Caffeine and rational thought at Verve

Caffeine and rational thought at Verve

I’ve long thought that there was very little scientific and technological progress in the Middle Ages because – seeing as water quality was dicey at best – people sat around drinking beer and hard cider all day. Nothing like a steady diet of strong mead to fuel superstition and conflict, right? It’s not by chance the Age of Enlightenment coincided with the mainstream availability of coffee. An entire continent shook off a centuries-long muddled haze and embraced the caffeine-fueled investigation of rational thought.

Sooty shearwaters feeding in the surf (everything eats)

Sooty shearwaters feeding in the surf (everything eats)

Each summer flocks of sooty shearwaters fly low over the Monterey Bay, diving and squawking as they feed on masses of bait fish – anchovies, sardines, squid, and krill – that school just below the water’s glistening surface. You see them coming in the distance, an impressive mass a mile or more in length; thousands of birds flying low over the water forming a cacophony of feathered missiles plunging headfirst for food.

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...
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...

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?

Fruit of your labor

Fruit of your labor

This Labor Day weekend, the Cabrillo College Farmer’s Market was ripe with summer’s bounty, baskets overflowing with tomatoes, oranges, eggplants, peppers, strawberries, as well as a sneak peak at fall’s flavors, the first local apples of the season and enormous cabbages. Kid Two and I made a quick stop for a breakfast of hot corn on the cob, a couple raw kumamoto oysters, and a shot of kimchi juice from the Farmhouse Culture stand and wandered around for a bit to enjoy the warm sun, blue sky, and music. The energy was fantastic. Here are a few things that caught my eye: [print_gllr...
A real taste of Santa Cruz at El Salchichero

A real taste of Santa Cruz at El Salchichero

California Highway One becomes Mission Street for several miles on the west side of Santa Cruz, as you learn whether you are driving south, making the c-shaped curve around the Monterey Bay, or north, hugging the open sea on your way to Half Moon Bay. Don’t drive too quickly, even if the traffic is light, or you’ll miss some of the foodie treasures the town has to offer. Stop for a cappuccino at The Abbey, a cool little coffee and art lounge hidden behind the Vintage Faith church, then for a brown sugar milk caramel bar from the famous Donnelly Fine Chocolates in an unassuming storefront near the road up to UCSC. And for the ultimate taste of Santa Cruz, turn into the Swift Street Courtyard, where – along with the local winery and brewery tasting rooms – brightly painted ceramic pigs mark the entrance to el Salchichero. Here you’re just one bronze sausage-link door handle away from the best local artisan meat around.   El Salchichero is an actual old-timey butcher shop, where the tasty locavore twist is the products come from regionally sourced and humanely raised animals. Shopping here is a vote for sustainability, goodness, and respect for your food, as well as for supporting local business. Plus, when you eat a burger that came from a cow that grazed on those grassy slopes looking out over the Pacific. It’s a very real taste of Santa Cruz. Take advantage of owner Chris la Veque’s butchery wizardness to get uncommon cuts like beef bavette and pork secreto as well as pate, rillettes, chicharrones, even whole rabbit. On the smokehouse side, Chris makes his own bacon...
Bacon for dessert!

Bacon for dessert!

I took a small, happy gang – the boys, their visiting cousin, Mija, and her little sister – to Marini’s for ice cream last Friday night before the GLOW fire art festival started.   Marini’s is a great candy store – they’ve been making saltwater taffy on the Boardwalk for almost a hundred years. The shop is lined with lights and mirrors, all color and candy and energy. Stuffed animals and jellybean dispensers, Pez dispensers and crunchy pale necklaces, homemade fudge and saltwater taffy. Caramel apples. Even espresso and creamy cappuccino if you prefer your kick from caffeine. It’s one of those places where you smile just walking in the door.   Even a candy shop needs a secret to long-term success. Marini’s doesn’t just have great old-fashioned salt water taffy – I’m certain they’ve been in business since 1915 because they evolve to meet currents tastes and trends. Witness their newest creation: (drum roll on the desk, please . . . ) the Bacon Sensation Sundae. Can you even imagine such a thing? Featuring Vegan’s Nightmare Ice Cream – chocolate covered bacon strips mixed with maple ice cream – and topped with bacon, bacon, and more bacon. Mmm . . . bacon.     If you ever have one, be sure to and let me know how it tastes. (And while you’re in Santa Cruz, look me up, I’ll meet you to document it!) I appreciate the idea but it sounds as good to me as bacon lip gloss or bacon frosting. We got all sugared up on chocolate cub ice cream and mochas and then went to watch people play...

Pork ragu inspired by La Posta

Tomorrow is our 19th wedding anniversary – 19 truly blissful years of living a cozy family-centric life by the sea. I’m completely appreciative of this life and these years, because it wasn’t always like this. Before LL I lived a comparatively vampirish life as a twenty-something back in St. Louis, energy waxing with sunset and waning at sunrise, tending bar until 1am then hitting a late-night spot or two to unwind. Moving through florescent and neon in a smoky haze. Weekend or weekday. Watching. Waiting. Wishing. Then I made the cross-country move and discovered what I was looking for en plein air, life softly lit by the sea. I met LL and we were married in fairly short order, a family of two we quickly doubled in size. Old habits died fast and hard with babies and bills to take care of, and over the years my weeknight schedule has been unvarying: homework, dinner, TV, tuck-ins, books, and bed. A couple glasses of wine thrown in for good measure. But the boys are older now, and life continues to change. Kid One spent last month in Argentina and Kid Two, of legal age to stay home alone, spent much of his winter break playing computer games with a new friend in Tasmania. So one Tuesday LL and I went out – at night! on a school night! – to join friends for dinner. Child-free and driving in the dark, two things I used to do every single night felt very strange to me now. We calculated that this most likely was literally the first time in our 19 year marriage...