Family Week And Some Good Home Cooking

How WONDERFUL that you and J and your sister Little C came up for a visit from Melbourne. A very special party brought you three to town, one we were  very excited to attend. It was a quick trip fro you and J, university and work beckoned as the fun week end came to a close. I was sad to wave you off at the airport on Sunday night, but luckily we were able to keep your sister behind for a bit longer.

A wonderful catch up on the first evening with your cousin and hubby.  I cooked shredded slow cooked lamb shawarma to wrap in pita bread with garlic and yoghurt sauce, and plenty of freshly chopped tabbouleh. Yum yum. Not to rest easy, your couzzie baked her amazing chocolate salted caramel brownies, AND little ramekins of deliciously silken creme brûlée. Oh my- it was a case of food coma on Friday night, wasn’t it!

For the big party, I was making sliders and coleslaw. It was so exciting to see members of the celebrating party arrive from all over the world: Six sisters and two brothers, only two unable to attend. The sisters were so lovely together, and we shared snatches of old stories, in between prep for the party.

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The party was such fun, the table groaning with good food which my cousin, her siblings  and mother had made. There were also  some staple Malaysian classics like rice noodles, satay with peanut sauce, and curry puffs. MMMMM!

C had made her supreme carrot cake and red velvet cake; meanwhile, I doubled the recipe of the flour-less chocolate cake, and baked it with care, as this was such a special occasion, and I wanted it to be perfect.

After you left, I fed Little C when I could. I say that because you know how she loves to cook when she comes home! She made us the most delicious pizza one night, the base formed out of a cauliflower and almond meal ‘pastry’. The topping was an equally stunning passata which had aubergine and pumpkin pieces in it. SOOOO delish. She is a creative and careful cook.

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Little C tells me she’s crazy about mushrooms right now, so I bought paper bags of oyster and button mushrooms from the little market a couple of times after work, and cooked them up for her with melted onions, some balsamico, and lots of chopped parsley. She was in heaven.

Today, before Little C packed up her suitcase and bag of books and headed back to Melbourne, we had a picnic by the ocean. It was a stunning crystal clear, hot and sunny day. We sat overlooking the sparkling water, busy with boats and ferries and yachts in the distance, and people of all ages and shapes swimming closer to the shore. I made some savoury muffins, and Delia Smiths’s more-ish granola bars. My couzzie C brought a large box of fresh fruit, your cousin had little jars of fruit compote, with sprigs of mint, and so that we weren’t too healthy, a large box of Rosetta Stone almond croissants.

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IMG_9037 With coffees from the kiosk close by, we shared a lovely hour together. Our lazy morning was broken when a man rushed past, urgently  looking for help. Your sweet cousin, deep into relating her travel stories to us, stopped suddenly. I guess if you are trained as a doctor, it is an ingrained instinct. She leaped up mid sentence and sped across the sand with the man to a little baby who was very sick. How lucky for the parents to have a paediatrician on the beach.

I’m glad you caught the crazy wisteria on the back terrace on your visit.  And the old azalea bush, smothered in pink blooms. We’ve been gardening more lately with the warmer weather. At the nursery yesterday, we found an odd aloe plant. Asking after its name, the nurseryman scratched his head and said: ‘Eric’. I had to have it of course. It now has pride of place in the front garden, looking like something from Dr. Seuss.

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IMG_8945Thank you and J for coming- we really loved having a full house! I miss you girls already.

 

(G)rainy Week-End and London Visitors

IMG_8263It was so lovely to see the B family after a couple of years.  We’d not even met the youngest member of the family, all of two years old.  He strode into the house in his little overalls and threw himself down at Alice and Paisley who were quite taken aback, roused from their doggie dreams. It has been a while since anyone paid them such close attention! Baby’s older brother, now bloomed into a charming (and good looking!) eleven year old, kept a tender eye on his new sibling.

We knew Mr. B as a young bachelor, tooling around in his black Beemer convertible, and he was a funny uncle to you girls, always laughing and making naughty jokes. It is so nice to see him with his own two children, and his beautiful wife who does a tremendous job taking her wild husband in her capable stride. I hope you have an opportunity to catch up with them while they are in Melbourne. They’d love to see you. I think the last time you saw them was in London, and that must be a while ago now.

