Foodie Friday: Nicks Cafe

Today is Friday, and that means it’s time for another post in my series of restaurant reviews which I call Foodie Friday, where I get to eat out with my husband using a discount voucher.  Today’s meal was brought to us by Groupon.  A few weeks ago I bought a voucher for Nick’s cafe. The voucher was $10 and allowed Juan and I to buy $20 worth of food. $20 for lunch may not seem like enough for two people to eat lunch in a cafe, but once we arrived at Nick’s we knew we’d be just fine.

Blast from the past at Nick's Cafe

Blast from the past at Nick’s Cafe

Nick’s cafe is not located in a high rent district.  It’s situated outside Chinatown and across from a large park, in an industrial area north of the civic center where I work.  The place has been there since the 1930’s, and it looks like it hasn’t been updated in about as long. The place is kind of an institution but aside from that, the food also garners some pretty good reviews on Yelp.

Diner atmosphere and counter seating.

Diner atmosphere and counter seating.

The small cafe has only counter seating indoors, but it was so stuffy inside that we opted to sit outside at one of the few tables. The outdoor tables are opposite the park, and along Spring Street, a major street with a lot of traffic. It was an interesting view. At one point during our lunch a movie crew passed by with a camera aboard a flat bed truck, hauling a train car with passengers. Only in LA.

The service and the food were not trendy LA at all. The waitress took her time to take our order and when she spoke with us she kept calling us, “Baby,” and not in a LA kind of way. More like a familial way.  The food was classic diner food. I ordered the turkey melt and Juan had the club sandwich. The sandwiches were really good. Both our sandwiches had thick homestyle bacon slices, which was a delicious addition to an otherwise ordinary selection.  The portions were not huge and came with only a pickle and a teeny tiny taste of coleslaw. I don’t like coleslaw so it’s okay with me that the portion was so small.  We paid extra and I ordered sweet potato fries while Juan ordered regular fries.

Club Sandwich with a slab of bacon.

Club Sandwich with a slab of bacon.

Turkey Melt and Sweet Potato Fries.

Turkey Melt and Sweet Potato Fries.

I would like to come back to this place for breakfast sometime. Yelp has some good reviews for the ham and eggs and other old school breakfast items. Speaking of “old school, Nick’s doesn’t take credit cards.  It’s a good thing we had some cash because even with the $20 Groupon, Juan and I had to pay an additional $7.00. It may not be in a high rent district, but the food prices sure aren’t low.

Recalling 9/11/01- The Day in My Life

From the archives. A post from the 10 year anniversary of 9/11.

One of the often asked questions of my parents generation was, “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?”  I remember hearing my parents talk about where they were when they heard the news that the president was shot while riding in a motorcade.  The question for this generation will probably be, “Where were you when the planes struck the Twin Towers?” It was such a tragic moment in U.S. history,  that it’s not hard to remember where one was when they heard the awful news.

I was at home, getting ready for work. I was a single mom of a 3 year-old. I woke up early,  and as usual, tried to keep quiet around the house as I took my shower, made breakfast and got dressed, while I let Nico sleep as long as he could.  When he finally woke up I turned on the TV so that he could stay occupied while I made him breakfast,  and got his clothes together.  Shortly after  7:00 am pacific time, my phone rang. It was Juan. We had just started dating a few months earlier, so it wasn’t that unusual for him to call me in the mornings and say hello.  He seemed frustrated and asked me where I had been and why I hadn’t answered the phone.  There was an urgency in his voice. He told me to turn on the TV. By this time the planes had struck the first tower.  He told me he would be right over, that he was going to drop Erica  and Olivia off at their grandmother’s house. Olivia was in the 1st grade. It was her 6th birthday and she was supposed to have a pizza party at school that day, but Juan and Olivia’s mom decided not to send Olivia to school after all.

I hung up the phone and turned on the television, just after the South Tower collapsed.  Juan arrived at my house shortly after that. I wanted his company. I did not want to be alone. Nico was still watching television in the family room, while Juan and I watched the North Tower go down from a small television in my room.  We weren’t sure if we should report for work.  Our office has a command post to call for such emergencies. We called in and were told not to come into work because of the threat level.  Juan’s workplace was downtown, while mine was just outside the civic center.  We were riveted to the television, watching in disbelief what was happening. I had visited New York a couple of times and I loved the city.  I was a native Angeleno and I lived in Southern California all my life, however, at that moment, I was a New Yorker. I felt the horror that those in New York must have been experiencing.

NYC Skyline in 2000 - Twin Towers in the background.

On the ferry from LIberty Island in 2002. The Towers are no longer part of the skyline.

Juan and I sat there all morning, watching the television reports, reliving the horror of those planes crashing into the towers.  Around midday we realized that even though Olivia had not gone to school that day, her classmates were counting on their pizza party.  Juan decided to take the pizzas to Olivia’s school.  I went with him. It seemed surreal to be walking through a grocery store picking up a cake, plates and napkins and getting pizza, on a day that America was attacked.  We went to her school and had the party. Olivia and her classmates were totally unaware of what had happened. They were happy to have pizza and sing Happy Birthday to Olivia. Olivia, with her beaming smile, was happy to be the center of attention.  Juan quietly told me how sad it was that for the rest of her life her birthday would be shared with such a horrible event.

