Just like everyone else who visits Hollywood, I took a bunch of pix. One shows a big, warm hug with a friend I hadn’t seen face-to-face since the 90s, taken by a stranger in front of my hotel. We look happy and cool in our leather jackets, kind of like we did back then. So I posted it up on Facebook. Another friend from that era, an old roommate, commented and the very next day we caught up over a bowl of steaming ramen. It was as if no time had passed, and for the rest of the weekend, I felt all warm inside. Sometimes the electric over-sharing we are all guilty of actually means something.
These reunions happened because I was in Los Angeles for the IACP conference. It’s a long weekend of learning (and eating) full of (always-hungry) food writers, cooking teachers and policy makers. Intensely immersive, it’s an exhausting but incredible experience. Krista was there to hustle for her day job and I went to rep Doorstep Dishes. Mostly, we went to connect with people who do what we do in person. While living online is fun, there’s still no substitute for meeting someone in the real world.
Hollywood & Vine.
Back in the 90s, I was working nights to pay for school and a flat I shared in a San Francisco neighborhood none of us can afford now. My roommate Matt Dickson was an artist by day and a cook at night. He stuck with the job that paid, putting in the hours at the stove until he had what it takes to be a boss. And then a consultant. After working on countless concepts for others, he’s opened a place of his own. It’s a low-key, breakfast and lunch place called Division 3 in LA’s Glassell Park. Every day, he rolls out buttery biscuits and stuffs them with house-cured corned beef or salmon, chorizo, ripe avocado, a special sauce, a just-right runny egg. His biscuit sandwiches are $4, not huge but filled with the familiar, comforting flavors of the morning. The day after we met up, Matt brought over a bagful and Krista and I tore into them like sharks. It was the ultimate Doorstep Dish.
Division 3 biscuit sandwich love.
As food writers, we do our best to convey the feeling behind what we cook, but much of our work exists only when someone logs in and looks at it. The reality is that for-fun reading is a quiet, solitary experience, something done over a quick desk lunch. Doorstep Dishes is all about bringing people together so we struggle with this contradiction. Our stories are genuine, but there’s no substitute for the look on someone’s face when you hand them a plate of still-warm brownies you made just for them. An article is not the same as dipping your finger into a pot of soup, to make sure it’s perfect, before walking it across the street to your friend who caught the flu. Or even skipping the lonely lunch and asking a coworker to join you at a spot around the corner. These things are so much more meaningful than anything experienced online. We hope our stories inspire you to shut it all down once in a while and go spend time with someone over real food in a real way.
(But not until you reach the end of this story.)
In LA, we shared a few killer meals at buzzy restaurants, but it’s the people we met that I think about most. One Saturday lunch will stay with me for a while. Irvin Lin, who knows his way around LA and a layer cake (he runs Eat the Love), brought a bunch of us to Jitlada in Thai Town. Seven of us passed bowls of velvety lamb curry, lightly battered morning glories, and platters of Pacific Rim seafood too plentiful to list. It was an outrageous feast made even better by the company. I sat next to Amanda Feifer who wrote ‘Ferment Your Vegetables’ and had the sense to stop eating before she was uncomfortable (something I aspire to.) We also met Shauna James Ahern, the venerable Gluten-Free Girl who’s created four cookbooks, a custom blend of flour, and won a James Beard Award. A true inspiration, she shared deep knowledge gained from being one of the first to write about food online 10 years ago. Sean Timberlake who runs Punk Domestics, my DIY urban homesteader go-to site for years, held down the other end of the table along with Nicky Sizemore. Turns out author and teacher Nicki knows an old neighbor of mine in the small upstate NY town where they both now live, continuing to shrink the planet and loop us all together. By the end of the meal we were finishing each other’s sentences (and desserts).
The dishes outnumbered the people at Jitlada. Dessert below – sweet sticky rice, gelée, ice cream, mango.
A few days later, I was on the plane, relaxing and reflecting, I felt lucky. Damn lucky. Not everyone can ditch their family and fly to the other side of the country to think about nothing but food. Sure, I’m a professional cook and writer (and a wannabe food photographer), so it’s my job, right? Yes and no. I’m also a teacher, a mom, a neighbor, a gardener, a library volunteer, a person who can’t go by a garage sale without stopping (whatever they call that). These are my other jobs, my tribes, the circles that overlap and define who I am. And while it sounds like something begging to be a Venn diagram (ah, PowerPoint) it’s more complicated than that. These circles aren’t just mine. They don’t even exist without everyone else who’s in them – friends, family, coworkers, people from my past, present, future. Every single one of them makes life what it is, for better or worse. And I am honored when one of them wants to spend time with me cooking, talking or sharing a meal, especially if it happens 20 years and a lifetime after our last meet-up.
Matt and I didn’t take a picture together in LA. Maybe we forgot or maybe it was the punk spirit bubbling up from the olden days. We’ll see each other online and probably comment and ‘like’ a little more often than before, but it’s our lunch I’ll keep thinking about. And those biscuits that I’ll dream about until I can get out there and stuff one in my face again.
No recipe this week, just stories and way too many pix of LA’s rich food scene. What tribes are you a part of?