It's a particularly mild winter here in the Golden State, and as much as we love our second home in Bend, OR ... there's a lot to be said for days like this. We decided to take the new car out for a shakedown cruise, and "somewhere on the coast" was the general direction we decided to go. Up over Highway 92 down into sleepy little Half Moon Bay, home of the annual "world's biggest pumpkin" weigh-in. A little more crowded than usual, due to (A) it's late January and it was 75 degrees on the coast, and (B) it was rumored that the annual Maverick's big wave contest might start today (it didn't, but likely will in the next couple days).
Upon our arrival at Highway 1 (the Coast Highway, we call it) I had to make a decision; a right would take us north past Princeton by the Sea (any city with "by the Sea" just has to be a cool spot), up past Montara, over Devil's Slide where they're undertaking the incredible task of boring through a portion of the Coast Range and creating a tunnel, which will extend from almost Montara Beach, into the south end of Pacifica. Devil's Slide is quite appropriately named ... every couple of winters the road totally washes out, and unlucky travelers and commuters have to go over Hwy 92 (20 miles south) or up and over Sharp Park Road or even farther up to stay on the freeway. Makes for a nasty ride for the thousands who trek to the Silicon Valley or into San Francisco to work every day. So they're boring ... right through the mountain that's on the right side of the adjacent shot.
But today, it's still under construction, and since it's such an incredibly rare, warm, sunny January day (even by California standards) and there would undoubtedly be several thousand other people making this trip North, we decided to take the less-traveled route south toward Santa Cruz, and lunch at the Crow's Nest which overlooks the yacht harbor.
This is some of the most familiar and frequently traveled territory for me. My grandparents lived just outside of Santa Cruz in Bonnie Doon, then Felton, and I spent virtually every weekend, holiday, and summer there. This is where I learned how to swim at about age 6, at Felton Acres pool, with summer friends Christie and Nancy Murray. People who know me know I hate losing track of old friends, and I'd love to know what became of my childhood friends.
My grandparents lived on Lazywoods Road (like "by the sea," how can anything with that name not be a cool place to live?). Summer days would alternately be spent at the afore-mentioned pool, or with my paternal grandfather, commonly "crawdad fishin'" in the San Lorenzo River, which ran behind their humble little house in the country.
Days with Grandpa Gene would generally begin with a trip to Ellis' Market in Ben Lomond. It was here where we'd pick up some chunks of liver, which served as bait for the crawdads, and our "lunches" for later in the day. My lunches were simple - like me, my grandfather was the cook of the house, and consequently it was an easy task for him to fry me a hamburger, create a rustic BLT, heat up some soup, or whatever I wanted, for my mid day meal. He would commonly opt for an "innard" of some variety ... brains, kidneys, and liver were among his faves. Curiously, I've never gone near any of these things, although I pride myself in being able to produce some fairly exotic meals. I'm as comfortable with a tagine as I am with a frying pan, I'm just not putting brains into either of them.
Felton lies over the hill from Highway 1, about 15 miles out of Santa Cruz. Our trek on this day took us down the coast, through some of the most idyllic ocean scenery on the west coast. Past all the little creeks and associated beaches; San Gregorio, Tunitas, Wadell, and Pescadero (home of Duarte's Tavern, a local shrine of a restaurant since 1894 - given the opportunity, don't miss it - try the artichoke soup, it's unbelievable!).
Just past Pescadero lies Ano Nuevo Island, which is an incredibly beautiful state park, rich with seals and shorebirds, and home to one of the largest concentrations of great white sharks. Amazes me to this day that my friend Marty and I actually paddled out and surfed there when we were stupid teenagers. Yikes. Continuing south, we considered stopping for lunch in the former whaling village of Davenport, but we both agreed that waiting another 30 minutes would bring a much better lunch experience at the Crow's Nest.
There were quite literally hundreds of cars parked in the limited spaces along the highway, between Davenport and Santa Cruz. A good indication that the waves were breaking virtually everywhere on this stretch of highway. Curiously, the major Santa Cruz spots were only "fair," compared to the 50 mile stretch of coast we'd just traversed. But it was 78 degrees, crystal clear out, no wind, and reminded us again of how nice it is to live in California - traffic, cost of living, or whatever can all be overlooked on January days like this one.
Lunch at the Crow's Nest capped off this awesome day. Upstairs, overlooking the beautiful Santa Cruz harbor, watching the watercraft that ranged from little kayaks, to sailboats small and large, to multi-million dollar ocean-going yachts, likely the property of successful Silicon Valley entreneurs who inhabit the beautiful houses on West Cliff Drive.
So as I indicated at the beginning, this was to be a reference to a different kind of therapy ... friends, massage, and food varieties. Saturday night was indeed therapeutic, and a very special one spent with a group of our friends from massage training, but this time we had the pleasure of seeing a couple ladies who we see way too infrequently. One of them moved to Denver, but was making a rare visit to the City, so I thought what better reason to have a dinner party! The final lady in this group is also a massage therapist who we met after our training, but she's become a bona fide member of our crazy little group.
When massage therapists get together, they talk about techniques, demonstrate on each other, and can't help doing what we do best, which I like to call "rubbing each other the right way." And if there happens to be a non-therapist among a group of us, they're commonly our "stunt body," and get to spend a couple hours on the table while we all demonstrate new techniques and strokes that the others may not have seen. If you ever get invited to a party where there's going to be a bunch of massage people, always go, and always volunteer to be the one on the table. You'll proably end up with a free two-hour massage.
I love getting together with this group. We literally became friends the first day of class, and have been ever since. Many of them have taken several trips up to see us in Bend, which is not an easy ride, and a miserable one in the winter. So of course I always cook for them as a small but appreciated "thank you" for gracing our home.
Saturday night's dinner ...
Salad of mixed field greens, mandarin orange wedges, and a balsamic vinaigrette
Accompanied by a scallop dish that I found while searching for amuse bouche recipes:
- Fresh sea scallops (the big ones)
- 1/2 cube of melted butter combined with a tablespoon of chopped thyme and two minced red chilis (not bells, real chilis)
- Brush the scallops with the butter mixture, place under a broiler for 8-10 minutes
- Remove from the oven, lightly salt, grate a small amount of parmesan cheese
- Serve on leaves of Belgian endive.
Tequila lime chicken, on the BBQ
Salmon with a cumin, cinnamon, brown sugar and lemon zest crust
French green beans, simply tossed with butter, salt and pepper
Risotto with arborio rice, shallots, vermouth, garlic, brown Italian mushrooms, fresh arugula, 1/2 cup of cream, parmesan cheese, and a few threads of crumbled saffron.
Our new friend Adrienne wanted to watch the risotto technique, which I believe many people look at as too complicated and/or time-consuming, and it's absolutely not. The right pot makes a difference - I like my small Calphalon Dutch oven for its straight sides, and semi-non-stick construction. Take your time, add ingredients in the order that they're going to cook to the consistency you want (in other words, add mushrooms and herbs at the end). Have plenty of stock warmed and ready, ladling as necessary, stirring regularly, and keeping an eye on the process. Add final ingredients like cream and cheese off heat after your risotto's otherwise complete. Risotto's a technique - learn the basics and be creative. And as with anything you cook ... taste, taste, taste. Ingredients take time to come alive and it's always better to "under-add" vs. trying to compensate when you add too much.
Dessert consisted of my friend Nicole's awesome truffles, and I did small ice cream sundaes with French Vanilla, chopped walnuts, Dove chocolate topping and REAL whipped cream. Effective basics always work!
Lots of great wines, ending with a nice port that I serve in "port pigs."
Great meal, great friends, wonderful night, and a killer following day that featured an absolutely spectacular view of the California coast in all its splendor. We moved out of California for all the right reasons, and we absolutely love Bend on so many levels, but there's a lot to be said for this land of opportunity, which has so much to offer in so many ways.
And a final footnote ... as I'm completing this on Martin Luther King Day, which I firmly believe should be a "real" national holiday, not just for schools and banks ... and the day before the inauguration of President Obama and what surely has to be a big step forward in so many ways, we all need to celebrate the positives around us while hoping for a brighter future.
It's good therapy ...