Four Seasons at the Port

Last week – on Twelfth Night, a day we Shakespeare lovers always observe – we took one of our favorite urban walks at the Port of Los Angeles. After a bout of puffer coat and gloves weather, it was good to be out on a mild winter evening with beautiful light. Also, refreshing to leave behind for a while the disturbing U.S. political events of the day.  

I’d just finished reading Anthony Doerr’s fine memoir, Four Seasons in Rome, which catalyzed the realization that here we were in our fourth season of Covid-19 LA. Living in another fascinating city, but unlike Doerr in Rome, restricted by the pandemic from freely exploring its attractions, or even escaping to the natural world of our coastal environment with its fabulous beaches, trails and walks by the ocean.

As the months went by and Covid cases burgeoned, our radius shrank: Parks, trails and beaches closed, and when they reopened, crowds returned, many people failing to wear masks or observe social distancing. We stopped taking many of our usual walks and hikes, and the port became our primary getaway –– a reliable, sparsely frequented safe haven of solitude and space.

Even before Covid, we regularly walked there, forging various interesting routes, enjoying the colorful industrial landscape and constant hum of maritime activity. Fortunately, we like finding new things in familiar places, and our regular rambles at the port during the pandemic have not disappointed.

There’s so much to explore and photograph in our vast harbor landscape. Here is a mini tour of the routes we’ve taken through the changing seasons of the pandemic.

We’ll start with this peaceful, tree-lined city park with its spacious promenade, the scene of our Twelfth Night walk last week. It’s one of those quiet retreats you find in every city; once inside its leafy seclusion, you scarcely notice the busy thoroughfare that runs right next to it.

We’ve walked here so many times in the past year that we’re among the regulars who recognize each other despite the masks and exchange a friendly greeting, a few words, a wave, in Covid camaraderie.

Keep going past the shady benches, stone chess tables and a now dormant fountain, where children jump and squeal in the spray during a normal summer. On your left, you’ll come to the City of LA fireboat station, where you can sometimes catch sight of that big sophisticated boat at rest. You might even hear a loudspeaker staff alert that fresh cookies are available in the station kitchen.

Our final stop on this route is the small pier just past the fireboat station, dwarfed by a massive container ship in the photo below. Notice the people, similarly dwarfed, getting a very close-up look at the ship.

The pier offers great views of sea and sky, the port’s extensive shipping operations and the fascinating movement of maritime traffic.

Moored nearby are the tugboats that maneuver the giant cargo ships entering and leaving the port. Behind the tugs (below) is the 1,500-foot-long Vincent Thomas suspension bridge that crosses Los Angeles Harbor.

From this small pier with big views, you can see historic Warehouse No. 1, completed in 1917. Its distinctive tower, with a welcome greeting in many languages, is visible from miles away. The landmark building and its environs are the next route on our tour.

As the port’s only bonded warehouse, Warehouse No. 1 played a crucial role in LA’s entry into international trade. It’s a striking old structure with its many balconies, lion gargoyles and layers of grunge.

Here is a close-up of one of the lion gargoyles on the side of the warehouse in the photo above.

I like industrial landscapes and find art in them, so I always enjoy walking in this area and photographing interesting buildings and details. On one of our 2020 rambles, this sculptural outdoor warehouse equipment and its textural setting, like the gargoyles, appealed to me.

Walking this familiar route through three seasons of the coronavirus pandemic has not been without its elements of surprise. In spring, we encountered these companion flags, torn and battered, flying in the wind. They struck a chord as an apt symbol for a country in the midst of a deadly worldwide pandemic. With the rise of Covid cases and deaths, and our socio-political turmoil, the symbolism still feels apt.

On another spring walk, I found this bright explosion of California poppies at the curb of a drab industrial building. A cheering burst of color on an overcast day.

One summer afternoon, a whimsical “art installation” appeared on our route.

Who knows what we’ll find in this fourth season?

Copyright M. Vincent 2021

Port of Los Angeles tugboats at golden hour photo and Warehouse No. 1 photo copyright Brad Nixon 2021. Used with kind permission.

All other photographs copyright M. Vincent 2019-2021.

