Dinner With Friends

Since moving from our home in the Valley to our downtown condo, we haven’t done a lot of entertaining. Our condo is plenty big for us, but we can’t handle more than two other couples for dinner and only then if we are strategic to the point of military precision about our movements from the living room to the dining area, because you need to file in in the prescribed seating order and then stay there; there is no room for gracious serving from the left and clearing to the right.

“Hey, can you pass me jImmie’s plate and the salad bowl” – it’s more like that.

But I have tried to get these two couples of friends together to meet for years. A few other times we have been able to wrangle half of one couple but never all four of them. Tonight we finally succeeded.

My menu was from The Sprouted Kitchen, my favorite cookbook ever. Wild cod with a lemon, shallot caper relish, a zesty quinoa and black bean salad, a green salad, and roasted asparagus with mustard thyme bread crumbs, lemon zest, hard-boiled eggs and Parmesan cheese. I know. It sounds like a lot of things that wouldn’t necessarily go well together, right? Wrong!

And for dessert, this beautiful almond meal gluten-free cake with whipped cream with mascarpone in it and mashed strawberries in top. I must say it was a spectacular meal. (I know. Overwhelming modesty.)

The Sprouted Kitchen website

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I used to entertain a lot-huge parties in our big house with the newly renovated kitchen big enough to do a cooking show. (Theoretically. I never trotted it out on an real cooking show.) Anything under 25 people wouldn’t cause me to break a sweat. I remember on my fortieth birthday, I was ASMing on August Wilson’s “Jitney” at The Mark Taper Forum, and I decided I would have a party for forty friends: 20 old and 20 new. My brother in SF, the commercial fisherman, sent me 10 dungenous crabs in a cooler for the party, and I ordered a Honey-baked Ham with all that that entailed  to serve as well.

It was Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, a holiday; I love that about my birthday, because it ensures a three-day weekend and when I had ordered the ham, I had asked two times about the fact that it was a holiday and both times they assured me that they would be open. That Monday, which was my birthday, I drove over the hill to pick up the ham only to find the store closed and half of my dinner was not accessible. In my disbelief, I stood, both hands above my head leaning against the door with it’s infuriating sign: “Closed for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday.”   But it’s my birthday, toooooo!

So I whipped up two trays of lasagna instead: one veggie, one regular. Then when the 40 people showed up for dinner, it was all ready. No sweat. Really no sweat beyond my first rage and disbelief that they would have sold me a ham to pick up on a day when the store was closed.

So then,  why is it that it took me the entire time from 7:30Am to 6:00pm yesterday  to get ready for dinner for six?  Let me look at what I did yesterday. Got up at 7:30, made the cake. Went to the Citadel Outlet stores at 10:00AM to return the suit I had bought for my husband last week. Drove to Fish King in Glendale to get good enough fish to serve to my friends.  Stopped in to visit Tina and Michael at their house which was nearby, then promptly left the fish in their refrigerator. Off to Trader Joe’s for a few essentials. Got home and realized I had forgotten the shallots and capers and limes. So I went to Ralph’s. Hmm. Note to self – need to apply same military precision to the prep…. Probably the difference is that I just don’t have a good enough memory to remember what it is that I needed at each of these stores. So I rushed around wasting time. That sounds and is moronic. Even armed with my lists.

Anyway, lest I completely squash my good feelings about last night’s party, I will just say it was a great success. Our friends hit it off and after dinner we watched the video I made about our recent trip to Alaska. I have officially become my maternal grandparents, who used to set up the slide carousel and show photos from their trips to various European cities after dinner. I secretly thrilled to these shows because I had a taste for adventure and imagined what it would be like to visit those places as a new  and sophisticated grown up.

I don’t know. Last night’s dinner went so well I may even try it again soon.  Maybe without the “home movies.”

