Friday, April 17, 2009

Central California Wine Weekend

Sometime in the middle of last week, I experienced the proverbial "wild hair" and decided to make an executive decision (after seeking my wife's approval, obviously ... "executive" being a relative term as applied here). Time for a weekend getaway. We love Cambria, and have been returning to the lovely seaside hamlet on the Central California coast for nearly 15 years. Originally inspired by a compelling article in the Examiner's "Parade" section, we've been coming back for a decade and a half. We have in fact threatened to move here, over the years. The draw is unmistakable, the visits consistently memorable. Beautiful ride, gorgeous locale, incredible selection of restaurants, colorful local shops, and beaches and sunsets that inspire.

The only real plan for the weekend (other than a few tried and true winery faves) was a Saturday night dinner at The Sow's Ear with our good friend Dave, who lives in nearby Morro Bay. We've enjoyed so many fine meals here, and it was a must for this trip.

The Car

Other than a one day trip from the S.F. Peninsula to Vacaville, and back through Sonoma and Marin Counties, the little GTI hasn't seen much road mileage yet. Living in Bend meant owning all wheel drive vehicles. Among the "luxuries" of returning to the Bay Area was that I didn't have to drive an all terrain vehicle. Terrain in and around the Peninsula is freeways, winding roads, city and country streets, but NO SNOW or ICE. Front wheel drive was back, wide summer tires would be great, and I even opted to buy something small enough that might not carry the drum set. Will wonders ever cease! So the new ride was going to get its first road trip, which would be about 400 miles round trip. Vrooooom, indeed.

Headin' South
Headed up the hill, down 280, onto 85, merged onto 101, and got ready for a long fun cruise. 101 between south San Jose and Morgan Hill used to be an abomination of a ride. It used to take us (meaning yours truly, who did all the driving) a minimum of 90 minutes each way, and it wasn't out of the question to spend a dismal 2 1/2 hours on the road, on this little stretch of crazy boring highway. And it just never changed over the years. I recall driving it with my dad many many years ago on our boar hunting trips to the Big Sur area, and it was crowded and slow then. Back in the ice ages.

But the widening of 101 finally became a reality about eight years ago (and fully 10 years after the voters of Santa Clara County approved it), and now it's generally a breeze in either direction. It's one of those stretches of 101 where people will honk at you to get out of the way if you're doing sub-80 in the slow lane. Gotta love it.

I still miss Gilroy, the Garlic capital of the world, and a very pleasant place to live. The fact that I was driving the afore-mentioned road in its 2-lane days for 50 miles each way, every day, prompted a move to a smaller house in San Jose. Arguably a big mistake, but water over the bridge in current context. But cruising through Gilroy brought back fond memories of hanging with our next door neighbor Cristie, having big parties and BBQs (a common trend through the years), and enjoying the very warm summer weather into the late evening hours, with the scent of garlic, pungent in the night air.

Below Gilroy is an interesting stretch past San Juan Bautista, home of a great Mexican family restaurant called Jardine's. Don't even think of not stopping for a Margarita and some real Mexican cuisine.

Then it's down past Castroville, and the beginning of a very long stretch of 101 that leads through some of California's most prolific vegetable growing country. This is the fruit and veggie basket of the state, and provides a huge portion of the lettuce, asparagus, artichokes, celery, etc., for the state and beyond. Below Salinas, you encounter the smaller towns of Chualar, Gonzalez, Greenfield, and Soledad, all proclaiming in some fashion that it's "Happening" in their particular town.

A few miles before King City (which seems to be a consistent "lunch" spot on the trip south), there's a row of eucalyptus trees that I look forward to with every trip south through this area. You travel through miles and miles of hot and undistinguished "Chualar's" (no offense to the wonderful people of Chualar intended) and the trees seem to pop up like a veritable oasis ... a long line of gorgeous flowing eucalyptus trees, branches flowing in the hot early summer breeze, peeling bark waiting for the occasional gusts, but overall presenting such a majestic fence along the west side of this stretch of CA-101 south. It's the little things, ya know?

