Skankynavia: In the US (Part 1 - Berkeley)
Last week I listened to the great NYC radioshow called RadioLab. They deal with quirky science and interesting true stories, and last week's subject was "memory" (a rerun from 2007, listen here). It turns out that every time you remember something, and when you revisit a certain piece of stored information in your brain, you actually reprogram it. The brain re-experiences the thing that once happened to it, it replays the situation, and it also alters it a little. Neurons shift place, the atoms jump around, things you were certain of before will suddenly become unsure. Meaning that every time you think of something, you change it around. The less you recall a memory, the more it stays pristine and "true".
My three weeks in the U.S. are already jumping around in my head--facts drift away, situations are mixed-up--and all the strange flavours I treated my tongue to are becoming blurry and mushy. I look through all the photos I took during the trip, and while it does help, so much information is lost.
One thing stays super clear though--what an incredible country the U.S. is. I recall how friendly and kind people were, and the warm and intensity of the Western states. I had such a great time, and the memories will stay with me forever.
On April 27th 2011 fellow Umamimart writer Yoko and I rented a lipstick red car and drove South onto Highway 101. I especially recall what it felt like leaving the Bay Area, a place with such an intense focus on food and drinks. When you leave this culinary bubble, it's kind of an abrupt wake-up call.
Destination: LA, Joshua Tree, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Phoenix and NYC.
After a week of Japanese food and healthy, organic, politically-correct dining, we attacked the first burger chain joint we came upon: Good O'l Burgers!
We start out slow with hand-cut fries, Pepsi coke and a "Garden Burger"--a nice soft, veg beginning. I liked the wholegrain bun!
Between San Francisco and LA there's a weird, weird place called Solvang. It's a village inspired by Denmark--quaint and cute with buildings and locations named after famous Danish historical sights and people.
I'm sure it's very exotic and as close to a Scandinavian vibe as you'll ever get for an American. To me, a Dane, it was just plain weird.
Sladerbænken ("Gossip Bench") is spelled wrong, and makes no sense in Danish. The viking is super creepy as well.
This is what it must feel like for a Japanese person, when foreigners put together a "Japanese festival" or design a sushi bar, copying random katakana and kanji characters for decorational purposes. Everything was slightly off and kinda wrong--things looked somewhat familiar, but as it was as if David Lynch gave a helping hand.
Yoko browses the postcard section, teary-eyed about her own Scandinavian adventure in Denmark two years ago.
In the official Danish bakery I could hardly recognise any of the "traditional" cakes. Here is a borrowed picture of the popular Danish cake "Napoleons hat"(around $4 in Denmark).
Photo: Baechs Conditori.
Here is Solvang's edition:
It's all wrong. Milk chocolate? And on top instead of underneath?? That's disgusting.
After our 20-minute stop in Solvang, we headed for Studio City in LA where Yoko's sassy and witty cousin Tomo lives.
Oh, LA: I thought I'd hate you but I didn't.
Just the traffic. But everything else was fab. The weather, the gigantic palm trees, the $$$.
After a few days, Tomo decided to throw a traditional LA pool party, inviting super fun fellow Umamimart writer Sarah Nevada, the gay star photographer Matthew Kristall and lots of really friendly people. All everyone talked about was movies, celebs, script writing, working in the industry etc. VERY LA! Loved it.
Yoko cooking wonders as usual. Tomo posing, putting beer in the fridge, filling a watermelon with vodka and prepping the hot tub for her hot straight male friends. Pretty cool family.
This is the only picture I took of the pool, I was totally too timid to actually walk out there and snap photos of the naked peeps. Don't know the LA pool party picture rule book well enough..
I think the food theme was Mexican. Sarah Nevada fixing super spicy drinks. Need that recipe by the way!
The Studio City Kitchen Posse.
We only had three days in LA but I could've used so much more. And only one day in Disneyland? Please, I could've stayed a week!
This place just lets you seriously escape the Outside World which is probably why Yoko couldn't drag me out.
Pretzel stand inspired by the artwork of famous Disney preliminary artist Mary Blair.
Two of my most inspirational heroes on Earth: Jim Henson & Mary Blair. Both gone too soon, unfortunately.
Disneyland and the new California Adventure were such delights. Unlike the food.
This was supposed to be one of the better places in Disneyland. Not really though. Dry stale bread overload.
Warner Bros Studio tour. We went on a weekend hence the quiet studio streets.
Normally it's crowded with actors, writers and the whole crew shebang.
This is where they shot Blade Runner!!!
And also a certain show about six friends...
Oh, we also came by this little cafe called The Central Perk.
We both suddenly started humming "Smelly Cat", no idea why...
From LA we headed into the scorching desert of Joshua Tree--a total recommendation. We went hiking in the Hidden Valley which felt like walking around in a movie set from a distant desert planet.
Yoko snacking on a Cliff Bar while enjoying the views of alien trees and moon-like rocks.
After a lot of eating out, Yoko insisted on cooking us a homemade meal in the small cabin we stayed in. It ended up being a wonderful night with desert spaghetti, cold white wine and incredible star-gazing.
After 24 hours of desert tranquility and listening to the soothing sounds of oasis palm trees blowing in the wind, our next destination was Las Vegas.
As soon as we arrived, Yoko declared her fear and loathing for Vegas and booked an all afternoon spa treatment inside our Hard Rock Hotel, leaving me to roam free on the Strip after a quick Mexican meal with a view over the big pool area filled with naked, chunky, corn-fed American guys. I already loved this place.
A tiny starter plate of nachos with 3 hot dips.
Two tortillas with beans, rice and fried shrimp. Pretty good.
The rest of the day I walked back and forth on the Strip, trying to see the crazy insides of as many hotel casinos as possible. Among other things I came across this:
The gondolas of Venice. Charming.
Even more fake: the indoor shopping mall with a canal, gondolas, and men singing classics such as O Sole Mio and That's Amore.
I would definitely not eat anything in here...
Next up was the Grand Canyon--what a place of wonder and awe.
I really liked the way the cultural legacy shifted from Mexican to Native American as we came closer to the Canyon.
I loved the big dining hall at our hotel - clearly inspired by Native American architecture and patterns, especially the cool lamps.
Breakfast: french toast and pancakes:
Carb overload again. I had a hard time emptying even one of the plates.
Later, we decided to fill our backpack with sandwiches and wine and hiked one hour up to a peak across the plains and canyons to watch the sunset.
We enjoying great food and cold wine with this view, watching silent eagles hover across the cliffs, listening to the only sound of the wind whistling through the caves many miles below while the sun set. It was simply magical.
Yoko brought a fantastic snack: transparent sourly pickled plum drops from Muji:
Here it beams in the sun. This drop will forever remind me of sunsets and warm red sand.
By now we were deep into the midwest, at least to me being so far away from the coast. Being in Arizona was exactly what you see in the movies--burning sun, crazy cacti and wide open spaces. And of course, biker diners. Yoko's hitting the spot while checking out the hot cowboy dudes with tats and boots and hats at the bar. When the waitress called me "honey" I knew I was finally in the Real US.
The food was, as expected, not candlelight dining. Ceasar salad with spicy chicken and crackers in a plastic bag.
In Phoenix, Yoko had booked us into a luxurious golf resort for a change of pace. Never got to ride that golf cart though...
Arriving in our room (which thankfully included a washer, dryer and kitchen) Yoko insisted on cooking us a meal again so we went to the local supermarket, which was such a contrast to the shops in the Bay Area. Instead of 20 different kinds of oranges, this place carried 20 different kinds of chocolate milk.
This was a display for Mother's Day gift ideas:
A great addition to my Toxic Terror post.
This is not the garden bug exterminator section, it's what they feed their kids:
Thank god, Yoko's ready to whip up a fresh, healthy dinner on the terrace.
Followed by a pool swim under the Arizona stars.
And then, we flew to New York for the big Umamimart Writer's Dinner hosted by MARTHAlicious co-writer Yamahomo.
Meeting, greeting and mixing drinks. Unfortunately I started my NYC trip by going accidentally gay binge drinking with a certain gay Martha the night before, so being slightly hungover the next day I chose to opt out of Payman's drink menu to everyone's understandable hostility and lack of understanding. Who says no to a free drink?? Sorry Payman, next time I promise to drink everything you serve me.
Kayoko aka Asian Oprah in her right element--mixing drinks with food fanatic friends.
Pink hostess with the mostess and her slave boy Nate. Love their interior decor.
No need to post more pics of this fab dinner party, Kayoko already covered it thoroughly--except for my LSD Bunny matching the appropriately homosexual table settings in white and pink.
The next morning I had breakfast at the local Moonstruck Diner, enjoying the real NYC atmosphere:
Food was not something to write home about... oh guess I just did. Avocado omelet and hash browns. Like sticking your tongue out the window.
Later I met up with Kayoko for Umamimart design meeting and lunch at NY classic French bistro Balthazar.
Cheers in champussy, darling.
Steak tartare. Delicious and very full in taste and crunch.
Crispy lamb sandwich and real French fries. Great dish.
I really loved Balthazar because of the atmosphere of power lunching in a real NYC legacy. My friend once saw Anna Wintour and Marc Jacobs lunch here, and that seals the deal in my book.
Later that evening Yoko, Washi, Kayoko and I met up with some other NYC friends in Grand Central Station for an oyster meal.
I had been looking forward to this for a while--I had heard a lot about the place and wanted to experience it myself.
And so this abundant, decadent plate symbolized the final evening of my three week U.S. adventure. So full of taste, variety and fun!
I seriously had the best time eating my way through the U.S., meeting lots of new Umamimart-related peeps and falling in love with California.
No matter how hard I try though, I probably can't help thinking back all the time, destroying all the original memories and replacing them with sugar-coated dreams.
But one thing's for sure: I'll be back!