December 31, 2008

Looking ahead

Wow, that was fast. 2008 positively flew by (and knocked some of us on our knees as it swept past). Despite the storms weathered this year, I remain ever hopeful that 2009 will be different, will be better. I'm really looking forward to the new year and all its infinite possibilities. Don't you think a brand spanking new calendar, especially when it's brimming with color and beauty like this Snow & Graham one, conveys so much potential and hope? There's so much that lies in store.

Whatever you're doing tonight, I hope it brings you joy and laughter with the people you love. Happy New Year!

December 29, 2008

Travel 2008

2008 has been very good to me in terms of travel. This year I got the chance to re-visit some of my favorite cities on the planet: caught up with friends in London and Rome (the above shot was taken as a cold February day was drawing to a close in the eternal city), spent Easter in New York, celebrated a dear friend's birthday in San Francisco, and gobbled up some scrumptious turkey with the boyfriend's family in Petaluma (Sonoma County). I also had the opportunity to see Hawaii for the first time to celebrate my parents' 35th wedding anniversary. 2 parents + their 6 children + 1 son-in-law + twin 3-year-old granddaughters = 11 family members together in paradise for 1 week! It was both sublime and aggravating, and yet one of the best experiences of my life. I hope 2009 brings more adventure my way. Here are some highlights of my year in travel:
Spring bursting its way onto a north London street.

A cheeky sign at a north London pub where I tried the most amazing Argentinian malbec. Frustratingly enough, I'm having trouble finding an online retailer willing to ship to the states. Must continue sleuthing. Oh, and I can't remember the name of the pub. But I do recall it being at the end of a quiet street in leafy Belsize Park. My fellow pub-goers were achingly cool, too.
While in Rome, I was on the hunt for a couple great bottles of Italian wine to take back to my friends in London who so graciously let me stay at their Balham flat for a week. My Roman amici Paolo and Federica took me to this enchanting wine cellar somewhere in the city. I could have stayed there all day. Hundreds of wine at my fingertips, just waiting to be tasted! I didn't pay attention to where they were driving me, so I wouldn't know how to get there even if you paid me. I was too busy ogling the sights as we sped through the narrow streets as only Italian drivers can.
This is what heaven looks like. That, or a giant bookshop.

Riding bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge, having lunch by the water in Sausalito, taking a ferry back to the city at dusk. What better way to celebrate your friend's 26th birthday?
We finished off the weekend checking out the Fillmore jazz street festival. It was pure madness, but so much fun. Much like my 2008.
Oh, and I must give a big shout-out to my dear friend and travel partner Taryn who captured all the photographs in this post. Thanks for the memories, TS!
Finally, I thought I would share some words of travel wisdom from that English behemoth Dr. Samuel Johnson: "The use of traveling is to regulate the imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.”

December 26, 2008

Christmas Roundup

First and foremost, I sincerely hope that anyone who happens upon this blog (and admittedly, there aren’t a lot of you, but that's beyond the scope of why I started it in the first place; a big thank you to everyone who stops by!) truly had a merry and bright Christmas. The holiday season can leave a lot to be desired, but I hope you were able to find some joy amidst the madness. I certainly did. Enjoy the madness, that is. On Christmas Eve, feeling very disgruntled that I didn’t get the day off, I arrived at work and made the genius move of locking my keys in the car (nice one, Joanna!), but thankfully the situation was quickly and easily resolved with a little help from AAA. Hallelujah. In an effort to abate the tension brought on from that little situation, I decided to treat myself to a manicure. I chose a gunmetal, Dickensian sort of color (particularly apt at this time of year, methinks) as an alternative to the typical holiday red. I loved the end result, but achieving it literally meant waiting for paint to dry. BORING.

But the main
Christmas Eve event was introducing the boyfriend to my family over dinner. Despite feeling slightly on edge about it going in—I have a very sarcastic and lively family who love nothing better than pushing other people’s buttons—I think on the whole it went very well. Though I suspect the vodka water and multiple glasses of red wine I consumed might have helped. As did this citrus-glazed ahi tuna.

The boyfriend and I finished up the eve at the charming Bar Chloe in Santa Monica. Festive twinkle lights were hung as a nod to the holiday and lent a quiet ambience, and I found it to be an altogether relaxing, and dare I say, civilized, end to a rather eventful day.

Christmas day was spent eating, opening presents, eating, taking a catnap, and eating some more (the goat cheese-stuffed bell peppers and peppermint bark were highlights). To top it off, Santa brought me a pair of incredibly warm and cozy UGG boots (he knew I was a fan way before they were ever considered trendy).

He also brought me a cookbook by that empress of domesticity, Martha Stewart. He must know that I've been meaning to cook more. Thanks, Santa! These photos are making me hungry.

Overall, I think my favorite part of Christmas was receiving the myriad holiday cards from friends and family. To me, these notes of good cheer and health and happiness are what Christmas is all about. Happy Holidays!

