Monday, November 23, 2009

Cuteness Overload at the Royal/T

Too Cute It's Scary by plushcattech.
Cute Overload at the Three Apples Exhibition of Hello Kitty (Photo courtesy of plushcattech)

Starting off my week-long birthday celebration, I went to Three Apples, the 35th Anniversary Celebration of Hello Kitty Art Exhibition at The Royal/T in Culver City. Ever since it opened, I've been meaning to go to the Royal/T, so when the Hello Kitty exhibit came around, I brought my Hello Kitty-obsessed friend (her first tattoo is Hello Kitty) out into the city.

It was the last weekend of the exhibition, and everyone in town must have procrastinated because the line went on for a whole block with people at the front waiting for over 2 hours! We decided to tough it out and were rewarded when we found that they were letting people in to see the exhibit and visit the cafe, but that the line was for the store (we happen to be avid online shoppers).

From the first peek in the front window display to the art work in the back, it was wall-to-wall cuteness! There was a Hello Kitty guitar, surfboard, TV, and dresses to name a few of the many unusual items at the exhibit.(I didn't see my fantastically fast Hello Kitty rice cooker, though.) We decided to enjoy the rest exhibition while waiting for a table at the cafe where we had the Hello Kitty Kawaii High Tea and Hello Kitty-shaped waffles. We also saw some great Hello Kitty Fashion as there was going to be a fashion show later that evening. I had to miss it since I had tickets to see John Cleese at the Alex Theatre.

While my friend's mother had "poo-poo"ed her choice in tattoo, stating that Hello Kitty was not real art, but rather a business gimmick, at Three Apples, we found that Hello Kitty was in fact truly an inspiration for art.

-Tiina Vuorenmaa

Gladly Helping to Pay His Alimony

John Cleese (minus a tooth) by plushcattech.
John Cleese showing his age.

As part of my week-long birthday celebrations, I decided to see John Cleese in his Final Wave to the World (Or the Alimony Tour, Year One). I had missed out on seeing him at the Carpenter Center, but got a great seat at the Alex Theatre in a quaint, but happening area of Glendale.

Being a Monty Python fan since high school, I was extremely excited to see a member of the influential British comedy group .And I was not disappointed. At the start of the show, I was treated to an slideshow presentation breaking down how much his ex-wife earned being married to him (He owes $30 million up-front, with $1 million a year for the next five years). Mr. Cleese then regaled his life story from childhood and unusual relationships with his parents(his mother was the first to understand and appreciate his warped sense of humor) to his extreme luck at getting work (the tone-deaf comedian was actually in a musical on broadway! ...lip synching.) and meeting the members of Monty Python. For the second half, John Cleese was fascinated on the reactions to black humor from the black knight scene in "Holy Grail" to the TV series "Fawlty Towers" and "A Fish Called Wanda".

The show satisfied my hunger for interesting information into the lives of the members of Monty Python and I would gladly help Mr. Cleese pay for his alimony (in this fashion) again.

An interesting tidbit of information: "Fawlty Towers" was based on a real hotel owner named Donald Sinclair, also the name of the eccentric hotel/casino owner played by Cleese in "Rat Race".

-Tiina Vuorenmaa

Delicious and Informative Morsels: SixTaste Little Tokyo Tour

Negitoro Don by plushcattech.
Negitoro Don Sample (Photo courtesy of plushcattech)

Ending my week-long birthday celebration, I went on the Six Taste Little Tokyo Food Walking Tour. It had been many years since I had visited Little Tokyo, and I was refreshing my memory of Japanese customs as well as getting to know more about Los Angeles.

Overall, the food was delicious and our tour guide was very helpful and well-informed, but the number one thing that impressed me the most was the close proximity of MOCA, JANM and JACCC to Little Tokyo. I mean walking close! And here I thought that everything was far apart because "nobody walks in LA!"

Our first stop was Spitz, a kebab restaurant with the best garlic aioli sauce. Wait? I thought this was a Little Tokyo Tour? Spitz showed the diversity of Little Tokyo, and even had that slight "academia" feel (it's run by college grads as well) with its recycled art and furnishings. Next stop was the courtyard/park in front of the JACCC, Japanese American Cultural & Community Center where we had sushi from Oomasa and enjoyed the hidden Japanese garden with blooming Tsubaki (Japanese Camelia), my favorite flower. We then tasted the soft and subtley sweet mochi from the oldest shop in Little Tokyo, Fugestu-Do. Our tour came full circle and back to the Japanese Village Plaza where we sampled mochi-lato (gelato instead of ice cream) at Mikawaya, imagawayaki (a traditional Japanese dessert) at Mitsuru Cafe, and ended our tour with a negitoro-don from the first Wakasaya in Los Angeles (the chain of Wakasaya restaurants are in Hokkaido, but the owner lives here in LA!).

