Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Dungeons of Downtown Los Angeles

Here are some L.A. landmarks you'll probably not want to seek out next time you're in town. Trust me, you'll get all the experience you need from this report.

Jail, as opposed to prison, is where you'll be incarcerated while waiting for trial if you can't make or are not granted bail.  Convicted prisoners who are given short sentences also do time there.  Downtown L.A. has four jail facilities.

As Baretta used to say, "don't do the crime if you can't do the time." But if for some reason you do find yourself on the wrong side of a set of handcuffs, here are your probable lodging options while you're in the City of Angels.

THE MEN'S CENTRAL JAIL, run by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's department might be your home if you're arrested in L.A. County but not by the LAPD.  An outdated and truly scary place, it's jailer staff is currently being investigated for abuse.  Just the possibility that you might end up in this dank, depressing, and dangerous place should be all the deterent you need to not misbehave while you're here.

TWIN TOWERS is across the street from the Men's Central Jail. I don't know that it'd be any better to be incarcerated here but it is a newer facility than it's neighbor.

Here is the entrance you'll be taken through if you're booked there.

THE LOS ANGELES METROPOLITAN DETENTION CENTER is the newest facility and is run by the Los Angeles Police Department. You would probably end up here if arrested by the LAPD in the central city area.

It replaces this facility (located directly behind the new jail), which...according to inmates and jailers alike...was truly a dungeon with faulty plumbing and no air conditioning.

THE METROPOLITAN DETENTION CENTER (not to be confused with the similarly named LAPD facility nearby) is where you'll end up if your crime is a federal offense.

Run by the U.S. Marshal's Service and the Bureau of Prisons, it is located at the Federal Complex at Alameda and Aliso Streets.

There you have it, a selection of the city's worst lodging options. Be sure to avoid them when you're visiting Los Angeles.

One last bit, you'll find this contraption at the entrance of the Federal Jail. It's called a barrel cleaner. Cops, agents, and guards are not to enter with loaded weapons. After they unload, they have to stick their gun in this and pull the trigger. If a bullet happened to still be in the chamber, it would fire and this barrel cleaner would capture it safely.

NOTE: While taking pictures for this post, I was briefly detained by a security officer at one of the facilities above. He said I wasn't allowed to take pictures. I very politely asked him why and what law I was breaking (I was on the public sidewalk). He then admitted there was actually no law but that they were instructed to "request" that people not take pictures. I told him that if I was breaking no law, I'd be on my way...I'd already taken my photos...and left.  Bloggers that take pictures frequently find themselves in this position, please take a look at the Photographers Bill of Rights so you will know what you can...and cannot do...when taking pictures. It came in very handy for me in preparing this post.

Copyright2011 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, March 28, 2016

Tuesdays with Letty: 88 Noodle House, Arcadia

Home of the world famous Santa Anita Racetrack and the Arboretum, Arcadia has morphed into an upscale Asian neighborhood.  The San Gabriel Valley is famous for its Asian population and food stretching east from the epicenter of Monterey Park.  Those with money have gravitated over to San Marino and Arcadia. Fortunately, they've brought their food with them.

Across the street from the world famous Din Tai Fung dumpling house is our favorite place for Chinese soup, the 88 Noodle House.

While there is an extensive menu here, I come for one thing...beef tendon noodle soup.

These little bits of jellied cow floating in a spicy and savory broth are just irresistible. Imagine the best ribeye steak literally melting in your mouth and you get a hint of the taste.  Along with the noodles, spinach, and that tasty broth, it makes for a soup you'll remember to your grave.

Also, Letty likes to have the shrimp and pork dumplings that rival the famous ones people are lined up for across the street.

88 Noodle House is in a strip mall on Baldwin Avenue, just north of the corner of Baldwin and Duarte and about 4 blocks south of Santa Anita Mall.

Copyright 2016 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Spring has Sprung

Time to just shut up, sit back, and enjoy some of the fruits of all this labor...

This year's best cymbidium.

It's a cross between cymbidium devonianum 'stewart' crossed with stargold 'lucky strike'. Six pendant spikes just filled with beautiful flowers.

Mr. Lincoln shows what a classic red rose should look like.

Double Delight


Angel Face

Bletilla orchid

Copyright 2016 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Motherlode Revisited: Amador County, California - Part 3

Our last day in Jackson dawns wet. It’s drizzly when we start out for the day. The clerk at our inn who helped fix our room issues tells us that another great place for breakfast is Thomi’s, just a short block past the Waffle Shop.

We get in, find a table, and order coffee. Soon, we notice that although the restaurant is half full, there is but one server. Another employee can be seen on the phone in the back and as I go to the restroom, it’s apparent that he’s calling anyone else he can to come in to help with the crowd.