King City means lunch, not much more than that. It amazes me that there's as many people here as there are in our wonderful (other home) community of Bend, OR. What do they do for a living? What's going on here on Saturday and Sunday nights? Do the bigger rock bands stop here? Is there an opera season? If I decide to make my beloved pho on a Sunday, can I find star anise, real Thai basil, and the right noodles at the local Safeway? Not likely, I'd imagine.

But King City gives way to another nice "feature" that I always look forward to ... the speed limit changes to 70, all the way to Paso Robles. It's also a MAJOR speed trap area, so you can't go much faster, but a little faster is a good thing!

The Wineries
We've been visiting Cambria and the Central Coast wineries for about 15 years, so we definitely have a number of favorites. On the north end of Paso Robles, an exit to Highway 46 East will take you through some of the newer, lavish "chateau-like" wineries that have sprung up in the last couple of years. Some are promising, many are just big and modern looking. A notable exception and one of the best is Tobin James.

Tobin's located a few miles off the proverbial beaten path of Hwy 101, and worth 10 minutes of your time. Huge tasting room with several antique bars, friendly staff, and killer wines. It's also one of the best clubs I've ever encountered - twice a year you get a delivery of excellent wines (often with selections that are only available to the club) for about half what you'd pay for it retail. Good proposition in this economic climate, plus it's excellent wine.

Once again heading south on 101, you then take the "other" Hwy 46 turnoff at the south end of Paso Robles, which leads through the major wine growing region, and eventually lands you at the coast between Cambria to the north and Los Osos to the south.

The Zins along this stretch are world class. I'd argue that Zin Alley's selections would measure up to virtually any other zinfandel, anywhere. It just doesn't get any better. They make one zin, one dessert wine, and one port per year, and all are absolutely incredible.

Summerwood is gorgeous, and always worth a stop. More of a traditional winery with lots of gift items and a huge array of wines, but nevertheless always a great visit.

Eagle's Castle has become a new fave, and another club. Reasonably priced across the board, great selection, and an amazingly beautiful facility reminiscent of a medieval castle in every respect, including full knight's armor surrounding a gorgeous "round table" in a special banquet room, and a genuine moat that you need to cross on your way in and out. Well thought out, major investment in the building and wines, and it shows.

New for this trip were ...

Denner's, which features a selection of some of the best zinfandels, blends, and a white called "Theresa" that we've tasted. Very, very good wines, beautiful location, and as a young winery they only have room to get better, which they talked about extensively. Great spot.

Jada was awesome, as was Grey Wolf. Turley was incredible, and our hostess, Donna was elegant, knowledgeable, and friendly as she poured us some of the best wines we'd had that day. Turley was one of those "fluke" stops that we decided to take a chance on, as was Zin Alley a couple trips back. Sometimes you just have to go with your gut and hope for the best. On this trip, it paid off.

The Food
Saturday night found us at our favorite Cambria restaurant, The Sow's Ear. Robyn's is down the street and also excellent, The Brambles always offers a great meal, and several other spots offer good to great fare, but The Sow's Ear is predictably excellent, and tonight was no exception. I've probably ordered their mixed grill (chicken, lamb, and a filet tenderloin section) about 10 times over the years, but this year I decided to branch out a little. Their menu isn't huge, but you'd be hard pressed to order a "mistake" here. We've brought countless friends here over the years, and everyone raves about every dish that's served.

For this trip, I opted for the Black Angus Pot Roast, which was cooked to perfection and fork tender. Served with a light gravy, garlic mashed potatoes, and mixed vegetables, all of which followed a spectacular seafood bisque, I was in heaven. My wife got the pork tenderloin with the most tasty sauce I've tasted in years. Our friend Dave opted for the chicken and dumplings, and also raved about them. Dave brought a reserve bottle from local winery L'Aventure, and it was the perfect accompaniement for all three dishes. If you don't have a generous friend who comes to dinner equipped with incredible wine, Sow's has an amazingly comprehensive wine list. This is the first place I ever had Justin Isoceles, as an example. Great stuff, highly recommended.

