Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Watts Towers

Having a rough day at work? Needing some artistic inspiration? Go to the Watts Towers to see what a little man with a huge dream can accomplish. Simon Rodia was a tiny man, less than 5 feet tall, who worked by day as a tile man and/or a construction worker. But what he built at night is amazing! His 17 structures, two almost 100 feet high, were all built with found objects. The green 7-Up bottles and blue Milk of Magnesia bottles are easy to identify throughout his artwork. They would have been readily available, tossed from the trains that passed by his lot. He also used those train tracks and his slight bodyweight to bend the rebar forms into shape. I can't even imagine!

I love that his stove - used to cook food and melt glass - is also beautifully decorated with tiles and sparkly rocks, as are the wedding cake and cupcake towers added as he started performing marriages in his chapel. You could almost have a scavenger hunt looking for his boot, corn cobs, hammers, horse shoes, faucet imprints, and the brilliant ladder he built into a tower to aid his work.

Apparently, the neighbors were not thrilled with his 30+ years of singing Italian opera in the wee hours of the morning, and the strange things he was building. His family left him, knowing he had a laser-focus on his artwork. The city thought his work was unstable and a hazard. Simon himself eventually walked away, having had enough. Luckily, his Nuestro Pueblo remains in spite of these obstacles.

Simon wanted to do something big, and he did it. He built "our town" for us. What do you want to do?!

Click here to go to their Web site.

Monday, September 28, 2009


It's fun to say Oinkster. It's more fun to go for a "slow fast food" meal such as this pulled pork sandwich and Belgian fries with the accompanying garlic-mayo sauce. Slow meaning lots of love goes into the food before it whisks out to your table, and fast because their fries with that dipping sauce disappear lickedy-split!

I've been to Belgium and had fries. I'm assuming Oinkster doesn't fry theirs up in horse fat like they did in Brussels and Brugge, and I remember liking the mayo dip option right way. It's good to respark that tastebud memory in nearby Eagle Rock sans passport.

And here, for the whole world to read, I'll admit to losing the battle with the sandwich in my own Woman v. Food challenge. But the fries, and the garlic-mayo sauce, didn't stand a chance.

Click here to go to their Web site.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Norton Simon Museum

The Norton Simon Museum is one of those frequently overlooked museums here in LA. Yes, people think of it when they see the Rose Parade broadcast, when the floats and the bands really pull out all the stops while turning the corner at Orange Grove and Colorado, right in front of their location.

It is truly an amazing place, as the art seems so approachable. I certainly don't get this vibe at LACMA or MOCA. Here you can walk right up to Rembrandt, Monet, van Gogh, Picasso, and Diego Rivera (why doesn't he have one-name recognition?) paintings. And you can take a picture, without flash of course. I love that you can see the Degas paintings and bronzes displayed together, as usually they are presented separately. There's also a sculpture garden and the whole lower floor of Asian and Indian artwork.

Then there's the fact that this artwork came primarily from Mr. Simon's private collection. When I get to be a gazillionaire, I want to have my collections on display, too. My snowglobes and grease containers would draw in the crowds, I'm sure!
Click here to go to their Web site.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Saladang and Saladang Song

I like to think about Saladang and Saladang Song as a big sister/
little sister relationship, with the sisters living next door to each other. Both have distinct characteristics, but they come from the same gene pool.

My favorite dish at each is made from the same basic ingredients: green apples and peanuts. Shown here is the apple salad from Saladang, with the green apples and peanut butter dressing with chicken. The Song version has chopped peanuts with gingery/limey dressing without chicken. Both are delicious variations of the other.

I have many friends who have a favorite between the two and won't go to the other. But don't ask me to make the call when it comes to favorites. Just like my Mom won't pick between her kids, I don't want to pick one over the other. Since they are next door to each other, I'll go to the one with the shortest line.

No Web site at this time. Saladang's street address is 363 South Fair Oaks, Pasadena 91105. Cross street is Del Mar. Phone is 626-793-8123. Saladang Song's street address is 383 South Fair Oaks, Pasadena 91105. Phone is 626-793-5200.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Original Farmers Market

Sometimes it is important to go back to the source. The Farmers Market at Third and Fairfax is one of those places. In 1934, farmers sold fruit, veggies and flowers from their trucks, and customers bought 'em up. Next came restaurants to serve the hungry farmers and customers, and shops to take care of their errands. Voilà! A huge enterprise was born, with most local cities now offering their version of the original idea.

Although the outdoor Grove Mall replaced the old antique mall, most of my faves continue on, such as the green shopping carts (FYI, the color is Farmers Market Green, and the carts are made on site), and the classic Du-pars with their pancakes. Once, I went to the Gumbo Pot for lunch, and the jambalaya was so good, I went back and had another order for dinner. I love seeing the grandmas and the kiddies eating dipped ice cream cones, and tables filled with groups eating different meals from different vendors. Meet me at Third and Fairfax to continue the tradition!

Click here to go to their Web site.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Self-Realization Shrine

Windmill?! Are we in Switzerland? No. Solvang? No, but that's closer. How about Pacific Palisades?!

This is the serene and surreal setting of the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine. What was once a silent movie set in the '20s, then a home to a studio construction supervisor (he lived in a houseboat while he built a mill house, and later this windmill, and all three features are still there) in the '40s, became a sanctuary for all religions, as well as for non-followers.

You will probably be surprised to hear that a portion of Mahatma Gandhi's ashes are enshrined on the site. Not behind gates or walls but in a Peace Memorial area near the Golden Lotus Archway. And, there's a Court of Religions recognizing the five principal religions of the world. The windmill is now a chapel. It was open for meditation while I was there. The mill house is the gift shop and museum.

Whatever your beliefs, this is a wonderful escape from our busy lives. Walk along the peaceful path around the lake, and it is hard to believe that busy Sunset Boulevard is yards - not miles - away.

Click here to go to their Web site.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Green Street Restaurant

Green Street Restaurant
is a 30-year Pasadena tradition. And, in this home of the Dianne salad with zucchini bread (my typical go-to meal), I dined with four other rebels who ordered anything but standard fare.

Shown here are three of our meals. My caprese sandwich with sweet potato fries was divine. Sorry, Dianne!! The veggie kabobs atop jerk seasoned rice and the pasta with spinach and artichokes were very tempting, too. Other selections at our table included the portobello mushroom sandwich and the charbroiled chicken sandwich, both served with the yummy fries.

Lesson learned? Go with the traditional, or go a little wild. Either way, it's all good at Green Street.

Click here to go to their Web site.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Los Angeles City Hall

Talk about a landmark. Los Angeles City Hall is a true icon, and, by going up to the 27th floor balcony, you can see the rest of the downtown attractions like the Disney Hall and Union Station.

Completed in 1928, the City Hall tower suffered major damage from the Northridge earthquake and from earlier quakes. While the retrofitting was taking place, an amazing restoration brought the nearly 70-year-old building back to life. City Hall reopened in 2001.

The artistry throughout the building is stunning. Be sure to look up and down, as your eyes literally dance off the surfaces. Fabulous light sconces adorn walls and ceilings. Even the elevators are a delight; look for the beacon on the floor.

Then there's the cool stories and sights. For example, sand from the 58 CA counties and water from the 21 missions were used to make the concrete in the tower. The torch from the 1984 Olympics. The beacon at the top being turned on via a switch in the White House. Yes! Even today, that sounds like it would be a technological nightmare.

This is a public building, and I encourage a visit when you're downtown. Entrance is on the Main Street side, through the Security entrance. You do have to show picture ID and go through a metal detector.

No direct Web site available. Street address is 200 N. Spring Street, Los Angeles. Cross streets are Main, Temple and First. Phone is (213) 485-2121.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Mäni’s Bakery

So it's LA's 228th birthday, and I want to celebrate! Since I've lived here for over 19 years now, it's time to acknowledge and embrace the pueblo's founding. Mäni’s Bakery on Fairfax goes back to my early days in LA (1989 for them, 1990 for me), so it was a perfect fit.

If you haven't had the pleasure, Mäni’s uses organic flour and no-sugar sweeteners in all the treats. Good food that's good for you, per their tagline! Chocolate Raspberry Fortress Cakes accompanied me to many birthdays and other celebrations when I lived Beverly Hills adjacent. I was thrilled to hear that Faux-Nuts are back for a limited time. Faux-Nuts are decadent chocolate baked donuts, (created for Danny DeVito during his macrobiotic days filming "Other People's Money") and you will never miss the sugar. Here you see the chocolate-dipped bundt-shaped wonder with a mint lemonade chaser. YUMMM!

There have been other locations, such as Laurel Canyon/Ventura Boulevard, and Main Street in Santa Monica, but they're just working the home base on Fairfax now. Back in the day, you could hang out there with chef Mäni and sample the newest creations. He has now moved to San Francisco, but the bakery still has his name. At some point, a full menu was added, and I hear the soups are fantastic. They do have an awesome sounding breakfast burrito on the menu, and you know how I seek those out. But for now, I'm totally satiated with my Faux-Nut and mint lemonade. Happy Birthday Los Angeles, and here's to another 20 years of Mäni’s Bakery!!

Click here to go to their Web site.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Merengue Cuban Restaurant

Usually when I have a craving for Cuban food, I'm off to Versailles for the liver and onions, oozing with the lemon and garlic flavors. Now, there's another contender in the Cuban taste test: Merengue Bakery & Cafe.

Located in the old town part of Monrovia, Merengue claims to have "food that'll make you dance!" I'll tell you, those plaintain chips definitely had my mouth dancing!! The Cuban sandwich was yummy on the toasty bread. In addition to Cuban specialties and hot plate meals like Arroz con Pollo, they also offer tuna melts and chicken wraps for the less adventurous.

The bakery options could lead to me relocating to Monrovia. Merengue, known as the home of the world's largest cupcake at almost seven feet tall, offers all sorts of desserts to tempt those taste buds. And, relax, you don't have to eat seven feet of cupcake, you can order a single serving if that's your inclination for the day.

Click here to go to their Web site.