Visas and Weddings and Pastrami and More

After ninety days in Guatemala, you don’t have to leave the country. You have the option to renew your tourist stamp with a 90-day extension. After that, however, you must leave the CA-4 (Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua) for what is generally understood to be 72 hours but doesn’t seem to be written down anywhere. Regardless of the limit, I took the opportunity and fortuitous timing of my 180-day clock to return to Los Angeles for an extended trip. Between the wedding of good friends Beth and Mark, the arrival of Rosh Hashanah, and the September slowdown in the bakery, it made sense to close up shop for two weeks, relax a bit, and enjoy the opportunity to recharge.

Originally, however, I had hoped to start this trip in Chicago to visit my sister and brother-in-law. However, it turned out that Maggie’s work schedule was going to have her in Atlanta during that week, and so I booked a trip just to LA. But as (bad) luck would have it, with Hurricane Irma pounding the Florida and Georgia area, Maggie’s weeklong conference was canceled a few days before my trip to LA. Instead, she was asked to go to a business meeting in Orange County, arriving on the same day that I would! We quickly made a plan to see each other, with me driving down to her hotel. While she wasn’t going to have much time to spend during the 20 hours on the ground, I pledged to make the most of it.

So, I began the day with a 4 am airport pickup from Raul for a 7:40 am flight. After landing at LAX in the late morning, I had the afternoon to relax with Mom and Michael at the house (including a nap) before I hopped in the car to see Maggie. Like in the old days, when we used to go on family trips, Maggie and I had another hotel room sleepover! She left a key for me at the front desk, and I waited in her room – trying not to nod off – until she came back from her dinner meeting a little after 9 pm.

When she did, we were able to catch up for about an hour or so, before going to sleep. In the morning, it was the same thing. About an hour or so together, as we each got ready for the day, and the she went to her meeting (followed by a flight to Dallas) and I headed out. Not as much time as either of us would have wanted, but quite lucky that we got to see each other at all! It had been seven months since my February visit to Chicago, so it was long overdue.

While in Orange County, I met up with cousins Gene and Louise for breakfast. It would have been a quiet, relaxing time to catch up just the three of us…except my phone alerted me that the alarm at the bakery in Guatemala was going off! With phone calls, texts and only one mishap with spare sets of keys, Mindy, Carlos, Bethany and Paul helped me get everything squared away and reported nothing amiss inside the place. With all that settled, we enjoyed the rest of our time together.

On my way back to LA, I made one more stop to meet up with Marcia, a cousin of mine and a daughter of Gene and Louise. We had coffee and caught up on the recent events in our lives, and then I made my way back to LA. After relaxing (finally), that night, we had a nice dinner at home with Aunt Helene.

Hard to pass this up on a visit to the Original Farmers’ Market.

Thursday, I started running some errands I wanted to do while in town. I had brought an empty suitcase with me to fill up with a bunch of stuff I needed. I ordered some things on Amazon and needed to shop for more. I also headed to my old neighborhood to walk around the Original Farmers’ Market, as well as The Grove. I wanted to talk to the people at the Apple Store and find out my options for trading in my iPhone 6 before they release the 8. I knew the price had dropped on the 7 and that was probably going to be a great solution for me, as my 6 was approaching its 3rd birthday. And while it still (generally) worked fine, absent an issue with it charging properly, living in Guatemala meant needing to be proactive about technology while in the US. Dealing with an issue, or getting a new item, in Guatemala was much more difficult and would be much more expensive.

Kasey treats me right, with a home-cooked breakfast…before we go out to eat!

Friday morning, I was finally able to reconnect with my pastry pal Kasey! We had most of the day blocked out, starting with her graciously cooking me breakfast at her apartment. Considering we were about to go out and eat great things, it wasn’t necessary. Although, as she pointed out, a hearty, healthy breakfast would make eating the treats a bit more manageable.

We began with a trip to Proof Bakery, where my friend Megan used to work, and where our friend Jun just started working. We chatted with him a little bit and he gave us some cookies to take with us. Our next stop was Mixed Company, where Kasey had been spending a lot of time lately, working on her different consulting projects while drinking their coffee and eating their tasty treats.

An interesting blondie on offer at Kasey’s new favorite spot: Mixed Company.

Delicious kouign amann and cardamom morning bun.

They also had a great selection of savory items, but by the time we’d finished the pastries, we were both pretty full. Plus, we had to save room for popcorn at the movie. I hadn’t been to the movies at all in Guatemala. The theaters are only in the city, which is where I am rarely, and now that I have just one free day to myself, a journey to the city and all it entails (and costs) just isn’t worth it.

Then, this happened.

I had reread IT in the spring, in anticipation of the release of the movie and couldn’t remember the last time I’d been this excited for a movie release. Maybe the Back to the Future sequels, back in 1989 and 1990? I can’t think of anything else in between that I anticipated as much.

Such a gorgeous old movie theater!

Full on popcorn, we walked out the theater happy campers. I loved it, and while changed somewhat from the book (as to be expected), it seemed more true to the tone and feel than the ABC miniseries from the 90’s. Kasey drove me back to her apartment (in my old car), and then I headed over the hill to Encino to have Shabbat dinner with Jeremy (friends since kindergarten), his wife Jen, and their baby daughter. It was fun to visit them in their new house, catch up and enjoy a leisurely Friday night.

On Saturday morning, the wedding festivities began. If you’ve read the blog, you’ve seen mention of Mark (former Chicago resident and an LA native, who grew up in the same neighborhood as my cousins Greg and Erin) and Beth (a Chicago friend who moved to LA to be with him). In addition to just the pure joy of seeing these two people get married, it also meant that some of my favorite Chicago people were going to be in LA while I was!

I drove to the wedding site, just as the ceremony rehearsal was wrapping up. The plan was for me, Ruth and Lisa to spend the afternoon together before everyone had to get ready for the rehearsal dinner. Lauren, and her husband Joel, were doing their own thing. However, Lisa had some complications in her schedule, so it was just Ruth and me eating our way through the Westside.

Garlic knot with Ruth at Milo & Olive.

First stop was Milo & Olive, and it was my first time back there since quitting 17 months before. I saw lots of people I knew, and it was fun (and delicious) to be back. While I don’t miss the job, I do miss the people. We stayed on the healthier side, with some salads, since there was more eating to be done.

Inside the knot.

Where else but Sidecar Doughnuts?

We shared a few ourselves but saved the rest for Mark, who had specifically requested doughnuts as we left the rehearsal that morning. I thought maybe we were done and were going to go somewhere to walk around, but Ruth cajoled me (it wasn’t hard) to keep eating. So we had sushi! Not a lot…but enough. Then we hung out at her hotel until she and Lisa went off to get manicures and I went home to relax before the big evening.

The festivities begin!

Embarrassing stories draw a laugh.

I don’t recall what, if anything, I did on Sunday. Perhaps I laid around, doing nothing, after days and day of driving around and seeing people. Maybe I forgot something cool. (I’d like to think if it was cool, I’d remember it.) Nevertheless, it was finally time for Mark and Beth’s big night, so I headed to the country club off of Mulholland.

Gorgeous setting for a wedding.

The ceremony was pretty quick, which is something I’m always appreciative of. It was lovely to sit outdoors and enjoy the fall evening, and once the ceremony ended, there were the requisite cocktails and appetizers, but also some lawn games set up on the grass – such as cornhole and ladder ball, both of which I’d been playing plenty of recently with the Hardisons.

The new couple’s first dance.

With two of my Chicago faves!

It was such a fun evening. The wedding itself was maybe 100 people, so it felt intimate and personal. I was at a table with all Chicago people, which added to the fun, and I think we all had a marvelous time. And in a strange connection, I discovered the next morning that Mark’s sister – who I met that night and talked to for a while – lives in the Bay Area and has three young children, one of whom had a former colleague of mine as a teacher last year! What a small world!

Monday was another low-key day, followed by a fun dinner with yet another elementary school friend, Jeremy (a different one), and his awesome girlfriend Beatriz. Jeremy and I had reconnected about 5 years ago when there was a reunion dinner that I put together amongst our group. Then we lived a few blocks from each other during my year-plus in LA, which allowed us more time to get together. That’s when I met Beatriz, and she’s a gem! We ate at an Indian place in Beverly Hills that they chose and it was super. There were very few people in there and we ate until we couldn’t eat anymore. Such a fun evening.

Tuesday night, I headed out to Newbury Park to see my cousins Greg and Tiffani, and their daughter Taylor. I miss them all quite a bit now that I’m out of California again and it was fun to have an evening with them. No pictures of our evening together…I think we were too busy eating and chatting. I did bring them a babka from Canela and while it was intended to be saved, a sizable chunk of it had vanished by the end of the evening.

Wednesday morning, I met up with Nick, one of my former colleagues from Tartine Bakery in San Francisco. He’s from LA and was down to celebrate Rosh Hashanah with his family. We sat outside at a Brentwood coffee shop and compared notes on how our careers in the baking world have been evolving. The opening of the Manufactory has changed the bread baking milieu at Tartine, and, of course, I have a bakery in a Central American country. There was plenty to discuss!

Erev Rosh Hashanah blessings before dinner.

The Jewish new year began on Wednesday night, and we opted for a small family dinner at the house instead of going to services. With my Aunt Helene and Kasey, it was relaxed and casual, and a calm and peaceful way to enter into the next year. Thursday, all of us – minus Aunt Helene – went to services and then relaxed afterward.

Unexpected and wonderful sighting of Mimi’s mom, Linda.

Killer lunch at Barrel & Ashes with Katy.

Friday was filled with some errands, and seeing people – both planned and unplanned. While picking up something for my mom, I ran into my good friend Mimi’s mom at Bed & Bath. I was leaving, she was entering, and we were able to catch up briefly before I continued on my way to lunch. Linda worked in the front office of the elementary school where Mimi and I attended, so in addition to being a longtime friend’s mom, she was someone I saw every day of my elementary experience.

Then I continued through Studio City to meet up with Katy. We met randomly in Antigua, Guatemala, back in 2010 (I think). She was staying at the same B&B where we all used to stay, and it came up that we were both from LA. At the time Katy was leaving the world of sitcom direction and was studying Spanish for the foreign service. While brief, my sitcom experience in the mid-90’s was long enough for Katy and I to discover plenty of mutual friends and we connected instantly. Since we’ve primarily stayed in touch via Facebook since then, it was a fun step up to get together in person again. We had a fantastic lunch at the same place where I celebrated my birthday the year before, and caught each other up on all that’s going on.

Saturday brunching in style at the house with Pastrami and Corned Beef from Canter’s and bagels from Western Bagel.

Louise and Gene made the trek our way for a Saturday brunch, and it was nice to sit outside and talk (and eat fantastic deli food). Plus, I enjoyed the rare opportunity on this trip of people coming to me instead of me coming to them. Later that evening, Greg, Tiffani, Taylor and Aunt Helene – with my other first cousin, Erin, in tow – arrived at the house for dinner. I relish any opportunity to spend with them and was glad to see them again!

Smorgasburging it with Beth, Mark and Kasey.

On my final day in LA, I went back to where Canela truly started – launching the Cookie Captain business at Smorgabsurg. The decisions I made for that Sunday market were a direct pathway to how I set up the bakery here in Antigua. It was fun to be back, eat the great food, and see many of the vendors I knew from the months I sold there.

I then trekked across town, back to Jeremy and Jen’s house, where Mimi and her boyfriend Joel were arriving for brunch! With pastries from Canter’s in tow, it was another festive and fun and delicious gathering. It was Jen’s 40th birthday the night before and – get this – they had a paella specialist set up in the backyard and make tons of paella. So there were leftovers and that’s what we had for lunch. No complaints! Mimi and Joel are planning to come down to visit, and I can’t wait to host them here!

Finally, I went back to Mom and Michael’s, and tried to squeeze all my purchases into the suitcase and duffel bag. With the luggage packed, we had a quiet evening at home before heading to the airport for my 11:55 pm departure. The almost-two weeks in LA flew by much faster than I imagined they would, and I was happy to have been able to do as much as I did and see as many people as I could. I gave Mom and Michael big hugs at the airport and then headed inside, for the return home.

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