17 December 2008

The Magnificent Seven

Friday was another bizarre, bizarre day. Honestly I don't remember much of it except the beginning...and the end.

The beginning: we learned from our doctor that of the seven eggs that he was able to retrieve, four had been mature, and three were not. So they picked four good-lookin' sperm (out of millions?!) and injected them, one each, into the four matured eggs. Those fertilized -- hoo yeah!

The other three slowpokes, they let mature overnight in the lab. By morning, they were in good enough shape that the embryologist went ahead and picked three more sperm and injected them as well. But by 1pm -- when this conversation was happening -- it was impossible to tell if those would successfully fertilize; all we knew was that they had a good chance, since the other four had 100% fertilization.

Here's a picture of them all, the magnificent seven:(I think they look like cocoa and butter cookies -- with the cocoa part in the middle. Mark thought the whole thing looks like a satellite reconaissance pic, like the one Colin Powell showed the UN: "these are the Al Qaeda bunkers, and these are the trucks carrying new shipments of ammo...")

Once we wrapped our minds around all that, it was time for a decision: how many to put back in?

Seven, of course, seemed like way too many. Maybe we could put in three or four, and freeze the rest for a second round of implantation, if we dont' get pregnant with the others?

But -- the expert opinion was far less optimistic, in a way. I had a history of increasingly high FSH levels, indicating my egg reserve -- and hence quality -- were not so good. It took extra days of injecting the maximum doses of the fertility meds, and we got only four mature eggs. The three "little" ones were already under stress from maturing in a lab, and there was no way of telling if they'd even properly fertilize. They probably wouldn't survive cryopreservation; their best chance of growing was right back in my body. So his recommendation? Put them ALL back.

...And we agreed.

Hopefully, at least one would develop properly, make its way to my uterus, and implant. Maybe two would make it; three or four would be highly unlikely. And even if they made it to the uterus, they wouldn't be "competing" -- the doctor explained that each embryo would send out signals to my body to ask for the fluffiest lining possible, so even if only one actually grew after implanting, it would have the luxury bedding made for the presidential suite, sleeps four. (Or more!)

So we went with it.

The next thing I remember....basically... is Mark tucking me into bed back at home. He stuck around until Hana came over and took over the baby sitting. I slept mostly, but later on she made me some yummy oden (like Japanese chicken soup), which REALLY hit the spot... arigato!

My belly button bled a little when I got out of bed, but otherwise it was all kind of uneventful. I just had three patches like bandaids down my abdomen, no big scars. Apparently all seven eggs went back into my left fallopian tube, no problem. Amazing.

So now it's the waiting game. I've been trying to just take it easy and minute by minute. The only real exertion was when the day after the surgery, I made it to the church for the choir concert. At first I was concert, because my throat had been a little sore (despite the anesthethiologist's repeated assertions that when he put me on the respirator, which was part of the procedure, he would use the "soft" tube he uses for opera singers. God knows what it would have felt like with the REGULAR tubing!) -- and most surprisingly, I found myself very short of breath. I suppose that's also from having been on a respirator, for however short a time. How delicate we are. So that bothered me even more than the tightness in the tummy. But my fellow singers were very supportive -- and the music itself was invigorating, as expected -- and the concert turned into a beautiful, spiritual, energized evening. And I just know it was good and healing.

Mark and I keep talking to the little ones. Now the message is "xiao xin, xiaohai" -- careful, little ones!

Here is the path they will take (courtesy of...I'm not sure, apologies. This image is everywhere.):

We're at "Day 5: 8-cell compacted morula" already. ("Morula" from the Latin "morus," or "mulberry.") Who knew.

Safe journey to all, and happy holidays :)

12 December 2008

Step two

Just a quick update that our doctor was able to retrieve SEVEN promising eggs yesterday! There's the caveat that note all of them are mature, or viable (i.e. well-shaped, healthy)...but let's hope it's the lucky seven. Apparently you can also help the eggs mature a little more outside of the body before fertilization -- who knew?

I was groggy and spacy afterwards but otherwise totally fine. Some cramping, but not constant -- mostly painful when I laugh, like after doing "too many" sit-ups -- I didn't even have to take the extra-strength Tylenol the nurses sent me home with. The weirdest part of the experience was probably going under general anesthesia for the first time. It was administered by IV, and I didn't even realize when they switched out the bag from saline to anesthesia -- so I'm lying in the op room, fully aware (I thought), watching the doctors and listening to one of my favorite Russian liturgical hymns on the iPod (I'd made a meditation mix to go under & recover to)... and the next thing I know, the song is different and I'm a little crampy and when I open my eyes, I'm back in the regular patient bed area. WEIRD!! No countdown, no "ok we're ready".... just BOOM, and it's over, and I have NO idea what was done to my body. Not even a sense that something WAS done, other than that little bit of cramping. Thankfully they stuck to my eggs and didn't go get a kidney or anything (I think...).

We find out in about half an hour (back at the clinic) how many of those eggs survived the night and the fertilization. And, if we have more than two zygotes, we'll have to decide how many to transfer back today. I don't even know what to think at this point; just taking it minute by minute. I just hope that at least ONE survived and is doing well!!

More later, or tomorrow, if I'm just too out of it today. Thanks for all the good energies, well-wishing and support! You know who you are! oxoxox

10 December 2008

The Gambler

Kenny Rogers is right: you gotta know when to hold'em, know when to fold'em. And we for now, are holding'em -- on two fronts.

One: my ultrasound on Monday morning showed at least six follicles now that were growing nicely. Our doctor needed no convincing that we should move forward with the cycle! But they still were in the 11-13mm range, not mature-egg size -- about 18mm -- so we decided on an additional round of hormone injections that night and another check-up on Tuesday, to decide one last thing: whether we would aspirate (i.e. harvest) the eggs on Thursday, fertilize them, and replace them on Friday... or make it a Friday-Saturday procedure.

My choir concert is Saturday night. If it was a Saturday surgery, there's no way I'd be able to sing. And we're not a large group.

So, we spent another day/night coaxing these little guys to grow. When we do the injections, I say "gambare gambare!" (Japanese for "go! go! you can do it!"), and Mark says "j'a yoh, j'a yoh!" (Mandarin for "go! go! step on it!", or literally, "throw oil on it!" which inevitably reminds me of a flaming, juicy wok).

Apparently it all worked, because Tuesday morning a bunch of the follicles were between 16-21 mm -- and I think we were up to seven possibilities (I lost count in the excitement). So we are a definite go for Thursday-Friday!

I had one last mini-round of hormones last night, and one big injection of HCG, a hormone that will trigger the release of my eggs in 36 hours -- the time of the aspiration, at 8am. Today I start taking antibiotics to prepare for the back-to-back procedures. Barring any catastrophes, I should even be able to sing by Saturday night! Hurrah!

MEANWHILE... two: the store is coming along nicely: each day we seem to be just a little bit busier, which is just the way we want it. In time, we want to be at least two times as busy/profitable as we were, say, on Sunday -- but the only publicity we've done so far has been word-of-mouth, so more extensive campaining and ad placements (if any) and reach-outs should get us there no problem. Especially if the people who come keep coming back. Which, so far, they all are!

BTW, we were "yelped" already -- yelp.com is a VERY popular, peer-review, Citysearch-type search engine -- check it out here.

Must get on a conf call now with New York for my day job. More later!

08 December 2008

Another countdown

So, Friday was not so good. My follicles were growing but not as fast and large as we'd hoped. In fact, there were four or maybe five follicles -- i.e. maturing eggs -- that were doing relatively well; the low threshold for an IVF cycle (making it worthwhile to harvest and try fertilizing the eggs) is six. I'd been hoping for at least nine, maybe eleven or even sixteen.

Our doctor basically gave us three options: forge ahead, with a low probability of success; stop, and turn the cycle into an IUI cycle (insemination instead of fertilization); or continue with more hormone injections over the weekend, and see where we're at Monday, and make a final decision then.

We opted for the third. So, three days and three hundred and thirty dollars' worth of Repronex later, we're on our way to the clinic again.

This is classic Emi: very deliberate (i.e. indecisive) over very important life things. I took a year off after high school because I didn't know whether to go to Stanford or stay in Japan and experience being "fully" Japanese. I took a year off after college, because I couldn't decide between going to film school in LA, NY, or London. Now, even my unfertilized, certainly unborn eggs are being indecisive: "I'm kind of maturning... but kinda slowly... not sure if I want to participate in this cycle... are we really ready?...Hmmm...."

After some soul searching on Friday (which I spent completely in a daze), I spent much of the weekend meditating, talking to my eggs and follicles, and napping. Frankly, I've been REALLY exhausted, and feeling bad cuz Mark's the one on his feet all day -- until a fertility counselor reminded me that my body is dealing with tremendous stress, trying to incorporate all these hormones and create at least five eggs where usually there's only one.

{the syringes I've used in the last 10 days.}

So that made sense. My body needed rest, so I gave it some rest. It was good.

Anyway, on our way now. More later.

05 December 2008

Oh, and one more thing.

Yeah... we thought moving cross-country and starting up a new business on my freelance salary wasn't enough. We're moving forward with the biggest, most emotionally harrowing gamble of our lives to date: IVF.

Well, technically, it's not IVF -- it's ZIFT, Zygote Intrafallopian Transfer. The idea is to fertilize the egg externally, then rather than continuing to grow it in the lab for 3-5 days and transferring it into the uterus, we return it to the fallopian tube where it grows naturally as the body carries it down into the uterus itself.

Ironically, this more "natural" process is much more invasive to the female (in this case, my) body: it involves laparoscopic surgery under full anesthesia, the day right after getting more anesthesia for the egg retrieval. But our doctor -- director of the Santa Monica Fertility Specialists, who we really like -- has had tremendous success with ZIFT, and considering our history, we decided to go for it.

I meant to start writing this about this a LONG while ago, but ya know, we've been busy. So here's the deal:

I began taking the Pill (yes, more irony) about a month ago (this is to take control over my hormones), along with pre-natal vitamins and baby aspirin:

Then, based on good (i.e. on-track) blood test results, starting on Thanksgiving Day, we began a hormone injection called Lupron -- twice a day with an insulin syringe. Two days later, we added another hormonal drug called Menopur (acquired from the UK to save at least a little $$). This was kind of a mess at first because it's extremely complicated to prepare, and the scheduled time to administer it happened to coincide with our first tasting. Mark and I were fumbling around in the bathroom like first-time heroin users.

Thankfully, it's all become somewhat routine now, and the side effects haven't been bad -- I threw up once on Thanksgiving Day and my abdomen's bruised up and sore, but no excessive weight gain or anything like that (which can happen). Emotional highs and lows for sure, but god knows that might be from the store opening too!