Still Cooking at the Cafe

Happy New Year to all. We’re still cooking here at the café, happy to leave behind a year that has been so devastating around the world.

Political turmoil, natural disasters, the struggle for justice –– and through it all, a pandemic disrupting our lives in numerous personal ways and making even simple things challenging.

We’ve all been through so much, and still the pandemic continues and surges, with many months predicted to go. We’ll still have to persevere, practice patience and resilience, and be vigilant in taking the precautions that stop the virus from spreading.

Yet arriving at this new year is still a celebration. A fresh start always brings inspiration and energy, and we can take hope in the progress we’ve made in the midst of crisis.

On today’s cafe menu: lentils, a food eaten in several countries on New Year’s Day, or the eve before, to bring good luck in the new year.

As we head into 2021, who couldn’t use a bit of luck in their efforts? Wherever you are, I imagine some lucky New Year’s food was on your table too. Our red lentils above are flavored with curry, lime juice and coconut milk, served over brown rice, and topped with a chopped fresh spinach salad. What was on your menu?

Fight on, Covid warriors. With perseverance and a little luck, we’ll get through this together. Wishing you good health, good food, and good fortune this year.

Copyright M. Vincent 2021. All photos copyright M. Vincent.

The Sweet Fruits of Summer

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The glorious summer fruit season is well underway in California, and here at the café we’re celebrating the abundance of sweet, juicy and colorful stone fruits arriving in our markets. Fresh local berries too.

As you know if you’ve visited my blog before, beautiful seasonal fruit is one of my favorite things to photograph (and eat!) — like these autumn-winter persimmons and fall farmers market finds

Paired with a complementary container, it also makes a simple centerpiece to add a special touch to your table. My photos in this post pair summer fruit with mid-century modern and other ceramics my partner and I have collected.  

Rainier Cherries

Washington state is the premier growing region for the lovely-to-look-at Rainier cherries above, their shiny yellow faces blushing with hues of rosy red and pink.

Given its pale color, I was surprised to learn that this cherry is a hybrid of two sweet, red varieties — the familiar Oregon Bing and the Canadian Van. Developed at Washington State University in 1952, it’s named, as you might have guessed, for Mount Rainier, the state’s iconic volcanic peak.

While the sturdier, more plentiful Bings with their sweet, rich crunch are one of summer’s great treats, I always look forward to the arrival of the delicate, creamy Washington Rainiers. Both have been delicious this year. Get the Rainiers while you can: the growing season lasts from June through August.

Apricots

According to University of California–Davis agriculture researchers, the apricot originated in China and was extensively cultivated in the Mediterranean before it was brought to North America.

Its initial introduction in Virginia was unsuccessful, but when Spanish missionaries brought the apricot to California in the late 1700s, its cultivation in North America took off.  California now leads the U.S. in apricot production, growing about 95 percent of the fruit. 

I found the delectable ripe apricots below in late June at our local Sprout’s market. I loved the rich orange tones on their velvety skin and couldn’t wait to photograph them in this Italian pottery bowl with its complementary blues and corresponding oranges and ambers.

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The bowl is one of my favorite pieces, for its design and its association. It comes from Deruta, a medieval hill town and historic majolica pottery center in Italy’s Umbria region, and always reminds me of the day my partner and I spent exploring the town and its famed ceramics.

We loved talking to people, learning about the antique and modern hand-painted pottery, and — smitten by what we saw — searching for a piece to take home. We came away with a set of these bowls, modern with a traditional design, which we use constantly.

Nectarines

Because nectarines are similar to peaches, but noticeably different in taste and texture, I always thought they were a separate fruit, perhaps a hybrid. Writing this post I discovered that a nectarine is actually a peach without the fuzz.

The two fruits are genetically the same, with just one recessive gene responsible for the nectarine’s smooth, fuzz-free skin. 

Our local stores have had a bounty of both types of nectarine, the tart-and-sweet yellow variety and the sweeter, low-acid white, pictured in the photos below. 

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The ultra-bright reds of these beautiful fruits really popped against streamlined black and white and black-on-black backgrounds. I think the mid-century modern designers of the ceramics in the photos would approve. 