December 22, 2008

A Charlie Brown Christmas

I was stuck in bed with a pernicious cold at the weekend. So to cheer myself up a little, I popped in the holiday classic, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and there I sat amid fluffy pillows and snuggled under my down comforter, positively transfixed while slurping a bowl of steaming chicken noodle soup (the soup was courtesy of Whole Foods, which was delicious by the way. Note to self: I really need to learn how to make a killer chicken noodle soup. But I digress). I'm convinced that the film and soup combination alone did more in the way of making me feel better than all the vitamin C and veggies I had consumed up until that point. Charlie Brown and co. are just THAT good. When you think about it, the film has so much going for it: a lovable and sensitive protagonist you can't help but root for, a rockin' soundtrack (composed by the great Vince Guaraldi), sage advice for only 5 cents (a steal!), some rather enviable dance moves you can use to impress your friends (my favorite is the one performed by the bobbsey twins), and most important of all, a special message about the true meaning of Christmas. How many holiday films can boast all that?

December 17, 2008

Feather Canyons Everywhere

Alas, winter is creeping into southern California. And as it should, what with the winter solstice fast approaching. There is a distinct chill in the air, particularly in the mornings and evenings. We've also had heaps of rain, and the most amazing sunsets and cloud shows have been performing across the early evening skies of late.

I have a thing about photographing clouds. They break up all that monotonously blue LA sky and when they part to let the divine sunlight break through, it's such a glorious sight. I hum a certain Joni Mitchell tune whenever I gaze up at the sky.

December 15, 2008

Vanity Fair Portraits: Photographs 1913–2008

Over the weekend I visited the Vanity Fair Portraits: Photographs 1913-2008 exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). The exhibit celebrates the magazine's 95th anniversary of celebrity portraiture and features photographs from its archives.

Over the years, many a famous actor, dancer, painter, writer, and politician have collaborated with the most talented and in-demand photographers of the day for Vanity Fair, and the tradition certainly continues. The likes of Cecil Beaton, Annie Leibovitz, Edward Steichen, and Mario Testino have shot such luminaries as Princess Diana, Katharine Hepburn, Margaret Thatcher, Pablo Picasso, Josephine Baker, Frida Kahlo, Martin Scorsese, and many more. Among my favorite portraits: a breathtaking painterly photo of Julianne Moore in the style of Ingres; a charming moment between siblings and dancing partners Adele and Fred Astaire (pre-Ginger Rogers era), and a languid Nicole Kidman draped across the sofa in the historic home of Bloomsbury artists Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, captured years before Kidman portrayed Vanessa's sister Virginia Woolf on-screen in The Hours.

I've actually twice visited this exhibit; the first time coincided with its opening day at the National Portrait Gallery in London. It was February 14th, and I found myself alone for a couple of hours in my favorite city. With my boyfriend thousands of miles away in Los Angeles, I considered the next best way to celebrate a holiday for lovers was to spend a rainy afternoon with these remarkable portraits. It was the perfect valentine to myself.

December 10, 2008

Tis the season

The holidays are most definitely here, and depending on your outlook, that could be a cause of absolute misery or immense joy. I tend to hover somewhere in between. I love the idea of Christmas and the meaning behind it, but at times I can't help but feel disenchanted with its overly commercial ways. Charlie Brown would totally empathize!

Which is why I think it's important to focus on the things that lend a little joy to this festive season. For me, it's spreading a little cheer around by writing holiday cards and sending them to family and friends (and who doesn't need a bit of cheer these days?). At the moment, I’ve got Ella Fitzgerald singing carols in the background ("Good Morning Blues" is a particular favorite of mine), a cup of steaming green tea at my elbow, and a stack of wonderfully quirky holiday cards in front of me, just waiting for me to break out that pen and start writing. How cute are these designs? Oh, how I
adore letterpress!

Doesn’t this angel look splendidly happy? Must remember to ask her what gives her that angelic glow.

How dapper does this owl look, with scarf tossed jauntily over his shoulder (do owls have shoulders?). If only I could look as effortless.

These bike-riding gnomes crack me up! I know one friend in particular who will be ecstatic to see these happy little guys in her mailbox.

For anyone who's interested, the tweety birds are from Snow & Graham, the owl is from Vera Wang Fine Papers, and the angel and gnomes are from Egg Press.

December 8, 2008

Weekend Snapshots

The boyfriend and I spent most of the chilly weekend cozying up with copious cups of earl grey tea from Taylors of Harrogate.
When we bothered to leave the apartment, we had breakfast at Cafe Vida in leafy Pacific Palisades. The food at Cafe Vida is always organic, healthy, and incredibly delicious.

And the first weekend in December wouldn't be complete without a little sugar cookie baking and tree trimming to inaugurate the holiday season.

December 3, 2008

My first film premiere

The other night I attended the premiere of The Punisher at Mann's Chinese Theater in Hollywood. As it turns out, the film wasn't at all my cup of tea (to put it gently), but I was more than happy to be there to support a friend of mine who has an important role in the film, and he was fantastic in it. Plus, I had never attended a film premiere before, so it was interesting to see what goes on at these types of events (i.e. mainly just actors looking across the room and sizing up other actors. Riveting, huh?).

