Category Archives: Pencil: Runaway Place

Oh, Hi Beautiful Bolinas

I’m attached. There. I said it. And sometimes it happens faster and easier than others. This time, my love is a beach town, population 1,600 (although that number feels like an over estimate of about 1,200).

One of my favorite people took me there (hi, Jen!) for the first time a year or so ago. We’ve gone surfing a few times since, and its simplicity and beauty are a cure-all for many ills. Are there good waves? Not really. Is it warm? Nope. Is the beach pretty? Sure, but pretty rocky. What about food/drink/lodging? Not much of that here either. It’s a tiny beach town. There’s a post office, a hardware store, a natural foods store and the ‘fancy restaurant.’ I think there’s a bar, but last we went, I recall the owners changing hands. The most important place to the appropriate Bolinas experience is 2 Mile Surf Shop. You can get in and out with a board, boots, wetsuit in about 20 minutes for $50. Not too high of a ticket price for an afternoon in the ocean amongst the Northern California landscape. And being about 90 minutes from my front door, the travel cost is super do-able on a City girl like me.

And many afternoons being on a board in the Pacific Ocean is all you need to remember how beautiful life can be, no matter what problems may be waiting for you back on the land.

McEvoy Ranch: Work Getaway Thankful

Let me begin with the obvious. Umm, wow; I haven’t posted a blog in s i x long (very long) months. Why the silence? It’s much too complicated to address at this time. But yes, she has a name. Perhaps at some point I’ll have the heart stamina to publish in some way shape and form the stories upon stories that have reminded me just how crippling love can be.

But until that point, I need to stick to something simple, something familiar, something I know I’m good at: appreciating the hell out of nature and the artisan food industry.

This entry highlights the magic of McEvoy Ranch, a 550-acre ranch of stunning countryside. The ranch’s main trade is producing top-tier olive products, ranging from extra-virgin olive oil to bath products. The estate also is home to some of the most jaw-dropping organic gardens, greenhouses, and villas I’ve come across. Oh, and, yah, that bright red piano in one of the meeting rooms? Was Elton John’s.

What on earth was I doing there this time yesterday? My beloved-employer, Chronicle Books, a community of people I grow to love more and more, is owned by the McEvoys, and thus, we had the lovely opportunity to have our work retreat there. The day was spent dreaming big, eating too many carbs, soaking up the pristine surroundings, and saying a lot of ‘wows.’

The take-away? While my personal life can surely get complicated at times, the serene beauty of the trees, paired with a re-newed commitment to do my job as best I can, are two simple truths I was meant to remember.

 

Outstanding in the Field: Most Beautiful Edible Experience of a Lifetime

Finally, now that I’m mildly caught up on blogging, I can freak-out over this epic experience that was Outstanding in the Field.

It crossed my radar thanks to a friend/co-worker/boss (Hi, Joseph!). When he told me about these events, I couldn’t get the idea out of my head… A giant table in the middle of a field? Drinking incredible wine, eating incredible food – all amongst the most gorgeous locations across the WORLD?! Whoa. I so want that.

Of course – beauty doesn’t always come cheap in this world, nor does it come without a little old fashioned competition. My friend urged me to hover over the site until they released tickets. It wasn’t until I was alone – at night – pretty drunk – that I actually let myself get a pair. “You did what, that costs what?!” my partner exclaimed. Oh, and, oops, it was over PRIDE WEEKEND no less. We? Were bad gays this year. But I have no regrets – not even for a moment. We rented a car, got a cheap hotel room in Santa Cruz (that effed up our reservation and almost didn’t let us stay there, but that’s another story), then drove out to Everette Family Farm. It wouldn’t be the first time the bug to become a farmer has bit me and it surely did again here. Their spot is perfect, just a few miles outside Santa Cruz and in this sunny valley filled with trees and a bubbling creek.

The Everettes are lovely. They’ve owned the farm for a few years and have been dedicated to making a living as small-scale organic food producers. They amaze me. They luckily have a good-sized apple orchard, not to mention a good-sized client for their apples (Martinelli’s Apple Juice Co.). They do a fare business at the farmers’ markets around Santa Cruz and have a few restaurant accounts as well. Not to mention the most adorable road-side stand I’ve ever seen. Can you tell I’m in love with these people?