Uh, oh.

Watch the Video!

It’s worrying for naught, though, as the one server…occasionally helped by the kitchen guy I saw on the phone…masterfully serves everybody quickly, competently, and with a friendly smile at each table.

We complement her professionalism and hard work when she brings our check and make sure we leave an extra dollar on top of the normal tip for a job very well done in a very stressful situation.

On top of that, our omelets, yogurts, muffin, and pancakes are nothing short of delicious.

We’re looking to get out for a little walk. Coloma…where the gold rush started…is a 2 hour drive up 49 so we stick a little closer and go to Indian Grinding Rock State Park, just east of Jackson.

Still a bit early, we’re the only car in the parking lot but the visitor’s center has a sign that says “Open” on it. I walk up to the door, the handle turns, it starts to open but stops short because there’s a chain and padlock on the other side. I guess whoever was the last to leave last night forgot to change the sign.

Not a big deal except…

As I walk away, a loud alarm goes off. This must be the burglar alarm and I must have set it off when I tried to open the door.  No one is around, so we go down into the park but the alarm continues (you can hear it very clearly in the video for this story).

What would normally be a very peaceful place to enjoy history becomes a scene from some jailbreak movie as the claxon wails over and over.

Trying to ignore it, we look over the large rocks covered in indentations from where Native Americans have ground acorns for hundreds of years.  The alarm continues as we see the large roundhouse and La Crosse field (still used by the tribe to this day).

Putting some distance between us and the visitor’s center, the alarm starts to fade as we visit a recreated village and head into forest towards the campground.

Finally, the alarm stops as we look up and see a Highway Patrol cruiser looking around. Being hidden in the trees, the officer doesn’t see us, which might be a good thing since I won’t have to explain my actions.

As we make our way back towards the car, we see another car pull into the lot.  A few minutes later, the alarm resumes…

Tomorrow will be Thanksgiving and we’ll be driving home. Thinking that not much in the way of restaurants will be open, we take a drive over to nearby Amador City, next to Sutter Creek.

It’s still fairly early as we reach Andrae’s Bakery but the crowd is already there. I wait ten deep in line, eventually getting some of their fantastic sandwiches, tightly wrapped in plastic, that are destined to be our Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow.

Back in Jackson, I take a little breather to catch this scene of the giant and old Kennedy Mine, one of the riches of the Gold Rush era, before we hit the shops of downtown.

Last time we were here, at the height of the recession, downtown Jackson looked like it was on the verge of ghost town status. Many shops were closed…only the small liquor store and pawn shop were doing steady business to the down-and-out as the closed historic National Hotel looked out over the sorry scene.

I’m glad to report that things are turning around. The National has a new deep-pocketed owner…who has even made it accessible with a new elevator shaft added to the side…the liquor store is but a sad memory, and the shops and restaurants were doing booming business during our visit. The pawn shop is still there and has some fantastic buys but the many antique shops could use a reality check with their pricing and my wife’s favorite shop, Home and Farm Store (the Biggest Little Kitchen Store in the Motherlode) almost has to turn away the crowd trying to get in.

It’s very nice to see one of our favorite destinations rebounding from hard times.  We’ll drop down the hill to Lockeford to buy some sausage at the world-famous Lockeford Meat Company, visit some of their great pawn shops, wineries, and farm stands, then we’ll call it a day.

It’s one more night at the Best Western, then an easy and quick drive home on Thanksgiving, my new favorite travel day of the year.

Copyright 2012 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Motherlode Revisited - Amador County, California - Part 2

There’s a smell when you enter a winery. You don’t find it in the tasting room but wander around back to the shed where they actually juice the grapes, ferment it into wine, and more than a few gallons have splashed on the ground over the years.

Watch the Video!

Even new wineries have this sweet and slightly vinegary aroma to them. Add age and then an element of must creeps in. The older the winery, the mustier the smell that combines with the bouquet of winemaking.

Perhaps the pinnacle of this smell is surrounding us in this room, carved into the hillside underneath the pretty but unassuming house above.  Grape juice has been aging in this dusty room for over a hundred and fifty years…longer than any other winery in California.

History will note that Adam Uhlinger carved this room out in 1856 and planted some of the first vines of what we now call Zinfandel in the yard outside. Some of those vines are still producing today.

The Sobon Winery, at the eastern edge of Amador County’s Shenandoah Valley, is the current custodian of this historic land. 

Outside, the cool fall winter has played havoc on the colors of the fields where the chill air is warmed up by the yellows, oranges, and reds of the grape leaves, punctuated by the walnut trees.  The warm tasting room welcomes us with the wall of ribbons garnered by the awards the wine here has received.

Shirley Sobon mans the tasting counter as the three of us are the only customers here. Tasting is free, as it is at most of the area’s wineries, and the mood relaxed.  The wines are good and we’re offered tastes of the more expensive library wines. Although there is a fee, Mrs. Sobon must be feeling generous because she waves it for us.

I want to buy some wine and notice the discount schedule…10% for 6, 15% for a case…when I hear Mrs. Sobon say, “we can get you a better discount than what’s listed.”

Uh, oh…I know where this is going. Most, if not all, California wineries now have “wine clubs” where you sign up for regular deliveries and you can get an extra discount on the wine.

“I already belong to a wine club and I’m not interested in joining another,” I tell here.

She explains that this wine club collects your e-mail address and nothing more. No wine to buy, no deliveries, just an occasional missive on sales and other winery news. Give an e-mail address and your case discount is now 20%.

I can live with those terms and Mrs. Sobon proceeds to help me craft a delicious case of Old Vine Zinfandel, Sangiovese, and Syrah priced at about $9 per bottle.

Welcome to wine tasting, touring, and buying Amador style.

Over the hill on highway 49, you can sometimes find winemaker Allen Kreutzer manning the tiny tasting bar at Drytown Cellars. You can always find their friendly dogs welcoming you inside.

When we say we’re from the Los Angeles area, they note that it’s near Temecula. “Can you believe they charge for tasting down there?” I’m asked.

Just a week before, we were in the Temecula area and had the distinct displeasure of finding $12 tasting fees that could not be applied to your purchase.  The wine was muddy and not that good either.  Yeah, it’s pretty unbelievable.

While the friendly folks at Drytown are not in quite the dealing mood that Sobon was, we still walk away with a half case of Barbera, Zinfandel, and Tempranillo which I was able to get a 5% discount on.

Back up in Shenandoah Valley, just east of the historic town of Plymouth, we order a pizza to be cooked while we taste in the adjacent tasting room of Villa Toscano Winery.  The sign at the parking lot says beware of rattlesnake and lawyers.

Maybe the warning is appropriate because I’m trying to buy a case of old vine zin priced for wine club members at $99. It takes some serious negotiating as I try to convince the fellow behind the bar that I’m a friend of a club member (see our last visit here to see how that happened) and he’s not buying what I’m selling.

No dice, only for members. Can I sign up and immediately cancel? After much hemming and hawing, I learn that technically I can but now that I’ve let him know my devious plan, he won’t do it.

Finally, we reach an agreement that I’ll take at least three deliveries as a wine club member, show up anytime I want for the free Friday pasta buffet, before I decide to cancel and he’ll sell me that bargain priced case…oh, and I can take my first club delivery with me, saving me the price of shipping.

Not quite what I came looking for but it’ll do and if I can time my return visits properly (because I know I’ll be back up here again soon), maybe I can pick them up instead of paying for shipping.

It’s just like court…we’re fighting for our positions, state our cases, come to a settlement, shake on it, and we’re friends again.  No wonder they warn you about the lawyers along with the rattlesnakes.

Wheeling and dealing over with, my case and two bottles are loaded into our car while we pick up our pizza and head to the last stop of the day.

My favorite winery in the world requires that you turn off of highway 49 in Plymouth, find your way to Shenandoah Valley, turn left at Old Schoolhouse road, watch the small signs carefully, turn up a poorly signed rutted road, go to the end, turn left at the old farm machinery workhouse, carefully watch for the right driveway, and…finally…turn into the large parking lot next to the woodpecker-hole filled Gold Rush era miner’s shack on the edge of the Consumnes River Canyon.

Beyond another sign warning us of rattlers (it’s true too…I saw one), that old perforated miner’s shack serves as the tasting room of the great Story Winery.

We taste, looking for a good wine to go with our pizza, and decide on a nice Hilltop Old Vine Zinfandel to drink outside in the world’s prettiest picnic area with our pizza.  I ask if there are any deals that we can partake of.

The girl at the counter says that we can come back Friday for their Black Friday special (it’s a couple of days before Thanksgiving) where, for two hours in the morning, the very strong and delicious Hilltop Zin we’ll be drinking will be on sale for $70 a case. 

I can’t come back Friday; I tell her…can you give me the deal today?  We’re the last customers of the day, here all by ourselves; why not close out the day with a big case sale?

No, she can’t do that, she tells us. I thank her and tell her we’ll be sitting outside with our picnic if she changes her mind…

We’re enjoying a fantastic meal, with great wine, overlooking one of the prettiest views you’ll ever see.  Our girl, Wendy (the tasting room server), comes out to join us.

“I was just talking to the owner and I’ve got a proposal for you,” she says. “If you give me your credit card information and address now, we’ll process a sale Friday morning and ship you a case of wine at the sale price.”

Why do you think this is my favorite winery in the world?

Our total haul for this day is 4 cases…2 full cases at Sobon and Villa Toscano, several bottles from Drytown, Renwood, and our first 2 bottle for the Toscano wine club, and a case that arrived after we got home from Story…at an average price of about $9 per bottle of the best reds in the world.

The trip’s not over yet…we still have some sightseeing to do. That will be in part 3, coming very soon.

Copyright 2012 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, March 20, 2016

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Chilled Chardonnay

With temperatures in the 90s this week, something cool and nice would be more appropriate for today’s Cocktail Hour.  This morning, I put this bottle of Story Chardonnay on ice so it would be really cold this afternoon.

This particular chardonnay is not really a Story wine.  It is actually made by Weibel Vineyards in Lodi, California.  The reason this is done is because of where Story is located and the habits of wine drinkers.

Story is located in Plymouth, California in Amador County.  This is Gold Country and the Sierra Nevada foothills.  It is very hot and dry here in the summer.  Perfect for growing big, bold, red grapes like zinfandel, barbera, and sangiovese.  Not so great for more delicate white grapes like chardonnay.

Wine drinkers tend to want white wines too, to go along with the reds they taste so wineries in this area need to have some available.  It’s just common sense and supply and demand.  If you customers want to buy white wine, have some available.

In this area, the wineries have two options.  Buy the grapes from other areas…like Lodi or the Central Coast…have them shipped up and make them into wine, or have another winery make it and slap your label on it.  The second option is the one Story takes.  They, and several other wineries in the state, also do this with Weibel’s excellent almond champagne.

I don’t have any problem with them doing this as long as they are up front about it, and Story is.  The label on the back of the bottle explicitly says it’s a Weibel product and the prices are the same with either label.

So, how is the wine?  Very good.  Nice, smooth and a slight buttery flavor.  Just a hint of fresh fruit flavors such as watermelon and kiwi.  A lot of chardonnays are described as clean and fruity when they just taste tart, and maybe a little soury.  Not this one.  Fresh fruit flavor, smoothed with a slight buttery finish.

Delicious on a hot patio day like today.

So how does it do on our new healthy themed Cocktail Hour season?  It depends on where you check, but the average number of calories is 500 per bottle.  We share between two people and get 6 glasses total for 250 calories per person (1/2 bottle) or around 84 calories per glass.  You will also consume around 8 grams of carbohydrates but no fat and no protein.

It’s a good chardonnay, probably around the 2nd or 3rd best we’ve had in the last year (Santa Alicia from Chile is the best we’ve had recently).  If you can’t find Story at your local wine shop, look for Weibel.  If you can’t find either, you can order online at Story ( or at Weibel (


Friday, March 18, 2016

This Week's Menu: French Omelet and Spring Ham Salad

We're trying to be healthy and diabetic friendly this week with a couple of meals that actually lowered my glucose, one (the omelet) by almost 40 points!

The omelet is a super tasty and very filling entree that can be served for any meal.  The salad is a bit lighter but still very tasty and satisfying.

Recipes are at the links below.

BRUNCH: French Omelet

LUNCH: Spring Mix Salad

Copyright 2016 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

The Motherlode Revisited: Amador County, California - Part 1

It’s got magnetism to it. Drawing seekers to its precious metals…keeping them there with awe-inspiring vistas, perfect wine climate, and exquisite historic towns…California’s Motherlode also has a pull on us.

We keep visiting this notable core of the state not looking for gold, as those forty-niners did, at least not the metallic kind. We are in search of something precious and we keep finding it here. Glorious scenery, unparalleled history, some of the world’s best red wine, and very few others to get in our way.

Watch The Video!

Welcome to another Gold Country trip here on The World on Wheels. We’re back in Amador County.

It would be a trip we take even more often if it was just a little bit closer to home. Six hours is about what we can count on, starting with the often nerve-wracking drive up Interstate 5 over the Grapevine, then several more hours through the endless oil and farm fields of highway 99, until we reach the Love’s truck stop in Ripon, just south of Lodi and Stockton.

Turning right, we know we’re within an hour of our destination as we pass through the fun little town of Lockeford and head up into the hills, just past the chile farm we’d love to stop at if they were only open whenever we drive through.

