Saturday, July 07, 2007

Feed Me

Who wants to deny it?
No way.
Food is an awesome part of camping and road trips.
I love the food we prepare.
I love the food we discover.
I love the food we long to go back to.
So no account of a road trip is complete without a foodie post.

Save your allowance. Budget your discretionary cash. Arrive hungry. This is my tried and true advice for your arrival at Big Sur's Nepenthe. I've been 3 times, and haven't been disappointed once. It's the vibe of the place, the view, the mellow California scene. Last year I ordered the sweet potato fritters with a mild curry dip, and I have been dreaming of it ever since. The fritters have pecans too. The kids don't like them, isn't that wonderful? The whole basket was mine. If only I weren't the designated driver; I suspect they would pair nicely with a Margarita.

The curry dip has an outrageous color and a unique flavor... it's like no curry I've ever had... maybe because it's slightly sweet, sort of creamy. What do they put in it? If they told me it's pureed banana slug, I'd still go back next year.

I would love to arrive for lunch, sit inside, linger, reflect, absorb the atmosphere and take a long walk around the place, then ask for a seat outside to have dinner and watch the sunset. It's not about eating a lot. It's about eating well and in a beautiful setting.

Max's quesadilla was beautiful, with grilled cheese pouring out of the crisp tortilla. He took it with a hot chocolate. Max orders a lot of hot chocolates, but doesn't often finish them; this one went all the way down. Alex had an ambrosia burger, William a tuna salad sandwich. Maria grazed on their amazing french fries.

Why do I love Capitola Gayles? They make food beautiful. Really, I've eaten very little off their tremendous menu and yet it's another place where I have not been disappointed. Going there is a total sensory experience, especially as a person that appreciates the time and effort it takes to prepare and present food. At Gayle's everything is appealing. The walls, the service, the look of the cakes and veggies... everything!

I snapped a few pictures, like I always do. It was the middle of the week when we popped-in and took a number. The line was huge and there were as many employees working behind the counter as there were eager customers waiting to order. They were calling number 32. Our number was 57. After we got our grilled vegetables and roasted chicken they were calling number 83. Amazing, yet not surprising.

Now, before Gayle's came into my life, I knew about The Buttery, just up the road in Santa Cruz. My brother Bill introduced me to both bakeries, and really, I am not a big bakery fan, but these two are just such irresistable standouts I can't help but sing their praises. The Buttery is charming and quaint. Inside, looking at the fresh baked items, you instinctively know they are not skimping on the ingredients. Fresh local fruits are glistening in buttery fresh pastry.

Check out these locally grown confections. Maybe we don't frequent bakeries very often, but if you are going to indulge in a treat, shouldn't it be special?

A woman was talking with a baker about a cake order and she was showing her a drawing of her daughter's. The baker was going to make a custom cake from the daughter's drawing, using her art and colors for inspiration. It was so refreshing to see the interest and time the baker was taking to satisfy this rather elaborate request... it's a personal touch that it nice to know can still be found.

I am sure the cake will be lovely. Look at this tiny masterpiece. It's hard to see without something to compare it with... this cake is really little, yet possessing all the detail and charm of a main event kind of cake. There are lots of temptations and sweet details to admire at The Buttery. We fell for the Ollalieberry pie and brought it back to Bill and Alison's... good food tastes even better shared.

Another place Bill introduced me to: His very own Taqueria. He and Alison bought it a few years ago, and now Bill is running the whole operation like a pro. He wears a lot of hats... buyer, manager, cook, janitor, accountant, personnel, counselor, dishwasher. I spent a little time refreshing my memory about what it takes to do restaurant work and to learn more about the management of a business like his... sort of trying on a new hat, to see how it fits.

I learned that there is a lot to oversee. Customers want variety, and the seasons really affect their appetites: Summer is hot, very busy. Winter is cold, business drops off dramatically.

I learned that everything is done on a scale that vastly eclipses home cooking, and chopping 12 quarts of onions, can make even an experienced cook cry, cry, cry.

