Dining out, vegan style

Sage cafe in Echo Park
Our felafel bowls

In between errands and vintage shopping, Michele and I found our way to Sage Vegan Bistro on West Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park.

Michele had expressed her desire for a nice vegan lunch and after a quick search on the very helpful Yelp website, we found one that had good reviews and was conveniently located in between locations.

I have to admit that, like hippies, vegans kind of scare me. All the reasons I would give would label me hypocritical, the food equivalent of racist, intolerant and other such negative phrases, so I won’t go into details, suffice to say that I would not choose to go into a vegan restaurant if it was purely up to me. Vegetarian yes, vegan no.

Sage came as a big surprise to me. It was a lovely old converted building with enough of the old exposed bricks to add character without being cliched. The corner location and double height ceiling meant that light streamed in and made the place seem airy (not airy fairy I might add). Brown wood tables were organised in neat lines and there wasn’t anything kitschy, divey or cliched about the place. In fact, it was my kind of cafe.

Just beating the lunch rush, we had the pick of the tables and I was pleased to see others in the cafe who broke the mold of what I see as a vegan. Our waitress with the matching blue nails and dress was lovely and very helpful. The menu was diverse and had great choices that weren’t off the planet but were fresh and modern. Neither Michele nor I could go past the felafel bowl, and it was exactly what I needed as an antidote to all the Mexican food I’ve been eating lately.

So I’ve chalked up my first LA vegan experience and am glad Michele wanted to go vegan for lunch because otherwise, my pompous, ignorant self would have missed out on discovering the kind of cafe I could become a regular at.

A kitchen isn’t complete without an apron

Being hostess
Vintage apron, dress and necklace. Brand new pavlova.

Entertaining at Easter was the perfect excuse to get about in my new vintage apron.

J and I had decided to put on a lunch for a bunch of friends and given that she is vegetarian, I said I’d cook the roast while she prepared the vegetables.

Roast lambRoast lamb in the oven

Going to Gelson’s, there were only two sizes to choose from, a half leg and then a full leg. The full leg weighed 7.55lb (which is about 3.5kg). I have never cooked a leg of lamb on the bone before so I was a little nervous to attack such a big piece, but I did a lot of research on the net as to how long I should cook it for and at what temperature. Converting weight and temperature is not my favourite thing, but eventually I figured that I should cook it at 325°F for 2 and a half hours. I think the winning element was resting it for around 20 minutes. It came out perfectly. Tender, easy to carve (also something I’d also never done before was carve off the bone) and totally delicious.

J cooked some traditional American Easter recipes from her grandmother which were fab and went down a treat. She made baked beans, scalloped corn and cornbread. Yum, and a little touch of the US in what was a mostly Australian affair.

Chocolate Ripple Cake
Chocolate Ripple Cake

We also introduced our two American guests to the delights of pavlova and chocolate ripple cake which was courtesy of the chocolate ripple biscuits sent in my care package.

Since Jolena was over, J organised an Easter egg hunt in the “backyard”. Now I’m not sure our backyard can really be called anything but a carpark, but still, it had some great hiding spots and she had fun finding them (as did I).

Easter hostesses
Me and J celebrating a great day

It was a lovely Easter with old friends and new, and J and I had so much fun entertaining.

Love from the Easter Bunny

Easter egg stash
Look what the Easter Bunny brought!

When I left Australia at the very beginning of February, there were already Easter eggs for sale in the supermarket.

Three months later, Easter has arrived and I almost missed it. I expected Americans (who love a celebration and love to eat junk food and are typically more religious than Australians) to really get behind Easter. I expected to see a mad assortment of eggs, bunnies and Easter paraphernalia. I expected to be absolutely bombarded with Easter consumerism. I didn’t and I wasn’t.

At home I would be able to find a whole aisle at a supermarket or department store dedicated to Easter. That and dozens of hot cross buns tempting me. Here, it was a struggle to find anything much other than tiny little eggs or the stuff required to make an Easter basket. In one place I saw Lindt bunnies for sale, but that was the largest chocolate Easter bunny I could find.

Only small sections of aisles or a table at my local supermarket offered up any kind of Easter merchandise. While it was kind of nice to avoid all the Easter consumerism fanfare and the temptation to buy chocolate for anyone and everyone that I possibly know and take hot cross buns to work to feed my colleagues, it also didn’t feel the same. It didn’t feel particularly celebratory, like “here’s some time off for you to spend with your family and friends and get out and about in your country”. I guess the fact that Easter Monday is not a public holiday here changes things a bit.

BUT the Easter Bunny did find his way to my place to leave some eggs, including some Reese’s peanut butter filled chocolate eggs, and he left the chocolate in the shape of a cross on the shelf at Rite-Aid.

A parcel!

Arriving home after a day of sights and shopping with Movie Lass, I had the elation you get when a big box with your name on it is waiting for you.

Contents of care package

My friend Cathy had posted a care package to me filled with all sorts of goodies from home. It was so lovely.

It included:

  • TV snacks
  • Uncle Toby’s muesli bars
  • Wagon Wheels
  • A tube of Vegemite
  • A pack of Saos
  • Wizz Fizz
  • Anzac biscuits
  • Vanilla essence
  • 2 packs of Chocolate Ripple biscuits
  • Recipe for chocolate ripple cake

Topping it off was a lovely card emblazoned with the Mae West quote

Too much of a good thing can be wonderful!

So now I can make a chocolate ripple cake (love, love, love) for our upcoming Easter lunch and have an Anzac bikkie or two on Anzac Day next week.

Thanks Cathy, you really brightened my day and I can’t wait to share these bits of home with my friends.

At the Grove

At the Grove
This is a shopping centre?

Movie Lass is keen to take advantage of the amazing exchange rate where one Aussie dollar buys $1.05 US dollars so we headed off on a shopping spree.

We ended up at the Grove, which I hadn’t been to before. I also hadn’t realised that it isn’t a typical shopping centre, more a faux shopping strip with alfresco dining, a little lake with water features, outdoor stalls in an “I wanna be European” kind of way and a tram (or they call it a trolley) that runs down the cobbled pedestrian street.

I must admit that it is pretty cool. We wandered through a few shops: Gap; Abercrombie & Fitch which was like  walking into a nightclub and had lots of hot guys working there; Swarovski; MAC; Nordstrom where we eyed off some designer shoes and Victoria’s Secret. I’d never been to Victoria’s Secret before, yet I had heard all the hype about it. I’m not sure it lived up to my expectations. It was much more reasonably priced than I had thought, given the supermodels they have spawned in their campaigns, but at the same time it had a small bit of trashy about it with some of the pieces which must have been fantasy items.

Walking past The Cheesecake Factory, Movie Lass and I needed no further encouragement for a little break from the shopping. For a chain restaurant, this was pretty swish. There was a concierge who greeted us and directed us up the escalator. At the top we were given a table for two and led through a maze of low-lit booths in swathed in ornate fittings and with murals on the ceilings. Totally over the top.

When the menu arrived, it was thick, contained more than just cakes and sweet things and was overwhelming. It took ages to make up my mind as I couldn’t concentrate on the menu there were too many items listed and no photos. In the end I went for a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake with chocolate and caramel and a glass of raspberry lemonade. It was delicious (I am so into the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups at the moment) and just like whenever I get cake from the Pizza Cafe at home, I couldn’t eat it all.

Reese's Cheesecake
A slice of awesome. It tasted like a Snickers bar in a cake.

We’d had a big chat with our waiter Gavin, who pronounced Reese’s “ree-cees”. I asked him about it and he said it could be pronounced either “ree-cees” or “ree-sez” and liked it to the “po-tay-toe” – “po-tar-toe” saying. I say “ree-sez” like how I say “po-tay-toe” but I think that “ree-cees” does sound cute, just maybe not on a grown man.

* Celebrity spotted: Mario Lopez (host of Dancing With the Stars) at The Grove in full make-up with two bodyguards after a filming shoot. I wouldn’t have known who he was if Movie Lass hadn’t told me.

A friend has come to stay

Today I got to be a tour guide in LA as my friend from home, Movie Lass, arrived to stay with me for a couple of weeks.

After being in LA for two months it is so nice to have a friend around to talk about goings on at home, catch up on what’s new and to show around my new home. It’s surprising how much I already know about LA, America and general goings on. I have been able to explain lots of things like there only needing to be one number plate (called license plates here) on a vehicle, the awesome Californian rule that allows you to turn right on a red light if it is safe, how jaywalking is a big no-no because cars are obliged to stop for you even if you wanted to wait in the middle of the road for a break in the traffic and how all bread feels hard and stale.

We had a great day driving around, taking the carpool lane on the freeways back from the airport, wandering down Sunset Boulevard, hitting the supermarkets and then dollar fish tacos at 7 Mares (Seven Seas) on Sunset.

Movie Lass and I have big adventures planned for the next two weeks and I can’t wait to get out and about in LA with the really good excuse of helping my friend enjoy her holidays.

My first film set

Saturday dawned my first ever film shoot and my first day on set. It wasn’t something to be taken lightly. Here I have jumped straight out of a regular everyday career in Australia and onto a more uncertain path in a brand new industry that I know not much about.

Filled with excitement, trepidation and a whole bunch of worries about getting in the way, I packed up the muffins and quiches I’d made for the crew’s breakfast and drove to the shoot location at 7am.

I busied myself with setting up the catering table, aka craft services. I filled the urn, brewed coffee and popped up the menu for the day. Meanwhile, as crew started to arrive, so did more equipment. Boxes and boxes. There was tech equipment for the Camera Department, Lighting Department (where you will find the gaffers), Grip Department (the guys that set stuff up and do rigging) and Sound Department (home of big furry microphones and teeny tiny radio mikes).  There were props and set dressing items coming up for the Art Department props and racks of clothes for the Costume Department. It was a full blown flurry of activity as our 16 crew moved in and set up.

Our two stars, Rachael Taylor and Josh Lawson, arrived together, and after they’d been driving for a while looking for a park, one finally came available right out in front of the apartment block so I raced down two flights of stairs, out the front door and bolted across the nature strip (which was currently being watered) to stand in the space to reserve it for our cast members. As could only ever happen in the movies, when our leading lady got out of the car, the sprinklers magically switched off. So Rachael was able to step out of the car looking stunning while I stood on the footpath with wet sprinkles all over me.

I kind of milled about for a while in a nervous knot until it was time for the camera to roll. We were given instructions on where we could stand so we didn’t get in the way of the lights to cast shadows, and then quiet was called for. My eyes widened and my ears pricked up. I think I held my breath. I heard Ricky say “Roll cameras” and then “Action” and we were off. I was fascinated, watching Michele’s script come to life before me. Bits that sounded a little odd on our read throughs became natural when acted out. We did a few takes where they altered the delivery slightly, and then the same scene was shot from a different angle to provide plenty of footage for the edit.

For the second scene I watched the monitors which show what’s being captured on the cameras and that was a whole other field of ‘wow’. It blew my mind away to look at the whole scene before me, and then look at what was on the monitor. All the lighting, camera angles and close ups came together to make a stunning end product. That was super exciting. After I saw the monitor with those views, I felt so immensely proud to be part of this project and my awe of my friends’ talents swelled. Until I saw the real deal, all I could imagine was a little home camcorder video. I know it’s exceptionally silly for me to have thought that’s what it would be like, but I guess when you are presented with new and foreign concepts, you always relate it back to what you know, it’s just human nature. Now I know better. Now I know my own little videos are going to be forever pitiful.

Aside from offering snacks and drinks between scenes while gear was being set up for the next angle and putting in the lunch order for delivery, I had not much else to do. And so my boredom grew. I grew restless from having nothing to do and feeling totally useless. Sure it was fun watching the filming, but it is also watching others work while you twiddle your thumbs. That made me feel lazy. So I jumped at the chance to make some fake beers for J. Part club soda, part apple juice, part vinegar poured into an empty bottle and we had some fizzy, frothy fake beers to serve up to our cast.

After lunch I got to relieve my boredom as I had to make a trip to pick up some sound gear for the second day and that took over two hours. Whilst there was also a lot of waiting around for the equipment to be ready, I had a fabulous in-depth conversation with the receptionist. It was one of those great chats that make your day. She was awesome.

Not long after I got back from running errands it was wrap time (finish time). As much as I wanted to go home to lie down, I had to do another supermarket shop, make the breakfast again and whip up a pavlova. So after another 2 and a half hours in the kitchen I could finally go to bed for a few hours.

In a moment of utter restlessness on the Saturday I had thought “I don’t know if I’m cut out for this.” I doubted my ability to stand around and do nothing while others worked. My work ethic really kicked in and I needed to be busy, or at least doing something at 10% productivity to keep me from idleness. However Sunday dawned a completely different day. I was so much more comfortable on set, I knew what to expect, I knew the crew and kind of what their roles entailed and that I’d be standing around a lot. I was properly prepared.

