Sunday, October 16, 2016

Port Gamble, Pecans And Possibilities

Is it too early to exclaim, "Oh my!  It's fruitcake weather!" or is it a moot question, now, as I have done just that? 

One great disappointment I have felt recently is the fact that Port Gamble's Country Christmas celebration will no longer showcase Washington's only fruitcake contest.  And when I say fruitcake contest, I do not mean fruitcake-throwing contest like the ones you will find at some cretinous activities during the holidays. They eliminated the contest from the celebration the year I had decided to enter my Texas Orange Slice Cake, with accompanying story of its origin.  That was part of the judging-the story behind the cake.  Part of the appeal to me, of course, is the misguided bad reputation that fruitcake has and it was my intention to help facilitate the reversal of that stigma, in whatever small venue with which I was presented.  In this day and age, winning a fruitcake contest would be neither glamorous nor brag-worthy.  Precisely the reason I wanted to enter and win!



Port Gamble, WA is an historic mill town situated on the shores of Hood Canal on the Olympic Peninsula.  It's a nostalgic little acreage showcasing turn-of-the-century buildings filled with shops and New England style houses on maple and elm tree-lined streets.  They host several attractive events throughout the year, such as a paranormal conference, dinner theater performances,  and the aforementioned Country Christmas sans fruitcake contest.  (Now they have only one only special thing that no one else in Washington has and that is fireworks at Christmas.) If I lived closer, I would probably go to the theater to see "Clue The Musical."


Here's how I was planning to enjoy an old-timey, country feel, seaside ambient Christmas revelry fruitcake contest:

Earlier in the year my family had a reunion in the village of Ruidoso, NM in the Lincoln National Forest Sierra Blanca Mountain Range.  I couldn't breathe very well at 7,000 feet, being used to living at sea level for so long.  I'm just putting that out there for no special reason or tie-in to the story.  I had mentioned to my mother a while before that I wished I had some New Mexico pecans to put in my cake that I didn't know at the time I was not going to even make.

New Mexico is famous for her pecans, arguably the best pecans nation-wide!


I was going to try to buy some when I was in NM for the reunion, but my mother's neighbor had a load of windfall pecans in her back yard that she would gladly give to me.  I was driving with my brother and sister-in-law, Katy and Desmond and all of our "stuffs" in one vehicle.  Were you counting?  That's five people.  With many stuffs.  And an extra load of pecans...big bags of pecans. To me, they were worth it.

On the border between New Mexico and Colorado, in a town called Cortez, is Cortez Flour mill, where they mill Bluebird flour, reportedly the only flour you should use when making Navajo Fry Bread, if you care at all about being authentic.  I don't know about being authentic, but I do know that I have won several bread baking prizes at the fair when using that flour.  Of course, I needed that for my fruitcake as well.



And then we spent some time in Utah, where I continued filling my fruitcake coffers, this time with Montmorency dried cherries from Woodyatt Cherry Orchards in Willard. Katy and I both have won fair prizes with out pies made from these cherries. 


Living in Washington, I found some local representative ingredients from Simply The Best Northwest Dried Foods. Using fruits grown in the Omak region of Washington and a wood-fueled dehydrator, without adding anything else, they had just the ticket to round out my ingredient list.  (The orange slice candy could actually come from anywhere.  I know the cake is named for this ingredient, but come on...it's just jellied sugar!) Something from five states I've lived in, if you include the name of the cake. 

How could my fruitcake not take the prize at Port Gamble?!  I mean...well, if there was going to be a fruitcake baking story-telling contest in Port Gamble, WA., I definitely had a chance!

We got back from the reunion trip in April of that year and I still had several months ahead of believing in fruitcake. 

To be continued...








Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Two Good Things and Too Bad

    Good Thing #1. It's not really a Christmas post already, although if it were, it wouldn't be the first I've seen this season.  This is a little story that wraps itself around me like a homemade afghan on a chilly fall evening.  Last year we returned to Don Tapio's Christmas Valley Tree Farm to cut our own tree again.  Katy really, really likes real trees for Christmas and I understand her.  I used to feel the same way. 
      As usual, we spent a few minutes catching up with our tree farmer, listening to news about his 90+ year-old mother, and how life was treating them after a series of very misfortunate events. (I might share some more about that at a more appropriate time.  It's not such a warm story.) 
     Then we headed out to find that little made-just-for-us Christmas tree we knew would be waiting for us.  I had visions of sweet symmetry, with enough space between the branches to show off some red and golden glass ornaments.  I don't know what Katy was looking for.  We know we have our own ideas and we know that however different they may seem, we always agree on  just the right tree when we see it.  Usually, it takes a bit of discussion and circling the tree and pulling up a bottom branch or two and asking each other, "Whadd'ya think?"
     We poked around, traipsed around, chased Desmond around and found a few "almosts," trees that other years would have made the grade, but something just kept spurring us on, in a subtle, nudging way. 
     And then...there it was like a beacon one second and then just a tree the next second, but never only just a tree for very long.  The three of us stopped mutely at the same moment and decided this was our tree.  It had drawn us in.  There was a whole forest left that we hadn't even seen yet, but why would you keep running after the ball if you've already caught it?  We didn't even need to discuss it. We just really liked it.
   Katy cut it down, with oh-so-much help from Desmond and direction from me, and we started back up the path with it.  Don looked up and rather than wait for us to come to the bailing machine as in years past, he hurried down the gravel to meet us.  He was exuberant and told us we had artistic hearts for choosing that tree...the kind of artistic hearts that reached out, artistically, to other things about life, as well.
     He had only a handful of that particular tree on his farm, and most people don't choose it, but to him, it's the prettiest tree he grows!  (And just so you know, I've already told this story to someone who said, "I'll bet he says that to everyone," so no need to go there.  I just know it ain't so.  There was no need to flatter us and I might have thought he was just saying stuff to make us feel good, if it weren't for the fact that I knew that tree was all he said it was.)
     It was a corkbark fir, with silver-white blue and green needles that picked up and played with the lights we put on it later.  You can tell from the picture that it is indeed a lovely tree, but I know you can't really see what made it all that special, unless you can see into our four hearts just by looking at the pictures.


Don Tapio, Christmas Tree Farmer


Good Thing #2.  Katy doesn't live with me any longer, (that's not necessarily the good part) and she and Desmond live with Jesse who already has two cats. (That they are a family now is good for them all.)  Desmond likes cats, whether they always like him or not.  They've been together in that house with those two cats now for less than a year, and just the other day Katy told me this story:
     "I just adopted a cat!!!  And I looooooove my new baby!!  We went to the Utah State Fair Park to the 'no-kill' Utah adoption thing.  Went straight to him and knew immediately he was mine.  They said I was the first person this whole time to really notice him.  Desmond has told him he is his best friend.  He never said that to the other cats!  Desmond is so happy about it...Gosh I love him.  He was so mellow and scared at the fair that no one was really paying attention to him.  But he was just sitting, taking everything in being so incredibly calm.  He's special.  The lady there started almost getting choked up that someone really saw him."
     I told her, "kind of like our Christmas tree."
     And she said, "exactly.  You gotta just be led."

 Hmmm, I wonder...what would you just have to call a handle-bar mustachioed cat with gem-green eyes?

Bonjour! Rencontrer Hercule Peridot:






Enfin, TOO BAD they don't make this candy bar anymore.  If they did, I would call it good thing #3.





Monday, September 5, 2016

Some More California Coast Favorite Memories: Monterey, Et Al





This is another post specifically to show certain members of my family who are taking a trip to California from Utah to go to a 49er's game this month.  Of course, they've already planned their 4-day itinerary, but I still can't help myself from injecting a couple or so ideas they might be able to at least look out for.  For example, they are going to the aquarium in Monterey, but I happen to know it doesn't have to take a whole day to see the aquarium, as wonderful as it is.  And it is a doozy, all right!
(Also, this is another post where I have borrowed pictures from the internet because all the pictures I've ever taken there are actual prints stored away in boxes that are not at my ready at this time.  Just clarifyin'.)


On the way south, rounding the bend in the highway approaching Half Moon Bay, less than an hour out of San Francisco, the ocean comes in to mighty view (again, because it's mostly in view all the way, and then you can't see it for a minute, and then whoosh, there it is again!) and on the opposite side of the road are pumpkin fields. This surprised me so much, I wrote a poem about it once.  Or at least tried to write a poem about it.  It wasn't very good...or poetic.  I don't know what made me think I should try to write a poem about something that was already poetry.

Eventually, they might notice the iconic artichoke fields, although maybe they look just about like any other field at this time of year.  I love to see them when in cardoon season:





Right around the corner, actually almost in Monterey, in Pacific Grove, is the entrance to 17 Mile Drive.  Can't miss it.  And you shouldn't miss it.  It won't let you miss it.




As long as you're on 17 Mile Drive, take a second to drift into Carmel-by-the-Sea.  (I know it's mostly known simply as "Carmel," but that is just not as romantic or historic a name, is it? I mean, when I was a kid growing up in the desert, I didn't dream about visiting Carmel.  I yearned to be by the sea in Carmel-by-the-Sea!  Big difference!)  

If, while you're there, you happen to cross paths with my old friend Clint, ask him to play Misty for me!

Hahahaha...Oh Man, I just couldn't resist!


You should have time to, and it would be a shame if you didn't, visit the Mission San Carlos Borreo del rio Carmelo. 


I have a picture of Dad by this mission.  I think Katy and Jillian are in the picture, too.  We went there at some point, the four of us.



I've taken too many road trips between San Francisco and Big Sur with family and friends to keep them all straight in my head and am having difficulty remembering exactly which stops I made with whom. 

Some of us went camping on Thanksgiving at Big Sur, some of us kayaked in Monterey and Santa Cruz, some of us stayed in the kitschy-pink Lover's Point Inn in Pacific Grove and listened out the window across the way to the otters crack their dinner on rocks balanced on their tummies, some of us attended a retreat at the Quaker Center in the Santa Cruz mountains.


Fourth of July fireworks out over the ocean in Half Moon Bay, twilight concerts on the beach in Santa Cruz,  hiking in sand dunes at Ano Nuevo State Park to see the elephant seals and being surprised by a squeaky mouse struggling to get out of a snake's opened-mouth death grip. 

Once I was sitting on the sand, looking for sea glass while Katy and Kaid swam in the bay in Monterey.  I looked up and saw 12-year-old Kaid a few feet in front of me, looked back down to find more glass, looked up again and Kaid had been replaced by a sea lion pup! 

It's just kind of magic, that part of the world and those moments we experienced. 

And, oh yes:


It's just so fun!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Friday, September 2, 2016

Klezfest, Oysters, Mixed Up Memories


My poor little brain has been awash lately with so many memories of when I lived in California that  I was just about to write a blog post for each one of them that I could think of.  I've changed my mind, because that's a lot of remembering and would be too much writing, I think.  Or maybe too much second-guessing about the importance of writing memories and who cares and are they memorable memories, or is it just that I have too many neuroses?

I will say, though, that there are some things I just feel like writing about and one of them is the Klezfest that Constance and I went to somewhere on the Northern Coast of California.  These Red Hot Chachkas performed at that time with a few other Klezmer groups.  It feels like the event was held on a compound of some sort, but probably it was just a community center in a small coastal town, somewhere near or at Inverness? 

And now that's my telling of the memory.  What else can I say?  We drove out there, listened, danced and ate kosher somethings.  I've long been interested in many things Yiddish, probably since the first time I read Leo Rosten's book, "The Joys of Yiddish."  I wore out my first copy of the book, couldn't stand to be without it and when I couldn't find another one to buy, I kept borrowing it from the library.  I eventually found another to purchase and I have it stashed away with other treasures.

I was living in Salt Lake City at the time.  There was a Jewish deli downtown, (owned and operated  Dutch holocaust survivor, Lu Dornbush,) where my sister Deborah and I decided to expand our horizons by tasting cream cheese and lox on a bagel.  It was a wonderful sunny summer day and we had traveled by bus from my apartment in Sugar House.  We ogled all the pastries and other foods, but our minds were set on cream cheese and lox.  It was going to be a taste of adventure, something we'd only known about from books and movies.  We stepped out onto the sidewalk and shoved huge bites of bagel and thin strips of orange-pink salmon into our mouths.  EW!  What's this?  It's just raw fish!  Deborah choked and sputtered, actually gagged for several moments.  I laughed so hard, I began to choke.  Such innocents, we were! The world was so much larger in those days.  Since then, I've eaten and enjoyed a lot of unusual and seemingly unfood-like foods, and I even like smoked salmon, now, too.  But happy were we for not trying it out inside the store.

One striking question I have as I recall this event is, how did we choose that particular food item?  I know we decided on purpose before we even went into the store.  That was the mission.  Cream cheese and lox.  Deborah and I both took a lot of things seriously that we gleaned from the media, and, for me, it was that from then on when anyone in a movie or on television casually mentioned cream cheese and lox, I would relate to the experience.  We probably didn't have enough money to head back in and order a piled-high Reuben or even a couple of pieces of  Rugelach with which to wash down that lingering fishy taste.  

(Years later I was to meet this beef brisket Reuben in San Francisco at Miller's East Coast Deli. Did it blow my socks off, you ask?  Yeah, I think it sorta did.)

The only other time I saw my sister have such a strong reaction to any kind of food was many years later when she took a swig of my daughter's fresh raw goat milk out of curiosity.  "This tastes like goat hair," she exclaimed to my wonder that she knew what goat hair actually tasted like.  Why is it so funny to see someone so stunned and displeased with something they have just unwittingly done?  I don't know, but I laugh.

(This picture is from a few years earlier than the 70s when Deborah and I were there. Except from the cars, this is pretty much how it looked mid-70s, only not so faded!))


Several years after that experience at the kosher deli, I met my friend Constance, who lived in SLC at that same time as I did.  We didn't meet until at least a decade (or more) later in San Fransicso.  Constance had better memories of that deli.  Did she even work there, at one time?  Something like that.

But back to Klezfest California.  That might have been the same trip we took in search of hidden-gem-status barbequed oysters on the half-shell.  A bit of a juxtaposition, you say?  Maybe.

(Only one other book in my whole life has been as endearing and hilarious to me as was Rosten's lexicon of Yiddish .  It was "The Last Catholic in America," by John Powers.  I wore that one out, too, while I laughed until I sobbed and couldn't catch my breath.  You had to be there, and you probably had to be me. I wonder if it would do to write about a couple of my favorite books and what actually endears them to me.  I never enjoyed writing book reports in little school, hated writing reviews in High School, and almost enjoyed reviewing them--with annotations-- as an English Lit Major in college!  I loved reading and discussing, though, discovering the symbolism and how it all so poignantly showed the predicament of man.  I'm over it, but there are just some things still near and dear, so maybe I will write about them.)

Forewarned is forearmed. 


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A Highway 1 Favorite Memory: Duarte's Olallaberry Pie and Crab Cioppino

Yes, in that order.  Start with the pie and top it off with the cioppino.  Then get some artichoke soup.  You had to know there would be at least one post about food in this series of favorite places in California's Bay Area! 





Duarte's Tavern is in Pescadero, which is another 3 minutes from the Half Moon Bay Ritz Carlton. 

Plus, you get to drive by this beach on the way.


My friend, Constance, called me one day and said "Let's go to Pescadero and try the cioppino that Guy Fieri says is his favorite." 
I said, "OK."
And so we went. And we spent.
But you would probably spend a lot more there now.  Things are so expensive these days.
(Seems like I went to a retreat in that area, too, at some point. I lived a hard life when I lived in Northern California.) 





Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Bay Area Favorite Memory: Ritz Carlton Bagpiper


One hour and one minute from San Francisco south on Highway 1, you will find the Ritz Carlton hotel where you can park for free in the garage and stroll in reverie around the grounds, which include a golf course as well as these imposing, wind-whipped, ocean-eroded cliffs.

Go in the evening on a weekend to watch and listen to the lone (are you beginning to get the significance of One?) bagpiper  play--what else? --Amazing Grace as the sun sets on the horizon.  He walks off the grounds piping his last note right at the well-timed instant the sun splits and melts into red slats out over the silvery hot sea. 

You can also stay there, get married there, golf there and roast marshmallows in the patio fire pit there, but those things aren't free like the parking, walking and listening are. (Well, I guess you could bring your own marshmallows.)





Well worth the drive, even if this place didn't exist!  Highway One is my favorite road trip.  Stay tuned for more stopping off places along the way that will stir your heart and tickle your fancy.