Friday, December 30, 2011

New Years Trip: Day 4: St. Helena

Our final day of the Napa tour began at 8AM; it was a chilly 54 degrees and slightly overcast with a chance of rain.  The Napa Best Western was far superior to the Best Western in Seaside. I think they were completely relying on the fact that they were next to ocean.  You pay for waves there, not for room quality. Anyway, our continental breakfast included hard-boiled eggs and a waffle station, which made it more than continental, though I wouldn't go so far as to say it was interplanetary, so let's settle on continental-plus.

As soon as breakfast was over we headed to our first stop: lunch! Our wine tasting schedule was tight, since we had two appointments back to back right around lunchtime, so we would have to grab lunch in advance and eat it in a couple of hours (there were no restaurants near our two appointments). We stopped at an old-timey burger stand, previously called Taylor's Refreshers, but is now called Gott's Roadside. Though the original Taylor's sign is still up.  Probably just a matter of time before they tear it down to replace it with some neon light-up sign with a chainsaw rocket eating a dragon guitar or something.

Our first wine tasting of the day was at our favorite place: David Fulton. They make one kind of wine: Petite Syrah, and they make it better than anyone. Stephanie was our flavor engineer, and took us on a grand tour which included a few wines from her neighbors, a Sauvignon Blanc, something called One Last Kiss which was really nice crisp and drinkable white blend, a Zinfandel, and a Cabernet. And they all lead up to the Fulton '07, '08 and the '08 sweet petite (a port-style wine). The biggest surprise was how well the sweet petite paired with mint, of all flavors. Who would have thought wine and mint would go together? After we relished in the glory of our personal favorite (the '08), we took a little tour, where she discussed their process, how the equipment is used, and then showed us the 2011 wine resting in their barrels in the cellar (I'mma gonna drink that one day). David Fulton is a 150 year old winery and one of the oldest wineries in the valley.

One of the highlights of the tour was Trigger, the black lab. She was so friendly and wanted two things: to be petted and chase her tennis ball. Stephanie and Trigger were excellent hosts as we walked the grounds. The light mist provided a comforting ambience and Trigger tore through the mustard growing in the tracks between the now empty vines chasing after the ball.

We stayed at David Fulton as long as we possibly could, and finally had to leave in order to meet Christophe at the Titus winery. A tall, handsome and easy going fellow, he gave us the tasty tour of their Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, two Cabernets (a Franck and a Sauvignon), and a Syrah and a Petite Syrah. One of the things that is so fascinating about these wine tours, particularly of the smaller vineyards and wineries, is learning the history of the land, of the family who built it, and how they seek to develop their businesses into the 21st century. Christophe's tasting room was in a converted porch overlooking the vineyard. The porch was at the back of a very neat and inviting farmhouse, which just begged you to come in and have a glass of something.

It was time to have our lunch and we sat in the car eating our delicious sandwiches from Gott's Roadside. I had a sourdough burger covered in cheese bacon and some kind of delicious barbecue sauce. Gregory had an ahi burger that was really good. Beth got a turkey burger with cheese and some kind of delicious chutney and David had a cobb salad that had huge chunks of fresh chicken. This food was really good now, and I can only imagine how incredible it is when it's hot and fresh. Best roadside drive-in ever!

Our next appointment was at the Tedeschi family winery and the owner Emil was our host. Older and a bit shy, but clearly hardworking man led us through their process. This was a much smaller winery than the others. In fact at the end of the tasting, he pulled out the bottles and had to put labels on them before selling them to us. This was one of the most unique tastings of the trip. We started of with a Rose that was, get this, big and luscious. He led us through a few Cabernets, different years, and a lovely Syrah, but the biggest surprise of all was the dessert wine. I don't know if our taste buds were just in freakout by now, but this was one of the most lovely mellow sweet wines, not at all syrupy and not even really that sweet. He didn't have any that he could sell us though since they only made about 6 cases.

We bade the Tedeschi winery a bientot and headed to Heitz Cellars for some of what Beth recalled as amazing Cabernet. Perhaps this year was not their year, or perhaps our tastebuds were just completely shot by now, but their wines just weren't doing it for us. They did have a port that intrigued us enough to buy a bottle, however, and they have a lovely tasting room, also with a dog.  But this dog was a little high strung and not nearly as friendly as Trigger. I don't mean to play favorites, but I'll take the happy to see me dog with the slobbery tennis ball any day over a prissy dachshund mix that was so rude, it didn't even ignore me.

We had a while until dinner so we walked around downtown St. Helena. We stopped in a really yummy chocolate store, got a $2 chocolate that was definitely worth $2 of yum (I had rum-raisin and Gregory had a hazelnut milk chocolate; David tried a black cherry). We also stopped into an olive-oil store. Yes, they just sold olive oil, but that is something that some of the wineries around here also do.  In fact Titus also sold olive oil, but they were completely sold out. They only had a sampler for us to try and then disappoint, because it was REALLY good olive oil.

We stopped into a store that had olive oil among other things (like tapenades and sauces), but as one lady put it. "Hmm, it tastes just like oil." As in, unspectacular and boring. She and I found the owner and locking arms started shouting, "Booo!" until they agreed to close their doors forever!  Actually that didn't happen because you can buy Oliver's Olive Oils at Williams Sonoma. But why would you want to?

The good olive oil store had a pretty amazing selection of stuff. Flavored oils, as well as various balsamic vinegars, some honey and even truffle honey.

We ducked into a chatchka shop, and about the same time, Chris Parnell and his wife also wandered in, so we shopped and joked and knocked over displays and stole people's lunch money. His wife was pretty horrified. We decided we should probably part ways for the night, so they got back in their limo and took off into the night. Gregory and I went back in and bought a santa ornament (it was 50% off) to show our good will toward the shop. The owner was mad at all the damage. We also made sure to ask for an employment application before we left.

Our dinner tonight was at Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen, one of the four restaurants by owner of Mustard's Grill, Chef Cindy Pawleyn. We all wanted seven things each, but limited ourselves to two appetizers to share, one entree each, and one dessert also to share. We started with an order of oysters which were covered in garlic and melted cheese, which can make anything taste wonderful, and polenta fries, which were really interesting: big and thick like pillars. This was another meal of amazing. Beth ordered the duck burger, David ordered the quail, Gregory ordered meatloaf, and I had the pasta special which was a fancy delicious take on mac-n-cheese. I won't go into details, but we passed around bites of our meal, took pictures of everything including my pear-cognac based sidecar (delicious!) and Beth's spicy Gin and cilantro martini (scrumptious!). At the end of the meal, our dessert was a caramel pineapple upside down cake that we tore into like savage starving dogs. I think our wait-master, Tim (who, like Mo the night before, was (and likely still is) awesome), was surprised and perhaps a little nervous how quickly we dissected that meal to the last atom in record time.

Now, we have checked into our hotel, Beth has been put on an overnight bus back to Los Angeles (she is leaving for Vegas in the morning), and we are happy and tired at the end of a very satisfying day.  Tomorrow we head to Reno to relax and spend some time with family and share the results of our tasty adventures.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

New Years Trip: Day 3: Napa

Just to warn you, you're going to read a lot things described as "amazing" today.  Day 3 began with an early departure.  We needed to be on the road by 8AM because we had a three hour drive to Napa from Monterey (with potential pit stops and vista pointe (pr. "pointy") picture stops). The morning began crisp and cool as we left the Best Western at Seaside, picked up David from his room and went to pick up Beth from Mira and Glen's.

With Beth in the car, we were well on our way, passing by the restaurant with the big concrete Artichoke near Hollister, contemplating whether or not we should stop there for breakfast despite some of the lackluster reviews, when Beth realized that her camera battery was not in her bag.  And due to the fact that many of our appointments in the various wineries were due to her blogging and vlogging and twittering on Busy Beth's Blog about food, wine and various fun things to do and places of interest, we had to go back for it.

Luckily we weren't very far out of town. Due to this setback, however, our delicious dilemma was solved by returning to the Breakfast Club, which enabled me to try the Egg Nog Pecan Baked French Toast, which was pretty damn amazing. It also came with two eggs and bacon or sausage, which was unexpected as I had braced my blood sugar for a morning spike, but it ended up being only part of this complete breakfast. Other people ordered other stuff that I'm sure was good. The thing that was so amazing about my amazing French Toast is that it sounds-tooth rotting sweet, but it wasn't at all. Lots of flavor without the overwhelming sweetness. It was amazing!

We finally made it on the road headed toward Napa and our first appointment at Hendry Wineries at 1:30PM. As we neared our appointment, we passed through Gilroy and we opened the car windows to be greeted by the delicious and not-at-all-overpowering smell of garlic, something the entire car agreed was welcome, inviting images of delicious breads and savory dishes.

Being winter the clouds were low enough to be a high fog. It made the air hazy and wintry, as much as California can get: pine trees and other ever greens interspersed with deciduous trees of two varieties, the ones that can't be fooled and were therefore bare, and the ones that had difficulty deciding what season it was, with a smattering of green and some half turned leaves. The haze across the hillsides made everything appear somewhat gray, but somehow soft, perhaps fuzzy, like mold.

Despite the setback we arrived about an hour early, so we headed up the road to Hess winery. It was a beautiful facility, and as we headed toward the tasting room, there were big stone walls covered with old bare vines, a goldfish pond and nice lush and inviting landscaping. The entrance to the tasting room was elegantly decorated with large spruce trees covered in fake snow. Our pourer, or tasting engineer, was a lovely young lady whose name I can't recall, so let's just say her name was Appelonia. They had some very nice wines, but we had to get going to our next appointment, so we didn't purchase any.

The main appointment for the day was at Hendry's Winery. We passed by an old run-down abandoned looking house and drove to the tasting room. Our appointment was with Jeff and this was one of the most amazing wine-related experiences any of us have had. He talked about the history of the wines, the history of the winery, cork, and some of their new methods of wine making that have helped develop and continue to champion.  He is a mechanical engineer and the winery owner George Hendry was an electrical engineer and they worked together on technology that is used in PET scans and cancer research. Aside from the wine, he was a fascinating person!

Jeff talked about the depletion of cork and the unpredictability of it versus the discs inside some screw cap wines which can precisely control the amount of oxygen allowed into the wine bottle. And further explained the advantage to these discs over synthetic corks, being that synthetics don't breathe at all, which is not desired either. He talked about each wine as we tried it in such detail, even if you didn't care much for, or didn't know much about wine, you would have to be a damned fool to not have learned something.

He talked about what to expect if you were to own a vineyard and how much money you would need, and pretty much talked us out of ever wanting to own one (not that it was ever on my list, but still). For example if you plant a new grape vine: 3 years until it bears fruit, then 4 years until it gets out of its adolescent stage, and once adult, the wine would be bottled for 2 - 3 years before it was drinkable, so 10 years before you get anything drinkable out of it.

They had some really amazing wines and after the tasting we got a tour of the grounds, the facility and got to see the room where their wines are barreled. He let us smell a barrel that was in good condition and a barrel that had "gone bad." I expected it would smell of vinegar, but it smelled like acetone!  The good barrel smelled sooo good.

One last thing I wanted to mention about Hendry's was the wine naming.  Being that both Jeff and George were engineers, their wine names lacked a bit of creativity, for example their bordeaux mixture, rather than being called something like "Bored Doe" as Jeff once suggested, or also Menage a Cinc (French for five since this was a five-wine combo) it was simply called "Red." And their special mixture of Zinfandel from Block 7 and Block 22 were called: "Block 7 & 22 Zinfandel." But getting a little insight into their personalities gave these names a little distinctive charm. They had some nice CAD maps of the property too.

It also turned out the vineyard owner George lived in that rundown house we passed. He also seemed like quite the character, though we didn't get to meet him.

This took the majority of the afternoon and so well worth our time.  But we managed to cram in one final stop and that was at the Napa Cellars and Folie a Deux (makers of the Menage a Trois - a simple but very drinkable wine). Dean was our guy and he gave us the grand tour. Gregory and I had learned of Napa Cellars from the wine tasting at Palermo where we tried the 2007 Cabernet.  We bought a couple of bottles of 2009 Cab, a special limited Syrah, a big beefy Zin, as well as some Muscat (or as I like to call it Muskrat).

For dinner we had one of the most amazing meals this year, if not of all time. Mustards Grill is one of the best restaurants in the Napa Valley, and when we asked Dean about it he raved.  Light sticks and all.  It is described as "Casual yet refined Truckstop fare."  Everything has an air of fun and confidence.  They know the food is good enough so they can have a sense of levity.  many of the items on the menu are labeled A.Q. (as quoted (by the server)). The wine list is labeled "All the wine that's fit to drink."  And the cocktail of the day bears the additional description of "Ask your server about today's 'experiment' (it's alive! ALIVE!)."  I ordered one of those and it was a sidecar, and it came alive and drove around inside my mouth. We ordered a couple of appetizers: the Ahi Tuna Crackers with wasabi creme fraiche and soy vinaigrette. The tuna was pepper seared, the tuna was so fresh and flavorful, even the peppery crust was amazing; the crackers had both regular and toasted sesame seeds.  it was topped with basil and green onions.  We also ordered crispy calamari with a curry slaw and fresno chilies, which Gregory thought was the best calamari ever.

I ordered the "Truckstop Deluxe: Always meat, often potatoes, rarely vegetables." This was a T-bone steak with some light mash and some of the most amazing broccoli.  It was smoky and had spicy red pepper chile flakes. Gregory ordered the Mongolian Pork Chop with sweet & sour red cabbage and a house made mustard.  It was the best pork chop ever.  And before you argue about, "I had a really good pork chop at so and so," please consider this: fuck you.  Until you eat a pork chop at a Michelin recommended restaurant, keep your stupid pork chop to yourself.

David ordered one of the most transcendent looking hamburgers, which is one of their specialties; really good fries too. Beth ordered a lemon and garlic chicken that had the best chicken skin. Gregory wanted to order just a plate of it, and I have a feeling they would have accommodated. Mo was our waitress and she was awesome.

For dessert, oh yes, there was dessert: creme brûlée (yes, some of the best) and it was served with a walnut cookie, that was amazing and even moreso when consumed together. We also ordered a waffle topped with berry business and (get this) cardamom ice cream. We also ordered lemon-lime tart with brown sugar meringue. The meringue was piled about a foot high, which we discovered when we found a foot in it.  Needless to sway, the foot was grilled to perfection, and was the best foot any of us had ever eaten.

We need to sleep now because we have a full day of drinking wine and more amazing food planned for tomorrow.  Now off to some happy or weird dreams. I welcome both.

But first I have to beat up Gregory because he keeps reading menus of other amazing restaurants we will be visiting in the days to come, and I keep hearing things like, "ooh tarragon basil butter," and "ooh this sounds good! prosciutto tomato benedict!". To the moon!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Joey and Splashes

New Years Trip: Day 2: Monterey

Our second day began after a short night's sleep.  The conversation with Mira and Glen lasted in to the wee hours, but not too wee, but still insufficient.

So we prepared ourselves for departure and our first stop was breakfast: The Breakfast Club.  This was a pretty basic place, nothing particularly fancy, but they had quite the impressive selection of benedicts: crab cake, corned beef hash, salmon and many more. The hollandaise was flowing by the bucketful.  I got an omelette with a biscuit and gravy and a side of hash browns.  The biscuit and gravy was particularly good.  We also ordered one of their specialities: Bananas Foster French toast.  Equally intriguing, but we didn't have room for it was the egg-nog pecan baked French toast (they had quite a selection of Frenched toasts as well).

We ate more than we should, but you're supposed to eat like a king at breakfast right?  In true Fisher fashion we discussed where we would eat breakfast the following day before the current gorge-fest adjourned.

Our next stop took us on a lovely walk to Lover's Point (apparently shortened from Jesus Lovers Point). It did seem as though there were a lot of nuns around, perhaps not coincidentally.  The ocean cooperated spectacularly: it crashed photogenically against the rocky coast and did the cute little oceany things you expect it to do. It was adorable, all posing and whooshy.  We saw seals beached like fuzzy slugs and otters who were no doubt doing something cute but were too far out in the ocean for us to see clearly.

The sun came out and it was quite warm (not that warm, but enough to at least remove the winter coat I brought).  Given the continuous walking and having the opportunity to push Mira and Glen's daughter Kyna in the stroller kept my body temperature at an even keel. I was just happy that Kyna didn't seem as terrified of me as the last time we met. She hardly screamed at all at the mere site of me.

There was a cove that must have captured the heat well since several people were playing on the beach as if it were July, and children frolicked in the waves.  They were either from Alaska and this was warm to them, or they were completely insane.  It would explain their howls of laughter, their sad and terrible howls of mad laughter.  It would also explain why the dead seal floating on the waves nearby didn't seem to bother them.

We walked back to the car and drove to downtown Monterey to wander the Fisherman's Wharf and meet up with John, Terry and Lara Fisher.  We wandered down restaurant row sampling the clam chowder the restaurants were using to try and lure us in.  We weren't falling for it, though.  We had plans on visiting the Museum Of Monterey, or MOM.

MOM had a really cool display / fundraiser idea: miniatures.  There were tons of them, and tons of different styles, local, regional, amateur and professional and running the gamut from paintings or drawings, photos, to small sculptures, and in a variety of media, styles and subject matter.  The idea was you could purchase raffle tickets, and each participating work had a box under it where you would put your tickets.  If your ticket is chosen, you win that work.  It's a pretty brilliant idea, and many of the works were really interesting, so we bought 7 tickets for $30, and chose which works we wanted.  They initially told me to come back tomorrow, but I told him we were leaving town, and that I had already scoped out my selections, so I would only take me a minute.  I'm sure he was happy to have one last sale for the day.

By now it was beginning to get dark and we had our sites and appetites set on dinner.  Mira, Kyna and Beth and the rest of the Fisher clan departed for Mira's.  Gregory, David and I found a Thai restaurant that seemed pretty good. We often get the same things at Thai restaurants to judge their quality.  They had really good Tom Kah soup and the rice was good.  The mild Panang was more like a medium.  It had a good flavor though, and I would have to say 3.5 out of 5.

We are wrapping up today a bit early since tomorrow we have to depart for Napa, which will be a good 3 hour drive.

Around Monterey Day 2

Joe & Beth have been onioned

Day 1: New Year's Trip: The Leavinging

I'm calling this the New Year's Trip, since that is the culmination of our vacation.  It is the 3rd day of Christmas, the 27th of December and we are en route to our ultimate destination: Reno and a small mini extra belated Christmas with my family and to celebrate New Years.  We will first spend some time in Monterey and then some time in Napa before arriving in the Biggest Little City (Sin City's whorish younger sister).

We have with us Beth Fisher and David Sobolov, the four of us traveling in a rental car, a silver Chevy Malibu.  Gregory did the driving for this first leg of our journey and was lamenting the non-use of his far superior car (the Ford Fusion), though happy he avoided the wear and tear of a long driving trip.

There is not too much to report this first day as it was primarily driving with few stops.  The first was lunch, as we got on the road out from Los Angeles around 2PM and were starving, we stopped in Camarillo at Brendan's Irish Pub.  This place seems like a chain at first glance, but only because all the decor has such cohesion.  The food is really good and they have so many little extras, special events, bands and a whiskey club, that I seriously am sad there isn't a location nearer to where we live.  A Burbank location would be perfect.

We stopped to pee at the Madonna Inn.  If you haven't been to this place, you need to stop here.  It is crazy, and at Xmas time, I would say this is doubly so.  I don't know if I can begin to describe this beyond David's remark, "it looks like the 60's threw up all over."  But I may venture further to help you draw this picture: Haunted Mansion at Valentine's.  There's something malevolent about that retro decor. It's so aggressively cheery.  Lights, xmas scenes, big gaudy ornaments on garlands topped with batting to substitute for snow.  (Sidebar: Christmas is strange, let's bring trees and a fabric approximation of snow inside of our house!)  They have a bathroom with a urinal latrine that is made of rock and has a big waterfall.  I don't know what to say about this place, only that I imagine everything here costs a lot.  I'm surprised they didn't have a bathroom attendant.  Don't get me wrong, they could have used one (since people seem to like to pee on the floor and all over the toilets in public restrooms (why is this? you do know that you don't own it after, right?)).

We continued our drive listening to a book on tape, and stopped again at a Mediterranean restaurant called Jaffa Cafe, in a residential neighborhood in some town.  It had undeserved four stars on Yelp, but we walked in anyway.  The food was good, but not four-stars-good, however the staff was four-stars nice, and the serving girl had four-stars boobies.  I just had a couple of appetizers, falafel and stuffed grape leaves.  They had a strange system of filling out a card, as in check the box of what you want, we make it, you eat it, then you pay for whatever you had.  It was strange, but unique and different.

We arrived in Monterey to the wonderful site of Mira and Glen and their lovely home, where were plied into friendly conversation with drinks and a cat (two things against which I am helpless).  I surrendered gratefully and we chatted and laughed about various things and fun stories, none of which I intend to share, since they wouldn't make any sense now out of context.  Beth is staying with them, and Gregory, David and I have a hotel a couple of miles away.  Tomorrow we meet for breakfast.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

It's time.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Amazing Time Laps Video

Check this out at full screen and with the sound up for max enjoyment...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Drivecation 0-11: Day 13 - Home again

Our last day was a blur of excitement.  We stayed one night in San Fran at an extended stay hotel.  The room was nice enough and we had an early breakfast with Josh.  The cracks began to show as our culinary gorge-fest was winding down.  Who serves a crepe filled with strawberry and pineapple?  It didn't work.  It doesn't work.  Don't do it again.  I stuck the entire plate on a stake and lit it on fire as a warning to future diners.

But we were there for the company.  It was really nice to visit with Josh again, and hopefully we can make another trip so we can spend more time.  After we left, I was sucked by a violent wind into the Halloween shop, which was next door.  We got a lot of good ideas for this year (Invitations will go out soon!).

We left for the Disney Family Museum, which is operated by the Disney Family, and the exhibit is of the entire life of Walt, the man.  From his early childhood all the way through his death.  There are two or three huge rooms before you even get to the creation of Oswald.  It's one of the coolest museums I have been to.  All the information was presented in such unique and interesting ways, and as technology progressed throughout the century, so did the technology with how they presented the information.  From simple audio broadcasts to eventually touch screen, and other interactive technology.  I don't know how little kids would like this, but pre-teens on up would enjoy it.  It was like walking through a biography special.  Highly recommended.

Time for lunch!  Our final recommendation from the couple we met in Eureka: Sushi Ran in Sausilito.  It was a very nice restaurant located around a bunch of other nice shops near the water.  The menu was pretty traditional, but he combined--I hesitate to "ordinary," but I already used the word "traditional," and the quality of the fish was anything but "ordinary," seriously some of the best sushi I have ever had!--ordinary ingredients in new and fun ways.  There was eel, with cucumber and tamago, which is the sweet egg (think scrambled egg omlette in a rectangle shape), so you have this warm delicious eel and rice and seaweed, and then a crunchy cucumber and suddenly the sweet egg, which works so well, since eel sauce is itself sweet--I believe it's made with sugar and soy.  It was really yummy.  Then we had a creamy scallop roll, which was made with scallops and crack.  We debated if we should order a palette of those.  Sooo good.

And the tea!  It was nice to go to a Japanese restaurant that actually has a modest assortment of tea.  Nothing crazy, but there were a couple of different herbal infusions, as well as green, white, and black flavors to choose from.  I'm so sick of the cheap-ass brown-rice green tea being the only option in LA.  Can't you at least offer some cheap-ass jasmine tea?  We all know you can buy that shit cheap.  Why the hold-out?

We had never been to Sausilito before and it was nice, except for all the cyclists we ran over.  God, the screaming!  So annoying.

By this time, it was getting late, and it was going to be tight if we were going to make it to Cupertino to buy some Apple merch.  You seriously think we're going to pass up that opportunity?  Why do you think we came this way?  We made it there just before closing, praise Jesus.  But last minute shopping cram wasn't over, because there are Outlets in Gilroy.  No, no, my friends, not just garlic, but also savings opportunities, and lord knows we didn't spend enough money on crap already.

By this point, like my writing aptitude in this essay, I was done.  Put me in the teleport machine and get me home.  Unfortunately that teleport machine was going to take five hours, and one of us would have to operate it continuously.  By this point, there was no way we were going to make it before midnight.  Work tomorrow was going to suck.  For our official final meal of our vacation, it was a double-double at In N Out.  It was delicious.

