Friday, June 26, 2009

Confections and Conversations at the Downtown Market

I dropped by the Farmers’ Market a couple weeks ago in the Bank of America Plaza to get my last fix of Ghalia Organic Desserts before they left the downtown market scene for greener pastures in Westwood. I can’t say I blame them for the move – I like Westwood better too. The last $20 in my wallet went to vegan brownies and my favorite sugarless cookies, with a blueberry-apricot coffee cake thrown in. Khatija, the owner – I’ve mentioned her here before – left her full-time job fairly recently to pursue her dessert business, and I told her truthfully that I am about ready to do the same. Not to pursue a dessert business of course; I’m a terrible baker. But to take that necessary leap to focus solely on what I want to do with my life, and eliminate the elements that keep me from getting there. I have a lot of respect for her, because that leap takes a lot of nerve.

I also dropped by Elizabeth Sayles’ antique jewelry table for a chat and to ogle all the pretty necklaces. Moon and star themed gold Edwardian lockets, hand painted pendants from India depicting a lucky Ganesha, and art-deco rhinestone pins hung on long elegant chains that encourage a girl to wear a cleavage-bearing dress just to show off her jewelry. A table full of temptation. But I was able to focus on conversation enough to learn some exciting news – Elizabeth got a call from an editor at Vanity Fair magazine who requested a box full of her religious icon jewelry because her pieces had been specifically requested by their model for a fashion photo-shoot: Penelope Cruz.

She also mentioned that her father complimented my writing while she was visiting her parents on a holiday to the East Coast. Which is small news in comparison, but just as nice to hear. Unfortunately she had bad news as well – two pieces had been stolen from her table the week before, and she now has a couple of copy-cat designers who are frequenting the same flea markets I had highlighted in an article I wrote about Elizabeth a few months ago. The flea markets are all fairly well known in antiquing circles, so hopefully they didn’t lift their tips from my article specifically.

The Border Grill Taco Truck

Don’t ask me why I am fascinated by the upscale taco truck phenomenon.I’m not even brave enough to ask myself why, because I fear the answer must be completely stupid. Maybe it’s the incongruity of it. These trucks that have been the bane of respectable businesses everywhere are now hip and serving up gourmet food to yuppies like myself. Crazy.

One of the latest incarnations is the Border Grill truck which was started by the same people who created Ciudad in Downtown L.A., Chefs Mary SueMilliken and Susan Feniger. The Border Grill truck has been serving up pork tacos topped with orange-jicama slaw and mahi mahi ceviche (one ofmy favorites from Ciudad) among other swanky fare for the past two weeks. I just hope it rolls by me one of these days. As always, the taco truck’s progress can be followed in minute detail on Twitter:

In other Taco Truck news, I had my first Kogi Truck sighting a few weeks ago and took pictures (will post soon). I was so excited. It was like seeing a celebrity. But, I restrained myself from the temptation to buy one of its famed tacos, even though the line was very short. Apparently I was right, and the shiny-newness has indeed warn off the Kogi-mobile.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Kauai Day 2 – Saturday

Farmers Markets

I came to Kauai with two goals in mind: to snorkel and eat a ton of fresh fruit. On Saturday I was able to put a check mark next to both. There is a farmers’ market nearly every day on Kauai, and on Saturday my research showed there were two close by on the North shore. However, ascertaining the exact times and locations of these farmers markets isn’t easy since there are only a few websites with that information, and half the time they contradict each other. So I made plans to visit both markets in one morning. My first destination was the Kilauea Quality Farmers Association market “in the field near the post office on Keneke Street,” according to the directions I found online, which was supposed to start at 9am. The other began at 10am at the Hanalei Community Center “just off the Kuhio Highway” (the main road that takes you all the way from the airport at Lihue to where the road ends at Ke’e Beach). If the directions sound vague, it’s because they are. No specific addresses are given to fields “across from the ____” – fill in the blank. Somehow, Charles managed to navigate us to “the field near the post office,” but there was no sign of a farmers’ market there or anywhere nearby. We decided to show up early at the other market in Hanalei and arrived there around 9:20am. Which was fortunate, because the market did not start at 10am like the website said; it started at 9:30am sharp.