Russel Wright (1904-1976) designed the white ceramics. The long, black, oval bowl is by Ben Seibel (1918-1985). For several years, my partner and I enjoyed collecting their vintage dinnerware, and it’s always in service here at the cafe.  I love using these stylish retro pieces in my food photography.

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In the final photo is the Russel Wright sake bottle. The cherry bowl in the photo at the top is a creamer from his Paden City pottery line.

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In difficult times it’s more important than ever to appreciate the beauty in our world and elemental human pleasures, like the delightful fruits of summer. Enjoy the season and make it special for yourself and those you love. ♥


Fruit information in this post was sourced from:

University of California–Davis, Fruit and Nut Research and Information Center, http://fruitsandnuts.ucdavis.edu/

Specialty Produce, https://www.specialtyproduce.com/

Licensable, high-resolution versions of photographs in this post, and select images from other My Eclectic Café posts are available on Shutterstock.com. Click here to view my Vince360 Shutterstock photo portfolio. You can also find my photos on Adobe and Dreamstime.

Copyright M. Vincent 2020. All photos copyright M. Vincent 2020.

 

Fourth of July Dogs on Parade

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As Covid-19 cases resurge across the U.S., our Independence Day celebrations will be constrained, and numerous traditional events — fireworks, fun runs, festivals, parades — have been canceled, including a favorite local institution, the dog parade.

Let’s revisit one of these fun events held in our California neighborhood. My partner and I are fond of dogs, though we don’t have one, and what photographer could resist a chance to shoot cute canines in patriotic costume on a bright July morning in the park?

We quickly spotted the parade queen: a petite Hollywood star in stylish hat and sunglasses, relaxing in her elaborately decorated carriage. Here she is taking a beauty nap before the show gets underway.

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With the costumes and accessories some dogs were sporting, I wondered: Do they enjoy any of this? Or, do they just gamely soldier through it to humor their beloved humans?

The queen’s owner assured me when I walked up to chat that the little star loved to dress up, caper around the house and elicit cheers for her performance.

Observing the scene, I found it plausible that dogs might enjoy these dress-up performances. They were certainly getting lots of attention from children, photographers and other parade goers, as well as their devoted families.

Some even seemed to be playing to the crowd: The parade queen sprang from her nap refreshed and sparkling when the event began, and here she is rolling along like a star engaging with an adoring audience.

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Imagine discerning dogs choosing their outfits, being groomed, arrayed, and checking the results in the mirror as the household cat trots by with a snicker heading for secret, solitary adventures.

The popular bulldog below outdid the parade queen for fancy attire in a dress with varied patterns, textures and decorative details. She even managed to keep those flags attached and intact.

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Next is the gregarious chihuahua I call “Ms. Congeniality.” She strolled the crowd before the event with her ruffled skirt rippling behind her, meeting, greeting and shaking hands. Was her stylish costume made by the bulldog’s designer? Look at the design details. Those two were the most elaborately dressed dogs we saw.

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Other dogs chose the minimalist route, such as these two rocking some glamorous neckwear and a “less is more” attitude.

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All were very civilized and fun to watch and photograph. I hope their photos and stories have provided some holiday humor and cheer.

Wishing all my readers and their canine companions a peaceful, refreshing and hopeful weekend.

Copyright M. Vincent 2020. All photos copyright M. Vincent 2018-2020.

What’s Cooking at the Cafe?

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Cooking in the time of the coronavirus is about the spirit as much as the body. In the best of times, making and enjoying good food is one of the joys and comforts of life. In the worst of times, the pleasure, diversion, and comfort it brings are more important than ever.

It’s not surprising then, that people everywhere are spending more time in the kitchen since Covid-19 has transformed our world and “stay at home, save lives” measures have gone into effect.

In this post, I’ll share some of the food we’ve been making at My Eclectic Café.

A Baking Renaissance?

Let’s start with that loaf of whole wheat bread above, which I baked earlier this week.

It appears that Covid-19 may have given rise to a home-bread-baking renaissance. Flour has disappeared from market shelves in many places, per reports we’ve heard, and we’ve seen scant supplies in our own area. When we decided to bake bread a week ago, all of our local stores were out of yeast.

Fortunately, the cafe always has a stash of flour, and kind friends in Washington state mailed us yeast from their own pantry and local market to keep bread in our oven as the pandemic continues.

