I'm the sort that craves sushi and will eat it several times a week if that craving is in the house. And my little 'entertainment fund' has definitely taken many hits in the past 10 years due to this craving.

And, like all sushi cravings should be, mine is limited to good sushi. Fresh sashimi that tastes like the sea and melts in my mouth. Simple maki with spicy mayo folded into the chopped up maguro. And specialty rolls that are creative but don't have an 'everything but the kitchen sink' type feel. I've also been known to knock back an oyster shooter or two.

I live in the Old Town/Gold Coast area and for 5 years was extremely fortunate to have Tsunami in my neighborhood. This was not a trendy see and be seen restaurant (I'm okay with Mirai, Sunda and Japonais, but they're a little scene-y for me on a Tuesday night). Instead it was a simple restaurant with friendly sushi chefs and outstanding pieces of fish. I would belly up to the sushi bar about 3-6 times month and happily pay the steep bill at the end of my meal. When I returned from L.A. last fall I found this place boarded up and closed. Rumor has it that the landlord hiked up the price on the lease. With tears in my eyes, I stood on Dearborn and Division not knowing where to turn. Where to go? What to eat?

Also last year, I discovered Kaze Sushi in Roscoe Village. I loved this place. It was a clean and simple look with a very creative approach and fresh fresh fish. The article that was written about it in Bon Appetit helped lure us there one night and we returned several times. In fact, we tried to go for Valentine's Day on Sunday night after returning from a trip, but it is closed, too! Oh, despair.

So we headed down to the West Loop to Meiji a place that we hadn't tried, but had seemed to get good reviews. We were the ONLY ones in the restaurant. On Valentine's Day. Red Flag. We ordered a few starters, including a few pieces of sashimi. My maguro looked bad and tasted worse. My heart sunk. I'd been craving sushi and this fish was terrible. Nate encouraged me to try the hamachi. Also bad. We sent our food back and left, never to return again.

We hustled down the street to Sushi Wabi. We don't usually go here because it is so loud, but the music was more relaxed that night and they seated us right away at the sushi bar. Sushi Wabi is a dependable restaurant that has had years of success. We hadn't eaten since brunch in Minneapolis and we were starving. We had a fantastic meal with the highlight being the spicy shrimp.

Another upside to the meal is that the woman next to me heard me lamenting to Nate about the loss of Kaze Sushi and Tsunami. She informed me that the Tsunami chef might be at Kin Sushi a small sushi and Thai outfit. And she also shared with me that the Chef Macku Chan, who was the executive chef at Kaze, is now at Macku Sushi in Lincoln Park.

They're on my list. My short list.


Summer Lovin'

Oh man, do I miss summer. My lovely little L.A. summer. I've been back in Chicago since fall (and apparently, busy busy busy and no time to indulge in a little blogging!). It's now winter and a Chicago winter's cold wind is enough to take your breath away.