Salsa, by the bucket, can disappear in a day, so can chips, rice, guacamole, shrimp, cold drinks, chopped cilantro and cheese. Everything is fresh, tasty and served in generous portions. He has customers that come in regularly, like the Junior Lifeguards that break for lunch and wipe out the bean and cheese burrito supply.

Could I do this job everyday? This question is still bouncing around in my head. As I headed home, camping, and cooking over an open fire, I had a better appreciation for the work of preparing food, for serving a tasty, pleasing meal. It is hard work and gratifying too, even on a smaller family scale.

OKay, the wine is cheap, and I didn't have butter for the corn. In my opinion, good corn doesn't need butter. Good wine? Well, it's nice, but I was a happy woman with stars overhead, candle light and the company of my four happy campers.

Camping and road trips are food occasions. What about wedding anniversaries? I think a better bottle of wine would be nice, maybe a big salad and a nice loaf of fresh baked bread... whatever, I'm more interested in the company.

Friday, July 06, 2007

I Heart Camping

No. I am not saying I buy all of my equipment at REI, that I slept in a mummy bag on the side of a cliff or ate only what I hunted. I didn't make a 7 mile trek to a remote corner of a National Park, or start a fire by rubbing two sticks together.

I made advance reservations. The first night our tent was pitched for us... also in advance. We did cook over open flames and hike through actual wilderness. I heated water to wash our pie pan plates. We read by lantern light. We encountered wild animals. We had a wonderful time and we can't wait to camp again, this time with Geoff, so he too can know the thrill of sleeping beneath the stars and nylon, and eating nitrate free hot dogs from Trader Joe's.

Maybe we aren't ready for the hardcore camping that purists insist on, but we had a ton of fun, roughing it in our own fashion. Our first night was at a sort of Yuppy camping paradise, called El Capitan Canyon, where the camp store stocks wine, s'mores kits and they make gourmet pizzas to order. I am glad we got in before the summer rates went up. We recommend it for convenience in nature. Real mattresses are an undeniable pleasure.

It's beautiful there and we enjoyed our long walks, swimming, running in the sprinklers and meeting the squirrels. This one actually freaked me out. I never would have considered myself squirrelphobic, until this little guy came around. He kept circling our legs as we sat at the picnic table. He was... Squirrely. He was after chip crumbs, and true we were in his neighborhood, so he was entitled. I just felt vulnerable and skittish with him scampering around our feet and eyeing us with his hungry, beady rodent eyes. I was laughing and shuddering at the same time.

We were powerless under his gaze!

We also stayed at El Cap on the way home, which is a sensible way to finish a long trip. We were able to relax, take hot showers, reorganize the gear and take in more of the sights. By this time, Maria was really into camping and helping out with things, like cooking. She washed onions in the spigot water and chopped bell peppers... it was her idea to add oak leaves to her rustic stew.

Camping has an inherent element of danger, what with the wild animals, and open flames. Maria kept returning to our table candle to cook her peppers and onions.

It's hard to admonish a cook that can improvise.

This is Max's tree. He sat in it for days long enough that we'd wonder where he'd gone. He was very happy perched in this amazing spot, where he could watch the world walk by, eat his grapes and reflect on the bliss of summer.

The woodpeckers seemed to prefer our picnic table.

Our favorite place is further north on the Coast Highway, at Limekiln State Park. Don't tell anyone. We want to keep it our secret. Shh!

I should not mention that this spot is on the beach, where a creek that begins in the redwoods meets the ocean. I shouldn't write about the Rivendalesque forest where campers and nature meet in a harmonious scene that is profoundly soothing and affirming.

We so want to go back there and stay for many days, so we can take the second trail; the one we skipped in favor of the falls trail. We want to camp there again so we can lose track of the days and make believe we know the homes of fairies and elves, so we can learn the names of wild flowers and take naps on the banks of the creek.