In addition to some fulfilling conversations off set with people, including a guy in a car telling me I was pretty as I walked past in my red polar fleece and asking me for my number, there were more moments of seeing the film come together beautifully. So I was sad when it was called a wrap on the film (except for the fact that I didn’t want to make more breakfast quiches). We had such a great team of people involved who willingly gave up their weekends to come and volunteered to be part of our team. I have a good feeling that something amazing is going to happen and that we’ll all be working together very soon on the feature length version. But, I shan’t get ahead of ourselves. Ricky has to cut and edit it into a film first. Then you can expect Ricky, Michele, Gin, Devoir, J and I to all go nuts.

And as far as my on-set role as caterer went, it was a success. Compliments flew around. The pavlova was a smash hit with the Americans. But most of all, Rachael commented on what a great spread we had on our craft services table and how it beat what was offered on some of the other, far larger productions she’s worked on. Yay! I guess that makes all the waiting around worthwhile.



Thank you crew

Our two-day short film/teaser trailer shoot this weekend was amazing, but it couldn’t have been achieved without the massive efforts of everyone in the team.

To say thank you, I made a pavlova. I just whipped one up. It was a little Aussie treat for our American crew, and also a treat for the Australians who know how awesome they are.

I’m pleased to say that both the thank you gesture and the pavlova went down well with everyone. However, to be brutally honest I think the reception of the pav is going to be eclipsed by the reception of the short film. It is going to be AMAZING!

Thank you pavlova
With the chicks on set and the thank you pavlova

I’m the caterer

Okay, so I have the far more official title of Production Coordinator for our short film, but my duties have extended to catering.

Today was the last pre-production day before we start shooting tomorrow. Which meant that everything needed to be locked down, picked up and delivered to our location. While Gin and Devoir were picking up lights, cameras and maybe some action along the way, J and I were at the supermarket. Three supermarkets actually. I was shopping for catering supplies to feed 16 people for two days and she was getting art department props, stuff like apple juice to be pretend beer and baking soda for pretend cocaine.

We went through the running order for the shoot and where things would be. All this new jargon floated around as they ‘blocked’ the scenes and called out code words to each other which maybe one day will make sense to me (just not today).

Then it was back to the ranch for me to finish on the breakfast items of little egg & spinach filo tarts, muffins and the cupcakes for afternoon tea. I ran out of time to make the pavlova, so I hope to have time tomorrow night to do that. I’m sure people could do without it, but it’s such a lovely Australian touch for our new American friends who have come on board to help us make this film.

I’ve just printed out the lunch menu, for which we are ordering food to be delivered, so I think I’m about sorted. Now I just need a good rest before I have to leave the house in 7 hours for my first day on set.

Yes, I’m nervous. Yes, I’m scared. I have no idea what to expect. But none-the-less it’s going to be exciting. And very cool to be on set with my buddies making a movie.

A comment on the t-shirt

I met my friends Astra and Jolena on Hyperion Avenue for a little catch up and some pizza at this great little place the Tomato Pie where we sat and watched them make the pizzas.

We then stopped by Trader Joe’s where I had to pick up some staples; coffee, sugar, Supreme Brie.

I got really quite excited when the cashier commented on my black Mildura Brewery Pub t-shirt and said “Is that anywhere near here?” Finally, the first comment on one of my three t-shirts from home! The blue Arts Mildura and red Virgin Blue shirts need to pick up their game because the Brewery t-shirt is totally winning the cool stakes.

My excited, yet taken aback response was “No, actually it’s from my home town in Australia. (Beat) They make really good beer.”

And then my excitement stalled as I had a deer-in-the-headlights moment when he asked if I’d been anywhere good in the area. Initially I thought he was asking what beers I like in America and I panicked that I’d gotten myself into a situation where I had intimated that was passionate about microbrews when the truth is that I don’t drink beer and know very little about it. Then when I realised he was asking about places, I panicked again because I couldn’t think of where I’d been out and suddenly I felt really boring and nanna-ish.

He wasn’t even hot.

I don’t know why I panicked. I don’t know why I couldn’t just keep the banter going with “Yeah, I went to the Beer Bar on Sunset a couple of times, but I hear that’s closed now”. Or “Yeah, I’ve just moved to the area, do you have anywhere you’d recommend?” That is what an American would say. That is the chatty conversation they would keep up. That is what a funner version of me should have said.

I’m either taking on a distinctly American neurosis or my social skills are sliding into disrepair. Must do something about this.