A tribute: to a stranger who helped raise me

Harry Lewis died last week and I want to note it.  He created a successful string of restaurants called Hamburger Hamlet in Los Angeles. I wrote about the closing of the final Hamlet a while back.  I wanted to note his passing because without knowing it he helped raise me.  

Growing up in LA Hamburger Hamlet, or “Hamlets”, as we called them for short, loomed large. They were a great medium restaurant.  Not fast food, but not fancy.  You could dress casual, or a great to place to go after you’d been to a movie.  I am a child of the ’70’s.  The political aware, ERA T-shirt wearing kids, mom wearing Dr Scholls with her long straight hair, dad with side burns with big lapels. When I was 8 my mom started her business.  An alternative school.   She was busy and my dad was not Mr. Co-parent.  Domestic duties still fell on to my mother totally.

It was around this time that my mom announced she was not cooking anymore. Once in a while?  No, Thanksgiving was pretty much it.  She meant it. She had her own health food, but if I didn’t want salt less turkey soup,( and who does?) lentils, rice cakes  we were on our own.   My sisters and I would cobble something together.  Our go toos: Fettucine Alfredo, fried Chicken, quiche makes me wonder why we weren’t obese.  
The other way I ate was when my sister Carole got her drivers license my mom would hand her $20 and say “Take Daphne to the Hamlet”.  We would sit in the red vinyl booths on National Blvd, or Westwood or for the fancy Hamlet on Sunset Blvd where it was usual to see Dean Martin at the bar. There were many things we loved on the menu:  the French Onion soup, “Those Potatoes” , which was hash browns with sour cream ( what’s NOT to like about that!).  But, the dish that really took root in my heart, mind and soul was the #11 hamburger.  This burger had crisp bacon, and Russian dressing.  The ratio of meat to bread, to yummy extras was all perfect.  

Harry Lewis started out as an actor.

young Harry Lewis with Claire Trevor in "Key Largo". "Let me go, Claire, I got a burger to make!"

He had a vision of an upscale hamburger place that was still easy, accesible. He and his wife Marilyn sold the collection of restaurants in the ’80’s for $30 million and it was never the same.

Cut to 2000, I was guest on a show in SF and waiting in the green room with me was Marilyn and her son, who was running their remaining restaurant.  She was delightful and gave me her memoir which I read dreaming of a #11.  It had great stories like Sammy Davis Jr. and Jeff Chandler filling in for the Lewis’s so they could elope.

My other mother

Years later I’m very pregnant with Vivien and my doctor was in Westwood near Hamlet Gardens.  One of the few places they still ran.  You know how as the pregnancy wears on the doctors visits become more frequent.  Mark often came with me.  Since I was pregnant I was alway hungry.  Mark knew not to come between a snarling pregnant woman and her appetite so he always let me pick.  More often than not I’d say “Hamlet Gardens”.  Was it as good as the old Hamlet, no.  Partly because it seemed more fancy, ladies who lunch.  Even though I was a lady lunching I longed for the straight ahead wonder that was red vinyl and perfectly proportioned cooked meat.  Nevertheless, during this pregnancy I had little interest in spice, veggies, off beat.  I wanted WHAT I KNEW and hearty.

The Hamlet Garden’s had a hamburger, but not the #11.  I would ask the waiter if they could make it.  They would say, “Let me check.  Sometimes some of the old timers are in the kitchen and they can make it for you.”  One day I noticed that Harry Lewis was there.

he was older than this, but same twinkle in the eye

He was still a handsome man, lined, grey, but distinguished and well dressed.  He was looking over the dining room still very interested in the running of his business and that people were being taken care of.  We caught eyes and smiled.  He said,

“Did I hear you ask for a #11?” said the man who helped raise me, but I had never met. Did I!   So I gushed about how I grew up in the Hamlet’s  and how much I loved them and my baby ( gesturing to large belly) NEEDED a #11 to insure her strength and vitality.  Well, Mr. Lewis was charmed and charming and I GOT MY #11.  I got quite a few during my last trimester.  When he walked away from our table I sat back relieved.  “Mark, our baby is going to be ok.”

“Of course she is” Mark said.

“No, now she has been blessed.”  Because in my agnostic, alternative, always searching for our next meal upbringing the creator of the Hamlet was  the equivalent of a patron saint and he had just laid on hands.( so to speak)

It worked. Look at Vivien! She was a big, healthy baby.

built by love and #11's

I know what it is like to be the loyal customer who misses their favorite restaurant and to be part of the favorite restaurant who closes and misses its loyal customers.  It is a strangely superficial, yet enduring relationship.

My gratitude to Harry and Marilyn Lewis and their restaurants.  Without them I might have starved.




Divorcing with Children

Blah,blah, me, me.  Even a blogger gets tired of writing about themselves.   So, let me put the light on a fellow blogger.

Mindy Roberts and I became friends when we were Momversating a few years back.  (The picture above is when we conversed in person on BYU TV.) Video chatting and emails can make you as close as  20 minutes into happy hour .  Except they cut out the sex talk in the final edit.   I would have liked Mindy anyway, but then she said she named her daughter (sort of) after me we were bonded for life.  She use to listen to The Dr. Dean Edell Show in the Bay Area where I was known as “That Daphne”, his producer and side kick.  So, there is a cute little Daphne in her home.

Mindy divorced her husband. They had 3 kids.  They get along and successfully co parent.     As we know, this is not that common. So, she wrote a book.  If you or someone you know is thinking about pulling the plug on the marriage this is the book for you.  Our other Momversating pal, Heather Armstrong ( that little blog called Dooce) wrote the intro. (Hereis one we all did together, oh, so long ago… like 3 years.. it’s like dog years) Here is Mindy’s book to help navigate a really difficult situation.

I hope you don’t need this book, but just in case… maybe you should buy one for your spouse as well.  One less thing to divide.

Back to school homework

Take down the lights.

Throw that tree out.

Turn off the TV, it’s time to do homework.

After a vacation we have to reset the brain.  So put down the People, it’s time to get cracking on the 21st century child.   I was sent a few books to review that all fit into the education realm.  They are all exciting in their own way.

First up, “Home work:  A Parent’s Guide to Helping out without Freaking out” by Neil Mcnerney,M.Ed,LPC  ( not at I know what that LPC stands for)

I’m only one chapter in and I already know I’ve screwed up.  Lesson 1) don’t get agro.  If you yell, punish, blah, blah, berate, etc the kids will not do their homework because they want to be a super smarty who gets into Harvard, but will do it to shut his harpy mom up.

Now, the level of homework these days I’m NOT hip to. But, they will have it, so how will you deal with it? I say give this book a whirl.

Now, I’m a Tiger mom at heart, but a half way hippie mom in practice. This book hits both sides. If I could re raise myself ( and isn’t that what parenting is in a way?) I would read this book. Oh, I did read it. “Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World” by education expert Tony Wagner.  The economy is changing so much that I’m trying to get my footing, let alone set up the right foundation for my kids so they aren’t cleaning houses in Bejing.  Wagner believes Play does lead your kid to the the bright future of a Steve Jobs or ___( fill the blank for other creative super rich person).  While he wants your kids to play he is not seeing them as coffee jockeys.  Wagner was at the Harvard Graduate School of Education amongst other cred.  I’ve read much about how one of the few things America does export well is our creativity.  In order to raise a future innovator don’t go old school and rap the knuckles with a ruler, but give them a ruler and see what they come up with.  ( in a sense, my idea, not the authors)

Okay, so, now your child has done their homework and invented a car that runs on yard waste.  Where to send them to college? When my stepson Oliver was looking at colleges I said over and over like a broken record  ( oh, god, his generation doesn’t know what that is!) “what is the alumni network like at this school?”  I heard many stories from people about how connections through their school helped them land jobs.  I was, alas, not burdened with this at my alma mater. So I was all over this book:  “The Alumni Factor: A revolution in College Rankings”  The only college rankings based on alumni success.  Sure, a school may be pretty, far from your parents and have easy access to pot ( oh, well, that sounds like my school) but looking back, how was it for you?

Oliver made his decision and is in his first year at college.  I have several years before I send any other kid to university, however, reading this book I want to send myself.  ( Did I mention I am re raising myself?) There are great details on tons of schools.  I like to play fantasy and pick where I am going to go in my new parallel life.   ( Oh, god, I would be one of those “Women re entry” students.  The ladies with crows feet who took really good notes and valued their education).  If you have a teen check this book out.




