Weekend in San Diego

NOTE:  Due to my limited WordPress skills, I’m having some issues with the formatting of text next to the photos of the Model Railroad Museum.  I’ll have to revise the post later to address that because I’m headed out for the evening.  If anyone knows how to get the rogue “We” in the sentence that begins “We were headed to the Timken…” to move down with the rest of its verbal friends, I’d be most grateful for any suggestions!

On Thursday the 17th, we went to see Hum, one of my all time favorite bands, at the Regent Theater in downtown Los Angeles.  Because I am too old to be out on Thursday night and go to work the next day, I took a personal day on Friday the 18th; we decided that the resulting three-day weekend would be a good opportunity to visit San Diego.

We got a ride from Marlene’s sister to Union Station on Friday morning and rode the train to Santa Fe Depot.

Our hotel, the Bristol, was a 10-minute walk from the train station. We checked in and went across the street to the restaurant in the Sofia Hotel for happy hour.  (Later, I discovered that the Sofia is an “upscale” renovation of the old Pickwick Hotel, which I knew from my college days as it was next to the Greyhound Station at 1st & Broadway.  That bus station has since moved to 13th & National.)  Roasted shishito peppers in aioli dip were the highlight here. We were tired from the night out, so we decided to make it an early night. Unfortunately, an earlier version of this construction scene was underway a half-block from our hotel…

I took this picture on Sunday morning, but it gives the reader an idea of how delightful it was to be a half-block away on Friday night & early Saturday morning.
I took this picture on Sunday morning, but it gives the reader an idea of how delightful it was to be a half-block away on Friday night & early Saturday morning.

…and a jackhammer drill was running much of the night.

We eventually fell asleep, and went out Saturday to visit Balboa Park, which I’d been wanting to visit for awhile because of the ongoing events in celebration of the park’s centennial. Before we went, though, we stopped at Donut Bar on B Street.

Photo by Marlene Caldera
Photo by Marlene Caldera
Photo by Marlene Caldera
Photo by Marlene Caldera

Wow. This place had some tasty donuts. We ordered Funfetti & Creme Brûlée, which are vegan, as well as Pop Tart & Mexican Hot Chocolate.

The Creme Brûlée was tasty, though I’m not sure how much I like the “burnt,” hard topping on a donut. The Funfetti was an unqualified success though, salty & sweet at the same time.  When we got back to San Gabriel, I had a taste of the other donuts; the Mexican Hot Chocolate was delicious, with hints of cinnamon, and the Pop Tart surprised me by not being overly sweet.  (I never liked Pop Tarts, even as a child, because of their saccharine sweetness.)

We took the donuts back to our room, then caught the 7 bus and got off at the stop on Park Blvd at Zoo Pl.  We made the short walk along the grass down to the Desert Garden, and took a stroll through this space before reaching the rose garden.  My grandpa, who worked for the city as his second career after retiring from the Navy in the 1960s, tended this garden. I’m not certain, but we suspect that at least some of the roses he grew at his house were from cuttings taken here.

The scent from the roses is delightful. We sat under the gazebo for a bit and enjoyed the view of flowers and Florida Canyon before moving on across the pedestrian bridge.

A miniature trolley moves past the recreation of the Botanical Building. Photo by Marlene Caldera.
A miniature trolley moves past the recreation of the Botanical Building. Photo by Marlene Caldera
Marlene captures photographic evidence that demonstrates I am really five years old.
Marlene captures photographic evidence that demonstrates I am really five years old.

We were headed to the Timken, but along the way we stopped at the Casa de Balboa building for a drink of water, and I saw the Model Railroad Museum. I half-persuaded, half-begged Marlene to go in with me. It had been awhile since I’d been there; it will probably not be surprising that this was a favorite place of mine when I was little. It was much as I remembered it, but for the 2015 celebration, the museum has added an outdoor “centennial garden” which includes recreations of Balboa Park buildings.  My favorite was the miniature Botanical Building and Lily Pond. There’s also a recreation of the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.

We had lunch at the Prado, and then moved on to the Timken, which had a Vermeer painting on loan from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.  We had seen Raphael’s Madonna of the Pinks, on loan from the National Gallery in London, in December.

Unfortunately, I incorrectly assumed that the Vermeer loan would be through the end of year; instead, its last day at the Timken was September 13. However, the museum’s most-celebrated painting, Rembrandt’s “Saint Bartholomew”  – which was in Europe for nearly a year in exchange for the Raphael and the Vermeer – was back on display, which made for a nice consolation to my disappointment at having missed the Vermeer.

