Archive for the ‘Eating with Kids’ Category

Discovering peaceful nooks in quarantined Los Angeles

April 17, 2020

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I was happier than many Angelenos when self-quarantine measures took effect last month.  I love exploring the city and all its resources, but traffic has been so consistently bad and trails overrun with hikers in recent years that I found myself sticking closer to home. After most people started working from home, though, freeways and sidewalks seemed to empty overnight. I immediately started a list: Echo Mountain in Altadena, Aliso and Woods Canyons in Orange County, the Venice Canals, Langer’s for pastrami. I got out my hiking boots. I reveled in the plummeting gas prices and deserted freeways. This was my dream Los Angeles, the city I had found so accessible and multi-faceted when I moved here twenty years ago.

Then they closed all the parks and hiking trails. They roped off beaches and promenades. Even the old forgotten basketball nets behind our local Little League field were covered in caution tape. There was the feeling that, if you weren’t going to the grocery store or hospital, you might be pulled over and cited. I put my list away and reacquainted myself with my home surroundings. My family and I baked, watched movies and gave the dog lots of belly rubs. I cleaned the oven.

Until I couldn’t stand it anymore. I had to break out.

One day after schoolwork was done, I told the kids to get in the car and started driving north. Oh My Burger, a Gardena eatery we had always wanted to try, was offering a Pandemic Special — cheeseburger, barbecue wings and garlic alfredo fries for $14.

L.A. comfort food at its finest.

I studied the map on my phone and saw that Oh My Burger wasn’t far away from the Forum, the famed arena where the Lakers and Kings used to play. Local residents like to use its perimeter as a four-mile exercise loop, and I had always wanted to check it out. We parked on Kareem Court and joined the handful of brisk walkers and scooter riders from a safe distance. We had a front-row view of the nearby construction of the new football stadium, a hive of construction activity in an otherwise eerily quiet city.

The Forum is across the street from Inglewood Park Cemetery, an unusually large expanse of greenery where Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, and Betty Grable were laid to rest. We drove through slowly and it felt like a normal day there, with gardeners tending to the grounds and a handful of families placing flowers or wreaths on the graves.

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By the time we picked up our Pandemic Specials at Oh My Burger, complete with deep-fried Oreo puffs for dessert, I felt almost normal and had fallen in love with Los Angeles all over again.

A few days later, we tried again.

This time, we ordered lunch from Honey Dress, a new-ish fried chicken place in Torrance, and explored another area nearby before picking it up. My phone map showed that Los Arboles Park wasn’t far away. We could walk the dog while we waited for our food.

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Turns out, Arboles Park boasts a sweeping hat-trick view that takes in ocean, city and mountains, capturing Los Angeles as I had never seen before. It also has one of those vintage rocketship slides that have been phased out to make way for safer (read: boring) plastic playgrounds that now dominate parks the world over. I regret that I hadn’t learned about this park earlier in my mom life, when the kids would have gotten real play mileage out of that rocketship.

We went home feeling human once again — and we had incredibly good Korean-style fried chicken to boot. Another euphoric L.A. moment. There’s nowhere else like it.

Our next trip was on Good Friday. We decided fried fish would be an appropriate supper, and H. Salt popped up on a search of local fish places. Turns out, it was near a county park with a big pond teeming with geese and ducks. I had driven past Alondra Park many times, but had no idea it was so expansive. It borders a (closed) golf course, and there is so much open space that a gymnastics team could take over one area without violating social distancing rules. I found myself stopping often to breathe deeply and revel in the old trees and rippling water.

The fish place was the kind of unassuming strip-mall joint that exists all over L.A. Inside, three masked, gloved and hair-netted people were working hard filling bags with hush puppies and fried hunks of catfish, shrimp and zucchini. A handwritten sign warned customers that they wouldn’t be served if they weren’t wearing a mask. The bill came to $49 and it pretty much covered dinner for four people (maybe three-and-a-half) twice over. Who says L.A. is only for the rich and glamorous?

It’s easy to be envious of the people who have escaped the city to second homes in Palm Springs or Mammoth or the wilds of Utah. But there isn’t any place that I would rather be right now than Los Angeles. The quarantine has reminded me that the city still has  plenty of peaceful places waiting to be discovered. And fresh air to boot, while it lasts.

Sunday in Santa Monica: Crepes, Spices, and a Giant Whale

May 27, 2013

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I have always been a little intimidated by Santa Monica. Getting there from just about anywhere in the city can shave years off one’s life — and finding a reasonable parking space within a mile of the ocean is often impossible. But on a recent Sunday, the kids and I were up early with a completely unscheduled day ahead of us, so I faced my fears and headed west with a few vague destinations in mind. The 10 freeway was nearly deserted before 10 AM, and we had our pick of parking places (street parking is free on Sunday). The next thing we knew, we were riding the sleek escalators of Santa Monica Place up to the food court and standing in front of a play area dominated by a 46-foot-tall humpback whale. This being Santa Monica, it was a whale made out of sustainably harvested deck wood perched over an “ocean floor” made of recycled rubber, and the kids couldn’t have been more enchanted. They played for an hour, then when it started getting too crowded for comfort, we picked up some crepes and smoothies and headed out to the food court deck and its impossibly scenic setting.

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Our next stop was the tiny Santa Monica Pier aquarium, which was also packed (Sunday afternoon at the beach was now in full swing). But Theo got to see some nurse sharks in an open tank and make a shark puppet out of a paper bag, so he was happy. We spent our last hour shopping at Penzeys Spices, where the clerk hung Jack’s I LOVE Santa Monica drawing in the window, and eating ice cream in the courtyard of the Santa Monica Library, which is also impossibly scenic and surprisingly quiet despite the presence of children.

I don’t know if we’ll go back again soon (too many other destinations on the bucket list), but the kids still talk about our spontaneous trip to Santa Monica and playing in the belly of the giant whale.

Searching for apples in Southern California

October 11, 2012

It’s the time of year to celebrate the apple, and the best way to do it in Los Angeles is to head east to Oak Glen. It’s the largest collection of apple trees in the region, and all kinds of apple-centric activities have cropped up around the orchards. My family and I usually head there in October, after most of the trees have been stripped by the pick-your-own crowds. There’s still plenty of apples to bring home, and it’s a little less chaotic.

Snow-Line Orchard is our first stop. Its apple cider donuts and cider press alone make it worth the trip, but it also gets points for its generous apple and cider samples, and wide selection (Pink Lady to Honeycrisp and McIntosh).

Riley’s at Los Rios Rancho is next. It’s touristy, with a petting zoo, wagon rides. outdoor barbecue, and gift shop, but the apple pies are the best I’ve ever had, and the grounds are kid-friendly. They also recently added the equivalent of apple sommeliers at their tasting table, experts ready to help you make sense of all the varieties available. There’s also solace to be had if you wander across the parking lot to the totem pole Trail sign and follow the path past the apple orchards. Keep going past the restrooms and picnic tables and soon you’ll be surrounded by an almost New England-like autumn. The leaves change to bright oranges and golds here and pile up enough to create some serious leaf shuffling, if not full-on leaf-pile jumping. There’s a pond, too, and some ducks, and a gorgeous backdrop of pine-studded mountains.


All in, it’s about an hour and a half’s drive from Los Angeles. It often gets super-crowded on weekends, even after picking season is over. We always try to get there well before noon. It’s awfully easy to get up early when you know those apple ciders donuts are waiting for you.

The blackberry blossom when summertime came…

July 24, 2012

Simi Valley’s Underwood Farms is a rite of passage for most L.A. kids. With its acres of produce, pull wagons and fun outdoor playground and petting zoo, it’s an easy way to show them that strawberries and squash do not begin in a place called Ralph’s. Not everyone knows that the farm has a quieter little sister a few miles away in Somis, one whose pockets start spilling over with raspberries and blackberries right about now. Unlike the main farm, the Somis location only grows blueberries (whose season ended in June), raspberries and blackberries, but here are a few reasons why we like it as much or more than its big sister in Moorpark:

* It’s free. The Moorpark location charges $3-5 per person. Worth it, but some days you just don’t want to pay for entertainment.
* It’s an easy walk to the berry fields from the parking lot. This means a lot to parents who have pulled their kids in wagons across the Moorpark fields.
* It’s usually pretty quiet. Not a field-trip bus in sight when we arrived on a weekday in July.

Last time we went, I watched my picky younger son eat raspberries for the first time ever. There was just something about pulling them fresh off the vine that made them seem less suspicious. Afterward, we ate a picnic lunch, then the kids fed the chickens (25 cents a handful for feed) and played in the shady sandbox. Next time, we’ll check out the alpaca farm directly across the street.

Smoothies and Connect Four in La Canada-Flintridge

June 28, 2012

They had us at Hungry, Hungry Hippo. There it sat, beckoning on the coffee table next to a cozy leather couch. The Smoothie Stop is a real find — a La Canada-Flintridge strip-mall space that friendly owners have turned into a living room complete with Wii, magazines, and dozens of table games that you probably haven’t played for decades. Cool Lime, Blueberry Cream and fresh-squeezed orange lemonade are a few of the tasty drinks on the menu. Plus, hot and cold tea, soft pretzels, homemade cookies, and all the Battleship games you can handle.

Chilling in Long Beach

January 20, 2011

I wasn’t really expecting to discover anything new and peaceful on a recent weekday visit to the Aquarium of the Pacific. I love the place and was looking forward to showing it to Theo, but this was at least my fifth trip here and I knew what to expect: impressive collections of sting rays, sharks, and clownfish, surrounded by lots and lots of kids on school field trips.

But we took our time exploring and reached the tanks of sea jellies after the pint-size crowds had thinned. I never had a chance to stop and appreciate their graceful beauty before. Some tanks housed dozens of tiny luminescent jellies, while others featured just one or two as big as basketballs hovering amid an ethereal blue background. Theo dubbed them flowers at first, but was persuaded to say jellyfish by the end of the day.

The other peaceful element of our trip was lunch on the balcony of the aquarium’s restaurant, Cafe Scuba. I had always assumed it was just another overpriced eatery within an attraction. But the fried fish tacos, at a reasonable $7 and made from locally caught sea bass, rank right up there with east L.A.’s finest. I’m sure the deck gets busy on weekends, but T and I had it (and its fabulous marina views) all to ourselves.

Things to do in L.A. before you die (or move back to Iowa)

November 24, 2010

For a very brief window last month, it looked like we might pack up and leave Los Angeles, and I admit I was a little freaked out. Despite my East Coast roots, I have come to love this city and my never-a-dull-moment existence. So…instead of worrying about the usual tornado of things brought on by moving an entire family across the country (schools, property taxes, and adjusting to more than 6 overcast days a year, e.g.), I focused on all the places I must visit here before departing.

High on my L.A. bucket list (on par with a happy-hour Ray’s Mistake at the Tiki Ti and a hike up to Mount Lowe) was a stop at House of Silvanas in Hollywood. This little bakery-within-a-restaurant makes delectable buttercream cookies that can’t be duplicated elsewhere (except maybe their two other branches in Northern California and the Phillippines).

Silvanas taste like a lighter, ethereal cross between a French macaroon and a cream puff — you may feel the urge to put on an Enya CD or rent “Peter Pan” as you bite into one. They are sold in $10 boxes of 12 and flavors include strawberry, mocha, lemon, and plain buttercream (my favorite).

Even though we’re staying put for now, I ran over and picked up a couple of boxes this week. The little kiosk was still there inside Kusina, a turo-turo market (Filipino fast-food joint) near the corner of Fountain and Vermont Avenues. The braised pork stew at the lunch counter looked good, but on this day I had eyes only for the silvanas.

Check back as I compile and check off more items for my L.A. bucket list. I’m thinking beaches and burgers are next!

The Great Race Place

April 12, 2008

 

Who knew? Santa Anita Racetrack, one-time home of Seabiscuit and still a popular racetrack, lets the public watch the horses warm up every morning from 7:30 to 9:30. There’s no charge, and you can even pick up a decent breakfast at Clockers’ Corner, a small stand surrounded by tables that overlook the track.

We got there around 8 (since Jack had been up since 6), picked up some French Toast, eggs, and coffee, and settled in for the show. Of course, my mechanical-minded son was more interested in the tractors smoothing the field than the horses, but it was fun all the same. The mountain setting really is stunning, and the pristine Art Deco building looks like its in as good a shape as it must have been during Lucky Baldwin’s time.

The Grove for kids

March 31, 2008

The Grove is a perfect example of “If you build it, they will come.” In the late 1990s, it was a dusty lot next to the Third and Fairfax farmer’s market. Today, it’s a shrine to 21st century excess with a Nordstrom, American Girl, Apple Store, and movie theater that charges $12 a head. But I have to admit, it’s a great place to bring small kids. The parking is easy (if you time it right and avoid the garage) and there’s a fountain in the central courtyard that “performs” a la Disney’s Fantasia to Frank Sinatra tunes. Every Thursday there’s an event geared to kids on the velvety green lawn: a concert, e.g., or a petting zoo. We caught a concert there last week and it was fun, though very, very crowded. Lots of $900 strollers and $200 haircuts.

Thankfully, they left the old farmer’s market standing when they built the mall. My favorite part of the excursion was sitting there at an outdoor table with Jack eating pizza and Caesar salad from Patsy D’Amore’s stand. It serves the best pizza in L.A. if you ask me.

Then we grabbed an apple fritter from Bob’s Doughnuts, got our parking validation stamped, and headed home. Will we be back? Likely, but not anytime soon.

The healing power of pancakes

March 11, 2008

Banana pancakes for Jack. Asparagus and tomato omelet for mom. Breakfast out on a Tuesday feels decadent, but it carried both of us through the rest of the day. It helps to have a kid-friendly diner, Dish, that serves parent-friendly fare like Portobello mushrooms and applewood-smoked bacon. Jack’s enthusiastic appetite continues to amaze me. He let out a giddy cackle when his pancakes arrived, then proceeded to dig in, brows knit in concentration as he speared each piece and drowned it in syrup.