Desserts included an amazing bread pudding, and a chocolate mud pie that was ridiculously decadent, in a very good way! Doesn't get any better.

The Lodge
I made reservations at the beautiful Cambria Pines Lodge, which is perched atop Burton Drive, midway between the Pacific and the sleepy little Cambria by the Sea downtown area. The lodge is broken up into a main "hotel" section, a couple of two-floor units, and a multitude of rooms and cottages that range from basic to "suite, fireplace, view." I opted for somewhere in the middle of these. Rates are always reasonable, although they've definitely gone upstream from the original $49 a night, including breakfast. The breakfast is still included (and very good), the rates have adjusted with the economy. The smell of the pines at virtually any time of the day is worth the price of admission. The complimentary buffet-style breakfast in the morning is only a bonus!

I love the Central California coast. Approaching from the East as we did, provides great access to wineries and some beautiful winding roads out to the coast. But you can also do this trip entirely on the Coast Highway, which provides the full experience of Big Sur, Carmel, and the rugged California coastline at its best. Stop at Nepenthe, should you opt for this route. The Ambrosia burger is second only to my all time favorite Joe's of Westlake. A split of champange and a window seat provides a view of the sunset that you'd be hard pressed to match anywhere in the world. Really.

Ventana and The Post Ranch Inn are two incredible hideways along the Big Sur stretch. Priced at astronomical levels, but worth the splurge if you can possibly do it. Campgrounds are abundant, but fill up very early in the pre-season. Worth hanging on the line and reserving one, if you have the time, but plan early.

The ride home was uneventual, save for some predictable traffic above Salinas, until we got to the freeway section that led to Gilroy. Good time to ponder the wonderful scenery, food, wines, and friends we encountered over this little two day jaunt. You need to do this for yourself every now and again. Actually, do it more often than that ... you've earned it, you deserve it, and you won't regret it. Great weekend in every respect.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

And you call yourself a cook?

The way a meal turns out is inevitably going to vary. Unless you're absolutely fanatical about measuring and duplicating each time you cook something, it's never going to be exactly the same twice.  Even the most tried and true recipes will never be the same, twice in a row. Restaurants strive to maintain their dishes and never offer any surprises, unless they're billed as such ("specials"). 

I do a lot of cooking ... every day, for the past 20 years. I can cook just about anything, I suppose. And I can certainly follow a recipe, but more commonly will look at recipes as "suggestions," and put my own spin on them. Most cooks do this. It's called creativity. And most things turn out somewhere between good and very good, I hear. No complaints from the guests or Mrs., and I'm commonly my own biggest critic.

I write extensively (some would say "ad nauseum") about the lavish meals I put on for family and friends. Last Saturday's brunch was a huge success (in spite of a very poor waffle maker which is going to be returned to the place of purchase), and Sunday night's dinner for Sis and Bro-In-Law, likewise. And these were complicated meals, to be sure. Saturday's brunch consisted of pancakes, two kinds of organic bacon plus Canadian bacon, lots of fruits, hash brown potatoes, bagels and cream cheese, a couple juices, coffee, quiche, champagne ... you get the picture.  Everything was cooked perfectly, timed appropriately, and was quickly devoured by my appreciative guests.  

Sunday night's dinner consisted of a modified version of a pasta that caught my attention in The Silver Spoon, and a great chicken course which I adapted from a fish recipe on Kathleen Flinn's blog site. The pasta was an organic whole wheat penne rigate with a creamy arugula pesto and tomatoes. The chicken breasts were marinated in grapefruit juice, Dijon mustard, olive oil, and lemon pepper, which I baked and topped with a mornay sauce. Good stuff.

Which brings me to my kitchen disaster a couple nights ago.  I suppose I should have known that it wasn't going to turn out right, just given the way I put it together. I had vegetables from the prior night that were destined to be stir-fried as part of something with an Oriental theme. So what led me to the rest of the meal is something of a mystery at this point.  And as I walked around our friendly local Safeway I really had no clue what I wanted to cook for the evening meal.  

