilitarian.  You can squish a small army of friends in there, and even the people with claustrophobic tendencies will be comfortable.  It turns on a dime.   I’ve never cared if people eat in it, or pile furniture in it, or tie things to the roof, or stuff it full of sandy beach towels.  It’s almost impossible to hurt; my last fender-bender knocked out my tail light and demolished the other guy’s front bumper.  Even if you did manage to ding it with your door in a parking lot, I’d never notice.  Isn’t there something great about that, a car that’s just a car?  That hauls people and things from Point A to Point B, and doesn’t need to be polished with diapers?

Not that there aren’t drawbacks.  I was pulled over a few months ago, and the CHP officer was miffed when he caught up with me.  “Didn’t you hear me telling you to pull over on the shoulder?” he demanded.   (I had opted to drive the extra 50 yards to the offramp.)  I settled for a meek, “No, sir,” but I was so tempted to ask “Officer, have YOU ever driven a ’91 Jeep Cherokee on a freeway?  It’s like driving an aircraft carrier, sir, really.  I probably wouldn’t have heard if a 747 was trying to land directly on top of me.”

I like to think that it adds a little kick to your daily peregrinations, not knowing whether you — and your vehicle, and all critical parts thereof — will make it to your destination.  Frequently, we don’t.  The water pump exploded one night at Derek’s old house in Montrose.  The brakes gave out completely in the alley behind my college apartment.  Once, memorably, it started billowing smoke at the stoplight on the corner of San Vicente and La Brea, creating an arresting spectacle in the midst of morning rush hour, and causing me to drop my water bottle into my purse without first remembering to reattach the lid.  I drowned my cell phone, all of my cash, and a number of cosmetics that day, but the Jeep lived on.

It’s possible that I love it, in spite of these flaws, because of the way in which it was acquired.  I was 16 years old, out for a jog, and this nice man who had only come to the Simi Hills Golf Course for a quiet afternoon on the links had innocently put a For Sale sign in his Jeep’s rear window.  Sixteen-year-olds, as you may have heard, are rabid about anything that might have the capacity to transport them away from their parents’ house, and particularly anything that might do so cheaply.  I was no exception, and clearly this Jeep was going for a reasonable price.  So I did the only logical thing:  I charged after him like the Roadrunner on amphetamines.  Actually, I chased him to the very end of the golf course parking lot, where he was finally forced to stop and roll down the window a cautious inch to ask me what in hell I wanted.  I’m sure he still has nightmares about a wild-haired adolescent, wearing hideous red athletic pants and a crazed expression, bobbing and waving frantically in his rear-view mirror.

At any rate, I am moved to write this paean because in all probability the Jeep will not be with us much longer.  Like a very old, very tired lady, it has lately developed narcolepsy, and has the tendency to turn itself off whenever given the opportunity.  “Opportunities” are any situations where we are moving at less than warp speed, and include stoplights, drive-throughs, and most recently, the middle of the freeway.  (If you are experiencing any kind of ennui, I would just love to recommend this as a way of elevating your adrenaline levels.  There is nothing quite so invigorating as suddenly realizing, in the middle of rush hour traffic on the 110, that you are essentially driving a glorified skateboard.  You will feel alive to the very tips of your fingers for hours afterwards, I promise.)  As a result, I have spent most of my driving time in recent weeks careening wildly down the road, bellowing at traffic, yellow lights, and any driver who dares to touch their brakes.  The accompanying monologue sounds something like,  “The GAS, it’s on the RIGHT, you TROGLODYTE!  WHY DID YOU BUY A CARRERA IF YOU WANTED TO DRIVE EVERYWHERE AT 35 MPH?  What are you DOING?  Don’t STOP!  We can’t STOP!!!”

I’ll be an adult, this time.  I’ll buy something that wouldn’t be a college sophomore in people years; won’t make my mechanic, God love him, consider a career in plumbing every time it is yet again towed into his lot; won’t drink gasoline like the aforementioned aircraft carrier; and doesn’t look quite so out of place in my admittedly urban life.  If the truth must be told, times when you need four-wheel drive, fog lamps and a tow package on the 405 are relatively rare.  But I have enjoyed thinking of myself as the kind of person who drives a Jeep — the kind of person who doesn’t worry about door dings or impressing the valets, who could, if necessary, flip on the four-wheel drive and go take care of business.  Because that’s what a car is all about, right?  Perception, yours and others’.  We’re weirdly hung up on what your vehicle says, on whether or not it’s you. For better or worse, this one was.  I’m going to miss it.

And until then, if you see me coming, for God’s sake get out of the way.

hollywood humor

March 28, 2010

Spotted today on the 405 southbound: A beat-up Civic with a huge dent in the rear, and a bumper sticker plastered over the dent reading “We’ll clean it up in post.”

luxury

March 3, 2010

Tonight, after work, I went shopping.  Somewhere between the wool slacks and the round-toe pumps, I had one of those moment of perspective that I do not pause to have frequently enough.

I was looking for a couple of specific things — work clothes, mostly, as I am no longer allowed to dress like a bum on a daily basis — but I wasn’t in any real rush.  It was the kind of store that has precise stacks of sweaters laid out on polished tabletops, a cashmere checkerboard of lavender, taupe and dove grey.  I picked out a few things to try on, and just as my arms were getting full, a saleswoman materialized to carry everything for me.  In the dressing room, sparkling with mirrors, I pulled things on slowly.  Took my time.  The saleswoman came back, just when I was thinking it would be nice if she would, to bring me a different size.  The store was cold, really cold, and it made everything, even the fabric of the clothes, feel crisp.

Does it ever strike you, the incredible luxury that you live in?  The lucky number that you drew, just by being born in your particular time and place?  I’m several reincarnations away from being Brooke Astor.  But here I am, with hours on my hands, able to drive down the street to the mall on a Tuesday night and look at the pretty things.  If there’s something that strikes my fancy (and it’s on the sale rack), I can buy it.  There is air conditioning, and everything is glazed with light.  I’m not hungry; I’m not sick; my worries are mostly of the manageable kind.  At times like this, my life feels so undeservedly easy.

It’s the same feeling that I had a few weeks ago, one sunny Friday, when I was out on my lunch break running errands.  There’s a McDonalds just a few doors down from my office, and on a whim I pulled into the drive-through,  thinking of something sweet.  Their drive-through is the old-fashioned kind, where you pay at the first window and get your food at the second.  So I paid, and as I was pulling forward, a hand appeared out the second window ahead of me, balancing one perfect ice cream cone.  Just at that moment, it seemed like a sort of magic trick.

And I thought, you know, it is a damn fine world I am allowed to live in, where all you have to do is pay 95 cents, and someone will hand you a perfectly coiled ice cream cone to enjoy on a breezy Friday.

Too often, I forget.  Buy the slacks, and have the ice cream.  But be grateful, be grateful, be grateful.