I made a freekeh salad to accompany a slow cooked lamb dish when they were here, and a crunchy green bean and bell pepper salad. Tonight I’ve cooked some farro. Stirring in some pomegranate seeds, baby tomatoes, chopped parsley, garlic, lemon juice and lots of olive oil.  About a week ago, it was some tabbouleh with bulgur to go with spicy lamb kebabs. I love using these different grains- they feel so healthy and the texture is so earthy after rice and pasta.  The nutty flavour of farro is hard to beat for me, and I love the colour- a deep green-y brown; so rich and appealing.

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With the freekeh and farro, just follow the cooking instructions on the box, and then add to salads using vegetables like green beans, chickpeas, chopped apricots, peppers, pomegranate, chopped celery, onion, spring onion, carrots, etc. On a wintery day, it makes for a more substantial salad. You can also add farro to soups, giving them texture and some heft. (add a handful to a minestrone ..)

Tabbouleh, with bulgur is so much more economical assembled at home. My jaw dropped at the market the other day when a lady picked up a tub of tabbouleh and the guy said cheerily: Nine dollars please! Ouch! You can make it for a fraction of that.

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Definitely make a huge batch at home, and enjoy with some grilled sangers or chicken, or make hummus and grill some egg plant and capsicum for a vegetarian meal. Parsley is plentiful and beautifully fresh right now, so I’d encourage you to buy a pile and make some! No cooking involved, just chop up some favourite ingredients and toss together.  Here’s how:

Tabbouleh ingredients

  • 2 medium sized tomatoes diced fine
  • 1 small onion chopped fine
  • 1 large bunch mint leaves
  • 2 to 3 large bunches of flat leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup good olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 30 grams bulgur

Method:

  1. Place the bulgur in a sieve, and wash under cold water. Drain well and put in the salad bowl.
  2. Add the chopped tomatoes and onions to the bowl with some of the lemon juice and stir to combine.
  3. Chop off the main parts of the parsley stems and discard.  Gather the bunches of leaves together, and chop fine. Add to the bowl. Now the same with the mint leaves, but no stems at all.
  4. Add the spices, and olive oil and rest of the lemon juice, and toss all the ingredients thoroughly.  You might need a little more olive oil.

Parsley is so good for you too! Full of anti-oxidants and high in Vitamin C, can you think of anything better during flu season?  Sending you both hugs.

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Biscotti: Just A Little Nibble!

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Dad brought home the Canada biscuit tin last night. Reminded me of the cookfest we had in the kitchen while you girls were here on holiday only last month. That was when the empty tin had come out of a dark cupboard…

Having you both home ( and on our travels) was just so much fun-  I didn’t get much of a kitchen look-in during that time; Little C took the reigns while the rest of us enjoyed her endeavours.  She was determined dad shouldn’t go hungry on the long days he spent at work, and sent him off to work one day with amazing Anzacs, to which she’d added dried mulberries that she’d bought at the Bondi farmer’s market.

Izzy, I have to confess those crinkly dried berries looked so much like little critter droppings, I was quite dubious about the whole idea. Of course they turned out beautifully, adding a lovely semi-sweet chewy-ness to those Anzacs…

Anyway seeing this empty Canada biscuit tin on the kitchen bench reminded me of those lovely biscuits  Little C so thoughtfully baked for her dad so I pulled out a mixing bowl…….time to fill up that tin again! Can’t have your dad staying at work till all hours without a snack to reach for, right?

I was reminded of our gorgeous Brissie friend’s excellent home-made biscotti, and how whenever we are together, she says: Tina, you really should make some yourself. So I am, and I’m sharing them with you, ladies!

Such simple ingredients, and the nice thing about it is you can store it half-baked in the freezer for ages. I’ve made a vaguely middle eastern variety with rose-water and pistachios, but you can substitute with chopped dates, almonds, grated orange or lemon zest and hazelnuts – whatever you are feeling like on the day.  They are only thin and light, so yes, a sweet, but not such a BIG indulgent one! Also perfect with a cup of tea… especially with the colds you’ve both had. I hope you are past the worst of it. I am thinking of you, my sweet girls. Wrap up tight against the Melbourne cold and bake! Here is how you make these biscotti babies:

Ingredients:

  • 3 eggs at room temperature, beaten with a fork
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon rose-water (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 cup shelled and unsalted pistachios

Method:

  1. Pre heat oven to 160 degrees celsius.
  2. In a bowl, mix flour well with baking powder, stirring through with a fork.
  3. Add sugar and pistachios or other nuts/dates/dried cherries, etc that you are using (1 cup in total) and mix well.
  4. Add beaten eggs and rosewater and knead with your fingers into a soft dough.
  5. Sprinkle some flour onto a clean surface and shape your dough into a long loaf, slightly flattening the top.
  6. Line a biscuit baking tray with grease proof paper and place the loaf onto the tray.
  7. Bake for half an hour, and then remove the loaf from the oven, place on a wire rack and cool completely.
  8. Now slice the loaf with a serrated bread knife into 1 to 2 cm thick slices.
  9. At this point, you can put some slices in a ziplock bag and freeze for later if you like.
  10. Put the slices back onto the tray and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes until pale gold in colour, and crisp.
  11. Store in an airtight jar….. or a biscuit tin!