While many think of the towering trees and massive peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains when thinking of California gold, the truth is a little less dramatic. Once you hit the foothills on the eastern edge of the San Joaquin Valley, you’re there. Think rolling hills, golden grass, and oak trees instead of tall pines and massive granite peaks.

Forty five minutes after gassing up and using the facilities at Love’s, we’re pulling into our hotel for the trip, the Best Western Amador Inn in Jackson, California…Amador County’s county seat.

Check in is quick but something is not right…there is no roll-in shower. I had confirmed a roll-in when booking the room. I went to the front desk and the night clerk was pretty much saying “someone booked it before you, they’re still there, you can’t have it.”

I’m just tired right now, a little miffed, but I just don’t have it in me to fight right now. Tim doesn’t need a bath tonight, I’ll visit with the manager in the morning.

To be sure, we don’t desperately need a roll-in but sometimes I want to give my back a little break from lifting a 160 pound man into a bathtub chair. This is one of those times.

Other than that, the room is decent, clean, and functional. It can’t be called fancy but two nice queen size beds will be more than enough.

In the morning, I print out my confirmation e-mail, tell Tim to come to the front office with me to “have my back,” and steel myself to hash this out.

There’s a different staff here in the morning, more conciliatory, friendlier, and…it seems to me…smarter (but maybe that’s my bias speaking).

I show the clerk my confirmation after she tells me the manager won’t be in for another hour or so. She immediately accepts my offer of adding 1,000 points to my rewards account but says we can only be moved into a smoking room with a single king size bed. I decline but she says she’ll bring it up with the manager when she gets in.

Later, the manager calls me and says she’ll knock my rate down to $50 per night. The regular rate is $90, I had a discounted AAA rate of $70, so this will make my three night stay $150 along with an extra 1,000 points.  It’s a deal I will accept so I must say that the management of this particular Best Western should be noted as being very willing to work with you when a problem arises.

(NOTE: I don’t know where our reservation went wrong, it could have been the national reservation center not passing on the information to the local hotel, so I can’t say they really messed anything up locally)

With our room issues resolved, we head out for breakfast. The hotel has a decent continental breakfast where you can also make your own waffles. There’s a Dennys on the property that gives hotel guests a 15% discount, but we’re not doing either of those today.

We’re in Jackson, which has a branch of the wonderful local Waffle Shop chain just up the street.  As an American Legion meeting is just adjourning, we take an adjacent table by the window.

Our breakfast includes a spinach and bacon omelet, a Belgian waffle, and my new favorite…a bacon infused waffle!

It’s all very delicious, inexpensive, and filling.

Carb loaded, ready to take on the world, we’re heading north on highway 49 to see if we can find some bargains on some of the best, bold red wines made anywhere…along the rolling hills of California’s stunning Shenandoah Valley.

That’s coming up next, don’t miss part 2…

Copyright 2012 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

French Omelet

This can be for breakfast or brunch. Heck, we've even had it with dinner where it can be paired easily with a lighter red like a Beaujolais.  It's called a French omelet because it's a dish I came up with after visiting the local market in the South of France (if you ever want to really get inspired to cook, try going to a French farmers market).

It's easy to cook, although some items may be a bit of a chore to find. For instance, in France, they have incredible dark purple asparagus and another purple elephant garlic that you just can't find around here, so I've substituted shallots and regular asparagus.

It really does taste better in France, which will amaze you after you find out just how good this version tastes (spoiler: it's really good).

INGREDIENTS (for each omelet, increase as appropriate for more)

2 eggs 
1 teaspoon half and half
1/2 ounce goat cheese
2 links of merguez sausage (may be available at Whole Foods or other gourmet markets)
4 spears asparagus
1/2 bulb shallot (chopped fine)
2 tablespoons olive oil

Chop the asparagus into half inch pieces. In a 12 inch frying pan, heat up one tablespoon of oil.  Cook the asparagus for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add the shallot and cook until just translucent.  Set the mixture aside in a bowl.

Chop up the sausage.  I like to freeze them first and cut with a tomato knife which makes it easier to get clean cuts.

Brown the sausage in the pan, put in the bowl with asparagus and shallot.

In a bowl, mix the eggs and half and half. Add a dash of salt, pepper, and nutmeg before whisking.

You're going to use your sausage, asparagus, shallot mixture and sliced up cheese in as a filling.

In an eight inch pan, heat up the other tablespoon of olive oil. Pour in the egg mixture when hot. Using a spatula, lift up the edges to let the liquid mixture fill in under the cooked egg. When just a little liquid is left on the surface, put in the filling across the center. Fold the far edge over. Let sit for about 10 seconds and flop into a plate.

Copyright 2016 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved