Las Vegas is not only about drinking and gambling. While visiting in January with my daughter and my best friends we stumbled upon something unique and fun. We read about old cigarette machines that have been refurbished into dispensers for original art.
Artist Clark Whittington came up with the idea of the Art-0-mat in 1997 in Winston Salem, North Carolina. He used the vending machine to dispense his art for $1. There are now vending machines scattered across the United States. Each machine dispenses original works of art.
An Art Scavenger Hunt
There are Art-o-mat machines in the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas. We were staying at Treasure Island and we chose to walk down the strip to the Cosmopolitan and although it was 40 degrees outside we stopped at Fat Tuesday for frozen drinks. I had a drink that tastes like a creamsicle. They serve the drinks in a cute acrylic to-go cup. And Vegas being Vegas, I took my drink with me on the walk.
Finding the Art-o-mat Machines
There are six refurbished cigarette machines in the lobby and hallways at the Cosmopolitan. Finding the machines is half the fun. After walking around we found the first one. First, we made change, because the machines only accept $5 bills. With money in hand, we had the hard choice of what artist to pick. I inserted my $5 and pulled a lever. The art comes out in a small 2″ x 3′ box. My first piece of art was an abstract mounted on a block. Nicole put in her $5 and got a pair of cork earrings. Feeling successful we wandered on a looked for the next machine.
Art At The Cosmopolitan
The Cosmopolitan is filled with art. The walls have large-scale murals, photographs, and sculptures. The Cosmopolitan wants their art to be interactive and accessible. In other words, some of their art is in the middle of the hallway and it looks like it is meant to be touched consequently, we enjoyed walking around looking at all the art while we were looking for more Art-o-mat vending machines.
Hunting For More Art
As we continue on our hunt for more Art-o-mat vending machines, but we have better luck with some machines than others. A few times we put in our $5 bill and we get nothing in return. We don’t let it deter us. Nicole is in charge of locating all six of the Art-o-mat machines and I’m happy to say that we found them all. We love the pieces of art that we collected. The Art-o-mat is helping to make art accessible for everyone. For $5 you can be an art collector too. Therefore, now that we experienced a fun scavenger hunt, our interest is piqued and we are planning more trips to find Art-o-mat vending machines in other states.
Riverside, California is located in the Inland Empire about 55 miles East of Los Angeles. Downtown Riverside is home to the University of Riverside, the famous Mission Inn, and Mount Rubidoux. There is plenty of street parking and parking garages or there is a Metro Stop that offers shuttles to local downtown areas.
Mount Rubidoux has been designated as a park and a landmark. At one point the land was purchased by the owners of the Mission Inn. The land is now owned by the city of Riverside. Mountain Rubidoux is known for its Easter Sunday services. In 1909 the first non-denominational outdoor Easter Sunrise Service in the United States was held at the top of Mount Rubidoux.
Parking at Mount Rubidoux
It is easiest to park your car at Ryan Bonaminio Park. The address is 5000 Tequesquite Ave, Riverside, CA 92506. Ryan Bonaminio is a sports park and it has a lot of parking spaces. From the park, there is easy access to the mountain. Head up the street about a quarter-mile from the parking lot, and you will reach the start of the trail. There are no bathrooms at Mount Rubidoux, but there is one at Ryan Bonaminio Park. At the beginning of the trail at Mount Rubidoux, there is a place to fill your water bottles and there are trash cans along the trail.
Hiking in the City
Mount Rubidoux boasts over 3 miles of hiking trails. There is a 2.7-mile round-trip trail. The trail is paved which makes it a great choice for days when your normal trails are covered with mud. The trail only gains a little of 350 feet in incline, so it is rated as easy. I have seen numerous people pushing baby strollers up to the top. When you get to the top there are a few areas to explore. The World Peace Bridge is a beautiful place to stop for a photo.
The Top of Mount Rubidoux
Once you reach the top of Mount Rubidoux there are plenty of places to stop and take in the view. There is built-in seating in the rocks for the sunrise services. We climbed up to the stairs to the base of the cross. The cross is dedicated to Father Serra. According to some old newspaper articles there was some controversy about the separation of church and state and now the small plot of land that holds the cross is owned by a conservancy that is responsible for its upkeep.
Lunch at Tio’s Tacos in Riverside
After hiking back to our car we decided to drive over to Tio’s Tacos. I had driven past Tios when I was on the way to The Mission Inn and the large art out in front of the restaurant piqued my interest. The restaurant is located at 3948 Mission Inn Avenue, Riverside, CA 92501
Eclectic Art in Riverside
We found street parking across the street from Tio’s Tacos. We wandered around the entire outside before we ordered out lunch. The art is all made from upcycled materials. One of my favorite pieces of art at Tio’s is a Christmas tree made from recycled Dos Equis beer bottles. There is a little chapel complete with an altar and pews. I could have spent hours wandering around looking at all the little details.
