Monday, April 28, 2014

Crazy Crafty: Return of The Mad Hatter

I have earned the dubious reputation amongst the wacky tacky inner circle for having "visions."  I'll concede that where others might see the ephemeral essence of a dollar-store decoration, I see a vision of a Halloween heirloom.  Where others see the only the utilitarian use of the lid to a candy jar, I see visions of magnolia magic.  Where others see the limitations of an ordinary, household placemat, I see visions of the Land of Oz.  Far be it from me to refer to myself as a visionary, but when it comes to DIY hat crafting, the vision is clear - ignorance to proper millinery procedure is bliss!

The Bat Hat (reworked from a few 99¢ Only Store decorations).
The Sweet Magnolia Blossom (built on the lid of a candy container).
The World's Biggest Munchkin (a manipulated, clearance-aisle placemat). 

For once in my hat-making/trimming career (a resumé line item yet to be fully exploited), I decided to go a completely conventional route by starting with an actual and properly-constructed hat base.  This time, where others would see a souvenir sunhat from Chinatown, I too would see a souvenir sunhat from Chinatown.  I's a hat.  But in this simple souvenir sunhat, I would also envision a blank canvas just dying for a bit of wacky tacky adornment.  It was time to fire up every man's favorite power tool - the old hot glue gun!

One of the most life-affirming moments one can ever experience comes when all of the supplies required to accomplish a project are already on hand.  One time (more than a decade ago) a friend tried unsuccessfully to teach me elementary crochet, so naturally, I still had a million colors of yarn poised at the ready; the green coordinated well with the fabric I was using to make Mary a playsuit.  Knowing that a giant pom pom was unquestionably the icing on this conical cake, I set about to bind the edge of the hat and make a scarf tie with floral appliqués from the fashion fabric.

When one pom pom won't suffice, opt for pom pom trim (some prefer to call it ball fringe but I am not among them).
Using a range of hues from the rich ric rac inheritance bequeathed by my great-grandmother, I applied a combination of my two favorite embellishments.

I guess that there's no escaping the pom pom.  To achieve the pom pom topper on this hat, I cut thin strips of an African-print fabric (China, Africa, America??? How's that for a multicultural headwear?).  I gathered rows of the
same fabric to make the ruffled stripes and the kerchief tie.

I was surprised to derive nearly as much satisfaction from decorating conventional hats as I do from making them from found objects and repurposed materials.  Yes, this turn at conventional hat decorating was definitely rewarding but I still needed to explore my more unconventional roots.

When I came upon this beauty at the thrift store, I was quick to grab it,
 thinking I was the luckiest mock-milliner in the world to find a hat
worthy of Gidget's sun-allergic best friend, LaRue.  It wasn't until
I saw the plastic liner that I realized it was a woven plant pot.

Adhering to the three-poms-are-better-than-one rule, I choose to believe that this is what the
designers at Hot Dog on a Stick were going for before they settled on their best design effort.

Have you tried your hand at hat making or hat trimming?  Have you found the joy available to you in home pom-pom making?  I have at least one hundred more ideas but I need to wait for Chinatown to replenish their hat supply.  I guess I'll use that time to put the finishing touches on all the matching outfits.  Stay tuned!


Mr. Tiny

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Signs of the Times: The Sire Bar & Grill

Are you superstitious?  Do you carry a rabbit's foot?  Do you go into hiding on Friday the 13th?  Do you favor a lucky pair of underpants?  Well, I don't.

Ever the contrarian, I scoff in the face of old wives tales, myths, and conventional superstitions.  I mean, if I had a nickel for every "lucky" penny I found, the only thing that I might start believing is that I was six times as rich as those poor suckers who were happy with their pennies.  Instead, I gleefully open umbrellas indoors.  I earnestly seek out opportunities to saunter underneath ladders.  Completely ignoring my debilitating feline allergy, I diligently train black cats to cross my path.  I never, however, break mirrors; with a gorgeous mug like this the odds are solidly against me.  I joyfully step on each and every crack and, as of yet, I've never broken my mother's back - knock on wood (okay, maybe a little bit superstitious)!!!

The Sire Bar & Grill - Riverside, CA
(photo courtesy of B. White)

Apparently, The Sire Bar & Grill (est. 1955), is also a longstanding member of the ASL (Anti-Superstition League).  Having always been told that the horseshoe should be positioned open-end-up so as to retain all of the good fortune, I was surprised and happy to see The Sire's blatant disregard for that bit of folk fantasy.  In its 59th year of crackling, neon majesty, it is clear that this horseshoe makes its own luck!  "Superstition ain't the way!"

