First fish

First fish

A quick stop at Day’s Market for a bag of ice was the daily de rigueur in the sailboat days of our early marriage. No refrigerator on the Ericson 30 we called home, just a deep insulated box under the speck of formica counter that needed constant replenishment to keep our chardonnay chilled and sundries shivery. It had been a long time since I’d even glanced at that sign – a grow-the-baby-to-the-cusp-of-his-twenties length of time, and stopping there again that Saturday morning for a bag of ice made those memories misty and my nostalgia shivery. It wasn’t the time or place to reminisce, though; I had a date with a salmon. This email, from Fisherman Frank of the Gayle R, came late one Friday, 4 or 5 days after the opening of commercial salmon season: Dear Salmon Fans, Plenty of fish, but the early bird always gets the worm!  (No earlier than 10 o’clock though, please). The cost is $10/lb for the whole fish.  Frank will filet and/or steak the fish for you.  Please remember to bring an ice chest. Cash is preferred, but local checks are OK.  If you don’t think you want a whole fish (average is 11-12 lbs), find a friend to split one with you.  Can’t beat the price!! Thanks ~ see you at E-dock! I was a newbie on his list, the one he sends when he’s on his way back to the harbor with a fresh load of live Dungeness crab, so didn’t realize his repertoire included salmon. Who could resist the lure of the freshest, local-est, line caught fish around? Not me. I was there by 10am after a stop at the bank, the...
Very cool fuzzy cactus

Very cool fuzzy cactus

It was a foggy morning at the Big Sur Garden Gallery, where we stopped to admire their very cool and interesting collection of cactus and pick up a cappuccino and croissant from the Big Sur Bakery right next door. Here’s the star of the show:     Isn’t that so cool? I’ve never seen anything like it before. Here are a few other of the roadside cacti. This artichoke-shaped cactus is enormous, almost four feet tall.     Interesting shapes:     And cactus texture with a single tear:  ...
Santa Cruz’s age of Aquarius

Santa Cruz’s age of Aquarius

There really aren’t that many restaurants in Santa Cruz County that have an excellent ocean view with equally engaging food. And THAT is why I love Aquarius restaurant at the Dream Inn. The Dream Inn is the coastline’s tallest multi-story hotel that had probably gotten to be a little shabby by the time LL proposed to me there all those years ago, but in recent years received an upscale hipster-worthy remodel from new management Joie de Vivre along with a total foodie remake of the restaurant, newly christened Aquarius. I LOVE this place . . .  LL and I go there a few times a year for lunch when schedules permit – are we really that busy?? This Monday, there were only three other tables seated, and we sat watching some hardcore couple in wetsuits playing kettleball in the surf with a couple of sea lions peeking their shiny heads up from the sea. If you ever are traveling along the coast between San Jose and Monterey, this is one restaurant worth stopping for both the food and the view – and it’s even a hotel restaurant. I’ve dug up a few photos for you to see why: Artisan reuben sandwich I say "artisan" because the pastrami came from Santa Cruz's own El Salchichero butcher shop, home of locally raised meats and artistry in the hands of owner Chris LaVeque. Then the sauerkraut isn't just any sauerkraut - it's Farmhouse Culture, also a Santa Cruz creation. Aromatic, spicy, and delicious. The scene of the crime The Dream Inn, now a Joie de Vivre-managed property, houses Aquarius. It's also where...
The mystery of the Humboldt squid

The mystery of the Humboldt squid

6:00 AM. They hadn’t yet beached when my neighbor took Daisy Duke out for her morning constitutional. He noticed something odd, though, what he reported to be an enormous forest of kelp drifting just outside the swells. He assumed it had probably been torn up from the previous week’s rain and was drifting in on the high tide. 8:00 AM. The tide was ebbing when my friend Jen showed up for her beach walk. There was no fresh kelp, only the drying mounds that had been deposited several days several days earlier. But she DID see – piled on top of those briny vines – squid. Fresh, fat, 2-3 foot long squid with the clear black pupils of VERY fresh fish. Some beachgoers tried to drag them back to sea to save their lives, but the squid insisted on wriggling out of the water and breathing their last. Freaky. 2:00 PM. I hadn’t heard any of the above yet. When I showed up with Koah for our own walk, I was shocked to stumble across the enormous calamari littering the sand for miles. Kid One happened to call me on his break from work, and I described the scene. Beach-raised Kid that he is, he ID’d them as Humboldt squid. Neither dogs nor seagulls knew what to make of them, the fish too fresh and new to nibble on (the gulls) or to roll in (the dogs). We walked along the high tide line from Rio Del Mar to New Brighton and estimated there had to be thousands. People passing by were mildly freaked out. Did I know kind of...
Paradise and Lunch in Big Sur

Paradise and Lunch in Big Sur

The Sierra Mar restaurant at Big Sur’s Post Ranch Inn occupies one corner of paradise; an expanse of hewn wood and plate glass expertly cantilevered over the crystalline azure Pacific Ocean. It’s the kind of place where you might run into Jon Hamm at dinner or Lucinda Williams and Lucy Wainwright at lunch, as we did, or have afternoon cocktails with the owners of Springfield’s best tattoo and piercing parlor, as we also did. Where you enjoy your meal at a table overlooking whales spouting in in the sea below. Click to see the food.

A Heavenly breakfast

There’s a great breakfast place in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, between Scotts Valley and Felton, California – the Heavenly Cafe. It’s filled with roadside country charm and offers something for everyone, from oatmeal to a full bar. It’s good enough to seek out if you ever find yourself, say, driving from the San Jose Airport to Santa Cruz or Monterey for a vacation and want to start out with some good food and local flavor, or if you are like LL and me that day and were headed to buy some cheese-making supplies at the totally awesome Mountain Feed and Farm Supply and thought to make a morning of it. I had their quesadilla con todo, flour tortilla filled with a turkey, mushroom, onion, cheese, and salsa mixture that was delicious but sadly didn’t photograph well. But here is a photo of LL’s eggs benedict. Quite racy, hmmm? Here is the link to their address and map. Be sure to go, if you ever are in the neighborhood. Tell me what you...
Music, memory, and crepes in Santa Cruz

Music, memory, and crepes in Santa Cruz

Back when Kid Two was a tot, I had a gig for several months writing for the food section of our local newspaper. They gave me $50.00 and free rein to eat somewhere and make a  story of it. The editor knew more what he didn’t want – no reviews or recipes, for example – than what he was looking for. This was a fine thing for me, as I had both permission and freedom to experiment with food writing. I took my friend Bridget on the gig I’m sharing with you below, a friend from my midwestern high school whom I followed out here to the Golden State. We went to The Crepe Place, a Santa Cruz institution that serves mostly only enormous, filling crepes in appetizer, entree, and dessert form. The years flew by, and Bridget and I recently ate there again – for only the second time together. The occasion was a quick dinner before a Kasey Chambers show. (Readers, you probably do not live in Santa Cruz and may not have a reason to make crepes, but PLEASE check out Kasey’s music. She’s an Australian country singer-songwriter, a phenomenal talent and an engaging performer.) At the time, I don’t think either one of us remembered eating there together for that writing gig. But we did remember they also serve lovely small loaves of homemade bread with their salads:   Here’s the story, as it appeared in the Santa Cruz Sentinel – when? 2004? I’ll have to find my hard copy, as it was definitely before they had a digital edition. It’s funny to read this now – our situations...

A pint of gratitude

“What is perfect in your life?” That’s not a question you hear very often, especially not when ordering at a restaurant. But that’s the question posed to me by the server at Santa Cruz’s Cafe Gratitude. How would you answer?

The amazing Loreto tortillas

The flour tortillas in Loreto are wonderfully fresh and moist and seven inches in diameter – larger than the corn tortillas you find packaged in the U.S., but still smaller than our standard flour tortillas. They’re so unbelievably thin – almost transparent – scarred with uneven air bubbles that no assembly line production can ever hope to duplicate.   These tortillas are 10 pesos for a packet of 12, about 80 cents, at the pink cinder block market on Calle Davis that is also the front room of a family home. Glance through the open rear door of the store, and you will not see the expected stockroom, rather, you are peeking into a tidy living room with brown sofa and deep olive throw rug. Three young children ventures in and out, and a grandparent-aged man works the counter. You can also purchase CocaCola, cooking oil, tampons, hominy, and leche, but no bottled water.   Best Thing I Ever Ate: January...
From the Heavens to Hell’s (Kitchen)

From the Heavens to Hell’s (Kitchen)

New York City is certainly one of the few places in the world where the enormity, scale, and sheer spectacle of a space shuttle parked underneath a giant rubber bubble and perched on the stern of an aircraft carrier can conceivably be concealed by the enormity, scale, and sheer spectacle of the surrounding environment.   Kid One and I serendipitously stumbled across the shuttle Enterprise, a 75-ton OG of space, on a boat ride down the Hudson River. We had two days in New York City and not much planned, so as soon as disembarking from our Lady Liberty photo-op, we scrambled to check out the monolith up close. I didn’t know that, after a lifetime of never seeing a spacecraft in person or even thinking to seek one out, this would be the first of two to cross my path in one month. Imagine the size of an aircraft carrier:   Now imagine walking onto its deck and into a giant rubble nipple:   To find this:   Wow! Underneath the tarp, the Enterprise was as dimly-lit as the Degas pastels at the Musee d’Orsay and the room as respectfully hushed as university stacks during finals. It’s hard to capture how surprisingly large the Enterprise is. Here’s another photo from the ground:   now one with Kid One for a sense of scale:   What a fabulously full day so far: breakfast in Bryant Park a three-mile walk, a river cruise, and shuttle visit. Yes, all before lunch. And now we were hungry. After such a close brush with the heavens, the only place left to go was hell. So we walked the...
Calf nursing by the lake (everything eats)

Calf nursing by the lake (everything eats)

We squeezed in one last late-summer day at Lake San Antonio this week, slowly cruising the perimeter in a rented ski boat. School is back in session and the lake was empty; better for the animals who call the lake home. In the course of an afternoon we saw the expected deer and cows come near the shoreline to graze and were also fortunate enough to witness some unexpected wildlife: a family of wild boar lumbering back into the forest after a cooling sip of water and a lone coyote skittishly running up a rocky hill to the shade of a live oak tree, away from the drone of our engine. Here’s a calf checking us out as it nurses. Udderly delicious, I’m sure he’s thinking....