This next weekend, I will break quarantine for the first time to visit my brother Dan and sister-in-law Lori in Palm Desert, near Palm Springs. It will still be hot as Hades, but for the first time I will have a chance to talk face to face with someone other than just Martine.
She, by the way, will not be coming with me. Having lived and worked for a couple years at Twentynine Palms in the Morongo Valley, about an hour north of Dan, she hates the desert with a passion.
I would not live in the desert, as my brother does, but I enjoy visiting it from time to time—especially when the dead heat of summer begins to let up.
Perhaps I can visit a couple of places that I particularly like, such as the Thousand Palms Oasis or the Indian Canyons south of Palm Springs. More likely, I will be reading some books and taking advantage of Dan’s air conditioning and swimming pool. And, of course, his cooking.
As usual, I will be leaving L.A. before the sun rises. I will stop at Hadley Fruit Orchards In Cabazon to do some shopping before making a beeline to Palm Desert. Right around Cabazon, I will set my car radio dial to MOD-FM 107.3 to listen to their parade of classical 1950s hits with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, and their ilk.
Dan Carefully Measures the Internal Temperature of the Meat
One of the highlights of my weekend trip to visit my brother and family in Palm Desert is a growing family tradition known as Meat-a-Palooza. Dan is an incredible chef, and he loves to prepare a feast featuring a variety of meat dishes. Incredibly, he is able to single-handedly prepare a multi-course feast that is all ready to be served at the same time. I can’t even do that with two dishes, let alone a dozen.
I don’t think I’m a bad cook, but I simply can’t compare with Dan. Everybody always asks him why he doesn’t open a restaurant. In answer, he merely smiles and begs to differ. He knows that running a restaurant is more than anything a form of slavery, involving long hours seven days a week. Visiting Dan’s place is always a special treat for me.
The Same Beef Dish on Serving Plate
The curious thing is that I am gradually turning into a vegetarian, but that all is put on hold when it is Meat-a-Palooza time. Dan’s dishes are always top drawer and worth eating irrespective of one’s foodie beliefs.
A Family Portrait at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens
Standing in the above picture (left to right) are me; my sister-in-law Lori Paris; the children’s nanny Katia from Toluca, Mexico; my brother Dan; Lori’s son Danny Duche; my niece Hilary Paris Moorman; Lori’s daughter Jennifer Duche. In the front row are Oliver Moorman, Joseph Moorman, and Ely Moorman. The photo was snapped by a friendly tourist who was reciprocating for a picture we took of them. I kind of look like a fire hydrant who wandered into the picture.
The ten of us came to Palm Desert from L.A. (me), Seattle (Joe, Hilary, and sons with Katia the au pair), San Francisco (Jennifer), and Denver (Danny Duche). It was nice to see the whole family all in one place.
Oliver Moorman, Age 4, with Palo Verde Tree in Background
I just returned today from the Coachella Valley where I attended a family reunion on the occasion of several birthdays appearing close together. Plus I had the chance to spend more time with the youngest members of the family, my niece Hilary’s two sons. Oliver and Ely. As she lives in the Seattle area, I don’t have too many occasions to see her, her husband Joe, and their two boys.
Yesterday, we spent several hours at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert, where my brother Dan lives. You will see several pictures taken there over the next week or so. According to Condé Nast Traveler, it is one of the ten best zoos in the United States. In my opinion, it is the very best. At present, it concentrates on the desert animals on two continents: North America and Africa. Under construction is a small enclave dedicated to the plants and animals of Australia.
My Niece Hilary with Youngest Son Ely, Aged 1½, at the Living Desert Petting Zoo
One of the most fun things about visiting a place like the Living Desert is to see its effect on young children. Ollie and Ely were as if in a magical realm, in which awe predominates. Even the goats in the Petting Kraal were a revelation to the two boys. Then there was the feeding of the giraffes, with their long tongues wrapping around the Romaine Lettuce the boys held out to them. Even the carousel, featuring endangered species worldwide, caught Ollie’s attention, as he rode on a giant hummingbird.
Ollie with My Brother Dan on Carousel
Come to think of it, I wouldn’t mind spending more time at the Living Desert. I am not immune to being overawed.
I will be taking a few days off to go to Palm Desert in the Coachella Valley for a family get-together. In addition to my brother Dan and sister-in-law Lori, my niece Hilary with husband and sons; step-niece Jennifer; and step-nephew Danny will be present. Martine won’t be coming with me because she hates the Coachella Valley, having lived and worked in nearby Twentynine Palms back in the 1990s.
As I am quite sterile and prefer not to adopt, my brother’s side of the family has become increasingly important to me. In the same way, I have always maintained close relations with the children of my best friends. It’s either that or spend my declining years shouting at kids to get off my lawn.
When I get back to Los Angeles on Monday, I hope to have some good stories to tell you and pictures of my family to show you.
Cacti at the Moorten Botanical Garden in Palm Springs
I will be getting up early tomorrow morning to drive to the Coachella Valley to see my brother, who recently bought a new house in Palm Desert. During that time, I will not be posting anything. I will resume on Monday, when I return.
Last week at this time, I was in Palm Desert with my brother, my sister-in-law Lori, my niece Hilary and her family, and my niece Jennifer. We were looking in amazement at what Dan had prepared for us: a feast featuring various cuts of meat that would make any carnivore drool. There were also several varieties of roasted vegetables, such as the artichokes pictured below. To make it a truly gourmet experience, Dan had prepared a batch of homemade Béarnaise sauce which was so good that it seemed to go with everything.
Since the onset of my Type II diabetes about ten years ago, I have been more of a part-time vegetarian. But there is something about my brother’s cooking that cannot be denied. The last time I overindulged in meat was in Buenos Aires, when I went to a parrilada, ate a huge steak, and got picturesquely ill from several of orifices, missing my bus the next afternoon to Puerto Iguazu. This time, I merely sampled the cuts on display and suffered no untoward effects.
It was a delicious meal. I consider myself a passable cook, but not fit the touch the hem of Dan’s garment when it comes to a comparison. If I am overweight, it is fo a good reason. My great-grandmother Lidia Toth was an excellent cook. My mother was also good, but most notable for her soups and baked goods. (I am wearing those baked goods to this day.) I take after my mother in making good soups—the one area I might be able to give Dan a run for his money.
People have always told Dan he should open a restaurant. He is much too canny for that form of slavery. He has at times prepared dishes for restaurants and made friends of restaurateurs, but he was never tempted to go into that profession. Why should he? He is a superb home builder and has just finished building a log home in Idyllwild that he completed the sale of just this last week. Too bad: I would give much to live in a house that he built.
Ever since I first started spending time in the desert, back in the 1970s, I have loved cacti. Mind you, the beauty of the plant is a little harder to appreciate when the temperature goes into the high nineties and above. At such a time, I tend to avoid the desert: It’s just too damned hot. My first experiences were in Desert Hot Springs (just a few miles north of the Moortens Botanical Garden). I used to stay at one of the motels and go back and forth from the sauna to the cold pool. I even took my parents there, and they enjoyed it as much as I did. Of course, what made their enjoyment peak was a decent Hungarian restaurant in town named, I think, the Budapest.
Opuntia Cactus with Purple Coloration
The Moorten cactus collection was so good that I can see myself visiting it every time I go to see my brother in Palm Desert. Dan has driven by the Garden at various times and even stopped to marvel at it—though from the outside only.
A World of Cactuses
Sometime this spring, I will also re-visit the Huntington Gardens in San Marino. What I like about their cactus collection is that so much of it comes from Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
Cashier and Gift Shop at the Moorten Botanical Garden
Last Friday, I visited three museums and a botanical garden. The first museum was Ruddy’s General Store, followed by the McCallum Adobe (home of the Palm Springs Historical Society) and the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum , which had a display of Cahuilla Indian pottery. Since the latter two did not allow photographs to be taken, I have chosen not to write about them. All three museums are adjacent to one another and can be visited in under two hours.
If I were a botanist, I would regale you here with the names (in Latin and English) of the many varieties on display, but all I know about cacti is that I love them; and I love photographing them. I find the cacti to be astounding, growing as they do under such hostile conditions.
Rare Cactus Species in the Moorten’s “Cactarium”
There is a greenhouse with rare cactus species which the Moorten calls the “Cactarium.” I wish I could regale you with more pictures of what I saw. Wait a sec, I can continue this post tomorrow!
Tomorrow, I’ll be driving to the Coachella Valley to spend some time with my brother and his family—a mini-reunion of sorts. It’s wonderful that I could go to the desert when the weather is perfect for hiking (highs in the mid-sixties), rather than having to slave away on processing tax returns. (I’ve already filed my tax return a few days ago.)
My next post will be on Monday or Tuesday of next week. See you all then.