Wet Hair at the Hollywood Bowl

photo 1Last night we headed out to go to the Hollywood Bowl because I had been given comps to see “Hair” by the sound designer, my colleague Phil Allen.  All day it had been kind of overcast and cloudy, but really really hot.

I knew that the Hollywood bowl was going to be like Mount Everest for my 87-year-old husband. But karmically, things seemed to be falling together neatly. On Friday, at work I had to call a student to find out if he had the units to do a lighting design this fall. Kevin has been working as a parking attendant at the Hollywood Bowl since the age of 14. Please don’t think less of me because honestly, I didn’t call him to take advantage of this fact.

But when I did reach him, he told me that he could help me out with parking. He said he would put my name on the list, and that I should drive up the hill to Lot A and look for him.

We left the apartment at 6:00. I had a beautiful basket full of poached Salmon, a lovely quinoa salad, and for dessert, berries and some brownie bites from Smart and Final. I was feeling very, very Martha Stewart.

We got to the Hollywood Bowl and it was a complete cluster f–k. I didn’t know what lane to get into, because I literally hadn’t come to the Hollywood Bowl in five years, and the cop was pointing me to turn left when I need to go straight ahead. I said to him “My names on the list” and he waved me into the right lane, after admonishing me with a good natured retort: “We can’t read minds, here! Have a nice evening!”

I got to the bottom of the hill.  I said “My name’s on the list.” (Surely the sweetest words in the history of theatre.) Sure enough, miraculously, it was. We drove up the hill and Kevin was there and  said “Park right here,” pointing to his left to an area which was clearly not a parking spot. 

I unloaded my husband’s  walker, and gave the keys to Kevin and we walked into the bowl. 

We were now standing in front of the black macadam  Mount Everest. A rise which is probably 50° and my husband turned to me with woeful eyes and said, “How far is it?”

I looked down at the tickets and I could see that we needed to go about hundred feet further up the hill to the entrance. People were walking by shooting me dirty looks for bringing somebody with a walker on this hill.

Some kind Bowl usher helped us and pointed us to the elevator which eliminated 20 steps up. We took the elevator up and went our way up the longest handicap ramp in history. Now were on the flat area between the seating heading towards our seats. It was still  really early and the boxes in the Bowl were full of happy picnickers but the upper levels were still pretty empty.

We got to the entrance to the seating area where we needed to leave the walker and my husband looked up and said “What row are we in?” Again, woeful eyes.

I was thinking, ” Yeah,  it’s a great idea to come to the Hollywood Bowl as the last event in one’s life.”

We climbed, my husband holding onto the backs of the benches and we finally got to row 11. We sat down on our Hollywood Bowl blanket  and I opened the basket for dinner. Things were looking up.

Two pretty girls were sitting in front of us who asked us to take their picture. I did and they then took our picture, too.

photo 2It was only about 6:30 and the show was scheduled to start at 8:00. Two other people I knew came to sit down next to us because they, too,  had been given tickets by our friend. We were very jolly. The show began. It was magical. We were having a great time.

After intermission, I felt the first drops of rain. The chatter amongst the audience as these drops began to fall and intensify in frequency and weight rolled through the audience so  that the show could have stopped for all we were aware. 

I was trying to cover us up with the little blue cotton shawl that I had brought to put across our laps so that we wouldn’t get salmon on  our pants.

Pretty soon, one of the actors came out and said-“Don’t leave! “We’re bringing you ponchos!”

Keep in mind that here were 17,000 of us sitting in the audience. I thought, Yeah, and I have some swamp property in Florida….

My husband’s  hat was drenched.

I couldn’t stop laughing with Annie Wareham who was sitting to my right, her hair beginning to plaster itself to her head. The irony of being in the middle of a 3 year drought in Southern California on the one time in 5 years  we had attended a show at the Bowl in the midst of what was becoming an enthusiastic episode of rain was too much. Show? What show?

I think it was somewhere around this time that the purportedly naked people came onstage, because I completely missed them. 