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Baked Eggs: And A New Melbourne Semester begins

It was hard saying good bye to Little C at the crack of dawn this morning, only a couple of weeks after we took you to the airport Izzy. We’ve so enjoyed having you both home for a while. And what a treat to have some time off cooking while you both took over the chauffeuring, the grocery shopping, and the cooking. Very nice indeed. I’ll certainly miss my lovely helpers.

Our family  holiday in Burma was memorable. The Shwedagon Pagoda visit together is one I won’t forget. It was so lovely wandering that  glittering complex amongst friendly locals in their beautiful traditional costumes. They were there to pray, enjoy family picnics and some to visit their children, there as novice monks.  I also loved seeing Papa’s old school, and wandering around the sleepy compound with you all. Fascinating to eat tea leaf salads- we’d never had them before. The meals at ‘Gekko‘, ‘Monsoon’ and ‘Sharky’s’ were great, weren’t they? Not to forget that amazing curry table at the Governor’s Residence. And Shan noodles-yum, yum!

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St. Pauls  in Rangoon where Papa went to school.

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The glorious Shwedagon Temple.

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Three lovely young ladies at the Shwedagon temple.

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Burmese tea leaf salad.

Back home in Sydney, I was hardly allowed into the kitchen with Little C around, but I did make some baked eggs one week-end morning. It needs to be recorded here as an easy go-to recipe; it is nutritious and delicious and takes you through a long morning of work or study.

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Ready to eat with a garnish of parsley.

 

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Filling up the pots with favourite ingredients.

The nice thing about bakes eggs is the variety of things you can bake them with, for a change from the usual. Because you cook them in a water bath, there is ‘no-fail’ built into it too, which works for everyone. You just want to watch the time so as not to over bake them.

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Bake in a pan of water.

If you don’t have little individual pots to bake your eggs in, you can use a small oven proof dish, or even a shallow fry pan. Left overs come in handy for this dish. Here’s how to put it together:

For 4 people:

  • 8 fresh eggs
  • 2 cups of spinach leaves
  • 1 large onion
  • any suitable left overs: I had some barley salad with diced peppers which was ideal. Also a left over bowl of baked beans.
  • a few cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Method:

  1. Chop the onion into a large dice and soften in a sauce pan with a table spoon of olive oil. Set aside.
  2. Heat the oven to 180 degrees celsius.
  3. Wipe four ramekin dishes or a small over-proof dish with the rest of the olive oil, and place this in a baking tray half filled with water.
  4. Into the bowl, arrange layers of some spinach leaves,  the barley salad , some baked beans, the tomato and the cooked onion.
  5. Break two (or one) eggs onto the top of each dish. Sprinkle over with parmesan cheese, and grind some salt and pepper over each.
  6. Place in the hot oven and cook until eggs are firm, about twenty minutes.

Note: you can use a myriad of other ingredients with your eggs: chopped peppers, mushrooms, chopped and cooked bacon or prosciutto, slices of zucchini, a handful of arugula, some chopped cooked potato pieces, any cooked mince,sun dried tomatoes or even tinned sardines or tuna. Add grated cheddar cheese in between layers too, if you like it more cheesy.

Have a wonderful new semester coming up. Izzy- your new home looks wonderful from photos and I cannot wait to come visit. Little C, your Ormond room this semester makes up for the exile of T-Res. You deserve the great room you scored. I miss you, my lovely girls. I hope you get together often, and continue to cook like you did over the holidays here.

 

 

Melbourne With My Girls : Pasta In A Yoghurt Sauce

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In amongst a trip to see your Nana and Papa in KL, visitors to stay with us in Sydney, dad traveling here and there around the country, AND Izzy moving up to Sydney for a long internship, I cannot believe I had  twenty-four hours with  both my girls in Melbourne not so long ago. What an almighty treat for this mum. I was SO happy to be with you. Thank you so much for putting your busy lives on hold, and just enjoying a mellow day with me. I really treasure the time we had together. We had a long and lazy brunch and wandered all over your beautiful campus on a sunny and mild winter’s day.

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IMG_6971You both know I am a great fan of the chef Yotam Ottolenghi, but when a recipe which included ingredients like peas and yoghurt came to my attention, I have to say I was dubious.  But who am I to doubt the master cook. I went ahead and made this pasta dish, quite sure I would be happily surprised. And yes, it was unusual and delicious, creamy and tangy, made mild by the peas. The pale green colour of the sauce was beautiful – I  love food that looks appealing too. The pine nuts cooked with chilli flakes and oil and drizzled over, add a brightness to the dish which is glorious. If you are cooking for vegetarian friends, it is a perfect all in one meal, hearty and satisfying. We shared this dish with non-meat eating friends this week-end. I made a tomatoey, spicy eggplant curry, a Nana favourite, to accompany.  An unusual combination, but it seemed to go together quite well.  Anyway, the long and the short of it girls is, make this pasta- you’ll love it!

Cannot wait for our end of month reunion- its been too long since we’ve all been together as a family. I miss it.

Pasta with Yogurt, Peas, and Chile
2 ½ cups (500 g) whole-milk Greek yogurt
2/3 cup (150 ml) olive oil
2 medium cloves garlic, crushed or pressed
1 pound (500 g) fresh or thawed frozen peas
Kosher salt
1 pound (500 g) pasta shapes of your liking
½ cup (60 g) pine nuts
2 teaspoons Turkish or Syrian chile flakes, or red pepper flakes
1 2/3 cups (40 g) basil leaves, coarsely torn
8 ounces (240 g) feta cheese, coarsely crumbled

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the yogurt, 6 tablespoons (90 ml) of the olive oil, the garlic, and 2/3 cup (100 g) of the peas. Process to a uniform pale green sauce, and transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and salt it until tastes like pleasantly salty seawater. Add the pasta, and cook until it is al dente. While the pasta cooks, warm the remaining olive oil in a small frying pan over medium heat. Add the pine nuts and chile flakes, and cook for 4 minutes, or until the pine nuts are golden and the oil is deep red. Also, warm the remaining peas in some boiling water (you could scoop out a bit of the pasta water for this); then drain.

Drain the cooked pasta into a colander, and shake it well to get rid of excess water that may have settled into the pasta’s crevices. Add the pasta gradually to the yogurt sauce; adding it all at once may cause the yogurt to separate. Add the warm peas, the basil, feta, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Toss gently. Serve immediately, with pine nuts and chile oil spooned over each serving.

Serves: about 6.

Recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem

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Purple Plum Torte and Little People at Easter Time

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Happy Easter to you Izzy, and Little C at opposite ends of the world.  From Bells Beach (Rip Curl 2014 Surf Pro?) to Bel Air (at Jessi’s house), dad and I cannot wait for you both to descend on us in Sydney in a couple of days.

It is so nice to have four days in a row. Dad, who has worked twenty-six days without a break certainly needed this week-end. I took him breakfast in bed on Friday, which he loved.

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It would have been an unusually quiet Easter Sunday without you girls, if not for a week-end of visitors in and around Sydney, including three gorgeous little one-year olds, two of whom were here today for lunch with their parents, and your cousins  T and D. Dressed in their Easter best, the baby twins were gentle and sweet  and quite won our hearts.

Across the way in Darling Point, cousin C has visitors one of whom is a precious one year old too! You’d love these little people, Izzy- warm and small and oh so sweet!

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I cooked some favourite suspects for lunch- thought with babies a meal at room temperature might be more practical to give us lots of time to start and stop with them if needed,  and not worry about things getting cold.

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For dessert, we had a plum torte which I served with Persian fairy floss and dollops of thick cream. This is no ordinary plum cake, Izzy. It is, in fact, ‘the world’s BEST plum cake’! Don’t you love it when you come across something that claims to be the best? I found this recipe and immediately had to read more. The tartness of the plums and the sweetness of the butter cake make a wonderful medley of tastes. It is a cinchy cake to bake- you’d be impressing everyone big time with this one, little Izzy.

Well, I’m getting my Ottolenghi cook books out for when you gals arrive let’s get cooking’! Cant wait to spend some hours cooking with you while we catch up on all the news….in person! Until Tuesday my darling girls.

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Purple Plum Torte

This is ideal with purple Italian prune plums, but if you can’t find them, other plums will do.

1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon (5 grams) baking powder (the aluminum-free kind, if you can find it)
Large pinch of salt
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar plus 1 to 2 tablespoon (depending on sweetness of plums)
1/2 cup (115 grams or 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
12 smallish purple Italian purple plums, halved and pitted
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon or tablespoon ground cinnamon (see Note up top for explanation)

Heat over to 350°F. Sift or whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. In a larger bowl, cream butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until fluffy and light in color. Add the eggs, one at a time and scraping down the bowl, then the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined.

Spoon batter into an ungreased 9-inch springform pan (but if you’re worried, you can always lightly coat it first with butter or a nonstick spray) and smooth the top. Arrange the plums, skin side up, all over the batter, covering it. Sprinkle the top with lemon juice, then cinnamon, then remaining sugar.

Bake until cake is golden and a toothpick inserted into a center part of the cake comes out free of batter (but of course not plum juice), about 45 to 50 minutes. Cool on rack.

Once cool, if you can stand it, and I highly recommend trying, leave it covered at room temperature overnight as this cake is even better on the second day, when those plum juices further release into the the cake around it, becoming not just “cake with plum,” but cakeplumughyum (official terminology, there).

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-with thanks to the Smitten Kitchen-

Eating Fresh In LA And A Glimpse of Little C !

Hello from LA, Izzy! The last ten days in California have been so great. Palm Springs was chilly some days, but clear and bright.  We had a full dose of Modernism out in the desert: we looked at lots of architecture, and had a tour with a delightful character who was an impressive expert on the topic.

Mid-Century Modern Tour in Palm Springs

After the more ‘official’ part of the trip ended in LA, I stayed on to see some friends, also to meet Little C, and send her on her way to Coachella.

IMG_6419So many good memories, Izzy. Especially when I went to a school event one evening. I happened to have tickets to the school’s annual Huston Memorial Lecture, where an author of note is invited to speak.  When we lived in LA I came one night to hear Jhumpa Lahiri speak.

Anyway, on Wednesday night, I joined a crowd of Brentwood School faculty, families and friends in the gym to hear Khaled Hosseini speak about his books The Kite Runner, and A Thousand Splendid Suns. He was handsome, eloquent, charming, funny and self deprecating. You would have really enjoyed the evening. The first person I saw there was your cross country coach; he looks better than ever.  Of course he wanted to know if his former team captain was still running…

The days have all blurred with highlights of seeing friends, shopping, a bit of cooking, and writing. I’ve been driving all over town, back and forth over the 405. I’ve had some amazing meals. Of course I stopped at In and Out Burger for old times sake. The price has gone up from $1.99 to $2.87! Wow- still the best value for a very tasty burger. Enjoyed a very special home cooked feast in Marco Place, with Bruno and Cooper in attendance.

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Of course everything came to an almighty stop when your sister arrived yesterday. I was so excited, I hardly slept the night before. I woke at six to pick her up at LAX from the very early arriving Melbourne flight. I was so excited to see Little C! She seems super well, but it was quite evident that you were a huge help to her, getting her ready for this big trip before she left. Thank you, big sister for looking after her!

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Well, as I write this, Little C must be in the desert by now, checked in to the La Quinta resort with a bunch of buddies, and getting ready for a crazy good line up of music starting soon. Such fun.

I am just about packed up myself, and getting ready to head home. Your dad has started the journey already, boarding the plane in New York. In a few hours, I will get on the same plane and we will fly home together. i’ll be pleased to see the doggies, and to be HOME!

Little C and I went straight from the airport to Santa Monica and stopped at Wholefoods on Montana, right where we lived and shopped. She made a bee-line for the fresh fruit, and we bought sweet strawberries and a papaya. Apparently, these are luxury items at college…. I cooked her (perfect) poached eggs this morning with big hunks of buttered toast: for the long day ahead of her in the desert, I thought she needed to start with eggs!

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Tonight, I am slow cooking a leg of lamb that’s been marinading in a green paste of parsley, thyme, rosemary, anchovies, lemon, and lots of garlic. A quiet meal before getting on the plane late tonight.

I’ll be glad to snuggle up to MB on the flight tonight and watch a movie and sleep a little before we arrive home. I have felt quite separated from you on this trip- I do miss you and hope you’ve had a happy, constructive couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, here a list of wonderful places to eat great fresh food in Los Angeles, for your next visit, Izzy.

See you soon back in Australia. Thank you, California for your sunshine, delish food, great friends, amazing art, tasty market produce, unparalleled shopping, KCRW radio station, In and out Burgers, and great star and car watching. Yes, so long Rollers, it is now all about the Tesla!