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This, That, and The Other Thing

Hello, it’s me!!

I am starting my own blog because even though I am retired I feel I still have plenty to offer. I have a couple clues how to do this and I will make up the rest as I go along. I want my blog to reflect not only how I feel about three of my passions – books, art, and food, but also a little about this new chapter of my life.

I want this to be enjoyable for me to write and for anyone who happens to read it. Although I have to warn you, I have opinions, informed or otherwise, and look forward to expressing them.

In my blog posts, I will write about “this and that” and end the posts with “the other thing,” which is the unique element that enhances or detracts from my overall experience. I wanted to end this introduction with “I hope you enjoy my pithy bon mots,” but my son thought that sounded too pretentious, so I’ll leave it out. Happy reading!

Barbara

 

Featured post

HORAAY FOR INDIE BOOKS!

I am a lover of books – my favorite being mystery fiction, but I have been known to read best sellers, fantasy, non-fiction and poetry. I also admit to being a Stephen King fan. I have read every book he has written. I will never have a Kindle or any other e-reader. I enjoy the library and visiting independent bookstores. Call me weird but I just like the feel and smell of books.

My brother worked for a few months at the Lido Bookstore, located in Lido Marina Village, in the late 70s, and he said it was the job that has given him the most joy. I have visited it in its many entities over the years, so I decided to find out more about this independent bookstore operation. On April 2nd, I taped an interview with the owner, Dan Schmenk. Here it is.

Lido book Shoppe opened in 1972 and was owned for 20 years by a married couple who lived in Laguna Beach. He was a buyer for Norton, a major publishing company. A new owner took over in the late 1980s. He had 6 or 7 other stores and Lido Books was his first in Orange County. It closed the day after 9-11 and the space was empty for several months. When Dan stopped by one day to buy a book, he found the shop closed. Being retired for a while Dan was looking for something interesting to occupy his time. He contacted the property manager of the Village about taking over the empty space, and Lido Village Books was born.

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“It has been tough.” says Dan. “No one in their right mind will open a bookstore to make money. It is truly a labor of love!”

Dan and his wife Linda were English teachers for 30+ years. Their only qualification for book shop ownership was their love of books. I asked him about his demographic and the customers he serves. For the first 16 years, his customers were older – in the 45-75 age range and very loyal to Lido Books. In the last two years besides that demographic, the majority are in the 20-240 age range. A third of his sales are children’s books.

As an independent bookstore owner, his biggest challenge is to hire workers who know and love books, make themselves familiar with the books the store carries, be able to help customers choose the right books – ones specific to their needs. Dan feels very fortunate that his current staff meets all these requirements.

I asked Dan what sets his store apart from other independent bookstores and was surprised by his response. He feels that all independents are “in this together” in that they hand-pick books they stock and are actually curators for their stores. They refer to each other if they don’t have what the customer wants. There are only 3 indies in Orange County now, and I don’t imagine that the number will increase any time soon.

In the age of social media, he averages 10 website orders per month, and they are from the local community. His store averages 40 customers per day. In the 1/2 hour or so of our interview a half dozen people entered and 2 made purchases.

There are at least two events a month at Lido Village Books including author signings and lectures. Little Lido Kids Club meets every third Thursday for reading, live music and crafts. Attendance is from 20 to 50 children and parents. April 26th features the book “The Rainbow Fish” and May 17th is “How I Became a Pirate”. There are always raffles and special book discounts.

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The completely renovated Lido Marina Village has lured quite a crowd. It is aesthetically pleasing with lots of comfortably furnished conversation areas and a lovely view of the marina and the rich people’s yachts. The mix of retail stores and restaurants attract all age groups and appeal to many lifestyles and culinary tastes.  As for Lido Village Books, Dan said that in the last 12 months sales have more than doubled from the total for the previous 16 years! Visit the Village, buy a book, walk around, have something to eat, go back and buy another book.

Current fiction paperback and hardcover non-fiction are popular, with children’s books (including teen and young adult fiction) always leading the way. When asked about his most unusual requests, his answer was so surprising and shocking that I have decided not to mention it here. If you are curious, stop by and ask Dan yourself.

For the first 16 years social media did not play much of a part in the success of his business. But now Dan’s wife, who is in charge of all social media outlets to market Lido Village Books, has put them out there everywhere! Be sure to check out  lidovillagebooks.com, http://www.facebook.com/lidovillagebooks and @lidovillagebooks. Or if you prefer the old-fashioned way, call him at 949-673-2549. Be sure to visit the store at 3424 Via Oporto, Suite 102B, Newport Beach. Tell Dan that Barbara sent you.

