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Postcards from Travel Near and Far by Jia-Rui


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91204, Glendale

Dinner at Palate with the wine glass I didn't use

Dear ——–,

We’d been meaning to go to Palate for a long time, but we somehow only got our act together last Sunday, when my diet was limited because of being pregnant. It was still tasty, but I think I missed out on a few things. (OK, I know, I’ve got a bigger goal.) Palate is known for its wine list and Bryan and our friend Tad mmmm’ed their way through pinot noirs and sauvignon blancs. The “mixologist” had at least one fun non-alcoholic drink on his menu — a cucumber lime cooler — which Tammy and I ordered, twice, maybe out of spite. The prix fixe Sunday meal started with a wild greens salad with hazelnuts. It probably would’ve been better with theĀ  runny egg that came on top of it, but I had to donate mine to Bryan. I had to order my hangar steak medium well, but it still had nice flavor. The whole meal finished off nicely with a Valrhona chocolate pudding sprinkled with fleur de sel and a chocolate torte. At least I don’t have any limitations on dessert!

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91103, Pasadena

Old gumball machines for sale

Dear ——–,

We thought it would be fun to go to the Rose Bowl Flea Market on Sunday, but it turned into a nightmare. We’ve been in the market for a low, long credenza-type thing to hold the electronics under our TV. We did see a few cool stalls — one had old phonographs; another had vintage citrus crate labels. But we didn’t find the affordable mid-century modern furniture we’d hoped. We also didn’t think about sunscreen because it’s February. It turned out to be unbearably sunny and Bryan got half-sunburned. There was also no place to sit down. We tried to leave at about 10 a.m., but when we got back to the parking lot, our car was boxed in by a stupid Toyota Matrix with a stuffed Beijing Olympic mascot in its back window. The event manager said the flea market had no authority over this lot — a mulch-covered one where Seco Street turns east. The police said they had no authority to tow from that lot either. So we were stuck waiting for one of the cars around us to leave. Unfortunately, other cars came and tried to box us in further, but Bryan waved them off. Do people think it’s OK to box more cars in if some are already boxed in? I guess there’s no real penalty there for parking obnoxiously. When the car in front of ours finally moved an hour and a half later, we were so relieved. All I could think to do was leave a tsk-tsk note on the windshield of Matrix with a drawing of an angry face. I just hope they get their parking karma some day.


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91106, Pasadena

I was so hungry I took a bite out of this burger before I took a picture

Dear ——–,

Why does L.A. do the burger so well? Is it that the city came of age in the same era (the 1950s and 60s) as the burger joint? We finally made it to Pie ‘n Burger on Saturday and stepped into a different world as we sat down at the formica counter. A sassy waitress took our order. There was a lady sitting next to us with a sweater tied around her neck, eating a tuna sandwich plate with fruit and cottage cheese. The walls were decorated with wallpaper — the first time I’ve seen that in years. Pie n’ Burger has a pretty limited menu — hamburgers come with or without cheese, typically with lettuce and thousand island dressing. They ask if you want grilled onions. You have to ask for tomatoes. I got the works. “This whole thing is a symphony of flavors,” I told Bryan. “But I can only guess that there’s meat in there somewhere.” Bryan, who got only bun, meat and cheese, proclaimed that the stripped-down burger was good as well, so I’ll have to take his word for it.


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V0N 1B4, Whistler

A treehouse in the middle of the mountain

Dear ——–,

We almost didn’t ski on Sunday. We had a flight to catch in Seattle at 7:30 p.m. But when we saw the downy flakes falling and sticking down in the village, we couldn’t help ourselves. Jen, Andrew, Bryan and I only got 3 hours, but it was completely worth the hassle of buckling boots and schlepping gear. Whistler Mountain redeemed itself from Thursday’s slushy nightmare. Thank goodness we had granulated or powdered sugar to ski on instead. Unfortunately, everyone else also knew the conditions had improved and the lift lines were three times as long. We managed to find the treehouse near the Bear Cub trail, stepped out of our skis and scrambled up the wooden stairs. I skipped the slides, but Bryan and Jen howled on their way down. On our last run, we managed to catch about 20 feet of the Dave Murray trail, so I can at least say I did one of the 2010 Olympic runs. We hustled out of Canada as quickly as we could, with stops for Tim Hortons and ketchup chips before the border. On the way to the airport, we dropped Andrew off at the Granite Curling Club because he had a match. (He actually is Canadian.)


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V0N 1B4, Whistler

Thank god it stopped raining at Blackcomb!

Dear ——–,

The rain finally stopped on Saturday morning. We tried to get to the lifts at opening time (8:30) and almost made it (9:00). (The buses weren’t exactly frequent.) Much of the surface was asphalt-like ice, but this was an amazing change from the slurpee of Thursday. We spent most of the day at Blackcomb, where Bryan and I shared T-bar rides up to the top. We had to hike a few hundred feet to get to the trail that took us to the glacier, but Bryan was sweet enough to carry my skis. (I’m spoiled!) It was my first time skiing on a glacier and I took a super scenic route that probably would’ve burned out snowboarders’ legs. I wanted to get to the untouched snow, which looked a little better than it felt since it had the consistency of marzipan. Still, it was nice to get away from the crowds and hear nothing but my own carving. We got in line for the Peak-to-Peak gondola back to Whistler and waited less than 10 minutes for a glass-bottomed one. It was pretty amazing zipping above the valley, looking down at a frozen river wind through tall Douglas firs hundreds of feet below.


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V0N 1B8, Whistler

Silent twilight at the Scandinave Spa

Dear ——–,

The hopeful rain on Wednesday night turned into a rain disaster on Thursday morning. It was raining and +1 degree Celsius at the top of the Whistler Mountain gondola. I’ve never skied in the rain, so these were the worst conditions I’d ever encountered. I was skiing through slurpee and so tired of being wet I wore a plastic bag over my clothes. The conditions on Friday looked to be the same so we gave up sliding that day. Instead, Jen, Andrew, Bryan and I checked out the 2010 Olympic Nordic skiing area and learned about loppets, the fun-runs of the cross-country skiing world. We ended the afternoon at the Scandinave Spa, a collection of hot and cold pools deep in the cedars and firs. The spa insisted on quiet, so I spent a nice hour or two in a fluffy robe, reading the new Cleopatra biography. Bryan and I also got massages, which worked out all the kinks and discontents of the previous day.


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V0N 1B4, Whistler

Arctic char at Araxi

Dear ——–,

After getting up at 4:15 a.m. to catch a flight to Seattle and driving about 3.5 hour with Jen and Andrew, we finally reached Whistler on Wednesday evening. Cooking sounded exhausting (and time-consuming) so we knew we were eating out. We ended up at Araxi, often cited as the best restaurant in Whistler. I was a little worried they’d turn me away since I was wearing sweatpants and a silly “Guster is for lovers” long-sleeve t-shirt. But they found a table for us in the lounge. Bryan and I split a plate of delicate, almost-sweet arctic char, over a parsnip puree with golden British Columbian beets. We also shared some orders of truffle fries and sauteed spinach for the table. I won’t say we were exactly full at the end of dinner, but I felt satisfied that we had had a good meal. And, I give Araxi points for having a fun non-alcoholic drinks menu — Jen and I both ordered a drink with pear juice and rosemary syrup. It started raining as we left the restaurant, with the weather just a degree or two above freezing. We took that as a good sign for Thursday.