Sunday, October 27, 2013

Western Time Diary: The California Wine Country

"Can we turn around?" I asked Steve when we drove by this strawberry stand. One of the delights of the open rode is stumbling upon these farm stands.

This is my kind of fast food.

Our nifty Ford Focus.

Passing through Glen Ellen, we came across this book exchange inspired by the author Jack London. Some of my favorite books have found me because someone passed them on. I admit to getting greedy in recent years and wanting to hold onto some of my favorite storytellers but do share them. Do you keep books or pass them on?

Stories awaiting readers.

Many of my memories of the wine country weren't about the wine, but about the food and the scenery, much of it the gardens. Lunch at magnificent The Girl and the Fig. On the menu during our visit was this chickpea cake with local cheese and greens, and I had a non-alcoholic drink of rose water, mint, lime and cranberry juice.

Steve's vanilla bean cheesecake with apple and fig compote.

My lavender creme brulee.

Of the wineries we visited, Kendall Jackson was my favorite.

A sweet Riesling here while sampling dessert wines.

I could have lingered in their garden all day.

Tomatoes for sale.

Off to Korbel to sample some champagne.

Pink champagne. Cheers!

Despite having late lunch plans, I couldn't resist sampling their salads like the butternut squash and orzo with brie, raisins and basil with some crusty bread. I forced myself to not get the roasted red pepper bisque and peach blackberry tart to accompany it. I haven't eaten meat since I was a teenager and California offered a vegetarian bounty.

Lunch at the Wine Spectator restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America. You know I'm a chef's wife when I hear CIA I think of the culinary school and not the Central Intelligence Agency, although Steve is self-taught in the kitchen. We shared this sweet corn soup with avocado froth and blue corn tortillas sprinkles, pictured with my drink of jasmine tea, peach puree and ginger ale.

The vegetarian risotto. Another thing of note is the reasonable portion sizes. We don't care for restaurants who brag about their enormous portions. Gorging myself doesn't feel civilized, and I don't need leftovers for days.

Apple and pear sorbet.

Who knew one of my favorite storytellers from childhood would find me on my honeymoon? The Charles M. Schultz Museum is located in Santa Rosa.
I already looked up when they'll be televising Linus and his annual awaiting of the Great Pumpkin (you're never too old!) My sister and I still enjoy watching the Charlie Brown holiday specials each year, a small joy for sure. Snoopy savors the small things.

Skaters at Snoopy's Home Ice.

My Peppermint Patty hot chocolate at the Warm Puppy Cafe!

At a little food hall on the way to the next stop, a French creperie.

A honey almond crepe to share. Bees are so essential to the pollination of crops, including almonds. I'm thankful to the bees for this treat.

Lunch at Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bistro. Keller was involved with one of my favorite food films, Ratatouille, about a rat who becomes a great chef in Paris. As Remy's idol says, "Anyone can cook!"

A pear cider and to share the salad.

Toasted gnocchi with vegetables, including fennel.

Steve's brownie with peanut butter ice cream.

My ile flottante with salted caramel sauce.

No dinner for us at Keller's French Laundry. Our guidebook said reservations are needed months in advance and a meal could run $250 a person!

The garden of the French Laundry.
I let Steve (more the wine connoisseur) enjoy the wineries more while I did the driving, but I was just content to take in the scenery. Here enjoying a Vignette wine country soda in a rose flavor with roasted almonds at Domaine Carneros.
Steve and I considered, and even decided, on going to France for our honeymoon, but changed our minds. We've been to Paris, but not the countryside. I'm so glad we picked California. Our flight was a fraction of the price and the exchange rate was on our side. There's an endless stream of people writing books and blogs about going to France and finding the good life, but the good life is here to be savored too.

I also remember being in a small town in Spain (our first trips together included Paris, Switzerland, Mexico, Italy and then Spain), and thinking to myself, I want to see more of the United States on our next vacation. We toured the Southwest the next year, a trip I return to in my mind over and over again and remains one of my favorites, and we have built so many wonderful memories touring America.

Up next, a visit to a Gold Rush town, pondering the idea of riches.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Western Time Diary: Lands End and Muir Woods

Seeds. I've been thinking a lot about seeds, physically planting them and watching something grow with patience, nurturing and a hopeful heart, whether that be a child or a bed of morning glory, but seeds of ideas too. As a teenager, I used to have a picture of a young boy with a fish in an idyllic pond setting. I think it was from a Rolling Stone article on the fight to save Walden Woods back in the 1990s. There was a quote from Henry David Thoreau, "Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads." That was one of the seeds that planted in me a desire to love and protect the environment. I ran track and cross country in high school and we'd run in a wooded area by a reservoir that reminded me of that scene from the article. It was such a sacred place. Another seed so many years ago that took root so firmly, opening my eyes to the natural world's wonders even in our own backyard.
Before I explored Lands End in San Francisco, I read over some of the letters visitors wrote here. So much of it was about connection. It broke my heart to read a New York Times article on the defacing of national parks by some who even boast about their actions on social media. These parks are sacred places.

Jean Craighead George, reflecting on her novel published in 1959, My Side of the Mountain, about Sam, a young boy who runs away from New York City life to live off of the land in the Catskill Mountains said,
"When I pick up this book again and look at it, I realize how far we've come from the sense of the earth and its importance. We're polluting streams. We're putting arsenic in water. We are killing the endangered species, and we do not understand how connected we are to all these things and we must protect them in order to live as a human being. We are part of them. Which I think in a way Sam did as he ate the plants and the animals of the wilderness and lived in a tree where no one would find him. That’s where I want to be."

Part of what I love so much about travel is that even if I'm some place for a few hours, or even a few moments, they stay imprinted in my memory bank for accessing times of calm and reflection. Two of those places for me in California were Lands End and Muir Woods. I have been at these places only once physically, but in spirit countless times.  Do these special places exist for you?

"I hear the trees whispering sometimes. They don't talk to everyone. Or maybe they do, but not everyone listens. Do you hear them?" - from J.J. Brown's Brindle 24, a cautionary tale about fracking, the process to extract natural gas.

"The perfumed walk is a mystical part of her world." - Brindle 24.

Remembering those who lived off of the land in harmony. The connection with the environment is one of the aspects that draws me to the Native American culture.
Visitors at Muir Woods are reminded life is always in motion.
 "See that falcon? Hear those white-throated sparrows? Smell that skunk? Well, the falcon takes the sky, the white-throated sparrow takes the low bushes, the skunk takes the earth...I take the woods." - My Side of the Mountain

"The ancient trees are the deep earth's language for speaking to the universe. The earth communicates through trees to the animals and the birds living above - and to the heavens. The trees draw the earth's water up from the ground. Then breathing, they return it to the air for the clouds and the blessed rain that falls to begin the cycle again. She thinks of the thin layer of living things as a fragile space between earth's molten rock core and the frozen outer universe of stars. The thin layer is like her own life here - precious, finite." - Brindle 24
I couldn't think of a more fitting name. The grove did feel like a place of worship.
In Joanna L Stratton's book, "Pioneer Women: Voices from the Kansas Frontier," Lulu Fuhr observed,
"Pioneering is really wilderness experience. We all need the wisdom of the wilderness - Moses did, Jesus did, and Paul did. The wilderness is a place to find God, and the city is the place to study the multitude; a knowledge of both makes for master builders of state and nation."
I think our elected leaders should spend more time in these reserves of nature. A colleague returning from a trip to visit the parks in Montana was so moved by what he saw he declared it should be a requirement to go spend time in some of these parks.
Signs everywhere reminded visitors of their impact.
A godfather of the conservationist movement and Sierra Club founder John Muir. If you haven't already seen it, I highly recommend the Ken Burns documentary, "National Parks: America's Best Idea." I have a large postcard in my home office/library that I framed with Muir's advice:
Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.
Feast on sunlight.
Let go of your cares like autumn leaves.
Leave your legacy for the earth
Breath in nature's peace and get their good tidings.
Sharing one of my favorite poems on trees, by J.J. Brown in her novel American Dream. I feel a bit of Muir's spirit in this work.

“If he could go back in time to when Mother was a child and protect her invisibly throughout her life, he was sure that he would do it. He tried to compose a poem for her during the long ride back.

Let me be a tree.
Let me be the locust tree
her dear hands clasp as a child
where she looks up
as if I were her eternity
And give me a coat of ribbed tree bark
for her to carve her ABC’s.

Let me be a thousand locust blossoms
to perfume her walk in spring
but keep her from the poison seeds
that scatter where she plays.

Or let me be the maple tree
her strong hands tap in spring
and the flowing golden syrup in her glass
then shed the crimson leaves
to line her walk in autumn.

Yes, let me be a tree.
But let me not be hacked into logs
not planed smooth and drowned in stains
not cut by rough hands.

Or if it must be
then let me be the welcome table
laid lovingly with bread by her dear hands.
Let me not fall into disuse, be discarded or burned.

Or if it must be
then let me be the fine smooth boards
that line the coffin where she lays her head
as a final resting place.

Yes, let me be a tree.”

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Western Time Diary: San Francisco

It has taken me until now to post my California diary here, Western Time, in a nod to Laura Ingalls Wilder's remark to her husband Almanzo when the time zone changes, "Western time now" in the collection of letters "West from Home." The West does feel so different from fast-paced life commuting to New York City from congested northern New Jersey.

In the R.E.M. song, I Remember California, Michael Stipe sings of memories of redwood trees, bumper cars and wolverines, the ocean's trident submarines, lemons, limes and tangerines. Here is what I remember of San Francisco, where Steve and I spent the first leg and last of our honeymoon in early October last year which I still want to document as love letters to a very happy time, including some reflections on my American dream.

The Golden Gate Bridge, of course! History-loving me wanted to know the origin of "golden gate," and according to the bridge's web site,

"The Golden Gate Strait is the entrance to the San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean...It is generally accepted that the strait was named "Chrysopylae", or Golden Gate, by John C. Fremont, Captain, topographical Engineers of the U.S. Army circa 1846. It reminded him of a harbor in Istanbul named Chrysoceras or Golden Horn."

Of course, gold would play a huge role in the development of the state, and we'll visit a gold rush town a little later.

The art deco architecture of Ocean Park Motel, which opened in 1937, the same year as the Golden Gate bridge. The rooms were on the small side but this was just fine. I needed a comfortable bed at the end of the day to rest my head, and I love the retro feel here. I kept having my favorite old Hollywood movie star Dick Powell's music running through my head. Mr. and Mrs. is the Name felt appropriate.

Loved their zen hot tub area.

In a word, I'd have to describe the whole vibe of San Francisco on this trip as "zen."

Breakfasts like granola bowls  with fresh fruit, cinnamon sugar baguettes, and hummus bagels with sprouts and soy lattes at the nearby Java Beach Cafe. The presidential debates were being held while we were here, and the locals gathered over their newspapers and had lively discussions. It's hard to believe we are already talking about the next presidential election. I like to "vote" with how I spend my dollars, including patronizing small businesses as often as possible. Politicians can talk about helping small business, but it's up to the masses to support them. That's my contribution to this morning's café political round table.

Strolling on the beach after breakfast. These waters are too rocky for swimming, though I meant to wade like Laura did in the Pacific Ocean. Leave it to Laura to wade!

Haight Ashbury. I found a nature-inspired green dress at a vintage shop on the corner here that reminds me of the woods. One of the things I love to vote and advocate for is a strong reuse market.

We didn't register for our wedding, and asked for honeymoon contributions instead, so our entire trip was paid for. We've outfitted our household since we moved into our two family home almost entirely through secondhand (garage and estate sales, charity thrift shops and even curbside rescues).  As often as I can (I'm not perfect), I vote again corporations with their cheap foreign made wares they sell to the public, and that's my hippie spirit of the 60s.

 I love seeking out gardens in big cities. One of my favorite places in New York? The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. Strolling the peaceful Japanese tea garden in Golden Gate Park here.

Lunch at the tea house.

Jasmine tea, miso soup and fortune cookies. Some history on fortune cookies from the tea garden's site:

"According to family members, Mr. Hagiwara introduced fortune cookies to the United States from Japan in the 1890's or early 1900's. Initially, the cookies were made on site by hand using a special iron mold or kata. When demand grew, Mr. Hagiwara hired San Francisco confectioner Benkyodo to produce the fortune cookies in large quantities.  Original fortune cookies made in Japan were savory rather than sweet, and it is believed that Benkyodo developed a vanilla recipe for Mr. Hagiwara to make it more appealing to Western palates, the flavor that is now widely popular across the U.S."

 Green tea with kuzuomochi, sweet rice cakes in flavors of green tea, mango and strawberry.

We also toured the botanical gardens. I think blue flowers are my most favorite. Author Elizabeth Gilbert recalled her "gardening mother's wise adage, which she used to tell us all the time when we were kids: Every day that goes by that you do not touch the soil, you aren't really alive." I feel more alive when I observe the magnificence of nature each day.

The Fog City Diner. More art deco love.

Not your average diner food. At the Fog City Diner, butter lettuce, walnuts, grilled pears, goat cheese in a citrus vinaigrette.

The seals by the wharf. I don't know how they get any sleep!

A salted caramel hot chocolate on a brisk, windy day at Ghirardelli Square.

The tomato soup bread bowl at Boudin Bakery. The Fisherman's Wharf area is very touristy, yes, but sometimes it's okay to do the "touristy" things, because well, you are!

A tea tasting at Vital Tea Leaf in Chinatown. I sampled wonderful teas, including a rose tea, and left with a batch of rosemary lavender green tea. I feel like I'm drinking in the garden physically and spiritually when I have it. A friend of mine referred to the "ritual" of her tea routine and I love that word to describe savoring a cup of tea.

Steamed veggie dumplings at a restaurant in Chinatown.

The Palace of the Fine Arts, from the Pan-Pacific International Exposition which Laura was visiting in 1915 which she wrote about in West from Home. We came here around dinnertime and practically had the place to ourselves. I'm so glad Laura led me here. I believe in surrounding yourself by people who make your life more fulfilling, and that includes storytellers.

Driving down the crooked Lombardi Street at dusk.

Coit Tower by night.

The view from the Coit tower.

The eco-friendliness of the city. Curbside composting bins? Why doesn't every city have that? We were here on the first day of the plastic bag ban and 10 cent fee for bags, something I favor after having done numerous river cleanups and seeing where these end up.


The City Lights Bookstore. With the popularity of so many electronic readers, I worry for these book shops. I find so much of what I read because someone bought a print book and passed it on to a thrift shop or library book sale. I'm sticking to my print books - threat of dirty electricity, zero.

Alcatraz. Some unexpected things I learned here:

That long before Occupy Wall Street, there was an actual occupation of Alcatraz Island in 1969, taking a "stand again broken treaties, broken treaties, and broken lives suffered by America's native people since the arrival of European explorers in the fifteenth century."

The treatment of the Native Americans is one of the darkest spots on our nation's history, and remains shameful. We'll visit this more when we get to Yosemite.

Amid a world of criminals, movements towards civility, such as the impressive libraries, and...

the prisoner gardens.

A spot of refreshment for birds of flight, amid the former home of so many caged birds.

Lunch in Sausalito, which reminded me of being in Italy. My avocado and brie cheese club with a California white zinfandel at Venice Gourmet.

Two more places coming up for reflections on nature before we get to the wine country.