craft – Taking mom was more of an excuse for us to eat here again

So we’d eaten here once before. I looked on Yelp for a new place to celebrate my lady’s birthday. During that meal we decided that it was good and worthy of taking my mom for Mother’s Day. Fast forward to now.

It’s a nice restaurant. It’s located near the Century City Mall, surrounded by office buildings. It’s definitely the type of place where food is on the expensive side and you’re celebrating something. Great place for couples, but I think better to bring more people. If you’re a foodie and you’re concerned about overeating, I think bringing more people allows you to order more things to try. And this is certainly the type of restaurant where you’ll want to hop around the menu.

We started with a couple of salads. One, the beet salad, was a repeat from our previous experience. Turns out the lady is huge fan of beets, and the beet salad does not disappoint. How many of you know that there is more than one kind of beet?

I assure you it’s pretty much all beets.

The beet salad was just as good as I remember it. The little bits of cheese contrasted nicely with the sweetness of the beets.

I decided to order an avocado salad to sit next to the beet salad. We have four people, after all! The tomatillo in it was the big winner for me. I don’t like avocado by itself. But I love it when it accompanies things. Like in back bean soup. Or in my street tacos. The spiced peanuts in it were an interesting idea, but overall I feel like this salad was designed to let the avocados that were in it shine. Which was why for me, it fell a little short.

If you’re the type that scoops avocado directly into your mouth after cutting it in half, you’re going to love this.

For the main courses we got Texas Quail over red eye gravy and polenta, diver scallops (another repeat from the first time), a BBQ pork belly sandwich, and the Angus flat iron steak (also a repeat). Sides were Russian potatoes, assorted mushrooms (repeat), and broccoli di Cicco.

I’m not a big fan of bird meat. Something about the texture is gross to me. But mom’s boyfriend enjoyed it. He was surprised by how good the gravy was to the point that he looked it up. And then after looking it up, questioned the waiter about it. The waiter then told us they had their own way of preparing it that wasn’t typical.

How many quails are in there?

The diver scallops are good. I feel like when you order a dish at craft, the main ingredient of the dish is allowed to shine. We’d had them previously, but I think lunch time was a little different. At dinner, we got three scallops. At lunch we got three scallops and maybe a daikon salad?

Nothing overpowering here. The sauce allows the scallops to shine.

We asked the flat iron steak to be cooked medium rare. This is because I trust them to actually cook it medium rare. If I were at another steak restaurant, I’d ask for it medium. We’d had this before but we wanted to make sure everyone got to try it. Again, the steak is the star of the show with everything else just boosting it up.

Can you see the medium rarity? I sure could.

The BBQ pork sandwich was tasty. I was only able to eat half because I was too busy eating all of the other stuff. The sharpness of the cheddar went well with the tender pork. The bread was thick and toasted well. It came with what are doubtless, homemade chips. Simple flavors!

Looks good, right?

Potatoes were a mouthful each. Cooked with the skins still on.

We had to take some home.

I’m pretty sure you can choose to get a specific type of mushroom as a side. We always panic and go for the assortment.

Can you identify them all?

The real surprise was the broccoli. It had some fried something in it. The broccoli was sauteed in lots of oil. There was no bitterness, just broccoli being elevated by the crunchy deliciousness that got mixed in. My mom ended up polishing it off. Highly recommended!

The taste more than makes up for this aesthetically challenged clump of sauteed vegetation.

We shared two desserts. Ricotta Cheesecake with citrus and blood orange sorbet, and almond berry shortcake with market berries and raspberry ice cream.

The cheesecake was good. The sorbet was delicious, reminding me a lot of what we had in Portugal. All the different orange slices though didn’t really mesh well with the cheesecake, which was a little disappointing.

Mmm… blood orange sorbet.

The hit for me was the shortcake, which surprised me because that’s not my usual fare. The cake component was crunchy and pleasant, working well with the cream and berries underneath it. I hit a super tart berry, but no one else had this happen, so I must’ve won the berry lottery. The raspberry ice cream that this was paired with was nothing short of amazing.