This is the place and time where and when we became unschooled. We stepped off the path and threw caution to the wind. We dared to cross the creek, hop rocks, touch trees, find bugs, listen to birds, follow the flow of the hillsides and water, let the dappled light hold our thoughts. It's possible to fall if you climb. It's possible to get wet near water. It's possible to fall behind, if you don't watch the time. It's possible to get dirty if you sit on the ground, or climb a fallen tree. We did everything possible and enjoyed all the consequences and discoveries. It was delightful.

We got lost, in our thoughts.

We laughed and tested our confidence. We found new truths about what's safe, right, good, normal, fun.

We slowed down long enough to remember how very little we need to make life meaningful and worthwhile.

We want to go back and sleep in our tent and wake-up with bedhead. We want to watch day turn into night and back again, and not care what we are missing in the other world.

I really do love camping. It's messy and sometimes too cold, or too far from the bathrooms. Hey, at least I didn't have to deal with my landlord dropping by unannounced... ugh!

I like surprising the kids with natural wonders, like crayfish in the creek, meadows of clover, the blue moon dipping in to the Pacific. I like amusing them with Camping Only treats, like a bowl of Lucky Charms and making s'mores.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Quilted Joy!

A secret was revealed to me and I now I know who was making me a doll quilt: Thank you Pamela at Mamaspark's World! I apologize for leaving you wondering about its arrival... I have been away from home for many days, then I came home to computer troubles... never mind all that... I was elated to find a curious looking package in our mailbox. When I opened the outer envelope I gasped with delight... my hopes were confirmed.

I don't get as many delightful surprises as I did as a kid, say at Christmas or for my birthday, so when I tore open a peek, breath held, heart fluttering, I was thrilled. I laughed and sighed. I exclaimed something... probably like a hen laying an egg!

Pamela captured my love of chickens in a thoughtful, artistic, tasteful doll quilt. The colors are cozy and inviting, much like the colors of comfort and warmth. I keep seeing more details in the quilt. I love to gaze at it. She named it "Spicy Chicken." Does she know about the salsa called "Pico de Gallo?" It translates as rooster's beak or peck and describes the fresh diced tomatoes, onions, chile and cilantro in a spicy salsa. The many triangles suggest a rooster's peck, the colors are fresh and spicy.

Pamela, you are very good quilter. I want to convey to you my absolute delight in receiving your thoughtfulness, your generosity, this reflection of your work and artistry. I am very lucky and very appreciative. Thank you. Thank you.

I am still working on the quilt I will send out. My first attempt is not what I had hoped for and now I am really convinced I should start over. Yikes! Just a little pressure. Now that I have seen what a beautiful result Pamela worked for, I feel even more inspired to give my best.

Clearly, I am fond of chickens, but I like to think I am level headed about the whole thing, and I love how Pamela chose to subtly suggest my chicken affection on the quilt front, and then go totally chicken-whimsy on the back! It's a perfect balance. Tasteful, and traditional on the front, and flip over for my humorous side. I love it!

Pamela did all the piecing. Small triangles and many squares meeting at corners; an elaborate looking pattern emerges, that I appreciate for the patience it must have taken to pull together. It looks beautiful. When she was done with the piecing she enlisted the help of Elizabeth to do the quilting. Elizabeth has access to one of those fabulous machines that can produce intricate results, and she chose a lovely quilting pattern of twining vines, arcs and flowers. They fit perfectly across the fabrics.

Hallie: Meet Chango, your California cat cousin. He waited until I was taking these pictures to plop himself down on the doll quilt. Hallie, I love that you sent the quilt off with your seal of approval. Thank you for agreeing to share it with our home.

I am so happy to be a blogger, a quilter, a participant in this wonderful exchange with Doll Quilt Swap. Please, excuse me now. I am eager to finish a little quilt for someone else

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

From Sea to Shining Sea: California

Happy Fourth of July, and Welcome to California!
This is a post about California, in conjunction with the "Pikes Peak Promise Project."

Pike’s Peak Project 2007 Logo

California is big. This isn't bragging or merely stating the obvious. This is a disclaimer, because I can hardly hope to write a post that represents or summarizes an entire state as large and varied as this state. If you need a history refresher, I offer this Wikipedia link for a California overview. My post is personal and reflective, a pictorial tour of places I've seen and people I have met in California.