On the way through the whole tour, we were treated with juicy morsels of Little Tokyo's past, including mail-order brides, apple pie and fire towers. While I already know I'm coming back for more hazelnut mochi-lato and negitoro-don, I found the history of Little Tokyo and the surrounding areas to be the highlight of the tour. Oh! and now I know I can go to all those great events at the JANM, JACC and the Aratani Theatre and add a little shopping on the side!

-Tiina Vuorenmaa

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Your Local Farmers Market - A Conversation with Craig Deihl from Cypress in Charleston

As Thanksgiving approaches, what better time to visit your local Farmers Market for your holiday feast and on ExperienceLA we try to have a complete list of farmers markets in LA County sorted by day. Always a special treat is the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market which in past year's has opened early the Wednesday before Thanksgiving as a way to better manage the number of shoppers. You can spot the LA chefs with their helpers and wagons. Most are wearing their chef jacket, and here is a recent one of myself and Wolfgang Puck.

Watching chefs buy their produce and interact with the vendors has introduced me to several chefs and their restaurants in LA. Thus, whenever I travel, I check to see where and when is the local farmers market as a way of introducing me to the local food scene. And if you have cooking facilities where you are staying, it is especially fun to shop for locally based produce and poultry and figure out something to make from a rgional cook book. Thus, while in Charleston, I timed our arrival so that we could visit the Charleston Farmers Market which occurs on Saturday in Marion Square. The day we selected was one that featured prominent local chefs demonstrating their use of locally procured ingredients, and thus we met Craig Deihl, executive chef of Cypress Restaurant in Charleston as he prepared three locally inspired dishes, including produce provided by Lee Burbage from Joseph Fields farm.

After seeing the cooking demo, we got onto Open Table and made a reservation for Cypress for Monday night while in town for the Blackbaud non-profit conference. While walking down Bay Street to Cypress, we passed a must visit Charleston foodie destination, Charleston Cooks! Maverick Kitchen store, where you can pick up some regional cooking souvenirs. Cypress restaurant is a great example of blending the old with the new in this adaptive reuse of a building where a stunning interior decor is set-off by the exposed brick. A visit to Cypress is an opportunity to enjoy Low Country cooking exemplified with locally sourced ingredients. Figuring out what to eat was simplfied from the choices offered on a three course menu for $38 and the portions were larger than expected. At the Charleston Farmers Market, we had watched Craig Deihl prepare his signature dish candied bacon which would be on pulitzer prize food critic Jonathan Gold's radar if he was reporting from Charleston.

The other first course we had was Craig's charcutterie plate, all made in-house, which ranks among the best we have had of this new wave of restaurant prepared charcutterie. On the plate was bresola, lamb bacon, head cheese, and mortadella. After dinner, Chef Diehl stopped by our table to chat and we talked about what it takes to prepare cured meats in this fashion. It brought to mind Novella Carpenter's story of dumpster diving in West Berkeley on Fourth Street to feed her two pigs as discussed in her Farm City: Education of an Urban Farmer book and presented at the LA Central Library Aloud series. But here at Cypress in Charleston, no need to dumpster dive, as Craig has a partnership with a boutique pig producer to provide food waste to feed his future pigs for his charcutterie. This venture has proven so successful, that he has now launched a charcutterie CSA for those who want a steady supply of Craig Deihl's cured meats. The first production run sold out.

Since I am on the road, the pictures that I have been uploading to flickr have been from my Motorola Droid phone which look quite good for a mobile phone, as you can see from the Frozen Souffle S'more dessert from Cypress above. Soon you will find my various picture sets, including what we at at Cypress, from this Charleston, South Carolina trip on my ExperienceLA flickr account along with a Charleston Farmers Market set among my flickr collection of farmers markets.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Support Your Local Arts Organization as They Connect with You Online

The idea for ExperienceLA began when the Internet was only 4 years old in 1998. Thus, when it was finally launched in July 2003 with opening of the Gold Line to Pasadena, web 1.0 was a known platform and using the Internet for marketing was beginning to hits its stride. The ExperienceLA project has gone onto experiment with different forms of social networking to increase awareness and to help the more than 1,500 cultural partners market themselves on the Internet. I've watched the National Arts Marketing Association teach its members how to use various Internet and social marketing tools, and I myself have spoken at the National Main Street Conference earlier this year in Chicago. While in Charleston, South Carolina, I have had the opportunity to observe how Blackbaud is seamlessly weaving social networking into their annual conference which attracts over 1,000 nonprofit professional from throughout the United States, including several of the major Los Angeles art organizations. To follow the Blackbaud conference on Twitter, use #bbcon.

