Sunday, July 22, 2012

4th of July in LA: Long Beach Aquarium and Queen Mary Fireworks

N and I don't usually do 4th of July festivities. We generally avoid things like huge crowds and competing for space and having to get somewhere several hours early in order to watch a brief amount of entertainment. But I decided to change that this year. Partially because the 4th fell on a Wednesday and I felt like I had to make something of my one-day holiday, but also partially because I like fireworks. We also ended up doing some pre-firework activities that were pretty fun!

Every year, the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach holds a 4th of July BBQ on their front lawn. We actually went to the aquarium when we first visited LA back in 2008 and scoped out what life would be like if we ever moved here. We hadn't been back since then, and the menu looked pretty good:
  • Ginger Mint Infused Summer Fruit Salad: Cherries, Peaches, Watermelon, Melon, Pomegranate and Pineapple
  • Anchiote Roasted Potato Salad with Red and Yellow Bell Peppers finished with Manchego Cheese 
  • Rotelli Pasta Salad: Black Olive, Cucumber and Grape Tomatoes Tossed in a Champagne Vinaigrette
  • Organic Baby Spinach Salad: Roasted Almonds, Tangerines, Grape Tomato, Red Grapes and Cucumber Served With Papaya Poppy Seed Dressing
  • Laughing Bird Sustainable Shrimp Ceviche: Cucumber, Tomato, Cilantro and Shrimp Marinated in Latin Spice and tossed with Citrus, and Tequila Served on a Tostada Shell and finished with a splash of Cholula and a Avocado wedge. 
  • Citrus Marinated Airline Chicken Breast Grilled and lathered with Housemade Spiced Orange Marmalade 
  • Smoked Brisket BBQ Pork ribs 
  • Hot dogs 
  • Hamburgers 
  • Roasted Seasonal Vegetable Salad: Eggplant, Zucchini, Onion, Orange Bell Pepper, Red Bell Pepper Tossed in Sweet Roasted Garlic Puree 
  • Brown Sugar Vegetarian Baked Beans 
  • Assorted Rolls and Corn Bread 
  • Individual Apple, Cherry, and Peach Empanadas 
  • Frozen Watermelon Cubes with Coconut Anglaise 
  • House made Miniature Coconut Chocolate Candy 
  • House made Miniature Coconut Chocolate Candy with Almond
I balked a little at the price ($37/person including admission to the aquarium), but I decided to go for it anyway. The price for kids was a whopping $29 each! But I thought the cost could work in our favor and was hoping it might be a smaller affair with less kids, but I was wrong. 

We got there 30 minutes early, but the lawn was already PACKED and the line for food (which hadn't even been served yet) snaked all the way down the sidewalk. Here's what the table setup looked like on the front lawn:

But despite the crowd, the catering folks did a very good job of keeping the food well stocked and relatively clean.

The food actually exceeded my expectations, although the brisket didn't really taste like brisket and the ribs were pretty sauce-less. We also had to share a picnic table with other parties. But altogether it was pretty good!

After we ate, we headed into the aquarium. They have a pretty extensive touch pool where you can pet small sharks, sting rays, bat rays, horseshoe crabs and other ocean creatures. And it's always fun to pet a sting ray! Look how huge they are:

Also check out a video N put together with shots of bat rays and the shark tank:

The aquarium had special extended hours on the 4th so it was open until 10 p.m. We looked around until 8 p.m. or so and then tried to stake out a spot to watch the Queen Mary fireworks. We grabbed one of the last chairs up on the second floor outdoor cafe area, but when the show started we realized the trees completely blocked our view. We went back to the touch pool area and stood among the sharks and rays while we watched the show.

The show itself was underwhelming. It only lasted 15 minutes and just wasn't that impressive. But the worst was still to come.

When the fireworks ended, we headed to the parking garage along with thousands of other folks. We actually got one of the last available spots in the lot when we first arrived in Long Beach and thought we were really lucky, but it also meant we parked on the very top floor of the structure. And when thousands of people are pulling out of the same structure on the five floors below you, you don't make much progress. 

We ended up sitting in our car on the 6th floor for a solid 60 minutes without moving a single inch. By the time we started moving forward, we were not in a good mood. The night was semi-redeemed during our drive home--fireworks were going off all around us the whole time we were on the freeway. It felt like we were being showered the whole way! That "show" was actually way better than the Queen Mary fireworks.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Berry picking at Underwood Family Farm

Last weekend, N and I headed up to the Simi Valley area to pick fruit at Underwood Family Farms. We've gone cherry picking in SoCal before, but I had this grand plan in mind wherein I would come home with pounds-upon-pounds of fruit that was easily freezable. Then I'd make awesome, fresh-tasting fruit smoothies in the middle of winter. So with that in mind, I decided that blueberries would be the perfect choice.

Underwood Family Farms has two locations, but we went to the one in Somis since that's where the berries were (their Moorpark location is mostly vegetables). It also seems to be a much smaller farm, and we wanted something that was quiet. It was the tail end of blueberry season, but there was still plenty to pick. The farm was almost completely empty, which we really appreciated. I called beforehand and found out we were allowed to bring Stewie with us, so with us he came!

There was a fun little tractor ride to the blueberry field:

N hoarding blueberries in his container:

Even though it was technically only 75 degrees that day, we were out in the glaring sun and it was HOT. Hot-hot-hot! Stewie was being so wussy that he started to drive me crazy. He kept crawling along the bush line desperately trying to find as much shade as he could (which there really wasn't much of since it was around noon). I was trying to be an efficient blueberry picking machine, but all his leash pulling and frantic yanking made it impossible. I had also recently given him a bath, so while he started out nice and white, by the time we left he was a distinct yellow color from all that army crawling he did through the shade.

It was so sunny he could barely keep his eyes open:

N did the majority of the picking while I dealt with Stewie. So instead of pounds-upon-pounds of blueberries, we only ended up with 2.5 lbs. And we ate all of them in the following week. And they were the sweetest blueberries I've ever had (by the way, fresh blueberries + cottage cheese = awesomeness). We could have picked so much more. Darn you, Stewie!

There were also raspberries available for picking, but they were few and far between. We ended up with less than half a pound of them. This is where Stewie is thinking, "Can we go back to the air conditioned car now please? PLEASE???":

The farm also had several animals in pens to feed/look at. Here's Stewie encountering his first goat. Why, hello there....

And his first chicken (which had a really badass hairdo):

The farm had a little stand that sold veggies from their Moorpark location, so I also swooped in and bought fresh corn, golden beets, bok choy and romaine. Their produce looked FANTASTIC. The romaine literally looked like a heart of romaine but it was the whole head somehow (somehow!!). We've eaten everything  and I can also say it was all very tasty.

And finally, we had to take a photo of Stewie's blueberry-stained feet. What an adorable paw bouquet: