Thursday, September 27, 2007

Scenic California

Ocean view at a State Beach near Bodega Bay. Hear the waves crashing. Feel the wind blowing.

Leaving for a trip is always the hardest part. So many things to do. Last minute work to be done, packing, line up a catsitter, and on and on the list goes. Getting out of the house, is the biggest step. The next hurdle is getting ourselves to the airport. We don't "travel light" as they say. We travel heavy. Very heavy. Camera, golf clubs, clothing X 2 people adds up. Well, we both need our cameras don't we? Believe me, one camera is one too few when you have two photographers traveling to a scenic place such as California. So we don't fight it. We've given in to the reality that we are not capable of traveling light and that is okay. Hubby is a good packer. He has a list, a plan and a spot for each thing. Each of us is assigned a carry-on item and we check the golf bags and suitcases. We've discovered the easiest, most economical way to get ourselves and our stuff to the airport, is to drive there and then park at a nearby hotel. The hotel shuttle takes you to the airport. The shuttle driver helps load and unload the stuff, and the car is safe at the hotel's parking lot. While waiting for the shuttle in front of the hotel the day of our outbound flight, a car pulls up and parks with one wheel on the curb, just feet away from me and my bags. An older man gets out. I couldn't help but notice him considering the way he parked. The license plate on his car read California.

"Long drive." I say to him.
"Oh, yeah, I hate driving in this city [New York]. People drive crazy!"
"Oh, yes. It's not easy," I say, "I'm on my way to California now." I nod my head toward his license plate.
"What part?"
"Napa, San Francisco, Carmel"
He kind of snarls, "You should go to Bodega Bay! My father was born there! Beautiful place! The Birds was filmed there! You see it?"
"Oh really, yes, I've seen The Birds. I'll have to check it out."

Well, really didn't think I would. But for some reason, that cantankerous old guy got stuck in my head. I guess I've always had a soft spot for cranky old guys. I told hubby about the conversation he missed while he was inside. I tucked that pieced of info away in my mind for later.

After Napa, our plan was to head over to San Francisco and stop at Muir Woods along the way to see the redwood trees. I'm not sure how it came to be, but we weren't in any particular hurry and figured this was our day to drive around some. So we took the scenic route and headed over to Bodega Bay. The GPS took us on a long country road, past farms, open fields, and mountains. Not much civilization as I see it. Thank goodness we found a convenience store, some might call it a bodega (and yes they had wine), with a port-a-potty out back at a critical moment. Then it was on to Bodega Bay.

We found a visitor information center upon entering town. We stopped and told the lady we wanted to see redwoods after Bodega Bay, and then end up in San Francisco. She suggested a route for us and told us to go to Guerneville to see the redwood trees. Gave us a map with a highlighted route and we were set to go. The first stop was an ocean view at Sonoma Coast State Beach at the end of a road that winds around the edge of Bodega harbor. On our way, along the winding road, we stopped at a store (they have bodegas in Bodega Bay!) and got picnic fixin's. We ate our lunch atop a peak with beautiful views of the ocean. The only birds around were the seagulls, who wanted a taste of my lunch. They were polite enough about it. I told them I wasn't willing to share and they found some other gullible person to feed them.

View from our picnic spot.

After that we drove North on Route 1 and saw beautiful wide open spaces like this one. That red horse was curious about me as I stepped from the car to get his photo. I hopped over a ditch to get close enough to point my lens over the fence and had to sidestep a raccoon skeleton laying there.

Further North on Route 1 we came to Gleason Beach. I love how those rocks poke out of the water. This looks like it would be a romantic spot for holding hands or maybe a picnic.

After some driving, we finally arrived at the redwoods in Guerneville. They are quite beautiful. One might even say majestic. If you look closely in this photo, you'll see hubby in the bottom right corner. He's wearing a blue shirt and red hat. See my tiny husband? I could probably fit him in my pocket at this scale.

The sun streams through the trees. It's pretty dark in the woods, except for the occasional ray of sunshine. The wind blew and the giant trees swayed. Standing still and looking up, you feel as though you are the one moving.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Left, a Copia tomato still ripening on the vine, named after Copia the place. It's red with gold stripes. Right, an heirloom, Yoder's German Yellow Tomato. A beauty of a tomato, freshly picked by Copia's head gardener.

We spent a morning at Copia in the town of Napa, California. Copia calls itself, the American Center for Wine, Food, and the Arts. There's a building that resembles a museum that houses a restaurant Julia's Kitchen (named after Julia Child), and Galleries with exhibitions. You really could spend an entire day or maybe two at Copia. So we were only able to sample a taste of it, instead of a feast.

Outside is a garden of edibles that are used in the food prepared at Julia's Kitchen. This place was right up my alley. Many, if not most, of the plantings are clearly labeled, although not always specific. The gardens are open for visitors to explore with wide grass lined paths. We had the opportunity to see many things that we are not able to grow in our region. Each garden bed is intensively planted with a variety of plants. I felt right at home.

A good time to practice restraint. I imagine it would be fun to harvest my own pomegranates, but I will have to just imagine as they are only hardy to zone 7. A great source of antioxidants whether you eat the fruit or drink the juice. If you haven't ever eaten a pomegranate, I highly recommend you try this delicious fruit. Inside are beautiful jewel like arils, juicy flesh covered seeds. That's the part you eat. Leave the pith and skin for the compost heap.

Pomegranates still on the tree.

Another tree I've never seen in person before, Pistachio. The fruits are quite beautiful at this stage. Inside is the seed, the part we eat. Copia must be a great place to live if you're a squirrel, although I did not see any. I did see some birds.

Pistachio fruit still on the tree.

I must have been fascinated with olive trees, as I photographed them over and over again. I think they would make a lovely ornamental tree, if only they would live through the winter. Alas, they will only survive in very warm climates.

A close up view of olives still on the tree.

After the olive trees, you come to a fence. Beyond the fence is a public street. We exit the gate and cross the street to see the rest of the gardens. That's where most of the food crops for the restaurant are grown. I met the head gardener and an intern gardener who were busy harvesting, while I poked around their tomato plantings. Harvesting is done on Wednesdays and Fridays, I am told. I had been wondering about that, as I saw some ripe fruits and vegetables on the other side of the garden before we crossed the street. The gardeners are pleasant and seem happy to entertain our questions. They use shallow cardboard boxes to contain the tomatoes they harvest. Hey, I do that too! Except their boxes are loaded onto a golf cart. Oh, that's too cool.

At the back of this garden is a children's garden. It's set up to teach about different aspects of gardening. There are compost bins, a spinning chart diagramming what vegetables are grown for each season, and a few other activities. It was in this area that I found a passionflower plant. I've seen these many places we've visited over the years, but I never get tired of them. This bee feels similarly I think.

Bee passionate!

Back inside the building, we saw an exhibition, Hungry Planet: What the World Eats. The show features large photographs of 30 families, in their kitchens, from around the world with a weeks worth of food displayed before them (in the photograph). Beside each photograph is a list of what's pictured, where they are from, and how much it costs. I found it fascinating. Most of the photographs had an abundance of food in them. More than I would think a family would eat in a week. A book of the same title, was published in 2005.

In the lobby, wine stations lined a wall. (You'll have to click that link to see the photo. Blogger only allows five images per entry, although they are hosted on my website, go figure.) They're sort of wine tasting vending machines. Visitors can purchase a card with a spending amount, and then select the wine of your choosing from the vending machines by inserting the card. A taste, half or full portion is poured from a spout into your waiting glass. It was early in the day and we didn't feel like trying it. No one else was either. They thought of everything, down to a spit bucket supplied next to each machine for pouring out whatever you choose not to finish. I noticed at the tastings we had been to, most people drink most of what they are given to taste. I did not see one person actually spit wine from their mouth after tasting, although books on the subject insist this is how it's done. I imagine it would get pretty unhygienic pretty fast, so I'm glad people just swallowed their wine. Everywhere we went in Central California, we found wine tasting. I found this a bit amusing. Not surprising that wineries would have wine tasting, but I saw tastings set up even in little roadside delicatessens. I imagine it would go something like this, "Yeah, I'll take a pint of potato salad, a ham and cheese sandwich, and uh, set me up a flight of wine, will ya?"

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Napa, CA

Recently, hubby and I took a trip out to California. We'd never been there together and never been to this part of the big state. We saw a lot of sites on this trip. It wasn't so much a relaxing vacation, as it was a drive around and see things vacation. A change of scenery is good every once in a while. Makes you come home with fresh eyes.

I'm only going to show just a few pictures of the different areas we visited. Just to give a sense of what it was like. They are not in chronological order or anything like that. Below we have a picture from an early morning. We decided to get up early and go take pictures. That's more my kind of lighting than the sharp, hot afternoon sun of Napa. This was actually, our last day there. I had briefly considered getting up at 5:00 a.m. to go on a hot air balloon ride, and then let that idea drift right on out of my head. Guess it wasn't meant to be. I took this picture as they were landing in an open area of a vineyard. We watched them deflate the balloon. Something neither one of us had ever seen before. It's quite beautiful. It's so cool and quiet out there. They just simply stop giving the balloon hot air and then give the fabric a tug. The balloon cascades down to the ground like a waterfall with a sound akin to rain.

This view is from the observation deck at Sterling Vineyard. We were told we had to go there by a few different sources. You take a tram up a hill from the parking area to the building. Then you go on a self-guided tour, stopping along the way to watch flat panel video screens with talking heads. Every so often, a human appears at a station where you get a taste of wine in your glass, which you've been carrying around with you. The observation deck is but one stop along the way, where you get a taste of Rosé. A beautiful view, I will admit. At the end, you're funneled into a less scenic deck and wine shop where you taste a few more wines and if you wish, purchase some. I found Sterling to be a bit cold and impersonal, such as it's name implies. Well, we did our prerequisite stop there, so we were allowed to leave Napa unscathed.

Some cows grazing in a pasture. Behind me, were workers picking grapes. Morning is the best time for harvesting grapes as it is still cool. We drew some curious looks from humans and beast alike, as we were on a back road away from the noise and crazed morning drivers heading off to work. Somethings are the same where ever you go.

What would a trip to Napa be without a picture of grapes. They're here, there, and everywhere. Even in the front yards of people's homes. FYI, these were in a vineyard.

An olive grove at Rutterford Hill Winery. The olives produced on these trees are sent out and processed into their own olive oil. I found the olive trees quite pretty with their small leaves and fruits. The leaves fall to the ground creating their own mulch, which is pretty and useful. The staff of this Winery were warm and welcoming. They gave us a (human) guided tour and tastes of many of their delicious wines. Another unique feature of this winery is the man-made wine caves cut into the hillside. These caves keep the temperature at an even sixty degrees, regardless of the outdoor weather. No air conditioning required.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Duck, Duck, Geese!

Okay, it's catch up time. I have lots to tell you and show you. Where have I been? California. But lets not put the cart before the horse, right. First, I have some more photos from the fair to show you... other than my last post of winnings.

First since I mentioned them, the ducks. Aren't they cute with their little head puffs? I wish I could have fowl, but alas, it is not allowed in our zoning. Yes, I learned that the day of our closing on our house. Funny as it may seem, that is actually stipulated in the rules for our subdivision. At the time, that was a bit a joke to me. I even made a joke about it. Our lawyer, ever the serious one, informed me what fowl was, as if I didn't know. Anyway, on to the ducks.

Isn't that funny how they positioned themselves? Just ducky.

Can't have ducks without geese can we? These aren't your average geese, not your golf course poopin' variety. I just want to reach out and smooth those neck feathers.

A pretty cow, if I ever saw one. She even has long eyelashes. What's your secret Miss?

Look at this precious little lamb. Doesn't he look cold without his wool?
I just want to give him a hug.

I love this Llama. So contemplative. Or maybe he's just hamming it up for the camera.
Something tells me he's the life of the party. He's lookin a mighty wistful.

I love farm animals.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

How Do Ya Like Dem 'Maters!

I know I haven't posted in a while. I've just been non-stop busy. No time for blogging. Not much time even for replying to emails no less. It's that time of year, the time when tomatoes are just about ready to take over my house. They even show up in my dreams. It's the avalanche of tomatoes. I've been busy preserving the harvest. I've made sauce, salsa, V8 juice (note to self, count the number of "V's" may really be V7 juice), canned tomatoes, pickles and dilly beans. Oh and I made a small batch of strawberry jam back in June, which I’m hording for the winter. I have some more ideas about ways to use my tomatoes, but time will tell if I get around to it.

A few years ago, Molly had asked me to enter some vegetables in the fair. I sort of brushed off the idea. I doubted my stuff was fair material. Then with prodding from other family members too, I decided that I’d do it this year. I’ve never been a competitive person. I really don’t compare myself to others usually. Only trying do to better than I had before. Only in competition with myself. But also, I open to change as the years go on. Just because I never did something before, doesn’t mean that I can’t do it now and vice versa.

Thursday night was the time to bring my entries to the fair. The tough part is knowing what is going to be looking good by then. The timing is just a week or two later than my peak for veggies and flowers. Everything was looking picture perfect not long ago. The entry form has to be submitted ahead of time, and then they mail back to you tags to attach to your entries. So I signed up for things that were looking good at the time, not knowing if they’d make it or not.

So Thursday night, I was having a hard time getting myself together. Just one of those days. All the tasks that had to get done looming over me, made me feel as though I was stuck in molasses or something. I started to think about throwing in the towel and forget about entering anything. Hubby rallied me and after some coaxing, I snapped out of the molasses and kicked it into high gear. These were my entires:

Sungold tomatoes in the Tomatoes – cherry – orange category, 10 to a plate.

Black Cherry tomatoes in the Tomatoes – other category, they didn’t specify how many, but I figured it should be 10 like the cherry categories.

Viva Italia in the Tomatoes – Red Plum category, 5 to a plate.

Aurora Peppers in the Peppers – other category, 5 to a plate.

Annual flowers- Nasturtiums – 2-5 stems

Baking – Sugar Cookies – 6 to a plate.

Baking – Banana-bran muffins in the muffins other category.

Canning – Spaghetti Sauce

Canning – Salsa

I had signed up for some other things, but really didn’t feel they were perfect enough to enter that day. So they stayed home. Here are the results. Of the nine categories I entered, only two did not result in ribbons. Not bad for a first try.

My first year making Salsa for canning purposes. Third place is not bad. The volunteer working the canning section, told me Spaghetti Sauce was their biggest category with the most entries. Said first place was impressive.

My first place plum tomatoes. They sure are pretty. We ate these folded within some chicken cutlets for dinner Sunday night. They finally fulfilled their destiny. They were some tasty prize winning tomatoes.

My first place Sugar Cookies. I make a mean sugar cookie.

Black Cherry tomatoes took second place in the "Tomatoes Other" class. First place went to some tiny current tomatoes.

My favorites, Sungolds took second place to only a slightly larger, less orange entry.

Aurora Peppers took first place in their class.

Sunday, I got to take my entries back and pick up my ribbons attached to them. According to the premium book, I have some money coming to me too. It’s not much, a few dollars for each prize. I think that just may cover my seed purchases that will resume this winter. Well, SOME of my seed purchases at least. Hey, it’s seed money!

We harvested a lot of tomatoes this weekend as I mentioned. I forgot to weigh them, but the dining room table was covered with all types, large beefsteak, medium, paste (plum), and cherry. I fretted about what to do with this wealth of lycopene enriched goodness. I ate one for lunch, not much of a dent in the pile, but every bit helps. I sent some over to various neighbors, but still had quite a bit left after that. Already exhausted from making sauce and pickles this weekend, I couldn’t face doing anymore this week.

I put the tomatoes gently in a box and set them by my mailbox in front of my house. “Free Tomatoes” a sign read. Went about my business of going to the fair to pick up, returned home and it did not look as though anyone had helped themselves. Sad, but Sunday is a quiet day around the neighborhood. I really couldn’t stand to think of them going to waste. I thought, maybe some of the staff would be around at the town golf course up the road. It never hurts to butter them up. Drove my box of ‘maters up to the golf course and it was pretty desolate with a sign on the door “Course Closed”. Huh? Turns out it was a tournament.

The restaurant, Café on the Green (a nice place with pretty views of the greens) and snack bar were both open with golfers hanging around. Hubby thought maybe they might take some tomatoes home. He brought the box in to the snack bar and spotted the restaurant owner sitting there eating his dinner. Tracy is his name. Hubby had played golf with him a few times, being paired up as singles. He asked him if it would be okay for us to give away these tomatoes. Tracy popped a few cherry tomatoes in his mouth and said, “Don’t give them away. I’ll pay you.” He gave us $20 for the box of tomatoes. Considering we were going to give them away for free, that was pretty good. More seed money! I was quite tickled by the exchange. Tracy told me to bring up any extra I cared to sell him in the future. Voila! I’m now officially a farmer.