Saturday, March 19, 2016

Around Town: Wealth didn't cultivate understanding - LA Times

Around Town: Wealth didn't cultivate understanding - LA Times

Around Town: Wealth didn't cultivate understanding

Anita S. Brenner
The cherry trees are blossoming at the Descanso Gardens tea house and it's snowing in New York.
Good weather attracts all sorts of people to the Foothills.
Several of my adventurous grandparents stayed on the East Coast, after arriving at Ellis Island. At the age of 13, one grandfather was a tailor and also made bathtub gin to earn money to bring his folks over.
In the early 1900s, our Foothills attracted a wealthier demographic than my people. The Foothills were for the well-heeled, American-born adventurer.
Take the Congers, for example. Edwin was a Civil War veteran, a lawyer, a former congressman from Iowa and a retired diplomat. Sarah was a Christian Scientist, active in the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, which means she had more money than my grandparents and she didn't drink.
In the 1890s, Edwin was appointed the “U.S. Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Brazil,” which means he was the U.S. ambassador to Brazil.
After Brazil, the Congers went to China, where Edwin was the “Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to China,” specifically, to the Qing Dynasty. Their timing was perfect. The Congers arrived just in time for the Boxer Rebellion.
Newspapers in 1900 were worse than the Internet. The headlines, all false, stated that the Congers and other Westerners had been murdered. In truth, they all hid out in Beijing, under siege for 55 days, until their rescue by 20,000 international troops who then shamelessly ransacked the city.
The Qing dynasty had sided with the Boxers, so they fled. The Qing empress dowager went into exile and did not return until 1902.
The Qing dynasty earned the support of Mark Twain, who criticized the conduct of the Western forces in sacking Beijing. “The Boxer is a patriot,” said Twain. “He loves his country better than he does the countries of other people. I wish him success. The Boxer believes in driving us out of his country.”
Twain titled his essay, “I am a Boxer.”
Don't fall too much in love with Twain, because he also said this: “Why should not China be free from the foreigners, who are only making trouble on her soil? If they would only all go home, what a pleasant place China would be for the Chinese! We do not allow Chinamen to come here, and I say in all seriousness that it would be a graceful thing to let China decide who shall go there.”
Not exactly your mama's multiculturalism.
As for the Congers, after a brief ambassadorship to Mexico they returned to Pasadena, where Edwin died in 1907 of a disease contracted in China. Sarah Pike Conger remained in Pasadena, working on her memoir, which was published in 1909.
Sarah's memoir was entitled, “Letters from China, with Particular Reference to the Empress Dowager and the Women of China.” She wrote that her “heart's sympathy” was with China. She was positive about what she viewed as the necessary Westernization of Chinese life, with a focus on education and opportunities for girls, e.g. “Her small feet were unbound, and she rides her pony with ease and freedom both in thought and body.”
Sarah's do-goodism is evident on every page, but less interesting than her vivid descriptions of the 55-day siege. Sarah, a nice lady, thought she knew what was best for the unschooled Chinese, particularly the women.
Who knows? Maybe Sarah was correct. Heck, I wasn't there. She was.
One cannot overlook, however, the fact that in 1909, black people in parts of the U.S. were segregated, our women couldn't vote and Griffith J. Griffith had finished his two-year sentence in San Quentin for disfiguring his wife, Mary, in a drunken rage. He got a gun and shot her in the eyeball.
Mary Griffith was a descendant of the Verdugo family, which had been robbed of their inherited land grant by the Anglo power elites, which is why our Griffith Park should really be named Verdugo Park.
The reality of the West, despite the imprimatur of Sarah Conger, was imperfect.
Not that I'm bitter or anything. Honest. I am not a Conger. I am not a Verdugo. My grandparents were penniless immigrants and I stand on their shoulders. We, their descendants, have done well in America.
Tomorrow, or perhaps 100 years from now, another descendant of my grandparents will have at it with my word. Perhaps they'll accuse me of bias. Sorry, Sarah. That's how it goes.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Around Town: Enjoying the real 'Aviation' cocktail

Another hot Monday night at the Flintridge Proper. The Happy Hour had come and gone. Now was the time for a real cocktail. On the table before me there was a small stemmed glass.

The 1935 edition of the Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book says, "Americans, as a rule, drink partly for the taste, mostly for the effect."

This cocktail had both taste and effect. It was blue-violet. It was blue like the sky, with a touch of purple twilight. It was worthy of its name: The Aviation.
I took a sip, sighed and put the glass back down. Then, I reached for my worn and tattered copy of "The Drunken Botanist" by Amy Stewart. I began to read.

"The Aviation cocktail is Chelsea Flower Show in a glass, combining gin, maraschino liqueur, lemon juice and crème de violette. And until a few years ago, it was impossible to make properly, because crème de violette had disappeared from the shelves."

The Aviation was the last American cocktail to be created and published before Prohibition. Sure there were speakeasies, but when Prohibition arrived in 1920, the production of crème de violette went right out the window.

It is impossible to make an authentic Aviation cocktail without crème de violette. Until recently, this essential liqueur, composed of violets, sugar and alcohol, was not available.

Some tried. There were substitutions. None worked. Extra maraschinos? Fail. Parfait armour? Fail. Crème yvette? Forget it.

The authentic Aviation requires crème de violette.

Here in La Cañada, the Flintridge Proper serves the authentic version of this cocktail.

The owners decided on the "Nick and Nora" glass for the Aviation. Those are the glasses used in the movie version of "The Thin Man."

Nick and Nora Charles were the intellectual property of the late mystery writer, Dashiell Hammett.

On the big screen, Myrna Loy played Nora and William Powell played Nick. They were often tipsy, sometimes drunk, back in the day when it was acceptable.

Nick, seldom boring, was often heroic. Try this dialogue for the morning after.

Nick is recuperating. He and Nora are reading the morning papers:

Nick: I'm a hero. I was shot twice in the Tribune.

Nora: I read where you were shot five times in the tabloids.

Nick: It's not true. He didn't come anywhere near my tabloids.

The Nick and Nora cocktail glass is smaller than most, and as the Waldorf bar book notes, "the cocktail, taken according to general practice, is not sipped as is wine. If it is not gulped, it is usually finished in three swallows, or at most four."

It's not a contest. The cocktail glasses used to be smaller.

As for the Aviation, the Drunken Botanist is not strict about the measurements:

1 ½ oz. gin
½ oz. maraschino liqueur
½ oz. crème de violette
1 violet blossom

The recipe concludes, "adjust the proportions to your liking. Garnish with the violet blossoms."
Violet blossoms? Do they sell those at Trader Joe's?

Must. Have. Garnish.

L.A. Times archive
Around Town: Enjoying the real 'Aviation' cocktail

Around Town: genealogy, crypto, conversos, anusim...

...we found some new ancestors...Maria de los Angeles Carabajal, a fancy name for a young lady, born in 1811, and her parents, Andrea Rodriguez and Trinidad Carabajal....Don Luis de Carabajal...brought his sister and her family to Mexico. By then, the extended Carabajal family included a priest and a monk, as well as government officials and merchants. The family was mostly Catholic, but when they moved back to Mexico City, they drew the attention of the Mexican Inquisition...It didn't matter if a Carabajal was actually Catholic, the inquisitors rounded bunches of them up.....


Around Town: LDS boosts family-history access

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Around Town: Restaurant is no longer a secret - LA Canada

And now, the Big Secret is out: has placed Lupe's Place on the Los Angeles “best burrito” list.

Thanks for nothing,!

Until now, life was good. Life was good because most La Cañadans knew nothing about, the trendy food and dining website, run by a well-funded Washington, D.C. media company. Vox, founded in 2011, now has over 150 million users.

Most La Cañadans had ignored Lupe's Place, despite its convenient location next to Magpie's and across from the trail entrance on Foothill Boulevard. Lupe's had been off the radar for most La Cañadans.

On the other hand, you'll see Latinos from all over L.A. trek to Lupe's for an early Sunday breakfast.

Why? Because the food is so darn good.

Around Town: Restaurant is no longer a secret - LA Canada

Friday, July 18, 2014

Around Town: It's kosher to get the ingredients elsewhere

Just when I thought that diversity had come to La Cañada Flintridge, the banana leaf conundrum forced me to reconsider.

When we moved to La Cañada in 1976, it was a white bread town. There was a store on Linda Vista called Jurgensen’s that used to deliver incredible groceries. It was “a pricey grocery chain where Southern California gourmets and celebrities go for fresh truffles and pate de foie gras...” (Groves, Martha, “Posh Jurgensen’s Grocery Chain Agrees to Be Sold,” L.A. Times, May 13, 1986).

As wonderful as Jurgensen’s was, it was kind of a vanilla place. I once overheard a customer order a corned beef sandwich. “What kind of bread?” asked the sales clerk. “We have white, wheat, rye and sourdough. Do you want mayonnaise?”

Obviously, no one in their right mind would put mayonnaise on a corned beef sandwich. The requisite bread is corn rye, thin-sliced, with mustard. This is 2014 and everyone knows this. Not so back in 1976.

Fast forward to multicultural La Cañada Flintridge in 2014.

Last week, we had a hankering for kosher pollo pibil, a delicious Yucatán chicken dish, marinated in a red achiote-and-citrus sauce. Trader Joe’s sometimes sells cilantro, but it was gone. Ralphs still had kosher tortillas. But neither store stocks banana leaves or achiote. (Achiote is the seed of the fruit of the achiote tree, which grows in jungles and tropical regions.)

That’s why home-cooked kosher pollo pibil in La Cañada requires the following steps.

No. 1: purchase kosher chicken at Trader Joe’s.

No. 2: Go to the Lotte Korean Market for cilantro and jalapeños.

No. 3: No, no. This isn’t working.

To make kosher Mexican food, everyone must leave. We must take the back road to Altadena. We must turn right on Oak Grove, continue onto Woodbury, turn left on Lincoln.

There, only 2 miles away, is the source, Super King Market, 2260 N. Lincoln Ave. Here’s what you will find at Super King: tomatillos, achiote, dried chiles, inexpensive nonorganic vegetables, Middle Eastern food, sunflower seeds, olives, Armenian staples, Ukrainian bread and 100 brands of tequila.

Of course, Super King sells banana leaves, the very banana leaves essential to pollo pibil. The recipe for Pollo Pibil is too complex to describe in one column. Here is an easy chile verde recipe, with the caveat that chile verde sauce is not used in pollo pibil.

Sure, you can buy the cans of green enchilada sauce at Ralphs or the little jars of green salsa at Trader Joe’s, but why not “eat clean”?

This recipe is simple, healthy and less expensive than the store-bought versions. It is my modification of the pork recipe created by Chef Nelson from the Pasadena Cordon Bleu.


- Six garlic cloves (Trader Joe’s and Lotte sell them already peeled.)
- Olive oil
- 1.5 pounds tomatillos, washed and peeled
- One jalapeño pepper
- One bunch fresh cilantro, cleaned and trimmed
- Salt to taste
- Optional: chicken breasts and hominy

1. Wash and peel the tomatillos. The dried skin comes right off, but the fruit needs to be carefully cleaned.

2. Coat a pot with the olive oil and place on medium heat.

3. Add the garlic cloves.

3a. Optional: add chicken breasts, brown on both sides, then go to step 4.

4. Add the tomatillos, cilantro and jalapeño

5. Reduce heat to low. Simmer for an hour, or until the tomatillos and pepper begin to collapse.

(Use a thermometer on the chicken; it should be 165 to 170°)

6. Remove from heat. (Remove the chicken, if you added it.) Use a blender to blend the sauce. Return all ingredients (including the chicken and hominy) to the pot.

There it is. Kosher chile verde! As for the Pollo Pibil, there are several choices. Oven? Double boiler? Dig a pit in the yard? Right here in La Cañada, with a side trip to Super King.
ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident and an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner in Pasadena. Email her at and follow her on Twitter @anitabrenner.

January 15, 2014 | 3:08 p.m.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Around Town: Getting prepared for Bark for Life

Around Town: Getting prepared for Bark for Life 

Noelle Ito, a Flintridge Prep alum, class of ’98, is a Bark for Life Altadena team captain.

The event raises funds for the American Cancer Society and is part of their successful Relay for Life events, which have spread to more than 20 countries and have raised more than $5 billion for support of cancer patients and research into cures.


Medical Research


American Cancer Society

See more topics »

But first, journalistic ethics require a disclaimer: Noelle has set this up in honor of the 10th anniversary of the death of our most wonderful son, 2nd Lt. Andrew Torres, USMC.

Andrew graduated from Prep in 1998 and from the Naval Academy in 2002. Our family is profoundly humbled and grateful for the support and love from this town, our friends and his friends.

There are no easy answers for bereavement, but we've all supported cancer research since Andrew’s death on April 3, 2004. Andrew was 23 years old.

The first project was for the research of Heinz Josef Lenz, M.D., at USC Norris Cancer Institute. Lenz is an oncologist. He was not specifically researching the rare cancer (HCC) that struck our son, but we wanted to support his research. Right from the beginning, we knew the danger of body-specific limitations.

Rusty Robertson of Stand up to Cancer speaks out against what she calls the “Balkanization” of body parts. It is a fallacy to support one type of solid tumor research over another because it limits research. People say, “my friend had breast cancer, so I support breast cancer research,” or “my uncle died of colon cancer, so I donate to colon cancer research.”

What if the cure is to be found in less popular, “orphan” disease which is under researched?

Like Rusty, we believe that the key to prostate cancer may be found in pancreatic cancer research, a cure for lung cancer may come out of liver cancer research, and so forth.

Our family and Andrew’s friends have organized golf tournaments, cocktail hours and parties to support a variety of nonprofits, including Stand up to Cancer (, HMRI and the American Cancer Society. We have donated to Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (“PanCan”), the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and City of Hope.

The latest, Bark for Life, is a hoot because it involves dogs. Thus, Andrew’s surviving canine companion, that candy-obsessed, garbage tossing rescue dog, Miss Audrey Hepburn, will finally get to participate instead of eating the chocolate bars from the tee bags and dragging us to the emergency vet, mere hours before Torres Golf tee time. It’s about time that Miss Hepburn contributed in a positive way.

Our Bark for Life team is called, “Big Trouble in Little La Cañada.” We have a website at

Bark for Life involves walking the dogs on Saturday, April 5, from 10 a.m. to noon at Altadena’s Farnsworth Park.

There are no Relay for Life ( events scheduled in La Cañada Flintridge, so “Big Trouble in Little La Cañada” at the Altadena Bark for Life is a good choice.

We live in a generous community, with ample opportunities to give back. Bark for Life is one of many ways to contribute, it is one of a “thousand points of light.”


March 19, 2014

Around Town: Eateries, mixologists preparing for spring time

Around Town: Eateries, mixologists preparing for spring time

Winter will soon be behind us and spring will come. All over town, restaurateurs and mixologists are planning for their spring comeback.

My first choice for a good meal is Café Sole, because the new owners, Salvatore and Alessandra Attanasio are lovely and the new menu is top notch. Salvatore bakes fresh bread several times a day. Sporadic specials include osso buco, Italian meatloaf and wonderful pastas. Great service.


Manhattan (New York City)

The Flintridge Proper introduced a daily Happy Hour, launched four new spring cocktails and posted most of the recipes online at The magic number is $5. There are $5 cocktails, including the Moscow Mule, $5 wine and $5 appetizers. The new spring drinks are The Secret Garden, Felonious Monk, Jalisco Shandy and the London Bow Tie. Did I mention that the recipes are all online? The Proper is unafraid.

Ruth’s Chris’ weekday (Monday through Friday) Happy Hour is in Pasadena. Selected cocktails and appetizers are $7. The drinks include the Classic Cosmo, Pomegranate Martini, Ruth's Manhattan Blueberry Mojito, and Rocks Rita. The recipes are not posted online, but on a clear day you can grab a stool at a cocktail table, next to a trellis, right on Colorado Boulevard.

For another type of Happy Hour, Chego on Broadway ( sells charred seasonal veggies, with salsa verde, salsa azul, Parmesan, fried shallots, lemon and toasted sesame for $5. The “$12 Salad” with baby spinach, mizuna and goat cheese, cranberries, candied pecans, seasonal pickles, miso and fried shallots sells for $7. There’s parking under the mall and next door. No cocktails. Lots of noodles.

Porto’s Glendale is open Monday through Saturday until 7 p.m. Their Caesar salad costs $4.85. With chicken, it’s only $6.35. They don’t have a liquor license, but so what? All alcohol turns into sugar anyway. Why not speed up the process with a few Cuban desserts?

And, since all alcohol turns into sugar, it’s always Happy Hour at La Cañada’s Pinkberry. Many of us show up at Pinkberry on a warm night. The spring yogurt lineup includes lychee, peanut butter and peanut butter cup. The latter can be topped with mini peanut butter cups, slivered almonds and chocolate. Another plus: the staff is really nice. Ask them for samples. They don’t mind.

Gelson’s is coming, Gelson’s is coming, Gelson’s is coming. Local anticipation is high. But can they match the samples at Trader Joe’s? The Trader Joe’s staff has free reign to put together the tasting menus of their choice. Pumpkin ravioli, weird cheese, stuff from the freezer — it’s all there. Trader Joe’s will always trump Gelson’s. And if you only want a few sips of coffee, with or without cream, Trader Joe’s is the place to be.

Did I leave anyone out? Dish? Taylors? Sakura? Anthony’s? Gringos Locos? Taco Deli? Sorry, sorry, sorry. Maybe another time.


March 5, 2014