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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)?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Japonica roll at Chotto

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Gyoza at Chotto

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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?
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Ferry Plaza farmers market

 

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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.

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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.

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Flying livestock at Oxbow Public Market

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Steam clams in Morro Bay

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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.

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Carr Winery in Santa Barbara

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Crudo at Julienne

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Clams & Chorizo at Hungry Cat

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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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Road Trip! Santa Barbara

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I was already excited to attend Edible Institute, a two day conference in January about sustainable and local food, and the trip became more enticing when I learned it would be in sunny Santa Barbara. When we arrived, we stepped onto the sun-drenched tarmac and, like flowers, turned our faces to the bright sunlight.  Ahhh, sunshine.

Santa Barbara is a beautiful town with lush landscapes, red tile roof Spanish architecture and lovely beaches.  Our first night we explored the charming downtown area, shopped a bit on State street and dined at The Hungry Cat, the seafood restaurant of James Beard winner Suzanne Goins. The craft cocktails and food were divine with the clams with chorizo being the big winner. The chorizo was spicy and bold without overpowering the tender clams.

While the Edible publishers were hard at work on Friday, I wandered up the hill to Montecito to check out the small neighborhood farmers market wedged into the parking lot of the local shops. Southern Californians are truly blessed with the wide variety of produce available to them even in January. On this sunny morning, the market booths were loaded with gorgeous flowers, mandarins, berries, apples, chard, kales, asparagus and even purple artichokes. We won’t see this bounty in Central Texas until late spring and I caught myself desperately wishing for a kitchen where I could prepare a great meal.

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I settled instead for some of the prepared foods to stock our hotel fridge and to bring home to Austin. I couldn’t resist buying blood orange juice and a bag of mandarins. I was intrigued by the garbanzo beans grown by a local farmer and bought a container of his avocado and cilantro hummus. We had tasted wines from Happy Canyon the night before, so a bottle of Olive Hill Farm olive oil from the same canyon also seemed a must.

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At lunch I reconnected with a group of Edible publishers and we ventured to one of Santa Barbara’s famed taco spots – Lilly’s Tacos. The line out the door immediately signaled to us that we had picked a great spot.

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This taqueria one block off State street offers seven types of traditional tacos with fillings from plain beef to eye. As adventurous as I am, I wasn’t brave enough to order the ojo (eye) or labio (lip) taco and instead opted for adobada (marinated pork), cachete (cheek) and lengua (tongue).

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The tacos were amazing. The cheek and the tongue tacos were moist, rich and perfectly tender from their long braise and the marinated pork had a tangy zip that was a nice contrast. Lilly is a taco genius.

On Saturday morning, we got up early to visit a few more markets. We started with a long stroll down the beach to the Harbour to check out the small fisherman’s market. We found tubs and crates of crabs, lobsters and Kellett’s Whelks (sea snails) and a palette of ice topped with black cod. As we eyed the sea snails, Jenna and I debated whether we would have been brave enough to buy them if we’d had a kitchen. I wondered the same about the prehistoric looking spider crabs. They looked more like something from a horror movie than I might want in my boiling pot.

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We strolled from the Harbour to the Santa Barbara Famers Market where we were greeted with a terrific array of produce including avocados, Brussells sprouts and blueberries. I was excited to try walnut oil and bought a small can home to experiment with.

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I was delighted to find a vendor with dried beans and again lamented that we don’t have a farmer in Central Texas growing beans (hint, hint – again.) I bought Scarlett Runners and Calypso beans to add to the experimenting list.

Santa Barbara was a welcome winter escape.  We had a terrific time soaking up the sunshine and indulging in the local bounty.

View the full photo set on Flickr.

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