So they hosted the thing, which they have done for four or five years. Neither they nor the Outstanding in the Field director could remember. Now meet – Jim Denevan – founder and creative master-mind behind this foodie circus. I only spent a few hours with this guy, amongst 100+ diners, but he’s a solid force, no question. His visions are huge and he’s executed so many of them into reality for us all to share. So he got this idea to pack up a few friends, drop in on farms around the country, and recruit the finest chefs in the area to throw a giant dinner party. Our version had Santa Cruz chef Santos Majano of Soif creating lovely simple dishes such as – stewed spinach, braised rabbit, mussels with garlic bread and strawberry shortcake. Apologies that I don’t have more details or photos of the food – I almost didn’t want to waste the time or energy taking all that stuff down. Plus we sat next to super nice people (Hi, Katie and Andy), and I kind of hate being that food photographer.

Did I mention that the table was on a creek bed? The water was inches from our feet – I was just dying with appreciation for life. Thank you for letting me share it here with you.

Travel Show: Palm Springs – Joshua Tree

Blooming Relaxation

A little something amazing happened once I started regularly punching the clock a few years ago. I found vacation. This concept hadn’t really entered my brain prior to meeting the 40+ hour work week. But once I saddled up into the American workforce – oh, Lord, did I find it fast.

And Palm Springs/Joshua Tree? For my kind of West Coaster? Is a total vacation dream. Here are the bullet points:

  • it’s hot
  • it’s gay friendly (that’s important if you’re me or my girlfriend)
  • the landscape is breathtaking
  • it’s deserted unless you go for a huge festival
  • it doesn’t take a mortgage payment or 24-hour mess to get there

What Palm Springs mildly lacks; however, is a killer food/drink scene. I understand they’re in the desert so eating ‘locally’ doesn’t work so much (except, of course when you’re sucking down a date shake! Yummm). It also doesn’t help when you’ve been surrounded by some of the most impressive foodie cultures in the country (i.e. Portland and San Francisco). BUT, with that said – there’s still the super finds; of which I’m about to go on and on about for your convenience.

1) The Ace – King’s Highway – The Amigo Room

 

 

 

 

If you’re of any sub-hipster set, you know about the Ace. I’d go so far to say they coined the term ’boutique’ when they’re first hotel opened in Seattle. And in Palm Springs, they’re a young-fun oasis amidst the upper-class old money. They have Stumptown Coffee, a bar that has alcoholic slushies served poolside. Honestly, how can that NOT be pretty close to heaven? Yeah; it is. The bar makes decent drinks of all fancy varieties (also served poolside) and The King’s Highway has a great all-pleasing menu. They’ve good sandwiches, decent tacos, good fries, unique salads and it’s all above average. My one complaint about the Ace overall is they’re almost perfect. What does that mean? The food, in general, is fairly bland (tastes like it was prepped days ago), sometimes it takes an hour for your drink to come out (despite it being slow), and they may have forgotten to send your best friend’s wedding present (oops!) … Anyway, nit-picking aside, they still have two lovely pools, herbaceous smelling soap, outdoor fireplaces that lite up with a touch of a button and the most comfortable mattresses  I’ve ever slept on in my life.

2) The Windmills

It's Like Watching an Aquarium

These hypnotic windmills are everywhere. It’s so a favorite thing about the Palm Desert valley. There are official ‘tours’ but they cost $50+ last we checked. Just drive out there and get as close as you can.

3) Native Foods Cafe

Unmeat

This place is in a strip mall but don’t be deterred. It’s lovely, high-quality vegetarian fare. Think rice-bowls with lots of sauce and complicated salads with soy ingredients. Despite the snail’s-pace service, this place was a gem.

4) Parker – Norma’s

Something you realize after being in Palm Springs for a bit, is that the buzz is often behind a wall. Or hedge. Or, in the case of Parker Hotel – many of both. If one were to be on drugs, at night, at the Parker, it would be totally understandable that you’d get lost on the way back to your room. It’s a giant maze! We have yet to stay the night at the Parker, but we did dine there for brunch at Norma’s – aka – the ‘casual’ restaurant (Mister Parker’s being the fancier version). Our fare again – sounded so exciting on the menu, but just was fairly average flavors. Wouldn’t get the waffle again. The eggs were fine. The space is what brings you there.

5) Natural Sisters Cafe

Kombucha on tap? Homemade gluten-free baked things? Organic coffee and ice cream? In the middle of no where? I’M SO IN HEAVEN! I couldn’t stand being sane in this place. I was so excited by all these things colliding at once. I’m also in awe they’re still in business – I can’t imagine they actually make money, but who knows.

Other shout-outs include Koffi, Spin & Margie’s, Joshua Tree National Park, and the very loved, Pappy & Harriets.

Have fun!

The Oyster Company: The Best Kind

It’s seriously a dream scape: you pull up on the side of a windy country road – lush, rolling green hills to your right, a sparkling bay to your left, then you see the sign: Tomales Bay Oyster Company. You park on the gravel lot, dogs run loose, the speakers play reggae and picnic tables are filled with lively parties. Asian families stew oysters in large pots over propane burners; young preppy twenty-somethings bbq oysters paired with beers and toasted buns; older couples hover over their grills and eat ’em straight or with a squirt of their homemade sauce – my girlfriend and I were in heaven; nevermind the obvious part of never eating the shellfish. We were there to enjoy the party.

Tomales Bay Oyster Co. is – you guessed it – alongside the Tomales Bay, about 50 miles north of San Francisco. It’s been around since the early 1900’s; needless to say, it has a cult following, Hog Island Oyster Co. of course being the other strong oyster purveyor in the area.

I’ve eaten a total of five oysters in my life; four of them being consumed within the past four months. It’s safe to assume I’m no oyster connoisseur but I’m well aware of the enthusiasm they elicit. Oyster ‘Happy Hours’ dot the SF scene, along with lively discussions of who has the best stock. So how were these little slimy sea salty creatures from Tomales Bay? Good? I think? They tasted fresh and bright with a mild hint of sea blended in the mush. I think I’ll be okay to barbecue the hell outta ’em next time or even fry ’em up into a po’boy .

Point Reyes: Where the Cream Flows En Masse and Coffee Comes in Barns

The day my girlfriend and I took our first Point Reyes adventure, it was pouring, much like it is right now, actually. The day was abysmal, but our determination (and Zipcar reservation) wasn’t showing any sign of flexibility. We were going to soak up the infamous land of creameries, even if that meant getting drenched.

We stopped first in Petaluma – the town just east of Point Reyes Station. It was the weekend prior to Halloween, so we found a “farm” and got our first apartment pumpkins. Then we winded through the hillsides until we landed in Point Reyes. The sky wasn’t showing any forgiveness. We layered up and wandered around the town of 350, which, as you can imagine, doesn’t take long. Point Reyes and the larger Marin county are widely known for its artisan food companies, mainly Straus Creamery and Cowgirl Creamery. The latter has one of their production kitchens in Point Reyes, which is where we started.

Cowgirl Creamery at Tomales Bay Foods, I hate to say it, was a bit disappointing. Did that experience sour me on their products? Oh, hell no. I loved ’em before I got there, and actually, have bought a lot more of their awesome cheese since. I was really looking forward to visiting one of their “factories” and I’m afraid I hyped it up in my head, which led to the disappointment. They have a small deli counter with roast chicken, cheese plates and two or three pre-made salads. Everything comes on paper plates and I guess I kind of wanted a little bit more of a dining experience. The seating is more or less in the hallway, which amounts to three picnic tables. It was a rainy Saturday afternoon and we were hardly the only visitors – which led to definite pressure to hurry up and finish our cheese so the other groups could take our table. There is the cheese-making kitchen right there, which is super cool to look into.  The other positives are that they serve wine (in a real glass) and there’s a nice local-foods market too.

Next up was afternoon coffee. For a town of a few hundred people, we actually had some choices and ended up at Toby’s Coffee Bar on Main Street. This place was adorable! AND IN A BARN! No kidding. Everything was organic – the baked things (Osteria Stellina), coffee (Taylor Maid Coffee), and milk (Straus). Again, it being in a barn and all meant it was freezing, since it was pouring but I’d definitely go back.

Which brings me to my conclusion: I really want to go back. Now that I know what to expect, I could easily see myself spending a lot of time in this little place. It’s gorgeous.