The trip back was uneventful.  We listened to an audio book for a while, and when Gregory was starting to get a little sleepy, I took over driving and we talked the rest of the drive home.  We arrived home around 1AM, and dropped all of our bags in the front room, to the combined delight and terror of the cats (aah! who are these people?, and yay! a jungle gym!).  We collapsed, ready to let the post vacation sugar plums, dance in our heads.  Portland was nice.  I'm intrigued enough to visit again in a serious way--not just a casual date, but a date-date.  There are many things still to do, most notably the seven-million-picture flip-book that needs photoshopped.  We look forward to seeing our friends again, too, of course.  But I have a feeling the next time we visit, we're going to fly.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Drivecation 0-11: Day 12: Unexpected Detour

This morning we retaliated like Twisted Sister when we awoke to more gray skies, white foggy blur, and cold, wet weather.  We're not gonna take it...anymooore!  We ate our hotel's complimentary full breakfast, which included the following: B&G, a pancake machine, scrambled eggs, potatoes, cereals, some pitiful pastries, bananas that looked half beat to death, a variety of juices, milk and coffee.  It's part of your complete hospital breakfast.  We selected some of the least offensive items, and picked at them until we realized, "who are we kidding?"  We threw that shit away and left.  A for effort, but we had new plans for the day and were excited to get going:

Our ultimate destination for today was San Francisco, and since our dinner plans with Joshy changed to breakfast plans tomorrow, we had the rest of today to adventure. We decided to leave the miserable coast, who just didn't get the memo that it's summer, and headed inland toward the Napa Valley and wine country, USA.  Sorry coast, it's not me, it's you.  You need to work on your issues, and I'm going to go get blasted.

We were sad to discover the road from Fort Braggamemnon to the Napa Valley was another windy road, but this time, I can use the adjective treacherous.  The speed limits on many of these roads was 55, which was very generous and possibly daring, as if the highway department were given the job of population control.  There were some seriously dangerous blind turns and descending S curves where if you made a turn just a little too wide while another car was coming the other way--or as we encountered many times, a giant truck with highway-fixin' gear--blammo.

We managed to make it to the northern part of the wine country without dying or vomiting.  We would have to be content with living healthy lives.  Ugh.

So one of the things which most excited me about the wine country, aside from EVERYTHING!, was there was one particular winery whose wine I had at a tasting at Palermo back in January or so.  The winery was one of the oldest and the only made one thing: Petite Syrah, and this is the most amazing wine I have ever had.  It just stood head and shoulders above all the other wines we tasted and I was excited to travel to the winery and see it for myself.  A little research showed they only do tastings by appointment, and it was pretty expensive.  I was apprehensive to spend $45 per person to taste the wine, especially since Gregory isn't very interested in it--though I felt he would like this.  And it was our anniversary... he talked me into it, saying, "Let's just do it.  Who cares?"

We tried the 2006 and the 2007 and the even let us try a barrel sample of something they call the Sweet Petite, which is a port-like wine that was just fabulous and interesting and plain delicious.  We also joined their wine club and bought a few 375's.

After that, we stopped at a lunch place that had over 600 Yelp reviews and still had 4 1/2 stars.  Amazing!  And it was!  The key lime pie was something special there.  Our food was really good, but that pie was spectacular.  Our waitress was really nice.  I wanted to take her home, but apparently kidnapping is frowned upon.  Besides I really couldn't think of what I would need a waitress for.  I decided to let her stay and she seemed very grateful to be let out of the trunk.

We decided to cruise quickly into the city of Napa and then over to it's rival Sonoma.  The war between them must have waned, because it appeared they had stopped firing canons at each other.  That must be what happens when the wineries close at 5:30.  We frantically searched for the slutty wineries that stayed open later and we found a black-laced Nicholson Ranch that wooed us in with some pinots, but sealed deal with their merlot, a surprising move I didn't expect to like.  We also bought a clock from them.  Because.

After that we headed in to San Fran over the Golden Gate as the fog was rolling in.  Oh great.  More fog. Well at least here, you can expect shitty weather year round.  We had scoped our our restaurant of choice, with the help of the lovely couple a few nights prior, and parked.  Gregory had the idea to swing on over to the Disney store for some merch, and insisted it's not that far.  Oh, sure only a couple of miles in the freezing cold wind.  And to make matters worse, we elected to head down Market street, the urine-soaked homeless crazy magnet.  And they were out in full force.

We made it to the Disney store and I ducked out to make a quick loop through the Macy's clearance racks--meh, it was a very quick loop, and we reconvened.  I have decided that I hate San Francisco, or at least I was all set to, when, as Gregory and I met up on the street, some trumpet player was belting out some jazz somewhere up the street and it echoed off the buildings and sounded so haunting and so "city."  We set out for our anniversary dinner at the gourmet restaurant recommendation: Absinthe.

We had a 9PM reservation and were there exactly on time.  Steak tare-tare was on the menu and was irresistible and delicious.  Gregory ordered the Hawaiian Opah (Sun Fish) with Blue Prawns.  I had the Lamb Shoulder Confit, and a wine that was a Cab-Merlot-Syrah mix (like a transformer).  Everything was delicious, amazingly delicious.  The Opah was flavorful and unlike anything I had in recent memory.  The lamb was so delicate you didn't even need a knife.  For dessert, I ordered the Manjari Chocolate Mousse, which featured raspberries and a rooibos tea sauce.  Gregory had buttermilk Panna Cotta with a basil meringue, and a layer of strawberry and some crunchy shit.  Oh my god.  It was BEWILDERINGLY amazing.  I just wanted to cry it was so delicious.  The flavors were flying!  The sensations of a delicious meal just enveloped our entire being.  It was a wonderful end to our vacation and a beautiful anniversary dinner.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Drivecation 0-11: Day 11

Our vacation goes up to 11!  Today was a challenging day to find a breakfast place, being the holiday.  We ended up driving through Eureka, which is a town roughly the size of Elko, but severely lacking in any kind of cultural center.  Elko has a pretty cohesive rustic charm, and this just seemed all over the place, a freshly restored and painted building done up in a turn-of-the-century style and on the next block, an abandoned, rusted out killin' shack.

Yelp led us to a bagel place, but they didn't publish their hours, and turned out to be closed.  It was just as well, because just down the street was a nice little breakfast place called Old Towne Coffee and Chocolates.  I ordered a plain bagel with fresh blackberry jam, and Gregory ordered a lox and cream cheese bagel.  The bagels were light and easy to chew: everything we like in a bagel.  They had a Mexican mocha, which was basically Abuelita with a shot of espresso (if you haven't had Abuelita, it's a yummy chocolatey drink now available in your local grocery store.  Ask for it by name!).  Gregory ordered a Chai and was faced with the option of sweet or spicy.  He went for spicy, which surprised me, and when it came, surprised us both, really.  Boy was it ever.  Cardamom up your nose!  It was also hot like a cup of lava, and remained so for quite some time.  I'm surprised it didn't melt the cup.  It took about four hours before we could start to sip it, but it was possibly the best Chai I have had.

We decided to continue our drive south, which took us away from the coast and slightly inland, and hopped off of Highway 101, and took the Avenue of the Giants, which was basically a smaller windier road through lush Redwoods.  These were slightly different from the day before, in that the temperature was much higher--in the 70's!--and the forest floor was less lush.  It was more dirt and less overgrown, the occasional fern and clover, and also more varied tree types.  But the Redwoods were no less impressive.

We hiked on several trails and took a ton more pictures, and just spent time looking and enjoying the wilderness.

We continued down the Avenue, which eventually ended and rejoined Highway 101, which took us over the mountains and back to the coast.  Call this road what you will, "that goddam road," "the mangler," "the vomitorium."  This is the windiest highway in the universe.  Lombard Street has nothing on this.  You can't get going fast enough down Lombard to even make you queasy.  I didn't really get car sick, but felt a little uncomfortable and I was driving.  Gregory felt a little uneasy, but I think that it was mostly due to my driving, since he made me pull over so he could drive--well, coupled with the cartoon-like sheer cliff, fall-to-your-death-if-you-drive-off-the-shoulder, didn't help either.

We finally made it to the California coast and headed for our next destination: the town of Fort Bragg, a speed bump in the highway on your way to San Francisco, which, the only speed bumps I can think of are roadkill.  So, yes, a dead-animal of a town along the northern California coast: welcome to Fort Bragg.  I'm kidding.  Let's go with wounded animal.  Yes, a badger-with-a-mangled-rear-leg of a town: Fort Bragg!  You're welcome!

Speaking of meat, for dinner, Gregory ordered a bacon-wrapped filet mignon rare, and I a porterhouse medium rare, with brandy-cream sauce, garlic mash, and veggies.  The veggies aren't anything to write home about (are they ever?), which I find so strange.  The last couple of experiences with the steamed or grilled veggies have been so whatevery, clearly they are some afterthought, or obligatory thing that has to appear on the plate due to some regulation.  You can't think of anything better to do with carrots or squash?

Did I mention our waiter was Tom Selleck?  He didn't have an alligator to wrestle, but that's probably because it was 55 degrees outside.  What is up with this crazy weather?  Is it always this foggy and miserable on the NoCal coast?  In August?  It feels like LA winter, including the cold bite in the sea air.

Anwyay, Gregory's steak arrived not only rare, but European-rare.  Mine was American medium-rare, and the leap was surprising.  It was yummy, though.  Seared and even a little cold on the inside.  So tender and delicious... Tom brought us Creme Brûlée for dessert, since it was the only thing they made there (the other options were food-service items, and we wanted some home-cookin'), and this was the thickest brûléed creme I have ever had: it was thick like cheesecake or spread.  The sugar layer on the top wasn't thick enough for my personal liking, but overall it tasted good, and it was in front of us so, like dogs, we ate it.  We bade Tom farewell, and returned to our room at a Holiday Inn Express.  I don't know if all the HIE's have the same soap, but ours smells like gingerbread, and it is all I can do to keep from absently gnawing on my arm, as I type this.

Tomorrow we need to get an early start to make sure we maintain our schedule.  One of our objectives is to meet up with Joshy and he has limited time between his jobs tomorrow to meet, so that means an early dinner, which also means an early everything else if we want to cram in as much in as possible before our arrival in San Mateo no later than 4PM.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Day 10 - From Crescent City to Eureka

Today was a nice and gentle driving day.  We didn't have far to go, and there were several fun detours.  We started off by finding a nice breakfast place to get an omelette and coffee.  Gregory had the Monte Cristo.  I knew the restaurant was going to be good just by the nature of our waitress.  She had the know-how and charm that you expect in a small town establishment and I was ready to profess my love when she returned with my bacon-avacado-cheese omelette (which had been topped off with a little sour cream) along with my buttered toast and side of heart medication.  Since I was already married, she was just going to have to settle for my thanks, and five bucks.

We drove through the booming metropolis that is Crescent City, past the happenin' empty park and a bustling row of empty buildings, over near the coast where some large rocks and a lighthouse were enveloped in heavy fog.  Being late morning, the sun was up, making the surroundings really into a blur, which made me wonder why so many people had gathered at the coast.  It was cold, by the way, like 55 fahrenheit degrees--that's the high.  I had pants a short sleeve shirt, a long sleeve shirt, and a hoodie on.  I pondered taking some dirty clothes and creating a make-shift parka around me.  It was cold and wet and a lot of people were gathered to look at "the blur."  I can't imagine that as a draw, but given the exciting pitch of what we had seen of the town, I can't think of anything better to do.

"Come on, everyone, we're going to go down and look at the blur!"

After three minutes of photographing rocks, water, and white, we decided we just couldn't art up the photo essay of our trip any more and left for literally greener pastures.

The next stop was a bit north.  We allowed ourselves to back-track slightly to visit the Jedidiah Smith State Park, which was a Redwood Forest and a 90-spot camp ground.  The river was incredibly wide and the water was the cleanest and clearest I had ever seen in a body of water such as that.  It was pretty shallow, but as clear as glass (that was wavy and perhaps made of water).

We hiked the 1.5 miles, but it felt more like 2.5 due to the twists and turns.  I wore the Go-Pro camera on my head with a headband and a lot of people asked me if I worked for Google.  I replied to each and every one with a pie in the face.  Unfortunately Gregory was stuck having to haul a refrigerator of pies with us through the wilderness.  One thing that has been entertaining about the GoPro on this trip, either on one of us, or on the car, 99% of the time, if there is a guy and a girl, the guy will look with interest, the girl won't even notice.  The one exception was a car full of girls who waved and were all excited to see it.  We decided those girls whoever they were, rocked.

The campgrounds were really neat, though too crowded for me, but as a kid, I would have LOVED it.  Tons of trails and other kids to play with, and the place was pretty good sized, but not so big that you would get lost.  Plenty to do to fill the day, and night.  Seeing these big families assembled, and the smell of campfires took me back to when I went camping with my family in places similar to this.  It also made me want s'mores.

The trees were amazing.  It looked like Endor, and being in California, there is a good chance it probably WAS Endor.  The ferns and ground cover were bright green against the dark ruddy brown of the immense trees.  The other thing I found so amazing was not only the size of the trees, but how dense they were, that the soil had enough nutrients to power so many gigantic trees in such a small space.  I know my description isn't going to do this justice.  I took enough pictures to completely re-create the forest (but don't worry, I'll post them online, so they won't have to chop down the forest to cover having them printed).

Our next stop was at the TREES OF MYSTERY a few miles south.  This was also a Redwood forest, but it felt much more ancient.  The early Indians thought of this place as sacred and walking around, you can see why.  There is just an aura about it that speaks from such an old place in history.  It's awe-inspiring, and tough to describe.  Gregory had been here as a child and remembered parts of it, but since then they added a gondola ride to the summit, which supposedly had a nice view.  Those are things that we like, so we gave them our money and ascended to the top.  Ordinarily they offer a view to the ocean, but since the weather at the beach was "blur," we had a view of the trees fading to white, and then some blue stuff above that.  I think they call that the sky.  Ugh!  See what Crescent City can do to you?  Get out now, while you still can!

There were some incredible trees and the things I liked the most were the full sized trees growing out of other trees.  I'm not talking about branches.  These were more than branches.  These were trees grown on branches.  It was an amazing sight to behold.

We stopped along the highway a couple of times to take pictures.  One of the things we happened upon was a herd of 20 or so elk--big elk--just hanging out by the beach.  A lot of people stopped to take pictures.  I put on my eatin' dress.  They looked so tasty, just hanging out by the thick salty sea air.  It was as if they were brining up!

We checked in at our hotel, luxuriating in our extremely non-smoking room, and figured out where to go to dinner.  Our good friends at Yelp suggested Brick & Fire, a little bistro somewhere in town (I would have said "near downtown," or at "such and such neighborhood" but I know nothing about Eureka).  Chèvre stuffed figs wrapped in prociutto and a seafood stuffed calamari filet got us off on the right foot.  I sipped a pinot grigio in anticipation of our mushroom pasta, which was light and beautiful with a variety of wild mushrooms.  For dessert we had Amaretto drizzled peaches over Spanish bread.  It was quite yummy!

The funnest part about dinner is we met a couple from the San Francisco area and they gave us a number of restaurant suggestions between here and there, and also in the city.  They were really nice and also on an anniversary trip, and we had a good time chatting with them about Portland and San Diego, and various other topics.  We talked about inviting them over for a game of Hungry-Hungry Hippos, but it was getting late, and I still needed to flush the sand out of my Slenderalls.  More adventures tomorrow!

Day 9 - Portland to Crescent City

Today was our catch-up day.  We needed to get to our hotel in Crescent City which was a seven-hour drive, and there were two ways to go:  the way we would have gone on the highways to the 101 (different from the LA 101) and down the coast, or more of a straight shot along the freeway.

We decided to see as much as we could so we elected the back-highways.  We left our lovely hotel room at the Modera, and said farewell to Portland, whose undeniable charm has us intrigued enough to return soon--aside from the bonus of having friends there (Meagan and Jim, we miss you already!).  Today was all about driving, driving, driving.  As a result, there were many lovely looking places that we passed, cute towns with shops and junk, vista points, and other various places.  We wanted to stop, but we were pressed for time, so when we did, our stops were short, the shutters flew, and we hopped in the car to continue to the trip.

The first city where our hotel was to be was Newport.  We stopped here for lunch.  It looked like a beautiful little town, but we sadly never left the highway.

Our next town was Gold Coast.  I don't think we even stopped here… I don't even remember it.

The light began to fade, and as we neared the California / Oregon border the foggy marine layer moved in, and the atmosphere became mysterious.  The drive became a challenge and fog lights came in handy.  I'm sure Gregory was white-knuckled as we sped through the foggy darkness.

We came to Crescent City and were disappointed that our room was a smoking room.  They were completely booked up, as were all the other hotels in the area, being a holiday weekend.  We apparently forgot to check "non" when we made the reservation.  It wasn't horrible.  I had smelled worse.  It only smelled a little like freshly smoked cat pee and vomit (why people smoke cigarettes is still beyond me).

It was 9PM by now and we needed to find a small-town restaurant that was still open.  The best recommendation was the restaurant attached to the Best Western down the street: the Northwoods (the real recommended place was already closed, so this the concierge's second choice).  Overall it was good.  Gregory had sturgeon and I had scallops and steak, which also came with veggies and a side of garlic fettucini, plus a trip to the soup and salad bar, because I needed to eat a giant mountain of food at 9:30 at night.  We opted for a slice of blackberry pie for dessert as it was actually made there.  It had an almost bready crust, not a flaky pastry pie crust.  It was fine, like having pie from someone whom this is their first attempt at making pie.  Like, "isn't this adorable," and "ooh yummy!"


Really it was fine.  We were just tired from the trip and were grumpy about the room.  We discovered in the morning, that we have a lovely view from our room, and we can see and hear the ocean.  Our next task is to find a breakfast place with some good coffee.  And then it's on to the Redwoods!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Portland (or rather, Elko) Day 7 and 8

There was much to do in Elko to make the final preparations for Grandpa's service. One thing that was decided prior to my arrival, had to do with the music, which previously consisted of some big band music from the 50's and 60's, but was to be replaced entirely with music which I composed. It was up to me to select the tracks and I had to peruse my catalogue for something emotionally appropriate.  So, no Star Wars parody or werewolf music.

I assembled a list that everyone approved, so I made arrangements to burn a CD at Johnny's house that night.

Around dinner, Kelly, Johnny and I got together to coordinate our thoughts for the service which took place Friday morning.  Being so many years apart we had very different experiences:  Kelly still remembered Grandpa's first wife, Evelyn (who was nicknamed Teddy).  Johnny only slightly remembered her, and I never knew her.

Sometime after Teddy died, Grandpa married a friend whom many of the family knew.  I grew up with Grandpa Doug and Grandma Gen and didn't learn about Teddy until I was old enough to understand the bramble that is our family tree.

While I was growing up Grandpa was retired and he and Gen traveled a lot, and spent the winters near Vegas.  Kelly spent time with Grandpa growing up and even worked for him at his store while Grandpa still owned it, but of the three of us, Johnny spent the most time with Grandpa and Uncle John.  They were into hunting, fishing, and Uncle John and Johnny were into water skiing.  Grandpa owned an auto-parts and sporting goods store called PM Supply, and was a very good, and well-respected, businessman.  A few old timers commented about how that was when business was conducted with a handshake and your word meant something, and that, men like Grandpa built towns because of their business acumen and ethics.  It was a damn stirring tribute.

Grandpa was an early adopter and gadget guy, with things like color TV, a remote control TV, a microwave, and he was also into model airplanes and carpentry (skills he got from his father, who was born in Sweden and trained as a cabinet maker).

One of the cool revelatory things was that because he had invested in properties in the Ruby Marshes and out at Wildhorse, it basically provided a place for the family to gather, and all the guns and boats and other toys and various sporting activities provided a childhood for his kids and grandkids and great-grandkids. It was really neat to think of everything he had accomplished by doing this.

It was nice to reminisce and also to spend time together.  And I was all the happier that it really felt like a celebration of his life.  Grandpa was a very active guy, and only went seriously downhill in the last year or two.  All the hiking he did while hunting all those years earlier.  Cardio seriously pays off.

I have often felt that if you have been to one funeral, you've been to too many, but burying a high-school classmate, or a 40-year old in the prime of his life is a very different thing than burying a 98 year old man.  I know how I feel about death now, and it is different from a lot of other people's view.  I really did my best to put aside my cynicism, and steel myself against any needless emotion.

But despite my best efforts, seeing the cautious touch as his daughter brushed his cheek and smoothed his hair for the last time, effortlessly shattered any defenses I put up.  Don't get me wrong, I kept it together respectably, but on the inside my mascara was running.  Patsy lived with Grandpa for pretty much her entire life, and knowing the closeness of that relationship, how they had cared for each other especially in recent years, and seeing the reality of it sink in was just heartbreaking.  Like when you see an adult vulnerable for the first time.

There were a lot of tearful comments and readings at the service, but it didn't feel sad and regretful.  More like saying, "it was a good cry," but I don't mean that literally, I didn't really cry.

I mean I know it wasn't him, but damn it looked like him and--I don't know if I was the only one--but I kept expecting him to snore.

After the service was over, we convened at John and Phyllis' house for a reception and lunch.  The day was beautiful and cloudless.  There was a light breeze and mixed with the hot sun, it was a perfect "chardonnay and cheese plate" sort-of-day.  Unfortunately I had a three-and-a-half hour drive immediately following the reception back to Salt Lake, so no Chardonnay for me.  I left latish with the idea I wouldn't have to wait as long at the airport, but as Murphy's law was still in effect, my flight was delayed almost three hours.

So I type this from SLC waiting for the plane to arrive to return me to PDX where the vacation can continue.  It turns out the plane was delayed by closer to four hours.  It was coming from Denver and I can only assume it had to make a quick stop in Shanghai.  But now I am back in Portland, and we wrap this part of our trip tomorrow morning, and will drive to our next destination.

In the meantime, Gregory has told me about his two days with Meagan and Beth: the amazing sushi he ate, and the impromptu whirlwind trip to Seattle, and how cool the Space Needle was, and how much fun they had at Pike's Market.  I, in turn, made him jealous with my stories of Chevron trail mix and KFC.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Portland Day 6: From the Columbia River Gorge to Elko

Today was a busy and long day.  Gregory and I found ourselves at a donut shop to have a "famous" apple fritter.  I just had a basic unfrosted cake donut because I hate kittens and everything fun.  The fritter was sadly over cooked and Gregory left in a huff slamming every door twice, just to make sure they understood how unacceptable such a thing can be.

So what is the logical substitute for a bad donut? Pizza, of course!  If at first you don't succeed, have another fattier entree.  We went to a pizza place and got a huge slice and some garlic knots, which was entirely too much food that early in the morning, but we are professionals.  And we had a long day of looking at things planned, so we needed all the strength, carbs and fat we could pile on.

I spent the rest of the year eating pretty healthy, so what's a couple of weeks of indulgence?  Aside from birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Cinco de Mayo, Labor Day, Memorial Day, Easter, Arbor Day, Presidents Day, the Oscars, the Emmys, the Schmemmys, Fat Tuesday, Independence Day, Halloween, New Years, and the solstices, I keep the lard to a minimum.  My pizza was a feta, kalamata olive, and basil (I'm sure the sodium intake was enough to fell a zebra).  Gregory got pepperoni.  They were big and flat -- NY style, which I like.  One was enough, but it needed to be followed by six garlic knots.  Yes, I said, "needed," I said.

We journeyed into the Columbia River Gorge, stopped at one of the falls and looked through their gift shop of junk.  It was entertaining and I really wanted some of that junk.  I kept trying to find a way to convince myself we needed it for something.  I stared a hole into a set of coffee mugs trying to justify the purchase.  There were even the kind that I hate: the ones that are oversized and really hold three cups of coffee and seven gallons of gas.  I managed to escape with my wallet and my dignity intact.

Our final stop up the gorge (for now) was one of the big dams on the river.  It was an impressively large facility, and we happened into the visitor center just as a tour was getting underway.  Claudia was her name and she not only knew her stuff, but it was evident from her delivery that she really loved her job, she loved talking about the facility and it was really refreshing to see.

She explained the various ways the young salmon are skirted around the dam, and how the fish ladder works for the returning mature salmon, and various ways they try to protect them from the various predators, such as osprey and sea lions.  I was excited to look at the fish ladder and one thing that was kind of cool, is there is actually a counting room, where they count the different species of fish that swim through the ladder.  There is a fairly narrow passage way, so the fish have to pass by and they are easy to see.

We stopped by the impressive 60-foot loch, to catch the end of a boat tour, as they ascended from the lower river.  Our last stop at the dam was the fish hatchery, where I was all jazzed up to see the white sturgeon.  It was like a 10-foot catfish, only cuter in a manatee sort of way.  It moved very slowly and methodically.  Sadly, no sturgeon merch.  You'd think there would be a market for that.  We also saw rainbow trout and leaping salmon.  Unfortunately they weren't leaping onto my plate.  They all looked so yummy swimming around.

It was finally time for us to depart for the airport and Gregory dropped me off.  I flew to Salt Lake, after a slight 30 minute delay, and retrieved my rental car without incident.  I don't know why rental car companies don't just publish the price of the cars.  It's always twice as much as you think it is going to be.

The three and a half hour drive to Elko brought back some memories.  It was just me, some good music, the stars and the highway on a hot summer night.  For dinner I had a bag of trail mix and a protein bar.  The burrito looked like too much work.  Gregory meanwhile was eating fresh crab and tuna with Beth and Meagan.  I finally made it to Elko shortly before midnight and my mom and I discussed the plan for tomorrow as we put together the final details for Friday morning.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Portland Day 5: Shopping, Germans, and Whiffies

After all the fun from the previous night, we slept in a little and didn't get out until close to noon.  But we had a mission: I needed some clothes, and although Gregory didn't, he somehow he managed to buy three times as many things as I did for less money.  This man can find a bargain!

I hesitate to mention this because I don't want to cast an overly serious pall on my self-award-winning entries here, but my Grandpa Doug Peterson died this last Sunday morning the 25th.  So our trip will diverge for a couple of days while I travel solo to Elko to attend the funeral services held on Friday.  Gregory will stay in Portland.  I look forward to being able to see my family, and to celebrating Grandpa's amazing 98 years.  He was born in 1913.  The man has seen it all.  This kind of retrospect really empowers me.  It's hard to feel sad when you reflect all that a powerhouse of a person like him has done for his family, a family that I am a part.  It can be sad and mournful if you let it, it can be beautiful and life affirming if you let it.  98 years!

But there is a dress code for such occasions, and being on vacation, my suitcase is full of shorts and t-shirts.  I brought one pair of jeans in case it gets a little chilly.  I needed a Macy's posthaste.

After a short spree we headed through the downtown area with its quaint shops, many parks, and surprisingly short city blocks.  We ended up near a German restaurant, and they happened to be between their lunch and dinner service, so their menu was limited.  I was hoping for a chicken schnitzel, but alas!  We ended up ordering almost one of everything since they were small appetizer-y, tapas-y, type bites, except for the gruyere cheese, spicy German mustard and prosciutto sandwich, which was full size on yummy bread with all kinds of seeds and grains.  There was salmon mousse canapés topped with fresh dill (aka light and refreshing), a cup of sweet corn soup with chives and creme fraiche (aka magma in a bowl), polenta croquettes stuffed with polenta (magma in crunchy shell), and the sandwich (magma with a mustard aftertaste).  To drink, we ordered Elderflower sodas which were proprietary.  They were good, but expensive and ultimately not worth it in my opinion, but they were still delicious.

We decided to order dessert there as well, and got a chocolate mousse that was quite lovely.  Whomever is the mousse chef, is truly a mousse master.

We headed back to the hotel to drop off our shopping bags and decided to drive around the city to get a better look at some stuff further out.  We drove up past the University to Washington Park, which features an enormous Rose Garden, the Portland Zoo and a Japanese Garden.  Unfortunately everything was closed except for the Rose Garden.  It was pretty amazing to see what 500+ varieties of roses looks like.  Though if you really want to impress me, I'm a 600+ variety sort of guy.  Sorry.

We did some more driving around and for dinner, we ended up at a Jim-suggested restaurant Whiffie's Pies, which have personal little pies that are deep fried, think of a big empanada, and varieties in both savory and sweet.  We ordered BBQ beef and mozzarella pies, and a peach pie for dessert.  It was almost enough for me, but not quite, so we looked around at what else was available.  Before I continue I should explain that Whiffie's Pies is a food truck and all around Portland there are empty parking lots that they have filled with--I'm guessing semi permanent--food trucks that circle around the edge and there are many tables in the middle, similar to makeshift food court.  Only good.  Some of the fancier ones, like this one, have lighting and covered seating--presumably to remain open even on rainy days.

The truck next door to Whiffie's was a crepe place.  Gregory said, just get something with meat, so I brought back a delicious crazy wonderful crepe:  prosciutto, fresh fig, chèvre (goat cheese), and honey.  It was like baby Jesus made it just for us!  (Really I think the guy's name was Dave, but it tasted like what I imagine heaven would taste like--maybe Dave was an angel, or perhaps my reincarnated dog!  Which only makes me think one thing: my dog growing up knew how to make crepes the whole time and we never knew it).  It was amazing.  We waited on Whiffie's peach pie for the end, and it was worth the wait.  The crusts were a perfect caramel color and were so light and flaky.  It made me happy.

The rest of the evening we spent bar hopping, checking out the other gay establishments in the area and eventually ended up back at Silverado, to see what a non-amateur night was like.  (One thing I have to give Portland credit is the cheap drinks.  I think I paid $1.50 for a cape cod.  I mean, don't get me wrong, it wasn't served in a barrel, but still).  The club was every bit as entertaining, but we didn't stay as long, due to our late previous night.  Tomorrow we will take a trip out of the city to see some nearby nature.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Portland Day 4: Tillamook

Our 4th day began on Alberta Street.  I think I could live in a two block radius of the gourmet Tater-Tot truck and survive on intrigue alone.  We did not have Tater Tots for breakfast, but instead had biscuits with sausage-mushroom gravy.  Pine State Biscuits had a variety of options, you could have an egg on top, or you could have a full on sandwich with a chicken breast and bacon in the middle (in case you weren't planning on having a heart attack that morning, they can fix that).  Gregory also ordered a corn dog, because the canoe of gravy before us was simply insufficient.  I am pretty skeptical of corn dogs in general, but this was the best I have ever had.  The honey mustard was a combination of unground mustard seeds and honey with just a tiny hint of spice.  Perfection.

Across the street was the tea shop.  I ordered a bell-flower Earl Gray and a pumpkin-spice Chai for Gregory.  Both were lovely and we relaxed and let the grease of our breakfast glub through our veins.  We chatted with a local sitting next to us, sipping Mate which had been prepared in the traditional Argentinian way: fill the entire cup with Mate leaves and pour the hot water into it, then sip through a straw that has a little strainer at the end. Her name was Megan and she was very nice.  We chatted about stuff to do in Portland while we were here and she asked us about cameras.  I managed to keep myself from buying the entire tea store, but vowed loudly that I would return someday, and then you'll all be sorry!  Then vanished in a puff of smoke.

We met up with our Meagan and Beth an hour later to caravan to Tillamook.  Cheese was in our hearts and minds (and blood and love handles), but we decided to take our sweet time with a scenic drive, a stop at a cleverly redesigned barracks which used to house soldiers, but now operated as a hotel and spa.  Everything was painted, even the pipes and joints had fun faces.  The grounds were light and open, like a park, and was just beautiful.  We took a lot of pictures here.

Meagan and Beth also popped my notes-of-cherry by stopping at my first ever winery, where I got to sample several different whites and reds.  We bought a bottles of each and continued to cheese heaven.

The factory was a lot of fun and we could have spent hours creepily staring at the assembly line through the glass.  I'm sure our intensity of fascination was unsettling to the people just trying to make cheese, but we were transfixed on the giant blocks that whizzed by through the slicer to the weigher, to the packager and sealer and then passed QC and then gone, into the next room for us to only imagine giant piles of cheese getting boxed and crated, waiting for the stork to deliver all those baby loaves directly to us.  We stopped at one last fromagerie to check out the Blue Heron Brie.  It was deliciously creamy and we bought a few cheeses to keep us company through the next few days.

Meagan and Beth were continuing on to the coast from there, and we had to get back in time to catch amateur night at the strip club.  Did you know there are a TON of strip clubs here?  Amateur night was a lot more entertaining than it sounds.  We had a good time and went through several dollar bills.  Some were good and an 'A' for effort, so entertaining nonetheless.  The adventure continues...

Monday, August 29, 2011

Portland - Day 3 - Rafting and Brûlée

Day 3 began at 9:30AM.  We awoke from our slumber to the option of seeing Portland in the daytime, given our previous night arrival in the dark.  Meagan, Jim and Beth had designs on floating the lazy river.  This is similar to something we have done before in the wilds of Idaho, a gentle current in the middle of nowhere and you float lazily along with only the sounds of nature lulling you into a contemplative nap-like state.  The river was very shallow and no life jackets were needed.  And with the promises of sandwiches (Portland cheese steak?--what the heck!), and a glass of white wine, it promised to be an afternoon of deep thought and zen-like contemplation.

The river was quite low, but wasn't exactly lazy.  I wouldn't say there was a need for a life jacket--that was true for me, at least--but given the river had an extra cup of coffee peed into it by the hoochie with the tramp stamp in the next raft, no not here, the other other one.  No the one in the blue.  The light blue.  Her she was totally peeing--I became concerned for some of the less acute swimmers on the river.

Did I mention that most of Portland and half of Seattle decided to join us on the not so lazy river?  The rapids were shallow, but swift, which made falling out of the raft annoying and painful, because the river was just deep enough for you to stand easily, but the current fast enough to prevent you from doing so, and instead just drag you flailing along the rocky bottom.  Beth experienced this first and it resulted in the loss of her sarong.

I was the second to fall on our journey when some irresponsible people on a large raft thought it was a good idea to follow me too closely into a rapid.  They basically ran me over which resulted in my knee getting painfully banged on the rocks as tried to get out from under their raft.  My knee will be fine once the bruises heal.  Unfortunately as punishment for their irresponsibility, I had to kill the boatload of people and chop them into pieces and eat them.  Many people on the river protested at the harshness of my punishment, but I was afraid I would have to insist.  They must be killed and eaten.  And so it was.

The third and final tragedy occurred when Meagan's hat was lost, just before we learned of a tragedy I will number as three-and-a-half, but will label as "holy shit!".  We apparently arrived five minutes after a young man broke his arm on a rope swing.  I don't know how one can do what he did by using a rope swing, but he apparently managed to achieve a compound fracture in his forearm.  In looking at the rope (a regular rope with some knots, where you swing over the water and let go and then land in the water) and imagining how one could achieve such a wound as a result, he may as well have been playing chess for all I understand.  How the hell do you break your arm on a rope swing?  Let alone "the worst injury I have ever seen" as stated by a stander-by who also was a football coach.  The world may never know.

Or at least I won't ever know, so I'm just going to reason it was witchcraft and that either he or the rope were hexed.

The day came to an end at the pull-out and my abs ached (and still do immensely) from what equated to a seven-hour sit-up, due to my floatie tube being just a little too small, or big or somehow both, for me.  (I have a feeling that by the end of the eat-cation, this workout and the resulting pain will have been entirely in vain.)

Jim and Meagan unloaded the equipment and we reconvened around 9 for an evening meal at a restaurant called Veritable Quandry.  And the menu was!  We all wanted everything and at least there were five of us to be able to order a little of everything.  But the thing I was most looking forward to was the Creme Brûlée. It was chocolate hazelnut Creme fucking Brûlée and it was A MA ZING.  We also ordered a Marscapone cheesecake and some kind of incredible banana split with peanut brittle ice cream, which was really good, but the Brûlée was my personal heaven.  I thought for a moment that I was going to start to cry it was so good.

Jim will be leaving on business in the morning and we won't see him again the remainder of the trip.  Meagan and Beth have a rendezvous with us tomorrow at the Tillamook Cheese Factory.  Can't wait for that!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

2011 Trip Day 1 & 2 Drive to Portland011

More Day 1 and 2 Drive Pics on Flickr

Drive-cation 0-11 Day 1 and 2

Drive-cation 0-11 begins! Our ultimate destination is Portland, where we will arrive after a two-day drive. We will spend a few days there visiting some friends and seeing what the city has to offer, will then amble slowly toward San Francisco via the 1 with planned and unplanned stops for landmarks, vista points, and any spontaneous adventure that strikes our fancy.

The first day we stopped off at the deliciously technicolor assault that is the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield. The factory tour is free and a must if you are nearby. We happened to be there on Friday, and any weekday is preferred since you will have an opportunity to see workers on the floor. A weekend will yield a view of static, lifeless machines, and a work floor devoid of humanity.  And it may smell fine, but the amazing power of having a glorious cloud of juicy pear envelope your entire being is akin to staring through an oven door, drooling over the baking cookies as the scent and anticipation of burning your mouth on 400 degree molten chocolate takes over your rational mind.  The smells are amazing, which is why Jelly Bellies are amazing.  If you disagree, you are insane and I can't talk to you.

The drive got much nicer too as the trip up 5, an otherwise straight and boring shot from L. A., the missionary position of California highways, the landscape became more hilly and tree-y. And as we arrived in our hotel just south of Redding, it began to get dark.

The Hotel Gaia was really nice and we would definitely stay there again, if in the area.  There was a restaurant attached to the hotel and the front parking lot was full, with more cars arriving exclusively for the place, which told us, if the locals are making it a point to come to the hotel restaurant, it is a good sign.  Was it ever! The menu made me want one of everything and I settled on lobster ravioli.  Gregory had prime rib.  We tried to power through to a table-side-fired Creme Brûlée, but we were just to exhausted after the drive and wanted to sleep.

The second day we set out through the Northern California / Southern Oregon leg of our trip, back tracked to the hotel to pickup our almost forgotten swim trunks, and set out again.  Luckily we had only traveled a few miles before the revelation hit us.  A couple of hours later, we stopped off at a little cafe in a rest stop for lunch.  Mid afternoon found us walking through Ashland's Lithia Park where I envied the many festival attendees.  If I had proper foresight, I would have booked us to see at least one play that day on our way through, since the Shakespeare Festival was in full swing.

We stopped at a few sights along the way, including the Winchester Dam, which also featured a fish ladder.  We saw a few small fish struggling against the current.  Our drive into Portland was pretty uneventful, as a book on tape kept us awake and laughing.

We stopped by our hotel briefly to drop off our bags, and were instantly off to visit Meagan and Jim, for us, two of the best reasons to visit Portland.  And by a lovely coincidence, Beth happened to be in town visiting them, and we had an opportunity to see her as well.  We hadn't seen her since May and it was so nice to catch up.  Jim and Meagan were in the midst of making one of their incredible meals and canning.  Jim was brining pickles and preparing steak, meat, and vegetables.  All were of the highest quality and the chicken nearly made me cry.  The wine they chose complimented the steak in spades.  It is sensationally unfair how incredible is their insight over food.  Meagan had prepared a macaroni and cheese casserole that blew everyone away, and made an amazing dessert earlier in the day that looked like what you would receive in Dubai if you ordered a Pop Tart.  Thinly sliced apple over a thin pastry dough with marzipan filling and topped with an apricot glaze.

And it all pales in comparison with just getting to be in the same room, to talk and laugh and hug my friends again.  We have missed them so much and the conversation, love and laughter filled every corner of their home.  It has been an incredible start to our vacation.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Menchie, Joe and I

LEGO Great Ball Contraption

Wow, that is the most amazing and fun to watch ball gizmo ever...

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Hot Chelle Rae - Tonight Tonight

My favorite song / video this week... Hot Chelle Rae - Tonight Tonight (Even if I am a few months late.)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

One of my favorite Jazz pieces re-imagened. Very cool.

One of my favorite Jazz pieces re-imagened.  Very cool.

Sachal Studios' Take Five Official Video

Friday, July 15, 2011

Running on Empty

Amazing Long Exposure Time Laps Video of LA...

Running on Empty (Revisited) from Ross Ching on Vimeo.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sunday, May 22, 2011


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