I made the bread above from a simple King Arthur Flour (KAF) recipe, easy to follow for even novice bakers. You can find it on the KAF website here.

While I’ve baked bread before, I was trying this recipe for the first time and would use it again. I had the KAF white whole wheat flour specified, chose the molasses option for a darker loaf, and left out the dried milk.

The bread was moist and flavorful, with a chewy, well-browned crust, made great toast, and stayed fresh for days. It was great with the vegetable soup below.

I’ve baked with several types of KAF flour for years and recommend it. Their website is a valuable source of tips, recipes, and informative articles and reviews for beginning to experienced bakers.

Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Central

Healthy eating is always a priority at My Eclectic Café, with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables at the center of our cooking. Since the Covid-19 crisis, we’ve been amplifying that focus. It’s a good time to be vegetarian: When other foods have been swept off the shelves, we’ve found the produce section of our stores well-stocked.

Before our Southern California weather hit 90 degrees this week, we enjoyed this spicy, colorful mixed vegetable soup: cauliflower, carrots, zucchini, Napa cabbage and corn with brown rice and Penzey’s southwest seasoning (a mix of spices and herbs with the heat of ancho, cayenne and chipotle peppers).

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Such fresh, homemade soups have been a lunchtime staple — comfort food with the benefit of numerous vitamins and nutrients for staying well and keeping the immune system strong.

Salads, made with diverse vegetables or fruits, nuts, and selected proteins, have also been on our daily menu.

If you’re shopping much less often, as we are, to limit potential exposure to the virus, heads of radicchio and Napa (Chinese) cabbage are both versatile, long-lasting salad ingredients. They also go well together in a salad. Napa cabbage leaves are much more tender than those of red or green cabbage. They also have a mild, slightly sweet flavor that contrasts nicely with the bitey radicchio.

MV S2541-LR Salad in Deruta on concrete-680

Open the cafe refrigerator, and you’ll find it brimming with citrus fruit. We’ve eaten tons of it in the past few months, as I fought to get over a mean bout of bronchitis and the Covid-19 pandemic burgeoned.

Grapefruit, tangerines, oranges, lemons. Rich in Vitamin C and other nutrients, they’re a constant ingredient in our fruit bowls, salads and other dishes, as well as a favorite refreshing snack. I use the juice and zest to add “oomph” to my cooking and baking, especially lemon juice, which brightens any dish. The cafe is blessed to have a prolific and treasured Meyer lemon tree in the backyard.

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What’s for Dessert?

While we love dessert at the cafe, we usually keep it light and simple: fresh fruit and a piece of very dark chocolate, or that chocolate with a cup of green tea or breakfast coffee. (Yes, it’s perfectly acceptable to have dessert at breakfast — especially now, when we all need some uplifting treats to sweeten the day.)

Endangered Species’ wonderfully smooth bittersweet chocolate (low sugar, 88% percent cocoa) is a favorite, always on our menu. In addition to making excellent chocolate, the company supports conservation efforts for endangered species and habitats.

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I’ve been baking mostly breakfast muffins lately and dreaming of making other pastry, but I did try a new cookie recipe that’s definitely a keeper: cardamom-walnut crescents from The New York Times.  My co-confiné agrees.

I love nut cookies, and these are delicious: light and not too sweet, with a great texture. The recipe is adaptable and doesn’t take long to make. My adaptations: raw pecans in the absence of walnuts, olive oil in place of some of the butter, cinnamon instead of cardamom, and a light dusting of powdered sugar when completely cooled. I look forward to trying them with walnuts and cardamom too.

More baking to come at the cafe. I’m craving those anise-almond biscotti above, remembering happy pan meino and coffee breakfasts in Milan, pondering a fruit galette …

Your  Turn

It’s a good time to try new recipes, enjoy comforting old favorites, and set a cheering table. What have you been making?

Copyright M. Vincent 2020. All photos copyright M. Vincent 2020.

Licensable, high-resolution versions of some photographs in this post, and select images from other My Eclectic Café posts are available on Shutterstock.com. Click here to view my Vince360 Shutterstock photo portfolio.

