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Road Trip: California Dreamin’

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In March, I embarked on part of a trip that I’ve been dreaming about for years.  I have always wanted to (and will some day) start in San Diego and drive all the way up the coast to Seattle with no plan, no deadlines, just driving and playing – very not me.

As luck would have it, this year the stars aligned for me to join friends in San Francisco and Napa, then travel down the coast to the Edible Communities conference in Santa Barbara over a 10 day period.  It wasn’t the full trip of my dreams, but it was a good start, and it was made possible in large part because Chevy loaned me a car. Thank you Chevy! The otherwise ridiculous car rental fees would have sidelined the whole plan, but Chevy came to the rescue with a zippy Sonic hatchback.  Doesn’t it look fabulous at this overlook on the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH)?


I started the trip with my friends Natanya and Robby in San Francisco to serve as cheerleading support for Natanya’s first marathon.  Since we were making sure Natanya got plenty of rest, we were more subdued than normal, but that didn’t stop us from eating some really terrific food.

I was thrilled to dine at several new spots and didn’t mind at all standing online at Swan Oyster Depot for our first meal.  It was worth the wait to devour oysters and crusty bread dipped in crab fat.  Yes, crab fat.  The seafood was so fresh and sitting at the bar watching the servers hustle the plates was great dinner theater.

SwansDepot_oysters on the half shell

SwansDepot_crab fat

Crab fat in the shell

San Francisco is generally a magical place to me and exploring it with Natanya and Robby made it even more so. Even our hotel sparkled.

SanFrancisco_Lights at the Hyatt Regency

Curtain of lights at Hyatt Regency San Francisco

We had delightful Japanese izakaya at Chotto and completely pigged out at Mama’s on Washington Square for breakfast.  I had three meals in a row that were laden with seafood and I LOVED it.


Japonica roll at Chotto


Gyoza at Chotto

SanFrancisco_Eggs Benedict with Crab at Mamas

Dungenes crab benedict at Mama's on Washington Square

Robby and Natanya indulged me as I made my requisite spin through the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.  I will never cease to be amazed at all the produce that is simultaneously in season in California.  I was surprised to find kiwisand was tickled by the Fatted Calf jerky cones.  Now you can get a meat cone from Boccalone and a jerky cone from Fatted Calf.  Who needs meat on a stick when there is an abundance of meat cones?
FerryPlaza_fennel and cabbage

Ferry Plaza farmers market


FerryPlaza_Fatted Calf

Jerky cones from the Fatted Calf

The unenviable job of packing the Sonic for the trip to Napa went to Robby.  Thank goodness he volunteered; Natanya and I might still be there trying to get the bags in the car.  Not to be stereotypical, but, he was traveling with two women and one of them (that would be me) packed for ten days. Luckily the Sonic handled the burden well and, while cozy, it was still comfortable.


Packing the sonic

Our attention in Napa was focused on the marathon, but we still had time to nibble.  We practically took up residence at Oxbow Public Market (three visits in two days), enjoying the variety of food and the free wifi.

OxbowMarket_Flying livestock

Flying livestock at Oxbow Public Market

Napa_Gott's roadside

Lunch at Gott's Roadside at Oxbow Public Market

When Natanya and Robby headed back to Austin, I started down the coast, taking my time and stopping at every scenic overlook that struck my fancy. I meandered down to Monterey Bay and spent a lovely morning at the Aquarium.  What an amazing place!


Scenic Overlook on PCH

Driving down to Morro Bay, I stopped to stretch my legs and discovered sea lions warming themselves in the sun.  Who could blame them.

PCH_Sea lions

Sea lions on the PCH

I resumed my seafood overdose enjoying clams, mussels and more oysters to my heart’s content.  I think I ate five dozen oysters during the trip.

Morro Bay steamed clams

Steam clams in Morro Bay

Morro Bay_the rock

Morro Bay

I ended the drive in Santa Barbara to meet Jenna for the Edible Communities conference.  We had a bit of free time and enjoyed a visit to the Carr Winery tasting room and dinners at Julienne and The Hungry Cat.  After a week on the road, I cherished Santa Barbara’s laid back attitude and gorgeous beach backdrop.  By Saturday, my friends threatened me if I didn’t stop tweeting pictures from my morning walks on the beach.

carr winery

Carr Winery in Santa Barbara

crudo at Julienne

Crudo at Julienne

clams and chorizo at Hungry Cat

Clams & Chorizo at Hungry Cat

SantaBarbara_cheese board_Hungry Cat

Cheese Board of my dreams at Hungry Cat

I came home inspired by the beauty of the drive, the fresh California cuisine and a plethora of new ideas – not the least of which is to plan the rest of that drive.