In the midst of all of this frostiness, I warm myself by thinking about L.A. I was there July through the beginning of September and I just fell in love. It was beautiful and interesting and there was so much to do between star-watching, hiking, and swimming in the Pacific. Below is a list of some of my favorite spots and memories.
  • Manhattan Beach: excellent waves, trendy boutiques, and yummy Manhattan Pizzeria
  • Huntington Gardens: a breathtakingly beautiful retreat in Pasadena where my 8 months pregnant friend decided to wear 4 inch heels to walk around in 100 degree heat while pushing her toddler in a stroller; the security man who rescued us when we'd crumpled to the ground will never forget us
  • Hiking: my favorite spots were in Malibu where you can see the ocean from your trail and climb back into little lagoons for a nice picnic
  • Rattlesnakes: I found a very large serpent on the Gettyview Trail which scared me into taking a weekend off from hiking
  • Farmers Markets: I love my Chicago markets, but in L.A. they sell sweet pluots and grapefruit and I couldn't get enough
  • Hollywood: cocktails on Sunset Boulevard and dinner at Katsuya were fantastic, but Hollywood frequently came to my Westwood neighborhood for movie premiers - and it was fun to have Meryl Streep wave to me from the red carpet
  • Susan Feniger's Street: my last night in L.A. was spent on the patio indulging in the Globetrotter menu under the light of the moon - a perfect finish
  • Fish fish and more fish: I had my choice of fishmongers that sold a beautiful selection straight off the Santa Monica pier
  • Santa Barbara: I ate local spider crab right on the pier, paddle surfed next to seals, and spent a lazy afternoon driving around the wineries on the Santa Ynez trail
  • Surfing: we spent a day in San Diego and one in Malibu trying to get up on our boards, we found we were a lot better at paddle surfing
  • Navigating: I love a good map and finding my way around and it was fulfilling to me that I was like a local, knowing when to take the 405, the 101, or a shortcut on Sepulveda
  • PCH: after packing up the car and driving through Brentwood and Santa Monica, we most often started our weekend adventures on this highway (plus, the name just sounds cool)
  • Laguna Beach: sparkly sand, clear turquoise water, and an early happy hour cocktail - aaahhhh.....
  • Rodeo Drive, Baby: other shoppers tried to act very posh and sophisticated while ogling Jimmy Choos, but my friend and I spent the morning giggling and trying on wigs and taking pictures of ourselves at the Jose Eber salon
  • Dodger Stadium: hey, I can watch my Cubbies lose anytime so why not do it here where I can also watch the sun set behind the mountains just outside of the stadium
  • Malibu Seafood Company: this is a little fish shack right on the PCH where I took all my guests, the fish tacos don't get any better and sitting at a table over from Sean Penn was a treat as well
  • Hollywood Hills: riding horses through the park and enjoying a 360 view of this incredible city was a highlight
I have to stop writing here. My memories are many and I don't intend to write a book. What I do intend, is to book my flight to go back to L.A. for spring break soon!


Catalina Island Part II - Avalon

Happily leaving the campsite behind for a day, we went down into the city to relax and enjoy Catalina's city life in Avalon. This is a gorgeous town whose architecture is influenced by the original Spanish architecture.

Down in the city, there are two main activities. The first is shopping in the wide variety of Catalina shops that offer long, gauzy, Spanish style skirts as well as California-style surfer wear. We walked through these shops and questioned the salespeople on life on Catalina, which they described as quiet, small and laid back.

The second main attraction is the waterfront. There are two main beaches in Avalon, the first being right in front of the shops where families go out to the beach at 8:30 am to spread their blanket for a 'good spot'. The second beach is at the north end of the city and, while privately owned, is open to the public and serves cocktails and food. I checked this beach out and read my magazine while Nate went scuba diving in the underground waterpark that houses a shipwreck.

Shopping and diving work up an appetite and we asked many people about where to eat. Most of the locals that we talked to said that they'd rather eat at home - it's cheaper, the fish is just as fresh, and they can relax more. A few mentioned the hype in town about the new executive chef at the country club so we ate there on Saturday night. Our table was in a beautiful Spanish colonial courtyard. The food wasn't anything to write home about so I won't, but I was not in a hurry to get back to camp and enjoyed myself during the three hour dinner we had while relaxing by the fountain as the sun was setting (I was in no hurry to finish, our after-dinner activity was more camping).

The best meal we had on Catalina was at The Lobster Trap. We were referred here by Craig, our favorite ranger at the campground. His friend is a chef there and he recommended we order the swordfish tacos, made with local fish. While this meal didn't take three hours, it was definitely the star of the trip. The swordfish was pan-seared and served in corn tortillas with crunchy cabbage, housemade salsa, and a sprinkling of sharp cheddar. It was delicious and worked perfectly with the citrusy Shock Top beer I had ordered. It was a good recommendation and the casual and friendly atmosphere embodied the lifestyle and attitude of the locals.

I loved Catalina Island and want to return soon! I want to experience more of the preserved land and spend a whole day on one of the sparkling beaches.....who's with me?


Catalina Island Part I - Roughin' It

Last weekend, we went camping on Santa Catalina Island. If you have not been to this island, you should go. The beauty of the mountains and beaches are as attractive as the local’s friendly, laid-back culture. The island is located about an hour by boat from Long Beach, just south of L.A. On the island there are two main populated areas. The first, on the southwest side of the island is Little Harbor and has a few hundred people living in its village. It is so small that all 30 or so of the children in the area attend a one-room schoolhouse until high school.

The second populated area is called Avalon, which is on the east side of the island. Our campground, named Hermit Gulch, was located about a mile and a half from Avalon. It is just south of the botanical gardens and at the base of the mountain. By the time we arrived here, I was definitely ready to unload our packs containing a tent, two sleeping bags, two travel chairs, two bags of clothes, and a cooler.

Besides Avalon and Little Harbor, most of the rest of the island has been dedicated to the Catalina Island Conservancy and their mission is to preserve the island’s natural beauty and wildlife. Conveniently, a hiking trail was located just off the campground’s property. The trail showcased the island’s beauty, leading us straight up the mountain and along a ridge where we could see the sparkling Pacific on both sides as we walked along the ridge. In addition to this view, the clouds were rolling over the ridge, creating a very surreal atmosphere as we literally walked in the clouds.

The hiking was amazing, but the camping left quite a bit to be desired. I’m not an outdoorsy sort and had reluctantly agreed to camp instead of staying in a hotel. As it grew dusk, animals started came down from the mountain and into the campground. The park rangers had warned us that the animals were desensitized from humans and to be on the lookout, but I was still startled when I saw the first fox coming towards my tent. I screamed and he retreated, but it did not hold him off long and he came back a bit later. Sneaky little fox, indeed!

Then the deer began their descent. They did not mind us at all and trying to startle them was futile. At one point, I had gone to the public bathroom and could not make it back to our site due to the very large doe in my way. My flashlight, my stomps, and my yells did not deter her from the crumbs on the ground and I had to wait patiently until she moved on further into the campground.

During this animal invasion, Nate was smoking a cigar and I was talking to a child who was camping with his parents in the next site. His name was Isaiah and his excitement was contagious even though I was preoccupied with the deer and fox. Between my shrieks of fear about getting eaten by a deer and my wild arm movements and stomping at the foxes, Isaiah told us about his hiking and fishing escapades with his parents.

As it grew darker, he and his parents started roasting marshmallows. I had offered him some of my treats - a semi-hard, aged Manchego cheese from Beverly Hills Cheese Store (my new fave!), water crackers, and medjool dates, but he declined politely. I think that he thought my snacks were a sorry collection for a camping adventure because Isaiah soon came back to our campsite and sweetly offered me a perfectly browned marshmallow. The inside was gooey and tasted exactly like campfires I had enjoyed growing up. It made me a little nostalgic and that was when I found myself telling Nate that I wouldn’t mind camping again. Nate couldn’t have been more surprised by this promise! I think that the sugar of the marshmallow had gone to my head.

That night was sleepless as I listened to the animals rustling around outside my tent and the hard ground under my sleeping bag offered no forgiveness. In the morning, amidst the extremely loud caws of the crows and warbling of the quails, I shook Nate awake and told him I had changed my mind. There would be no more camping for me – absolutely not. He took my change of heart in stride and encouraged me to get ready to enjoy our second day on this beautiful island.


June Cleaver Goes Mediterranean

While we are in L.A. for the summer Nate is working and I am a stay-at-home-wife. I thought that on a few days I could withold from going to the beach or Rodeo Drive and be like June Cleaver - a 1950's housewife who has mastered cooking and cleaning.

Last Tuesday, while Nate was getting ready to go to the office, I lay in bed envisioning a day of cleaning our vintage apartment and making something traditional. When he returned, I could greet him at the door dressed in a pretty shirtwaist dress, a pearl necklace, heels, and a pot roast. While he changed out of his suit, I would offer him a Stepford wife smile and a dry martini for him to enjoy before we sat down to dinner. And after dinner, we could have a homemade cake.

Well, that just did not happen. First of all, I don't own a pearl necklace (but I wouldn't mind receiving one as a gift). Secondly, I don't own a shirtwaist dress. I brought plenty of sundresses and cocktail dresses and go-out-dancing dresses, but nothing from the 1950's. I also don't have in this apartment a martini glass or even have vodka or gin with which to make Nate a martini. I am also lacking a cake pan and a mixer to make a cake from scratch.

And my last obstacle to this 1950's domestic dream? No air conditioning! And last Tuesday was hot enough to warrant a weather warning on weatherchannel.com. While I had awakened with good intentions, I was sweating by the time I had done the breakfast dishes and the last thing I wanted to do was get out the mop bucket or turn on my oven. I admit I roasted a chicken last week, but that morning offered a cool breeze that I wasn't enjoying on Tuesday.