California A-Z

A is for Apples

There are apple orchards in California. I've been to several in Julian, where we picked our own apples, and where they are famous for their apple pies. Last year we discovered Gizdich Ranch in Watsonville, where we saw apple trees and ate Olallieberries. While in Watsonville you may want to "Drink Your Apple a Day... Watsonville is home to world famous Martinelli's Sparkling Cider. I still enjoy drinking their apple juice and remembering how much I loved having it as a treat when I was growing up. Wherever you live, it's a treat to eat locally and discover what's growing in your state and community.

B is for Balboa Park

Balboa Park is a cultural haven located in San Diego. It's home to the San Diego Zoo, museums and theaters. It's the kind of place you can go and find something to do or see, something to appreciate, no matter the time of year, no matter your budget. I used to volunteer at the Old Globe Theater, where I could see live theater and enjoy evenings with my boyfriend. We were married in Balboa Park. Now we take our children to the museums, the gardens, the playgrounds and to this reflection pond. Walking alone can fill an entire day.

C is for Cannery Row
For me, John Steinbeck's writing evokes California, the beauty and the darkness, the promise of its fertile valleys and bounty of the rich coastal waters. I learned about my home state from his tide pool descriptions and my compassion for men and women deepened from reading his stories about Cannery Row. True, Cannery Row today is a tourist destination and souvenir shop-riddled-jumble, that Steinbeck would have scorned, but if you've read his books, if you've pictured the places he painted in words, you can still find his Cannery Row. I still find it worthwhile to visit.

D is for Daniel
Daniel cuts our hair, and he has been cutting our hair for 8 years. He knows our names and remembers our interests. He's one of those people that makes you feel at home, like a part of the community. I like to set aside time enough for haircuts and for visiting when I go to Daniel's. Someone always pops in and then we get to meet someone new from the neighborhood. There are cold sodas and water in his mini-fridge and he keeps a great selection of magazines next to the bench by the window. It's so nice to slow down and enjoy the company at Daniel's.

E is for Eureka
This quote is from the California State Library web page, where they describe all kinds of state symbols: "The Greek word "Eureka" has appeared on the state seal since 1849 and means "I have found it". The words were probably intended to refer to the discovery of gold in California. Archimedes, the famed Greek mathematician, is said to have exclaimed "Eureka!" when, after long study, he discovered a method of determining the purity of gold. In 1957, attempts were made to establish "In God We Trust" as the state motto, but "Eureka" was made the official state motto in 1963." I found our "Eureka" on the side of the San Diego Museum of Man building, in Balboa Park. I guess it's been there since the Panama-California Exposition of 1915.

F is for Flowers
There are a lot flower fields in California. These flowers are growing in Carlsbad. They're ranunculus, which bloom in the spring. It's amazing to be in the center of these fields, with acres of bold color all around. The California Poppy is the state flower. I can't think of a flower I haven't seen growing in California, from commercial grower's poinsettias and the beautiful floral bouquets that are grown organically to the backyard roses, zinnias, sunflowers and bouganvilla... I love the bounty and variety of flowers we get to enjoy.

G is for Guest
Maybe you have family or friends in California. It's so nice to be a welcome guest in someone's home. We've had the pleasure of being tourists in our own state and we once were overnight guests at the historic and beautiful Hotel Del Coronado. It was an anniversary celebration, and yes, we brought the children. The Del sits between the Pacific and the San Diego Harbor, and the sights are wonderful. We rented a boat and toured the harbor, where there are fishing boats and Navy ships. At Christmas the Del sets up a skating rink, so that it's possible to walk on the sand, then ice skate, then enjoy a sumptuous brunch in the Crown Room. Okay, so this isn't something to do every weekend, but as a special treat, it doesn't disappoint.