So I started with a little ham, which looked good and certainly simple enough - it was a "fully cooked" variety, meaning just heat and serve, right? And for a starch, I opted for a box of chicken based stuffing (and I can't remember the last time I bought something like this). I actually have no idea what led me to any of these items, let alone the notion that they'd be any combination of easy, good, or anything resembling appropriate to serve with one another.

I did the vegetables like I do stir-fried veggies all the time, and for some reason they just didn't cut it. The ham tasted like candle wax and the pineapple, sauce, and brown sugar didn't help at all. The pineapple tasted like the can ... never a good thing. Fortunately, the stuffing mix was great. Basically a two dollar box of bread crumbs and a mix that was probably no more than dehydrated chicken stock, to which I added two gourmet ingredients, butter and water. Had I known how bad the rest of the meal was going to turn out, I would have served a big plate of stuffing and be done with it! But NOOOOO, I had to add waxy ham and crummy veggies to the mix.  Pogo Possum (and my dad) used to use the phrase "phnfff" for this kind of situation. 

All was not lost however, as I had enough wine to temper my disappointment with the main meal, and then a big bowl of killer French Vanilla ice cream (a basic food group, again in my humble but correct opinion) to once again raise my spirits.

So today's a new day, tonight a new night, and another opportunity to either screw up another meal or (yay!) redeem myself. I opted for a pasta dish, which I always love, and would be hard-pressed to screw up. The French Laundry cookbook or The Silver Spoon can trip you up, but a tried-and-true method like I've been improving for 20 years? Never.

The basics: Chopped a large sweet onion (love 'em), and sweated it in olive oil at medium heat, covered. Added a half tablespoon of butter andabout 10 sliced Italian brown mushrooms, sauteed until they were done. One bay leaf, 2 cloves of minced garlic, a teaspoon each of dried basil and oregano (I know, I know ... fresh is always better. Give me a break, I'm still trying to get over last night!). Two cans of petite diced tomatoes with their juice. One can of tomato sauce. Pound and a half of browned top quality ground beef to the mix, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, pour yourself a glass of wine and let it steep for 45 minutes.

For the pasta, I opted for a whole wheat angel hair, as the sauce was relatively thin (no paste) and it seemed like the best way to go.

Cheesy garlic bread consisted of a loaf of Acme Italian Country Bread halved, butter, garlic powder, parmesan and cheddar cheeses, pinch of dried oregano, 3-5 minutes under the broiler (keep an eye on it - easy to burn and you'll be mad at yourself and have to contend with the smoke alarm going off too!).

The meal was awesome and I have plenty of leftovers.  Didn't make enough sauce to freeze (I commonly do), but there's enough everything for another night's dinner.  It was done to perfection, received the usual round of compliments (including from me), and I feel redeemed.  For now.  

So ... a couple subtle messages here; First, everyone screws up meals. I'm not a professional chef, but I can cook pretty much anything that comes to mind, and generally it comes out looking and tasting somewhere between good and phenomenal (I hear).  I'd recommend to all my loyal readers, regardless of your cooking expertise or how complicated your culinary ventures get, to keep at it. The first time you tried to walk, you probably fell down.  The first time I stood up on a surfboard, I fell off.  My first attempt at a drum roll didn't cut it. Get up, get back on, keep at it.  The main thing is to feel good about putting interesting, fresh ingredients together and presenting something tasty to your family, friends, or just yourself!  

End of soapbox oratory for today. 

Friday, April 10, 2009

Little Boxes

Greetings all. It's Easter weekend for some, Passover for others, but pretty much a holiday season for all. I'm planning a couple food gatherings over the weekend, and of course will have to write about it all and unleash it on all of you out there in blog-land.

My upbringing was in the suburban community of Daly City. The non-descript collection of rows upon rows of Henry Doelger's dream houses immortalized in Malvina Reynolds' "Little Boxes," which of course found its way to the airwaves via Pete Seeger's great song of the same name. It was in the summer of 1962 when we moved from the little "Grandview house" to the new house in Serramonte ... dead center in Little Boxes land. The story goes that Ms. Reynolds, a San Francisco native, UC Berkeley grad, activitst / folk singer was driving down Highway 35 (which we always called Skyline Boulevard) one day, and the rows and rows of houses just looked like little boxes. On the hillside. Little boxes made of ticky tacky, and they all look just the same. And they did, and they do.

