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Postcards from Travel Near and Far by Jia-Rui


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93453, Santa Margarita

Moonrise over the barn

Dear ——–,

As the sun set over Santa Margarita Ranch, I thought the lush, rolling hills would fit right into one of those “Happy cows come from California” commercials. Leah and Neal picked a beautiful setting for their wedding, saying their vows under a sprawling oak tree. They held the reception in a stone-lined barn, where glowing guests kept the chill away. (There was some pretty raucous dancing.) Pots of thyme, rosemary and basil decorated the tables. The food was exquisite — arugula salad with a roasted red pepper vinaigrette, lavender-scented lamb and halibut bundled in parchment paper with meyer lemon, fennel and kalamata olives. The halibut was so good Bryan downed three packages of it — after making sure, of course, that everyone else at the table had had their fill. One of the best parts was seeing a table full of old family wedding pictures in the reception hall. They were reassuring good-luck talismans.


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91203, Glendale

Squeaky, empty escalators at Sears

Dear ——–,

Bryan and I went to Sears at 10 a.m. on Sunday to buy a dishwasher, but we were the only customers in sight. It was so silent I could hear the escalators humming and the air conditioning blowing. To distract themselves from the emptiness, the salesclerks busied themselves folding golf shirts. I thought about how the department store was once the embodiment of the American Dream — a cornucopia of home appliances, necklaces with heart pendants and infant onesies. Was it that nobody was interested in this 1950s version of domestic bliss anymore? Was it the recession? Was it that most people could purchase these American standards more cheaply elsewhere? We left Sears empty-handed. The space under our kitchen counter was too small for most dishwashers for sale. It made me think we were looking for a more modest version of the American Dream than Sears had to offer.


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90041, Eagle Rock

"Tres puercitos" in a piggy bowl

Dear ——–,

The cashier at Cacao Mexicatessen warned Bryan that the Don Marcos taco was spicy. “I’ve had them before,” Bryan said, with confidence. “They’re great.” But this time, he ate very slowly, sniffling along the way. His eyes got watery. “I need a minute,” he said, after the last morsel. The cashier grinned. Bryan said he’d never felt such burning. “Pure habanero,” the cashier explained. “And at this time of year, with all the sun, they get really hot.” I guess if fruit can get sweeter with sunshine, peppers can get more kick! Our main course was the “Tres Puercitos,” or Three Little Pigs: a pile of carnitas, cochinita pibil and chorizo in a pig-shaped ceramic. (Although we usually get their trademark mole poblano, we decided to try something different. At least the dish came with guacamole!) Mike and his girlfriend brought a bottle of pinot noir from the Trader Joe’s next door. We were in hog heaven. My fingers still smell of corn tortillas and unctuous, succulent pork.


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90041, Eagle Rock

Food truck convention!

Dear ——–,

We heard the Kogi Taco Truck was on its way, so we rushed out to the intersection of Eagle Rock and York. When we got there, we saw three other food trucks parked on the same block: King Kone (ice cream), Rambo Tacos (regular Mexican tacos) and Komodo (mostly-Asian, slightly-Mexican gourmet food). Why would they park so close to Kogi, the undisputed king of food trucks? Wouldn’t one just suck away business from the competitors? Turns out, it as an ingenious idea. While we were committed to getting short-rib tacos at Kogi, the line was so long we got hungry during the wait. (Was it long because the Kogi founder was just named one of the best new chefs of 2009 that day?) I ended up buying a basket of truffle fries from Komodo to tide us over. I guess the effect was like ending up (unconsciously) in the jewelry district downtown or a mall food court. You know you’re going to buy something and you find yourself in a place where you have a lot of choices for the same kind of thing. Next time, I wouldn’t mind if Kogi met up with the dosa and cupcake trucks!


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93546, Convict Lake

Belgian chocolate ganache for dessert

Dear ——–,

We decided at 3 p.m. on Friday to drive up to Mammoth. The weather called for snow and we saw a clear weekend in front of us. We decided to take it easy, though. On Saturday afternoon, we gave up battling the wind a little after 2 p.m. We headed to the Mammoth Ski Museum, a place we’d always wanted to see, but never got around to. The coolest part was seeing Dave McCoy’s images from the early 1960s, when he and his friends decided to build their own rope tows. It used to be 50 cents for a day pass! This weekend, we stayed at Convict Lake, a sheltered cluster of cabins with a true wild west history. Escapees from Carson City had a shoot out with local posses there before being captured and hung. The Restaurant at Convict Lake is easily the best restaurant in the area, so we stopped in for a late dinner. We wavered when it came to dessert, but the thought of the rich, dark Belgian chocolate ganache, which comes swimming in a berry puree, fresh whipped cream and mint leaves, had been haunting us all season. We gave in.