Every one was happy at the end. My mom thought since the portions were on the small side, she wasn’t going to get full. I doubt she’s going to be pulling through a drive thru on the way home.

Thanks craft! I’m looking for the next excuse to justify coming back!

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Mogu Mogu Mazemen and Ramen – Ramen Without the Annoying Soup

Deluxe Mazemen – Mmmm… eggs

So I noticed when I was driving near the Japantown area in West Los Angeles doing whatever it is that I do, one of our favorite places to get ramen, Dosanko, had disappeared with a new place already in its spot. I looked it up and I found that they’re in their grand opening phase of business and their signature items were being sold for 50% off. Well, I grabbed my lady and dragged her out to try Mogu Mogu! If you’re interested, mogu mogu is Japanese onomatopoeia that sounds like chewing.

So for starters, what is Mazemen? Ramen, hold the soup. Maze (まぜ) is translated by Google as meaning “mixed”. Men(麵) is noodles. So just a guess, noodles that you mix together?

Standard practice for us when we visit a new restaurant is to order two different items so that we can try each others food. We both opted for types of mazemen as this form of cuisine is new to us. She ordered the deluxe, I went for the cheese.

The server was very helpful in explaining the process of eating mazemen. I have to admit, I’m a bit of a sucker for foods that have some form of procedure. For example, in soba shops in Japan they will reserve the water the soba was boiled in and at the end of your meal, mix it with your soba dipping sauce giving you a nice soup to end your meal. So here’s what I got:

Cheese Mazemen!

The first step, as they list it, is to take a picture and post it on social media. I’m pretty sure it’s an optional step, but maybe not so much these days… The second step is to mix it up for 30 seconds, resulting in:

Mixed up! The random chashu chunk was added by my dining partner. Note it has a creamy sheen to it, that’s the cheese doing its thing.

Then I plowed through about half of it to get to the next step. The noodles were chewy. The flavors were nice! I’m enjoying the combination of all the toppings. The third step is to add their umami vinegar and mix that into what you have left to change the flavor. I’m a huge vinegar fan, so I was done to do this. And yes, it kind of turned my noodles into a different, but pleasant experience!

The final step is that they’ll give you a very small amount of rice to toss into the bowl to soak up whatever soup is left in there. It’s a practice that brought me back to when I was in Italy and they were telling me to sop up whatever sauce was left on my plate with bread.

Soak up the sauce with rice. Way more civilized than licking your bowl and possibly getting nori in your hair.

Even with the small amount of rice, I found I hadn’t left enough sauce to soak the rice. But that’s really a me problem. Chalk that up to inexperience.

Overall, the food was tasted good. The service was quick and helpful. They did run us through the mazemen tutorial so if you’re not into reading the wall, don’t fret. The rpice without the grand opening promotion will be pretty standard for ramen, going around $10 for one of the standard options. I’d note they also have soup ramen as well and a variety of appetizers.

There’s a small amount of parking in an attached lot, and some metered street parking on Olympic. It’s far enough away from Japantown that I don’t think you’ll encounter the same parking nightmare when you come here. There are three tables for groups of 4 and six smaller ones for pairs. I didn’t visit the bathroom here, but if I know they have one from when it was Dosanko and Ramenya. Two screens were showing anime at the time I visited (just before noon). So if you’re a solo eater or you’re just not that into whoever you’re eating with, they got you covered.

I’ll be back, I’m looking forward to my next trip!

Mogu Mogu Ramen is located at 11555 W Olympic Blvd in Los Angeles. The cross street is Colby. They’re open for lunch Monday through Saturday from 11:30am until 3pm, then again from 5pm until 10pm. You can check them out at https://mogumoguus.com/

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Initial D Changed the Way I Drive

In case you’ve never heard of it, Initial D is a Japanese manga/anime about street racing. More specifically, the protagonist is a downhill racer who learned his skills by being forced to help his dad’s business out by delivering tofu to a hotel on the other side of a mountain pass.

I can guess what you’re thinking. I read a comic book and now I think I’m qualified to race in NASCAR.

Reading the story did not give me delusions of street racing grandeur. I don’t floor it the second the light turns green because I entered into some imaginary race with the cars that are adjacent to me.

Actually, what has happened is the manga has made me think about why Takumi is such a good driver, how he continues to grow throughout the story, and how I might be able to apply the same principles to my own driving.

For starters, Takumi once told his friends that his dad makes him deliver tofu with a paper cup of water placed in his cup holder. His dad said that if you drive too crazy, you’ll damage the tofu. You’ll know that you’re damaging the tofu if the water spills from the cup. So Takumi learned how to drive without spilling the water. Then he learned how to drive fast without spilling the water.

I did not attempt to replicate his training. There are speed bumps on my street and I’m pretty sure no matter how much I baby my car over those bumps, I’m going to splash water everywhere. Probably on to my crotch.

But what I did take away from it was that Takumi said it was really difficult to drive without spilling. If accelerating or braking was even a little rough, the water would fly out of the cup. Thinking about that idea, I tried to drive smoother by feathering the brake and being gentle with the accelerator. Something else that stuck out was that Natsuki (his girlfriend of sorts) said that she usually gets carsick, but doesn’t when Takumi drives. I wondered if that principle could be applied to my own girlfriend. The jury is still out on that, but I do now notice that when I ride in other peoples cars, their driving tends to be a lot rougher than my own. I’ve shared this with some people and they said that this style of driving is how limo drivers are supposed to drive.

And now because I’m paying attention to being more gentle with the pedals, I’ve also found that my brain is more focused on driving and made me more attentive. Trips to places aren’t as boring. Also because I’m actively trying not to have the people or objects in my car be affected by sudden changes in inertia, I’m more attentive to the speed and location of the cars around me. In general, I’m paying attention more and I think that’s a welcome thing in this world of distractions.

Another thing in the manga that the other characters discuss is why Takumi can beat newer, more powerful cars using an old 86. Part of the reason is that he only slows down when necessary to make turns and he places a minimum amount of stress on his tires and brakes. How am I applying this to everyday driving? By going more with the flow of traffic. Ever see those douchebags that weave in and out of traffic, changing lanes suddenly and powering down their new lane only to step on the brakes like five seconds later? Sometimes I pace my progress compared to those people and more often than not, when I stay in one lane I’ll still see that car several minutes later. It’s made me realize that in the grand scheme of things, driving like an idiot might save you a minute if you can somehow always make lane changes into the lane that has the fastest moving traffic. But what are the odds anyone can do that? So maybe you should chill out and just listen to some music? It’s safer to just go at whatever speed everyone else is going and there will likely be less accidents.

The manga and anime are among my favorites. I love the eurobeat soundtrack for all five seasons and sometimes when I’m working, I’ll have the anime playing in the background. Check out the series if you haven’t already! Don’t crash your car though.

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To the Bay Area and back again

So last week we were in the Bay Area visiting family. Prior to this our mechanic was complaining about how we don’t drive our cars enough which can lead to problems. So instead of flying we decided to drive up there. We had a pleasant ride up and after a couple of days of jet lag caused by living with little children and being forced to their schedule I got a fair amount of work done at random coffee houses around where they live. Paris Baguette Cafe was definitely my favorite out of the bunch.

During this trip I also met up with a college friend whom I hadn’t been in contact with for about 20 years. It’s surprising how familiar a person can feel despite a long block of time passing. She has a doctorate, has two kids, but despite that it was almost like going back in time. I’d forgotten she has a penchant for saying the word, “Dude” a lot. Well worth the effort of driving a little to meet up.

On the way back we decided to visit San Luis Obispo to visit Hearst Castle. I’d been there back when I was kid, but I don’t remember anything other than it being a very long drive. I’d forgotten that it’s not actually a castle. They do have a nice forty minute film that talks about William Hearst and why he built it and such. I was expecting a snoozefest, but it was actually quite interesting! Go see the movie if you happen to be visiting!

My favorite part of this place: the pool!

Afterwards we stayed at the famous Madonna Inn. It’s a hotel with 110 differently themed rooms. Through the power of Yelp, we discovered a restaurant called the Firestone Grill, specializing in Tri-tip sandwiches. It was amaze-a-balls. The steak was tender, the sauce was sweet and tangy, and the bread was buttered and toasted to delicious perfection. Well worth stopping in for if you happen to be in that area! Afterwards we walked around town for a bit and then headed back to the hotel where I swam in their heated pool for a bit then called it a night.

Our room was in this building
This tasted about a billion times better than it looked.

My uncle on my dad’s side lives in nearby Santa Maria, so we popped in there for brunch. I got to meet a couple of his grandkids who I’ve only been aware of because of Facebook. I think of my dad’s side of the family as a bunch of lone wolves because they’re all spread out far enough from each other that it takes some effort to visit each other. But maybe that’s why when visits do happen it’s so satisfying.

I’m back home now and it’s the pollenacolypse here. My sneezing has increased considerably, and shortly after waking up I had a coughing fit. Time to vacuum and snort nasal spray.

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Water Damage Repair and Two Dozen Eggs

What a day it’s been.

Every since we bought the place we currently live in there’s been an issue where whenever it rains hard one of the corners of our houses gets all damp. Tried to resolve the issue like 8 years ago, but the hole in the outside wall never got fixed (HoA issue) so we never repaired the wall. And honestly? We there’s been a drought for the period of time during which we’ve been here so it’s been pretty easy to ignore.

Until now.

The past couple of months it’s been raining. REALLY raining. Now we’ve got super blooms and butterflies. Oh, and the drought? It’s over. Yup. That’s how much it rained. And that corner in our home? By the end of February it was looking a lot worse. So we finally decided to get someone out here to fix it. Found someone we liked, they opened up the wall, confirmed where the leak is coming from, tore out all the mold and crap, set a big dehumidifier up. Fast forward to today, the guys have come back to take down our quarantined corner, I go down to let them in and the front door of the building is covered with eggs. I let them in still processing that, go out to look again, our cars which are in their carport to the left of the door are also covered in eggs.

I go into emergency mode and google “how to get egg off car”. A minute later I’m armed with a microfiber towel from Costco and a Daiso spray bottle filled with the last of my vinegar.

3 hours later I think I’ve reached the point where I can take the cars to a car wash. Of course, crap like this happens on the same day we have our lovely contractors rebuilding our corner and the adjacent closet which it turns out also was sucking up the rain water and increased our estimate to repair by half.

Oh, and that hole in the wall outside? Our contractor couldn’t fix it. He’d need approval from the HoA to fix it. He sealed it as best as he could, but he said it’s only 60%. The proper fix involves taking the awning off the wall, replacing the current drywall screw that’s holding that heavy thing there with a real screw meant to hold the load properly, seal the holes up, and then put the awning back on so that it’s actually flush with the wall.

If that happens, the next time it rains I would be sadly massaging my newly repaired corner of my home to feel if it’s getting damp. Instead, I will be on my balcony doing triumphant hip thrusts at the rain.

But for that to happen? Time to go into “get up in everyone’s ass” mode.

I have to wonder if I was the intended target. Which one of you vindictive people out there got upset with the way I drive? (That’s really all I can think of) Or were they upset with someone in the building and our cars were collateral damage? Or did someone buy too many eggs, the load got too heavy and they said, “Well, time to hurl them into a door and onto those cars over there.” We may never know.

And yes, with all this going on I haven’t gotten any work done. It’s really depressing because last night I was plowing along because things were getting good.

But for now? I just want someone to feed me and be nice to me. I swear my hands still smell like deviled eggs.

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Back to Normal?

Well, not quite.

My mom came back from her trip to Taiwan to visit family, which means I was finally released from my cat sitting her tortie duty. That cat is really too much for us to live with. She chews on everything. Super social. Hyper energetic. I try to apply the Jackson Galaxy principles of understanding the cat but jeez Luiz. I had her chase a cat toy around until she was panting and a half hour later she was up to no good again. I built a model of an Imperial Star Destroyer a long time ago that I was pretty proud of because I took my sweet time following the instructions and waiting for the glue to dry before moving on to the next part. Usually I just want to glue the whole thing together in an hour and that never ends well. That cat gnawed off one of the shield generators. I should call the cat Wedge or something. I’m still hoping it’ll turn up.

So during that time I had a free book promotion where I gave away digital copies of Buried Instincts. It was very successful as the number of people who now own my book increased by sixteenfold. If you’re one of those people I hope you enjoy it.

Today we had a water damage repair guy come in and start fixing one of or damp corners. It’s been raining quite a bit here in California in case you haven’t heard. Somehow the water is getting in from an outside wall and soaking the drywall in a corner of our place. It’s been going on for a while now, but we just haven’t paid much attention because, well, drought. Can you believe that it rained so much the drought is officially over? So now that corner and my entire board game closet has been sectioned off by plastic tarps going from ceiling to floor and a dehumidifier is drying the walls out. Guess we’re not quite back to normal yet. Of course, I had to empty the closet which means that I’m am now surrounded by stacks of board games.

I’m making good progress on the second part of Buried Instincts. Now that the first one is launched I’m trying very hard to get back into writing regularly which means frequenting my local coffee shops. I might be able to write at home after a couple of weeks, but right now I get too easily distracted. Somehow the coffee shop has a perfect level of distraction and I’m always astonished by how much I get done. Plus, I’m excited to see what Blake and his gang are getting up to. I mean, I know what’s going to happen. Sort of. In a big picture way. But sometimes as I’m writing it, I’m probably as surprised by what happens as you are. Er… will be.

We’ve also resumed our evening walks. Because of this we noticed a game store had opened several blocks from us. I was thrilled to see that it had tables for gaming, and more thrilled to see all the tables full. Before that the closest thing we had to a game store in our neighborhood is Redbox.

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Giving Buried Instincts Away for Free

Today, I’m running a 24 hour promotion where anyone can go on Amazon and get the novel for free. I’ve been so busy posting on this website, and filling out forms and that website, that I almost forgot to announce this on my own website.

If you’re reading this, then what are you waiting for???

Maybe you’ve read it already and are looking for the next one? I’m working on it. When I started writing I had a complete story in mind, but I had to stop and do a reality check. It was a good thing too, because I had to rewrite and rewrite. But now that it’s done and out in the world, I’ve just picked up where I left off.

If you’ve already read it, do me a favor a tell a friend to get it while it’s free. Or maybe tell your frenemy the day after it’s free.

I’m hopefully that I can reach new readers today. Fingers crossed!

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Buried Instincts Now Available in Paperback!

Well, it was more work than I thought it’d be, but after tackling weird formatting discrepancies, working with my cover artist on trying to get the cover just so, and two rounds of looking at proofs, the book looks good! I submitted it to Amazon last night and approval came this morning. The actual book book that you can hold in your hand, turn pages, read on the bus when your smartphone is out of juice, and put on your bookshelf to be the envy of your friends is now available for purchase!

If you click through my affiliate link and buy the novel I might get a couple nickels more!

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Featured on Awesomegang.com today!

Today Buried Instincts is featured on at Awesome Gang today! Scroll to the bottom and find my name to read the interview to learn a bit more about me!

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Launch Day!

Today is when I started my big advertising push to sell the book! Amazon ads should be active and hopefully trying to get people to see my book’s page. Maybe they’ll even buy it! Also I came out of Facebook hiding and told people what I was doing and trying to get them to like Cat Nap’s FB page.

Last night I commissioned an artist to create a logo for Cat Nap. We liked his style so we’re looking forward to seeing what he comes up with.

Despite it being launch day, I ran errands. I went to Costco and bought a bunch of my staple fruits. Big bag of greens because I should be eating more. Also got some kettle corn because it’s delicious AND on sale.

Hopefully today I can get some writing in on the next book. Now that I’m an actual author it’s a little tough to actually write.

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