I was given the opportunity to sit in on one session of the Blackbaud conference of special interest to Los Angeles based art organizations, and that was on eCommerce and Marketing Strategies for Arts and Cultural Organizations given by two Blackbaud staff professionals. The main take-away from this session was encouraging arts organizations to better understand their audience and to break it down into segments so as to target a specific audience. Then with so many social marketing tools, how best to have such tools be supportive of each other without overwhelming their supporters. With the end of the year coming, and art organizations continuing to be significantly impacted by the economy, trying to put these lessons to work to engage their supporters and even attract end of the year donations, is especially important.

The Blackbaud conference has a number of their sessions online over the next several days and will be archived on their site. Blackbaud is the premier non-profit donor datasbase company, but the importance of a quality database for marketing and development purposes would be its own subject to be discussed at another time.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Beyond the concrete jungle: Los Angeles Parks

Observatory View
Griffith Park Observatory (Photo courtesy of Intellichick)

We recently asked ExperienceLA fans to tell us where some of the best parks are in Los Angeles to help us populate our weekly poll. Within a short time span, we received a great list of suggestions. Unfortunately on our poll, we can only show 4 choices at a time. However, a list this great must be shared. So, without further ado and in no particular order, here's a list of best parks in LA as suggested by our fans:

Dalton Park, Azusa
Hansen Dam Park, San Fernando Valley
Marie Kerr Park, Lancaster
Griffith Park, Hollywood
MacArthur Park, Los Angeles
Echo Park, Los Angeles
Point Fermin, San Pedro
Runyon Canyon, Hollywood
Fryman Canyon, Hollywood
Debs Park, Northeast Los Angeles
Placerita Canyon, Santa Clarita
East Canyon, Santa Clarita
Rica Canyon, Santa Clarita
Vasquez Rocks, Agua Dulce
El Dorado Parks, Lancaster
Jesse Owens Park, Los Angeles
Unidad Park, Historic Filipinotown
Elyisian Park, Los Angeles

We know there are plenty more great parks. If you don't see your favorite park on this list, please tell us about it so we can add it to the list, and feel free to attach a photo too! See, we do have some natural beauties here in LA :)


Sunday, November 01, 2009

An evening with Steve and his banjo

A night of music, comedy, and even a little bit of Chinese feminism. This is what fans who attended Steve Martin's first public performance in years at the Walt Disney Concert Hall were treated to last week. I'm more familiar with his comedy, admittedly, but thanks to my husband, was highly interested in his banjo skills. And I must say, "WOW!" That man is just as talented on his banjo as he is with his wit and humor. And he surrounds himself with equally talented musicians.

The tour supports Martin's first full-length bluegrass album, "The Crow." The CD has been nominated for several awards and is critically acclaimed. After seeing and hearing his performance, I can understand why. (In fact, we walked away with our own copy of "The Crow.")

The evening opened with the beautiful Abigail Washburn. "Thank you, God, for making Steve Martin a banjo man," she said as she began her set. And that was how the night went. A little bit of good humor mixed with beautiful, spirited and soulful music which included standard bluegrass and original tunes. The most interesting piece of her set must have been the bluegrass import of sorts- a Chinese feminist piece which Ms. Washburn performed entirely in Mandarin. It was a moment that expanded my somewhat limited world. I had no idea that Chinese music included the banjo, but thoroughly enjoyed this performance and appreciated how it opened my mind just a little bit more.

Following Abigail was Steve Martin with the Steep Canyon Rangers. The crowd enthusiastically welcomed back to the stage the great comedian. And then, the music started. The show they gave was one of the best I've ever experienced musically. The chemistry between the Steep Canyon Rangers and Martin was so apparent. There was much respect for one another's talents, and they truly enjoyed playing together. Pardon the cliche, but it was really a "toe-tappin' good time."

A few jokes were sprinkled throughout the evening. At one point, when the SCR took on the spotlight for a moment, Steve asked the bass player if there was a beer for him. And sure enough, there was...stored inside the bass itself. It was evident this is how these guys roll. Pure fun and entertainment.

Like Abigail's set, Steve performed some standards, including the energetic classic "Orange Blossom Special," which had me at the edge of my seat. I watched in awe as the bands fingers' flew so effortlessly and intelligently across the strings of their respective instruments. I was impressed at how easy Steve made playing the banjo appear. I was inspired by the violinist to get out my own fiddle and learn "Orange Blossom Special" (which, Steve decided that evening, was written by him). The night ended with a playful, bluegrass rendition of Martin's "King Tut." Then the crowd rose to thank Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers for the musical treat we were given.

This was my first live bluegrass concert experience, and certainly will not be my last. I walked in with an eagerness and lack of expectation. I walked away with a whole new appreciation for bluegrass music, and for the banjo as an instrument of not only fast-paced and lively music, but also an instrument of calm, sorrow and peace. With that, I leave you with a little bit of "King Tut."