"The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page." ~Augustine of Hippo
“I have found out that there ain't no surer way to find out whether you like people
or hate them than to travel with them.” ~Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer Abroad
“I have found out that there ain't no surer way to find out whether you like people
or hate them than to travel with them.” ~Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer Abroad
|The Getty Villa is located in Pacific Palisades in Southern California.|
For all my good planning leading into vacation, there are always variables that come into play, where I think to myself, "Why did I bother to plan at all?" I then repeat aloud my sister Juliette's sentiment, exchanging my name for hers, "Michelle plans and the universe laughs."
For starters, ten days before vacation, my husband threw out his back. Fortunately, it wasn't the type of injury that left him immobile, lying on the floor, praying for the end of time. He was still upright, but walking in that crab-style kind of way that silently shouts back injury for anyone that cares to notice. Vacation to Jay felt like impending doom because much of his time would be spent in the car driving long stretches to Las Vegas, down to San Diego, onward to Marina Del Rey, and then finally back home to Tucson. As days were crossed off the calendar and vacation drew ever nearer, and my hen-pecking escalated, Jay finally went to the doctor to get a prescription for muscle relaxers.
The road trip started by driving our truck to Las Vegas so that my daughter Maddie could compete in an annual karate tournament. Maddie did well competing, sustaining no injuries, and winning second place in forms and first in weapons for her rank and age group. Competing? Not a problem. 'Twas the awards dinner that did her in. At the banquet table she rose to participate in a standing ovation and when she went to sit again, her chair was not where it was supposed to be. Down, down she went, just like Rock Lobster. Maddie precariously teetered on her 4-inch heels—her internal reality switching into slow-motion—as she fell backwards to the ground, wrenching her ankle. Being young and carefree, she thought, "Oh, my ankle hurts but it's not that bad," and proceeded to dance the night away until the clock struck midnight. Maddie learned two important things that night. One, always use a hand to feel for your chair before committing to sitting. Two, ice injuries as quickly as possible. Cinderella woke the next morning with a horrendous cankle and an inquiring mind that wanted to know where the hotel's ice machine was located.
For my part, I bypassed Las Vegas and flew straight to San Diego, by plane and not on a broom (just in case you were wondering). As a working girl (hee, hee), I only have so much vacation time, and I need to keep a couple vacation days in reserve for the latter part of the year. Our initial plan had us meeting at Hilton Del Mar in the late afternoon so we could head directly to the beach to sink our toes into the sand, delight in the crashing waves, and hear the cries of the seagulls. Afterwards, we'd surely enjoy a lovely dinner at a restaurant that had a view to the ocean and the setting sun. What we didn't count on when we came up with the brilliant plan was invincible traffic. It was Sunday, after all. Jay said it took two hours, on a three lane highway, to travel 28 miles between Las Vegas and the California border. According to Google, the trip should have taken 6-1/2 hours. In reality, nearly 10 hours went slowly by as Maddie and Jay made their way from the sandy desert to sandy paradise with a throbbing back and a pulsating ankle.
|This is how I roll at the beach.|
Our upgraded room's patio had direct access to a pathway that led to the pool, and not much further on, to the outdoor seating area complete with fire-pit tables and the restaurant beyond where each morning we ordered "to go" two extra-hot lattes and one hot chocolate. After our daily morning hot beverage ritual, Jay headed to the Jacuzzi to put direct heat his lower back, while Maddie slowly came to life with the aid of her iPhone. I continued reading a historical mystery novel while my wet, clean hair slowly dried in the humid California air.
While I read, the morning fog quickly cleared, birds chirped melodies, and kids happily splashed in the pool. And a few dogs strolled by, owners in tow, to complete their morning toilet, which wasn't so pleasing when it was on the sidewalk next to my little patio. Oh joy. The owners, who were standing drowsily 4 feet away from me, tried to pretend it wasn't happening and could barely muster a hello. I especially appreciated the folks who, when I was out of sight, would let their dogs do their business and then not pick up afterwards. Seriously? Oh, and I got to pay $20.00 more for that, but I suppose it was still worth it under the circumstances, just for the good access to the pool and coffee.
Due to dealing with assorted injuries, eating breakfast and maintaining morning grooming rituals, I don't recall once getting an early start, regardless of what activity we had planned for the day. I tried wholeheartedly not to sweat it too much, assuring myself that carefully crafted plans are bound to change. C'est la vie—that's life. We were on vacation after all, and we'd just do what we could do and nothing more. I'd take a deep breath, slowly exhale, put a smile on my face, and made a silent personal commitment to go with the flow.
|Americana in Del Mar serves up great breakfasts, or as we like to call it: brunch. |
We happily dined there twice and they served the full menu all day.
Part of a mother's job is to constantly carp about the importance of sun screen to the younger generation, particularly in the summer months. Even though Maddie has been applying her own sun screen for eons, I still must ask the obvious, I just can't help myself. Did you apply sunscreen? Was it applied all over? Not just a smear, right? But, a thick layer? Did you get your ears? And, the tops of your feet? My daughter, who is nearing the age where she will be granted the right to vote, looks bored, eyes directed toward heaven, her mouth repeating "yes" five times to reply to my obviously annoying questions. And, yet, after two hours at the beach, Maddie, sporting a grimace, has a sunburn. A neon pink sunburn, I might add, on the back of her thighs.
Now, on top of her cankle, my only child, who has skin so pale it would be coveted by ladies in the Victorian age, has seared skin to deal with for the next few days. Turns out, Jay got a burn, too. And, even moi, who loathes sunbathing and foregoes it altogether, my face was pink despite slathering loads of sun screen and covering my head with a wide brimmed hat. The culprit? Not irresponsibility, but lotion gone bad. I hate it when that happens. Without delay, off we went to the local Whole Foods to buy a tube of aloe gel and new sun screen. Then we drowned our sorrows by sharing a refreshing, jumbo serving of frozen yogurt, from the appropriately named Yogurtland. Maddie showered the ginormous heap of multi-flavored deliciousness with crumbled toffee, chocolate chips and slices of fresh strawberries. The moral to this story? Start your vacation with a new tube of sun block. When things get really bad, share a sweet treat and then start anew like a Phoenix rising from the flames.
|Thank goodness Maddie packed a black skirt so she didn't have to stuff burned thighs into jeans.|
|A giant Panda, whittles away a thin piece of bamboo.|
|A big hippopotamus smile just for you.|
|Good thing there was glass between the angry Bonobo and me, |
otherwise I would have gotten some dirt on me.
|This birds-eye view was captured during our gondola ride at the zoo.|
The next day we vacation pioneers faced the zoo with a thrown out back, a cankle and one major sunburn. Fortunately, before embarking on the trip, my friend Stephanie offered her experienced advice for visiting the zoo. She recommended that upon entering the park our first stop should be to take the bus ride, which loops the park while the driver provides a narrative on what to see and do over the course of a visit. Additionally, my friend Dave advised we arrive early because the zoo can be scorching hot in the afternoon. At least we got one out of two suggestions nailed. What we learned most of all from our seats on the double-decker, open-air bus, is that the zoo is built upon hills and valleys and one cannot get from "here" to "there" without without a serious groaning engine and a downshifting motor. I kept remembering the stress on that motor as I trudged up a hill, or leaned slightly backwards, trying to keep my balance while descending an incline.
Directly after the bus tour, to put less stress on the cankle, we jumped on Skyfari to take a gondola ride to the other side of the zoo. What becomes apparent very quickly is that the San Diego Zoo, unlike Disneyland, is not the happiest place on earth. Throughout the park I witnessed arguing couples of every nationality, and mostly heard crying kids (my favorite thing—not). Granted it was late afternoon, because as I wrote earlier, we couldn't arrive at any of our daily destinations until after lunch. By the time we were on foot, loose in the zoo, most visitors had been sweating it out all day, walking here and walking there. People, mostly parents, looked flat out tired, especially when a child adamantly refused to walk another step and demanded to be picked-up and carried. The lucky ones were those couples who had kids that were asleep in strollers. Maddie and I jointly took notice of how many double-wide strollers were hogging walkways making the narrow path an obstacle course of sorts.
Really "walking" the zoo is a misnomer, it is more like "climbing" the zoo. And even though there is a Kangaroo Express Bus, the bus stops didn't seem to be where we found ourselves when we were ready to be picked-up. The Zoo acknowledges, in plain language on the map, that there are barriers to access around the park and that, "many are technically not feasible to remove." Inside of two hours, I was ready for a "Zoo Brew", if you know what I mean, but settled for an iced coffee instead. I'm glad we went, and spent some money that will go towards animal conservation, but in reality, next trip, I'll just spend more time at the beach with a new tube of sun screen.
Oh, and before I forget to share, the big take away, the learning opportunity of the day, is that if you want to help preserve rain forests and save exotic animals from extinction, the one thing that you can do right here at home is to buy and drink shade grown coffee. As Linda likes to say, "Vote with your dollars. It's the easiest form of activism."
|The entrance to El Agave in Del Mar Plaza. Considering my love for Dia De Los Muertos, |
it is no surprise that I adore the image of Katrina painted on the table used as a hostess stand.
|The sun sets as we enjoy both the view and dinner at El Agave.|
|The food at El Agave was fantastic, especially the moles. The margaritas were authentic, too.|
|After dinner at El Agave, we determined another visit to Del Mar's public beach was necessary.|
Dinner was fantastic. On my quest to eat as much fish and shellfish as possible while on vacation, I ordered large shrimp accented with a mango sauce. I was really torn, though, about ordering crustaceans over a specialty mole dish, because the restaurant prided itself on its variety of moles and offered many enticing dishes to tempt me. Noting my deliberation, our server kindly offered to bring us a couple of moles to try with our chips. The Amarillo and Verde moles were to die for. Seriously. That experience has renewed my interests in the seven moles of Oaxaca and I am planning to make each mole in the months ahead. One more authentic margarita later, with a scrumptious dinner in my belly, and all was once again right in the world.
|Jay commented that the lobby of "The Dell" looked like a ship with dark wood and brass accents.|
|A view of the public beach on Coronado Island.|
If I could invite two people to dinner, perhaps I would choose L. Frank Baum, and the author of Alice In Wonderland, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (just try to say that three times fast), who wrote under the pseudonym of Lewis Carroll (gee, I wonder why?). The gentleman were certainly both fans of anthropomorphism. Perhaps that could be a topic of conversation. In which case, I'd want Tom Robbins to be seated at the table as well. If Tom Robbins was there, well, I'd absolutely must invite my sisters. Who knows where the conversation would lead (down the metaphysical yellow brick road) between appetizers and desserts. Alice was published in 1865, and Wizard in 1900, so we can easily determine who influenced whom.
On a more practical note, if you find yourself tired and hungry on Coronado, in need of a midday lift after touring the famous hotel, browsing through gift stores and three surf apparel shops, I can highly recommend the shrimp cocktail at Costa Azul on Orange Avenue. For the low, low price of $8.95, I was presented with six jumbo shrimp and a small cup of spicy cocktail sauce. Fortunately, for once, the "jumbo" shrimp description was not false advertising. I was especially happy that my husband ordered his own muy grande shrimp cocktail, so I didn't have to share a single one of my big-ass shrimp, not even with my daughter, who was quite content with chicken enchiladas for her late afternoon pick-me-up. On a side note, my favorite shrimp cocktail is still the one I make at home... you can find the recipe here, but it is admittedly significantly easier to order it off the menu at Costa Azul.
|Into The Woods has been extended until August 17th. See it if you can.|
|We enjoyed walking back to the car after the show because the park is equally gorgeous at night.|
|The Getty Villa is a little slice of Italian-inspired paradise in Malibu, California.|
Since the grand opening of Getty Museum Los Angeles in December 1997, I have read very little about the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades, which more often than not, is also referred to as Malibu (the two beach neighborhoods share a common border). The Getty Villa richly deserves any positive acclaim directed its way. The Getty Villa is an absolute marvel and I highly recommend it to everyone. Even if museums aren't your thing, the architecture and gardens at The Villa are simply amazing. The museum was the mastermind of Jean Paul Getty, the billionaire oilman, who had a tough exterior and an internal soft spot for Roman and Greek Antiquities and French furniture. The industrialist and oil tycoon began collecting European treasures in the 1940s and 50s and displayed the sculptures, paintings, vessels, jewelry and furniture in his ranch house, which opened to the public in 1954.
To better house his ever growing collection, Getty decided to build a close replica of a first-century Roman country house, the Villa dei Papiri, located in Herculaneum, Italy, near Pompeii. The Villa was destroyed in AD 79 when Vesuvius erupted and entombed the buildings and land in volcanic ash. According to Wikipedia, "Its remains were first excavated in the years between 1750 and 1765 by Karl Weber by means of underground tunnels. Its name derives from the discovery of a library in the house containing 1,785 carbonized papyrus scrolls, the Herculaneum papyri." The site was partially excavated again in the 1990s. Currently the site is maintained under the government's conservation policies, which does not include further excavation at this time.
The archaeological excavation fascinated Getty and his visits to the site stayed with him over the years. Getty's Mediterranean-style ranch house still sits proudly on a hill overlooking the Villa and is currently used for administration purposes. The Villa opened in 1974 while Getty was living in England. He died two years later without seeing the site that he commissioned and whose progress he closely monitored from abroad. His chosen architect would visit him frequently providing progress updates on the construction.
After the Getty Museum Los Angeles opened, the Villa was closed to the public for remodeling and expansion, which took eight years to complete. The Villa now has a focused collection of antiquities related to ancient Greece, Rome, and Etruria. The French furniture was moved to the LA location. The introduction to the site from the complimentary map reads, "From your arrival at the Entry Pavilion, travel the Path to Museum, which offers views of the entire site. From this perspective, you can look at the J. Paul Getty Museum below as you would an archaeological excavation." As you might well imagine, great attention has been directed to even the tiniest of details.
During the late 1970s or early 80s, I remember visiting The Villa with my mother and sisters. It was a beautiful day and I recall being seated at a bench in the Outer Peristyle overlooking the shallow pool, manicured gardens and in the distance, the Pacific Ocean. The experience made my heart sing. I visited again in 1990 with my future husband, wanting to experience the beauty of the museum and grounds once again.
When The Villa was closed for renovations, my sisters and I and our cousin Syd, spent a lovely afternoon at Getty Los Angeles marveling at the collections. For me the highlights that day were paintings by the Impressionists, including Vincent van Gogh's Irises, and the extensive collection of illuminated manuscripts. Admission to both Getty locations is free with a nominal fee for parking. Reservations are highly recommended. Both locations are worthy of visits, but I must say that I am partial to The Villa.
After checking-out of our hotel room in Del Mar thirty minutes late, much to my chagrin, we traveled north and agreed to make quick stops in Huntington Beach and Redondo Beach along the way to check out the local scenes. Our original goal was to arrive in Marina Del Rey in the early afternoon so we could scoot on over to Venice to catch the street shows and take in the spectacle around Muscle Beach. By the time we drove up and down the streets in search of parking, and finally snagging an ideal spot just blocks from the beach, it was nearing twilight.
Fortunately, we were able to catch the last 15 minutes or so of a street performance and we obligingly threw $10.00 into the hat before the grand finale of two aerobatic kids flying Evel Knievel-style (without motorcycles, just pure centrifugal force) over the bent backs of folks that were handpicked from the audience to participate in the friendly, and often humorous, shenanigans of the experienced show-biz team that was effectively working the crowd of spectators.
Once the show came to a successful conclusion, Maddie, Jay and I wandered over to the beach that was just steps away. The waves gently lapped the wet sand. I quickly snapped a few photos of graffiti-covered cement structures before the sky went from blue to grey as the horizon swallowed the sun with little fanfare color-wise to enhance the experience. I thought to myself, one more day of vacation just about done.
What is pretty telling about Venice Beach is that there is absolutely no loitering on or near the sand after the sun goes down. The police politely asked us to leave along with everyone else on or near the beach, including the grassy areas. I'm surprised on our way out that the officers didn't advise us in quiet voices to gird our loins and guard our wallets. Without needing to be told anything further, because we could determine the obvious, we picked up our pace, navigating upstream against the tide of street kids, vagrants and tourists and headed back to the truck. Within ten minutes we were parking at The Jamaican Bay Inn and we made a plan to go as quickly as possible to the Jacuzzi.
|The Jamaican Bay Inn kindly, without prompting, upgraded our room to a marina view.|
|A marina view, that is, from our second story balcony, which was quite nice.|
|The Warehouse Restaurant had a roving photographer that talked us in to buying a print.|
|Our table overlooked the marina at Tony P's Dockside Grill in Marina Del Rey. Great eats!|
|At The Warehouse, we were fortunate to be seated at the corner table overlooking the marina.|
|After dinner, the family sinks into the Jacuzzi.|
I will close with the following two quotes from author Erma Bombeck, which seem to encapsulate my lingering thoughts about my seemingly too short Southern California adventure:
"The family. We are a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another's desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together." And this, "There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt."
This I know to be true. I love my family, through thick and thin, excitement and monotony, bad times and good times. It's all about solidarity and finding the humor in day-to-day life. Laughter is truly the best medicine. Keep laughing, my friends, keep laughing.
Cajun-Inspired Killer Shrimp
The original Killer Shrimp Restaurant and Bar was a small establishment that prepared one, very popular, Cajun-inspired spicy shrimp dish served three ways: with bread, ladled over rice, or tossed with noodles, and delivered to your table with some attitude by tattooed, wise-cracking waitresses. That location shut down and the restaurant reopened in Marina Del Rey, with a view to the water and yachts in their slips. When I was performing pre-vacation reconnaissance to uncover good places to eat on Yelp, reviewers seemed to be underwhelmed by Killer Shrimp's new larger location and expanded menu. Even though there was a lot of griping about the restaurant's service, the complainers (despite operational complaints) were quite enthusiastic about the "secret" recipe for killer shrimp. Along with the restaurant listing in Google, a handful of links popped up for copy cat "Killer Shrimp" recipes.
Upon checking into to our hotel, I asked the hotel staff for nearby restaurant recommendations. I was given hearty referrals to The Warehouse and Tony P's Dockside Grill. Since inquiring minds want to know, I asked about Killer Shrimp, whose location I could see across the street. Ms. Front Desk, nodded her head no and added, "I heard from multiple people that it is not that good." If I was local, I'd give it a try, but being on vacation, I wanted more of a sure bet for my dining pleasure. I didn't know then, but I know now, that the owner of Killer Shrimp has a brother in the restaurant biz who owns JACKshrimp in Newport Beach. Both men have built successful restaurants upon their Grandma's recipe.
|If you have the time, defrost frozen shrimp directly in a brine.|
If you don't want the mess, which I usually don't, simply peel and reserve the raw shrimp, and add the peels (and tails, if you like) to the broth. The bummer is that you will need to strain the broth towards the end of cooking. The shrimp shells add, what the French say, a certain je ne ce quoi. If you skip the step of making a shrimp broth, you'll detect that something is missing, but you won't be adequately able to describe what.
To be completely honest, I'm not breaking new territory here. I simply culled through several copy cat recipes and a lot of readers comments and blog posts, in particular, Kurt's Thoughts, whose tenacious author wrote six separate blog posts on his quest to perfect the ultimate Killer Shrimp recipe. One of the recipe commenters suggested subbing Clamato juice for the clam juice and tomato paste, which could be an interesting idea depending upon what's in your pantry.
Finally, as the pot boiled away on the stove, my husband asked what was stinking up the house. "Dinner," I retorted. Then, definitely using my best manners, I stuck my tongue out at him. When he finally cajoled me in to telling him that the pungent smell was the byproduct of the simmering broth for Killer Shrimp, he remarked that the odor was "killing" the house. Nice. Perhaps it is best to prepare the broth on a day when you can open your windows instead of just turning on the exhaust fan. It's summer in Tucson, so we won't be opening the windows until sometime in November, and I couldn't wait that long. A girl's got to do what a girl's got to do.
|Oregano, thyme and rosemary are picked fresh from my container garden.|
2 pounds cleaned shrimp, peels and tails reserved, and brined, if you wish (I used 21-25 count per pound)
2 quarts low-sodium chicken broth, preferably homemade
8 ounces clam juice
8 Tbsps unsalted butter
5 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsps tomato paste
2 Tbsps Worcestershire sauce
1-1/2 Tbsps fresh rosemary or 2 tsps dried
1 Tbsp fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried
1 lemon, scrubbed and cut in half and then quarters (omit if you will be adding wine instead of beer)
1 bay leaf
2 tsps fresh oregano or 1/2 tsp dried
2 tsps sweet paprika
1 tsp saffron
1 tsp celery seed
1 tsp fennel seed
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
12-ounces beer (I'd use a lager, such as Sam Adams), or gluten-free beer or 1 cup dry white wine
some hot sauce, if you think it needs a little more kick, such as Tobasco, Crystal or Frank's Buffalo
sea salt, to taste (I added 1 tsp)
about 1 Tbsp sugar to balance acidity, optional
warmed good crusty loaves of bread to sop up the broth, or
prepared rice, or
al dente rice noodles or wheat pasta
|I made this loaf of sourdough bread using Juliette's Artisinal methods.|
1. Place all the ingredients, except beer or wine and shrimp, in a large pot. Add the shrimp peels and tails. Bring the broth to a boil, then place a lid slightly ajar over the pot, and reduce heat to maintain a simmer for one hour.
2. Remove the shells with a mesh strainer and discard. Add the beer (regular or gluten-free) or the wine and continue to simmer for two more hours.
3. Add salt and hot sauce to taste. Add sugar, if desired.
4. Just before serving, remove shrimp from brine and give a quick rinse. Add all the shrimp to the simmering broth. Simmer and stir until shrimp are just cooked through, about 2 minutes.
5. Portion servings of shrimp into individual bowls and ladle broth over.
6. Serve shrimp with sliced bread to sop up the sauce. For a gluten-free option, serve the shrimp over prepared rice or al dente rice noodles. Serves 8.
|I discovered that Hibiscus blooms in a variety of hues, including red, white, pink and yellow.|
The flowering shrubs are planted all over San Diego.
|Self-portrait with camera reflected in Maddie's new Rayban's.|