H is for Horse
How about "H is for Humor?" There's plenty of good humor in California, and I thought this was a particularly artful example. Last year the children and I were visiting the Central Coast and we stumbled on this horse on the porch. I never tire of the drive from Ventura County along the 1 or the 101, right up to San Francisco. In between the sight of small farms, the rugged coast, the majesty and serenity of Big Sur, the rolling hills dotted with oaks... it all inspires me. I marvel at the abundance and variety that is represented in this small section of California. I think how luxurious it would be to visit the entire state, driving and stopping as the mood hits... it would be a very long, very full road trip. It would take a good deal of humor to manage it with four children.

I is for India... The Star of India
The San Diego Maritime Museum is home to several historical ships, including Star of India, and from "Master and Commander," H.M.S. Surprise. We've toured these ships with the children... it makes for a fun explore. Grade school students sometimes have an opportunity to spend a working night aboard Star of India. I've heard it's quite an experience and one that teaches tough lessons in ship life. The times we've been aboard these ships we are always struck by the tight quarters and the challenging circumstances people must have endured during long sea voyages. After the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill thousands of people 'rushed' to California from all over the world on ships like these.

J is for Juggle
I guess California has a reputation for being hectic... it's true for the big cities where people are juggling a lot of things, and staying wired. Probably places like Santa Monica are most notorious for a rat race pace. Traffic, cell phones, agents, personal trainers, life coaches, nannies... it's all there. It's fun to visit. It's fun to see the Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu, the Beach and the Canyon. There is a strange buzz there, an expectancy. There are paparazzi lurking, waiting, and then there are homeless people lurking and waiting. And then there are the People Magazine cover people slipping past in fast cars, strolling in dark glasses. Seen and unseen. Societal extremes are existing in the same square blocks, together and yet far apart. I get the feeling that if you could package Hope, you could sell it in Santa Monica.

K is for King
My apologies. I haven't got a king. I offer you a Queen: Niki de Saint Phalle's "Queen Califia's Magic Circle." We discovered this and more sculpture in a neighborhood park with winding trails, that went on seemingly forever. Everything was still under construction and we felt like we had discovered a magical land. They were building a fantasy of shapes and colors, all from the imagination of Niki de Saint Phalle. We haven't been back to see the finished park. I kind of enjoy remembering it in the twilight, when it was emerging and we were alone to unravel it's magic.

L is for La Jolla
The Jewel. Joya is spanish for jewel and this coastal community is quite lovely, especially from the water. We used to snorkel and dive here. Jumping from the cliffs was strongly discouraged then and it's illegal now. For a small fee you can climb the stairs from the Shell Shop that lead down into the cliff where you can look out the cave and to the sandstone cliffs of Torrey Pines and Scripps Institute of Oceanography. It's a marine sanctuary and still a wonderful place to snorkel and swim.

M is for Mariachi
California was once a part of Mexico, and it wasn't so long ago either, so the music of the mariachi is very much at home here. We like Mariachi Divas. The day we saw them performing our daughter, Maria, stood up and danced to every song. She was in love with their powerful voices, the rich music from the violins, guitars and trumpets. She danced and they played for her. Because children can be so enthusiastic, sincere and expressive, it became one of those unique experiences that is emotionally moving and happy.

N is for November
This is the sunset from last Thanksgiving. I can enjoy Thanksgiving anytime, anywhere. Like the 4th of July, it's one of those holidays that most of us, as Americans, can enjoy and appreciate together. We have our individual traditions and expectations, but for the most part the rituals are universal. For Thanksgiving it's all about the shared work of preparing a feast and then sharing our gratitude for all we are blessed with. Thanksgiving in California has all the usual trimmings. I know it's just as special in Wisconsin, and Ontario, Canada, Oregon and Hawaii.

O is for Oaks
A few years ago I bought a book all about oak trees in California, and as soon as we unpack it, I want to read it and finally learn all about one of my all time favorite trees. I feel like I am not doing the tree justice by merely stating that I really, really love oak trees. I do really, really love them though. They strike me as wise and weathered, enduring. They are not smooth and welcoming, in a "climb me" sense, but I do feel invited to sit beneath their broad and shady canopy. In noon day sun or in morning mist, they stir my soul with romantic notions of Old California, pioneers, and ranchitos. If I could fly, I would be over the rolling hills and visiting the oak trees.

