Escaping the Heat

Deep Shade, Ocean Breezes, and Boats

Burton W. Chace Park in Marina Del Rey is no longer a secret. Many people have discovered that, even when the rest of Los Angeles is searingly hot, there is always a cool breeze blowing on the peninsula that sticks out into the Marina. So I took the #16 Santa Monica bus (to avoid the stiff parking fees) to Lincoln and Mindanao Way and walked the half mile from the bus stop to the park. On the way is a handy Trader Joe store where I buy a healthy picnic lunch to take with me.

While there, I read Kaouther Adimi’s delightful book about an Algerian Bookshop that also served as Albert Camus’s first publisher. In the sun, the temperature easily reached the 90s, but in the shade I was comfortable. Martine stayed home resting.

One of the Massive Shade Trees at the Park

The park is so excellent that I am surprised that Donald Trump has not tried to bulldoze it and turn it into a tasteless high rise hotel with gold plumbing fixtures.

Curiously, the predominant language of the park visitors is Russian. They seem to know how to enjoy themselves. Good!

At home, I prepared another vegetarian curry for myself made with potatoes, tomatoes, and peas with rice—and a combination of Serrano and Hatch chiles that challenged this chile-head. All the while, Martine, who is suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome looked on ruefully while I ate something that would have exploded her intestines. All she could eat was a banana and a can of Progresso Chicken and Wild Rice soup. She has been suffering with this condition for two weeks now. Tomorrow, I’ll drive her to see the doctor.

 

 

 

Somewhere To Go

Chewy the Bulldog at the Automobile Driving Museum

The coronavirus outbreak has affected me mostly in two ways:

  1. There has been no place to go. We could take walks to nowhere, of course, but that palls quickly.
  2. We haven’t been able to see our friends in person.

In the last two weeks or so, some destinations have become available. This weekend, we availed ourselves of two of them. Yesterday, we went to the Cruise-In show at the Automobile Driving Museum in El Segundo. Martine has become particularly enamored of the museum, so much so that she donated $300.00 to them to help them out of the plaguey times.

There, we met the bulldog Chewy (picture above), who showed himself to be a real cool customer. Also, my favorite caterer, the Taco Taxi, was there with their super-great Mexican street tacos.

Neon Signs from the SFV Yesteryear

Today we showed up at the Valley Relics Museum in Lake Balboa to see their displays of pop culture hearkening back to the glory days of the San Fernando Valley back in the 1960s and 1970s. Most impressive was a large warehouse (above) filled with neon and other signs of businesses that are no longer. Back around 1970, I used to go to Pioneer Take-Out on Westwood Boulevard near Pico for a bucket of their chicken livers. That’s not an item that can be found at most chicken restaurants.

We had visited the museum once before, but didn’t enjoy it as much because it isn’t air conditioned, and in the Valley the heat can be formidable. Fortunately, today was on the cool side; and we were comfortable.

Manny, Moe and Jack from the Pep Boys

We ended by driving to a late lunch at Lancers Restaurant in Burbank. It’s one of Martine’s favorite sources of American coffee shoppe chow.

 

A Traitor at the Dinner Table

My Taste in Foods Is Positively Un-American

It all started with Hungarian food. That’s what I was raised on, good Magyar chow cooked by my mother and my great-grandmother Lidia Toth. Along the way, I also started to like American food, particularly hamburgers and hot dogs.

But then something happened when I came out to Southern California. It started with Mexican food. When I lived in Santa Monica, there was a Mexican buffet around Wilshire and 12th Street called Castillo’s. One of the girls behind the steam table was quite cute, and I remember eating there and ogling her.

That was only the beginning. Then I moved to Mississippi Avenue between Sawtelle and Corinth, which was in the middle of a small Japanese neighborhood. I dined regularly at the Osho Restaurant and the Futaba Cafe. When my miso soup has tofu in it, I naively thought they were cut-up shark fins. Before long, I was eating sushi—despite the fact that, while I lived in Cleveland, I saw fish only as dead things that floated on the surface of polluted Lake Erie.

When I worked at Urban Decision Systems at Santa Monica Blvd and Barrington Avenue, we frequently ate Chinese food at the Sun Kwong Restaurant, which was a very high quality Cantonese place. But then Szechuan cuisine invaded, plus I became a chili-head whereas before I went for bland foods. My tastes kept developing to such an extent that my parents—God rest their souls!—thought that I had betrayed my Hungarian heritage.

Well, it’s still with me, along with a whole lot of other cuisines. I drive poor Martine crazy with the weird spices and condiments I introduce into my cooking. At the same time, I try to make sure she gets plenty of the foods she particularly favors. These can usually be described as bland American food.

So it goes.

 

 

Plague Diary 13: Rainy Day Quarantine

Death’s Head Overlooking Venice Beach

Once again, I have taken a Los Angeles Times photograph from their evocative series on the effects of the quarantine on L.A.’s public spaces.

