Vegan cassoulet from 29 Palms Inn

This past weekend I finally visited southern California, a place I’ve avoided for a very long time. Initially, when the first of many friends moved to L.A., I didn’t want to visit. Because I was certain I would hate it. Then, when I broke down and planned a trip, things didn’t work out because of the Rodney King riots, which resulted in LAX being closed the day I was to arrive.

Joshua TreeOver the years, as more and more friends moved out west, I have spent time in Northern California, which I love, and Seattle, a place I would eventually like to call home. Yet my affection for these other west coast cities, livable places full of air and space and nature, somehow only hardened my conviction that L.A. was not for me.

Eventually, that belief became part of my identity. I was a person who disliked L.A. Until recently, during my reevaluation of, well, everything. At some point in the last few months I realized that my beliefs about L.A. were based on nonsense, a vestige of old, unhealthy patterns. I’ve never been there. I don’t know what I think. There are people I love in L.A. It’s sunny. There are gorgeous beaches. Matador Beach, MalibuAnd the food is supposed to be great. So I booked a ticket. And I’m posting after spending a long weekend there. I didn’t fall in love with the city. But I liked it just fine. And the nature that surrounds the city is amazing. I will definitely return.

Although my first trip was pretty quick, I managed to pack a whole lot in. On the first day, I went to Matador Beach, in Malibu. I would say that the beauty is indescribable. Except I have photos. So you can see for yourself. Matador Beach, Malibu 2Stunning, right? The photos don’t catch the sound, though, which was mesmerizing. Unlike the Gulf of Mexico, a soft background noise that lulls you, gently invites you to come into the water, this sound took over from the outside, strong and assertive, crawling inside my mind, body, until I was empty of everything except the rythmic beat. I laid on the sand for an hour or so, absorbed by sound of ocean hitting rock, over and over, taking over thought and leaving room only for being. There was no need for me to go anywhere or do anything. It was like a gong bath. But more visceral.

Unfortunately, the only dark spot of the entire weekend followed directly after that marvelous experience. When we left the beach, planning to head home and then go out, my friend Maria and I got caught up in the fabled L.A. traffic. It’s so, so much worse than I imagined. Because at the time I had not yet seen Chris Burden’s Metropolis II. (http://www.lacma.org/art/exhibition/metropolis-ii) Metropolis IIArt does indeed reflect life. Within the first ten minutes of sitting in bumper to bumper traffic, all of my pride at newly acquired ability to breathe through anger and irritation was shown up as nothing but veneer.  I managed to stay calm, did not become moody or difficult. But it took tremendous effort, leaving me with nothing much left to give. That meant we wound up staying home Saturday night instead of heading out to the bbq we’d been invited to. I wanted to go. I just didn’t want to drive. Or have to make an effort with people I didn’t know. It was sad. And, Maria assured me, completely typical. This was L.A.

On the upside, the earlyMaria 2 night at home made it super easy to get up the next day. The plan was to go to yoga and then to another friend’s house for a bbq. I was both excited and nervous. Excited because I’d never been to one of Maria’s classes. (http://www.yogaworks.com/en/Locations/California%20-%20South/Los%20Angeles/LarchmontVillage-CFY.aspx?tab=teachers&staff_id={FB54B179-3A37-484E-A64C-B90400C00383}) Nervous because I’ve never practiced Ashtanga. She assured me there was nothing to be nervous about, though. Which turned out to be true.

In addition to being a great friend, Maria (pictured left, in Joshua Tree) is a wonderful teacher, calm and thoughtful, pushing each of us to make the effort, to give everything without getting lost in struggle. This is an image of her that we shot in Joshua Tree. So gorgeous! I still am not a convert. The rigor and discipline of Ashtanga don’t draw me in. But I admire it. And I am no longer afraid.

After class, we made a quick stop at Whole Foods in Pasadena, where I nerded out on the bulk section of heirloom beans. Then we headed to East L.A. for another friend’s bbq. What followed was about 30 hours of pure joy with people I absolutely love.

First, we spent a few hours at the hostess’s awesome house, eating, drinking, laughing, and listening to music.Me and David It was perfect. My joy is apparent in this photo. Yes? But, at some point, we disbanded that part of the day. It was time to leave for Joshua Tree. The drive was delightful, full of more laughing and talking and reveling in friend love. The four of us hadn’t been together in 12 years, so there was a whole lot of catching up to do. Before I knew it we arrived at our hotel, the 29 Palms Inn (http://www.29palmsinn.com/). We checked in and then headed to the restaurant for dinner. I’d heard mixed reviews, so wasn’t sure what to expect. But I was hoping for the best. After all, they had their own farm. How bad could it be?

desert cassouletCassoulet isn’t something one typically associates with the desert. Or Southern California. But in addition to white beans, the menu promised garlic, greens, and tomatoes from the garden. Which sounded great after the bison burger and various forms of carbohydrates and dairy I’d eaten for lunch. When I overheard the table next to us ask for the recipe, I knew it was for me. And I was not disappointed. This reimagined version of cassoulet was fresh, vibrant, and deeply satisfying. So I, too, asked for the recipe. Here’s what the chef told me to do.

Heat some olive oil in a large skillet over fairly high heat. Saute garlic and shallots. Add fresh greens, whatever is in season (the chef used Swiss chard), halved cherry tomatoes, basil, oregano, marjoram, and a healthy amount of salt. Saute, stirring, for a few minutes, until everything is carmelized. Then add cooked white beans and about two cups of white wine. Cook for about ten minutes, until the liquid is reduced by half. Serve with toasted bread.

Because I have not yet had a chance to try this recipe, I’m not sure what to tell you about the amounts. And I probably won’t for a little while. Because I just found out that I have to find an apartment, pack up the condo where I’ve lived for the past ten years, and move, all in the next two weeks. Which will not permit much time for cooking or, probably, blogging. But I look forward to trying this cassoulet soon, once I’m settled in my new place, what and wherever that is. If you get around to it before I do, please let me know!

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