"Superstition" - Stevie Wonder

The Sire Bar & Grill
6440 Magnolia Ave
Riverside, CA


Mr. Tiny

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Kitsch-en Kounter: Bûche de Pâques

One needn't ponder long before remembering the true meaning of Easter - renewal, rebirth, resurrection.  All of these beautiful messages come with their own springtime symbols - a blossoming flower, a hatchling bird, a world reborn after months of frigid winter (as a lifelong Southern California native, I'll just have to believe that last one to be true).

With rebirth on the brain, I wondered what I could create in the wacky tacky kitsch-en that would represent a seasonally-appropriate gastronomic resurrection.  Without sounding too irreverent, I concluded that there is no better time of year to resurrect a classic symbol of the Christmas season, born again with an Easter Holiday twist!  The Bûche de Noël or Yule Log, is a rolled cake meant to resemble a fallen, winter, woodland log found during Christmas.  Figuring that if it is good enough for the birth then it's good enough for the resurrection, I came up with the "Bûche de Pâques" or "Easter Log" (even if you have no idea what it means, it's a name that sounds much more appetizing in French).

I had all my decorations ready but I didn't take many progress shots because I had never
made a rolled cake before - nerve wracking!  Using a recipe for a coconut-almond genoise,
I found that the cake went together much more easily than I had expected.  Although our
decorations skew Easter, I'm thinking that this cake (made without leavening agents)
might qualify as a Passover offering too - maybe adorned with Passover Possums?!!!

As ever, my visions of professional, cake-decorating perfection narrowly exceeded the spindly grasp of my pitiful pastry prowess.  Nevertheless, having become well acquainted with abject kitsch-en failure (believe it or not, I only show you the "successes"), I am mostly satisfied with the outcome.  The only concession in failure (or mild satisfaction) is that an ugly cake can still be a tasty cake!

Voila!  Mon Bûche de Pâques!!!
Perhaps the English name could be "Rabbit Roulade" or "Bunny Braciole;"
but then we get into the territory of wondering whether Peter Cottontail is
simply on the cake or in the cake...

Nestled on a bed of tinted coconut, the cake (a peeling birch log) is frosted with a coconut buttercream accented by a ganache made of  coconut milk and chocolate.  The bird and "Happy Easter" banner came from the reject room of a cake supply store; I highlighted the bird's features by painting it with the same chocolate ganache.  The toadstools are meringue cookies hand-painted with food coloring.  The blue, vintage Easter bunny was removed from a thrift store wreath - and thoroughly sanitized! 

In preparation for sharing the Bûche de Pâques with you, I obviously made it several days in advance of the Easter Holiday.  Not one to let a good cake go uncelebrated,  I repurposed it as a birthday cake to commemorate Mary's 21st birthday.

She never knew the difference....

Other than the Bûche de Pâques, the Easter preparations are essentially over around here.  With no children around, there are less eggs to dye and less handfuls of jelly beans and chocolate eggs to surreptitiously rescue from unwatched Easter baskets - the real benefit being the absence of Easter grass to find everywhere, all year long, until next Easter no matter how often we sweep, vacuum, dust, swiffer, lint roll, etc.  Truly, the break is a bit of a relief from the veritable Easter Egg factory that is usual around these parts; we'll just have to get that old Easter feeling from the "Egg Cracker Suite."

"Egg Cracker Suite"

We wish you all the best for a very Happy Easter!!!


Mr. Tiny

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tiki Time: Hong Kong Inn

I recently watched friends and acquaintances profess their undying love for tiki culture in the well-received documentary, "Plastic Paradise."  With a Polynesian bruddah-in-law, a hapa-haole nephew, and a mother who spent many of her formative years on the island of Oahu, I feel like there was no escaping my own predilection for Polynesian pop.

Incredible logo and art direction by Kevin Kidney

As much as I enjoyed the program, I was a little disheartened at the documentary's discussion of the fundamental role Chinese food played in the tiki movement; it made me think of Hong Kong Inn, Ventura, CA's recently-shuttered outpost of 1960's-era Chinese food and Polynesian entertainment.  I was sad that I'd never had the chance to enjoy the hopistality of the Kwan brothers who opened Hong Kong Inn in 1964.  Seeing Hong Kong Inn's final Facebook post that read, "After 48 wonderful years, 100,000 Scorpions and Mai Tai's, 3,600 Polynesian revues, 10 children, and 15 grandchildren, the Hong Kong Inn of Ventura will be closing its doors on November 30, 2012.  We're retiring," I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to survive on the myth, the legend that was Hong Kong Inn.