The Other Thing – Saturday, April 28th is “Independent Bookstore Day”. So stop by anytime between 10am and 5pm and show your support. There will be fun for all!

 

Dan Brown – Makes You Think!!

Not everyone is a Dan Brown fan, but I think many forget that his novels are FICTION! There is just a germ of possible truth in them that makes you think. I am of the opinion that whatever makes you actually think is a good thing. I take notes when I read his novels (the word “novel” also indicates that it is fiction). There are many names and places, art works, buildings, monuments and architectural styles that fire my imagination. I look them up in the dictionary, online, in my art history textbook to get more information. I am a little more informed by reading Dan Brown. Is that blasphemy? I think not. One is never too old to learn something new. So I say to you Dan Brown haters, lighten up. His novels are fun. I ought to know because I have read them all. The author is not trying to change anyone’s mind about religion, philosophy or science. His purpose is to entertain. But they do, however, contain a few history lessons.

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Here is what I have learned from his latest, “Origin”. The theme is a controversial one.(what else is new) – Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? I have an entire page of things to check out – because they are so interesting, and they are actual places, etc. Here are my notes:

  1. Pesseig de Gracia
  2. Islesia Catolica Palmariana – La Islesia Oscura
  3. Pope Gregory XV11??
  4. Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain
  5. Antoni Gaudi – “God’s Architect”
  6.        Park Guell
  7.        Basilica de la Sagrada Familia 1882 – Tallest church in world
  8.        Casa Milia 1906
  9.        La Pedera
  10. Panots
  11. Carlist Movement
  12. Almudena Cathedral in Madrid
  13. Friedrick Nietzsche “The Peacock and the Buffalo”
  14.         275 poems about God, death and the human mind
  15. The Complete Works of William Blake – check out page 163
  16.        “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”
  17. Paul Gauguin painting that is entitled
  18.         “D’ou Venons Nous/Que Sommes Nous/Ou Allons Nous”
  19.         Newborn baby/people of different ages doing a variety of things/”strange  white         bird” sits beside an elderly woman representing what the artist says represents         “the futility of words”

The Other Thing – Nineteen and I still have 161 pages to read. Doesn’t something here peak your interest?

 

 

Benji’s For Sure!

 

 

One would think that the food in a restaurant in business for over 50 years with steady and loyal customers would be pretty darned good. If the restaurant is Benji’s you would be correct.  Located on Tustin Avenue off 17th Street, this place is a rare gem in the world of the traditional (dare I say “old-fashioned”) coffee shops.

I arrived after the normal lunch hours and the place was packed. I was still seated right away by a young lady with a charming smile. She brought me my beverage quicker than I could open my menu. I told my waitress Carolyn that in all my years in Orange County I had never been to Benji’s. She had several recommendations that were customer favorites and Benji specialties. I opted for the open-faced hot turkey sandwich with mashed potatoes and house-made giblet gravy. Tender sliced turkey, just the right amount of hot, good old white bread to sop up the gravy – even the coleslaw was just the way I like it – crunchy cabbage with a dressing that is just a little sweet.

Carolyn suggested that I save some turkey to take home for dinner because she insisted that I try her favorite dessert. When I saw it listed in the menu, I knew I had to have it. As a lover of all things Italian, how could I resist something called Lemoncello Marscarpone Cake for heaven’s sake??? It was even more delicious that it sounded!!

IMG_20180321_134716727 Even the gentleman at the next table was raving about his food. He has been going to Benji’s for years. I noticed he had ordered a chocolate milkshake that was in a glass that I swear was a foot and a half tall. As he walked by on his way out, he said “be sure to come back again and have the matzo ball soup. It is really great, and so are the potato pancakes”. This entire dining experience was delightful.

The one other thing – even the Arnold Palmer was perfect, with just the right mixture of lemonade and ice tea! Who could ask for more?!!

Black Trumpet Bistro

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The owners of Mona Lisa and Capone’s in Huntington Beach have opened another gem, this one at 18344 Beach Boulevard. Black Trumpet Bistro specializes in Mediterranean tapas, small plates bringing flavors from Italy, Greece, France, Morocco and Spain. This place was highly recommended by my friend Debbie the gourmet cook, so I already knew that it must be pretty good.

We ordered several small plates to share …. Roasted Cauliflower with Almonds, Harissa Yogurt and Caramelized Onions, Charcuterie Plate featuring 3 different cheeses, 2 types of salami, prosciutto, imported olives, honey roasted nuts, and crusty bread with fig jam, Pan Roasted Duck Breast with Pomegranate Reduction, and Truffle Fries with Garlic, Parsley and Shaved Pecorino. All of this came with freshly made pita bread accompanied by an olive tapenade made with an elegant olive oil. Everything was nicely plated and a wonderful blend of flavors. I’m starting to salivate just writing about this. And, of course, we had a little sparkling Cava Brut from Spain to enhance our culinary experience.