Olivia at her birthday pizza party on 9/11/01.

Olivia's 6th Birthday - 9/11/01

After her pizza party, Juan and I wanted to do something other than go home and watch more news reports.  But we didn’t know what to do.  We decided to to a local pub, to be around other people. The pub had some other customers, but it was eerily quiet. Of course, the television was on and we watched more news reports and replays of the planes colliding. At the end of the day we had to go about our routines, picking up kids from school and daycare, and getting ready for the next day at work.

New Yorkers were dealing with the aftermath.  The President came on TV and asked us to go about our business.  The next day I went to the office. I tried to get on with business as usual. My brother was getting married 4 days later.  The bride’s grandparents from Illinois couldn’t get a flight out to the wedding. Some of the wedding guests had to cancel or make other travel arrangements. The wedding went on anyway, but even during the ceremony the priest made reference to the week’s event.  Two days after the wedding Juan and I decided to take the kids to Disneyland. We thought those wedding guests from out-of-town would want to go too. It turned out that most guests wanted to return home. It seemed like everyone else stayed home too. Disneyland was almost empty.

Olivia and Erica get an autograph from Mary Poppins in an almost deserted Disneyland.

California Adventure nearly empty one week after 9/11/01

Ten years later I can still vividly recall the days events from September 11th.  It was a day that changed America, and a day which I will probably always remember. It’s a day we should never forget.

A cross where Twin Towers used to stand.

Where were you when you heard the news that a plane struck the Towers, the Pentagon, or crashed in a field in Shanksville?

50/50 Friday – Week 34

Its Friday and another week has passed since I started my list of 50 Things I want to Do Before my 50th Birthday. I am beginning to worry that I won’t be able to check off more from my list before my next birthday, in a little over four months. Yikes! I better get moving. Considering that I am a mother of 4 kids, it’s no surprise that I have to cook and I want to drink. (Numbers 19 and 20 on my list.) I guess it stands to reason then that I am not making much progress on number 18 on my list, lose and keep off 15 pounds, and number 26, drop a dress size.

So, I am glad that with the New Year, came new eating resolutions. I have done this before. “This year I will lose 10/15/20 pounds.” But, this year I have taken a different approach to losing weight. In the past, I have weighed myself on a weekly basis. I am a lifetime member of Weight Watchers, which means that at one time I reached my goal weight with their program. You notice I said, “at one time?” That was about 20 years ago, when my metabolism was burning fuel like a furnace. Now, that furnace can barely keep me warm on a cold California winter’s night. Recently, I went to my doctor for a physical. When I complained about the hard time I was having losing weight, she told me that it was normal for a woman my age. Ahem. She said that after 40 a woman typically gains about 5 pounds a year. Glad to know that I am right on target. But I digress. As I was saying, in an effort to lose the dress size, and not obsess about the number on the scale, I have decided not to weigh myself. Instead, I am writing down my food using the Lose It App on my iPhone, and I am exercising. I feel better. My clothes are less snug and my energy level has increased. I will weigh myself when I go back for a follow-up doctor’s visit, but at home I won’t step on the scale so as not to get discouraged seeing the number on the scale.

Another item I did some work on was number 21, visit a local landmark once a month. In December I celebrated my friend Julie’s own milestone birthday. She wanted a low key celebration so we went to the spa, had a nice dinner together and stayed overnight at the Hotel Shangri-La, a renovated art deco hotel in Santa Monica.

Cool bathroom in the art deco style.

I love Santa Monica, but I live on the other side of Los Angeles, closer to the foothills, so crossing two freeways to get to this part of town, makes it feel like a foreign place to me. Consequently, I don’t get out here too often, and when I do, I wonder why I don’t visit this Southern California gem more often.  After our night of celebration, where we were in bed by 10:00 p.m., Juan joined us for breakfast. He brought Diego, and Julie’s daughter Ty with him. We had a great time walking around the 3rd Street Promenade, playing on the beach with the kids, and taking in the Southern California sunshine in December.

Beach Babies

Santa Monica wasn’t the only local landmark I visited lately. I have been able to check off more landmarks from my list. Since I participated in the Amazing Los Angeles Race, I got to visit Grauman’s Chinese Theater and the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

I also made a little progress on cleaning out my attic, number 2 on my list. A couple of weeks ago we had an estate sale at my grandmother’s house. We had quite a few items for sale, and I decided to add a few items from my attic. But it was like two steps forward, and one step backwards, because I brought home two pieces of furniture from my grandmother’s house, and stored them in my attic. Sigh.

Estate Sale

Now that the holidays are all wrapped up and I am settling into the New Year, I hope to make more steps forward and knock out some more items on my bucket list.

What’s on your bucket list? How’s your progress?

 

 

 

Latino Heritage Month

Today marks the beginning of Latino Heritage Month. In honor of the month long celebration of Latino culture, I am re-posting something I wrote last year.  Well, I am re-cycling the post for that reason, and the fact I am so overwhelmed with life right now that I haven’t had much time to blog.  But, with the weekend in sight, I may be able to put up a new post soon! Thanks for stopping by.

This past month has been a celebration of Latino heritage. Latino Heritage  Month technically runs from September 15 to October 15.  Being Latina is a big part of who I am.  During most of my childhood, I lived in a very diverse community near Los Angeles.  In my neighborhood there were Armenians, Japanese Americans, Anglos, and people who looked like me. It wasn’t until I moved to a predominately white suburb that I was aware that I was different. During my first days in the new school, my new classmates were naturally curious about the “new girl.”  They asked me “what I was.”  I wasn’t quite sure how to answer that question because I wasn’t really sure what they were asking, and I had never been asked that question before. I must have looked confused because the follow-up question was, “Are you Hawaiian…Italian… Indian?” Mexican wasn’t even an option.

I responded that I was Mexican, and then they asked if I was born in Mexico.

 Over the years I have been asked that question several more times, although it may not have been phrased the same way.   Depending on the circumstances I answered the questions in varying ways:

“I’m Mexican.”

“I’m Mexican American.”

“I’m Hispanic.”

“I’m  Latina.”

“I’m American, but of Mexican ancestry.”

“I was born in the U.S. but all of my grandparents were born in Mexico.”

Even though I wasn’t always certain what was the best way to answer that question, I still felt certain that I knew who I was and where my family was from. And I felt proud of my heritage.  My parents and family raised me with pride in our heritage, and culture. At family celebrations,  I would watch my mother dance  the Mexican folk dances she had learned as a young girl. 

I learned these dances too. I have had occasion to dance as an adult. 

I am so glad that some of these cultural lessons have been passed on to my children, my step-daughter Erica.

Diego, my youngest son, walked in the Latino Heritage parade last week. He marched with his classmates from his 1st grade Spanish immersion program. He wore the hat typical of his father’s native country, Colombia.

This is what Latino heritage is all about. A celebration of who we are and who are ancestors were. I hope that when my kids are asked the question, “What are you?” They will know how to answer, and they will answer with pride.

My Father’s Story

This is my father when he was a boy.

He was born in an area near El Paso, Texas, called Smeltertown.  It was called Smeltertown because of the smelt from the nearby mines.  I don’t think the name of the town is very appealing,  but, when I was little I would hear stories of his childhood, and I would think that Smeltertown sounded like a fascinating place.

Sometimes my dad’s childhood stories were tales of his struggles growing up, being raised by his adoptive mother, and his adoptive grandmother. My dad’s mother died when he was just months old.  His mother’s cousin, and her mother, raised him in Smeltertown. They made their living, in part, selling masa to make tortillas.  My dad worked alongside his adoptive mother and grandmother.

My dad's mother, cousin, and aunts.

My father was raised by these two strong, independent women.  They loved him and cared for him, but  were strict disciplinarians with him.  The only male presence, my father’s step-father, was largely absent.  When my dad was a teen they came to California and settled in a pretty rough neighborhood in East Los Angeles.

Dad, circa 1950, Belmont High School, Los Angeles.

He stayed out of trouble and eventually joined the army, which gave him more discipline, and offered him greater opportunity.

Dad in the Panama Canal Zone, 1953

My dad got out of the army and lived the single life, until he met and married my mom. They started their family right away, with three kids born in just over 4 years.  When my dad became a father, he had very little personal exposure to what being a father in a nuclear family looked like. Nowadays, they call that “modeling.”

Family Dinner, circa 1978.

But the lack of “modeling” has not deterred my dad. He learned a lot along the way. We have learned a lot along the way together too. Sometimes the lessons were rough. But, always, we knew he loved us and took care of us. And always, along the way, we have built new memories and created our own stories.

He took us on family vacations.

Family vacation to Vancouver, Canada, circa 1977. (Dad's not pictured because he was the photographer!)

Many times these vacations involved one of his favorite activities, fishing.

Vacation at Mammoth Lakes, California. Circa 1970.

Another Mammoth Lakes vacation.

He sang us songs.

Canciones de mi padre.

He coached my brothers in sports.

He has become a devoted grandfather.

Dad and Nico and Diego all dressed up.

When I was little people would comment how much I looked like my dad. I would cry because I thought they meant I was chubby and had a mustache.

Dad and I at my college graduation, 1986

But, now I understand that they meant we had similar features. Today, I know that my dad and I are similar in ways beyond our physical appearance, and even beyond some of our similar behaviors.  My dad and I share a similar understanding, and appreciation for each other. We have struggled. We are flawed, but we love each other. He is my father. I am his daughter. We are familia.

Happy Fathers Day, Dad.