California Cruizin'

Discovering the Hidden Jewels Throughout America's Golden State

Beacon of Norway

This is what I so love about Southern California besides our fantastic weather. America’s Golden State stretching along the Pacific coast is a sizzling melting pot; and not just because of the sun.
Having said that, a couple of days ago, my Norwegian friend Liv took me and our mutual friend Paula of Japanese descent to the Norwegian Seamen’s Mission in San Pedro. IMG_6983For those of you who don’t know much about California’s southern coast, San Pedro is a bustling port city with a quaint waterfront facing armies of docked container ships. It skirts the rolling hills of the Palos Verdes Peninsula in the South Bay, due south of downtown LA, and houses the biggest port there is on the face of the North American Continent, namely the combined mega ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the two forming one sprawling industrial city of steel cranes, stacked containers, and anchored vessels.
Established as a home away from home for the thousands of Norwegian seafarers who used to circle the globe in container ships, the mission has been maintained with funds from mostly Norway and today is solely a gathering place for Norwegians and their descendants.
Entering the mission, one thing is absolutely clear. Its backbone is no doubt the church. No wonder. The Norwegian Seamen’s Mission, Sjømannsmisjonen, was born in 1864 first and foremost out of need to protect the moral and religious education of Scandinavian seafarers, but also to provide a home away from home for fellow countryman. The sanctuary’s ship bell and a suspended sailing ship pay tribute to the many seamen who have been riding the waves. IMG_6996 IMG_6997
Today, the missions function mostly as community as well as resource centers for Norwegians who travel the globe offering among other amenities a library and grocery corner brimming with Norwegian treats. The back outdoor area, comprising a swimming pool and BBQ, is popular for summer gatherings, and every day the mission is open, the American, Norwegian, and Swedish flags fly high on flagpoles.
The adjacent community hall invites with its colorful décor and rustic furniture; a welcoming feel. IMG_6985 Here, mothers and toddlers get to know each other on a weekly basis, ladies chit chat while their swift fingers knit scarves, and cardigans, and people of Norwegian origin socialize over lunch every first Tuesday of the month.
That particular Tuesday we were treated to some hearty Norwegian fare: Boiled potatoes, mixed vegetables, home baked bread, meatballs (Kjøttkaker), creamed cabbage (Stuet Kål), and caramel pudding loaded with egg yolks and cream. IMG_6988 IMG_6989 IMG_6990Being vegetarian, I fell in love with the Stuet Kål, a scrumptious blend of boiled cabbage, drenched in a mixture of flour, milk, butter, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Mmmmmmmh… That also goes for the grocery corner which offers an array of Norwegian soups, cake and waffle mixes, spreads, jams, nut butters, and of course…chocolate.IMG_6991
What a way to complete our Norwegian experience.

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SoCal Harvest

Cruzin’ through Long Beach the other day I came across Cindy Goss, a feisty woman with an infectious smile who runs SoCal Harvest, a community serving organization dedicated to harvesting from the community for the community, one backyard at a time.

So, this morning I joined her and an enthusiastic team of five volunteers as they descended on one orange tree in a Long Beach backyard armed with picking rakes and empty fruit  boxes and crates.  IMG_6969


And while swift arms plucked the ripe fruits off the drooping branches, laughter popping, and  IMG_6974

Cindy checked for diseases in the oranges, I just watched in amazement at this rich bounty just one tree could offer. IMG_6979

As she clipped the oranges’ little leaved stems, Cindy shared with me that SoCalHarvest was conceived in January 2009 as a response to President Obama’s call to service. Quite impressive!

And while more oranges tumbled into the boxes and crates, and the volunteers enthused about their community service and joy of homegrown produce, Cindy gave me the rundown of things. First, a request comes from the homeowner followed by her site visit to evaluate the yield and workforce needed. Once set up, her team descends like magical fairies, picking the homegrown goodness before delivering it to area food bank, where everything is weighed. Cindy told me that their best harvest, 23 volunteers on one day in one backyard yielded 1,385 pounds of grapefruits, oranges and tangerines. WOW!

Back to the food bank, the homeowner gets a receipt for his tax-deductable donation. One crate of his/her donation goes to the bi-monthly Produce Exchange in Bluff Park (across from Bixby Park) on Ocean Boulevard between Junipero and Cherry. In this free community gathering of gardeners, environmentalists, urban harvesters, and curious Long Beach citizens, all share their bounty, build community and forge lasting friendships.

So, come and check it out every First and Third Saturday of the month from 10:00am to 1:00 pm. For more information email or go to

To have SoCal Harvest pick your fruits or veggies or to volunteer, you may sign up through, or

So, if you’ve got a backyard full of fruit trees or just one, and would like to share your  excess produce with the community, give Cindy a call. She not only will make you smile but a whole community. Because after all, good food serves people and eventually changes the world to be a better place one backyard at a time. IMG_6982

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