Why is it important to arrive to the farmers’ markets on time? Because in Kauai, the produce section of the market is only open for exactly one hour and all purchases must be made within that time. The markets start mid-morning or in the afternoon because the farmers usually pick the produce the morning of the market, and the limited amounts of perfectly ripened fruits and vegetables sell out fast. Charles and I stood in the midst of around fifty people waiting for the market to begin. When the shout went out that the market had started, those in front literally ran.

It helps to know what you’re looking for because while you’re asking the vendor what the funny looking spiny fruit is, someone will be grabbing it from under your pointing finger. Fortunately, I knew exactly what I was there for: papayas, mangoes and apple-bananas. But when I saw bags of lychees and plastic sacks loosely filled with salad greens and nasturtiums, I leapt for them. I was also pleasantly surprised to find passion fruit goat cheese and home-made chocolate chip macadamia cookies from the Kauai Kunana Dairy. The rush and energy of the market, partly due to the speed at which purchases had to be made, was the first difference that struck me compared to the markets in California. Rather than being stressful, the frenzy was invigorating – but that could just be my feminine reaction to something that looks and acts like a store-closing sale. The other difference I noticed was the baskets. Many women and a few men held beautiful big baskets to carry their produce. The sight of long carrot fronds, lemongrass, green onions, and pointy-headed pineapples trailing over the sides of the hand-woven baskets was lovely. I could tell that the basket carriers were locals.

After buying what I thought would provide breakfast for the week (I underestimated), Charles and I returned to our room for a photo-shoot of the produce and breakfast. We laid out lychees, papaya and my passion-fruit goat cheese on the table outside to enjoy the view of Hanalei Bay while we ate. A few minutes later we were joined by a red-headed bird who, with great cheek, made himself at home on my plate. Too charmed to defend my papaya leftovers, I gave him full rights to the table. As long as he didn’t go near the goat cheese. That, I would have fought for. Two of our chicken neighbors looked like they might follow the little bird’s example, but having a hen land on the table would have ended badly, so I tore up papaya skins and tossed them out on the grass.

Introduction to Snorkeling

We walked to the little beach down the hill from Hanalei Bay Resort to try out our new snorkel gear. In an attempt to get away from the three other people on the beach, we wandered towards Hanalei Bay, having to stoop to avoid overhanging branches that drooped over the water's edge. This turned out to be a mistake since the reefs around us were so shallow and went so far out that there wasn't enough room in the water to bathe, much less swim. So we trekked back to where the sand went further and the water was deeper. There were so few fish that Charles’ underwater camera had to be broken in with pictures of sand and murky water. But, the water was calm enough to make a perfect training ground since this was Charles’ first time snorkeling ever.

I taught him how to swim two summers ago in a pool, and that was tough. Not because he’s a slow pupil—he caught on very quickly once he figured out that dying was unlikely. But because teaching someone how to swim, for me, is like being a native speaker trying to teach my own language. Why does this work that way? Well…because it does and always has. How can you explain something you were born able to do? How can I understand what it is to sink having never ever sunk? I know some people naturally sink in the water, and other people naturally bob to the surface, but that’s all theory. In practice, floating has always seemed to be the only option. At least the salt water helped with floatation. Charles said he finally understood what it was like to be me in the water. I tried my best to give him the basics of how to put fins on (neither one of us is too graceful on that count) and to spit in the facemask so it doesn’t fog up. This first trip out was a bigger success than I thought – Charles loved it.

We decided to scope out Ke’e beach at the very end of Hwy. 56. The North Shore has a bad reputation for rough conditions in the winter months, but during the summer the northern waters are calm and the southern beaches get the brunt of the surf. The beach was so crowded by late afternoon that we didn’t feel like snorkeling, but we did get to see a scrappy terrier chase a startled rooster up a tree.

Hanalei Bay and Postcards Cafe

We planned on going to Postcards Café for dinner, but since we had some time before it opened, we walked around downtown Hanalei. We bought some sweet roasted nuts at Kauai Nut Roasters (the man working the counter is very free with his local knowledge, so if you’re wondering where the fish markets are or where to find the best Mai Tai, stop here first!). And we walked through jewelry stores selling pearls and leis made up of hundreds of tiny shells that sold for $500 dollars and up. I had read about these shell leis—Certified Niihau leis are made by the 200 native Hawaiian residents of Niihau island. Tiny Kahelelani shells, or Niihau shells, are sorted for size and color and sewn together by hand, and harvesting just a cup-full can take four hours. Some leis can reach $30,000. I didn’t get one.

I treated Charles to dinner at Postcards Café. It’s not a cheap restaurant--I think our total came to around $120 for two glasses of wine, pupu platter, two entrees and a shared dessert—but since I had a long list of “cheap eats” to try during the rest of our trip, I figured we could afford a nice evening out. I had read that Postcards Café specialized in healthy seafood and vegetarian dishes using local organic produce, which is enough to win me over from the start, but the aesthetics appealed to me as much as the food. The restaurant is in an old plantation-style cottage with hardwood floors, large white shutters, and bright white walls decorated with vintage Hawaiian post cards. And the food tasted just as fresh as advertised.

The Ghost

In the middle of the night I woke myself up from a nightmare, just as the evil witches were about to catch me—hey, I’ll be the first to tell you that I have a very active imagination. During my year of unsteady employment following college I had horribly violent nightmares every night and became adept at wrenching myself out of them. Now when I have them, they don’t bother me very much at all. But as I forced my eyes to remain open long enough to clear the dream from my mind, I saw the hazy white shape of a man standing in front of the curtains of the sliding glass doors. I stared harder, becoming very alert very quickly, and saw a pattern of green palm leaves come into focus below the head. A Hawaiian shirt? I checked to see if it was a trick of the light, perhaps the way the blinking light of the air conditioner was reflecting on the curtains. Did the curtains have a pattern in them that I hadn’t noticed before? No, no, they were plain off-white. The shape I was seeing was around six feet tall, and shaped like a…a fat, old white guy tourist. The curtains definitely didn’t have that shape printed on them. He was in a Hawaiian shirt and khaki shorts. Frankly, he looked like any number of old, slightly rotund, retired men on the island. Maybe sixty-five to seventy-five years old with white hair, though the entire shape was in iridescent shades of white and gray. I couldn’t make out the facial features distinctly, but the impression left couldn’t have been clearer. I saw the ghost of a tourist. And it had been staring down at me.

I had a lot of trouble getting to sleep for the rest of our time there and kept checking to see whether the lights from the modem, the TV or the air conditioner could possibly explain the shape of a tourist in the dark. They couldn’t. But I kept reminding myself that of all the ghosts a girl could see, the specter of a fat old white guy sporting a Hawaiian shirt was not the most frightening. Kind of fitting actually. I mean, that’s exactly the kind of ghost one would expect to see at a hotel in Hawaii--if one ever expects to see a ghost.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Blog posts delayed for a while

Hello All - I haven't quite dropped the ball on the blogposts. They're half written and messily annotated in a word document on my laptop, waiting for me to revise and pair them with pictures for publishing. But for a teaser, you can look forward to tales of attacking turtles, ziplining, and ...

a ghost.

Yes, a ghost. Seen by yours truly. I am so not kidding.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Kauai Day 1: Burgers and Onion Rings with a side of Beach

Getting on the plane was mercifully uneventful. I forgot to take my laptop out of its case for security, but instead of strip-searching me in the back room in retaliation for my thoughtlessness (as I always fear they might), they just passed the laptop through the x-ray machine a second time. No problem. The only worrisome part of the journey came when we learned that seats on the plane were assigned only a little before boarding time and that the plane had been over-sold. Usually you can check-in online and choose your seats, and if you check-in early enough you can get your pick and find the ones with leg room. But mass confusion occurs when seats are assigned to some via an overhead t.v. screen scroll and not to others, and when boarding groups (1, 2, 3, 4) differ between couples traveling together. Charles was in the boarding group following mine, but the United worker let us both on at the same time with a shrug and bewildered smile.

United airlines has something called “Economy Plus” that we were unexpectedly upgraded to that actually has seats spaced so your knees aren’t providing lumbar support for the passenger seated in front of you. However, that was the only frill of the flight, other than a couple of non-alcoholic drinks. No peanuts, no pretzels, no meals unless you wanted to pay $9, and no individual television screens in the back of the seats. I tried to sleep, but having a middle seat and no pillow made anything but semi-consciousness impossible.

Six hours later we landed, and the sky was cloudy, the water choppy, and it was windy. Aloha us. Fortunately, as in Scotland, if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it will change. The difference between Scotland and Hawaii in this respect is that Scottish weather changes from bad to worse, whereas Hawaii weather can alter in either direction. Charles passed up the $15/day convertible and the “loss of use” insurance the Alamo Car Rental lady was pushing and we left Lihue in a sensible Ford Focus. Then it was off on Hwy. 56 to the North Shore.

I had our lunch place picked out: Duane’s Ono Char-Burger. Described as a “Kauai institution” that has the “best burgers on the island” according to an LA Times Travel article I read. The LA Times writer didn’t appreciate eating with the Chickens at the “unwashed” cement tables in the back, but I find the mild smell of chickens homey, and watching their antics while waiting for our BBQ burgers and onion rings was excellent entertainment. Yes – if you know Charles you may have paused during that last sentence. I ordered onion rings, and he ate more than one. I have proof!

3105 Hanalei Bay Resort is the specific name of our “condo” rental. It’s a studio with a lovely little kitchenette, surprisingly spacious bathroom with a Jacuzzi tub and a fold down Murphy bed. There’s also a guest book dating back from 2005 in which former honeymooners, anniversariers and vacationers have written their “thanks for the great room”s, travel tips like where they had the best time snorkeling (Tunnels beach ranks highly with our predecessors), and complaints. More complaints than you’d think, and many about the Murphy Bed. I guess they didn’t know what a Murphy bed was when they booked the place. My only complaint is that there’s a surprise $40 fee to use the internet for seven days, which was not advertised. But considering I got a fantastic discount on the place, I will not be adding that complaint to the guestbook when I leave. This place far surpasses my humble expectations.

In the afternoon we bought groceries at Foodland down the road. Nothing much, some wine, cheese, coffee and milk. The grocery store has a mouthwatering variety of seafood, so I am planning a return trip since our kitchenette comes fully stocked with pots, pans and olive oil.

In the evening we walked down to the little beach at the base of the hill. I haven’t been to the beach in a decade. I felt like I was meeting an old friend that I hadn’t seen in years, feeling guilty that I hadn’t bothered to call or write, and a little shy. But as soon as I walked into the surf, it felt as though no time had passed. That’s how these kinds of relationships go.
The evening ended on a high note for me. I did not exactly beat Charles at Scrabble, but I didn't lose either. We tied. Which is the first time that has ever happened since he is a brutal Scrabble player.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Aloha friends!

I am taking off to Kauai tomorrow and should land in Lihue around noon their time. Charles and I have our itinerary all planned out and it is ACTION PACKED.

So, stay tuned for:

Kauai Farmers Markets
Adventures in Snorkeling
Kayak School
Hiking the North Shore



With some relaxation thrown in and stuffed around the edges, like last-minute socks in a suitcase.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

I Call Shotgun! Part 6: Pit Stop in Paso Robles Paradise

Shaded by a canopy of twisted oak branches, Adelaida road winds high in the hills overlooking grassy valleys and vineyards, that seen beyond the trees, seem to generate their own light. I remember a cartoon of Jack and the Beanstalk, and the opening scene was of a fairytale valley, a patchwork of prosperous fields spread across rolling hills. The Santa Ynez Valley has always reminded me of that. But this one road in Paso Robles combines all of my most beloved aesthetic elements to create a truly magical land where one might just be able to spin straw into gold or meet gnomes in the walnut orchards.

As if the view weren’t reason enough to plan a return trip, the wineries along this stretch of enchanted pavement are outstanding. This time, I stuck with George’s list, not eager to reconnect with the drunken revelers we met on our way North. We were so taken by the scenery, that we accidentally drove past Halter Ranch and ended up at Tablas Creek first, although I had it listed as stop #2. Yes, I do overplan.

Even during busy times, the tasting room at Tablas Creek has enough staff and space to give customers individual attention. Which is great since the tasting pourer was extremely knowledgeable. He knew the Tablas Wines and the history of the winery backwards and forwards. The vines were cloned and shipped directly from the Chateau de Beaucastel winery in France, a process that took three years just to set the roots in California soil. But the owners deemed it worth the effort to get the exact Rhone varietals for the wines they wanted to make: Mourvédre, Grenache Noir, Syrah, Counoise, Roussanne, Viognier, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc and Picpoul Blanc. They scoured the California coast for just the right microclimate and pH level to replicate the Rhone region, determined to bring the Rhone grapes and the Rhone weather together and settled on Paso Robles. The new Tablas Creek Vineyard also continues the Rhone tradition of blending wines, in fact 80% of what they make are blends. Delicious blends.

In addition to Tablas trivia, I also got a good whiff of the definition of “Barnyard,” which is a term I hadn’t heard before, but could have used many times. “Barnyard” is a descriptor of the nose, specifically a nose that smells like manure. Or, as they put it “a gamy nose but with lots of fruit behind it.” Their writeup is more accurate, because I do not mean to imply that Tablas wines smell like crap.

One of their wines, the Esprit de Beaucastel 2005, knocked me for a loop because, while the nose was initially eau-du-dung, it morphed into heavy luscious jasmine. What I really liked about this wine is that neither the jasmine nose nor the strong fruity flavor lessens after a few sips, like so many strong wines do.

The 2008 Rose was very dry with a vivid nose of strawberry. A perfect wine for a warm night in Hawaii – yes, I’m bringing it, and we’ll just see whether that “bottle shock” thing is true.

The 2005 Syrah had a strong “barnyard” nose, but in a pleasant, earthy sense. Growing up around horses, I actually find the scent of good old dirt comforting.

Tablas Creek, $10 tasting fee
9339 Adelaida Rd. Paso Robles

When we drove past Halter Ranch the first time, my head swiveled around to see the classic 1885 Victorian Farmhouse shrink in the distance. Such a gracious home in the midst of this overabundance of natural beauty so captured my imagination that I would have demanded we double back even if Halter Ranch hadn’t been on George’s list.

The Halter Ranch tasting room is in a pretty little wood structure to the right of the farmhouse with a deck built out over a small hill that dips down into a dry creek below. A gravel path meanders down from the deck to an area with picnic tables set around a large outdoor stone fireplace—a perfect setting for a wedding, though unfortunately the owners don’t rent it out to people they don’t know. They do host a number of wine and food events though.

Our pourer was a genuine French woman who said she liked Californian wines and America in general, California weather in particular. The wines at Halter Ranch were very different from Tablas, and overall I found them to either be too sweet or too acidic. Cat tongue. Taking a whiff of the 2004 Ancestor Estate Reserve was like sticking my face in a pile of slightly overripe sun-warmed plums. With a dash of vanilla. The definition of “fruit forward.” I’m picking up my wine terminology quickly these days.

I was somewhat tempted to get the 2008 Rose, since I thought it would be the perfect wine to drink with family. It has a very high alcohol content (a plus for family get-togethers), a super sweet nose, and is also very fruit forward. It’s a wine that my mother would like—considering that her favorite wine is Beringers White Zinfandel—and that I wouldn’t choke on (I hate White Zinfandel). But I’m not so rich as to bust money on a bottle that I don’t love, especially since most of my family really is quite happy with the Costco 6 pack of Beringers. Sometimes I think I am adopted.

My favorite part of Halter Ranch, besides the old covered bridge and the charming Victorian house, was the resident kitty. He looked like an Ossicat, with feral leopard-like spots, and apparently he appeared one day and decided to make Halter Ranch his home. Even Charles liked him, and he is decidedly a dog person.

Halter Ranch, $5 tasting fee
8910 Adelaida Road, Paso Robles.

Finding the mysterious Linne Calodo winery was tricky. We kept winding up a narrow road, checking addresses at every turn, doubling back once, until we finally found the almost unmarked entrance. Then we drove through the trees and saw a few large empty wood buildings. Thankfully there was a sign that said something like “Yes, our tasting room is open.” We wandered around to the back of one of the buildings, and sure enough, a door was open. Two people were inside: a young lady behind the counter, and a scruffy young man who struck me as a possible Santa Barbaran (they have a look – unwashed, moneyed, smart, and trying hard to assimilate with the plebeians). Charles thinks he might be a winemaker himself; the guy definitely knew his stuff and helped me find words to fit what I was tasting.

Of all the tasting rooms I’ve been to, I think I felt the most comfortable in this one. Which I really can’t explain. It’s not like the tasting room girl was exuberantly welcoming - but between her and the scruffy intellectual, I felt like I was hanging out with really wine-smart and fun friends. The conversation flowed freely, we got each other’s jokes, the chemistry was as good as the wine. And the wine was good. And expensive.

All the wines are reds, Rhone and Zinfandel varietals. We started with the round and rich 2006 Outsider. The 2006 Cherry Red however, blew me away. Blueberry and lavender nose, red with blue undertones for color, very fruit forward but with some toast on the end. I couldn’t even figure out how to describe the 2007 Problem Child, which is really embarrassing as a writer. I was also having trouble figuring out the 2007 Sticks & Stones until the scruffy gentleman suggested “cream soda” which suited it perfectly. The 2006 Nemesis had a big, powerful nose, a smooth mouth feel, and tasted like toast, burnt caramel and crème brulee with a smoky finish. I want to move in – just leave me at Linne Calodo. Will work for wine.

Linne Calodo, $10 tasting fee
3030 Vineyard Dr. Paso Robles.

Monday, June 8, 2009

If you can't take the heat, stay out of the kitchen and other sensible aphorisms

If you don't like water, don't go swimming.

If you don't like dancing, don't go out dancing.

If you don't like meat, don't eat meat. You see where I'm going with this...

Makes sense, right?

So why do some people read the travel section of a newspaper and complain that the TRAVEL WRITER isn't covering local places in his article?

Why do people click on the "Food Section," and then make the effort to click into the "Wine Section" and commence to complain about the wine industry and/or the evils of alcohol beneath a perfectly innocuous article?

I read a lot of newspapers and have been noticing this phenomenon more and more. If it doesn't happen to be my article that is the subject of complaint, then I gleefully - yes, gleefully - comment on the foolishness of these people just as bluntly as I've stated it here. But, alas, the people who like to complain have discovered my humble writings--and a writer just can't go around commenting on her own articles. Granted some of them are literally crazy-nuts, but some of them seem like fairly normal non-certifiably insane citizens. And yet...

Ok, I'm going to step back and get some perspective on this. ***Deep breath***
I am a writer, and my raison d'etre is to entertain. And these people are surely entertained by their own rantings. I understand better than most how fun it is to get riled up about something. So I suppose, in a way, I am increasing the nutzoid joy in the world. And far be it me to criticize anyone who takes the time to read something I've written, for whatever reason they're reading it. And who am I kidding? I'd rather get negative attention than no attention at all - at least I know that I am striking a chord.

Alright, I am back to my normally zen state. Mostly.

Friday, June 5, 2009

I Call Shotgun Part 5: Carmel and Monterey on foot, if not on toe

On Monday, the last day of our trip, we hobbled out of our hotel early to see the sites of Carmel. Fortunately, Carmel has a very small downtown lined with shops and secret courtyards, perfect for a morning walk – even when one of us was limping due to the aforementioned toe injury. I needed my coffee, so our first stop was the Carmel Coffee Roasters on Ocean Avenue. Every few feet we passed a dog, or two or three dogs, and sometimes a dog brawl accompanied by the owners’ surprised exclamations of “Oh, he’s never done that before!” and “he’s usually so friendly!”. Sure, lady. Little dogs like to get into fights; it’s part of their charm, and it’s also pretty funny to watch. Carmel is a dog-friendly town, so owners tend to understand the occasional snarls emitting from scrappy terriers. We walked down to the dog beach at the end of Ocean Avenue and saw dozens of people with their furry friends braving the cold coastal fog.

I wandered into a posh looking shop, attracted by a colorful dress in the window (my weakness), and was promptly approached by a tense saleswoman who took the coffee out of my hand and set it on the counter. While making the politest of remarks, of course. I wanted to tell her that I wasn’t exactly worried that the remaining 1/8th cup of coffee would find its way onto her $300 dress or the mink and chinchilla coats displayed 4 feet above my head along the wall. But I didn’t. What I really would have liked to explain to this lady is that I am a Santa Barbara girl, no stranger to overpriced “boutiques” like hers, and that I am more intimately familiar with expensive chinchilla fur than she will ever be. Granted, that’s because my grandmother used to raise and kill the adorable little rodents for fur. I would have left that part out. Instead, I left seething over the sheer nerve of the pompous sales-lady. And then I saw a small bottle of “vintage coke” in the neighboring art store’s window with a “SOLD” sign proudly displayed, and just had to laugh at the whole thing. Wealthy communities can be pretty quirky.

Just as I was cultivating a rather negative opinion of the stores in Carmel, Charles and I entered a hat shop down a little corridor off of Ocean Ave. Now, hat shop salespeople are my acid test for whether I warm to a community or not. If they let you try on all the hats you want with nary a glare, then I say they are good people and there is hope for the posh community yet. Harrod’s hat department, incidentally, has remarkably patient and kindly salespeople – even when their exorbitantly expensive hats are being manhandled by brash Americans (not me!). The Carmel Hat Company was a pleasure. The saleswoman obviously loves hats, and encourages patrons to enjoy them also. I’m always on the lookout for the perfect Cloche—but even with stacks of lovely hats, it was not to be found.

On a tip from my friend, the one who got married, we went to the Old Fisherman’s Wharf on Monterey Harbor. I immediately started snapping pictures of a sea lion rolling around in the surf. We walked along the pier, creating a trail that looked like a connect-the-dots route between clam chowder sample tables. And there were a lot of samples, chowder handed out in front of almost every restaurant, each person claiming to have “the best.”

Some were rich, thick and creamy, others were lighter, some had big chunks, some were watery – but they were all hot, which on a cold day by the sea, was delightful. I decided on Domenico’s on the Wharf; their clam chowder was very good (on the heavy, chunky side) and they had a bathroom, which after the coffee and clam chowder, was my top priority.

The restaurant also had a stunning view of the harbor. Sea lions lounged in a pile like puppies just outside the wall of windows, and giant pelicans launched themselves from the roof overhead. My giant clam chowder bread bowl warmed me up and laid a foundation of carbohydrates in my stomach in preparation for a second afternoon of wine tasting in Paso Robles on our drive down South.

Nothing on the To Do List

I just had a frightening moment. I looked at the dry-erase board where I write the list of articles I’m currently working on, and it was empty. I finished the last Brides blog post, I’m sending the Little Tokyo Fieldguide article to LA2Day tonight, my wine article was published yesterday, and earlier this week I sent a query to Westways to which I have not yet received a response (but they didn’t reject me outright which is a very good sign). For the first time in… a really long time, I have nothing I should be working on. With the exception of my blog, of course. But still, it’s a creepy feeling.

LA2Day has decided that paying writers costs too much money, as does keeping a staff. So they’ve cut funds for both, which means that I need to focus my energies elsewhere on paying gigs. I’m already compiling a list of ideas and places to pitch them, but I am forcing myself to hold off for 3 more weeks. Because it just wouldn’t do to be working my tail off in Kauai. And the fact that it’s tempting to do so may just be more frightening than my empty projects board.

Maybe I shouldn’t have had that second cup of coffee today…

Update: Since writing this post at 12:10, I have since dashed off another article, my second for (they haven’t put up the first piece yet, but they did pay me for it). After I check it over for typos and hunt down an appropriate picture, it will be ready to send. I really suck at taking breaks.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Gourmet on the Go - The Burger Bus in Santa Barbara

The novelty of the Kogi Korean BBQ truck has worn off for Angelenos, due in part to a highly publicized PR faux pas. But while Kogi has exhausted its 15 minutes of fame, Twittering foodies might consider turning their tweets towards a Burger Bus.

We’re not talking McD’s, or even the beloved In-n-Out style burgers. We’re talking grass-fed, hormone free beef, on bread from a local bakery with cheese and produce from the local farmers market. They even have falafel for vegetarians and “yam chips” which hold an inexplicable fascination for me.

So, same premise – gourmet food on wheels – but done Santa Barbara style. Yes friends, LA isn’t quite cool enough to come up with a Burger Bus like this. So if you’re tweeting away in Santa Barbara, check this place out: The Burger Bus

Hopefully The Burger Bus people will learn a thing or two from Kogi’s mistakes, or at least take some very good advice from my mother, who always told me “Never say anything you don’t want on the front page of the New York Times.”

Usually I don’t talk about other articles on my blog, but I wouldn’t have known anything about this if it wasn’t for George’s article in the Santa Barbara Independent today – so check that out too.

Ok, now back to writing about Little Tokyo for reals this time.

Cheap Wine Tasting in Santa Ynez - new article up

Stay tuned for my last installment of "I Call Shotgun" - I'll post it soon, I promise. Just have to dash off a Foodie Fieldguide to Little Tokyo by tomorrow.

In the meantime, check out my first foray into writing about wine-related subjects for pay, published today in the Santa Barbara Independent:

Five Tastings Under 10: Affordable Places to Taste Wine in the Santa Ynez Valley