November 30, 2008

Giving Thanks

I'm grateful for so many things in my life, not least of which is the opportunity to spend 5 glorious days with the boyfriend and his family in northern California for the Thanksgiving holiday. Last Tuesday we caught a plane to San Francisco and we made a last-minute decision to upgrade to first class. It was very swish: there was loads of leg room, the flight attendant was extra attentive, and we had bits of cheese and mushrooms as a little on-flight treat.

Upon our arrival, we hopped in a car and drove to North Beach, San Francisco's Italian district. Not only does the neighborhood boast a myriad of cozy Italian bistros, but it is also home to City Lights, one of the best independent bookshops on the planet, and a mecca for all Beat enthusiasts. The shop has three levels, is well-stocked, and the sales people are super helpful (I had inquired after a book of which at the time I could not for the life of me remember the title nor the author, and when I offered the briefest of descriptions, the salesperson instantly knew exactly what book I was talking about!). Since it's flat out impossible for me to walk inside the shop without buying anything, I quite happily gave in to temptation and purchased three books: The Haunted House by Charles Dickens (each chapter is written by a different author; Wilkie Collins and Elizabeth Gaskell are contributors, so it should be a fun read indeed!), Night and Day by Virginia Woolf and Mrs. Woolf and the Servants by Allison Light (the book I had trouble remembering, which came highly recommended by the fabulous Mary-Laure!).

After the book spree, we drove about an hour north of the city to the tiny farm town of Petaluma. It was a pretty idyllic location to spend Thanksgiving. Golden leaves impart a pop of color to an otherwise gray Petaluma street.

The guys went out mushroom hunting and brought back these beauties.

While the ladies stayed indoors, lit a fire, and sipped spicy Xocolatl hot chocolate.

Good to the last delectable drop.

On Thanksgiving day, we shared an exquisitely prepared meal in the barn in the backyard, where we feasted on pumpkin soup, roasted turkey, and sweet potatoes with marshmallow (though the combination sounds quite bizarre, the dish is mouth-wateringly delicious). Our lovely and gracious hosts are real foodies, which I loved because eating is one of my favorite things to do! Everything was absolutely incredible. This shot was taken during the day.

And this is the night-time shot complete with roasted pig, of which I did not partake.

All good things must come to an end. Sniff, sniff. We decided to drive back to Los Angeles, taking in the Richmond bridge, golden-drenched central coast vineyards, and a Cheshire cat Santa Barbara moon along the way.

November 24, 2008

Me encanta vino

I love wine. I love the taste of a really smooth pinot noir around the campfire or a grassy New Zealand sauvignon blanc on a scorching summer day. I adore wine-tasting with friends and living in California means I have an abundance of wine regions to visit. Not only does wine-tasting offer an excellent opportunity to sample local varietals, but it also provides much-needed solace from the city (not to mention, walking among the vineyards reminds me of my childhood spent picking grapes from the vines which grew all around our house).

I especially love trying different wines when I go out shopping, though lately I haven't been very successful with the ones I've chosen. I have a propensity to favor anything that has a creative, eye-catching label, but more often than not, the wines rarely live up to the originality of whatever artwork is adorning the bottle. Which is why when I do find a wine I love, I tend to drink it again and again and again, and this was the case for me over the weekend. For a house party with friends, I brought my standby chianti, Santa Margherita Chianti Classico. It's fruity and spicy without all those bitter tannins and utterly delicious. And the accompanying blurry photo is a testament to how much vino and delicious food I consumed that evening.

November 21, 2008

It's always nice to get free stuff

Last weekend I indulged my girly side and stopped by the local Fred Segal to attend a special demonstration of the organic skin line, Liz Earle Naturally Active Skincare. My skin was feeling dry and a bit rough after spending a week in the strong Hawaiian sunshine (I know, woe is me), so I was looking forward to picking up a few tips. I already own a few of her products (the superskin concentrate, an aromatic oil blend, smells heavenly), so I was happy to chat with Liz and some of the skincare specialists she brought with her from England.

All were really sweet and knowledgeable about the products and after making a few purchases (I couldn't help it!), I received a free goody bag* which contained, among other things, an extra bottle of the superskin concentrate. Score! My skin feels better already.

*I love the snowflake-esque design adorning the gift bag. It's a picture of the sea holly, a plant indigenous to the Isle of Wight, where the company is based.

November 16, 2008

Birthday Cake

This week we celebrated the boyfriend's birthday with a deliciously healthy dinner (made by him) and a not-so-healthy golden layer cake with chocolate buttercream frosting (made by moi). This was my first attempt at baking a cake completely from scratch, and I have to say it was a pretty decent initial effort. Although I found a couple things I could have done differently--there's always room for improvement, after all--the birthday boy loved it. And really, that's all that matters.