52 Notes :: Valentine’s Quickies

52 Notes :: Valentine’s Quickies

I’m that person whose party gift lands on the table without a tag, requiring the recipient to look around sheepishly as she opens it to figure out the givee, me lifting my hand, apologizing for my lack of decorum with a grand smile, a gentle shrug. A few times, I’ve written my name on the top corner of the bag, practically having to etch the letters, the waxy paper not easily accepting of ink. I’m at least better than my husband, who once showed up to a friend’s wedding with our gift in a floppy gray plastic bag, the bold lettering of Bed, Bath & Beyond viewable from space. My bad for not picking something up early, forgetting I hadn’t purchased a gift as I helped the bride-to-be prep. A hard one but lesson learned – I no longer wanted to be that gifter. Five years ago, when the American Greetings store in the Cerritos Mall closed, I spent about fifteen bucks on 30 or so cards, a purchase meant to support my new habit of being ready to bid fond farewells, best wishes, and the happiest of birthdays to family and friends. My greeting card bonanza was to save me from my chronic lack of preparedness. At 70-90% off, I picked up cards for work birthdays, for congratulations, for condolences, for missing those who were far away (at the time, my oldest daughter  was preparing to leave for college in the fall). And I purchased a pair of Valentine’s Day cards for my husband, though we’d never really been the card-swapping type. 52 notes quickie valentine With the bulk of my collection to be used for work birthdays, I kept the bunch in my office so as to prevent burning a morning break with a trip to Ralph’s for a last minute purchase when someone asked if I’d remembered that it was so-and-so’s birthday. 52notes quickie valentine Problem was that I kept forgetting to pull out the non-work cards, leaving me with an obsolete stack of greetings, collecting dust on my bookshelf over the years, including the love cards for my husband. 52 notes february valentine And he didn’t get any of them this year either as it wasn’t until I’d spent five bucks at Target on a new card that I remembered the waning stash at work. But I did indeed send him a card – mailed it from Elm Street to Elm Street, stamp and everything, along with a Valentine’s card to my sweet parents far away in Stockton, and a birthday card for my hound loving UCLA homie, Tami. This lucky bunch can brag that they received full-priced greetings from me. Hopefully, I’ll find a use for my remaining, obscure bargain bin remains before the year is over, even the juvenile one for my youngest niece, who is now 16.

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52 Notes :: Moved!

52 Notes :: Moved!

This little project of mine was really meant to get my pen moving. To push me from talking to walking – me always saying I should send so-and-so a card, a note, a letter, yet never doing it. I wasn’t doing it to get a letter in return, though I hoped that one day I would. And I have, already; one from Gay McDonald, the woman who directed UCLA Child Care Services back when I was a student at UCLA. She’s retired now (after 23 years of service), she told me, but the staff forwarded a copy of my note to her. In her response, she congratulated me on my success in parenting and my career (I was kind of vague about my current civil-servitude). I’m incredibly moved that she took the time to write back to me, and for her kind words – in beautiful blue script on actual paper! 🙂

UCLA thanks 52 notes dianderthal Gay McDonald

52 Notes :: UCLA Child Care

52 Notes :: UCLA Child Care

It’s a classic story we’ve heard time and time again. Girl graduates from high school. Girl goes to UCLA. Girl gets knocked up. Girl gets kicked out of UCLA for missing too much class due to knock up. Girl has baby girl. Girl begs UCLA to take her back. UCLA takes girl back. Girl has no childcare. Girl leaves baby girl with parents far away. Girl is sad. Girl gets call from UCLA Child Care saying they’ll keep baby girl…for free! Girl brings baby girl to LA. Girl graduates by the time baby girl becomes toddler girl.

Oh, where is boy? Boy is a loser. But that’s a different story.

So this week’s note goes to the place that took a chance on a party girl from the Central Valley: UCLA Child Care. I applied to their program just a few days after I found out I was pregnant – a surreal week, precisely 23 years ago. We’d been back only a short time from Winter Break, which I’d spent canoodling with my hometown boyfriend. The “telling” about the pregnancy was hardest. Despite their disappointment and upset, once my parents knew my situation, I took on the role of single pregnant teen quite fiercely, not much shame in my game. That would come weeks later, the week of the LA uprisings, when my dad had to drive down amid the helicopters overhead and the enforced curfew to pick up me, my stuff, and my growing belly after news that I was ineligible to continue with my studies Spring Quarter as, already on probation from my disastrous Freshman year, I did not earn a C average Winter term. So I left.

But thank goodness for petitions. UCLA accepted mine to return with the condition that I keep healthier grades. What choice did I have? I was single, unskilled, and had nothing on my résumé but a brief stint working at the student store. I returned in January the following year, set up by my parents in a plush (for a college student) Westside apartment. But without my baby – Kelsey. It didn’t seem right.