U.S. Naval Hospital Ship Mercy Arrives at the Port of LA

USN Ship Mercy Banner-BN

U.S. Naval Hospital Ship Mercy arrived at the Port of Los Angeles this past weekend, bringing welcome aid to our city in its fight against the coronavirus. It was a moving experience to be there on site as the massive ship appeared and to watch it sailing through the channel to its berth (where it appears above).

With COVID-19 cases rapidly rising in California, and substantial impact projected for LA, our governor requested Mercy’s immediate deployment to help ensure that we have the medical facilities and assets needed here.

Mercy’s purpose is to alleviate the burden on LA-area hospitals as COVID-19 cases accelerate. It will handle other critical care cases, allowing our local hospitals to focus their resources on COVID-19 patients.

Chasing Mercy

My partner tracked Mercy’s schedule, and we planned to get to the port early to see the ship arrive. It was a perfect early spring day — mild, clear and sunny — and getting outdoors for a cheering event was a refreshing break from the fraught, quarantined life. The world seemed almost normal, except for the virtually empty Friday morning streets.

That changed when we arrived at our chosen viewing point. Nowhere to park and a crowd that made social distancing impossible. Not surprising. Fortunately we know the area well, and a short drive away, it was mostly quiet. It was easy to preserve my space, though I did have to shoot photos through a chain-link fence.

Here is a photo of U.S. Coast Guard ship “Halibut,” which led Mercy through the channel.

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Halibut is a Marine Protector Class patrol boat based in Marina del Rey, California. One of its functions is port security. Because it’s based so close to LA, the Halibut is known in the Coast Guard as “the Hollywood cutter” and is often used to represent the Coast Guard in broadcasts, television shows and movies.

Shortly after the Halibut passed by, Mercy sailed into view — a monumental presence 854 feet long and 106 feet wide.

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My partner got the best shot of the ship as it made its way to its berth in an area normally occupied by giant cruise ships.  You can get a sense of its magnitude from his photo below.

USN Ship Mercy sails in II-BN

Usually, we see one or two tugboats pushing or pulling the cruise ships into place. Four tugboats were present to assist the smaller, but less maneuverable Mercy.

As Mercy continued its journey, we headed home — or so we thought — following its path up the channel. Approaching the cruise-ship terminal, traffic was markedly different from what we’d experienced earlier that morning.

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We assumed the “No entrance” sign flashing ahead meant no public ingress to Mercy’s docking area, but fortuitously, the turnoff to the cruise ship terminal was open, and we swung in, found immediate parking, and joined the band of people heading across the street to welcome Mercy.

Celebrating a Historic Moment

Mercy’s berth was just a short walk away. As we approached the ship, we found a lively scene with a variety of people gathered, from members of the community like us, some with school-age children in tow, to professional newspeople and photographers.

Law enforcement and military circulated among the gathering. Everyone was courteous and tried to observe a reasonable amount of social distance.

A row of photographers hugged the fence in front of Mercy, tripods set up, intently focused. Others snapped away on their cell phones, waved at the Mercy team members on deck or just stood back to observe the scene and enjoy the bright, fresh morning.

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In the midst of the action, a newswoman and her cameraman prepared for filming.

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A bicyclist pedaling back and forth waving a large American flag exemplified the mood of quiet celebration I felt as we all converged to witness this moment in history.

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At this distressing time, Mercy’s arrival brings solace, cheer, and the hope that comes from additional readiness in the coronavirus fight. That is a mercy indeed.

Thank you to all who made Mercy’s rapid deployment to Los Angeles happen, from Governor Newsom to the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command and everyone who worked to prepare the ship for this mission. Best wishes to the Mercy medical team and staff as they assume their life-saving duties.

Mercy’s Capabilities

Stationed in San Diego when not on active duty, Mercy has 1,000 hospital beds, 12 operating rooms and nearly 1,300 medical staff and crew on board.

You can see inside the USNS Mercy, view its additional facilities and learn some of its history here.

Local Stories Welcomed

What state or local COVID-19 preparedness/relief actions are happening in your community? Please share your news from around the world as we navigate this difficult time together.

Copyright M. Vincent 2020.