I sweated it out for a bit and then gave up. I put on a sundress and headed to the mall to seek air conditioning in some shops. After I cooled down, I went to the farmers market. Since I had scratched my all-American June Cleaver vision, I was going Mediterranean instead. My thought was that I could make an antipasto dinner - many little dishes that can be served room temperature. This way I could create them ahead of time, set the table, then take a cold shower and cool off. When Nate arrived home, the kitchen had cooled down and dinner was ready.

For dinner I had made a traditional caprese salad using summer heirloom tomatoes. My green salad was some fresh mache and ricotta salata with a light red wine and lemon vinaigrette. I had roasted zucchini and sweet red peppers then sprinkled fresh oregano over the top. We really like cannellini beans so I had simmered a rinsed can of these beans in softened shallots and rosemary and a bit of broth until the beans were soft. I had also picked up a hot Italian sausage and braised that for Nate.

To add to this dinner, at the farmer's market that day, I had bought some meaty cerignola olives and a bottle of Chateau Saint-Pierre, a soft rose that complimented my small dishes And for dessert? Lemon sorbet from the grocery store. Easy on my part and it was a light and perfect end to our antipasto dinner. Take that June!



Before we arrived in L.A. we stopped at Hadley's Orchard. This is about an hour from L.A. County and I heard about it from my grandparents. My grandma said that my great-grandfather used to stop there when he would pass through on I-10.

I imagined that we would be pulling up to a stand selling only dates that would be by the side of the road, but I was wrong. Instead, it is a large market with so many treats inside. First, in the grocery section there were rows upon rows of sticky sweet dates as well as other dried fruits. You can also find pistachios and several types of nuts. And there was also a wine section that feature local grapes. I wanted to take all these treats home with me, but our car was already very full. I prudently selected only one large container of medjool dates to take with us to our apartment.

As we came up to the cashier we also noticed a cafe section of the market. This was an added bonus because we needed a snack before we got to the ocean. We split an egg salad sandwich and chips. While my favorite egg salad remains to be Abe's Deli in Chicago, which you can read about here, this was a very good sandwich and I wish that we hadn't decided to split our snack!

Hadley's was a great stop and we continued to enjoy it last week by having many of our dates for breakfast. They are so moist and they taste like candy to me. They're perfect by themselves, but some mornings we also paired these with Greek yogurt and slivered almonds. I'm glad that my great-grandpa used to stop here and that my grandma recommended it. I only wish I had been more indulgent and bought more dates...


My Rustic LA Kitchen

Finally! We arrived in Los Angeles and moved in to our little apartment in Westwood Village. We are settled in and enjoying ourselves, but cooking in my new kitchen is definitely more challenging than in my kitchen back in Chicago.

In this vintage apartment, I have the basics: oven, kitchen sink, refrigerator and a few kitchen utensils. What I don't have that I enjoyed back in my condo are: well-stocked cabinets full of kitchen utensils and gadgets, a microwave, a dishwasher, a gas grill on the patio, and an air-conditioner. Perhaps the most challenging of them is the lack of air conditioning, considering that L.A. is on its second week of a heat wave.

Our first evening, Nate wanted spaghetti and I made that and broiled him a chicken breast. It was very hot in this kitchen! After a lengthy discussion with my mom and my best friend's mom about how to cook like you're 'in the olden days', without air ,I have found a way to deal with this. The secret is to cook in the morning while the air is cooler. Also, to cook extra when preparing proteins, etc. Some for now, and some for later.

Last Friday, I roasted a whole chicken serve for lunch with corn on the cob, rice pilaf salad and sliced tomatoes. On Saturday we hiked Solstice Canyon and when we found the waterfalls, we sat for a picnic and Nate had the leftover chicken in a baguette. On Sunday he, again, had the chicken on top of homemade Caesar salad when we went to the beach for a picnic dinnner. I froze the rest for later - I had bought a five pound chicken overestimating my husband's appetite!
In cooking or baking in my L.A. apartment, I have also found that I may need to get a little creative. Toasting and reheating take much longer without a toaster or a microwave! I only have one pan so croutons, then vegetables, then shrimp each take their turn in the same pan in my oven - this works out because I only then have one pan to wash! I've also used a skillet as a serving dish for a salad (I had no bowls the first two nights) and a wine bottle as a rolling pin, as I did here when I was making a blackberry galette.

It has been an adventure so far and I'm excited to see what my second week here brings!