LA’s Landmark Phoenix Bakery, Chinatown

MV S3650-LR Phoenix Bakery LA-680

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 horde 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:

MV S3652-LR Yr of Pig Cupcakes-680

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.

MV S3688-LR Chinese sweets on White Clover-680

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.

MV S3651-LR LA Phoenix Bakery window-680

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: 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

MV S7206-LR Cookie predator lion-680

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.

MV Two Yr-End Spirits-LR-680

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. 


The last nights of the year,

kind, departed spirits return

to Encantado as stars,


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.


Food/Photography Friday: A Visit to the Center for Creative Photography, Tucson

Center for Creative Photography Tucson

In the last post of this series, I wrote about my trip to Tucson, Arizona, in July. A highlight of the trip for me and my partner was our visit to the University of Arizona Center for Creative Photography.

About the Center

In 1975, legendary American photographer Ansel Adams (1902-1984), along with Dr. John P. Schaefer, then University of Arizona president, cofounded the Center for Creative Photography. Adams also entrusted his entire photographic collection and archive to the Center’s care. The archives of other masters followed, growing to a current 270.

Adams’ and Schaefer’s shared vision for the new institution was to create an educational, collecting, preservation, and exhibition facility that would include the work of many photographers. Today, the center holds more than 110,000 works by over 2,200 photographers and is recognized as one of the world’s premier academic art museums and study centers for the history of photography.

Why Arizona? While Adams’ work is closely associated with California’s Yosemite Valley, he produced a wide range of work throughout the American West, including photos of many iconic Arizona places –– among them, the Grand Canyon, Mission San Javier Del Bac, and Saguaro National Park below.


Known for his striking black and white landscapes, Adams published some of his first color work in popular travel magazine Arizona Highways in the mid-1940s. He continued to sell photos to the publication in the 1950s.

We had a lot on our Tucson agenda, but for us the Center was a “must see.” We happily spent a goodly part of an afternoon there, seeing and absorbing as much as possible before reaching that saturation point that even the most intrepid museum goers experience.

If you’re an enthusiastic photographer or photography fan, you’re sure to find stimulation and inspiration in the Center’s collection and special exhibitions.

The Exhibition:  A Portrait of Poetry

On our July visit, the special exhibition was an intriguing portrait project by photographer and poetry lover, B.A. Van Sise.  Mr. Van Sise’s family lineage goes back to groundbreaking American poet Walt Whitman (1819-1892), and the project was in celebration of the 200th anniversary of Whitman’s birth.

Also an homage to Whitman’s masterpiece, Leaves of Grass, the show comprised about 80 photos of contemporary poets, primarily a who’s who of Pulitzer Prize winners, Poet Laureates and Chancellors of the Academy of American Poetry. Among them was one video portrait of acclaimed poet Sharon Olds.

Adjacent to each poet’s portrait was the text of one of his or her poems. Per Van Sise’s treatment of his subjects, each portrait was, as the Center noted, “at once a likeness of the poet, an evocation of the poem, and a presentation of a visual narrative fashioned by the photographer.” That tripartite quality created a thought-provoking experience.

We saw many familiar poets in the show, such as Nikki Giovanni, Joyce Carol Oates and Rita Dove. There were also several new discoveries, and we each made a list of poets to pursue further.

Van Sise’s book based on the expansive, three-year project — Children of  Grass: A Portrait of American Poetry — was published in September 2019.  See the Resources section below for more about both.

Exploring the Center’s Collection

The Van Sise show was absorbing, and it took some energy to get through it all, but we made it and pushed on to the adjacent gallery for a related show of items from the Center’s collection: selected photo illustrations that noted photographer Edward Weston (1886-1958) provided in 1941 for a new edition of poet Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.  

In the same gallery, we viewed other Weston photos and poked through drawers of various Ansel Adams materials –– personal photos, letters, and other memorabilia, tools he used in his studio, contact sheets. With our heads spinning, we headed to lunch. No time for more this trip, but we look forward to next time.

Planning Your Visit

Located on the University of Arizona’s urban campus with convenient parking nearby, the Center is free and open to the public. Its many offerings include free guided tours, research capabilities, and small-group viewings of items from the collection. Contact the Center for scheduling requirements.

