Above is the view from the Palos Verdes Peninsula in Los Angeles with Catalina Island just perched on the horizon, some 26 miles across the sea. That's also the view when I walk around my mother-in-law's neighborhood during visits to the peninsula, which I was fortunate to do in February during a stretch of glorious SoCal weather: a full week of sunny and 70 degrees. I left my weekend in San Francisco and headed down south, though I didn't drive along the coast. I zoomed down a mostly empty Interstate 5 to make it quick since this week was not about the journey but definitely about the destination. I didn't plan to stray far off the peninsula that is 20 miles south of downtown LA, but had plenty to look forward to, including spending time with family. With a mid-day pit stop at my favorite fast food restaurant, I cruised into Rancho Palos Verdes (with bags of avocados and oranges acquired from the vendor across from the In-n-Out) in the late afternoon sun to stay with Wenche (pronounced "Venka" in her native Norwegian) in the Garden Terrace Guest Room.
The first order of business on Monday was a ladies luncheon at the home of family friends Earl and Marion. Wenche has a small contingent of Norwegian lady friends that live on the peninsula and all have been part of the Hansen/Karner family for years. Marion hosted the luncheon for Wenche, Olaf and me to show off her newly re-modeled kitchen and to serve an old school Norwegian lunch specialty: Aspic - a dish whose ingredients are set into gelatin made from meat stock or consomme. Marion served her aspic with a creamy sauce made from sour cream and mayo in a cool accompaniment to the veggie seafood dish. Aspic is one of those classic dishes that no one makes anymore, so it was a treat to try Marion's version in such excellent company.
On Tuesday and Wednesday I doubled my in-law quotient when Ted's sister Linda joined us for various outings, including the Wayfarer's Chapel, Abalone Cove and the Santa Monica Farmers' Market. Built by Lloyd Wright, the son of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the Wayfarer's Chapel is a Swedenborgian church known for it's glass, stone and redwood architecture and it's location overlooking the Pacific. Constructed in 1951, the glass-walled chapel is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a prime example of Wright's Organic Architecture: a philosophy promoting harmony between buildings and nature. The chapel is surrounded by gardens and a commanding ocean view, enhancing the organic component of the structure. An evening candlelight service here must be extraordinary.
The persistent rumor in Palos Verdes about the chapel's most famous wedding party concerns Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio. However, after some research and the potential for bubble-bursting, I determined that another famous blonde - Jayne Mansfield - was married here in 1958. After waiting to hear the noontime chimes from the chapel belltower, we sauntered across the road to the Abalone Cove Shoreline Park. The Palos Verdes peninsula is dotted with coves filled with beaches and tidepools. Though some beaches are private, you can access the ocean at Abalone Cove and Malaga Cove. We spent Christmas Day at Abalone Cove in 2006, combing through the tidepools along with our niece Ingrid and nephew Bjorn. On this day, Wenche, Linda and I walked the bluff-top trails and along the beach to the point. The tide was too high to spot tidepool critters (except the packaged kind we noticed on the beach), but the sunny day made for a great beach trip.
In the colder climes of the Sierra Nevada, I had read that the Wednesday Farmers' Market in Santa Monica supplies local chefs with the ingredients to do their thing with a vast array of Southern California produce. Winter is the height of citrus season and there were piles of oranges to prove it. If you keep up with this blog, you know I have a weakness for farmers' markets, and this is quite the largest I've ever seen. I was pleasantly surprised to see the vendor selling oysters and I found plenty of plenty to inspire me for dinner. I made off with beautiful greens, blood oranges, basil, Japanese tomatoes, fingerling potatoes, squash blossoms, cara cara oranges, smoked tomatoes and the largest head of cabbage on the planet.
We had a plan for lunch, and thanks to Linda's skillful navigating, we made it to some random commercial park in El Segundo just in time to jump in line for Kogi BBQ. Perhaps the king of mobile food trucks in LA, I had been coveting Kogi's famous Korean short rib taco for a long, long time. My mother-in-law was quite bemused by the food truck phenomenon, though both she and Linda were very supportive in my quest (they were also somewhat mollified by my dining determination once they tried the short rib taco). The truck was scheduled to serve from 1 to 2 PM (follow them on Twitter for real time location updates), and we arrived just before start time to some 20 people in line already.
We sampled Short Rib tacos, a Calamari Taco, a Spicy Pork taco and the ladies tried Chicken Tacos. We opted out of soda or water beverages and took our tacos to the nearest facility selling alcoholic libations. Then we illegally tailgated with beers and tacos, savoring every last Korean barbecue morsel. The short rib tacos live up to their stellar reputation, the calamari was very spicy and sabrosa, the spicy pork was delightful and the ladies thought the chicken was just okay. Long live short rib tacos!!
And if you check out the Kogi site, you'll see that they are now serving an Angus Young all prime beef double cheese burger with buttered kimchi, sasa, sesame mayo, and salad. Seriously Angelenos, what are you waiting for?!
In keeping with our food-related day trip, Wenche and Linda offered to show me around Surfas, a restaurant supply and gourmet food market with a little cafe. Though I purchased wonderful things: balsamic vinegar, canned tuna from Spain, sweet chili sauce and a heftily economical box of kosher salt, I took no photos. Perhaps Surfas wants to protect celebrity shoppers? Perhaps they have the super secret recipe for Coca Cola posted in the store? Perhaps they have hideously ugly staff members? Or maybe they just don't like food bloggers. I didn't ask, but I did respect their gentle mandate:
With the haul from the market, I prepared a dinner for Wenche and Linda in gratitude for carting me through LA traffic in the quest for good food. The market selections inspired me to make Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta with Goat Cheese - a little specialty of mine - with the smoked tomatoes and fresh Japanese tomatoes besides. You'll find my original recipe in a little cookbook called "A Springdale Sampler: Recipes Celebrating Life in Zion Canyon" published by the Zion Canyon Lions Club. You can support the club by purchasing a copy of the cookbook for $12.95, which includes many wonderful recipes including really exceptional dishes by my friends Bonnie and Sunny - great women and great cooks! Squash blossoms were also on this evening's menu, stuffed with a goat cheese mixture, battered and fried for a delectable appetizer from Foods of the Southwest Indian Nations by Lois Ellen Frank: Fried Squash Blossoms with Celery Sauce. My experience with squash blossoms dates back to my garden in Utah where I would take blossoms straight from the garden to the kitchen for cooking. Once blossoms are picked they will only keep for a day, and even then the longer you wait to prepare them, the more they wilt and become unusable.
The smoked tomatoes stood in for sun-dried in the pasta dish, and they were a just right. I assume the tomatoes were smoked over low-burning charcoal or wood fire, just like trout or other smoked meats. The smokiness was a perfect complement to the goat cheese. Along with other fine meats, I will be adding tomatoes to my barbecue repertoire this summer.
Thursday dawned - you guessed it - sunny and beautiful, so another trip to the beach was in order. The Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro is a small facility that is part of the Cabrillo Beach Coastal Park. I checked out the aquarium with about 8000 school children and then walked the beach to the tidepools. The aquarium building was designed by Frank Gehry and the park also contains the historic Cabrillo Beach Bathhouse, built in 1932. The beach is on the harbor next to the Port of Los Angeles, the busiest container port in America, where I believe that Jack Bauer once thwarted a terrorist plot. The beach is clean and uncrowded with picnic tables, plenty of parking and extensive tidepools. You must pay to park at the beach for a dollar an hour and the aquarium asks for a $5 donation - a very inexpensive and low-key way to spend a day at the beach in Los Angeles.
The tide was coming in during my visit to the tidepools, and once I rounded Point Fermin, the waves rolled in much larger than on the side closest to the breakwater. Viewing the waves from shore I caught an interesting perspective of kelp strands clearly visible through the water as they were pulled up by the motion of the waves. Most of my ocean experience comes from my time in Florida and so the wild Pacific never fails to provide some astonishing new flora or fauna.
Speaking of astonishing flora, Palos Verdes is also home to the South Coast Botanic Garden "The Jewel of the Peninsula". Wenche and I took a walk here, amongst the flowers and the ducks, really enjoying the winter sun. Most impressive? The cactus garden had some large specimens and the swiss chard in the vegetable garden was brilliantly beautiful.
Speaking of pork & beans, one last food adventure before I left town: a visit to Alpine Village and dinner at Inka Wasi. Alpine Village is a quaint old-school German themed restaurant and marketplace including some bric-a-brac gift shops that have seen better days. Linda worked at the restaurant in high school. Wenche shops at the Alpine Village market regularly where she can purchase food near and dear to her Norwegian heart that may be hard to find elsewhere. She often shows up at our place with many tasty items that end in -wurst, and I was delighted to visit the source of these meat goodies.
Rows and rows of spaetzles and wursts housed in true California kitsch. I loved it. I walked away from Alpine Village with sauerkraut for Ted, pickles, wieners in a jar (yum!), a German beer and the best liverwurst I've ever had. Check it out:
After re-supplying the house with liverwurst and meat salad (oxymoron or pure genius?!), Wenche and I took a load off before our dinner date. Inspired by our friend Joe from Yosemite who was spending the month in Peru, I found a Peruvian restaurant in the Peninsula Center just down the road and wanted to introduce Wenche and me to Peruvian cuisine. Inka Wasi is fairly new to the peninsula, but the owners are not - they operate a sit down service Peruvian restaurant in Torrance called El Pollo Inka. Inka Wasi has counter service (but they serve beer and wine) with a friendly and knowledgeable staff and a clean, attractive dining room. We perused the posted wall menu for a while, and then decided to ask the staff for recommendations. The girl taking our order at the counter cheerfully guided us to choose appetizers and meals based on our food preferences: Ceviche Mixto appetizer, Platanos on the side, Aguadito Soup for both of us and Mariscos Satados dinner for me and Vegetales Saltado dinner for Wenche. I tried Cusquena beer "The Gold of the Incas" from Peru and Wenche ordered a demi bottle of wine.
From the soup to the plantains to the rice dishes, all of the food was very tasty, though I was particularly taken with the ceviche. I've had plenty of ceviche in Mexico, but this was something else entirely. The marinade for the seafood was exceptional and the inclusion of various potatoes and the corn cob with the most gigantic kernels ever was inspired. The hot green sauce particular to Peru was also a welcome and tasty addition.
If you notice on the menu page above that the Saltado dish is served with a saute of onions, tomatoes, cilantro and french fries along with a side of garlic rice. Again with the potatoes. Sides of rice and french fries may seem like overkill to your American fast food palate, but here's the catch: the french fries are included in the saute along with the other ingredients (see my Mariscos Saltado below). Though there is a sogginess factor for the fries mixed in with the rest of the dish, my impression is that they are not meant to be enjoyed like crispy American fries, but rather as fried potatoes - another vegetable in the saute. But why include the fries in the first place?
Because potatoes are native to Peru. Some 400 years ago, potatoes were cultivated in Southern Peru and then spread to the rest of the world via the European explorers visiting/exploiting the Americas in the 1500s. Now the world's fourth largest crop, potatoes are as integral to Peruvian cuisine as tortillas are to Mexico and tomatoes are to Italy. And speaking of tomatoes, another crop native to the Americas, what was the rest of the world eating before contact with North and South America? Foods native to the Americas include: potatoes, tomatos, turkey, chile peppers, peanuts, corn, pineapples, strawberries, avocados, chocolate AND vanilla (we won't mention the more dubious gift of tobacco). Seriously, I cannot imagine a world without tomatoes.
I left sunny SoCal to return to snow-covered Yosemite, grateful for the opportunity to see more of Los Angeles. Return trips are sure to unearth more hidden treasures, in addition to the obvious charms of America's second largest city. If you can make it to the Palos Verdes Peninsula, bring your camera and if you have a Peruvian restaurant in your neighborhood, go now. And if you ever get invited to Marion's for lunch or to Wenche's Garden Terrace Guest Room, thank your lucky stars!
In-n-Out Burger: Junk in the Trunk!
Wayfarer's Chapel: Junk-O-Rama
Abalone Cove Shoreline Park: Junk-O-Rama
Santa Monica Farmers' Market: Junk-O-Rama
Kogi BBQ: Junk in the Trunk!
Surfas Restaurant Supply: Junk-O-Rama
Cabrillo Marine Aquarium: Junk-O-Rama
Cabrillo Beach Coastal Park: Junk-O-Rama
South Coast Botanic Garden: Junk-O-Rama
Alpine Village: Junkety-Junk-Junk
Inka Wasi: Junk in the Trunk!