Children’s book review

Here is a cute book that both of my little kids enjoyed.  “On my Way to the Bath” It was written by Sarah Maizes who is a mom and mom blogger.

I’ll tell you about the book, but first how I know Sarah.

She and I met when Vivien was 6 weeks old.  I was not working out of the home then and was in a shell shocked new mom state.  I knew I needed to do something.  Something like, shower and walk outside for a start.  I felt very shaky those first few months.  I had just engaged a lady to help me some days, but I was nervous about leaving Vivien with her.  Though this woman was mature with a stellar resume, I was not thinking clearly.  So, what would an anxious new mom who feels she needs to something other than obsess on her new daughter do?

If you said, take a sketch comedy class you would be right.

We lived walking distance to the Acme Comedy theater.  I had tons of experience in improv and stand up, but little in sketch.  So, I walked the 5 blocks from our apartment to the theater one Saturday.  Feeling like a hostage who had just been released.  Not sure who to trust or even trusting depth perception. IS that car stopping at the stop sign or is it going to hit me?

I sat down in the theater.  There were about dozen adult students yearning to be funny make small talk.  A smiling brunette started talking to me.  In the course of our talk I said I had a newborn at home,  “You look great!” she beamed.

I do?  I feel like a truck has run me over.

That nice lady was Sarah Maizes.  Mother of three and snappy, upbeat , funny and most what I needed at that moment, kind.

At some point she told us that she had worked in children’s book publishing.  You could see the Hollywood hustle scrambling in everyone’s brain, “I should pitch her the idea of Tommy, the laughing strawberry!’  I think, it’s in my file in between my one woman show and my sitcom treatment.”  But, she made it clear she was done with children’s books.  That was behind her.

So, I was intrigued when her publicist asked if I would like to review her children’s book “On my Way to the Bath.”   The pull of the glossy, color pages had pulled her back in!

Since I like Sarah if I didn’t dig the book I would never have mentioned it.  But, it’s a lovely book.  About a spunky, imaginative little girl who sees so many things while her mom is trying to get her to the bath.  Vivien and Rex both liked it. Rex asked for a reread yesterday.  High praise. I liked it because it reminds us parents who can scream ourselves hoarse  that our children are dealing on  a different plane.  They are not beat down like we are, they still see wonderment and we need to give them some room for that.

The illustrations are by the guy who did the TV show “Maggie and Ferocious beast”, which  was a big fave in this house.  Wish it was still on.

So, if you are looking for a gift for a kid’s birthday and they are in the range of 3 to 7 I can say thumbs up to this book.  ( maybe get a few and stash for the times you forget you have a party to go to, or am I the only one who does that?)


Jubilee reading

On this election day ( primary and stuff) I am proud and happy to be in the USA, however, I have always been a bit of a royal nut.  Which is why I jumped at the chance when asked to review This book about the Queen, “The Real Elizabeth”.  As you know there was just a bit of a fuss over her achieving the milestone of having ruled for 60 years.  It’s unlikely that another woman will get the chance for quite sometime.


I have read tons of royal books over the years, but the first 1/4 of this book offered a good historical, non gossipy grounding in the modern monarchy.  How changes that George V    ( her grand dad known as the guy who looked identical to his cousins the Tsar of Russia and the Kaiser of Germany) put in place influence her rule.

It lags a bit for me in describing much of her own rule partly because it is NOT a gossipy book.  Though the author did shed some more light on Prince Phillip which was interesting.  But, the good part is it’s more comprehensive than other books I’ve read.  At that point it’s impossible not rush ahead to the part about Princess Diana. Though on the way, there is an entertaining passage about the Queen’s relationship with Margaret Thatcher.   In a nutshell, The Queen likes to be a normal person sometimes and Thatcher was always a bit reverential which bugged Elizabeth.

It’s a good book that you don’t need to be ashamed to be reading.


As long as I Don’t Stay in Vegas…

A quick trip to Las Vegas for CES related activites.  Not one nickel went into a slot machine or any form of gambling.  Not one penny.  I lose enough, thanks. The drink I had was not very good, food expensive.  Which is why my first stop from the airport is the Whole Foods so I can have healthy snacks on hand without walking 4 miles through a lobby to try and find them and only end up with a hot dog by Nathan’s. CES is a too large convention for geeks.

But, the full night sleep in a hotel room?  OMG beyond fantastic.  I woke up at 6:30am per usual and was semi giddy when I realized I could go back to sleep and I did for for two more hours.  Mark was suppose to go with me so we could combo a little boogie time, but the LA courts had another idea.  Mark was called to jury duty.

I did meet some great people.  Lisa Stone from Blogher.  Ends up we have mutual friends and I’ve known her sister for nearly 20 years.  Small world.  I did a show live for pulse network.  It is a MAJOR ordeal to penetrate CES.  I don’t reccomend it.  No wonder I hadn’t been there in 12 years when I was there representing CNET and hosting a panel.  The fun part was doing the show live and whoever showed up to be my guest I winged it.  Like I like it.  Some of those I intereviewed were momfinds and zinio.  While talking to that gal I was so wowed by her cool mags online on her iPad I started to think for the first time, I NEED one of those.  (covet, covet)

Fun, but way too noisy dinner with my partners at Deca and various guests.  Like the guys who started Klout.com.  New cool social media. Good luck boys! Also Catherine McCord of weelicious.com.  She and I knew each other as hosts about 10 years ago.  She hasn’t aged at all.128_4263.JPG

I finished one book and then bought another. The Checklist manifesto.  Thought it was right up my alley when I saw the author on The Colbert Report as I do love a To Do list (see vlog).  But, it’s like a good magazine article that got turned into a book.  So often the case with Non Fiction.

24 hours is plenty.  I didn’t love that scene before I was a mom and now that I can come to this I really want to make it a short trip. 128_4264.JPG

I took the kids to brunch with friends the day after I came back and Vivien and doll are wearing an outfit set I gave her for her birthday.

I hit the jackpot.

Guest Post: Shh! Mommy’s Reading!

A Guest Post by Amanda Howells, formerly of Crabmommy

Hello, dear Coolmom readers. It’s been a while since my momblogging days (I’m writing other things now—more on that later). I do miss it, so it’s awfully nice to sit in for CoolMom this week.

Do you read much—as in books (books for grownups)? I know, I know, it’s a damn tall order to crack a book when the tots are wailing for Mama, requiring you to change a diaper/find a glue stick/draw a horse/slice an apple. What is it about children and sliced fruit, btw? My 5-year-old drives me bonkers with this slicing obsession—kids these days can’t bite into a whole piece of fruit…sheesh!

It is indeed incredibly difficult to train a mom-brain onto words on a page when the very act of child-rearing conspires to ensure you will never have another moment of silence again. But don’t let the wee ones colonize every inch of your body and brain, my friends! Protect your reading time, and I’m not talking those How To Be A Better Parent to Your Pain in The Ass Spirited Child -type books either. Read something you actually want to read. Don’t worry, I’m not about to pull a Goopy Gwyneth Paltrow and recommend you fall into bed with a nice cozy copy of Crime and Punishment (like you haven’t dealt with that theme all day as a mom). GMAFB, Gwyn. You read the Spark Notes. Fear not! Unlike Gwynnie, I won’t tell you what to read. I’ll just tell you what’s on my nightstand, just for the fun of sharing.

First off, this doesn’t even qualify as reading since it’s basically a novelty picture book but I had to get a copy of Regretsy: Where DIY meets WTF. Hil.ar.ious. Moving on to fiction, just finished: The Little Stranger – a perfect highbrow ghost story; The Forest of Hands and Teeth (wow, I had no idea zombies could be this compelling).

Gearing up for summer: Am I the only person in the world who doesn’t like Stieg Larsson? I read the first one and found it gratuitously grisly and otherwise overrated. So instead of being all excited for the new one that’s just out—The Girl Who Kicked The Cop in the Crotch or The Girl Who Smacked That Man in the Mouth (or whatever it’s called)—I’m tucking into the far superior Elizabeth George’s new mystery, This Body of Death. Clumsy title aside, I know this Inspector Lynley mystery will be as good as its predecessors. After that, I will complete my mystery/paranormal track with Carrie Ryan’s The Dead-Tossed Waves (this YA paranormal writer is oh-so-much better than You Know Who). Then it’s on to Red Hook Road (because I love everything Ayelet Waldman writes); Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’ Connor (I like to mix some bio in between the fic); and after that, The Summer We Read Gatsby, because it looks witty and fun and perfect for summer.

