California Cruizin'

Discovering the Hidden Jewels Throughout America's Golden State

Sunbathing

Have you ever watched a seal taking a sunbath? Cruising around the Long Beach Backwaters the other day, this is what I came about. IMG_7691

At first I thought the animal might be injured since it was just floating, staring up into the sun, flapping one fin occasionally. And the advancing peddlers IMG_7707
and other electric boats IMG_7703 did do very little to disturb the frolicking seal. To the contrary, it just seemed to bask in the attention.

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Catalina Cruizin’

I won’t say much about Southern California’s famous Catalina Island and Avalon since the pictures speak for themselves. Enjoy your tour of Avalon.

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Cruizin’ Down Memory Lane

IMG_7037 The other day my hubby and I went to the Seal Beach Classic Car Show. And what a show it was.  Here are some of my favorite Oldies that lined Main Street. I won’t say much more since the pictures speak for themselves. Enjoy the ride down Memory Lane…

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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

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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 ProduceExchangeLB@gmail.com or go to https://www.facebook.com/pages/Produce-Exchange-Long-Beach/

To have SoCal Harvest pick your fruits or veggies or to volunteer, you may sign up through facebook.com/SoCalHarvest, SoCalHarvest@earthlink.net or SoCalHarvest.org.

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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LA Rush Hour

A few days ago, I had no choice but to hit rush hour on the 405 and 110 freeway heading into the City of Angels for a high profile soiree at the Westin Bonaventura Hotel. While we crawled bumper to bumper through this concrete jungle my hubby snapped the following pictures. Quite the scene beyond your car hood when you try to get from A to B in this famous Los Angeles County where at any given day five million plus cars most probably try to do the same as you. I guess that’s LA for you. Quite an experience!

Getting into the groove…
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Approaching the 105 Interchange…
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The Los Angeles Skyline
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The Interstate 10 Underpass…a parking lot…
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Scissors, Needles & Beads

Whether you are looking for a quick fix of a too tight, too wide, or too short skirt, dress, or jacket, or whether you need a custom made suit, couture dress, or wedding gown, Vietnamese born Nina Dinh’s tailor shop, Susan’s Dressmaker, on the corner of 7th Street and Redondo Ave in Long Beach caters to all tailoring needs under one roof. IMG_6837
My personal seamstress for a number of years now, Nina’s swift and talented fingers have not only altered quite a number of my pants, skirts, and dresses but also created some stunning new outfits.
Talking to this soft spoken Asian lady during my last visit, IMG_6835 I was touched to learn about her personal story before coming to Long Beach in 1991. Her father worked for the government but when the communists took over, he was put into prison and the family suffered a great deal. At that time Nina attended High School. When her father escaped and went to the US, as a punishment, Nina was barred from attending college and as a result of that she began sewing.
When Nina arrived on the American shore in 1991 with her husband and infant son, she came empty handed and did not know a word of English. But she was lucky to get a job in the tailor shop where her sister, who had come to Southern California earlier, worked.
Soon after Nina’s arrival, her sister ventured out on her own and Nina took over the shop and thus Susan Dressmaker was born.
With the help of two more seamstresses, Nina creates the most beautiful outfits. From casual wear to suits, cocktail, and wedding dresses, she cuts, stitches, and beads whatever fabric and design you may fancy. Besides the whole fashion gamut, Nina also puts her touches on decorative items, like curtains and throw pillows. IMG_6833
Talking to Nina on that day, her eyes misted over retracing her life from communist Vietnam to the free shores of America. Her emotions about leaving her homeland and the hardship she endured still run deep. But with the help of her sister, she forged a new life on the sunny shoreline of Long Beach and appreciates the multicultural communities but most of all her personal freedom and freedom of speech.

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Fashion Island

Shop. Dine. Enjoy. These three words sum up the feeling of Fashion Island, a luxurious, one-of-a-kind, outdoor shopping mall right off the Pacific Coast Highway in Newport Beach. IMG_6806
The first time I heard about Southern California’s most ritzy and glamorous mall, I imagined a shopping complex surrounded by water. But when the signs took me off the Pacific Coast Highway and up the hill toward a sprawling Mediterranean style development encircled by fancy office towers, IMG_6814 IMG_6796I was disappointed at first.  And as I cruised around the huge mall complex, I began to notice that the entire mall was within the wide avenue I was on. Chuckling, I realized that I had driven around an island, just not one that is surrounded by waterways but by a smooth boulevard.

One of my favorite Southland destinations, (not necessarily for shopping but meeting friends over coffee), I have been there many times. Alone, with family and visiting friends, I always find a reason to visit Fashion Island.  And like today, I met up with one of my fiends at the hip Pain Du Monde Café right across from Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdales, enjoying a little bit of French flair and a fine café au lait.
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So, whether you’re a lucky Southern Californian or a sun seeking tourist, Fashion Island is the place to splurge. IMG_6797
From specialty shops and fancy department stores IMG_6804 to fine restaurants and cafes, you will find your own little treasures;  IMG_6819even if it’s just relaxing in one of those cushioned armchairs beckoning around gushing fountains and blooming sidewalks. IMG_6788 IMG_6785

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Coasting in Carlsbad

If you want a quick get-away that eases your mind and refreshes your body, Carlsbad is the place for you. IMG_6769

A sprawling beach community 30 miles north of San Diego, and gateway to the famous Legoland, this “Touch of Paradise,” as it is advertised in local brochures, offers everything you’re looking for in a laid back beach vacation. IMG_6766

And that’s what my Hubby and I did last weekend relaxing under a blue banner of sky, the sweeping views of crystal beaches and the Pacific Ocean breathtaking. Going Slow…like the many locals and vacationers splashing in the surf, jogging on the beach, and gazing at the sun.  IMG_6775

This visit wasn’t our first to Carlsbad. A spa weekend at the La Costa Resort and a stroll through the brimming Carlsbad Flower Fields were our introduction to this quaint IMG_6748   seaside town. We decided to check out the Hilton Oceanfront Resort and Spa, http://www.hiltoncarlsbadoceanfront.com, not knowing that it was quite a ways from the Village where all the action was happening. Scouting out the area by foot, we found some nice place to stay for our next visit. The Tamarack Beach Resort, tamarackresort.com, the Ocean Palms Beach Resort, http://www.opbr.com, and the Beach Terrace Inn, http://www.beachterraceinn.com, are centrally located in or near the village and right by the beach.    IMG_6693IMG_6750IMG_6753  

Anxious to discover more, we ventured down the stairway to the beach, IMG_6672IMG_6665

browsed antique shops and boutiques in the village, and savored the most delicious hummus at the Armenian Café while a hip swinging Belly Dancer showcased her power of seduction. The next day, The Daily News Cafe right on the main drag was our choice for breakfast while for dinner  a burrito called to us at the popular Mexican Restaurant, Norte.

Although Solana Beach, Del Mar, and San Diego were calling to us, we weren’t that keen on doing the drive. We have done the touristy stuff; having dinner at San Diego’s vibrant Gas Lamp District, watching a show at Sea World and wild animals at the San Diego Zoo. We considered riding the COASTER, www.gonctd.com, a commuter train that runs north-south through San Diego County between Oceanside and downtown San Diego, but instead opted out for relaxing by the hotel pool in the late afternoon looking up into this beautiful view.  IMG_6712

And as the sun dove into a glittering sheet of sea, IMG_6692     the dramatic sight and rainbow hued sky left me breathless for a moment. IMG_6739  I remembered the lovely Hawaiian sunsets and said to myself that from now on I don’t have to go over to Maui for I’ve found my little Hawai’i right here in Carlsbad, just 80 miles down the coast from Long Beach. IMG_6728

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Dance of God

Cruizin’ down Long Beach’s Second Street during lunch hour today, I stopped at the Natraj Indian Restaurant. IMG_6651  http://www.freewebs.com/lbnatraj

My husband and I have been savoring their scrumptious menu many times, so I know the owner Mr. Singh and his bubbly wife, Babbljit, Bubbly, as she likes to be called, I’m not kidding you. And bubbly she is this sweet faced woman from the Northern Indian State of Punjab.
Having lived in Punjab at one point in my life, I feel an affinity with this fascinating land and her people. So, greeting Mr. Singh in his native Punjabi when we first met, naturally we become friends ever since we dined at the Natraj a few years ago. IMG_6648
Mr. Singh, who proudly wears a beautiful turban, today it was sapphire blue, is proud about his Sikh heritage, hence the picture of Guru Nanak, the father of his Sikh faith, I noticed on the wall behind the buffet. He insisted to have his picture taken with me and we did. Copy of IMG_6647  Hailing from Jalandhar, a bustling metropolis in the heart of Punjab, this Indian son arrived in the US in 1992 to work in the restaurant. Since 2004 he is a proud partner and runs the family owned business, making sure that guests get the ultimate Indian dining experience indulging in the many dishes his Northern Indian cuisine menu offers. IMG_6645 From Tandoori specialties and Biryani dishes to lamb, poultry, seafood and vegetable curries, the choice is overwhelming. IMG_6644 And not to forget the scrumptious rice dishes, naans, rotis, parathas, and kulchas, specialty breads arriving at your table fresh from the oven even before you’ve had a chance to finish the last one in your basket.
So, I encourage you to start cruizin’ and explore India’s cuisine right here at your fingertips. Natraj, Mr. Singh tells me means Dance of God, and is open for lunch from 11:00am–2:30 pm and for dinner from 5:00-10:00 pm, 7 days a week. Dishes can be ordered mild, medium, or hot, and the all inclusive buffet during lunch hours is the best way to savor some of the best Indian specialties for a bargain prize. Get in the groove and enjoy the Dance of God.

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