Mercy docking at its berth at the Port of LA and Mercy sailing into the port, copyright Brad Nixon 2020, used with kind permission. Etymology lovers, see his related post here. 

All other photos copyright M. Vincent 2020.

Food/Photography Friday: Photography from Hell

MV Surreal door with quote

What to do when you feel like hell? Dream up a fun photography project and get shooting. That was my answer this week to the battering illness blues. My uplifting escape.

I’ve been fighting a mean case of bronchitis, with those coughing fits that crack like gunshots and feel like glass shattering in your chest. Recovery requires rest, but it’s not my strong point. I needed action, and doing art always takes me to a happier place.

Shooting Rabbits

With spring and Easter on the way, what better models than some playful rabbits? Here are some photos from my shoot:

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Hip-hop rabbits on pink background

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Hip-hop rabbits on blue background

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Rabbits with a loving greeting

No rabbits were harmed to create these photos.  Have a happy, healthy weekend!

Copyright M. Vincent 2020. All photos copyright M. Vincent 2020.

You can find licensable, high resolution versions of the photographs in this post at https://www.shutterstock.com/g/Vince360/sets/259568063. Or, click here to view my Vince360 Shutterstock photo portfolio.

 

 

LA’s Landmark Phoenix Bakery, Chinatown

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Famous for its fresh strawberry whipped-cream cake, the Phoenix Bakery has been serving traditional Chinese pastries and an increasing variety of other sweets since 1938. We visited this venerable Los Angeles institution during last year’s Lunar New Year festivities and found that it has a fascinating history.

Earlier, I wrote about the Firecracker 5K/10K Run, an annual Chinatown New Year’s event. In 2019, we were spectators, not runners, cheering the participants, enjoying the entertainment and exploring the area at walking pace. That’s how we finally made it into the bakery.

We spotted the distinctive sign (above), a throng of customers headed for the door, and a crowd already inside. It was obviously the place to be, and we joined the happy throng.

An Abundance of Cakes and Pastries

When we got inside, the small storefront was bustling, with virtually every table taken and a steady line at the counter. The cases were filled with a variety of sweets as diverse as the Los Angeles community — from Chinese almond cookies and winter melon cakes to French croissants, eclairs, tres leches cake and other international selections.

In his pastry painting phase, Wayne Thiebaud would have loved this place. Regrettably, there was too much hustle and bustle for my food photography that day, but I did manage to snap these clever Year of the Pig cupcakes:

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The counter staff were friendly and patiently answered our questions as we investigated the offerings on display. Our mission was to try some traditional Chinese pastries, so we left the other sweets for another time.  The pretty winter melon cake (on the left below) had a pleasing filling and inspired this “home studio” photo composition.

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A Longstanding Family Enterprise

One of Chinatown’s few remaining original shops, the Phoenix Bakery celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2018. Chinese immigrants F.C. Chan and his wife, Wai Hing, founded the business in 1938 when the Central Plaza was just opening.

The Chan’s original idea was to create a community gathering place, producing traditional Chinese pastries and cookies not locally available at the time. Beginning with Chinese almond cookies, winter melon pastries and seasonal moon cakes, they branched into a variety of other, culture-spanning sweets.

In the 1940s, Mr. Chan’s brother joined the business and created its signature fresh strawberry whipped-cream cake.  The cake gained a reputation, and in the 1970s, the company website notes, the bakery became famous throughout LA for making this “not so Chinese” cake.

After more than 80 years, the bakery is still owned and operated by the Chan family, with second and third generation family members in various roles.  It continues to enjoy a loyal following,  from generation to generation,  and to be the traditional “go-to” place for that special cake for birthdays, weddings and other celebrations.

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That Timeless Logo

There’s a story behind the Phoenix Bakery logo and mascot as well. Celebrated Chinese-American artist, Tyrus Wong,  designed the charming, shyly smiling boy with the red-ribboned package behind his back.

A highly skilled and versatile artist Wong had a long and varied career. Perhaps best known for his role as lead production illustrator for Disney’s 1942 film, Bambi, he continued to work in a variety of media well into his 90s.

Happy Lunar New Year to all! May 4718 be a sweet year for you.

Copyright M. Vincent 2020. Photos copyright M. Vincent 2019–2020.

Bakery history sources: https://www.phoenixbakeryinc.com/ and 2018 LAist article by Liz Ohanesian on the 80th anniversary of the business.

The Phoenix Bakery is located at 969 N. Broadway, Los Angeles 90012, adjacent to Chinatown’s Central Plaza.

Food/Photography Friday: Cookie Predator Invades California Cafe

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Welcome to Food/Photography Friday 2020. If you’re new to the series, you’ll find the kickoff post here.

By the look of today’s international news, we could all use some whimsicality and humor to start the weekend, so I’m doing my part with some fanciful food photography. I hope you’ll enjoy this harmless predatory visitor to the café.

No holiday gift is safe from an avid photographer, and the toppings on these cookies were so — well, over the top — I had to put them into a photo shoot. I took a few serious shots, the cookie plate on a festive holiday table sort of thing, then hastened to have some fun with the lion ornament among my props.

 

He and this wild version of Italian biscotti — their icing chunky with nuts, chocolate or caramel chips, and sprinkles — seemed made for each other. I imagined him prowling down a rocky road of these textured confections, investigating, and taking bites here and there.  Hence, the cookie predator.

Enjoy the weekend, maybe take a news fast, and create something for fun yourself.

Copyright M. Vincent 2020.  Photo copyright M. Vincent 2019-2020.

 

A Poem for Year’s End. Wishes for a New Year’s Beginning.

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About the Poem

I’d never heard of New Mexican writer, Pat Mora, until I came across her 2018 book –– Encantado: Desert Monologues –– a wonderful collection of poems inspired in part by Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. She had me at the first two poems, Señor Ortega and Encantado, the poem you’ll find below.

Encantado is a small, fictional city by a river in the southwestern United States. Its name means “enchanted” in Spanish, and its diverse inhabitants include many of Hispanic heritage. Their touching stories are told in first-person, with the themes of loss and departed loved ones running through the poems.

Part of the town’s enchantment is the spirit world, an integral part of the community. We learn about some of the spirits from those left behind, who mourn a wife, a husband, a grandmother, a beloved aunt. In the Day of the Dead poem, we hear their voices, as they return to Encantado — “in we drift …”

They speak of gathering annually at the river, and “later drifting again through familiar dusty streets and rooms … through sounds of the living, patting heads we love, comforting the attentive.”

A Visitation of Spirits

For many of us, the last days of the year are a time of feeling particularly close to special family members and friends, long ago or recently departed, who have influenced our lives in profound ways. While they’re always in our thoughts, we may feel their presence more keenly during the holidays because we have more opportunity for reflection.

My partner vividly remembers his English grandmother leading the assembled family and grandchildren in singing her traditional Christmas song. In her honor we sang it on Christmas morning. The evening before, multi-generational family members, gathered on the other side of the country, surprised us with a serenade by phone.

Whenever I’m happily immersed in cooking, my Italian grandmother, who taught me so much, is there. A favorite memory of growing up is spending time in her kitchen: learning to bake the fragrant anise biscotti she made every Christmas, stirring a risotto, absorbing the approach of a joyful, instinctively creative maker who lovingly transmitted her knowledge and passion to me.

These departed spirits, and several others, were very much with us during our quiet, contemplative holiday time. It kept me returning to this poem and Mora’s book, so fitting for a season of remembrance and reflection. 

Encantado

The last nights of the year,

kind, departed spirits return

to Encantado as stars,

meander

down dark streets and hallways,

peer into windows,

congregate around cribs,

again leave glowing glints

of themselves;

intertwine with our dreams,

shine on bare boughs,

pines, and cactus spines.

— Pat Mora

I hope that your own “kind, departed spirits” were with you at year’s end, bringing happy memories and inspiration.

New Year’s Wishes

Thank you readers, followers and friends for visiting My Eclectic Café last year and for your thoughtful comments and encouragement. I’ve enjoyed discovering and following your work and look forward to what you’ll create this year. Best wishes for all good spirits in the new year.

Copyright M. Vincent 2020. Photos copyright M. Vincent 2017-2020.

Encantado is from the poetry collection Encantado: Desert Monologues, copyright Pat Mora 2018, published by The University of Arizona Press.