I remember the words of one of my mom’s friends after I’d made the decision to return to school and have my parents keep Kelsey: “It’s best this way. She can’t finish school and take care of a baby.” When that call came from UCLA Child Care, only about a month into the quarter, they gave me a chance to prove homegirl wrong. Within hours after hearing from them, so launched the plan to get Kelsey back to me. My mom would bring her down on the train (have I mentioned before that we’re train people?).

It’s been 22 years but that day still flickers richly in my memory – the moment when I saw Kelsey again after being away for weeks; how she gummed a smile and couldn’t stop, couldn’t contain herself because she knew me. She remembered me. That was how it was meant to be – me, my baby, and my education.

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We didn’t stop with a bachelor’s degree. UCLA Child Care helped me through grad school also, and allowed Kelsey to learn from some amazing teachers, among the first class of students to finish at University Village Kindergarten. I certainly could have gone to school without their help. I might have had plenty of study time, much more rest, less anxiety from ear infections and lost binkies; but I would have missed out on the sparkle that was my baby. The garbled first words and the wobbly steps on her own, and simply the pleasure of being her mom. This week, I finally thanked UCLA with a short and sweet note for allowing me to be both a parent and a student. I’m just sorry it took so long for me to reach out to them as they were a tremendous blessing to my classic story.

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By the way, I used these new note cards I got at Target by Mara Mi. Super cute. Too bad they didn’t have them in Bruin Blue & Gold.

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Tasty Places :: TLT Food

Tasty Places :: TLT Food

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of watching my second oldest daughter’s volleyball team, the University of San Diego, take on the beloved team of my hometown, Cal State Long Beach, during the first round of NCAA playoffs at my alma mater, UCLA – just a game in a big arena for everyone else, but quite an event for me with so many of my worlds colliding, causing me to reflect and twaddle on, my youngest kid rolling her eyes, tuning me out at every mention of where I used to live, hang out, and get my hair done; how all my favorite stores and restaurants had been replaced.

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I’d hoped to return to my old college campus today for San Diego to take on the winner of the second game (which turned out to be UCLA). Instead, Long Beach swept USD in three, bringing our tournament hopes and my daughter’s last season to a close. [Sniff]

But why not take advantage of being in such proximity to so many new and remote restaurants (yes, I know UCLA is only 25 miles or so away from the LBC, but traffic to get there is a u-know-what). After some deliberation, I made my way to TLT Food, the storefront of the much-hyped winner of Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race.

And it was there that I officially named Friday, December 5th Sandwich Day, with me as the Earl, as I took down my third sandwich of the day (see Black Sheep GCB) with my trip to TLT. Okay, I suppose three sandwiches isn’t exactly a binge, but it did send a message to me that perhaps I have a thing for protein between two slabs of crusty carbs. The only thing that might have made Sandwich Day better is a breakfast item of some sort – perhaps next December 5th, I’ll begin with a visit to Burger King for an egg and cheese Croissan’wich.

My choice at TLT Food was the Bangkok Chicken, a lively dish flavored with the spices and textures of Thailand. Most enjoyable for me were the bits of cashews that dazzled and delighted me every few bites, surreptitiously tucked into a zippy slaw. The sliced chicken was delicate, kicking you in the taste buds only once you’d found the sweetness, the juiciness of it. What brought (and held) it all together was the bread, a perfectly crisp Ciabatta roll toasted just enough, and proportioned right for the sandwich stuffings. As tempted as I was to throw into my order a taco or their Chimi Wings, I honestly was still pretty full from sandwich #2. Instead, I asked for the two-buck side of roasted corn – a half cob slathered with chipotle-honey aioli and cotija cheese. The sweetness of the honey emboldened the already luscious corn, but the cheese and aioli curbed things nicely, providing quite the quixotic combination.

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The only unfortunate thing about TLT Food is their lack of a liquor license, one I didn’t realize they didn’t have until after I’d ordered their spiked limeade, made alcoholic not with tequila but a tequila-flavored wine. A cold beer would have been a better choice, but I didn’t want my 12-year-old (who begrudgingly joined me because I was her ride home) to give me the frowny eyes. Still, the fact that I downed my limeade means I can’t complain too much, even if the downing only served to speed along the agony that is tequila-flavored wine spiked limeade.

Overall, TLT Food amazed and awed and left me wanting more once I fully digest these three sandwiches. Perhaps by next December 5th? Let’s hope.

TLT Food in Westwood (there’s a 2nd location at the Irvine Spectrum)
1116 Westwood Blvd.

*Note to self and the other 7 readers of Dianderthal: TLT also offers a brunch that appears un-pass-upable, featuring breakfast burritos, breakfast tacos, and breakfast nachos; a sourdough French toast, and bottomless mimosas – feel free to hit a sista up if ever you want to roll early on a Saturday/Sunday afternoon. You can drive. 🙂

Tasty Places :: Black Sheep GCB

Tasty Places :: Black Sheep GCB

I’d only given cursory thought to attending a work meeting in Anaheim a few days before it happened. Once my colleague mentioned something about the group having lunch at the Anaheim Packing House nearby, I paid swift and serious attention, thinking that, yes, this meeting was integral and important to an upcoming project for my division, and it was very necessary for me to attend.

So I went. And actually, it proved to be a great meeting, one that shared key information about an exercise we’re holding with our regional partners next year. It was a good thing I went. However, my informant had erred on the lunch specifics. The group had not decided to go out for lunch. Instead, the agency who’d hosted the meeting was bringing lunch in – a working lunch with sandwiches from Togo’s. Now, I’m never one to grimace at a hosted lunch, but I had Packing House on the brain. So feeling bad about the mistake, my colleagues who’d made the trip with me to Anaheim obliged when I suggested a quick break on the way back to Long Beach for a to-go sampling from the OC’s hottest food court.

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While the two of them went for dessert, I wanted to try something new, as I’d already experienced the decadence that was Pop Bar, serving creamy gelato on a stick. New since my first visit to the Packing House in June was a place called Black Sheep Grilled Cheese Bar (GCB). Yes, I’d already eaten half a turkey sandwich not long before, but the buttery, toasted goodness that was going on there had me curious. And too, how could I pass up a place sharing the name with the 90s hip-hop group who brazenly told us who we could get with (This, or that – This was where it’s at).

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I decided on the #1: Frommage blanc, caramelized onions, roasted tomatoes, and arugula pesto, all pressed between two slices of marble rye. There was not much room in my belly but still, I didn’t ask for it to go so I could snap a few pictures of it before trying one small bite, then wrapping it up for a snack to enjoy on the way to my daughter’s volleyball game in Westwood, something to keep me satiated in the thick traffic in which I expected to be stuck. As sumptuous as it looked with cheese oozy-goozing over the crusty edges; as incredible as it smelled, I couldn’t manage even one bite. It was as if that Togo’s sandwich had inflated in my stomach, doubling in sizing and seizing every smidge of space there was of it. I covered the box with a few napkins and headed back to the car with my co-workers, defeated.

But, no. I knew I wanted to write about this grilled cheese and to do it justice, I needed to taste it while fresh and unsoggy. And wow, this sandwich more than lived up to my expectations. While the cheese appeared gooey, it was really more of a creamy soft cheese; a succulent and slightly sweet cheese that married phenomenally well with the zesty tomatoes. You hardly noticed the pesto, but it did its part, the sandwich pulling the ol’ Jerry Maguire line on it saying: “You complete me.” Turns out this was the Lay’s potato chip of sandwiches, in that I couldn’t stop at one bite – even when my belly started hurting; even when I thought the button at the top of my pants might burst. Finally, I found the strength, the guts to put the thing down to be enjoyed later in the day.

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Black Sheep GCB’s #1 might be the best thing I’ve sampled so far at the Anaheim Packing House, very much worthy of a return trip. Next time, I will save room to take on the whole thing at once, along with a side and a Packing House cocktail from one of the many bars, savoring it slowly while listening to mellow versions of rock and pop classics played by the hipster guitarist. Yep, I can get with This and That, and then some.

Black Sheep GCB at the Anaheim Packing House
440 S. Anaheim Blvd. in Anaheim

Tasty Places :: 800 Degrees

Tasty Places :: 800 Degrees

It’s Spring Break and I’m NOT on vacation. Not physically. Mentally? Yes. I’m not in my right mind. I keep logging into Facebook, into Instagram, scrolling through friends’ photos with envy, wishing I was there with them in the mountains, on the lake, at the beach, at Disneyland. My kids are out of school. We don’t have homework to muddle through. I don’t have to chauffeur anyone to dance class or volleyball practice or school plays. I’m so FREE! Yet, I’m not. So to make myself feel better, I’ve decided to make the most of my post-5:00 life this week. And I’ve also settled that these adventures should involve food. New food. Good food. Different food.

This is Kristina
This is Kristina

So first off, I took a trip with my LWD buddy, Kristina, and my 10-year-old up to Westwood, the “town” nestled just south of UCLA where I grew up. Yep, Westwood is my ‘hood. And it was good to be back, though MUCH has changed in the years (more than 10, less than 20) since my Bruin graduation. I don’t recall what was in the space before, but right next to the Pete’s Coffee on Lindbrook sits 800 Degrees, brought to Westwood by the Umami peeps.

Open 'til 2 am
Open ’til 2 am

Based on the name, you have an idea of how hot their oven is. Which means the cooking is quick. And you get to customize your pie. (Any Seinfold fans? I credit Kramer with this idea.) Think of Chipotle churning out pizzas instead of burritos.

Front row seats
Front row seats
So many choices!
So many choices!

It was a great little escape, with me and my pizza. And my beer. I think the beer was what really did it. With Kristina driving, I could have stayed there all evening (they’re open until 2:00 a.m.). I might have still been there today BUT… well, you know. It’s off to work I go.

Pizza & Beer - a match made in my belly
Pizza & Beer – a match made in my belly

But the next time I’m on the West side, I’d be thrilled to return to 800 Degrees for a quick pizza and a cold mug of beer.

800 Degrees
10889 Lindbrook Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90024