One of the girls to my left, a former student USC,  was wearing a USC poncho. Good planning, Sara! Her friend got up and offered to bring us ponchos and disappeared. 10 minutes later  this goddess of mercy came back with the ponchos and handed me a flat packet with two inside. And just like were instructed to do on the aircraft, I helped my husband on with his poncho before putting mine on.  Oh no, it’s the opposite, right?

Now Annie and I were taking selfies to text to the sound mixing area which we could see was tented with a poncho or clear tarp under which Phil had a flashlight and was mixing the show. Which, miraculously, was proceeding apace. Those poor  wet actors. To their credit, they used this event to unify the audience so that by the final number, “Let the Sunshine In!” we were all singing at the tops of our lungs. The audience filed out of the bowl, chatting amiably with each other, in love with the performers, each other, the rain.

It was the best time I’ve had at the Hollywood Bowl in years.  After the show, we waited for a lot of the people to leave and then we made our way back to the car.  Kevin was waiting and pulled the car around right to us. I gave him 20 bucks. And that, I think, was our last trip to the Hollywood bowl.

Good Friends But Not Forgotten

Earlier this week, my phone rang and the name of one of my long lost tennis buddies was on the display.  I used to play tennis at least once a week with a group of moms from my son’s private school in the San Fernando Valley. We took group tennis instruction from another child’s mom, and we would also play doubles about once a week.

It was a great way to exercise, and to share the joys and exasperations of being parents. I loved my tennis pals, and working the tennis into my schedule as a free lance stage manager was pretty easy, since I didn’t have to go to the theatre most days until after noon or early evening. Win win.

However, when I became a production manager at a university,  my days became filled with work, and along with the commute, my tennis hours waned, my happy hours with “the girls” diminishing  until finally they ceased all together.  I just couldn’t seem to organize the time.

So many times in our lives, we form tribes of close friends based on our needs and availabilities, and the proximity of people whose needs and goals are similar to ours. This happens so frequently as parents. We are thrown together with others because of our children, and frequently find new friends as a result.

BeemanParkSignWhen our son was about four, we joined the Beeman Park Tribe, where assorted parents spent hours socializing on the hard concrete benches while our kids ran around the park like little maniacs and only reported back to us that Albert, the ice cream truck driver had arrived. Hint, hint.  My butt still bears the indentations of those benches and our family increased by one when we adopted a dog, whom we named Molly Dogg, from one of the other Beeman Park tribe members.

Later, when our son was about 10,  my tennis tribe was formed which provided so many hours of fun. Suzanne’s invitation to dinner on Saturday was well timed,  and it had been a long time since I had had a happy social occasion with them. Initially, when I saw Suzanne’s name on the phone, I went to the dark place – “Oh no! Something has happened to one of my friends.” And yet, the minute I answered the phone, Suzanne reassured me that all was well and she was organizing  a “Girls’ Night Out” at her home. This is 6 years out from the last time we played tennis – or maybe even 7 years out. I was so pleased to be invited.

Suzanne hadn’t told the others that she had invited me and that I had agreed to come, so when I rang the doorbell, and fellow tribe member Susie opened the door, she shrieked, and I shrieked, and we did a happy hug before going in to surprise Shelley, my doubles partner. It was truly joyous to see them. This is one strong group of women. In the past seven years each one has been through  life events that would bring the less strong  to their knees, and they remain so strong and so loyal to each other and, happily, I realized, even in my absence, to me.

It was exhilarating to know that though I had “left my tribe” that they had remained in tact and had continued on, and now welcomed me back to their loving midst. Two of their daughters were there, both accomplished young women in their own rights, and it was great to hear how their lives are shaping up. The others, whose children weren’t there, had happy tales to tell of their accomplishments and the table was littered with happy pictures of them on our phones.

So, join me in making a pledge to make someone’s day by picking up the phone as Suzanne did, and reminding someone of the tribe they once belonged to. Let them know how much they are missed.

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