Today has been a day of steady rain, which started late morning and will probably continue through the night. We did get out around 11 am: Martine needed repairs to her eyeglass frames that only an optician could make, and I picked up a couple of Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwiches for her. Martine was none too happy with the yellow split pea rice pilau I had cooked the previous evening, preferring meat dishes even as I drift slowly into a vegetarian diet.

Returning around noon, we have stayed in the apartment. I sat in the library finishing Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year. As I compare the current coronavirus disease with the bubonic plague, I would have to say that COVID-19 is by far less horrible. Whereas the mortality rate of the current outbreak is 2% of those afflicted, some 69,000 Londoners out of a total of 500,000 died of the 1665 outbreak.

The way that London enforced quarantine was to lock up any household where there was an instance of plague, enforced by two shifts of watchmen who would assist the tenants of the house get food and other necessities. But if one person in a household got the plague, it was fairly certain that all would die horribly.

On most days, I see at least one film, either from Spectrum Cable, Netflix’s DVD.COM service, or my personal DVD collection, consisting mostly of American and foreign classics. Today, since Martine did not go out for a walk, I decided not to induce her to retire to the bedroom to avoid listening to samurai sword fights, Western gunfights, or other irritatingly loud sound tracks.

Tomorrow, the rain will gradually taper off, and I will be able to play one of my films.

 

 

Plague Diary 11: The Cosa Nostra Cooking Hour

I Develop My Cooking Skills

Living during a time of pestilence, I have decided to become a better cook. My goal is to cook meals that both Martine and I like. We both like Italian food, but for some reason, Los Angeles is not a great place for Italian cooking.

Although Martine was born in France, she spent her most of her childhood in Oceanport, New Jersey, where she loved the pastas with rich red sauce—not the pale imitation to be found in Southern California.

Several years ago I picked up a used cookbook written by ex-Mafioso Henry Hill entitled The Wiseguy Cookbook: My Favorite Recipes from My Life as a Goodfella to Cooking on the Run. Now you may remember an entertaining gangster film directed by Martin Scorsese and released by Warner Brothers in 1990 entitled Goodfellas. The film starred Ray Liotta as a mafioso with the non-Italian moniker of Henry Hill. Well, it’s the same Henry Hill as wrote the cookbook.

Today I spent several hours preparing a favorite dish that Hill cooked while serving time at Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary in Pennsylvania on narcotics charges. The recipe is for “Oven Penitentiary Sauce with Sausage” on page 133. For some reason, there is an Italian grocery in Santa Monica called Bay Cities Italian Deli whose shelves are not picked clean by hoarders. (I guess they’re too busy snooling on their stash of toilet paper.) So I have access to high-quality Italian groceries, while not having comparable access to American goodies at the supermarket.

The Oven Penitentiary Sauce with Sausage was a big hit with Martine, and I loved it as well. It was the rich Italian food of the Italian migration to the East Coast, with lots of garlic and fresh basil baked in a 350º oven for an hour. I even added my own touch, combining the sauce with fusilli pasta in the oven for an additional quarter hour.

I am looking forward to exploring this cookbook in greater detail during the prevailing plague conditions.

 

 

Plague Diary 8: Beginning to Fray

Santa Monica Bay in the Plague

We have had two full weeks of staying in place during the coronavirus epidemic. I have managed to develop a routine that sees me through the day, but the stress is beginning to tell on Martine. She cannot bear to stay in the apartment except to sleep, wash, and eat. The rest of the time, she takes long walks while listening to old 1960s rock tunes on a Sansa Clip MP3 player I got for her.

It is tough not having any place to go. No restaurants. No book stores. No museums. No movie theaters. No parks. Even the beach scene above from the Los Angeles Times will be difficult, as the beach parking lots are closed. In the meantime, the U.S. is getting some 18,000 new COVID-19 cases a day, and the growth rate is looking frighteningly logarithmic. For someone like Martine who doesn’t like to read and who dreads the “Bring Out Your Dead” tone of the news media, escape is an answer of sorts.

I fear that the stay in place orders will continue through the month of April—at the very least. I will do whatever I can to ease Martine’s restless desperation, though it won’t be easy.

 

Black Beans and Rice

(Mostly) Vegetarian and Muy Picante

As time goes by, I become more vegetarian. Although I do all the cooking in our household, I can’t altogether dispense with meat. This is mostly because Martine seems to think that meat is the only good source of protein. So I alternate meat dishes with vegetarian dishes. At times, I can cook something that Martine is not interested in sampling, such as my black beans and rice.

Now black beans and rice is not normally a spicy dish—but the way I make it, it is. Here is a list of ingredients:

1 cup Basmati rice
1 chopped onion
2 minced Serrano chiles
Several dried chile pods
Several cloves of garlic, minced or crushed
1 15 oz can of black beans with liquid
2½ cups chicken or vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to taste
Garnish with parsley or cilantro

As a certified chile-head, I occasionally have to indulge my love of capsicum. (Don’t worry, I got something else for Martine, who hates chiles so much that she can’t be in the apartment when I cook with them.)

Years ago, I read a book by Frances Moore Lappé entitled Diet for a Small Planet. Her belief was that one could get all the protein one needs by using ingredients whose amino acids, when cooked together, form a complete protein. Beans and rice are two such complementary foods.

Although I tend to use chicken stock to cook the rice, I do not add pieces of meat. So, in fact, my way of preparing it with chicken stock is not technically vegetarian. If you want, you can use vegetable stock or even water.

 

A Corvair Day

Cadmium Red Chevy Corvair

Martine is more devoted to her distant past than anyone else I know. Because during her childhood, at different times her mother owned two used Corvairs, a 1960 and a 1967, Martine wanted to visit a Corvair show at the Automobile Driving Museum in nearby El Segundo. We stayed the whole five hours of the show, from 10 am to 3 pm, and then we stayed a bit longer while Martine revisited the permanent collection of the museum.

I am not an automobile aficionado the way Martine is, so I was slightly bored. The high point for me was the Mexican street tacos that and aguas frescas that were sold by the Mexican food vendor. Other than that, I spent about an hour or two looking at the Corvairs before finding a bench and reading Jorge Amado’s 1984 Brazilian novel Jubiabá in translation.

Instead of rushing Martine through the show, I rather enjoyed her delight in revisiting the Corvairs of her youth. She was also on the lookout for Tony Dow, a Corvair enthusiast who played Wally Cleaver in the old “Leave It to Beaver” TV show. She thinks she may have seen him there, but he looks really different than he did some sixty years ago.

Martine Behind the Wheel of a 1960-Vintage Cadillac

One interesting thing about the Automobile Driving Museum is that visitors can sit behind the wheel of most cars in the museum’s collection. It was fun seeing Martine relive her childhood fantasies, even at the cost of some slight boredom on my part. So I guess it all balanced out.

 

The Lomita Railroad Museum

The Lomita Railroad Museum

One does not expect to see a railroad museum on a residential suburban street, yet there it was. Plus it was not built at the site of an old station or railroad yard. The station building is a built-from-scratch replica of the station in Wakefield, Massachusetts. It was built on 250th Street because that’s where Irene Lewis lived. The Lomita Railroad Museum is her creation, in memory of her late husband Martin, and it is a tribute to the love that the Lewises had for railroading.

Today was a prototypical June gloom day, so Martine paged through our copy of Passport 2 History: Your Guide to 83 Historic Sites in 9 Counties of Central and Southern California, an occasionally revised booklet that has resulted in a number of fun day trips for the two of us.

In addition to the station building with its numerous exhibits, there is a 1902 Southern Pacific steam locomotive with tender and a 1910 Union Pacific caboose. On adjoining properties, there is a Santa Fe caboose, a 1923 Union Oil tank car, and a 1913 outside-braced wood box car.

Martine with Locomotive Exhibit (Notice the Engineer’s Hat)

It’s always fun to see a real labor of love come to life the way the Lomita Railroad Museum has. Los Angeles is full of little corners where some person’s dream has resulted in a fun place to visit and be informed.

Especially now that the Los Angeles to San Francisco High Speed Railroad is in doubt because of funding woes, railroading is becoming more and more a thing of the past. Although they seem to be thriving in Europe and parts of Asia, the railroads in North America have given way to trucks (for freight) and buses (for passengers).

I will never forget the awe I felt as a cub scout waiting for a passenger train to take members of my “den” to distant Ashtabula, Ohio. As the giant steam locomotive pulled up to the station, I felt a frisson of terror at such power as we were enveloped in steam.

 

With Martine at the Arboretum

Martine Sitting on the Shore of Baldwin Lake

Yesterday Martine asked me if we could drive to the Los Angeles Arboretum in Arcadia. I was reluctant at first, as it is an hour drive at high speed over several freeways, but I was delighted that Martine actually wanted to go somewhere that was interesting to her. And the botanical gardens of Southern California are favorite destinations for her. She is shown here siting on her tripod cane chair, wearing one of my old guayaberas and a Mexican straw hat, looking at the ducks and geese plying Baldwin Lake.

We would up staying over four hours, much of it with the geese and ducks.

A Mother’s Day Portrait of Mom with Ducklings

Most of the time was spent around the lake and its various inlets. Having seen all the signs about warning not to feed the birds and wild animals, Martine felt she had to explain to the geese why she didn’t bring any food for them. They did not seem to be very put out by the lack of bread crumbs because they were so busy rooting around in the grass for the insects and plants that form much of their diet. Still, it was interesting that she felt so bad about not being able to feed them herself.

The View Across Baldwin Lake at the Queen Anne Cottage

Because we have had a wet winter, Baldwin Lake no longer looked like a large mudhole. It was covered with millions of tiny leaves that had fallen from the surrounding trees (you can see them in the middle photo above).

When she is at a botanical garden, there is no trace of the depression that marred so much of her life in the last year and a half. She no longer wants to escape to another city: She can’t because she has spent her savings on previous abortive trips. Instead, she is taking long walks in our neighborhood, which, probably, is good for her.