If all goes well, the egg aspiration (retrieval) should be next Monday -- already! -- and the transfer the next day (assuming some are usable, and some grow after fertiliziation). BUT... that's if all goes well. At our appointment yesterday, the ultrasound showed a few follicles growing, but not a great many, and not all that big yet either. Our doctor gave us a 50-50 shot at proceeding next week. If the follicles haven't grown enough, it won't be worth it -- so we would most likely abort (ha ha) the process and possibly start all over again after at least a two-month break to physically, emotionally and financially regroup. But, he did say that he's seen follicles "simmer" and then "soar," so... rah, rah, follicles! Rah, rah! Grow eggs grow!

Just goes to show: you can't plan anything. Dammit.

Another ultrasound and blood test tomorrow morning. Could set the course. Fingers crossed that we can make it happen... happy thoughts. Peaceful thoughts...

Blast off!

Thursday, December 4th, 2008, 10am -- The Curious Palate opened its doors, officially, to the public.

The last week has been beyond chaotic, with Thanksgiving (catering to the families of my friends Hana & Lisa -- our first paying customers!):

...TWO dinner "tastings," one on Saturday and another on Monday:

...and now, finally, the opening. Needless to say Mark has been cooking for about 23 hours a day, and Elliot has been...well, I don't think he's sat down or stood still for two months now, so one could say that's nothing new. I too have been caught deeper in the vortex than ever before, the epitome of which was handwriting one retail label after another last night at the store until 3:30am (you know the line between "late" and "early" have been crossed when the morning news comes on NPR) -- then came home and sliced up the cheese and charcuterie labels. Of course, Elliot trailed behind me by another hour and a half... madman....

But, I'm happy to report that the first day went absolutely swimmingly. People stopped by all day; at one point our tables were full (one occupied by me and more labeling materials); and there was lots of ooh-ing and aah-ing -- many just sighs of sheer delight that we were, at long last, open. (Apparently it seemed long to those hungry people who walk or drive by every day too.) There is definitely MUCH more to do, but Mark said one family came by tonight and stayed for dinner, and the two kids raved: "It's the best restaurant we ever ate in!!!".... which, in my book, makes it all worthwhile.

I have to say... the store looks and feels like just the place we'd imagined. Again, there are SO many more dimensions to add... one prism color at a time.

Just happy we're off to a good start. Cheers!

P.S. A few of our retail offerings to whet your palate. Edible love :)

22 November 2008

Final countdown?

Now that was a LONG cliffhanger -- I know. Apologies. I was somewhat defeated after the last entry, when it turned out that that "big" inspection was a "framing" inspection by the LADBS, for the new dropceiling and a swinging gate we put next to the deli case. That would have to be followed by a "nailing" inspection (where they make sure we're using the right nails), and a "screwing" inspection... you get the idea.

But wait! There's more. The electrical... the plumbing... the ADA... and yet another health inspection (despite the fact that we already got an "A" four months ago).

There was a rather hairy moment with a plumbing/water resource issue that came out of left field -- but fortunately, we squeaked over that hurdle. So the good news is that now we've passed EVERY INSPECTION... except the final (and redundant) health inspection, which we're still waiting on because our inspector is, of all things, now on jury duty.

Mark and Elliot have been interviewing people all week, after getting hundreds of responses within minutes of posting this ad on Craig's List:

The Curious Palate, a new Market & Kitchen on Venice Blvd. in Mar Vista, specializing in farm-to-table cooking and artisanal provisions and cheeses, is seeking full and part-time employees.

Our ideal candidate:
- Provides excellent customer service, makes customers laugh and can speak passionately about artisan cheeses and foods
- Is hardworking, never idle
- Is very friendly and gets along well with coworkers
- Has loads of enthusiasm even under pressure
- Is a great team player with a positive attitude
- Is driven to learn
- Is passionate about seasonal, local comfort food… and CHEESE!

Experience in food service, retail, or cheese is a plus, but the passion and desire to learn is the most important attribute of a successful candidate. 8 hour shifts will fall in the range of 9 AM – 9 PM. Weekend and evening hours will be required. Starting salary is negotiable and a competitive benefits package is available after six months of employment. We are currently seeking employees who can commit to us for at least a year.

Are you ready to join us in our mission to educate the world on the pleasures of slow food and great cheese? Then send us your resume now, along with a cover letter letting us know why this job is perfect for you!

They've met a few promising canditates so far -- for this "cheese" position as well as for the sous chef position -- so they should be making a decision soon, perhaps after a test day of cooking/working together next week.

Meanwhile, we've had a few more tastings and a nice family dinner at the Curious Palate. So here are some pictures to, uh, whet your appetite!

Looking toward the café area, with the POS (point of service = cash register) in the foreground.

LEFT: Looking toward the retail area and the beverage case. Shelving for the products has been installed since this picture was taken.

RIGHT: View from the entryway. The hanging blackboards (crafted from wood we preserved from demolishing the ceiling) will be used to display the menu. By next Wednesday, these deli cases should be full (or at least partially full) of cheeses and charcuterie.

The Cannon boys in the kitchen. (From left: Mark, Dave, Jack (dad) and Teddy.)

Buffet-ing off the top of the deli cases. In the foreground is a vat of the most delicious coleslaw on Earth.

Elliot and Keri -- working on seconds?

My darling friends Hana and Kyle, who had just finished moving into their new, absolutely charming DREAM home in Santa Monica (we're now neighbors -- yay!). Here, a commemorative picture of the hungry couple as our first "to go" customers.

Next week, we'll be celebrating Thanksgiving at the store. More pics to come! And good eats to all....

22 October 2008

Coming up next:

"There are too many cliffhangers in our lives."

Mark and I were nestled on the couch after dinner, watching "the Funnies" -- The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report -- when he blurted this out, half-joking, half-sighing.

The cliffhanger -- that juicy storytelling device that entranced Shahrzād's king, and today keeps TV viewers from "changing the dial" (or at least we try, we TV writers) -- supposedly got its moniker from Thomas Hardy's 1873 serial novel, A Pair of Blue Eyes. Chapters were published monthly, and to ensure readers picked up the next copy, he once left the hero literally hanging on a cliff. The technique was used extensively in the serial films of the silent era, most notably the 1914 blockbuster The Perils of Pauline -- every episode of which would end with the poor heroine Pearl White trapped with a villain (usually a pirate or a savage, i.e. Native American) promising death. Then at the beginning of the next episode she would somehow escape, then get trapped again, then escape again, get trapped, escape... etc. Poor woman, but apparently she was quite resourceful.

No doubt cliffhangers are fun to watch. Our hearts race, our knuckles whiten, we cringe in our seats -- and when the danger is past, we fly high on our hero or heroine's courage and oh, how it's incredible to be alive!

Maybe we even use some of that induced adrenaline to tackle our own lives, get through our own cliffhangers (those of us without that thrill-seeking gene). Because life, being unpredictable, is full of them. What will my next job be? Will the store be a hit? Will I ever get pregnant? Will my dad win the Green Card Lottery? Will Mark ever find the time to get his hair cut? And -- more so these days, on everyone's minds -- can I pay the rent on time? Will I ever get to retire? Will Obama really win the presidency -- and if he does, will he manage to live up to even half of his supporters' expectations?

Today, our main cliffhanger happens to be: will The Curious Palate pass the LADBS inspection? If it does -- the greenlight will launch us into the home stretch to the big open; the final construction, the hanging of all the lights, the installation of the dishwasher and other plumbing-related equipment, ALL hinges on one man's approval. If he doesn't...

To be continued...

19 October 2008


A before-and-after:

The ugly-ass bathroom: approximately 5ft x 9ft of dirty white paint; chipped mirror; tacky toilet seat; plastic fast-food waste basket; gas station sink & faucet; horrible brick red tile floor (already ripped up in these pictures and smoothed over with concerte)...

...Now with pretty pink paint made with eggshells; stained concrete floor; toilet seat cover holder and industrial paper towel dispenser are gone; tacky toilet seat and gas station yet to be replaced...but at least the sink is no longer crooked. Wish we could replace that awkward piping under the sink, but between the shoddy original work and a web of strict ADA (disbility) requirements, there's little we could afford to do right now to pass inspections. Hence the shape of the new mirror too (the picture is just of the wood frame but will soon have a new reflective surface added to it. Also more decor to come.

Other fun pics: our tables... with bistro-style "Bentwood" chairs... lots of scrounging to find enough of these...

The storefront... with stained mortar replacing the red Chihuahua tiles... I'm not really sold on the orangy trim color but repainting it is waaaaay down on the priority list...and we may not see much of it once the awning is in.

And our sales bags! They feel like thin plastic bags but they're made from recycled materials and biodegradable after 9 months. The "logo" is dark brown, with orange and ivory lettering (though the ivory really is a punch-out that shows the ivory material of the bag).

Better pics of the floor tiles to come, too. And the ceiling. And not the deli cases are in... and more shelving...it's definitely looking like a store now! Apparently the "coming soon" sign went up today and they had a stream of people stopping by. Hopefully all the recent anxiety about the economy will encourage a return to simple pleasures (i.e. eating well) and supporting local, independent businesses like ours.

10 September 2008

All Tiled Up

It's 5:30 am, and I'm up. Kind of. The white electric glow of the laptop is zapping the last few strands of sleep from my brain.

Really, I've been in a haze of consciousness for an unknown period of time -- maybe another hour and a half. (Oh wow, I'm suddenly famished.)

(Toast and egg and fresh OJ in hand now.)

My point: it's Tiling Day.

The boys are meeting at 7am at the store to begin laying down slate. (Click to see the process & pictures.) Of course, what you have to remember is that the tile didn't magically appear; we had to choose it and buy it. And you know what happened with the paint.

Also, the decision to lay down tile came about, oh, on Friday. And we want to get it all nice and done before the LADBS (Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety) comes and inspects it next week. (The good* news is that they stamped our construction permit. Amen.) Luckily, Elliot found out from one of his boys that somewhere on Slauson Avenue ... somewhere downtown... there was a mecca of tile shops. (Slauson is 20 miles long.)

So come Saturday morning, we whipped out our treasure maps and puttered down to the one spot we knew there would be a store: the Slauson Cermaic Marble and Tile. This turned out to be an itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow painted concrete building, the kind more often seen hawking used tires or strangely tender tongue burritos. We pulled up in front of a house with at least two chickens clucking around their front yard and a little girl staring at me from behind the white iron picket fence. The store itself was a good start, but all of the stand-out tiles were "special order" -- i.e. would take one or two weeks to ship, which was no good for us. So we bought a few sample tiles to play with and moved on, following mysterious directions from the thick-accented salesgirl. Along the way... we hit the jackpot.

I no longer have any idea what that store was called, which kinda gives away the fact that we ultimately didn't buy their tiles. But it was huge, and we enjoyed a moment of victory as we identified a kind of earthy, gold-and-red-mottled tile that had enough friction (don't want our fancy lady customers slippin' in their Blahniks and Choos) and... and... addressed all the other scientific (porosity is a favorite) and health-inspection-code specs that Elliot will thoroughly, meticulously inquire of the hapless vendor. And enough of it -- 500 square feet -- was in stock! We still wanted to actually see the tile in the store, though, so we bought one ($2.89) and happily climbed back in our car-turned-heated-oven, not even caring that we never found a single additional tile store, let alone a mecca.

My lesson that day: just how incredible the temperature difference can be between the beach and East LA -- a 10 to 20-degree difference in the summer. I literally got into my car roasting, dehydrated and sweating, succumbing to using air conditioning on the surface streets, and got out of it almost shivering at the cool breeze and marine layer (check out how thick!).

My lesson the next morning: if it's too easy, it ain't over. The tile was still beautiful, perfect for our store. Except -- and I'd had a creeping fear about this -- it made our golden-red, salvaged-urban-pine, hand-crafted (by Stefan) tabletops disappear into mush. It made our front door, also pine stripped of its red Chihuahua paint, look as oddly pale as a scrawny British boy from some rite-of-passage, dive-into-the-lake-while-terrified scene in a boarding school or summer camp movie. And... I thought it would really, truly clash (yet in a subtle way) with our whole exterior paint. My vote was for the dark slate we'd picked up, because it brought out the beauty of the wood -- it's just that it felt silly to be covering up the same colored polished concrete floor with such a similar-colored slate. Though we have our reasons.

Sooooo... cut to yesterday morning. I traipsed over to meet the boys at Bourget Flagstone Company, which fortunately has been in business since 1947 right around the corner from where we live now. Walking in, I half expect all this natural stone, all the sample flooring laid out like the Ancient Egypt section of the Met or the patio of a mogul's pied a terre in the Sunset Hills to be completely unaffortable. But... it turns out not. (The bulk of the cost is probably labor, to create the beautiful patterns.) I fell in love with Mystique Green, a pale green slate that really brought out the highlights in our table (we lugged it with us this time). Then we picked Ming Valley, a dark grey slate with streaks of rusty red, to lay down as kind of a pathway leading from the patio door and across the store and down the hall to the bathroom. They were both suitable for commercial restaurant use: tough as nails, low porosity, and flat enough not to cause that annoying unevenness in the table and chair legs. We were set, we were done!

Except the Bourgets didn't have quite enough in stock of the damn Ming.


You couldn't imagine what we went through after that, trying to find another slate with which we could supplement the Ming. They were too soft, or with too many crevices, or naturally embedded with iron, or... I mean it was endless. Finally I had to leave to start my day job: I'd had my say, and it was now up to the boys. All day I got calls from Mark: "Remember the 'Golden Ray'? How about that for the path and 'Beijing' for the tables?"... "Hey, we're at this other place in West LA now, check out the slate on their site..."... and then, at last: "Ok, we're going with the Beijing and the Kashmir. Coming back to get the RAV so we can go get the slates back at Bourget."

That, my friends, brings us to... Tiling Day. Stay tuned.

*great, glory-to-God hallelujah hallelujah!

02 September 2008

pieces of the puzzle

The ovens arrived today. Or rather, our new ovens were put in place (took a few good men to stack'em on top of one another), so the kitchen "line" -- the line-up of equipment and cooking workflow -- is close to completion. And having the ovens there now means Mark has begun playing with big slabs of meat and flocks of chicken to test out the temperature gauge, figure out the menu and perfect some recipes. A looooot of work to be done.

And MEANWHILE, I'm working with my friend Lars on the website; narrowing down uniform options for the staff; formatting the logo for printing on bags and stuff; and trying to come up with a look & design for the bathroom. Who knew sink basins could be so expensive -- or made of bamboo? I think there's more but I've put away my to do list for the day.

I've now heard Mark say "October 1st" for an opening day. Some days that seems doable.

12 August 2008

from sea to shining...muffins

Colors. They're everywhere. So pretty. Red, green, blue, yellow. So simple. Right?

Wrong. Oh, so, wrong.

With the basic exterior construction done, it was Time -- Time to Decide on what color the Curious Palate should be. What color best represents how delicious life can be? What color would inspire in our customers the yummiest of dreams, lure them in by the thousands with promises of delectable delicacies and glorious goodies that satiate their very souls?

And how do we go classy without being bland? How do we stand out without being gaudy?

The wrong color....and we may as well kiss it goodbye.


So you see (maybe) how playing with colors turned into week-long nightmare. I spent hours creating layers upon layers of options on Photoshop: white door, sage green awning, brick red façade? Red door, dark brown awning, cream façade? Sage façade? Navy awning? Brown door? Or will it help to call them food colors: artichoke, 70% chocolate, salted butter and ricotta?

It was like a wedding careening out of control, with me and a triad of dusty, musty men (Mark, Elliot and Stefan in full construction mode) wrestling over color combos. But somehow, we managed to narrow down our options, and once I managed to persuade Elliot to try swatches of paint rather than go for the whole thing at once, we schlepped to Home Depot, the bastion of low-budget renovation, for said samples of paint.

The next day, the paint went up. And we realized... one of our colors, a grey-green, was virtually identical to the questionable housing units in our back lot. And the other color, a pretty light "sage" (aka "Sea Foam")... not only looked more like a pallid mint, but bizarrely blended into the two buildings on either side of us, a sky-blue Mexican flower shop (see left) and a white...something. I'll find out.

So it was back to square one. We put up more colors. Everyone had an opinion. And I mean everyone: our helper Joe, a woman on the street waiting for her friend, and god knows how many others who came and went while I tried not to think about it back at home. And every single person had a different opinion. At one point, Stefan even piped up with what I can only call delusional blasphemy: he liked the original yellow-orange of the (gasp!) Taqueria Chihuahua.

Thankfully, Elliot's wife Keri stepped in. And she picked what was Mark's favorite all along: (...drumroll...) warm muffin. (It's a pale creamy yellow. Scrumptious.)

The whole store is painted now, with a terra cotta red on the side that will probably also be used for the door and trim, and the muffin basking (baking?) in the afternoon sunshine in front.

And really -- who could argue with a warm, sunny muffin?

Note: those ugly tiles on the bottom will be covered and smoothed over with a stained mortar. So the makeover continues. Now -- what colors should we paint on the inside....?

06 August 2008

ready, set...

...and we're off! On July 14th, 2008, Mark and Elliot signed a 3-year lease (with two additional 3-year options) to the building at 12034 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles, CA. Previously known as La Taqueria Chihuahua, the little yellow shop is a stand-alone structure in an up-and-coming neighborhood that bridges Culver City, Venice and Mar Vista/Santa Monica (all cultural/food hotspots on the West Side). It's also literally around the corner from the Mar Vista farmer's market on Sundays, where we'll open a booth at some point to sell paninis (or something) and reach out to the community.

Unbelievably, almost a month has flown by since they put their names on the dotted line. Since then, we've christened the place with a few family dinners... demolished the front door and ceiling, to expose the wooden roof beams... sold a bunch of the kitchen equipment, and "auditioned" various vendors for the right replacements (like the Rationale and the Alto-Shaam "Combis" and the Cook-Hold-n'-Smoker). I'm still working full time on Dr. G, but doing what I can to help with decision-making on design, construction materials, color palette, etc etc.

Working with us on both the design and construction front is Stefan, a woodwork artist who Elliot befriended when fixing his car (Elliot is a mechanical genius).

More to come, but that's the big update for now. The original Venice location on Abbott Kinney Blvd. went to Le Pain Quotidien, a national chain -- and though the building owner was bending over backwards to bring us into the space (even knocking down the wall to create a bigger space), the costs involved in putting in a brand new kitchen and all the permits and engineering maneuvers that would require just didn't all add up. (Or added up to too much, I suppose.) The Santa Monica location never made up their mind which of their three top contenders, including us, they wanted to pick. And then one day, Mark saw the Taqueria up for sale on Craig's List. And so the story begins....

We're hoping to open in mid-September. A very aggressive schedule, no doubt -- that's 31 days from now! I could eat a different flavor at Baskin Robbins' every day and we should be open by the time I've gone though the list. Though they must come out with new flavors every month too. Hmmm.

P.S. That storefront graphic is not supposed to be blue...but I give up...

10 June 2008

one night in the Village




After days of 97-degree heat, this may be the "first," biggest thunderstorm of the year. And I'm just lucky enough to be in cotton clothes that I don't mind getting wet; I throw on flip-flops (specifically slipped into my mini suitcase for tromping through the rain) and run downstairs, onto Sixth Avenue. The raindrops are so big they hurt as they hit, but I couldn't be happier -- in fact, I'm probably the happiest person on the street, since most others (especially those without umbrellas) are gunning for shelther.

I hop into puddles, gape at the sky, lightning strobes flashing but softened by rainclouds thicker than custard. It's raining harder than it did before our wedding, cooling the whole city faster than any air conditioning unit man could ever make.

Then, the droplets falter, but electricity still rips the sky, tearing the heat with a low roar, a duet with the rumble of the subway below my feet, accompanied by the sweeping soothing hiss of taxi cabs gliding over pavement.

The orchestration is perfect. And I am happy to be in New York, alive.

31 May 2008

Final Countdown

5:30am. My reflection in the bathroom mirror looks a little shell-shocked. Last night climaxed in a frenzy of 3-D geometry (what is the term?? too sponge-headed to know), scanning the kitchen over and over again to see what could fit, and what was light-weighted enough to put into, the box at hand.

Boxes, boxes, boxes. They have been sprouting like mushrooms all over the house. I never got to write about the day it started, and I couldn't bear to pack a single cookbook. Mark had broken the ice, putting a few things away, and I couldn't stand it.

Now -- now that Uni is gone, everything's changed. Maybe it hit home that change is inevitable. Maybe I just didn't want to be alone with Sumi anymore in this house. Who knows. But everything changed, and the move was on, and now the truck will be here in...four hours.

More to share, but I must go and (you guessed it) pack. Besides, Mark just brought me a martini glass with orange juice in it. One of our only unpacked glasses. Amazing how alcoholic it LOOKS, just being in that shape.


17 April 2008

bright sun, dull roar

And she had seemed so well last week.

Uni took a turn for the worse a few days ago. (I already hate how familiar this all is. Someday soon I would like to write a HAPPY, GOOD NEWS entry on the Spiral Life.)

…I started writing a whole long description of what’s been going on but… sigh. Suffice it to say I’ve consulted three doctors now, one in an emergency room yesterday, and she has pain relief now but tonight it’s clear to me that we have to let her go. Mark is trying to fly back from LA, and I will try to nurse her as best I can until Monday, but Monday afternoon at the latest, we will say good bye.

There, the white noise of my heart breaking.

And still, she is so good and beautiful.

13 April 2008

nine lives

There is much speculation as to where the notion that "a cat has nine lives" originated. Some say it was in ancient Egypt; others belive it's China. Interestingly, the Arabic proverb only gives a cat seven lives, while others mostly gives nine, presumably because of the number's mysticism (my favorite number, because who can argue with magic?).

All I know is -- I wish the proverb were true.

It started with a little bit of weight loss. Uni used to be slightly heavier than Sumi, but a few months ago, I noticed they'd switched a bit. But, Sumi always fluffs up over the winter (she's Siberian, most likely) and I didn't think much of it. Then, after being in Japan for three weeks in February/March, I swept Uni up into my arms -- and her lightness shocked me.

Blood tests followed; the vet declared "great news all around," all her organ functions were like a one-year-old's (she's nine) -- except, well, there's a chance there's something hard to detect going on there. We could do an ultrasound, or do another weigh-in in two weeks. I decided to wait.

Eight days later, we went in for the weigh-in. She seemed smaller and weaker every night, and I just knew something was wrong. This time, not only was she lighter, but the doctor thought she might have tachycardia, an unusually fast heartbeat (even for being at the vet). We immediately scheduled an ultrasound with the specialist.

The chest ultrasound was clear. But in the abdomen -- they saw that her kidneys were both atrophied, because of tiny growths spread around her mesenteric lymph nodes.

Most likely, it's cancer, and it's inoperable.

"Most likely" because to biopsy these growths would require invasive and specialized surgery, after which we may have a diagnosis but still no way to remove the little suckers.

So... anyway... there it is. She's taking Prednisone, a steroid that acts like chemo for cats, curbing the growth of the tumors, stimulating her appetite and supporting muscle growth. Funny thing is I'd just written about them for work, in a story about a woman who was taking Prednisone as part of her lupus medication... At least, for Uni, they've made a huge difference in her appetite. As in, now she can eat.

"We'll know more in the next 30 days," the doctor said. And when I mentioned that we might be moving in June -- "June is a long way off."

I used to think about how I'd console our kids when she passed away, 10 years from now. And now we're talking about June? This year?

I picked her out of the litter when the couple who rented me my very first solo apartment in Los Angeles had a cat who'd just given birth.

That also happened to be exactly when my mother was first diagnosed with stomach cancer, 9 years ago.

My... "experience" with Uni now shadows what happened with my mother, in many ways. How small and frails she's become, even while her spirit and beauty remain. How she struggles to eat, and tires in a way she never did before. How she yet provides me more comfort and pure joy.

How precious even the tiniest touch becomes.

The universe has a way of guiding us, encouraging us to grow. I can't help wonder if Uni came into my life to help me through from the time cancer hit my mother to now, a year after her death, when I must begin the *real* process of grieving, which I haven't really done yet. Now, I can do it with my girl, my best feline friend. And already, I know that when our time is up -- whenever that may be, and wherever she may go -- my mother will be there to love her too.

10 April 2008

more pot metaphors

A watched pot does not boil. (Actually, it does. But it takes longer than normal.)*

A watched email inbox does not receive new messages. (Like, from the Santa Monica broker.)

(And let's not go to the watched uterus.)

What else doesn't happen when you watch it? Chime in!

*scientifically unproven. far as I know.

05 April 2008

to choose or not to choose

Update on the Venice location: the grease interceptor problem looks to be fine. Mark and Elliot met with an engineer last week and they've basically figured it out. (Times like this, it helps enormously that Elliot is, among *many* other things, a petroleum engineer!!) Now, the ball is once again in the owner's court, as they work out a few more terms on the agreement. And assuming that goes through -- the next step is to actually sign the lease. Gulp.

BUT, there's that other pot on the stove: the second location, also on the West Side -- in Santa Monica. This is the one that is currently a restaurant (greasy Chinese fast food), and it's also a great location, with ample parking, AND cheaper rent to boot. So after looking at it and conducting many an interview with passersby and local vendors, M&E have put in an offer on that place as well... and expect to hear back by Wednesday.

If the counteroffer is good, then we'll be in a terrific position to make a choice. One of the major considerations, of course, is cost -- the price difference on renovations alone will be at least $70,000. And if there IS no choice, we'll move ahead with the Venice location. The tricky part, of course, is the timing -- if we get a decent counteroffer from the Santa Monica broker, and want to see where the negotiations go, while talks with Venice get to a point where we've got to sign it or drop it.

It's like dating. You've got your first impressions. Then comes the talking. You hit it off. Then you find out a few things, like the guy's got a grease interceptor problem, and you also start wondering if he's talking to someone else. Meanwhile, you meet this other guy who's a little rougher around the edges, but you see the potential, and go out for a coffee or even a drink -- hoping it's still a while before you have to really, really choose. Or -- whether you're going to have a choice at all.

I'm not packing any boxes yet. But, Mark is back (thank god, mwa) and he claims he's going to build a bunch and fill them up before he jets back to LA again. If he does -- maybe I'll help.

27 March 2008

zip it

Okay, I wasn't REALLY serious about jinxing the spot by talking about it... but sure enough, a problem's cropped up. Most food establishments, including ours, need a grease trap. But now that Mark and Elliot are talking to architects about this potential space... it seems there might be a serious (i.e. prohibitive and/or expensive) problem in setting one up. Now, this would be true for any restaurant or kitchen they'd put there, so the owners would have to: a) help the tenant set it up; b) find a tenant that can afford to do it themselves; or c) put some other retail store there. Of course we're hoping for a).

The boys are meeting an engineer there tomorrow, so there may be a workaround. But, if there isn't, or the owner isn't willing to pitch in on the work it will take to install a grease trap... we may have to walk away from the deal.

Meanwhile, continuing their due diligence, M&E went to look at yet another location today. The appeal with this new place is that it's already a restaurant, so it will be MUCH easier to convert into a food store. And, it's got plenty of parking, and the rent is tantalizingly cheaper. But... frankly, from what I can tell (from, yeah, 3,000 miles away), it's just not as sexy. But that's what makeovers are for, right? The downside, certainly, is that it literally came on the market yesterday, so the owner is likely to want to shop it around to potential tenants before settling on a deal.

THIS is why I'm not packing yet.

25 March 2008

one step closer

Mark & Elliot just got out of a sit-down with the owner and broker of the location for which we have our fingers crossed. The lease ("letter of intent") has been through their initial offer, our counter offer, their counter to our counter, and our counter to their counter to our counter. So this was a meeting where they ironed out a few more points in person. Apparently there are a couple of items still to finalize, but things are looking good -- very, very good. So, I'll share the neighborhood, at least: Venice.

More details when the lease is signed?!?

Meanwhile, the pile of unmade cardboard boxes in the corner of our eat-in kitchen seems to be calling out, "Time to build us! Time to fill us up! Don't think you can pack the whole house in a day!" Just a bit daunting. Just.

Cats will have no idea what hit'em....

10 March 2008

rolling the ball

One of the problems I face every time I think of this blog (which would be several times a day) is that there is SO much to share & write that I don't even know where to start.

But a number of questions seem to be on everybody's minds, so here's an attempt at answering a few:

1. How's your Dad? He's doing as well as could be expected; even better. I'm so proud of him. Funny thing to say about a parent perhaps, but it's true that we're reaching that age when the roles begin to reverse. In any case, he's found comfort in time if not solace from grief. His cooking in particular has vastly improved -- and he wasn't half bad to begin with. There's a quiet confidence stirring in him now which is wonderful to see.

2. Is he moving to the States? Ah, such a simple question, fraught with complications. This is certainly a possibility, but a) I've decided not to make or ask others to make big decisions until at least a year has passed since my mother's death, and b) it's really, really not that easy -- mainly because neither my father nor I have U.S. citizenship (I'm on a Green Card now, and my dad's a Bolivian citizen with a permanent residency permit in Japan). And to get U.S. citizenship (to sponsor my father's immigration) I'd have to give up my Japanese citizenship, which I'm not ready to do (never mind the logistical nightmares involving my assests now in Japan). More on this conundrum later.

3. How's the store? Mark has been spending almost all of his time in LA, with Elliot, researching many a possible storefront. All brokers/owners they've met have been superenthusiastic about the business proposal, and they've come close with several negotiations. But each spot so far has had some dealbreaker, like not enough parking (as determined by strict city regulations based on the usage, size and location of the property. That's about all I can understand). We're coming down to the wire, though, and it's turning into a rollercoaster ride -- which hopefully I can start reporting about in real time. Now they're in negotiations on the best location by far -- won't say where just now so as not to jinx it -- and I just have my fingers crossed. If I didn't know better I'd say we should tape this all for a reality show.

4. When are you moving? Where will you live? Mark is pretty much there, staying with his brother Dave, but only with his computer and a few clothes. So I, the cats, and our worldly possessions will be moving cross-country...probably in mid-June. I have a big RCCNY concert at Carnegie Hall on June 5th, and I'm planning on going back to Tokyo again at the end of June/beginning of July for my mom's 1-year anniversary memorial service, which makes mid-June the most practical time to move. We'll rent a place in LA somewhere near the store, hopefully somewhere on the West Side. Just need to give our CT landlady 2 months' notice -- which means giving notice in less than a month. Yikes. La la la la la la la la...

5. Will you work at the store, or...?? I finally bit the bullet and told my bosses and colleagues about the "possible" move to LA (some denial there still, yes -- what can I say, I'm conflicted). Everyone is supportive across the board, and since our show just got renewed for another season (now airing on TLC, by the way -- millions more viewers like you!), they'd definitely like to keep me writing and editing. Either way it will be great to have that steady income until the store's raking in $$. The big question is whether they'll keep me on as an employee even after I leave New York, or if they'll cut my benefits and have me go freelance (though I'd request a higher salary to compensate). We'll see.

6. How are you? WHERE are you? I'm back now from a 3-week trip in Tokyo, during which I spent more than $80,000 of what was once my mother's money. WHOO! It all went to income taxes, construction fees (we had to convert half our garden into a 3-car lot adjacent to the business rental property -- long story), accountant and property lawyer fees, property deed filing taxes... BOOO!!

7. Are you guys still trying? The short answer is yes, and I've been going to regular acupuncture sessions with a doctor prescribing herbal teas and such too. But really I can't imagine going through more "serious" treatment now and starting up with a new doctor (our company health insurance changed YET AGAIN, and the new provider is practically the only one that my OBGYN of 6 years does NOT take).....only to move and have to explain the whole emotionally charged history all over again to another doctor full of the same damn questions. Probably best not to get pregnant right now anyway, considering all that too. So all in good time. My only regret will be that any baby who finally makes it to my womb will miss out on the weekly rehearsals with RCCNY. I'd been looking forward to that.

I'm sure other questions will come up but it's after midnight now and I'm sinking deeper and deeper in between the flannel sheets. It's time.

01 January 2008


May the year bring great blessings to all!

So much has happened since the last entry, and all emotional energy was devoted to just carrying on. Thank you for your patience...hope to bring you all up to speed and get the blog back on track soon.

Just a quick hello to say...hello.

Love and peace,