Thursday, December 13, 2012

Mendocino coast-best beaches, November 2012

The northern coast of California is wild, lonely and beautiful.  There are a few spots where people have grouped together to form towns dedicated to tourists-like the Mendocino coast-perfect for a romantic weekend getaway.  On the way up we stop to see our beautiful bridge.

E- and I stayed at the Fensalden Inn, a B&B run by a family.  Chris served us breakfast and information-he is the perfect B&B host.  More than just some pastries for breakfast-we tried both the potato and spinach pie and the Dutch babies, shown below.

I had never heard of them, but think popover dough in a shoe shape that perfectly holds sauces and compotes-yum for sure. 

They also serve fruit with sorbet/ice cream for breakfast-now that is vacation!

We were staying in the Hawthorne suite, which holds some of Chris' family heirlooms.
Like Nathanial Hawthorne's writing desk and first editions-how cool is that.

I didn't have an itinerary, so we asked Chris for suggestions, followed it to a T, and got a really great introduction to the area.   
First, there is a spot the locals go to for weddings that gives an amazing view of the ocean while remaining sheltered by cypress.

And in fact there were rose petals all over the ground.  I won't reveal the secret of where it is-you will have to go ask Chris :)

We also saw a couple banana slugs-I love these guys-you know you are near the coast if you are seeing banana slugs.

We visited the Mendocino botanical gardens.  I would not even have thought to drop by, but it is a cultivated garden and local natives AND it is on the ocean edge.

Lots of different types of flowers are in bloom.

The fungi are not specifically cultivated, but I find them as interesting as flowers.  These are along the Fern trail-which gave me the feel of Muir Woods-highly recommended.

There is a kids area with cool stuff to play on.

Something different is blooming each month, this time it was dalhias.

And out past the vegetable garden you get the ocean views.

They have some fun art in the garden, much of it for sale.  The spider is simple but effective.  Perhaps too effective to want to bring home.

Next up we visited some of the beaches.
Glass beach, which is really better at low tide so you can see the shiny glass 'stones'

MacKerricher is as close to a postcard beach as we saw.  Almost no driftwood, seaweed, or sand flies.  And the river flows into the sea here, providing a less scary place to play than the ocean edge.

The opposite is Navarro beach-wild crashing waves, great to look at, but don't get caught in the rising tide!

 And the cool seaweed knot is covered in sandflies.  

No trip to a coast is complete without a lighthouse, the closest is the Point Cabillo Lighthouse.  The docent was fun and informative and pointed out that you can actually rent the Head Light Keepers house and nearby cottages.   Sounds perfect for a family group.

With only a weekend stay we hardly got to try many of the restaurants, but we went to two of the most popular.  Ole's Whale Watch Bar, part of the Little River Inn and Restaurant and Albion River Inn.  
Dinner at Ole's Wale Watch Bar was our favorite.  Beef and pork sliders with just the right amount of sauce and pickle, nice fish tacos and super thin red onion 'rings'.  They were all great, but the best part about the bar was Sue the bartender and her perfect margarita.  She chatted with the locals and made the visitors feel like locals.

The Little River Inn dinner was all about atmosphere.  You want to get there to see the sunset, but then if you are facing the sunset you are blinded by it.  I happily ended up with the guy at the table in front of me blocking the center of the sun.  The food and service was good enough-they clearly try to make it the nicest experience possible.

Finally, driving home takes you home through the Russian River Valley and the gorgeous grapevines, much of it turning fall colors.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012 Have you got an extra Guatemalan blue banana squash?

Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday-I focus on cooking like no other time of the year and get to host many of my favorite people.

On Wednesday I prepped most of the food-here is most everything for the roasted root vegetables, green bean and mushroom casserole (from scratch!), mashed potatoes and the Squeeto (a Guatemalan blue banana squash stuffed with leeks, stuffed with sweet potatoes and stuffing)

Sausage and rice stuffing prep-I got to use the hot peppers, cilantro and lemon grass from the garden.

Finished cranberries

Part of Wednesday dinner was a mashed potato contest.  I grew up eating the flakes, and while they are tasty enough, I thought it was time to learn how to do the real deal.  E- was in charge of the flakes and the frozen  ones while Delicate Flower helped me with the Cook's Illustrated Whipped potatoes.  Everyone agreed that frozen ones were a last resort and while the flakes are not bad, there is really something great about the real potato version.  We made three batches on Thursday and they all turned out great and reheated well throughout the weekend.

The evolution of the pie table. One family has a tradition of baking ~1/2 pie per person.  Because you start off the morning with pie.  And of course you need some pie before dinner is ready in the late afternoon.  And then there is after dinner pie.  I have embraced this tradition because-PIE!

This year I made a couple of new ones-lemon curd in a pie crust, Maple Pecan (from Cook's Illustrated) and zucchini disguised as apple.  Friends brought 5-berry (we had to guess which 5 berries), sweet potato with praline topping and Indiana State Fair Award Winning Pecan!
The night before Thanksgiving and we have almost finished 1 pie-nice, we are on track.

Before dinner we added traditional apple, Strawberry Rhubarb from local Duarte's , cornbread and Cranberry Cornmeal Pound Cake.  Yes, non-pie dessert is allowed on the pie table.  Actual pumpkin pie and more sweet potato pie and apple tort arrived at dinner time.

And by Friday afternoon this is all that was left.

This year we are trying Trader Joe's Turkey-less as our vegetarian center piece.  While tasty, the look is lacking something-luckily we have some crafty folk to dress it up. 

Shake your tail feathers!

The fancy ice cube melts slowly and keeps your Manhattan fresh.  Because who doesn't want a Manhattan!?!

And on Friday the last of the turkey got made into stock that went into turkey pot pie.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

How many gardens are there in Singapore? Oct, 2012

On a recent trip to Singapore, J&K and I visited as many gardens as we could.  We only got to three, mainly because of the heat which turns me into a puddle, but I feel we got to see some of the best (though we missed the classic botanical garden, next time!).  For some photos see K's blog here.

Chinese Gardens
It was the mid-autumn festival and the local Chinese Garden had set up extra scenes throughout the garden.  We climbed the pagoda for a better view of the lake and wandered most of the pathways.  This garden also deserves a return visit for the reptile/turtle zoo-it is mysteriously off in a corner.  We also saw the monkey that has been hanging around the garden, grabbing snacks-totally comfortable hanging out near people.

Durian Dessert
Somehow I have avoided eating durian until now.  I didn't do it on purpose, just never got around to trying it.  In case you don't know, the durian is a fruit that looks like a hedgehog, has rabid fans, and smells so strongly that it is forbidden on the subway.  Many say that the smell is like...waste product.  But I think that depends a bit on your nose.  So I finally decided to give it a try in a sort of an ice cream dessert.  I didn't hate it-it has a creamy texture not usually found in fruit and being frozen keeps the smell down.  The weirdest part was the taste returned all evening long like nothing I've ever eaten before!

The beige scoop is durian

Haw Par Villa
This is not a textbook garden.  It is a family memorial site and moral education rolled into one.  The memorial parts are...different.  They are painted concrete sculptures, often illustrating a story.  The moral education come from dioramas depicting the different types of punishments for different offences.  It is quite old, so it is not surprising that we find it strange and fascinating.  This is one of my favorite places to visit in Singapore because it is so much of the place-I can't really imagine it anywhere else.  And in Singapore, where a 20 yr old building gets torn down just because it is so old, it is nice to see this remnant of the past.  And it is still popular!

Gardens by the Bay
The gardens are a new installation under the Marina Sands hotel.  The fancy designer has built in a set of 'Supertrees' that some love and some hate.  There is a walkway at the top that has great 360 views.  Even though it was a little hazy it was well worth the SGD5 for the breeze alone!

We wandered through the gardens which are set up as mini educational spots showcasing plant aspects like roots, fruits or flowers.  There are also the culturally themed gardens representing Singapores three main cultures, Chinese, Indian, and Malaysian.  The Chinese garden has a waterfall that follows the stairs down to dragonfly lake.  It is already becoming a popular site for photo shoots-we saw one fashion and one wedding shoot taking place.

Snacks!  There is a somewhat fancy food court to escape the heat.  We choose Canelle for drinks and dessert and can recommend the macarons and merengines.

We didn't go into the flower or orchid dome, which cost extra, as they seem like they deserve a few hours each.  Next time!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Seed stitch scarf, wavy blanket and seed bombs, November 2012

A couple of projects I've finished recently

I needed a project on my recent vacation that was easy to carry and not complicated-scarf!  I grabbed a wavy yarn and an incredibly simple pattern, the seed stitch.  That is knit, purl, knit an odd number of stitches.  Turn around and purl, knit, purl.  The seed stitch usually gives a bumpy texture, but with the wavy yarn it came out smooth, but stretchy and curled onto itself-I love it!

I also finished knitting a blanket with a wavy boxes pattern.  This had a more complicated pattern and I totally ended up with holes and issues that I was too lazy to fix at the time and am now regretting it.  Sigh.  Maybe I will make this again with a better yarn and more attention.

My favorite-seed bombs!  Mix an even equal amount of seeds (mine are California poppies-a hearty native) and compost.  Mix in with 5X clay and make drop cookie size balls.  Let them dry at least a day and then distribute someplace you can't garden on a regular basis.  I dropped mine near the freeway entrance. I hope that in the spring some of them will bloom.  I am now a guerilla gardener!

And in my yard I do get to garden regularly, so I planted flowers and herbs and lettuce.