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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

My Summer Vacation or How I Ate My Way Up the California Coast

It asll began in Las Vegas. We flew out to attend the wedding our our own best man from 41 years ago. Our friend Karen offered to put us up. Karen not only gave us shelter, she loaned us her car. She not only loaned us her car, she fed us. There was breakfast every morning. She made English Toffee to take to our son (most of it made it); she made us a lemon meringue pie. On our last evening, she prepared an amazing crab-stuffed white fish smothered in a white-cheese sauce. It was matched with homemade French bread and garlic asparagus. Because somehow, magically, the pie had already disappeared, she whipped up a cheese cake served with ripe raspberries.
The next day saw us driving from the San Francisco Airport towards Monterey. Midway and hungry for lunch, we pulled off the highway. There we were facing a Subway. No, I don’t think so. Then we saw Lieu’s, a little, independently-owned Chinese place. We know you’re in a good ethnic restaurant when we have the only white faces in the place. Inside were round tables where families wer enjoying a succession of beautifully presented dishes. It was all I could do not to spear samples as the waiters passed by. The owner explained that they were serving their Father’s Day meal. Steve decided on prawns with peppers, and I enjoyed simple chicken with vegetables. This place served notable food but was, in my mind, more noted for the attention of the owner and the congeniality of the other patrons who told us it was the best Chinese restaurant within 100 miles. We rolled out of there and continued down the coast.

Steve’s sister, Judi, is a world class Italian cook. World Class. Also, she likes to cook large breakfasts for people. While I was able to restrain myself at breakfast time, I totally broke down at a dinner party where she served salad, pasta with marinara sauce, chicken cacciatore and an unbelievable scrumptious eggplant casserole involving ricotta cheese and half and half. (She rationalized to me that it was okay because she used non-fat half and half.) (recipe from The Barefoot Countessa) She wouldn’t be caught dead having a dinner party without dessert, so she put out two, yes, two kinds of chocolate cake as well as Oliallieberry Pie, a local delicacy using a blackberry-like fruit. (You were jealous at two chocolate cakes, and now you can hardly stand it, can you?) After a couple of dinners out and a final morning involving steak and eggs, we waddled to our car and headed up to Davis.

We began to starve to death around noontime and veered off one of the Pleasanton exits. I was looking forward to a salad, but all we found was Jim’s Country Café. Who knew we’d get amazing hamburgers and more amazing French fires? I know I should be embarrassed to mention that I almost finished the French fries, but I’m not editorializing here; I’m just reporting.

ur son and daughter-in-law live in Davis. We were only spending one night there before going to Sonoma for the weekend, so we went to my favorite little café. I can happily report that there I got salad at last, a beet, goat cheese and butter leaf lettuce salad. Man, it made me feel like I could almost fit into my clothes again.

Saturday morning, the four of us drove to Bodega Beach. We stopped at a little fish place, and what do you order at a fish place? David and I split our orders of fish and chips, and prawns and chips. Yes, it was fried, and at this point, I’m saying it with my chin (and my belly) jutting forward.
We stopped to look at the ocean, drove to the redwood forest and took a walk, flooded with the aroma and with the trunks spiring up like giant stalks. That worked off at least 100 calories, right? It’s good thing because when we arrived at the B&B, the hostess served us tea and homemade scones with clotted cream and homemade strawberry jam. That evening she recommended a restaurant within the grocery store Fresh. All I could put into my tummy was a basil-chicken salad with pine nuts accompanied by a glass of un-oaked chardonnay. Pretty darned tasty and not too filling, leaving room for the homemade shortbread left on the B&B's sideboard.

Saturday morning was wine exploration time. Lunch in the park at Healdsberg consisted of left-overs from the Fresh plus a piece of asparagus quiche, a slice of bacon, bakery bread and a cinnamon cake in the baggie the hostess gave us at breakfast. Sadly, the morning’s yogurt, honey and granola torte wouldn’t go into the take-away bag. It was amazing, and you can find that and other of Jackie’s recipes at www.melittastationinn.com . Jackie trained as a chef, and the price of the B&B was more than worth her kitchen miracles.

A couple of more wineries led us to Somoma’s city square. We’d made dinner reservations at Le Solette, aa Portuguese restaurant. I’d never had Portuguese food before, and I may never have Portuguese food that matches this. David and Dana had the Portuguese caldera, a fish stew very like paella with large prawns, clams and mussels. Steve had the evening’s special, a Mediterranean sea bass with olives and potatoes. I had the most delicious baked sea bass served over kale and sweet corn. OMG, that’s all I have to say about that.

A final breakfast of oranges in caramel sauce (ooooh, so much better than it sounds), an egg casserole made with cake crumbs served with poached, organic pears and zucchini bread. I pondered the reality of returning home to breakfasts of plain yogurt and a banana.

After breakfast, we drove back to Davis and the following morning packed up our 3 pounds of Las Vegas, Ethel M chocolates and flew home.

Oh, gods, I love vacation.

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