A wonderful and busy 2017 made it challenging to narrow down a Top 10 list (hence Honorable Mentions List #1 and List #2). However, I can confidently call out these 10ish places, times, and opportunities as THE greatest from a fabulous year. I’m very blessed to have such a list, and I thank God for all that He has provided for me. He is the ultimate Number One.
10. LBCC Bistro
My work home, Long Beach City College, operates a student run bistro during the fall and spring semesters, giving culinary students a chance to learn front- and back-of-the-house skills needed to make it in the world of fine dine. And guess who gets to eat all of that food? Me! And the LBCC community. For only $15, diners are treated to a three-course gourmet lunch on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, starting around week five of the semester (the students need a few weeks to hone their craft). They also operate a bakery with some of the most delicious sweets and treats in the LBC, all managed by the Culinary Department Head, Chef Hailey. Get info on reservations and hours at their Instagram accounts: @lbccbistro and @lbccbakery
I visited my alma mater for a work retreat, for an alumni function, and for my daughter’s volleyball camp. It’s only some 20 miles away, but traffic on the 405 keeps me from stopping by very often. Despite the drives, each visit this year took me back to my 19 year-old self – naïve and hopeful and reckless. Not sure I want to stay in the dorms ever again (although I did smuggle a bottle of wine inside), but I certainly hope to make it out to Bruin Walk a few times in 2018.
8. Roe Seafood
This LWD outing allowed me to sample the goods of a place I’d been eyeing for months (and likely wouldn’t have tried if it weren’t for the Ladies Who Dine). Great for pasta. Wonderful for seafood. Probably super for sushi (didn’t try any). And surely an excellent place to shoot your first (or fifty-third) oyster.
7. Surfcomber Social Club
Miami fed me well. Arriving with the sun on a redeye, my friend Jeannine and I got lucky with an early check-in, enabling a short nap and brunch just across the street from our hotel at the Surfcomber Hotel’s Social Club. The quintessential Miami Beach ambience offered the prefect backdrop to an absolutely succulent morning meal. I still can imagine my breakfast sandwich – the sensual, almost dangerous balance brought with the thick crisp bread and fluffy eggs, the tender avocado and the tomatoes, and the maple bourbon bacon jam (really, the indispensable ingredient that makes this sandwich special – I put aside my non-pork ways just to try it – well worth it). We enjoyed our meal so much that we returned our last morning to do it all again.
6. The Long Beach Airport
2017 proved my most travel-heavy year yet with three ferry rides, a car trip, and 14 air trips (32 flights). Along the way, LGB has been a comforting and supportive partner, feeding me, wining me, recharging me, speeding me swiftly through the pre-check line. We LBCers hate giving props to the Long Beach airport, as we don’t want word getting out to the LAX and John Wayne regulars. But it’s hard not to brag about our little hometown gem, beautifully redesigned and filled with local makers like 4th Street Vine, Taco Beach, Boathouse on the Bay, George’s Greek Café, Polly’s Coffee, and Sweet Jill’s. Thank goodness only eight of you read this blog or else we’d have to start sharing LGB with the masses – keep it to yourselves.
5. The Maison
I’d sought a groovy, jazzy joint to take my youngest daughter for Sunday brunch while in New Orleans (until recently, she’d been in jazz band at school). With The Maison on famed Frenchmen Street, I got hoppin’ music, hearty brunch, and an even a nice bit of dancing. Their Swinging Jazz Brunch starts at 10:00 am on Sundays, with table reservations available until 3:00 pm for only $10 (applied to the bill).
I somehow missed blogging about my trip to the Big Easy this summer, but after mentioning The Maison, I have to say at least a few words on how impactful a visit it was for me, giving me time to place flowers on my grandmother’s grave in Baton Rouge (I never met her), something my father has been wanting to do; to visit family land in one of the state’s more bucolic parts, sharing with my daughter a bit of her personal history; to stop my parents’ alma mater, Southern University – the place where they met; to be shown (by my cousin) a home that belonged to my maternal grandfather; and to delight in the amazing cuisine to be found there. We packed a lot in, but still not enough. Can’t wait to return soon.