But this was our turf. We were the gang from Daly City! And growing up here was fun, safe, educational, interesting, boring, predictable, and exciting all at the same time. I've never been to London, but I'd bet that we got way more fog than the Brits.  Summers were horrible here. It seemed that the whole world was experiencing warm summer weather, beach and lake weather, and we had the fog. Virtually every morning, it crept up over the cliffs that rose behind Thornton Beach, and rolled over the Westlake Knolls, over Skyline Boulevard, and into the sleepy little sub-communities where we grew up. A mere ten minutes south, almost like magic when you reached San Bruno Avenue, the sun began to peak out from behind the fog. And a couple miles more, by the time the Millbrae Avenue exit was in view, it was totally sunny and 15 degrees warmer.

It was here in Daly City where so many of us grew up amid similar middle class values and social structure. Grammar schools named Garden Village, Thomas Edison, Abraham Lincoln, Vista Mar, Olympia, Daniel Webster, and Westlake ... sent students along to Ben Franklin Junior High School, and ultimately Westmoor for most, Jefferson for a few, and Mercy, Riordan, St. Ignatius, or a couple other private schools for the rest.

Our backgrounds were actually more diverse than any of us knew at the time. In our very early years there was a distinct lack of black or Oriental kids, but this changed by the time we were all in high school. The combination of "bussing" and simply changing neighborhood makeups, gave us the opportunity to mix and mingle with all races and creeds. A distinct advantage, vs. growing up in a neighborhood that's made up of a huge percentage of any of the above.

Most of us had no idea about prejudices, other than what we read and saw on TV. We of course studied the basis for a lot of these feelings, but the riots in the south or the notion that people were "better or not as good" because of their religion or race, was a foreign concept to us. Maybe it was naiivite', maybe we were all too busy having fun growing up, but the fact was that we grew up with a tremendous amount of tolerance, and the experience of knowing so many different people, without putting a value judgement on anyone.

This isn't to say we were totally unaware of people's races or religions, we just didn't care particularly. My parents converted to Catholic when I was in about third grade, and all this meant to me was that I had to start going to church and catechism, instead of riding my bike and skateboard more. So right off the bat, I didn't like it.

By the time we landed at Ben Franklin Junior High, we were totally sick of catechism, which cut into our after school trips to the beach. Or if the truth be told, our parents thought it was cutting into our beach time, but the fact was that my friend Marty and I spent more Wednesday afternoons at Thornton Beach than we did at catechism classes at Our Lady of Perpetual Guilt (sorry, God will get me for that, I'm sure).

Thornton Beach was our local beach hangout.  Anything resembling a nice day would find half of Westmoor High School playing in the sand, body surfing (board surfing there was a joke), and flirting with the opposite sex.  It used to be a pretty undeveloped little stretch of sand, accessible via a circuitous dirt trail that started next to the Mar Vista Riding Stables, at the intersection of Skyline Boulevard and what was then called Alemany Boulevard.  Alemany became John Daly Blvd a number of years ago ... but not to long time residents who will always refer to it as Alemany.  

Thornton Beach then received a major overhaul which included a real parking lot, decent path down to the beach, restrooms, garbage cans, etc.  But erosion and cost of upkeep caused it to shut down to the public a few years ago, and it's once again an unaccessible beach below a "dead-end" promontory overlook.  A shame, as there's so much history there. 

Two of my friends from grammar school and Thornton Beach days were over for Saturday brunch this week.  They're both Jewish and were in the middle of their Passover week, which coincides roughly with the Christian world's Easter festivities.  Just as the "food" that we all got to experience at each other's homes was among the most fascinating part of growing up with such a wide variety of people, we were blessed with some incredibly detailed Passover history at brunch.  Absolutely amazing, including the knowledge that these two had about their religion.  The percentage of people who actually attend church or temple regularly has taken a huge decline over the last couple decades, but the knowledge of what their religion stands for, and what makes them who they are, lives on.  And this is a good thing.  An incredibly good thing I'd submit, as the spiritual unity is so evident.  