View the full photo set on Flickr.

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To Market, To Market in San Francisco: Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

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I had the good fortune to attend the 2009 Food Buzz Festival, an event for food bloggers from around the country, in San Francisco last weekend.  As I reviewed the schedule, I was beside myself with joy when I realized that attending the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market was slotted for Saturday morning.  The Ferry Plaza Farmers Market!  I can’t tell you how many people have suggested I attend that market since I started the blog.   Finally, I was getting my chance.

And, it was heaven!  The market surrounds, and I mean this literally, the Ferry building located at Market and Embarcedero.  There are stalls everywhere, behind the building leading up to the ferry dock, in front of the building edging toward the street curb, on the side bumping up against the park benches.  As I walked up to the market, I was completely overwhelmed – I, who shop at farmers markets every week, had no idea where to start.  I took a deep breath and just dove in.

I wanted to buy EVERYTHING.  I was enticed by the produce that we don’t  grow in Austin like the grapes, a strange fruit called a Jelly melon and the sunchokes, but I refrained.  I would have given my eye teeth to be in a hotel room with a kitchen.



I decided to focus on the things I could bring home more easily and there was plenty to pick from.  I tasted cheeses, olive oils, vinegars, flavored salts, spices, dried fruits, jams and breads.


The Ferry Plaza building is the home to Cowgirl Creamery (right), a festival sponsor, which makes a variety of delicious cheeses including one of my favorites, Mt. Tam.  Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company also had a booth in the market proper and I did not miss the chance to taste their Point Reyes blue cheese which is creamy, pungent and delicious.

Frog Hollow Farms, one of the sponsors of the Food Buzz event, has a retail shop at the Ferry Building and also has a booth in the market.  Their granolas, dried fruits, jellies and conserves were delicious and I couldn’t walk away from the booth without a few jars. I opted for Meyer Lemon Marmalade which was mouth-puckering tart, Cherry Conserve and Nectarine-Plum jelly.  Frog Hollow Farms was also generous enough to give each of the conference participants a package of granola, Cherry Chocolate Chip cookies and dried peaches.  I haven’t tried the cookies yet, but the granola and peaches were delicious.

After all the spoonfuls of sweet jam, I realized I needed something of substance for breakfast.  I opted for the ever so healthy choice of an oyster from Hog Island Oyster Company.  After all, you can’t get an oyster for breakfast at the Austin market, all due respect to Taco Deli and Dai Due.  I love a freshly shucked oyster and these were perfect – filled with brine of the Pacific ocean – salty and luscious.

I decided to wander the inside of the Ferry building.  The shops inside are equally focused on sustainability and get in on the act for market day with tables and specials for market shoppers.  And that’s how I ended up at Boccalone, an artisan salami shop with the motto “Tasty Salted Pig Parts.”  Oh my.

Their novelty of the day was a “meat cone” which includes three different types of meat wrapped together and placed in a snow cone wrapper.  No bread.  No vegetables.  Just meat.  Well, of course I had to try it.  It was amazing.  Each of the meats – mortadella, orange and wild fennel salami and prosciutto – complimented each other and had a distinct flavor.  Yum!  These guys love their product and it shows.

And at this point, I still had the vendors in front of the ferry building to visit.  Phew!  I bought Indian spice mixes and mango pickles from Sukhi’s Gourmet Indian Foods and dried heirloom beans and pozole from Rancho Gordo.  

111109_9After two hours of exploring, tasting, questioning and poking, it was time to head to the Food Buzz panel on Farm to Table issues with Brian Kenny of Hearst Ranch and Chef Paul Arenstam of Americano Restaurant & Bar.  As hard as it was to leave the market, I was glad that I went to the panel.  Brian Kenny shared the business model Hearst Ranch is using for their sustainable beef business and it was refreshing to hear Chef Arenstam’s view on why he partners with sustainable farms.

For me, the market was like a big amusement park.  It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I see the vendor booths the way someone else sees a roller coaster – a thrill, a challenge, something to discover.  

111109_10And, as much fun as I had, I didn’t lose site of the bigger picture.  The market was packed.  Yes, a number of the people were tourists like me, but there were plenty of people buying to fill their local fridge.  

As I wandered through San Francisco for three days, I noticed that there were signs in every neighborhood I visited to support local farms.  Whether I was meandering through the Mission District, Union Square or the Financial District, there were signs to buy fresh and local.   You couldn’t forget because you were surrounded by it.  

Buy Fresh.  Buy Local.  I like the mantra.  Maybe we should try it on for size in Austin.

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