4. D-23 Expo
This was my first “expo” sort of a thing, if you don’t count exhibit halls at state and county fairs. And what a way to venture in. The D-23 Expo (not surprisingly) overwhelmed. It’s truly a unique and thrilling experience for fangirls like me. The best part, however, was access to the exclusive Live Action Films panel (we had to seal our phones in opaque plastic bags – no filming or photos allowed), where they premiered upcoming films in its Disney Live Action, Marvel, and Lucasfilm lineups. As part of the first audience to peep the trailers, teasers, and behind-the-scenes segments for A Wrinkle in Time, Mary Poppins Returns, Dumbo, The Nutcracker, Avengers Infinity War, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and, the live action version of (gasp!) The Lion King (a baby Simba lifted high overhead to be admired by all the animals in the Savannah by Rafiki received the biggest collective ahhhh of morning), I got to marvel (haha) at the wondrous ability of Disney to transport and transform as it does so well. With a live orchestra accompaniment to boot. To make a happy event even happier, with the introduction of each film came an almost infinite lineup of stars – Oprah, Reese Witherspoon, Mark Hamill, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, a couple fellows named Chris (Pine and Hemsworth), Mark Ruffalo, Mindy Kaling, Robert Downey Jr., Don Cheadle, and more, along with Wrinkle director (and longtime friend) Ava DuVernay and Lion King director, Jon Favreau. And the experience became complete once the hundreds of us lucky enough to get seats for the 2-hour show got Oprah’d. “You get a (Wrinkle In Time) poster, and you get a poster…” (By the way, this wasn’t my first time getting Oprah’d – see my 2015 Top 10)
I’ve mentioned a few of my favorite Miami restaurants on this and the Honorable Mentions lists, but I had to give a specific and special shout out to my entire Miami trip, marking it magnificent. Sweet weather, great company, the perfect week to visit (thin crowds, and I hopped on the plane hours after one of my half marathons, ready to relax), some of the best cuisine I’ve ever eaten, and an easy flight and Lyft ride away. The Redbury hotel, with its hipster charm and easy vibe, helped make the stay spectacular, along with its sister hotel, The Raleigh (which gave us access to prime beach property and a second pool). Oh, and Miami is where I filmed my May rap goal – verse two of Big Sean’s Bounce Back.
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2.5 A New Car
I know I’m a long time grown woman, but I gotta give myself love for buying a car this year, the fourth of my lifetime, and the first purchased without the financial assistance of a dad or husband.
How does a basic, hungry, mother of a volleyball player and a drummer evolve to be a hardcore lover of a hip-hop musical? Though Hamilton’s been hot for years now, it just came to LA this summer, and my gentleman was right kind enough to nab tickets (he purchased them off a co-worker) to the show’s preview weekend. I arrived to my seat a skeptic. It couldn’t possibly live up to all the racket made about it, not in my often overly critical eyes. But I suppose at some point in those first few numbers, the show found me helpless. More likely, it’s that Hamilton is just damn brilliant. By intermission, I was sprung. A bonafide Hamil-ho. After that, it was I moved to preach (and sing), telling the world (really, my poor friends unfortunate enough to ride in my car or join me for a meal) non-stop about Hamilton. Particularly tortured were my children, having to hear me sing along to the soundtrack as I drove, as I cleaned the house, as I cooked, as I drank wine on weeknights and weekend nights (raise a glass). And then something amazing happened. My youngest said to me on the way to school one morning, “Can you play that one song where he says ‘Bend over, I’ll show you where my shoe fits.” I held back tears. “It’s called Cabinet Battle #1,” I told her, fumbling through my playlist to find it. In time, she started pulling up the Hamilton White House and PBS YouTube videos, following the Ham Instagram, making corny, well-timed Ham-puns, pulling up the lyrics so she could more easily memorize them; basically, showing Hamil-ho tendencies herself. So not satisfied with just the one experience, I had to nab some tickets myself so that my youngins could experience full Hamilton glory. In 2017, I managed to see the LA performance of Hamilton three times, with hopes of catching it in the OC when it makes a run at the Segerstrom this coming May. Or, by some miracle, a flight to Puerto Rico* and seats when Lin Manuel reprises his title role to raise funds to help the rebuilding effort. I could never say no to that. (Sad and pathetic Hamilton references: 6)
1. The New York Marathon
Hands down, this was the coolest thing I did in 2017. I have the New York City Marathon to thank for a sweet little East Coast trip with my husband, a hefty chunk of neck metal, and a newfound love for the five boroughs.
I wish all 8 of you a fabulous, sweetly wild, and blessed 2018.
*Speaking of Puerto Rico, it’s been weeks and months since the storms and fires ravaged parts of our country. Let’s remember these places and the people in them in the new year, knowing that there are still many needs among them. There are many great places to give your money and time. A few are listed below. Please do your own due diligence in making sure that your dollars are used with integrity and benefit those people and system you hope to help.
The Puerto Rico Recovery Fund – focused on humanitarian needs, advocacy, and resiliency.
The Red Cross – current priorities (as of January 2018) are on humanitarian programs and services related to Hurricane Maria, the October 2017 California Wildfires, Hurricane Harvey, and Hurricane Maria.
Houston Food Bank – meals to residents in need in South Texas.
Unidos Disaster Relief Fund – relief and recovery efforts in Puerto Rico.