One of these friends is married to a wonderful Catholic woman, and the two of them just returned from a trip to Israel, the week prior.  The visit to the hub of civilization, and the birthplace of both their religious foundations was nothing short of amazing for both of them.  Of course since this was a brunch, and our collective lives revolve around restaurants and food, we also talked about the food in Israel, which sounded incredible.  

And the brunch, you ask?  
Three kinds of bacon.  A package of good Canadian bacon, a pound of Mollie Stone's organic, from the butcher counter, and my last pound of Benton's.  I can already feel the withdrawal, and of course need to immediately reorder another 4 pounds.  
Pancakes, which were supposed to be waffles but the new waffle iron was awful.  John and Linda brought some Grade B pure maple syrup, which is the best (better than A Grade - do the research and see why!).  Hash browns, several kinds of fruits and berries, a quiche (thanks also to J&L), whole wheat bagels and cream cheese, orange and grapefruit juices, champagne, coffees.  

Overall, a memorable gathering of friends, some great stories, reminiscing about past times and growing up in Daly City, and of course quite a spread of vittles.  I'm blessed to have these people as friends, and cooking for them is one way to show them what they mean to me.  It's a true labor of love, and I can't think of a better way to spend an Easter / Passover.  

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Spring Has Sprung

Friday the 20th of March officially marked the season where everything and everybody seems to feel rejuvinated and poised to move in a positive direction. And as much as I love and miss our beloved house and friends in beautiful Central Oregon, "spring" is actually much more visible right here in California. A recent business trip found me taking the "long way" back to San Francisco, via the beautifully blooming mustard fields that provide a breathtaking backdrop to California's wine country this time of year. Napa and Sonoma in bloom is a sight to behold.

We moved to Bend with the idea that we'd experience four "mild" seasons, according to everything we'd read about the area. Unfortunately, the mild winters generally kick in around the first week of November, with the inevitable snowfall coming by mid-month. Snow and cold weather are part of winter, which would be fine for three months, but it commonly stretches into May and even June. In fact, August is the only month of the year that hasn't experienced snow, as long as the meteorologists have been paying attention. Friends and loyal readers will recall me complaining of rain, wind, and snow over the Memorial Day weekend and my annual "Meatfest" BBQ our first year there. We subsequently moved it to Labor Day, assuming late August would be more conducive to hosting 40+ people for a day of sun and BBQ festivities.

Spring happens very slowly in Oregon, and generally feels a lot like winter ... cold, windy, overcast, and SNOW being the key operatives. But California's different. Even in the Bay Area where the weather doesn't vary a whole heck of a lot, it's evident everywhere you look or travel.

Our backyard is flowering and blossoming. The weather is warming up and we've actually been experiencing mid-seventies recently. It's sunroof weather, coats have been hung in the closet, short sleeves are back, and I can pretty much leave the BBQs uncovered for the next six months. Oh ... and I can USE them and not get drenched or blown away in the process! I'm used to barbequing all year round in California, but there's just something about waltzing out to the backyard through the snow flurries in single-digit weather that puts a slight damper on preparing the evening's tri-tip on the grill. I suppose this is why God gave us indoor ovens, but I don't have to like it.

Spring is obviously a season of rebirth for the natural things around us. From the traditional "spring cleaning" routine, to the beautiful blossoms like those pictured above, it's a season of hope for the future. I have a curiously positive feeling about what this spring is going bring. It just feels like a good year ahead, and I'm certain that we can all use one at this point. Downturns in the economy and personal retirement funds, decreases in our home values, forced moves to secure jobs and money to live on, and genuine concerns about the world situation in general has made for some uncomfortable times. It's time for a rennaisance, a rebirth of the good times and positive directions that we all want back.
So my brief soapbox list for this spring goes like this:
  • Get out of the house, enjoy the flowers and the sunshine, breathe fresh air
  • Learn something artistically new that will enrich your life
  • Follow this up with sharing it, in an effort to enrich someone else's
  • Go for rides in the country, then get out walk in the country
  • Take a swim, ride a bike, lift some weights, do something positive for yourself
  • Take a class in something that's always interested you
  • Enjoy what you have, be thankful for all the little things
  • Celebrate the friends and family who are so important

And finally ... plant something ... it's Spring!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

An Anniversary

No, not a wedding anniversary but actually a celebration of when we started professional massage therapy training, and met a group of friends who were destined to have a tremendous impact on our lives.

April 4, 2004 was a warm spring day when we first entered Classroom B of Body Therapy Center's Palo Alto massage school. It was day one of the 125 hour Fundamentals of Massage course. We'd taken a weekend introductory course at a local junior college, and although the ambience wasn't even close to ideal (working on the floor on a towel with clothes on, no tables, no lotions), it sparked our interest enough to investigate "real" professional training. We did a little research and decided that Body Therapy Center in Palo Alto would be the optimal school, given the extensive number of classes and modalities and the flexibility in scheduling, plus they had a great reputation.

So signing up was just a phone call (and I'd assume a check) away, right? Nope. The school is justifiably picky about who attends their classes. It's a massage class - people would be undressing / undressed, and it's obviously a hands-on practice in the truest sense of the phrase. So we were invited in for an "interview." Of course we passed, we're as normal as it gets, and it was an early indication that this school was definitely on the right path. Their intent was to provide excellent training in a relaxed comfortable environment. Now we'll accept your check, and class starts on April 4th.

We met our friends Angela, Nicole, Rebecca and Monika that first day, as well as our good friend Pamela, who was teaching a rare Fundamentals class, as she's normally a highly regarded Advanced Massage and Bodywork instructor (next semester). The first half of the day was the anatomy portion, and we all went to lunch at what would become one of two major "hangouts" over the next four semesters ... Molly Stone's Market, with their awesome deli. The other was a little cafe called Printer's Inc., where we generally met before classes.

The afternoon session was the massage portion of the class, and we were all introduced to our first "hands on" sessions. Basic Swedish massage techniques ... effleurages, light strokes, nothing fancy. We were told that at the end of this 125 hour course that we could claim to be able to give a "basic relaxation massage." And that was correct. But we of course thought we were awesome. And we all had new friends. Immediately, decisively, no arguments from any of us. New buds.

Next was Advanced Massage and Bodywork, then Cranio-Sacral and Acupressure semesters, and seminars in Chair Massage, advanced neck and shoulder work, advanced sidelying technique, Hot Stones, and Hydrotherapy. Plus a couple semesters as a teacher's assistant in the Advanced semester classes. Lots of hours learning to rub people the right way!

So that's the massage school background, and the point here is that we made several of what have become the best of friends, in that setting. Many of the girls have made the long trip to Bend several times, to visit us, and we take every opportunity to get together.

Saturday the 4th of April marked 5 years that we've known each other, so I thought I'd put on a little dinner party.
The food went like this:
- Freshly smoked salmon, compliments of Pam's friend Cal, was out of this world
- Angela's home made cheeseball, likewise
First course: Scallops and Scallops - Pinot Gris
- Bay scallop tequila lime ceviche
- Cornmeal dusted Alaskan scallops with chipotle aioli on phyllo squares
Salad course: - Montes Syrah Rose
- Mixed field greens, raspberry balsamic vinaigrette, sweet cherry tomatoes and mini peppers, Mandarin orange wedges, thin slices of parmesan
Entrees: - Quivira Zinfandel
- Chicken Cordon Bleu with mornay sauce
- Halibut filets marinated in grapefruit juice and Dijon mustard
Dessert: - Ice wine and coffee
- Individual French pastries, compliments of Nicole who's now attending professional pastry school!

Great friends, I don't take their friendships lightly, and they all know it. Amazing how a little twist of fate like landing in the same massage class, could create such incredible camraderie.