This is my favorite painting. I have seen more famous paintings and perhaps more beautiful paintings, but the fact that this piece hangs in a free museum in my native burg puts it at the top of the list. A reproduction can hardly capture the astonishing range of shades Rembrandt captured in this painting of deceptively simple appearance. Even the background seems to have a thousand different shades of dark brown and black; it swirls behind St. Bartholomew with menace and premonition. Add to this range of shades the starkness of the composition: the saint holds the instrument of his martyrdom and, as the Timken website notes, appears to be “contemplating his own demise.”

After I enjoyed the Rembrandt, we crossed the Cabrillo Bridge (dedicated by then-Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1914) and spent a bit of time at Marlene’s favorite spot in the park: the Nate’s Point off-leash dog park.  We sat on the bridge and watched the dogs play for about an hour before heading back through the park to catch the 7 bus back to the Bristol.

Headed back across the Cabrillo Bridge, with the California Tower prominent. Photo by Marlene Caldera
Headed back across the Cabrillo Bridge, with the California Tower prominent. Photo by Marlene Caldera

After resting for a bit in our hotel room, we decided to go to Old Town for dinner. Admittedly, Old Town is touristy, but – as with Olvera Street – we enjoy visiting. We browsed the Fiesta de Reyes, where I bought some chile pepper seeds and Marlene got a couple of books for our nephew at Gepetto’s Toys, and then had a relaxing dinner at El Patio de Old Town.

It was not as good as El Patio in El Monte, but then again, what is? I had a light meal of tortilla soup and caesar salad, which was good if not memorable, and shared some of Marlene’s rice and tortillas. The tortillas were handmade and quite good, the hotter of the two salsas was delicious, and the staff were friendly.

Sunday morning, I tried to get more donuts, but the line was out the door almost to the corner, so I had to settle for a tasty bottle of cold brew from Westbean Coffee Roasters on Broadway.  We walked the few blocks back to Santa Fe Depot and were on our way back to Los Angeles aboard the train.

A sun-drenched view of the Santa Fe Depot from the train
A sun-drenched view of the Santa Fe Depot from the train
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Chiles in the garden & a rose

A few months ago, a lady began selling plants, including a wide variety of chiles, at the Alhambra Farmers’ Market.  Inspired by Gustavo Arellano‘s Facebook posts on growing chiles and by the “Hot Peppers” episode of Visiting With Huell Howser, I bought a couple of plants from the lady at the farmers’ market.  I bought a few more over the next month or so, and I now have six chile plants:

* Fresno
* Apache
* Chile de arbol
* Black Cobra
* Bombero
* Piquin

Three weeks ago, I picked the first peppers from my little garden.  (I only thought to take pictures after I had eaten some of the first crop!)

I cooked up the first Fresno chile & the first chile de arbol with some cauliflower, shallots, and garlic.    I cooked the Apache chiles with a tofu scramble, but first I took a bite of the skin.

I am a rather cowardly person when it comes to physical pain.  The exceptions are in the garden and on the soccer field – and now the Apache pepper.  It burns, but its combination of sweetness and heat is heavenly.  Then it hurts, hurts, hurts, but it’s worth it.

And that’s just the skin!  I haven’t been brave enough to eat the seeds by themselves.  I cook with the seeds, but I balance the heat a bit with lime.

Here is last weekend’s pick, which includes the first Black Cobra as well as Apaches & chiles de arbol.

The small peppers are the potent Apaches, and the longer one is the Black Cobra.
The small peppers are the potent Apaches, and the longer one is the Black Cobra.
Though the large unripe pepper looks like a Fresno or a jalapeño, these are all chiles de arbol.
Though the large unripe pepper looks like a Fresno or a jalapeño, these are all chiles de arbol.

The Black Cobra is also delicious, hotter than the Apache even, but without the Apache’s sweetness.  The chile de arbol, which is common in Mexican cooking, is smokier and not as hot.

The Piquin, which is also advertised as smoky, has borne fruit but the peppers are still unripe.  The Bombero, last of the plants to blossom, has put out flowers but no fruit yet.

Finally, here are a few photos of a pink miniature rose that bloomed last week.  My interest in gardening is intimately linked to my memories of my grandpa, whose second career (after years in the Navy) was as a gardener at Balboa Park.  This is one of the roses that I was able to transplant from his garden eight years ago after he died and we had to sell his house.

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