California 25 - From Saugus, Massachusetts to Saugus, California.
Except for the colossal, snow-topped San Gabriels, the mountains in Southern California are dry, swelling, and prodigious. You see them across valleys flat as platters.
Nicie and I were staying in Pacific Palisades, just outside of Los Angeles. On a Tuesday in February, we headed northeast to Santa Clarita in California’s 25th Congressional district, which includes the northern parts of Los Angeles County in the San Fernando Valley, the Simi Valley, the Sierra Pelona and San Gabriel Mountains in Angeles National Forest, and the Antelope Valley northeast from there.
We started driving north on Rt. 405 which immediately carves between the steep, barren slopes of Westridge Canyonback Wilderness Park and Beverly Glen, still scorched by recent wildfires. Only eight lanes of highway 405 protected the Getty Museum from those consuming fires. The Getty Museum crowns one of these Canyonback peaks. We looked up to it from our place in traffic. It looked as if giants had left behind their chinese takeout, a cluster of plain white boxes dropped on a brown mountain top. Nicie explained how the rail track, simply a gray band carving across the mountain slope, takes Getty visitors up to the museum. I had landed in California from Boston two days before. Two days into my LA trip, and all I could think of was how cold that rail ride must be. How many days could you actually enjoy it? What about wind, rain, and snow?
That’s how someone who lives in New England thinks. I had just left the grayest, coldest, bleakest weather, February in the Greater Boston Area. It was almost impossible for me to not think weather-defensively. Typing any address into my GPS I have a Pavlovian question: “how cold and miserable will I be?” It would take at least a week in Southern California to shed that.
The San Gabriel Mountains dominate the southeastern horizon of California’s 25th district. The Santa Susana Mountains rise in the northwest. From Santa Clarita, the San Gabriels appear other-worldly large. These are mountains that look down on mountains. Even the word “mountain” seems too small for them.
The San Andreas Fault runs through the 25th District. It separates the Sierra Pelona Mountain ridge from the Antelope Valley. A little of the Fault’s uplift activity 25 million years ago formed the dramatically sculptured Vasquez Rocks in Agua Dulce. In the city of Palmdale, where the Antelope Valley Freeway and Avenue S meet, you can actually see a cross-section of the Fault itself, its twists contorting up and around inside a bank of earth four stories high.
This is a district of valleys, deserts, mountains and faults, where there is almost nothing between you and the geological bump and grind of creation.
These were my thoughts as we drove to Santa Clarita. Just two days earlier I had awoken pre-dawn to drive to Logan airport, a route thousands of people from the North Shore of Boston take everyday. It’s a dismal length of road, a blend of quick gas in-and-outs, hostilely bright restaurant chains and boarded-up buildings that missed every economic boom. Cover all that in grime from a 16 hour cycle of commuter traffic. Wrap it in ice and snow, and that’s where I had just been, driving through gritty Saugus, Massachusetts on my way to the airport to arrive here, in Santa Clarita, California.
And Saugus, California.
Unknowingly, I had traced the journey of a Saugus, Massachusetts auctioneer named Henry Newhall, who in 1850, had left his Saugus, Massachusetts hometown to follow the call of the California Goldrush, becoming rich once he got here not on gold but railroads and land auctions. Newhall basically purchased this piece of California valley and divided it up into Valencia, Newhall, Canyon County, and Saugus. Today those four makeup the modern city of Santa Clarita. Here I was, from Saugus to shining Saugus. Weird.
Nicie and I had lunch at the Saugus Cafe, a diner with more history than many American cities. The cafe dates back to Newhall’s years,1886. This version of it has been here since the 1950’s. Presidents have enjoyed the pie. Glossy photographs of movie stars who loved the place, filmed in the place, and dined in the place drip from the crown molding all around the restaurant walls. John Wayne, Raquel Welch, Drew Barrymore, the cast of CSI, were some I recognized. And yet, the day we were there people just seemed interested in getting lunch. There were zero gawkers and that many tour buses. I was the only one taking pictures, and no one seemed to notice. Mostly, the crowd was single diners there for lunch, happy with a comfortable seat at the counter or booth and a good sandwich with fries. I had a turkey club; Nicie had grilled cheese. We shared a delicious slice of apple pie.
In Santa Clarita that day we interviewed candidate for U.S. House of Representatives, Bryan Caforio. Caforio is in his 30’s. He has thick black hair, neatly trimmed, direct brown eyes, and an honest gentleness that invited a minister’s collar below his strong chin. In fact, his grandfather had been a minister here in the 1930’s. To me, this was a kind of California gene, a Steinbeck kind of face that still lives here. You can hear Caforio and the other two Democratic candidates in our CA-25 podcast, but you won’t hear how humbly Caforio offered us his roasted broccoli recipe.
We had asked Caforio if he had a family recipe to share, as we do most candidates, and he had come prepared. He explained that his wife and he have a deal: she makes the main course and he makes the vegetable. He can only make this one vegetable, so they eat a lot of broccoli. But this is the recipe that taught Caforio to eat his vegetables. Caforio said it’s so good that he, who has no history of liking anything green, finds himself hankering for it. Caforia says it works well with asparagus and Brussel sprouts, too.
This is Caforio’s recipe. Feel free to substitute 2 cloves of chopped fresh garlic for the garlic powder. I believe (but I didn’t ask him) Caforio uses finely grated parmesan cheese, and tosses it with the oil-coated broccoli before roasting. I have made this twice - with the powdery parmesan cheese, and with the more widely grated fresh parmesan cheese sprinkled over the broccoli florets. Both are really good, although Brian’s gets a little saltier and crisper.
2 large crowns broccoli, broken into 2” florets (about 12 ounces)
Salt and pepper to taste
⅓ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon garlic powder
½ - ¾ cup grated parmesan cheese, or to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Put florets in a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss. Pour over olive oil, and toss well. Add red pepper flakes and garlic (powder or slices) and toss again. Finally, toss it with the parmesan cheese until evenly coated.
Lay broccoli into a shallow casserole dish or a baking pan.
Bake for 20 minutes. Check for crispiness. If you like it very crispy cook for 10 minutes more, or until cheese is browned and the florets are brown but not burned.