After hiking and walking around Tio’s looking at the art we were hungry. There is both seating inside and outside at Tio’s and the day we were there it was chilly and extremely windy so we opted for inside.
We went to the counter to order and although it was after 1 pm, I asked if I could order breakfast. The good news is they serve breakfast all day. I ordered Chilaquiles with green sauce. Chilaquiles is a traditional Mexican dish with fried corn tortillas simmering with green or red sauce topped with an over-easy egg, sour cream, and cheese. I was happy to see an Aqua Fresca Bar at the front counter therfore I ordered a Mango Agua Fresca and it was very sweet but tasty. After ordering they give you a number and you seat yourself. I am a Chilaquiles connoisseur and my lunch was good, but definitely not the best Chilaquiles I’ve eaten. I would go back to Tio’s again just to see the art and maybe I’ll try a taco next time.
We had a good morning exploring Riverside. Mount Rubidoux was a scenic place for a hike and we all enjoyed the art and our lunch at Tio’s Tacos. We will have to plan another day to see some of the other things Riverside has to offer.
June Lake is just a short 5-hour drive from the Los Angeles area on Highway 395, but it seems a world away. June Lake is popular in the spring and summer with the fishermen, during the fall for the leaf peppers and during winter for skiers. The first weekend of October we took a trip to June Lake over a long weekend. We were a little bit early for the peak leaf viewing, but it was beautiful.
Breakfast on the Road
We left the Los Angeles area at 5 a.m. Our first stop was at Great Basin Bakery in Bishop. Great Basin Bakery is a small bakery that bakes delicious, breads, cookies, pastries and serves breakfast and lunch. If you want to avoid the busses full of tourists at Schat’s Bakery, then Great Basin is your place. I ordered two breakfast bagels with eggs, coffee and two giant cowboy cookies to go. I’ve had both breakfast and lunch at Great Basin and both times everything I’ve ordered has been delicious.
Hiking at Little Lakes Valley
After leaving the bakery we continued driving to Little Lakes Valley Trail. The exit is off of 395 at Tom’s Place Resort. After passing Tom’s Place you drive on Rock Creek Rd to Mosquito Flat Trailhead. In the summer I backpacked all over Little Lakes Valley, but this day we were there for a day hike. We hiked into Heart Lake. Dylan spent the morning fishing in the beautiful Alpine Lake and I spent the morning reading. In the afternoon we hung up our hammocks and ate our cowboy cookies and took a little nap. When the wind picked up and we were frozen we hiked back down to the car and drove to June Lake.
June Lake Motel
We had reservations at June Lake Motel. Our room had 2 beds and a small kitchen. During the night a vehicle struck a power transformer close to the Nevada border, but the entire area lost power. We woke up with no power, but the owner of the motel used her generator to make coffee and tea for all the guests. She also told us that they had lanterns for us if the power didn’t come back on before nightfall. I highly recommend the June Lake motel and I will definitely stay there again next time I’m at June Lake.
The first night we were starving after all of our hiking and skipping lunch. We walked from our motel to The Tiger Bar. It is the quintessential small-town bar. They serve bar drinks, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It was packed when we arrived. They had the Dodger playoff game on the television and people were shooting pool. We finally got a table. We ordered a couple of beers a burger and a sandwich. The food was good and the servers were friendly.
Saturday morning when we woke up to no power we walked around the town and there was nowhere open to serve breakfast. The hotel owner told us that we should be able to get a sandwich at the June Lake Junction Cafe. She said that they run on a generator. We drove over there and unfortunately they were not serving any food. We bought some gas station snacks for breakfast and we learned an important lesson. Always have cash. They couldn’t process any payments except for cash and there were cars parked outside at the gas pumps and unfortunately, they don’t work without power.
Hiking to Parker Lake
We had a full tank of gas so we headed out to hike to Parker Lake. The trailhead to Parker Lake is located at the end of the June Lake Loop. After the turn off there is a 2-mile dirt road, that is passable with a normal car. The trail is 3.6 miles out and back. The first mile is the steepest part and then it levels out. The trail is suitable for all levels. The trail starts in the sagebrush and then heads into a nook in the canyon. We were there in October and we walked through a grove of Aspens that was changing colors. After the Aspens, the trail runs parallel to a stream and then straight into a forest. The payoff of the hike is the lake. Parker Lake is on the backside of Yosemite and the views are jaw-dropping. We spent the day fishing and exploring. There were a few people that were camping at the lake. There are no bathrooms and fires are not permitted at the lake. At the end of the day, we hiked back down. We were treated with great views of Mono Lake off in the distance.
Dinner at June Pie Pizza Co.
We drove back to the hotel through the June Lake Loop. We got to look at the other lakes in the loop and the fall foliage that was just starting to turn golden. After driving around all the lakes we parked at our hotel and walked over to T-Bar Social Club. We were following the signs for June Pie Pizza Co. The pizza place is downstairs inside the Social Club. We sat at a table for two and ordered a local hard cider and a beer that were both on tap and a large Margherita Pizza. Our expectations were not high for the pizza and fortunately, we were 100% wrong. That was some of the best pizza that we have ever had. The crust was thin and it was cooked perfectly. It tasted like authentic New York Pizza.
Breakfast To Go
Sunday morning I woke up and took a walk around the village. All the stores had pumpkins sitting out front and looked very festive. I walked over to The Lift to get some breakfast to go. I wanted to pick up 2 breakfast burritos that they usually have in the case, but even though it was only 8:30 a.m. they were already sold out. Instead, I order 2 breakfast sandwiches and a latte. I waited 30 minutes for my sandwiches, but they were tasty when we at them and everyone that works at the Lift was very nice.
Time to Head Out
We had an amazing time in the June Lake area and I can’t wait to return. The village is quaint with amazing scenery, comfy accommodations, and a few good restaurants. I’m looking forward to planning my next trip to June Lake.
When visiting Paris it is easy to get caught up in the feeling that you have to rush around and see everything. You can not visit Paris without waiting 3 hours to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, right? Wrong, although I did wait a long time even with prepurchased tickets to go to the top of the Eifel Tower my favorite memories are of the little things that Nicole and did that did not involve long lines or huge crowds. Picnicking on the Siene and at Luxingburg Gardens were the perfect Parsian experince.
Our first full day in Paris we took a food tour in the Montremarte area. Our tour guide was fun and knowledgeable. On our tour we walked around Montremarte collecting items for a large feast that we eventually ate in the wine cellar of their building. Along the way we learned how to pick out chocolates, cheese, meats, bread and wine. We used Secret Food Tour and I highly recommend them. We tasted things we might not have found on our own (like the truffle chesse that I’m still dreaming about) and we had a enjoyable family stlye meal with wine and lively conversation.
Wine that we tasted during our food tour.
The next day with our new found knowledge from the food tour we decided to collect items and have a picnic on the banks of the Seine looking at Notre Dame. I brought a small packable blanket with me from the United States just for such an occasion.
Butter, Butter, Oh Salted French Butter….
We learned on the food tour that most Parisians buy their butter from the local cheese shop. The magic occurs from the addition of the salt crystals. Parisians use butter in recipes for both savory and sweet dishes. They also use it for slathering onto bread.
French butter with salt crystals is delicious. I never appreciated butter until I visited Paris. Our first morning in Paris we walked up the street to the neighborhood bakery. We went inside and the sweetest guy took our order. Our French was rusty and he did not speak English, but we were able to order two croissants. The first bite was pure heaven, light and flaky and we could taste the butter. We stopped in every morning that we were in Paris and tried all of their different croissants and pastries. He became one of our favorite people we encountered in Paris.
Bread is baked fresh every morning. Ask any Parisianer and they will tell you their favorite boulangerie to buy a fresh baguette. We bought two baguettes. One traditional and one La Rustique. The La Rustique has multiple seeds and grains mixed in and is darker than the tradional baguette.
Our favorite Boulangerie
A baguette to go.
We of course had to buy some salted butter to slather on our baguette and we also bought some spreadable cheese. It was good, but it did not come close to the truffle cheese we had on our food tour.
We passed by a farmers market. We bought a basket of strawberries. They were so sweet and ripe that the bees were hovering above the fruit like a cloud. I am allergic to bees so I had to stand back and have Nicole pick out and purchase our berries.
Perfect berries from the Farmer’s Market.
We stopped by the boucher and bought some sliced prosciutto. We figured that would be okay to carry around in our bag without being refridgerated.
Wine & Utensils
In Paris like in the United States there are little convience stores mixed inbetween the adorable shops. We stop at a Franprix. They sell a little bit of everything. We picked out a bottle of wine. We did not have a wine opener with us. I asked the lady at the register if she could open our wine and she did without a problem. I was also able to purchase from her plastic utensils and two plastic cups. The price was equivalent of 10 cents each. I have heard that you can also ask waiters on the sidewalk to open your wine for you. There is not a law about drinking in public in Paris.
The Ultimate Picnic Locations
Our first day of picnicking was on the banks of the Seine overlooking Notre Dame. We spread out our blanket and sat down with our legs hanging over the edge of the wall. We watched the passing boats. We had multiple conversations with people in our broken French. People were either strolling by or having pinics or cocktails along the banks as well.
Another evening we had a picnic in front of Notre Dame. We had everything spread out and we were enjoying our wine when a one eyed rat jumped out of the bushes and tried to ambush us. He was too much for us and we had to pack up and relocate.
Cheers in front of Notre Dame.
Our last night in Paris we had a picnic in Luxemburg Gardens and it was beautiful. We were sitting in chairs looking at the garden and the fountain. We watched a man wrangle his ponies from the pony ride and countless couples on dates. We had been at Versaille the day before and this was 1,000 times more peaceful and it was so pretty. I’m sure we would have stayed in the gardens longer, but at sunset guards came around and rounded everybody up. The garden is closed at night. This was the perfect way to end our trip to Paris. I am so glad that we took the time to do the small things in Paris, because those are the memories I am going to cherish.
We had our last picnic at Jardin du Luxembourg and this was our view.
Little Lakes Valley is a little slice of Heaven located outside of Bishop, California. Driving up 395 on the way to Little Lakes Valley there is no indication of the beauty you are about to encounter. On the drive up you see Mt. Whitney and the surrounding mountains, but directly out the car window is isolation and Rabbitbrush. Heading North you exit 395 at Tom’s Place and head up Rock Creek Road. Rock Creek Road is a winding, steep 10-mile, two-lane road that heads straight up. From late spring to early winter you can drive all the way to the trailhead at Mosquito Flats. When there is snow on the ground the road is not plowed and it becomes impassable.
Little Lakes Valley is a chain of lakes that were carved by a glacier. Today the area is used by hikers, backpackers, and fishermen. Permits are required for all backpacking trips and can be reserved up to 6 months in advance at Recreation.Gov. Day hikers and fishermen do not require a permit.
The Begining of The Trail
In July my friend and I set off for a backpacking trip from Mosquito Flat to Gem Lake. The hike is considered moderately strenuous and that is mostly because of the elevation. The trail starts at 10,000 feet. We spent the first night at the backpacker’s camp at the beginning of the trail. The mosquitos were relentless. The trailhead definitely lived up to its name. The next morning we loaded up our backpacks and started up the trail to Gem Lake. Our backpacks were extra heavy because bear cans are required in this area. There are no bear boxes once you start up the trail. On the way up you are walking alongside a river. We went in 2019 and that was a high snow year. Many parts of the trail were covered in water and we were thankful that we wore waterproof boots.
Balancing On A Log
We made it past Box Lake and then we had a water crossing that we were uncomfortable with. We eventually made it across, but Sally got really wet. It is hard to balance on wet logs with a 35-pound backpack on your back.
Picking The Perfect Camp Site
When we got to Long Lake, we met a couple that said it was not a good idea to head to Gem Lake, because there was too much snow. We chose to hike around Long Lake until we found the perfect place to set up our tents for the night. The view of the lake is awe-inspiring. We did some exploring and filtered water and generally just soaked in the beauty. There are no fires allowed in the area. We were able to use our stoves for cooking. We took our stoves down to the shore of the lake and made our dinner and ate watching the fish jump in the lake.
Mosquitoes Are Not My Friend
Unfortunately, by 6 pm we were in our tents with nothing to do but read. The mosquitoes were a force to be reckoned with and no amount of Deet would keep them away.
The next morning we took our daypacks and headed off for Chickenfoot and Gem Lakes. We made it to Chickenfoot without any problems. Getting to Gem was a lot harder. We climbed through giant mounds of snow and it was hard to see the trail.
Sally gouged her leg on a sharp branch and we almost gave up after that. While she sat down and bandage up her leg I scouted around looking for the trail. I eventually found it. We made our way to Gem Lake and it was beautiful.
For the longest time, we were the only two people there. The weather was nice. The wildflowers were in full bloom and the best part is all the snow was keeping the mosquitoes away. After a beautiful afternoon, we headed back to our tents at Long Lake.
After staying at Long Lake we packed up and headed back to Heart Lake. It is a pretty alpine lake with views of Bear Creek Spire as its backdrop. We set up our tents on a hill overlooking the lake. We spent the rest of the day hiking and exploring.
The End Of Our Trip
The next morning we packed up and hiked back out to our car. This backpacking trip was Plan C for us. 2019 was just a high snow year and our Plans A & B were not safe so early in the year. Although this was plan C we had a great time. Little Lake Valley is perfect for day hikes or extended backpacking trips. We saw a lot of people in the daytime and then by late afternoon it would just be the two of us. I’m sure there were other people camping around the lakes, but we never saw anyone after 4 p.m. Other than the mosquitoes (that are no joke) it is the perfect place for a little getaway.
Just mention to family or friends that you are planning a trip to Paris and you will get a long list of must-try food and drinks. My daughter Nicole and I spent 10 days in Paris and we tried to eat our way through a long list of hyped foods.
Bread and Croissants
We found the perfect way to start our morning was with a croissant and an Espresso from Alexine. Alexine was down the street from the hotel we stayed in and it quickly became one of our favorite places. The staff was extremely kind, patient and welcoming to us. Their croissants are fabulous. My favorite was the chocolate croissant and Nicole’s favorite was the almond croissant. Throughout our 10 day stay, we tried many different pastries and they were all amazing. For lunch, we loved to have a picnic with a baguette, butter or cheese, fruit and a bottle of wine. Viva la France.
A Croque Madame is basically a fancy grilled cheese. It is the perfect remedy after a late night of drinking lots of French wine. Nicole and I stopped in Le Vrai Paris. It is an adorable French bistro in Montmarte. We were able to sit outside on the sidewalk. I ordered the Croque Madame and a Cappucino. The cappuccino had a perfect froth of foam and was dusted with powdered chocolate. We had been drinking Esspresso on the run while we were in Paris, so this was a nice treat. A Croque Madame is a large slice of bread covered with gruyere and parmesan cheese, and a slice of ham. The whole sandwich is then put under the broiler. After the broiler, a cooked egg is added to the top. The Croque Madame lived up to the hype and Le Vrai is a lovely place to spend the morning in Montmarte.
Macarons are one of the most decadent and delicious desserts in Paris. Nicole and I sampled our fair share of Macarons during our trip, but we found the perfect Macarons at Christophe Roussel in Monmarte. French macarons are a meringue-based cookie that is surrounding a sweet filling. Each Macaron cost 1.60 euros. Nicole’s favorite flavor is the Passion- Fruit Tarragon. This is a special combination of bold and sweet. My favorite is Lemon because of the combination of sweet and tart. I don’t think they have a flavor that we didn’t like and we tried most of them. Christophe Roussel is where we stopped to buy macarons to take home to our family before we left Paris. Service at Roussel was on point. The ladies that work at Roussel were sweet about our choppy French, they spoke English and they packed up our macarons to survive the long flight home.
French Onion Soup
I was sure that I couldn’t visit France without trying French Onion Soup, but there was one big problem with that plan. We visited Paris in August, not the best month for soup. On the last day of our trip, the weather cooperated with our quest and we set out to find some soup. Nicole and I chose Le Consulat in Montmartre. Le Consult is historic – and there is something so magical about dining in this tiny restaurant where some of the world’s greatest artists found themselves often. Some of the greats hung out at Le Consult like Van Gough, Monet, and Picasso. Nicole and I both ordered the french onion soup and when it arrived it was piping hot and the cheese was melted perfectly. The broth was rich and delicious and didn’t taste like the french onion soup I have eaten in the United States. We sat in front of the restaurant and had a perfect view of everything that was happening in Montmarte.
Escargot, Rosé, Risotto & Créme Brulée
I have tried Escargot before, but this was Nicole’s first time. Escargot is really just an excuse to eat butter and garlic on bread. We chose to eat at Les Antiquaires for an early dinner. We ordered Escargot and the shells were served on a slice of bread. The waiter brought us a basket of bread that we used to dip and scoop the Escargot. Each bite was a perfect combination of butter and garlic. I wouldn’t want to eat Escargot every day, but it really was delicious. At Les Antiquaires we were able to eat outside at a bistro table. Nicole and I had found out that we like the dark red wines of France, but we looked around and all the other tables were drinking Rosé so we ordered a bottle of Rosé. It was lighter and fruiter and I see why Rosé is considered the summer wine in France. For my main course, I ordered mushroom risotto and it was amazing! The risotto was creamy with large mushrooms and freshly shaved parmesan. We shared a Créme Brulée for dessert. The top was a layer of hardened caramelized sugar. Underneath was a rich custard base. We loved this dessert and highly recommend Les Antiquaires.
Chocolat Chaud is Parisian hot chocolate and Angelina is the place to try it. Angelina is a beautiful Parisian tea parlor and it is extremely popular, however, they do take reservations. We arrived early and were able to get a table for two without waiting too long. Nicole and I both ordered Le Petite Déjeuner. Our breakfast came with Chocolat Chaud, a mini croissant, a roll with jams and fresh juice. The Chocolat Chaud was thick and rich. It was not overly sweet and it came with freshly whipped cream. This hot chocolate is the best, hands down. What can be said about this rich, thick, intensely chocolate sip of heaven that has not already been said? Words do not do it justice and the hype is justified this is one stop you won’t want to miss on your next trip to Paris!
Our first night in Paris we stopped at Au Rendez-Vous des Amis. We sat outside and ordered beers, a Charcuterie board, and French Fries. Nicole ordered a Picon Biére and she loved the way it tastes. A few days later we later found out that Picon Biére is the French version of a German Shandy. Picon is a French bitter orange liquor and it is added to the beer. The Charcuterie board arrived at our table with a variety of shaved and cured meats and pickles and it was served with a basket of fresh bread and butter. Our fries were thick and similar to steak fries in the United States. Au Rendez-vous des Amis translates as a place for friends to gather and it is located down the hill from Sacre Coeur. Furthermore, it is a little less touristy than eating in the square by the Sacre Coeur. Our dinner was simple and not fussy and it was perfect after a long day of traveling.
Nicole and I wanted to try both sweet and savory crepes while we were in Paris. French crepes are made without leveling powder, this makes them light and delicate. In Montmartre, we went on a food tour and one of our stops was a crepe stand. I tried butter and lemon and the crepe was served folded and wrapped in a waxed paper square. In between the folds were butter, sugar, and fresh lemon juice. Nicole had butter and fresh raspberry jam crepe and she loved hers too. After tasting a regular crepe our food tour guide suggested that before we leave Paris that we should try a buckwheat crepe as well.
One night while walking around in the 4th arrondissement we stopped at La Ciderie du Marais for crepes and Cidre. I ordered La Bergere. It is a buckwheat crepe with warmed goat cheese, nuts, honey, greens, and balsamic vinegar. Le Bergere was served on a plate with everything piled on top and unlike, the street crepe I needed to use a fork and knife to eat it. This crepe was large enough that it was a whole meal. The buckwheat flavor stood up to the strong flavors of the goat cheese and balsamic vinegar. It was tasty and in addition to the crepe, the Cidre we had was great, unlike the ciders I have tried in the United States this Cidre wasn’t sweet it tasted crisp and clean and paired perfectly with the crepe.
When I think of France, I think of fussy and complicated food, however, after my visit, I now know I was wrong. I’m sure there is plenty of fussy food in France, but everything we ate was uncomplicated and fresh with the emphasis on fresh. The fruits and vegetables were in seasons and amazing. Paris and the food we ate there lived up to all the hype and I can’t wait for my next visit to the city of lights.
Some restaurants are worth the wait and Momofuku Noodle Bar falls into that category. During my many trips to New York City I have passed by Momofuku Noodle Bar. I always wanted to try it, but the line was always out the door. The East Village location does not take reservations. Momofuku was started by David Chang in 2004. The New York Times credits him with the rise of Asian-American. Bon Appetit Magazine named Momofuku the most important restaurant in the United States. Momofuku means lucky peach.
Avoid The Crowd, Get There When They Open.
One summer evening, my daughter Nicole and I were in the area. It was before the dinner rush and we were able to grab two seats at the bar top for dinner without waiting in line. We started with drinks. Nicole had a Hibiscus Yuzu Iced Tea and I had a Tiger Lager from Singapore. It was a typical hot and humid evening in NYC, so both drinks were refreshing. We decided that we had to try the famous buns. As an appetizer we shared an order of the pork bellys buns. It comes with hoisin sauce, scallions and cucumbers. The buns were light and airy and the meat was a nice mix of sweet and savory.
For dinner Nicole ordered the Ginger Scallion Noodles. It comes with Momofuku barley noodles, pickled shiitake, cucumber and wakame. I ordered the Spicy Hozon Ramen. This ramen also comes with the Momofuku barley noodles and instead of meat it has chickpeas, scallion, and bok choy. I wasn’t sure if it would be too spicy, but it had a nice level of heat. The combination of the chickpeas and the ramen made this a very filling dish. Both ramens tasted fresh, they had depth of flavor and they didn’t taste overly salty.
Go Ahead And Try Dessert
Although we were both stuffed from dinner we decided to split a dessert. We ordered the soft-serve with puffed rice. The puffed rice added a pop to the creaminess to the soft-serve and it was a good way to end our meal. Overall, the services was amazing. Our water was continuously refilled and the wait staff was very attentive. Momofuku is a small restaurant so you will be in tight quarters. It doesn’t look like they can accommodate parties larger than 6. After walking past this restaurant so many times, I’m happy that we finally got a chance to try it and I wouldn’t hesitate to eat there again.
About a year ago my friend Sally and I decided to start backpacking. We are both hikers and there are places that we want to explore that you can only get to if you backpack. We went to REI and got fitted for backpacks and slowly started collecting our gear. We’ve been on some overnight trips and recently we have been practicing for a through a hike in the Sierras. On our latest backpacking trip, I learned some lessons the hard way.
It Was Supposed To Be An Easy Overnighter.
Our latest trip was to Little Jimmy Campground. It is located off SR2 (Angeles Crest Highway) in the Angeles National Forest. You can only reach the campground by hiking in. There are 16 sites, picnic tables, fire rings, bear boxes, and a vault toilet. There isn’t running water, but Little Jimmy Spring is just 1/4 mile away.
Lesson #1: Watch Out For Detours
We started our trip around 11 am so that we could avoid the commuter traffic. Unfortunately, they were doing road work on SR2 and we had to make a major detour. We found some friendly firemen that were able to give us directions to detour around the road closure. There is no cellphone signal in the canyon. Our detour took us 2 hours.
Lesson #2: Eat Breakfast
We finally arrived at Islip Saddle Parking lot. The trail is part of the PCT and it follows steep switchbacks for the first mile. I wasn’t feeling it. Some days your body just doesn’t feel like hiking up a steep hill with a 35-pound backpack on. Looking back now, I realize it was probably because I didn’t eat breakfast and it was afternoon time when we actually started hiking and I had only eaten a protein bar on the drive up the mountain. I munched on a few sour gummy worms on the way up hoping it would give me a burst of energy. Luckily, after the first mile, the trail levels out a little bit.
A Hammock & Book Are Backpacking Essentials
We made it to camp and there was only 1 other camper there so we had our choice of spots. After putting up our tents, unpacked and set up our hammocks, we decided instead of hiking we would just relax in our hammocks and read. It was peaceful and relaxing for about 30 minutes and then it got windy and cold. After 45 mins we had to get out of the hammocks because it was too cold.
Little Jimmy Springs
One of the best things about camping at Little Jimmy is the proximity to Little Jimmy Springs. The spring runs year-round and the water comes out fresh and cold. Some people filter the water, but numerous Boy Scouts and a ranger have told us that it isn’t necessary. We walked down to the spring and filled up our empty water bottles for drinking and cooking.
Lesson #3: Make a List
When we got back to camp I decided it was too cold to be sitting around in shorts even with a fleece top on. I climbed in my tent to change and found out that unfortunately, I packed a long sleeve shirt instead of my long pants. They are both black and made of the same material. unfortunately, I made the very bad decision to put on my sleeping fleece pants even though it wasn’t time for bed. I came out of my tent in my fleece top and bottom that I sleep in and a fleece hoodie. I was warm and cozy for a few minutes. We started dinner.
Lesson #4: Accidents Happen
Sally found out that she had forgotten her backpacking stove. Luckily it wasn’t a problem, because we just used mine. Over the last year, we have narrowed down our backpacking dinners to what we like and what we can eat without having leftovers that we have to pack back out. I had picked up a lentil soup at REI. We boiled the water I added water to Sally’s couscous and then I added two cups of boiling water to my package. After adding the water I realized the package didn’t come with the standard top that allows you to reseal it after you add the hot water. Generally, after adding water the food has to sit for 10 minutes while it rehydrates. I use a mailing envelope as a cozy to put my food in while it’s rehydrating. It helps retain the heat. Somehow while I was transferring the package to the cozy I knocked over the soup onto myself. I was sitting at the picnic table and the soup poured onto my ribs, thigh, calf and inside my camp shoes. I let out a blood-curdling scream, but I couldn’t do anything. The hot water was trapped between my fleece and my skin.
A Long Night
When I calmed down I pulled my clothes off and realized how bad it actually was. I had to leave all my clothes outside the tent. Inside the tent, I put on my long sleeve shirt and a puffer jacket. Unfortunately, I only had my shorts to put back on. I opened my first aid kit and slathered myself with antibiotic cream. My dinner was all dumped out on the ground so, I ate a small baggie of trail mix that I had packed. Sally made a fire and I sat with my burned side of my body away from the fire, because I was cold! I remained fairly calm. I made some trail margaritas and took some Advil. When it came time for bed I had to put all my fleece clothes in the bear box. We were in bear country and my clothes all smelled like lentil soup. I had to sleep in my underwear and I was cold all night.
After a rough night of trying to not pop my blisters, trying to stay warm and trying to sleep I was ready to go home. We had planned to hike up to Islip Saddle in the morning. It has a beautiful view and both times I’ve been up there I’ve seen Bighorn Sheep, but I didn’t want to hike anywhere. We had coffee and then packed up. While I was packing up my tent, I felt something on my leg. I looked down and a spider almost as big as a tarantula was climbing on it. I again started screaming and somehow got it off my leg. Thankfully, Sally came to my rescue and relocated it with a hiking pole.
Hiking Back To The Car
All packed up we hiked back out to the car. I was so happy that I made it to the car. I leaned my hiking poles against the trunk and hoisted my pack in the backseat. Later after we had been driving for over an hour I realized that I had left my hiking poles against the trunk and now they were laying in the parking lot. I went to the doctor the next day and I have 2nd-degree burns on my rib and thigh. The burn on my thigh is worse and will leave scarring.
Here is a list of things I learned from this backpacking trip.
Google Maps and Waze are not always up-to-date for road construction.
If you are in Southern California and using route SR2, good luck. This isn’t the first time we’ve run into road closures and I even called Cal- Trans the morning we left to check for closures.
It’s a good idea to have a permanent packing list. This would have helped with the forgotten stove and missing pants. I’m thinking of making a list of things I have to pack in my backpack and then laminating it.
Never change into your sleeping clothes until you are ready to climb into your sleeping bag.
When buying dehydrated food check the top to make sure it’s resealable or have another way to cook it. If I would have realized about the top before we got there I would have dumped everything into a ziplock freezer bag. You can pour boiling water into the freezer bags and cook that way.
Ice cubes will stay in your Hydroflask. Perfect for trail margaritas.
Accidents happen, not much you can do about this. I told Sally this trip was to teach us humility. We’ve been on so many backpacking trips where nothing went wrong something was bound to happen eventually.
Make sure all your gear is in the car before you drive away.
My first day of summer break and I decided I needed a day to decompress at the beach. Seal Beach is a small sleepy community that is also the home of a Naval Weapons Station and the large retirement community of Leisure World. To get to the beach you turn onto Main Street off of Pacific Coast Highway. The main street will give you the hometown feel. Main Street is lined with small boutiques, shops, and restaurants. There is street parking for all the shopping. Continuing on to the ocean and there is a large parking lot for the beach. They have implemented a new parking system. You first park and then pay at a machine. Make sure you know your license plate number you need to type it into the machine before you pick the amount of time you want to stay. It is $2 an hour or $8 for all day.
The Water Is Close To The Parking Lot
The water is close to the parking lot which is important if you are hauling a lot of stuff. When I was there we were still experiencing June-Gloom and it was chilly, but that didn’t stop people from getting in the water. A large surf school that operates at Seal Beach and their truck is usually parked in the beach lot. It’s always fun to watch the lessons going on. There are lifeguards on duty and there is a bathroom. There is also a playground for the kids. Although, there isn’t a snack bar on the beach, however, there are many restaurants within walking distance and some provide a walk-up surfers menu.
Seal beach has a pier. It is a popular with fishermen and people strolling. At one time there was a Ruby’s at the end of the pier, but they vacated and then in 2016 a fire destroyed the vacant restaurant. There are talks that permits have been secured to rebuild the end of the pier.
Sweet Treats on Main Street
I brought my lunch to the beach, but before heading home I decided to check out some of the fun shops on Main Street. I have fond memories of taking my kids into Sweet Jills. It is a Seal Beach institution that is best known for its delectable cinnamon rolls. I bought some cookies to take home for my son and I got a peanut butter cup cookie for myself. The bakery has a wide variety of baked goods including cupcakes. Sweet Jill’s is cash only so come prepared.
Coffee, Tea, And Boba
I stopped to get a drink at Honeybees. They serve tea, coffee, boba, and fresh juices. I ordered their special Vietnamese Coffee with boba. It was $4.95 and there wasn’t an additional charge for the boba. Vietnamese coffee is very strong and bold and then they add sweetened condensed milk to round it out. Their coffee was very good here and I would definitely order it again.
A Snack With A View
I took my coffee and cookie to the pier. I walked along until I found the perfect bench to have a seat and watch the surfers. The sun had finally came out and it was a beautiful day.
Hiking from Dry Lake to San Gorgonio Peak was our goal. Friday morning we had backpacked from South Fork trailhead to Dry Lakes. We woke up early on Saturday morning. I had actually woken up a few times during the night. The first time was to a chorus of coyotes. The second time I woke up because something was sniffing around my tent. I almost had a heart attack and was way too scared to look and see what it was.
Even though it was only 6 am we climbed out of our tents to make coffee. The only problem was it is so hard to open a bear canister when your hands are cold. I couldn’t get mine open and thank goodness for Sally being able to open mine or I would have starved to death. After a healthy breakfast of Pop-Tarts and coffee, we decided we would try to summit San Gorgonio. We have both summited from Vivian Creek, but never from this side. We packed up a lunch and put our supplies in small packs. The day before we had stopped at REI and picked up microspikes.
We were following Alltrails. There are two ways to go. One is to hike back to the saddle of Dry Lake and Dollar Lake and head up from there or to start the trail near where we had camped and headed up Mine Shaft Trail. We opted for the closer trail. Within a 1/4 of a mile of camp we were in serious snow and we had to stop and put on our microspikes. It was early in the morning and the temperatures had been cold the night before so the snow was still solid and we had no problem walking on it with the microspikes and our poles.
Navigating In The Snow
The real problem became navigating. It’s impossible to follow a trail that is covered in snow. Every couple hundred yards we had to stop and see how close we were to the red line on All Trails. After we made it to the top of a canyon we found out that we somehow got off course. At the top, we were on dirt and we had to sit down and take off our microspikes.
Using All Trails
Using the red line on All trails we went straight up a side of a mountain and somehow found our trail. We were at 9,960 feet above sea level, which meant we had 2,000 feet more to climb. Sally had a huge blister on the back of her heal and she wasn’t feeling it. We decided that San Gorgonio wasn’t in the cards for us that day. I again looked at All Trails and saw that we could continue on the trail we were on and we would be able to loop back to camp.
Looking Up At San Gorgonio Peak
When we made it to the saddle we could either continue on Sky High Trail and in another 3.6 miles we would be at the top of San Gorgonio or we could take Fish Creek Trail and eventually end up back at Dry Lake we opted for Dry Lake. When we looked up at San Gorgonio there was so much snow we couldn’t even see the switchbacks. We were pretty confident that we could make it to the top, but we were scared of what it would be like coming back down after the sun had been out all day.
A New Plan
Fish Creek Trail had way less snow than the way we came up, but unfortunately, we ran into 100 feet of dirt and then huge mounds of snow completely covering the trail. We tried going over the snow, but we would either post-hole or start sliding downhill. Eventually, when we got to the snow we either went up or down the mountain to go around it. On the way back to camp we found Lodgepole Spring that we had looked for the day before. All together we hiked 8 miles and made it back to camp in one piece.
We spent one more night at Dry Lake and hiked back down to our car the next morning. We hiked a total of 25 miles and got experience with our bear canisters and microspikes. It was a good practice trip for the Sierras.