I believe we can all agree that 2020 has been a year like no other. We hope with all our hearts that you have been able to weather the many hardships and heartbreaks that this year has forced on so many.
Yet, despite the many challenges, I believe this year has offered some truly unique personal blessings.
Jen and I challenged ourselves to seek the proverbial silver lining of 2020 so here are a few of our highlights:
Jen reconnected with five high school friends and they found over their monthly Zoom cocktail hour that their friendship has deepened with age, maturity and life experience.
Jen was reminded that in times of crisis there are individuals that rise to the occasion and do good to assist those less fortunate. She was especially impressed by Pandemic of Love, a grassroots all volunteer organization established on March 14, 2020 by one individual which has grown into a network of over 1000 volunteers worldwide to match the needs of those in crisis with donors that can assist.
Jen has become a futurist. After seeing the real casualties of the pandemic, working class people, minorities and women who have left the workforce in droves to care for children losing their economic place, she is committed to restructuring society. She takes with her into 2021 a spirit to research best practices, a contemporary communal living situation as an example. She takes with her the resolve to align with organizations that are committed to creating a system that works for us all collectively.
For me, 2020 has been a year of introspection. For anyone who knows me well, I’m always planning my next fête but since this has been strictly curtailed during the pandemic, I have dedicated time at home and have completed (finally!) a professional project that has been four years in development. Completion of this professional writing project has inspired my next project, my memoir. Onward and upward!
I’ve discovered that in a lot of ways, exercising at home is easier than at the gym. You roll out of bed, pull on your exercise ensemble and load your favorite class onto the computer. Done. If it’s a live class, I might brush my hair. After trying different classes, I’ve found that Kundalini Yoga adds enormously to my life. It’s not only a physical but also a spiritual practice which has helped me maintain my equanimity during this period.
While I have certainly done my fair share of Netflix binge watching, I made a commitment to read many of the non-fiction spiritual titles that I’m always drawn to but tend to sit on my shelf for years on end and I’m so glad I did. Obviously my self knowledge has deepened but I’ve never been more aware of the interconnectedness of all life. I am so incredibly grateful for this shift and will live this spirit in 2021 and beyond.
To closing in its own incredible way the year 2020 and taking the many lessons learned into 2021!
We will resume our fabulous adventures in Los Angeles and beyond when it is safe to do so.
Until then, our very best to your health and happiness.
We hope this e-mail finds you and yours well and hopefully able to find ways to enjoy life in this unprecedented time.
Jan and Jen Around the World LA is on hiatus in terms of our cultural adventures around the city for obvious reasons but, we have been sharing short films on our Instagram if you have the opportunity to check them out.
Like all of you, we’re finding inspiration close to home and if you missed this on Instagram, we filmed it as the pandemic began and now so many weeks later, our projects have progressed but there’s plenty more to be done.
A month seems inadequate to celebrate the vast and constant contribution that women make to society. So many women are dedicated to the wellbeing of all that I am one hundred percent positive that it will be women banding together that saves our planet!
At a recent event sponsored by Visionary Women, Jen and I learned first hand that Jane Fonda is one of these women. The organization honored her for a lifetime of activism and indeed her list of causes is long but at 82 years old, the plight of our planet is her passion. While the content of her speech was serious, even grave, she offered hope if we get busy now. That’s women for you, practical, pragmatic and making it happen!
Visionary Women is a Los Angeles based nonprofit whose mission is to inspire a community of visionary female leaders in support of causes that lift up women and girls. The organization supports local and international high impact initiatives.
As our excursion to Thailand is drawing to a close and Women’s History Month begins, we would like to introduce you to Amphai Kanawong, a restauranteur and entrepreneur from Northern Thailand. She owns Northern Thai Food Club, a restaurant which features regional cuisine from the area of Thailand she’s from.
This casual 12 seat restaurant is listed in the 2019 Los Angeles Times 101 Best Restaurants Guide and has received numerous accolades from food aficionados.
This industrious woman and women like her are opening restaurants in strip malls all over the city to share their culinary talents. While she may struggle with speaking English, her grace, her generosity and spirit is something we can all learn from.
Our exploration of Thailand continues but for something truly different, Jen and I had a lesson in Muay Thai, the martial arts system of Thailand.
Muay Thai is referred to as “The Art of Eight Limbs.” It is a full body contact sport where the arms and legs are used as weapons. The sport has evolved over hundreds of years and now in many ways resembles Boxing in that it takes place in a ring, has specific rules and regulations and fighters use gloves that resemble boxing gloves.
The system was initially much more brutal as it developed based on combat with fighters using indigenous materials such as hemp to wrap their hands and fighting until a clear victor emerged.
It is sport that has a very practical application and that is of self-defense. We highly endorse women learn these techniques.
For the month of February, we’ll be exploring Thailand in Los Angeles and we begin of course with Thai Town. This six block neighborhood is quite mixed with Armenians and Latinos along with Thai who started to immigrate to Los Angeles in the 1960’s.
There is a Apsonsi statue at both ends of the neighborhood. This is a Thai mythological creature, half female nymph and half lion said to be a protector from harm.
We highly recommend Thai massage. It is unique in that the therapist is at different points on your body using her weight to free your body of it’s constrictions. There’s a fair amount of tugging and stretching which may sound harsh but the end result is freedom of movement. It’s profound!
Thai food in Los Angeles is quite popular but there is something so authentic about dining at Jitlada which has been on so many best of lists.
Belly dancing is often the form of entertainment at Moroccan restaurants in the United States because of course it is a very sensual form of dance. While belly dancing is popular in the United States, its origin is from the Middle East and North Africa. Egypt is considered the mecca of belly dancing but other countries where it’s popular are Tunisia, Lebanon, Turkey and of course Morocco.
Theories abound about the development of the dance but the one that makes the most sense to me is that all that abdominal and hip movement assisted women in childbirth.
Many thanks to our teacher Stephanie Kanan for her wonderful instruction!
One of the best ways to explore a culture is through its food. The ever expanding food truck movement in Los Angeles allows an enormous variety of options.
Opportune Akendeu, the owner of the African Chop truck is from Cameroon. Many of the dishes she offers including Joloff rice are popular all over Northern Africa. Sadly, we missed her version because it was sold out the day we sampled her food. Next time, for sure!
In the meantime, we decided to try our hand at home using a combination based on our preferences. This is what’s so wonderful about this kind of dish, it’s highly adaptable, simple to make and of course delicious.
Jan and Jen
J&J Joloff Rice: Basmati rice, Green beans, Carrots, Roma tomatoes, Poblano peppers, Red onion, Coconut oil, Tomato paste, Curry powder, Dried thyme, Unsalted butter and Salt.
As Jen and I immerse ourselves in various cultures, more and more we find that we want to incorporate elements that we discover into our everyday lives. On a basic level, this is the very point of our excursions.
In this episode, we’re in the kitchen cooking chicken and chickpeas with Ras el Hanout in a tagine. The fun of Ras el Honout is that it is a combination of spices based on your preferences and imagination. Our recipe is coriander, cumin, garlic, ginger, allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, turmeric, salt and pepper. Feel free to use ours or go wild, we’ve seen recipes with as many as 30 spices!
And, check out the photo gallery below, the Moroccan spa was so inspirational in our last episode that we decided to create a Moroccan bath at home. Again, this is a great opportunity to be experimental. Our bath included coconut milk, epsom salts, Sandalwood essential oil, mint leaves and rose petals. The “cocktail” is Perrier, a splash of cranberry juice and a slice of blood orange. We added a few candles- pure luxury!
So much of the cultural makeup of Los Angeles is based on proximity so there’s a high concentration of Latin Americans and Asians in the area. This got us to thinking about countries that are not too close, specifically the countries of Africa.
The best known African enclave is Little Ethiopia which we will be exploring later this year but we thought, what other countries in Africa have a presence in Los Angles? We decided to begin with Morocco because I’ve always felt there’s an exotic mystique about that country.
We began with a visit to a Moroccan spa. The treatments at The Raven Spa in Santa Monica are wonderful but it’s the ambiance that transports you. The owners were away but Sate Kazazian, the Assistant Spa Manager explained that much of the furnishings had been collected in Northern Africa which is why it feels like you could actually be in Morocco.
A quick lunch at the French Moroccan Cafe Chez Marie and then we were off to WËR gift shop in Venice. The owner, Wally Azar, has curated a unique collection of African designers. The brick and mortar location recently closed but our understanding is that a new popup/digital concept will be coming in 2020. Follow WËR on Facebook, WËR, @werlosangeles.
Yes, the holidays can be hectic, frenetic, emotional and exhausting but as you will see, sharing that endless “to do” list with a friend is our best recommendation for remembering the joy and blessings associated with this glorious season.
Jen and I were interested in creating our own Dim Sum dinner at home since our excursion to a restaurant didn’t work out so well as was illustrated in last week’s video. We’re both drawn to the idea of Dim Sum because we both love small plates and variety.
The history of Dim Sum is quite interesting. This cuisine and style of eating originates in the Canton region in ancient China. Travelers along the Silk Road would stop for refreshment at Tea houses and the proprietor would serve small plates, either sweet or savory, to accompany the tea and “touch the heart,” which is the translation for Dim Sum, of the weary travelers.
Over the centuries, this style of cuisine has evolved to include numerous dishes and migrated to countries all over the world.
Many families of Asian descent, seeking housing to raise their families, migrated to the San Gabriel Valley. In fact, a majority of the population is Asian in eight of the ten cities in the valley so of course an excursion was planned.
What was not planned, you will see… This is always a good reminder that it’s good to be able to pivot in life, to have a plan B.
As a rule, our excursions are on the more casual side but not this time. We were craving a bit of glamour so we’re off to Beverly Hills in this episode.
We dined at Xian restaurant, a lovely spot with a contemporary Chinese decor and delicious food. The restaurant provided just the right atmosphere for a typical Jan and Jen conversation- a bit of education, a bit of fashion and one of Jen’s pet peeves. Enjoy!
There are of course many regions of China in the same way as there are many regions in The United States. We wanted to focus on an authentic Cantonese style of food because that is the most prevalent style and what we associate Chinese food to be here in The United States. Cantonese cuisine originates in Guandong Province which is a large area that included such well known cities as Hong Kong and Macau.
The original Joss restaurant is an intimate setting, just a few tables but the affiliated Joss Bites is a more open communal space great for a quick meal or takeout. Either way, it’s wonderfully authentic Cantonese food that we highly recommend.
There is a very strong presence of Chinese culture in Los Angeles and environs. The first wave of Chinese immigration into California was from 1849-1882. The Chinese were instrumental in opening the West and labored in all types of industries, of course the railroads but also mining, manufacturing, agriculture and fishing.
Along with their tremendous work ethic, the Chinese bring a myriad of cultural traditions and holistic wisdom which brings us to our first excursion to the Bao Foot Spa in Santa Monica. The basis of the treatments at the spa is Reflexology which evidence would suggest has been practiced in China as far back as 4000 BC. The theory behind Reflexology is that there are points on the feet (and hands) that correspond to organs in the body and when pressure is applied to these points, health is created in the associated organs.
Although this is an ancient practice, Bao offers a contemporary and tranquil environment that we thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend!
Then, it was on to lunch at Chinois on Main, also in Santa Monica, which is an iconic restaurant not just in the Los Angeles area but internationally. This is because the owner, Wolfgang Puck, now a household name but back then a food revolutionary, recognized that Chinese as well as as other Asian flavors would “fuse” well with French cooking techniques. It was a melding that has come to be called California Cuisine.
It just so happened that the day we were there, Chinois had just celebrated it’s 36th anniversary and the restaurant was decorated with balloons which made for a very festive luncheon. We chatted with Bella Landsman, co-owner of the restaurant who shared that Chinois also pioneered the concept of small plates and no table clothes. For someone who doesn’t even use place mats, I applaud this!
Our last video for Mexico is actually a continuation of Mariachi Mayhem, at home afterwards enjoying the glow of such a festive evening.
Celebrating Mexican heritage in Los Angeles has been an incredibly rich and fun experience and the roots are so deep in Los Angeles that we’re planning another set of Mexican/Latino excursions next year.
Up next, we’re onto China for the month of November.
A few weeks ago, Jan and Jen Around the World LA celebrated my birthday which as a rule is a simple affair. But, I’m sure because of the project, I wanted to do something festive. In line with our current focus on Mexico, I decided on an evening of Mariachi and margaritas with friends.
We chose Casa Sanchez because Voces de Mexico, the house band at the restaurant puts on a lively show with music and dance and the margaritas are delicious. At the end of the show, Adrian Vaga, the musical director called out the names of people who were celebrating that night, many many birthdays and anniversaries. The atmosphere is convivial so it really is a great place to celebrate an occasion.
Mariachi traces its roots to the early 1500’s when Cortés arrived in Mexico. The music combines elements of the European, native American and African slave instruments and musicality but the traditional garb, the traje de charro we associate with Mariachi was not worn until after 1910. While the height of Mariachi in the United States was in the 1950’s and 60’s, several current bands are reinterpreting and incorporating the tradition into their music to which we say Olé!
Jen has family that lives in Santa Paula, a small city 65 miles northwest of Los Angeles. She’s gotten to know the area quite well over the years so suggested a road trip because of the cities rich Latin history.
Santa Paula is often referred to as “the citrus capital of the world,” but has over the years expanded into numerous crops. Agriculture is a key industry in Ventura County where Santa Paula is located.
The Chumash Indians, the original inhabitants of the area, were displaced by the Spanish and then Mexican ranchos circa 1840 so there’s been a long time presence of people of Latin descent. While the discovery of oil in 1880 increased commercial activity and diversity of the population, the majority of the citizens of the area continues to be Latin.
After a lovely brunch, we explored the historic downtown. The architecture is mixed but predominantly reflects a Spanish heritage. There are numerous murals throughout the city that depict life in the community. Very interesting. There are several shops displaying festive wear, especially Quinceanera dresses. Here I am below channeling my Disney princess.
There’s plenty to do in Santa Paula but interestingly, one of the most popular ways to end the day as a local (which of course we did) is to stop in for a cocktail at the bar at the Santa Paula airport. This an airpot that accommodates small planes and you can in fact go out into the field and take a closer look. It’s a cool spot; perhaps the best known person to keep his plane there was Steve McQueen.
Any cultural exploration of Los Angeles must begin with Mexico because the city was established per order of King Carlos III of Spain which then controlled Mexico by 11 Mexican families in 1781.
The influence of this heritage is everywhere: Architecture, Food, Music and Celebrations. The Spanish language is prevalent, much of the city and environs have Spanish names. In fact, Los Angeles means the city of angels in Spanish.
We begin our adventure on Olvera Street, perhaps the best known Mexican enclave because it’s the historic core of the city. I’ve been to Olvera Street many times since but below is a picture of my first visit, I had brunch with friends, drank margaritas, more than one based on my expression and listened to Mariachi music. We had the most wonderful time! I borrowed the sombrero off the buffet table for this picture.