For more information about the Center, directions, hours and current exhibitions:

Van Sise Project Resources

To learn more about photographer B.A. Van Sise, his range of work and creative projects, see: 

For an interview with Mr. Van Sise about his photo book, Children of  Grass: A Portrait of American Poetry, containing many of the photos we saw in the Center’s exhibition above, see:

The Van Sise exhibition opened at the Center in June 2019, and his related book was published in September. To find the book, including at an indie bookstore in your area:

Copyright M. Vincent 2019

Center for Creative Photography photo copyright Brad Nixon 2019, used with permission.  Saguaro National Park photo by Ansel Adams is in public domain.


Food/Photography Friday: A Photographic Tale of Two Cities, Part II

MV S5647-680 Saguaro NP Tucson

This year, in search of our next home in the U.S. West, my partner and I revisited two cities we’d found appealing on earlier travels and took a longer, closer look. In Part I, I wrote about our stay in Eugene, Oregon in cold, rainy March. Part II takes us to a sunny Sonoran Desert clime in high summer.

Tucson, Arizona

On the East Coast, they’ve got “The Big Apple,” New York City.  Here in the West, we’ve got “The Baked Apple,” Tucson, Arizona. At least that’s what one witty local journalist calls it in its summer season, when temperatures regularly soar to over 100 degrees. If it’s not an established nickname for the city, it should be.

Could we handle the heat and thrive? Finding out was a major goal of our stay in July. At first, it quickly drained our usual energy. Day one was the worst –– like a slow motion prowl through a scenic oven –– but we kept going anyway and got acclimated fairly soon.

Starting the day’s exploring early is a must to beat the most intensive heat. Fortunately, we’re morning people, and it helped us make the most of our time, despite necessary breaks to cool off.  It was also great for desert hiking and photography.

Saguaro National Park

On our earlier trips to Tucson, enjoying the beautiful natural environment was our primary focus. We loved Saguaro National Park and couldn’t wait to get back on the trails. That’s the park in the photo above, taken on this year’s morning hike –– lush and green under a fabulous western sky.

The park is named for the iconic Saguaro cactus below, a well-known symbol of Arizona and the American West.  These giant cacti grow only in the Sonoran Desert.

MV S5636-LR Saguaro Natl Park landscape-680

Saguaro National Park is comprised of two sections, East and West. Our hike was in Saguaro East, also known as the Rincon Mountain district. It’s the older section, with mature Saguaros that may be more than 200 years old.

Summer is monsoon/rainy season in Tucson, and the desert was blooming. This prickly pear cactus is full of ripe, red-violet fruit growing from the edges of its fleshy green pads. The sweet “pears” are edible as well as the pads (the Mexican vegetable “nopalitos”).

MV S5616-LR Saguaro Natl Park Cactus-680

The University of Arizona

Tucson is home to the University of Arizona, with the associated cultural benefits –– another thing we like about the city. Its Center for Creative Photography, co-founder Ansel Adams, was a highlight of our trip.

We also enjoyed touring and photographing the attractive campus with its old red-brick buildings, green, shady lawns and groves of trees.

MV C5371-LR Womens Memorial UAZ-680

That’s the Women’s Plaza of Honor in the foreground in this photo.

The first university in Arizona, “Old Main” opened its doors in 1891. In its early days, it stood in the middle of a desert. Now it’s an island of green in the heart of the city.

Historic Neighborhoods

On a prior trip, we toured Tucson landmark, Mission San Xavier del Bac, on the outskirts of the city. This time, we focused on the historic areas downtown: El Presidio and Barrio Historico.

The oldest neighborhood in Tucson, El Presidio was founded in 1775, when Spanish soldiers and settlers built a walled fort there. Barrio Historico dates from the mid-1850s as settlers spread out from El Presidio.

I especially enjoyed photographing the colorful old houses and buildings in these areas. Here are some of my favorites.

MV S5586-LR mod historic intersect Tucson-680

A well-preserved El Presidio building displays the intersection of modern and traditional. 

MV S5580-LR Terracotta adobe Tucson-680

Bright colors and decorative details are a hallmark of the city’s downtown historic districts.

MV S5585-LR Poincianas front blue adobe-680

A dwarf poinciana tree’s fiery orange flowers pop against a blue adobe wall in El Presidio.

MV S5893-LR Old bldgs Barrio Viejo Tucson-680

Barrio Historico: Old adobes often have shared walls to protect against the heat.

Mount Lemmon

No trip to The Baked Apple would be complete without an escape to Mount Lemmon, a refuge from the heat for locals and visitors alike. The steep, curving road goes up to a 9,000-foot elevation in a diverse outdoor recreation area with pine forests and panoramic views.

MV S5770-LR Curve nr Windy Pt Mt Lem-680

We didn’t get to the top on our drive, but we didn’t need to: Starting at 110 degrees in Tucson, the temperature dropped to the 70s as we climbed, with open windows, reveling in the cool, fresh air.

What are some of your favorite travels this year? Will you be off for one more trip before 2019 comes to a close? If so, where will you go?

Copyright M. Vincent 2019. All photos copyright M. Vincent 2019.

Food/Photography Friday: A Photographic Tale of Two Cities, Part I

MV C8381 Pre Trail Eugene OR-680

As 2019 draws to a close, I’ve been reflecting on the travels my partner and I took this year to two very different cities in search of our next home in the western United States. In March we spent about two weeks living like locals in Eugene, Oregon. In July, we did the same in Tucson, Arizona.

We’d visited each of these cities before and found many things to like, so we wanted to take a closer look. We went to Eugene in winter to see if we sun-loving Southern Californians could handle the cold, wet, often gloomy weather. For Tucson, we chose the height of summer to test our ability to thrive in the unrelenting seasonal heat.

I’m grateful for the time we had to explore each town, visit with friends, enjoy several side trips and have wonderful opportunities for photography. In this post and Part II, I’ll share some of my favorite photos from each trip, starting with Eugene.

Eugene, Oregon

“Track Town USA” is Eugene’s nickname, and the running community was among the things that attracted us to the city. That’s Pre’s Trail in the photo above, a broad path four miles long that commemorates legendary University of Oregon runner, Steve Prefontaine. Located in Alton Baker Park, it draws numerous runners and walkers every day.

Hiking in the scenic outdoors, close proximity to the Oregon coast, and university-town cultural/educational offerings also attracted us to Eugene.

A fascinating part of the city’s history is the Shelton McMurphey Johnson House, a Victorian-era mansion that sits on a hill overlooking downtown.

MV S4516-LR SheltMcMJ Vict full view-680

In the front garden to the right, notice the bright yellow daffodils that we saw everywhere in Eugene this March as winter moved toward spring.

Built in 1888, this commanding landmark, now a museum, is named for the three successive families who lived there. Learning about their daily lives and the antics of the spirited children who grew up in the house is a fun part of the tour.

The facade exemplifies the ornamental details of Late Victorian Queen Anne Revival style architecture.

MV S4494-LR SMJ Victorian angled turret-680

Side Trips

The Pre’s Trail photo dates from our summer 2017 visit to Eugene. Winter 2019 was a different experience, but we still had some sunny, if damp and chilly, intervals. Our luckiest weather break was the day we headed to the coast to see the Heceta Head lighthouse, which I wrote about earlier here.

This historic lighthouse, circa 1894, is a magnet for photographers, and you can see why.

MV S4131-LR Heceta trees 680

Even the approach is special as you walk up the hill with the buildings in the distance among the trees.

MV S4178-LR Path to Heceta

MV S4169-LR Heceta Light sea small people-680

We were so fortunate to be able to photograph it on a bright, dry day in a week of rain!

On our country-roads drive back to Eugene, we spotted this old railroad bridge and stopped to take some shots.

MV C4763-LR Cushman RR bridge pivot-680

We learned it’s the Cushman swing-span railroad bridge, Mapleton, which crosses the Siuslaw River near Florence. One of its three spans rotates to allow boats to pass under it. Built in 1914, the bridge has keepers’ quarters on top for those who operate its rotating drawbridge.

I enjoy photographing industrial landscapes and got another chance when we visited our friend Lori in Portland. After brunch and the Saturday Market, she gave us an energetic tour of the surrounding area that ended up with dinner in Oregon City.

That’s where I got these shots of the industrial area on the Willamette River near landmark Willamette Falls.

MV C5095-LR OR City Abernethy Bridge-680

George Abernethy Bridge, spanning the Willamette River between Oregon City and West Linn.

MV C5078-LR OR City Blue Heron indust area-680

Oregon City’s Blue Heron paper mill, site of various operations since the 1830s, closed in 2011.

MV C5082-LR OR West Linn Paper industrial area-680

West Linn’s landmark paper mill, closed in 2017 after 128 years in business.

Other meetups with friends took us to Phoenix (near Ashland) and Jacksonville, Oregon, and Centralia, Washington. In Jacksonville, I spotted this sweet, petite historic home with its multi-story birdhouse.

MV C5053-LR Old house Jacksonville OR-680

That ends the Eugene, Oregon tale. Stay tuned for Part II, Tucson, Arizona.

What were some of your favorite travels this year?

Copyright M. Vincent 2019.  All photos copyright M. Vincent 2017-2019.

Food/Photography Friday: Fuyu Persimmon Photo Shoot

MV S6964-LR Persimmon gloves pebbles-640

I love creating still-life photos with beautiful seasonal fruit, so when I saw this perfect Fuyu persimmon in my local market, I grabbed it and got to work.

Fuyus are a bright symbol of autumn, arriving in mid-fall and lasting through the winter months. Their shiny skin ranges from golden amber to a deep, pumpkin-like orange.

This one stood out for its rich color and exceptional smoothness and gloss. Firm and unblemished, with its leafy green cap intact, it was camera-ready.  To create a distinct autumn vibe, I looked for props with complementary textures, patterns and hues.

About the Fruit

Two types of persimmons are commercially grown in the U.S. and sold in markets across the country: the Fuyu, which is the focus of this post, and the Hachiya. Both came to us via Japan, where persimmons are the national fruit.  Both are in season now.

MV S6957-LR Persimmon striped scarf-640

From first bite, I found the Fuyu delicious, as well as visually appealing. If you’ve seen them in your area and wondered about them, I encourage you to give them a try.

Called fuyu gaki in Japan, Fuyus are mildly sweet and taste rather like an apricot or pear, with a slight hint of cinnamon. They can be eaten at any stage of ripeness. In the early stage, they’re firm and crisp, great for slicing and eating like an apple (peeling optional) or added to salads –– their subtle sweetness pairs well with peppery arugula, for example. As the fruit grows riper, it becomes sweeter and softer.

In their varying stages of ripeness, Fuyus are used in chutneys and salsas, salads, desserts and baking.

Beware: If you’re unfamiliar with persimmons, don’t confuse the Fuyu in this post with the Hachiya, that other Japanese variety in season, or you may have a very unpleasant experience.

While Fuyus can be eaten crisp, Hachiyas cannot be eaten until they’re extremely soft. Bite into one before it’s ready and you’ll encounter a bitter taste and an astringent effect that can make it difficult to swallow. It made me avoid Hachiyas for years.  You can distinguish the two by their shape: Compared to the round, tomato-shaped Fuyus in my photos, Hachiyas are elongated and acorn-shaped.

MV S6960-LR Persimmon floral silk II-640

U.S. readers, Thanksgiving is around the corner. Maybe go a bit rogue this year and add Fuyu persimmons to your feast? You’ll find many appealing recipes online, from salads and chutneys to apple-persimmon pie.

If you enjoy Fuyu persimmons, what’s your favorite way to eat them?

Copyright M. Vincent 2019

Persimmon photos copyright M. Vincent 2019

Food/Photography Friday: Breakfast on the Road in Bishop, California

Bristlecone Pine Forest MV Hiking-2018

One of the joys of travel is finding fun local places to have breakfast. That’s a road trip focus my partner and I share — and when we’re starting out early for a day of trekking in the outdoors, robust morning coffee and a healthy, fortifying meal are a must. We found two gems for both in Bishop, when we made the town our base for exploring the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest and Old West ghost town, Bodie, last fall.

Waffles and Books at the Pupfish Café

MV C3969-LR Pupfish Cafe-680

Named for a tiny, endangered Death Valley fish, this cozy, friendly café is located inside an attractive indie bookstore, a bonus for book lovers. The menu emphasizes locally sourced products, including eggs, bread, baked goods and artisan coffee from Black Sheep Coffee Roasters just down the street.

As you can see from the counter menu above, the coffee options are extensive. The cappuccino and the full-bodied house brew we tried were both excellent.

The cafe’s specialty is the Liège waffle, named for the city in Belgium. It’s made with a brioche dough and studded with chunky pearl sugar that caramelizes as the waffle cooks, producing a crisp exterior.

MV C3699 LR Pupfish waffle and coffee-640

When I saw this waffle in my pre-trip restaurant research, I was hooked. At the cafe, I promptly ordered one for us to share with our coffee while perusing the rest of the menu. Intended to be eaten by hand, it arrived warm and fragrant in its paper package –– a sweet, crunchy, dense and chewy delight. Don’t leave the Pupfish without trying one.

After our rich “starter,” we moved on to the Eggs on Avocado, which came with a choice of Kalamata olives, red pepper flakes or fresh basil. The dish came nicely plated, with the scrambled eggs on a perfectly ripe sliced avocado, the basil garden-fresh.

We enjoyed the food and ambience so much, we returned and were again impressed. I had the Paleo Breakfast: two poached eggs cooked to order, topped with a house-made cilantro-caper spread, and served on mixed greens tossed with a zippy vinaigrette. A satisfying choice for vegetarians like me, as well as Paleo diet followers. My partner enjoyed the Egg and Cheese Panini, served on a ciabatta roll.

In sum, for a variety of healthy, flavorful breakfast choices, served in a relaxed modern setting, up with contemporary food trends, but not pretentious and pricey, head to the Pupfish Café.

Pupfish Café Location: 124 S. Main Street (U.S. Hwy 395), Bishop, CA. The entrance to the cafe is from the free parking lot behind Spellbinder Books. To check current hours and menu:

A Passion for Baking at Great Basin Bakery 

Sometimes you just want a great pastry and coffee for breakfast, and wherever we travel, I’m on the lookout for the best local bakeries. In Bishop, Great Basin Bakery caught my attention as a real community place versus the town’s ultra-hyped tourist destination. It’s a small shop with a friendly vibe and a large selection of fresh, high quality breads and pastries.

I love cinnamon rolls, but hate those flavorless bombs drowned in an avalanche of icing. Great Basin’s are bright with cinnamon and not too sweet, with a pleasing texture and just a light glaze on top. I prefer mine served warm, which they’ll gladly do if you ask.

We also tried the buttermilk scone with orange zest and dark chocolate chips, a winner paired with their Black Sheep Coffee Roasters brew.

The morning we visited, the place was bustling with hikers, bikers, locals grabbing their morning coffee …  At peak hours, seating can be challenging with the limited space, but it’s worth the wait –– and ours wasn’t long. Counter staff were welcoming, and patient with our newcomers’ questions, service attentive.

Other things to like about this place: Like the Pupfish Café, Great Basin uses local ingredients and products and highlights fresh, healthy eating. They offer mini cinnamon rolls, scones and muffins, great for sampling or for those who just want a small sweet bite with their coffee. (More bakeries should do this.) Their lunches, snacks and grab-and-go items include vegetarian and vegan options.

Did I mention the varied selection of great-looking bread? We chose the multigrain sandwich loaf for its healthy, all-wholegrain ingredients, including wheat bran, oats and rye flakes. For flavor and texture, you can’t go wrong with this one for sandwiches and toast. Maybe next time, the sourdough rye.

Great Basin was started by two partners who dreamed of pursuing their passion for baking. You can find the inspiring story here. After more than 15 years in business, that passion is still evident.

Great Basin Bakery Location:  275 S. Main Street, Bishop, CA. To check current hours and menu:

What is one of your favorite coffee and breakfast finds on your travels?

Copyright M. Vincent 2019

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest hiking photo copyright Brad Nixon, used with kind permission

Pupfish Café photos copyright M. Vincent 2019

Great Basin Bakery photos copyright Great Basin Bakery, used with kind permission

Food/Photography Friday: Bailamos!

Always have your camera at the ready –– you never know what fortuitous inspiration you’ll find. This photo, Bailamos, is a prime example.

MV Bailamos Fnl_FP-640

A few years ago, my partner and I were visiting the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) for a special exhibition when we ran into a troupe of folkloric dancers performing traditional Mexican dances in the courtyard.

Among the group were these charming young women who happily gathered to pose for photos during a break.

Standing in front of LACMA’s iconic Urban Light sculpture in their colorful costumes and bright smiles, they projected a graceful exuberance I found captivating. How often do we experience such pure, unmitigated moments of joy?

They seemed to be saying, with pride and delight, to the audience and the world: “Bailamos. We dance. That’s who we are, what we do.”  Hence the title I chose for the photo.

I hope they’ll always experience the joy of losing –- and finding –– oneself in art.

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?

  — W.B. Yeats, Among School Children

Copyright M. Vincent 2019

Food/Photography Friday: Behind the Lens in Bodie

Last fall, one of my photography expedition dreams came true –– I finally made it to Bodie, an Old West ghost town in the remote high-desert of Northern California.

MV S1221-LR Bodie leaning bldgs-680

Inspired by a family member, I’d had Bodie on my list for a couple of years.  When I saw the wonderful photos from his trip, I was determined to go there and explore it for myself. Thank you, Nick.

My partner was on board, and equally fascinated with seeing the bristlecone pine forest in the same area, so off we went in mid-September, one of the most beautiful and temperate times to visit both.

Bodie’s houses and buildings are preserved in a state of “arrested decay”: That is, repaired and stabilized, but not restored, as exemplified by the leaning structures in my photo above. Inside are many things residents left behind when they packed up and moved away.

MV S1244-LR Bodie kitchen-680

Those dust-covered objects of everyday life –– in the abandoned homes, businesses and school –– reflect the town’s many layers of history.

MV S1246-LR Bodie bedroom-680

Bodie was a gold rush boom town with a brief, wild heyday from 1877–1881, bustling with more than 30 mines. When failing mines began to close, its population dwindled, but the industry and habitation continued until 1942.

That’s why you’ll find furnishings, store goods, vehicles and other items from several decades among the ruins. In a shed, a horse-drawn carriage. In a field, rusting automobile parts, or a truck, such as this flatbed pickup, circa 1940:

MV S1257-LR Bodie old truck-680

All around the deteriorating human structures, nature has vigorously taken up residence. On the day my partner and I visited, flowering sagebrush was everywhere, adding a painterly touch to the landscape with its vivid yellow blooms.

MV S1240-LR Bodie house landscape-680

The confluence of nature and human artifacts is an affecting aspect of the Bodie environment, reflected in one of my favorite photos of the day:

MV S1225-LR Bodie shoes 300-680

As I stepped down from a pile of rocks I’d stacked to peer into the window of a house, I found these old shoes, left behind decades ago, disintegrating into the dry, hard earth, surrounded by shoots of fresh green grass.

So much to see, so many stories to capture as I walked through Bodie’s streets and fields, imagining the lives of the people who’d lived there. Always looking out for the details –– and perhaps touched by a ghost hovering barefoot in the air.

For more about Bodie and additional photos, including a fabulous old lion-foot billiard table, see my earlier post at this link.

Trip Planning

Bodie is in California’s Eastern Sierra region, 13 miles east of Highway 395 on Bodie Road (Highway 270), seven miles south of Bridgeport. Note that the last three miles into town, you’ll be driving an unpaved road: It will be a rough, rocky ride in places, but does not require a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

The town, a California state historic park, is open all year, from 9 a.m.–6 p.m. in summer (April 15–November 3) and 9 a.m.–4 p.m. in winter (November 4–April 14). The warmer spring, summer and fall months are the best time to visit.

Check the Bodie State Historic Park website before you go for comprehensive, updated visitor information –– from hours and fees to road conditions (especially winter snow), advisory notices and special programs, such as night ghost walks, star walks and old mill tours.

Some Tips

There are restrooms, a parking lot and picnic area, but no food or gasoline on the premises, so be sure to fuel up and pack water and snacks. A hat, sunscreen and jacket (even in summer) are also advisable. On our early fall trip, the sun was intense, but in late afternoon temperatures dropped significantly, and we were glad to have extra layers with us.

Bodie sits at an elevation of 8,375 feet, so you may experience a bit of altitude sickness –– fatigue, lightheadedness, an unusual drop in energy –– after hours on your feet exploring. It’s also a dry environment. Carry water and snacks with you, stay hydrated and take a break periodically.

Mono Lake, Yosemite National Park, and the towns Lee Vining and Bishop are nearby. We found Bishop an enjoyable, very convenient base for visiting Bodie and the bristlecone pine forest.

Copyright M. Vincent 2019.  All photos copyright M. Vincent 2019.