Hong Kong Inn - Ventura, CA
Good wicky wacky tiki tacky always begins with a good sign!

Then one happy day, about two weeks ago, my uncle sent me a beautiful picture. 

"Grand Re-Opening: Under New Management"
Could it be true?!

Without dallying, I hopped straight onto the Google and searched for documented proof of Hong Kong Inn's rebirth.  I nervously dialed the phone number that I found online, half expecting a disconnected line or an interminable ringtone.  I was overjoyed at the sound of a sweet human voice who confirmed the restaurant's reopening and the perpetuation of Hong Kong Inn's finest traditions.  At the very first opportunity, all available members of the wacky tacky adventure team hit the road for old Hong Kong.

Emily was so happy when she learned that at Hong Kong Inn she wouldn't
have to make a choice; they have Chinese AND American food!!!

The rest of us were immediately impressed by the lanterns, the twelve-foot mural of
Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour, the highly-decorated bar, and the awesome placemat graphics!

I have never considered the position of celebrity-chef, Gordon Ramsay, a particularly enviable one; on top of the
daily root touch-ups and impossible highlight maintenance, there is the relegation of all that shameless, persona-propagating, coronary-inducing, red-faced bellowing to Friday nights on the Fox Network.  Never let it be said, however, that I am not a sucker for a good makeover.  I don't want to intimate that Hong Kong Inn is a prime candidate for Ramsay's "Kitchen Nightmares," but it wouldn't take much doing, in terms of decorating and recipe revision, to make it a "Kitchen dream come true."

Instead of dwelling on paltry, culinary quibbles, let's take a moment to observe Jesse
performing what I can only assume is a tiki mating ritual - the offering of the half-eaten rib.

Even if the food at Hong Kong Inn isn't the very best "Chinese & American Food" you've ever eaten, I'm told that the wealth of rum-infused tropical drinks more than makes up for any deficits.  Plus, the real purpose of our pilgrimage north of the Los Angeles/Ventura County line was Hong Kong Inn's finest offering, the "Polynesian Review!"* 

"Expressions of Polynesia," the exotic, island-style floor show as masterfully
presented by the talented performers from Kealoha & Company, is Hong Kong
Inn's greatest legacy.

Did someone say hips?!?!!

With more than twenty performers (dancers, singers, musicians), more than twenty musical numbers, and more than twenty costume changes, "Expressions of Polynesia" is more than enough fun for the entire family.  The two-hour spectacle is an interactive experience with opportunities to join the dance troupe on stage for some hip shaking and ball swinging - poi balls, that is.

Usually it's a bad night when a pair of poi balls makes intimate contact with another 
very significant pair but nothing could dampen the fun of participating in the show! 

My poor poi performance notwithstanding, the whole show was wonderful!
My very favorite performers were actually a dynamic mother-daughter duo.
Tina (mother) was the stage manager, musical director, comic relief, and
songstress for the evening; if you've never heard the bone-chilling beauty
of Polynesian harmonies, then do yourself a favor and find Tina ASAP.  Her
daughter was a premier dancer among the spectacular troupe; I was so taken by
her dancing, particularly the mind-blowing, Tahitian duck walk, that I completely
forgot to capture it on video.

We had such a great time at Hong Kong Inn; by the end of the evening, all typical restaurant protocol was broken as we chatted, mixed, mingled, and table-hopped.  Hong Kong Inn's Polynesian review had all the luxury of a lavish luau and all the honest charm of a homespun hukilau.

Mahalo, Mauru'uru, and Fa'afetai, and Xie Xie to Kealoha & Co. and Hong Kong Inn!!! 

If you have a taste for tiki, if you want for wacky tacky, if you long for old Hong Kong, be sure to make your way to Hong Kong Inn.  Go for the chow mein, stay for the ALOHA!!!

Hong Kong Inn
435 E Thompson Blvd
Ventura, CA

*The Polynesian Review is only performed on Friday and Saturday nights from 7:30-9:30PM (early arrival is highly recommended)

Cheers and Talofa!

Mr. Tiny

Monday, April 7, 2014

Sew What?! Here Comes Peter Cottontail

The benefits of being an uncle are great, extending far beyond the pat witticism, "all of the fun and none of the diaper changing."  In reality, I have just as many rich opportunities to damage my nephew's young psyche as my sister and brother-in-law - without any of the pesky and complicated blame usually reserved for parents.

Growing up in a funny house (comically and otherwise), the sentence for misbehavior was usually lenient if it got a laugh; that is probably because a prankster precedent was long established by Mom and Dad.  My parents were famous for their food gags; Dad would record the faces of his infant children after allowing them to suck on a lemon wedge.  Mom would offer me a heaping spoonful of "whipped cream" just waiting for my emerging taste buds to discover the difference between whipped cream and horseradish.  But the hijinks were not limited to juvenile ulcers; every time I was late for junior high school, Dad would write a note detailing the crippling nature of my "chronic diarrhea" or the importance of my diplomacy efforts in Iran.  Mom was a consummate scarer; after so many times of her hiding behind a door or jumping from around the corner shouting "Boo," I have developed the stealth (deceptive for my size and shape) of a cat burglar, refusing to round a corner without clearing the area like a SWAT operative.

This practical-joke morality was always imbued with a strong pay-it-forward ethos; just because I am bereft of progeny doesn't mean that I shouldn't educate the next generation on the finer points of bad tastes, fear, and embarrassment.  While out thrifting, I found the perfect pay-it-forward moment in Simplicity 9050, a pattern for a children's costume, dated 1970.  I say, "Welcome home" to almost any pattern that says, "Simple-to-Sew."  In turn, my nephew can say "goodbye" to a carefree childhood devoid of humiliating costumery and "hello" to years of group counseling (given this trauma, the likelihood that he'll ever be able to afford private therapy sessions is improbable at best).

Simplicity 9050
I got the pattern for a quarter; it always makes me happy when I
pay less than the price Mrs. Smith paid more than forty years ago!

Sure, the kitties are pretty and the poodle divine
 but the real belly laughs are with that pink bunny rabbit!

I honestly thought that pink bunny suits were the invention of Jean Shepherd and have only ever associated them with Ralphie's yuletide mortification in A Christmas Story.

Peter Billingsley as Ralphie Parker
in A Christmas Story (1983)

If Mom thought the horseradish caper of '87 was a corker, then a bunny suit à la Mr. Tiny was sure to be one for the record books. 

Have you ever?!?!!!
I couldn't even finish zipping the zipper; I just about melted the minute I saw him in
this get-up!  I guess the joke was on me; he seemed to love being the Easter Bunny.

The "paws" are sewn like an envelope so the wearer can unwrap Easter candy (in true family tradition, I considered sewing them shut but I'm not a monster).  Staying faithful to A Christmas Story, I used a raspberry-colored charmeuse for the contrast material and made bunny faces on the feet.  I even finished the soles with the kind of non-skid material found on factory-made footie pajamas. 

Left with a scant yard of pink material and the inspiration of Fred Astaire in Easter Parade, I realized that our little hunny bunny needed a bunny of his own.

"Drum Crazy" - Fred Astaire in Easter Parade (1948)

My sincere expectation was that an early Easter celebration combined with his unqualified hatred
of the bunny suit would require an Easter basket bribe - I guess I shouldn't have worried.

The stuffed, pink bunny (bestowed with the name "Pinkaroni" by the waitress at our favorite pizza joint) is fashioned in the exact same materials as the suit and became a constant companion for a few days.  I used vintage, velvet ribbon to make an aqua bow tie and hastily embroidered a face finished by two shoe-button eyes. 

A bunny costume would not be complete without a fuzzy cottontail.
The costume pattern called for a homemade, yarn, pom-pom tail but I knew that I would be able
to find something ready-made that would outclass my meager pom-pom-making skills.
Do you see those fluffy, pink, cotton tails?  They started life as a pair of earmuffs from the 99¢ Only Store!
I considered sizing down the tail on the stuffed bunny rabbit but I thought the giant tail was much funnier. 

The cutest thing I have ever seen!!!
He wasn't even the slightest bit distressed looking like a "pink nightmare."

Maybe this is a time-release terror formula; maybe it won't kick in until he is old enough to understand the humiliation.  Maybe the payoff will be when he gets his first girlfriend and we break out the infamous bunny pictures.

The great part is that the joke is really on my sister; after many years have passed and my nephew looks back at pictures of himself in a pink bunny suit, even he won't wonder how Uncle Tiny fit into the equation, he'll really only wonder why his parents would allow this to happen.

"Here Comes Peter Cottontail" - Gene Autry (1950)

Until then, we wish you a Hop-Hop-Hoppy Easter!!!


Mr. Tiny

Friday, April 4, 2014

Chow Time: Brolly Hut

As the wacky wagon took us on one of our meandering drives to nowhere - via Torrance, CA landmarks Alpine Village and King's Hawaiian Bakery (and a few fortuitously-placed thrift stores) - I bemoaned our utter exhaustion of local wacky tacky resources.  I wondered aloud how much longer I could keep our adventures going without dedicating myself full-time to creating and documenting wacky tacky the world over (file that under: "My perfect and perfectly-unattainable life").

Then like one of those proverbial "Pennies from Heaven," just waiting for my umbrella (and my frown) to be turned upside down, came Brolly Hut (est. 1968).  The imagery may seem convoluted but, in this instance, it definitely makes solid sense to me that Brolly Hut is both the umbrella and the pennies...

Brolly Hut - Inglewood, CA

Not to be confused with its disinherited second-cousin by marriage in Hawthorne, CA, Brolly Hut is an anomaly even among Southern California's proud heritage of vernacular architecture, not so much for its form - after all, Seal Beach had The Parasol - rather for its name.  While visiting Australia I heard a few references to a "brolly;" following context clues I finally figured out that brolly meant umbrella (I'm always a little slow on the uptake).  Upon my return, I kept affecting my newfound down-under dialect around my aunt, an Australian transplant.  The moment I realized that she clearly had no idea to what I was referring was the last time I ever employed the use of the term "brolly."  I'm not sure if there are regional nicknames for an umbrella throughout America, but in California an umbrella is an umbrella.  I mean, who actually says "brolly" anyway?

It doesn't matter, Mr. Tiny always comes prepared with his own jolly brolly!!

As Mary was quick to note, we started our day with nothing but directionless angst and ended it eating inside a giant umbrella!  There are many interesting buildings around town in which to have an adequate meal where only the ghostly shadows of a once wildly-wacky tacky heritage remain.  The beautiful thing about Brolly Hut is that, instead of engaging in a systematic stripping away of character or allowing dereliction and decay, it maintains all of the original charm that informs diners how Brolly Hut got its name; without some of the simple but significant details, it would be so easy for folks to forget what makes Brolly Hut so special.

I am always transfixed by beautiful/clever/outrageous light fixtures and
this bounty of beautiful brollies did not disappoint; they truly illuminated
the space even when they were not illuminated themselves.

Eating between the spokes of a giant umbrella is a treat but
Brolly Hut's clever use of space is the real sensation.  Diving into
pastrami burritos, Colossal Burgers, and onion rings (we saw one
person enjoying all of these things), guests belly up to one of the
dozen-or-so laminate tables that arc around the enclosed counter and
kitchen.  The terrazzo floor, the mosaic tile, and the orange, molded-
fiberglass stools are their own silent reminders of fine-dining circa 1968.

Brolly Hut has an A-rating and appears to run a tidy operation.
Mary and I are both trying to avoid extreme eating and remember
that food is almost incidental to the "Chow Time" experience;
she chose a chicken salad and I a rather tasty chicken sandwich -
not a french fry in sight (a personal triumph)!!!

Brolly Hut is also a spectacular vantage for immersive people watching.  There was the lady who came in for the $4.59 hamburger special - I know because she said it right out loud to herself - but returned to the order window three times to upgrade her order item by item; she ended up with the Colossal Pastrami Burger, a massive Coke, and a large order of onion rings.  Lest you think I'm singularly obsessed with food, I should explain that I am obsessed with all of the details, like her tri-tone wig and the one leg of her leatherette leggings worn scrunched up to the knee, and her mismatched earrings.  As we say,"That's the money outfit."  There was also the hobo who performed a particularly-moving monologue about the deliciousness of the pastrami burrito for the entire restaraunt, "It's the best thing they got.  It has my heart and I always come back for my heart..."  It was literally theater in the round!!!  Most people completely ignored this fellow's petitions for financial assistance; so taken with his performance, Mary made a generous contribution toward the burrito fund (one of the more-expensive items on the menu) - only the best for our brolly friends!

If you've got a hankering for some fast food, we recommend skipping the golden arches or that fraudulent hamburger "royalty."  If you're caught in a rainstorm of wacky tacky doubt, seek the shelter of Brolly Hut.  And be sure that your brolly is upside down!!!

"Pennies from Heaven" - Louis Prima

Brolly Hut
11205 Crenshaw Blvd
Inglewood, CA


Mr. Tiny