We told our very helpful server that we were too full for dessert. She ignored that and then brought by the dessert tray. Guess which one we picked!

Chocolate cake with marshmallow mousse filling and covered with chocolate ganache.

The Other Thing – Italian restaurants Mona Lisa and Capone’s and the New Black Trumpet Bistro are family owned. Their attention to detail in their food and in their service sets them apart.

 

Breakfast at Kitchen in the Canyon

Jeffrey and I met Jennifer her for Sunday brunch. Kitchen in the Canyon is in Laguna Canyon near the Festival of Arts grounds. It is off the street so keep your eyes peeled.         Coffees served here are little pieces of art.

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Jeff had the Egg White Mexican Omelet with turkey, jalapenos, cherry tomatoes, spinach, cilantro and jack cheese. I ordered the Canyon Bowl with rice, potatoes, black beans, avocado spread and pico de gallo with steak. Jennifer opted for the Loaded Canyon Burrito with steak, scrambled eggs, black beans, cheese, avocado spread and pico de gallo.

The Other thing — This restaurant is an order at the counter/deliver to your table operation. No reservations taken and it does get busy. It’s worth the wait.

Lido Bottle Works

Lido Bottle Works located in the recently refurbished Lido Marina Village in Newport Beach, faces the marina and 3-story yacht that could probably hold a 300-guest wedding reception. It’s quite a sight but not the reason for our visit. This is the first on my 2018 list of restaurants to blog.

Julie and I chose the Street Tacos for our lunch – combination of grilled shrimp, shredded cabbage and a special sauce on house-made tortillas. They looked small but they were very filling. That didn’t mean we were going to skip dessert though. We enjoyed the caramel apple cake topped with sweet soy ice cream and fresh blackberries.

This was such a pleasant experience that  I brought my family back on Saturday night to taste their dinner menu. The dinner consisted of shared plates. I like this idea because it gives everyone a chance to taste several dishes. Four of us sampled the following, much to the delight of our taste buds:

Goat Cheese Fritters with ancho cajeta and red pepper aioli                                                        Tuna Tartare with avocado and chili pop rocks                                                                              Cheese and Charcuterie Board with house mustard, pickles and honey comb                         Burrata with roasted squash, pomegranate and candied pistachio                                            Cauliflower with maitake mushroom and golden raisins                                                             LBW Burger with bacon jam, black garlic aioli on a wasabi brioche bun                                 Steak Frites prime hanger fries with smoky blue cheese

It makes me hungry just writing about it.  We were also introduced to a new chardonnay from Frank Family Vineyards in Northern California.  Between oaky and fruity, it was quite nice.

Several of the dishes were consumed before I could get out my camera.  The cauliflower was especially beautiful in its plating.  Sorry!

Birthday dessert for my son was a small pyramid of their house-made ice creams. Some flavors we recognized, some not so much but they were all tasty.

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The Other Thing – The menu changes monthly so there will probably be no end to the lovely flavor combinations at work at Lido Bottle Works. They serve beer and wine only so their cocktail menu is very interesting, being concocted with special wine varieties.

Newport Beach Restaurant Week

 

Fifty one restaurants are on this list of establishments participating in Restaurant Week (It’s actually two weeks this year). My feeling is that these restaurants take this marketing opportunity to offer special pricing in order to lure more customers — the goal being that if you like it you will return, thus generating more business.

With that in my mind, I was greatly disappointed with the $25 fixed price menu offered by Bluewater Grill. Wouldn’t you want to feature a signature dish or a currently in-season fresh fish?  No so. Here is the menu:  Hot fresh Sourdough bread and Butter, Soft drink of Choice, Soup or Garden Salad. The choice of one entree was Grilled Salmon Sandwich, Beer Battered Fish and Chips, Aki Poke Bowl, Angus Burger or Shrimp Louie.

Our experience began well enough with a nice glass of house Pinot Grigio (not included in price) and a small bowl of chowder that was scrumptious – very creamy with lots of clams and the right blend of seasonings. Lynn’s Shrimp (and Crab) Louie looked and tasted great. Louie dressing was served on the side. I opted for the Grilled Salmon Sandwich so I could at least get some fish. Attractively plated, it was impossible to actually eat as a sandwich. The ciabatta bun was so dense and the 1/4 pound of arugula they used  with slices of cucumber and tomato were too much. I took the sandwich apart and made a lovely salad. The citrus vinaigrette dressing that came with the sandwich was quite tasty. The salmon, however, was overcooked and very dry.

Combine this with the waitress thinking that Restaurant Week was already over and the sun beating against our table (a sun shade eventually pulled down after several customer requests), it was a meal to remember, but not in a good way for me. Bluewater Grill has been in existence for many years – I assume because of its extensive menu of fresh seafood and its good service. It was not apparent this day.

To try another restaurant on the list, we drove to Balboa Island for dessert at Free Range Café (former food truck operation) on Park a block or so from the entrance to the ferry.

Outside signs are very clever, but I think this day was doomed from the start. There was only one other customer (it was after 2pm), and the waitress who I think was possibly the baker/manager was irritated that we were not there for lunch. She explained that since Mondays are always slow days for them, they did not have many desserts available – just a tray of  large cookies and something that looked like a dense cupcake.

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We had to carry our own plates to the table, and it took forever to get our hot drinks. When you need to cut cookies with a knife and have to press hard, you suspect that they were not same-day baked. Lynn’s Macchiato and my spiced Chai Latter were quite delicious however – a saving grace to the end of the day.

In fairness to this café, there were some standouts such as a bucket full of doggie treats outside the entry along with two bowls of fresh water. Their lunch menu does look kind of interesting, so it is not totally inconceivable to think of a return visit. I do believe in second chances – after that, not so much.

The Other Thing – I took one half of the chocolate chip cookie home for my brother to taste. After one bite he said, “How old is this cookie??”. I nuked the ciabatta bread I took home and made a tasty grilled cheese for dinner – perhaps the best meal I had all day!

 

Saint & Second

 

For those of you familiar with Belmont Shore, Saint & Second is the new restaurant opened a while back in the space formerly occupied by Hof’s Hut and then Lucille’s. You would never recognize it now. It is amazing. There was a lot of thought, planning, and money put into this operation, and it has paid off in spades. Everything about this restaurant is perfection. The contemporary atmosphere is welcoming and the wait staff is friendly and thoroughly acquainted with the menu.

The menu is extensive, and everything sounded delicious. My new foodie friend and Long Beach resident Johanna was on her first culinary adventure with me. Every dish that passed by our table looked like something we wanted to order. Johanna had eaten here previously and recommended a couple of items to which our server gave an enthusiastic thumbs up. We shared the Roasted Turkey Sandwich with avocado, brie and pesto mayo and the Apple Pear Shrimp Salad with potatoes, cheddar with apple-celery vinegar dressing……..beyond yummy!!

We were pleasantly full after these delights, but we couldn’t resist a little dessert.

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A fudge brownie ice cream sandwich was served that no ice cream truck driver ever dreamed could taste this good. This was a lovely finale to our lunch experience.

The Other Thing — that made this experience so enjoyable is my attachment to Belmont Shore. I lived on St. Joseph back in the 90s and I still miss it to this day. It was so nice to come home, park my car and be able to walk everywhere – the cleaners, bank, grocery store, coffee shop, restaurants…..and the ocean!

McFadden Public Market

Located at 515 North Main in Santa Ana, This food court is a little different from ones I have previously visited. Upstairs at “Mission Control”, there is a huge room loaded with arcade games and a full bar that is open from 11am until “late-ish”. I can imagine how busy it gets at night. It looks like a fun place to hang out in the newly revitalized downtown area.  Weekend brunch  at Public Market is 11am until sold out.

The parking structures cost a whopping $3.00 for 3+ hours. They are located off Main Street, and there is a metered parking lot at 3rd and Bush.

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As for food choices, there is the requisite coffee place called Solid Coffee Roasters. Didn’t have any but the baristas are certainly friendly. Fried chicken by Rooster Republic, ice cream by Milk Man, Viking Dogs, En Tu Boca food with a Mexican-Asian flair, and a Vietnamese concept called  Bone Steak.

Sandy and I shared some En Tu tacos which were pretty good but the real winner for us was the fried chicken at Rooster Republic. The chicken was moist and tender and was coated in a very flavorful light breading of what looked like cornflakes. These yummy fingers were served with mac and cheese and mashed potatoes topped with red gravy. Carbs never tasted so good!!

The Other Thing is a feature I hadn’t noticed in any of the restaurants that I have recently visited – an Uber station where you can call and/or wait for your ride. It is located just inside the main entrance door. What a good idea and a reminder that fun and games come with a price that no one can afford to pay.

Now off my soapbox and on to a new adventure.

 

 

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