Speaking of “perfect for summer” [throat clearing here] may I timidly suggest my very own first novel for your reading pleasure? Just out, The Summer of Skinny Dipping is a bittersweet romance— a beach read with substance, if I do say so myself. Kirkus called it “a realistic and satisfying chick-lit debut,” School Library Journal said, “…this novel will live on for more than a summer” and I hope you will feel the same. Available here.

Want to win a copy? Leave a comment telling us what you’re reading/looking forward to reading this summer and a randomly selected winner will receive a copy of The Summer of Skinny Dipping. Yay! Competition closes Friday, June 11, 5pm PST.**

Thanks, Daph, for letting me guest-post and pimp my new book. Happy summer reading, everyone!

xx Amanda Howells

**UPDATE: Congrats to Sara for her comment. I’ll be emailing you to send you your copy of my book. Yay!

when do you give up on a child?

one of my favorite parts of my weekend is reading Modern Love in the NY Times Style section on Sunday.  They are well written essays about all kinds of relationships.  This past Sunday was no exception.  But, while it was well written, it has really disturbed me.  Pleaseread it and tell me what you think.  In short, a woman had a boyfriend who died leaving an orphaned 8 year old girl.  The writer didn’t really like the girl.  Eventually an aunt and uncle took her in, but after a whopping 5 days decided they would turn her out.  This child went to foster care and then was adopted.

The end of the essay the writer is musing on what her life would have been like had she decided to mother this orphan.  I’m thinking, who cares about you lady?

I would not put my niece and nephew up for foster care.  I am the god mother to my best friend’s child and if, God forbid, something happens to her parents, it’s all written down that I will take her.  I’m sure a child in that position would be difficult: their parents have just dropped dead.

This theme was brought up a while ago when that lady returned her adopted Russian son.  But, why do people think children are like a belt from Nordstroms?

My mother told me the essay depressed her as well.  But, she has known kids (she runs a high school) who have had their families give up on them.  I get it, they are inconvenient.  So what?

The Book Signing

Monday night was the first book signing for Mark’s cookbook. It was for food press and some key ringers. My family, the doctor who delivered my babies, you know, the usual. I asked for a mic to be there, and I introduced Mark and he introduced his co-writer Martha Rose Shulman.

It was a lot of work for about two years, so it was nice to have a cocktail and celebrate. Or three. But they were tiny cocktails. It was very fun, and I wore one of my new dresses from my previously written about $500 shopping spree at the Trina Turk sale (‘Cause I was tired of wearing maternity).  My daughter also wore pink. And here she is wisely eating the yummy apps that were straight out of the cookbook.

Note the savory tart on the table. I don’t know if I have mentioned it, but

I’M OBSESSED WITH SAVORY TARTS. They are my favorite food.

They don’t serve them at Campanile, but pretty sure they will at the bar Mark is working on, or there will be marriage counseling in our future. There is a recipe for the one here, and it was GOOD. Slices of potato, carmelized onions, bacon. Nuff said.

People were very kind, and many people bought 2 to 5 books planning ahead for Christmas.

I was a little fried the next day since Rex woke us up quite a bit, but there was some nice press and none better than this.  It’s like I wrote it.

Mark has a couple more book signings scheduled in LA. October 20th at Borders in Century City and the 26th at Campanile. If he travels out of town, it’s on our dime, so not sure about other places. If it does well, we might go somewhere where we have friends so it makes sense, like the Bay Area.

The night and the Grubstreet article were amazing considering when we were in the dark days of late December ’08 I said to Mark, “2009 will be your year.” He had to buck me up more than I him. But being human, having millions stolen and having to sell your home can take a little spring out of your step. Even the sunniest of people can need a pep talk. I said, I can feel it, it’s going to come together for you. The book will come out, the restaurant will endure, the bar you are working on will come together, and I’m getting you on Top Chef!  I might have said:

“As god as my witness!”

So, maybe the lesson is, in dark moments hide the hard drugs and visualize the good stuff, work towards your goals, and they just might kick in. I hope.