P is for Pipes
If you come to California, make your way to the coast and when you get hungry talk to the surfers. The surfers know where to find affordable, tasty food served by people who understand Aloha. Surfers work up an appetite, they live to surf, so money can be tight and the aloha? Well surfing is Hawaiian, so I guess they just pick it up along with the waves. We like to go to Pipes. Everyone likes to go to Pipes. The service is always with a smile and sometimes with music too, and the food is tasty.

Q is for Quiet
Mountain quiet. Idyllwild is a place with mountain views and quiet forests. We like to go there in hopes of finding snow. When we haven't found snow, we've still enjoyed hikes, playing games in front of a cabin fireplace and walking in to town for dinner. We like to meet friends there and enjoy a long weekend of breathing pine scented air and wearing wool socks. It's nice to find a place different home, and yet not so far away from home. California offers plenty of choices when you want to enjoy something different.

R is Rocks
We take them for granite! All over California, there are a lot of big granite rocks. No, I don't really take them for granted. I love them. I love the bold boulderness of them and how much fun they are to climb, cross, jump, and sit on. When our youngest son remembers this county park, he always mentions the huge rock he climbed, without any help. I hope he always enjoys that sense of power and pride that comes from climbing something that seemed insurmountable.

S is for Swami's
Dude. All long the California coast are hot little surf spots, where the locals chill and the surf is superfine. Check the surf report before grabbing your board, but you don't need to surf to enjoy the view. When the tide is low, you can visit the tidal pools. Animals are protected here, so no souvenirs, but take plenty of pictures. Watch for dolphins, and in winter, gray whales migrating south.

T is for Tall Trees
These are the big trees of Calaveras Big Trees State Park. California is blessed with big trees and big, tall trees. On the Northern California coast are the world's tallest trees: The Coast Redwoods. They have been verified to be as old as 2,200 years old, and are as tall as 350 feet. Inland, around the Sierra Nevada Mountains are the big trees, where one tree, the Discovery Tree, was measured to be 24' in diameter! We walked across the stump of the Discovery Tree, where many years ago they used it as a dance floor. We hope these trees can be left to grow, protected and appreciated.

U and V for Unbelievable Views
There is a great little mountain I know of where the views are big. It's called Stonewall Peak and if you're lucky enough to know some climbers, or you are one yourself, then you can enjoy the added bonus of doing some rappelling. My brother has taken me twice, and though I have no natural inclination to drop from great heights, I have to say rapelling is an awesome way to spend the day. Not far from Stonewall is a place where you can stand on the mountain and look straight to the desert floor below. The views from there are quite dramatic.

W is for Wild Sage
If I closed my eyes I might still know I was in California, if I could smell the sage. It grows wild and the fragrance of it is spicy, herbal, almost pungent. It is a sacred plant and used in healing and cleansing rituals... I thought I'd include a link here, but all the sites I found were supposedly spiritual and yet they all too anxiously rushed the customer to the Paypal button. My mother taught me how to gather small, personal bundles of sage, not harvest it for commercial profit, and to keep it handy, for use like incense.

X,Y and Z are for California
This van was parked in Santa Barbara, and I dare say it must have an X, Y and Z on it somewhere. It had something all over it. California... I've heard we're like granola, a bunch of flakes, fruits and nuts! That's cool. I love it here. I love the people and the optimism. I love the creativity. I love that we are home to research centers, technology and development, that we make movies and music, and waves and we ride out the storms, earthquakes and fires. It's not just for this state that my heart feels a kindred tug. All these 50 states, each blessed with strengths and grace, are good and beautiful and home. We like to feel a sense of pride for where we live and grow, and I like to remember that our greatest blessing is our union, as a country, as a society. We are more capable and more beautiful when we unite... "America, America. God shed his grace on thee. And crowned thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea!"

Visit more states by going: