Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Much as I'd like to escape in December "stuff" seems to get in the way, so let me clue you in on an alternative solution-a DAYcation! Thanks to my Coaster buddy, Terry, I plugged into a company that plans all kinds of interesting and varied excursions (some even multi-nights). Check out http://www.daytripper.com/ , 3585 Adams Avenue, San Diego, 92116, 619-299-5777 or 800-679-8747. They offer many departure pickups all over San Diego including one in Orange County, depending on the tour. Each tour is assigned an activity level from easy, moderate, to high which allows you to determine the possibilities for you. I recommend that you sign up for their mailing list to get their catalog and be on their email list for specials. Check it out!!

Saturday, December 12, 2009 - Christmas Around the World at Reagan Library

Each year, the Reagan Presidential Museum in Simi Valley includes an additional holiday exhibit entitled "Christmas Around the World",a collection of 30 uniquely decorated Christmas trees representing the cultural traditions of countries President Reagan visited during his eight years in the White House. Taking the bus was definitely a factor both because of the distance and the rainy weather. Christmas music added to the experience and each of us had our favorite. The China tree was especially creative festooned with pandas and dragons. Amazed at how much Reagan memorabilia there was, the presentation was very organized and well laid out. Mementos from his childhood, Hollywood career, courtship of Nancy, and politics included movies, a car, booth at Chasen's restaurant (a favorite dining spot) and videos . I found it particularly awesome to walk through Air Force One, once used by President Reagan and six other presidents. The enormity of the plane was noted when we enjoyed a sumptious catered buffet luncheon under its wing, complete with a souvenir cup. If you are planning a visit to the library try to go when the holiday display is there. It will be even more enjoyable.

Sunday, December 6, 2009 Christmas at the Castle Green

For our first venture, Sheryl and I departed the La Costa Park and Ride at 8:30 A.M. with a full bus consisting of about 6 couples and mostly single women with an age range from 35-70 I'd say. A coffee break at El Toro on the way gave us time to take a quick peek at the Christmas Plants and trees at Green Thumb Nursery, a long time fav of mine. En route for the next hour or so we were treated to apple or cranberry juice and granola bars to tide us over until lunch in Old Town Pasadena. Arriving on Green Street at 11 A.M. we were given both shopping and lunch time. Old Pasadena (not old to me as it was my stomping grounds in the 60's)is comprised of major stores like Crate and Barrel, Armani, Chico's etc. along with small specialty stores, dining, and entertainment. For a listing of stores to go http://www.oldpasadena.org/ . If you plan to drive from San Diego you would go north on % to the 57 to the 210 west. Allow about 2 1/2 hrs driving time.

En route we detoured to a quick drive-by tour of the Rose Bowl and other areas of historical Pasadena finally arriving at our destination on Green Street. Deboarding the bus, we checked out a tip for a store called Gold Bug and found a macabre, unique jewelry and decor store with MAJOR attitude. On to Dots Cupcakes, 21 N. Fair Oaks, 626-568-3487 where under the guise of "research" for my pastry chef friend, Pam, we had to sample. Minis at $1.50 each were just the right size for variety (and there are many choices). I purchased both a hazelnut with white chocolate ganache frosting and chocolate with caramel fleur de sel frosting. Two days later they were still moist and oh, so flavorful. Don't miss it. A quick sandwich at the Aux Delices Bakery and Cafe, 16 W. Colorado Blvd, 6o26o-796-1630 and we were fueled. Their bakery case was tempting with raspberry tarts piled high with fresh raspberries. Being cooks we couldn't resist a stop at Beyond The Olive, http://www.beyondtheolive.com/, for different flavored olive oil and balsamic vinegars. They also produce their own here. If you purchase one of theirs you can be green by bringing the bottle back for refills. Peach Balsamic Vinegar (theirs and I can't wait to try it via a salad dressing) and roasted garlic olive oil (not theirs but great for sauteing) were additions to my shopping bag. We passed and were impressed with The Scarlet Tea Room, 18 W. Green St., 626-577o-0051, but didn't have enough time to indulge in a sit down and we thought it was a little pricey. A save for the future we decided. Also discovered an old favorite of mine from the Belmont Shores area, Russell's, 30 N. Fair Oaks Blvd., 626-578-1404 . In order there is great chili, pies, and hamburgers. Do try it for casual, yummy, comfort food. Running out of time before we had to rendezvous with the bus we made a quick dash into Stat's Floral supply, 120 S. Raymond Ave., 626-795-9308. My Christmas trees have been decorated using their stock and ideas since 1972, although the one in San Juan Capistrano is much closer for us San Diego folks.
12:40 and we are on the bus going around the corner amazed at the line stretching around the block for Castle Green. One of the perks of being on a tour is getting to enter first, yay! Castle Green is normally closed to the public, but for one afternoon during the holiday season (and another in the Spring) to those interested in history, creative interior design, and cultural heritage the Friends of Castle Green open its doors to the public for a $20 self-guided tour. Docents are also available. The hotel played host to vacationing business tycoons, movie stars, and even presidents, but now is the private residence of designers, musicians, collectors, artists, and producers, among others. It is also used as a location for movies, commercials, TV shows, and weddings. One enters the Main Salon and walks at his own pace through the corridors and inside all the individual condos which are all differently decorated especially for the holidays. I will digress for a bit and give you a little history.
Originally it was the Hotel Green built by Edward C. Webster in 1887. With elaborate plans he donated land to the Santa Fe Railroad for a passenger terminal next to the hotel. Overextended, he lost the hotel to G. G. Green who expanded it by adding two annexes designed by Frederick Roehrig who used a combination of Moorish, Victorian, and Mission Revival styles. Seven stories high with 550 bedrooms and 350 bathrooms it had the distinction of being the only fireproof hotel in California (hence the concrete floors to be found in almost all the units). Two circular towers attached to the two corners gave it is nickname of Castle Green.
Starting at the Penthouse on the top floor we worked our way down. On each floor there were anywhere from 2-6 condos opened by the owners for viewing. Wandering through, talking to almost all the owners, and admiring the different treatments given each unit took us about 3 1/2 hours. We marveled over how these units varying in size from @800-1200 sq ft could be so different and yet seem spacious. Each had charming little balconies and while the kitchens were very small some had a sub zero frig or Viking range scaled down to fit while preserving the historical element of the unit.
Our first condo, 610, is owned by Martin Sheen's son and his partner. We were fortunate enough to find his mother decorating their tree and actually got to be up close and personal with Martin himself. We found one condo for sale for $385,000 ( a bargain considering that all the utilities are included and given the location-walking distance of major shops and restaurants). Several are for rent @ #2,000 a month. The laundry room is in the basement, a covered parking space insured and usually the appliances. I'm told listings are often found on Craig's List. Our two favorites were one on the second floor which formerly was occupied by Tim Burton and another on the upper floors.
Arriving back in the Main Salon and Lobby where we enjoyed the beautiful Christmas tree and floral arrangements we found a smorgasbord of appetizers and desserts by varied caterers-everything from Asian Slaw, Bruschetta, mini cheesecakes, a chocolate fondue fountain, cookies, nachos, shrimp cocktail, and coffee, tea, and hot cider. Yes, we indulged (I'm told that presentation is not the norm). A pianist serenaded us with Christmas carols and a good time was had by all.
Back on the bus at 4 we were given bottled water, Chex mix or cookies, and a special little gift of a candy can pen, chocolates, and small notepad bagged for us by Daytrippers-a nice touch. They are very organized and really do think of everything. Kudos to Karrie, our tour guide, and Miranda, the driver. In case you haven't done a shore excursion or guided bus trip it is customary to give a tip of $1-5 to each at the end of the trip. After a short stop in San Juan Capistrano we arrived back in La Costa at 6:30 P.M. vowing to do this again next year and to check out more day excursions sponsored by Daytrippers. Try it-you won't be disappointed.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009 -Festival of Lights at the Mission Inn, Riverside

Continuing with the local finds for Christmas spirit Susan and I set out for the Mission Inn in Riverside to view their much touted Festival of Lights. Arriving early afternoon we decided to check out downtown Riverside around the Inn. We started with a stretch of Main Street that is purely pedestrian. Many antique and collectible stores are interspersed with restaurants. One of the more popular eclectic collections was Mrs. Tiggy Winkles at 3675 Main Street. I liked Magnolia's, 3643 Main Street, and Maria's Antiques (where I found some divine votive holders)3563 Main Street. Not lacking in lunch spots we chose the Tamale Factory at 3663 Main Street (the sweet corn tamales with tomatillo sauce -YUM!) The menu selections (placed while in line) were healthy and unique and the prices reasonable. Simple Simon's, 3639 Main Street, came highly recommended but the line was long. Specialities there included fresh-baked sourdough bread, soups, and sandwiches, also reasonable prices. Full service restaurants, eclectic, ethnic, fine dining, coffee stops (yay Starbucks) snacks and more are plentiful in this area.
After exploring we checked in to the Mission Inn , 3649 Mission Inn Avenue, 951-784-0300, http://www.missioninn.com/ . Never having been a mission in reality, it is like Hearst Castle wit restaurants-Duane's Prime Steaks & Seafood, an AAA 4 diamond steak house,Las Campanas Mexican Cuisine and Cantina,Bella Trattoria Italian Bistro, and the Mission Inn Restaurant, their signature comfort food restaurant. There is also 54degrees, a wine bar. Hotelier Frank Miller began promoting the Inn around the turn of the century. He traveled the world and added wings to the inn just seven years after its 1903 opening, each one a souvenir of a different architectural twist that had impressed him: Gothic, Moorish, Tudor, Italian Renaissance, Japanese. Every facade, balcony, stairwell, light fixture and window got its embellishment-Tiffany stained glass, gold leaf, marble, tiles, ironwork etc. It isn't a resort-no tennis court, putting greens, game arcades, just a large swimming pool , an elegant garden, and Kelly's Spa.
Our package at $229 included a $25 restaurant credit and valet parking (well worth it as the line of people approaching the hotel all day and night lined up for blocks). Our room was elegant yet historic , spacious and airy, with pleasing colors. As with most historic hotels the soundproofing is lacking. Dining on the Patio at the Mission Inn Cafe was a must -all the better to see the lights and characters above us. We opted for the Grilled filet of Alaskan Halibut served with marbled mashed potatoes, citrus cream sauce , seasonal vegetables and fruit salsa. Our meals were delicious and the atmosphere amazing. We never knew where to look next as twinkling lights, statues of carolers, and animated figures dazzled us. Little did we know that those sights were just a harbinger of the courtyard and outside visuals. From the day after Thanksgiving two million bulbs and hundreds (yes ,literally) animated and real characters put the Inn into a Disney Electric Light Parade mode . Viewed from across the street it was Currier and Ives all over again. Awesome... we decided that we would return next year, but the day after Thanksgiving this time because when the lights go on for the first night of the season there is a fireworks extravaganza . Children and families abounded all agog at the spectacle. Not to be outdone the pedestrian mall came alive at night with an ice skating rink, gingerbread stands, hot cocoa and cider, kettle corn, funnel cakes, a Santa picture opportunity, and school choirs serenading. If you venture to Riverside for this unique sight it might be well worth the $$ to spend the night. It is jammed and fighting the crowds for parking isn't pretty. The hotel also offers guided tours for a small fee.
The Mission Inn can be reached via State Highway 60, 90 or interstate 215. There is also a Metrolink station less than a mile away .

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Wandering in Virginia-Richmond,Williamsburg,Jamestown and Yorktown November 2009

Recipe for a Great Trip-Take 2 ex history teachers, add one available timeshare, mix in historical sights/sites, and sprinkle with fall foliage. Voila! You have a perfect vacation which is what the following was.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMER 4, 2009 2:30 A.M. Kathy Larson and I started our day hoping not to be fogged in at the airport in San Diego, Lindbergh Field. Luckily, all went smoothly and we arrived in downtown Richmond in our rented PT Cruiser.We packed our GPS wo we wouldn't be lost but an agent was not around to give us an orientation re the car's features. So in the middle of rush hour traffic we approached a toll booth requiring exact change, but we couldn't figure out how to roll down the window. I'm sure all the commuters loved us as we stopped the car, opened the door, threw in the change, and left-joy! How were we to know the controls were over the radio? I must say Richmond drivers are very patient!
Downtown Richmond, capitol of Virginia, is bounded by the James River to the south and I-95 to the north and east, very much in a grid pattern. The Berkeley, http://www.berkeleyhotel.com,a four diamond AAA rated boutique hotel with 55 rooms, was in a great location within Shockhoe slip, the restored commercial tobacco area. Our package included breakfast , valet parking, and some very knowledgeable hotel personnel.
Handmade chcolates on our pillow was a perk. The desk clerk recommended Juleps, http://www.juleps.com/, in one of the city's oldest commercial buildings. Walking carefully along dark, cobble stoned streets in 42 degrees we passed the empty farmer's market and reached our destination. Escorted up a spiral staircase we reached the dining room beneath an open attic with original exposed beams dating back to 1737. After perusing the tantalizing menu with the help of our water, Ben, we ordered Fried Green tomato Beignets with a roasted Jalapeno lemon aoli-YUM! For an entree I ordered jumbo lump crab cakes with black lentils, rice, and roasted sweet corn mixed together topped with a green tomato-avocado guacamole and coriander sauce-Scrumptious! Kathy tried her first Mint Julep (they even gave you the recipe). Not my favorite drink but admittedly, better than my first one at Kentucky Derby-give me a pomegranate martini anytime. I chose a glass of wine from their extensive list. Kathy's entree was the grilled New York steak with a blue cheese, applewood bacon crust served with garlic confit mashed potatoes, Vidalia onion rings,creamy spinach and sherry vinegar beef just. I would recommend this restaurant highly to everyone.

At breakfast we sought advice from the maitre'd and set off for the Edgar Allen Poe Museum where we squeezed in between two 8th grade field trips (they warned us,but we thought we could handle it.) Poe was raised in Richmond. This complex has four buildings with rare first editions, a gallery of illustrations inspired by The Raven, along with a model of early 19th century Richmond.
Our next stop is St. John's Church at 2401 Broad Street where in 1775 the Virginia Convention met after being asked to leave Williamsburg because of growing hostility between the colonists and England. The roster of attendees included Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Jefferson, Richard Henry Lee, Edmund Pendleton, George Washington and Patrick Henry. Our "Patrick Henry", Ken, gave us a tour and delivered with gusto the famous "Give Me Liberty of Give Me Death" speech. To be seated in one of those pews where these men sat with our guide standing in that exact spot that those words were uttered was spine tingling to be sure. The surrounding burial ground contained the grave of Poe's mother and George Wythe, the first VA signer of the Declaration of Independence, and is shaded by the most colorful yellow-leafed tree which unfortunately gave off the odor of vomit! Seriously! Opting for the scenic route I-5 out of town we drove through pastoral, tree-lined streets admiring the fall foliage on our way to the plantation that was recommened we see-Shirley Plantation on the James River. http://www.shirleyplantation.com/, It has been owned by the Hill and Carter families since 1638 when it was given to them upon leaving England. It is the oldest continuously owned family business in North America producing cotton (as evidenced upon the long rutted road leading up to it) soybeans, and corn. Direct descendants of the Carter family are actually living in the house on the second story today. We toured the first floor constructed in 1723 noting that the furniture, silver (made in England), dishes, pictures, etc. are all original. Our knowledgeable docent informed us that it was the only plantation around that survived the war and was spared because it was turned into a field hospital where the owners showed their great compassion to the Union soldiers by ripping up their linens for bandages. To save the silver they buried it all over the 3,300 acres and, remarkably, it was accounted for after the war. The grounds are beautiful with the original surrounding buildings consisting of the ice house, kitchen,pump house, root cellar, storehouse,dovecote, etc.. Hmmmm... no slave quarters shown. The most unique fixture was the carved walnut staircase which rises three stories with no visible support, the only one of its kind in America. The owner was very innovative in that he built grates into the floor of each room for the purpose of heating by underground coat heaters. But the the problem was the heat stayed in a column because there were no fans to move it around. Today they are tied into the heating/cooling system. It is a beautiful setting complete with the tree lined entrance reminding you of Gone With The Wind, but we pressed on to Williamsburg.
Arriving at the Lodge at Powhatan, a diamond timeshare resort, we were definitely impressed with the sprawling, lush grounds incorporating lakes, two restaurants, general store, fitness and business center. After checking in and some missed turns we drove to our unit waiting for flocks of Canadian Geese who took over the roads strolling leisurely with no fear of the cars. We had a huge two bedroom two bath, kitchen,dining room, fireplace, 3 tvs, washer/dryer nicely furnished upstairs unit with a balcony overlooking the forest. We made reservations at a historical Williamsburg tavern and set out for what we thought was to be a 20 minute drive but NO. After two hours of being frustratingly lost we gave up and ate at Panera on the way home. Everyone told us the next day to throw out our GPS....it took me to the front of the tavern all right, but a screaming costumed slave told me that this road was not to be used by cars and I faced a $175 fine!!! In all fairness there was a car in front of me too. Street signs as you will find out in VA are not real visible and often missing. Of course there were no such thing as street lights in a historic area. The only saving grace was that we passed a Trader Joe's-yay! My fav. There was hope

Out the door at 9AM we were on our way to the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center. After researching the official site at http://www.colonialwilliamsburg.com, for background information we bought a two day pass and attended the movie, "Williamsburg-The Story of A Patriot", starring a young Jack Lord. The 37 minute film gave us great background. We hopped on the complimentary shuttle which delivered us to the Governor's Palace where we participated in an orientation walk with a docent for about 30 minutes. Then we took an hour tour of the palace, the residence of seven royal governors and the first two elected governors of Virginia, Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson. Presently, it is shown as the home of Lord Dunmore, British Governor, on the eve of the Revolution. Lots of swords and rifles were elaborately placed on every wall. Patrick Henry awaited us in one of the rooms where he answered any questions. After the governor's residence moved to Richmond in 1780 it was used by Americans as a hospital until a fire burned it to the ground. The kitchen in a separate building on the grounds was still being used for cooking demos and the smokehouse actually had meat in it.
We moved on to tour the Geddy House which served as a residence, workshop, and retail shop. We attended a demonstration/lecture by the shoemaker at his shop-watching him explain how leather was treated, wooden pegs inserted, and pitch and wax melted and pulled all to make boots and shoes for gentlemen. We appreciated the hard work involved. We visited several shops and admired the costumes rented by some families to enrich their visitation. Audience participation was required next at the courthouse, built in 1770 where volunteers are jurors, plaintiffs, and defendants for a mock trial-very well done. Unable to resist the stock we took pictures with our hands and neck encased-not a comfortable punishment, but better than hanging I guess. We visited the post office, the printers, and a foundry where upon looking down the barrel of a rifle I learned it was spiraled. We had garden fare at Chowning's Tavern and watched some of the speeches in front of Raleigh's Tavern which culminated in front of the Capitol Building. General Benedict Arnold rode up on a magnificent black steed while agitators provoked him. Again, very well done.
Our last tour was the Capitol Building itself where the General Assembly debated and framed legislation and high court judges ruled on the most serious cases. It is H shaped to show the division of the government between lower and upper houses. Weather was in the high 40's as we rode the shuttle back to the visitor center-the only way to go.

Today our pass expired. We decided what we wanted to cover since it is impossible to cover ALL of Historical Williamsburg in two days. The shuttle delivered us in time for an 11 A.M. tour of the De Witt Decorative Art Museum with English and American silver, ceramics, paintings, prints and textiles from 1600-1800. At noon we took another tour with an excellent docent of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, the first museum dedicated solely to American Folk Art. We wandered through both after the tours and headed for lunch at The Trellis Restaurant, http://www.thetrellis.com/, home of Death by Chocolate cake. Deciding to eat lightly we shared a peanut butter, Granny Smith apple and bacon sandwich on toasted cinnamon raisin bread accompanied by a small salad of snow peas, cooked carrots, peanut and peanut dressing in anticipation of sharing this famous dessert. What a delightful combination of texture and flavors in that sandwich-a must try at home! Anyway our 1,374 calorie , 6inch and then some, 7 layer extravangaza arrived. It is a chocolate mousse layer, cocoa meringue layer, chocolate brownie layer, chocolate ganache, mocha mousee, and chocolate layer resting in a pool of mocha rum sauce. Two cups of coffee each (to dilute the rich chocolate blendings) and 25 minutes later we had an empty plate (which I photographed for posterity -not that there won't be some lingering on my butt for all to see) and a picture was taken. After that it was time for a little retail therapy which included the Christmas shop (darling items-check it out) http://www.christmasshopwilliamsburg.com/ and the Nancy Thomas Folk Art Gallery, http://www.nancythomas.com/ ,with a picture I covet of three flappers dressed ,of course ,in red, blue and yellow. For those of you who know me you know that I talk to EVERYONE and Jill, in this gallery, was from Long Beach. We chatted a long time and it was fun-she gave us a restaurant tip since she knew we were on our way to Jamestown the next day. Kathy found a darling metal creche in another shop with lots of cute clothes and holiday items, http://www.gbates.com/. Wonder of wonders, they even had a Chico's in the square. The temps have warmed up to mid 60's today but nights still get chilly so we headed for home with a stop at Steinmarts ( solely for comparison purposes) and TJ's .

Boo... our last day of sightseeing. Arriving at the Jamestown Settlement, a new museum has been erected with a cost of over 2 million dollars -most impressive. Our journey back in time began at the Visitor Center where a short movie, "1607 A Nation Takes Root", gave us the background of this group of 104 English men and boys who began a settlement on the banks of Virginia's James River. Sponsored by the VA Co of London whose stockholders hoped to make a profit from the resources of the New World ,they were here 13 years before the Pilgrims. The galleries chronicled the beginnings in the context of the Powhatan Indian, English, and West Central African cultures and the impact of the settlement. We were made aware of so many more details than the history books told us. How I wished that I had done these trips while I was teaching US history. Because we have a 90 minute guided tour of the outdoor living history areas where costumed historical interpreters described and demonstrated activities we didn't have time to finish all the exhibits in the gallery. Our Powhatan woman met us and showed us the re-created reed covered houses, ceremonial circle and fields. One woman was carving a deer bone and another scraping the hair off of a stretched hide. Noting the differences in the chief's hut shown by bear hides and the the other huts we learned that a chief could have 100 wives. Our next guide was a gentleman colonist who showed us the James Fort which contained buildings like the storehouse, court of guard and the church. Some homes had thatched roofs and others the more flammable pitch and wood. A blacksmith was at work and a baker who used an outside oven . Continuing on our way another guide took us to the replicas of the three ships: Susan Constant (the largest), Godspeed and Discovery where one can board them and explore. For more information log on to http://www.historicjamestowne.org/
Temps were in the 70's today and time was precious so we left for lunch and the Yorktown Victory Center. We visited The Carrot Tree Restaurant, recommended to us by Jill. It used to be one of those 5 room strip motels on the side of the road, but is now a funky, neo green painted restaurant/bakery where comfort food was the name of the game. In 1984 the owner was challenged by a restaurant manager to produce a better carrot cake and she did by calling grandma for the recipe and baking until 3 A.M. The rest is history-a few burnt up family ovens followed by a commercial bakery and in 1995 The Carrot Tree. It is Williamsburg's only "scratch" bakery. You can tell food is her love-I had a meatloaf sandwich with cheddar cheese and Thousand Island Dressing accompanied with red potato salad-superb! Kathy opted for the ham quiche with marinated carrot salad and loved it. We took a piece of the famous carrot cake for later.
We reached the Yorktown Victory Center late in the afternoon after another scenic drive, amazed at the proximity of Jamestown,Williamsburg, and Yorktown. Finally, I got my Golden Age Lifetime National Park Pass (we are questioned everywhere we go for our age)after which we viewed another movie, "A Time of Revolution" which was excellent. Right on out for the 90 minute guided tour by Ranger Linda who showed her passion for this historic battlefield and love of history. After seeing the British Inner Defense line, the Second Allied Siege line, the redoubts and cannons we marveled at warfare in that day and age. Yorktown, founded in 1691 as a tobacco port, is now remembered for the Battle of Yorktown, the last major battle of the Revolution in 1781. General Charles Cornwallis under siege by 17,600 Continental troops, his escape from this peninsula blocked by French ships that have chased the British ships away, surrndered to General Washington and the rest... you know the story. Would our youth of today have the guts and courage battling with lack of food, clothing, ammunition,and superior soldiers to press on for freedom? I wonder and editorialize here, how anyone could not believe that divine intervention played a part in our achieving our independence.
Our tour lasted until 4:45 P.M. after which we did not have enough time to view the town and the rest of the areas including the Moore House where officers from both sides met to negotiate surrender terms.
for more information go to http://www.historyisfun.org/Yorktown-Victory-Center.htm
We freshened up at home for our last night's dinner in historic downtown Williamsburg at an authentic English Tavern, The King's Arms, opened in 1772 by Jane Vobe. It was so much easier (did I really say that) to find our way around now that we knew how the town was laid out and had watched where the shuttle stopped. Everyone was in costume. After being seated in one of the rooms by the fireplace,we we sampled peanut soup, a Southern favorite which sort of tasted like melted peanut butter, pickled watermelon rind, salty ham bits, and a corn relish. Both of us ordered the chop of Shoat,a maple and whisky brined double cut pork chop with tavern potatoes, cabbage braised with applewood smoked bacon, and creamed spinach with nutmeg and parmesan cheese, http://www.kingsarmstavern.com/. Everyting was good made more so by both a visit from costumed Jane and a serenade by a minstrel with a pocket mandolin. Authentically if you stayed in an inn you were expected to provide some sort of entertainment yourself. They even had pocket cellos.
The town is deserted and quiet by 9 p.m. and we drive through (courtesy of our GPS) the William and Mary Campus on our way back to the lodge.

We checked out and headed for the airport and our flights back home after absorbing and enjoying a lot of history made even more perfect because we both had a love and appreciation for it We absborbed ourselves totally in the experience. The fall foliage, lack of crowds at this time of year ,and sunny weather enhanced the experience. Our appetites were sated with fabulous food. We vowed to return to see what we missed adding Monticello and West Point which were only @80 miles away.
TIPS; There are many places both inexpensive and expensive to stay from the Comfort Inn to the Williamburg Inn and all kinds of restaurants from the unique to the familiar. BUT remember not to rely too heavily on your GPS in historic areas. Be aware that VA has terrible signage and street lighting. Allow for more time than the guidebooks say if you truly want to experience everything to the fullest. Do your research ahead of time using on line resources and friends who might have been there prior to your visit. Don't be afraid to ask for advice/opinions/and recommendations of all you come in contact with-be friendly. But most of all enjoy!

Saturday, June 27, 2009


Some get-a-ways are about the location, some about the companions, and some about recapturing memories. May's wandering to Scottsdale was about friends, location and a LOT about cuisine.
I was fortunate enough to be the guest of my friend and neighbor, Bonnie,at her timeshare, the Westin Kierland Villas in Scottsdale, AZ. As usual I packed too much into my days prior to this trip.

Friday, May 22,Saturday, May 23-Sunday, May 24

Pam, in La Quinta, invited me to a concert at Fantasy Springs featuring the Doobie Brothers and the Allman Brothers. Who could resist that combination? Since I was there already for a hair appointment on Friday I said ,"Sure!" What I didn't know was that it was four hours long with a 35 minute intermission-yowza (What was I thinking? I was 20 something?) Thankfully, my favs, the Doobies were on first. It was a very high energy show with all of their fabulous hits played plus a new recording. How did that many aging hippies find themselves in one place and does that much tie dye really still exist? After about 20 minutes of the Allmans her husband, Doug, took my place and I was on my way home. At 1 A.M. I arrived in Oceanside, unpacked, repacked,to bed at 2:30, woke at 5:30, drove to work,began at 8:30,off at 2pm, changed clothes, drove to parking lot, shuttled to airport, departed at 5pm and arrived in Phoenix at 6:20. Did you get all that? For those of you who know me, yes, even I get tired (who else would do this to themselves)but it was worth it.

If you know the San Diego airport well you should probably skip this next part because I am going to address how user friendly I think this airport is. Arrival at Lindbergh Field gives you several choices. One is to arrive via the Amtrak Surfliner which has the fewest stops and also runs on Sunday. The commuter train option is to use Metrolink from LA or Orange County connecting in Oceanside with the southbound Coaster. These trains do NOT run on Sunday but make the most station stops and offer the most frequent times. Either train will end at the Santa Fe Depot in downtown San Diego. From there it is about half a block walk to the bus stop on Broadway and Kettner (end of the tracks) where the red and white airport bus #992 will take you to the airport about every 15 minutes. It is free with a train ticket and $2.25 if not. This option doesn't usually work for me because my departure time is never when a Northbound train leaves.

The second option would be to drive down and park your car at one of the many lots close by the airport. This trip I used the Park and Go on Pacific Coast Highway. They average about $10 a day unless you go on line (which you can do if you want to make reservations to guarantee a spot)and find a coupon for $7. Most of these lots will let you reserve on line in advance necessary if over a holiday period. From there it is about a 5-10 minute ride to the airport via their free shuttle. Some lots will even wash your car while you are gone for an additional fee. Some lots also offer covered parking.

Southwest makes it so easy to check in on line and no baggage fees I like how they've eliminated the old jockeying for space in line by dividing the groups into 1-5, 6-10 etc. for preboarding.

Phoenix has the most organized rental car facility I've seen. All the rental car offices and lots are accessed by shuttle from the terminals. After comparing prices on both the car rental websites and on line with Orbitz, SideStep, Travelocity, Expedia, etc. I found the price for Enterprise on Hotwire. Through their tracking system they alerted me twice to price drops which enabled me to lower the cost from $184 on Enterprises' website to $74 for a four day compact rental. I cancelled and rebooked twice with no penalties. When I got to the Enterprise lot I was greeted with a cold bottle of water, maps, my route mapped out for me, a complimentary two class upgrade, and a personalized walk around the car for inspection. AND my young agent asked what kind of music I liked and set the radio dial for me, WOW! Of course this could have been because we had a nice chat about my concert going and foodie needs comparing restaurants (he validated some of my choices and gave me a few other leads). By the by, Enterprise now owns National (one of the few companies left that allows for a different pick and return destination with no extra charge) and Alamo. Shop around folks!

Without weekday traffic and relying on my GPS that I packed it was an easy ride to the Westin. This is a beautiful property linked to the hotel next door by a walkway and golf course. Bonnie came out to meet me and show me around the property. After checking out the spacious, luxurious two bedroom unit (I mean we each had our own bedroom, balcony, bathroom, living room, kitchen, 2 TVs, and Internet access, we walked over to the hotel in search of food and drink. The hotel was also impressive with a beautiful library adjacent to the lobby/lounge, cascading waterfalls, three restaurants (one pub style, one casual, and their signature restaurant, Deseo).

We opted to sit outside in the balmy 80 degree evening and chat over flatbread pizza and salad. Walking back it was d-a-r-k and tricky finding your way back to the timeshare, but we made it.


After much needed sleep when Monday morning came, it was difficult even then to leave that trademark Heavenly bed! I actually slept in which is 7:30 for me. Was it because of the blackout curtain? Armed with a pot of Starbucks coffee brewed in room, and book I headed for the balcony. Later we two weary travelers headed for lunch at the hotel (great salad)fortification for our shopping outing to the Kierland Commons, an outside shopping mall with lots and I mean LOTS of good restaurants to choose from, across from the hotel. Westin makes it very convenient to get around and you really don't even need a car. They will take you from the lobby of either the hotel or the villas to the Commons and drop you off at whatever store or restaurant you desire. When you are ready to come home the shop or restaurant will call for the shuttle (which can be either a golf cart or a van) and you are picked up within 5-o10 minutes. Needless to say we used it a LOT, but we usually tried to walk at least one way to get our exercise and work off calories. You try it in 100 degree weather. Bonnie hits Chico's with a vengeance so we don't get past one store before it is time to go back to the Villas for a wine tasting event. In all fairness we did get a late start and I did find a couple of choice items too. We even found stuff for you, Mel!
Held in the lobby with superb appetizers prepared by the executive chef from Deseo, our host, Tony Miller, expounded on the values of a 2007 Selby Sauvignon Blanc from Healdsburg paired with Chipotle crab salad, a 2006 Marc Bredif Vouvray from France paired with Shrimp Crostini with Curry-Line Aioli, a 2006 Kalleske Clarry's Red from Australia paired with Goat Cheese Crostini with Tomato-Herb Salad, and a 2006 Luca "Laborde Double Select" Syrah from Argentina paired with Mushroom Duxelle in Puff Pastry (yes, Phillis and Linda, I actually ate the mushrooms). While I am not really a white wine lover these two were terrific. What I liked about Tony Miller is that he looks for value and taste and finds more "out of the box" wineries. He gave us notes about some other wines that we didn't taste but that he values highly.
Mellowed out, appetites whetted we shuttled over to the Commons and selected a restaurant called Zinc Bistro (named for its zinc topped bar) http://www.zincbistro.com/
Enjoying our outside table we found the food great. Bonnie ordered short ribs bordelaise with zinc potato gratin, garlic and nutmeg cream,(these were fab), while my selection was Braised lamb shank with honey roasted peppers, fontina polenta, nicoise and picholine. A memorable ending to our day.
This was to be a lounging day, yes another 100 degrees plus causing us to move slowly, eventually lunching at North, a modern Italian cuisine restaurant. This trendy spot is part of the Fox group (you can't go wrong with any of their places). Prompted by our Fabio look alike waiter we tried fried zuchini chips and split a goat cheese, asparagus pizza with a yummy salad. Everything was to die for. Our shuttle arrives upon our call and back to the hotel we go.
Dinner takes us away from the Commons to Scottsdale's waterfront area (and I use the term loosely) which is basically some fountains. Cowboy Ciao, http://www.cowboyciao.com,7133/ Stetson Drive, 480-946-3111, Scottsdale, AZ
billed as contemporary American food. It is highly grazeable, vegetable rich , small plates, salads and entree kind of place. The Stetson Chopped Salad we ordered was made up of smoked salmon, couscous, trail mix, and other ingredients is an absolutely amazing surprise . When the waitress heard me trying to recreate it out loud for home she printed out the recipe for me. Wow! Is that unusual or what? No writing in to the RSVP section of the Times now. I'm impressed. So readers I'm adding it below for you to try-you WON'T be disappointed. I'm not a big fan of smoked salmon but I was wowed. One of my favorite features of this restaurant is that you can watch the chefs in the kitchen, the best seat being at the bar. They boast an extensive wine list too. Bonnie ordered the Espresso rubbed steak with cabernet demi glace, tortilla smashed Yukon gold potatoes and chipotle aioli while I tried the slow roasted short ribs with dried cherry barbecue sauce, pecan grits, and pan grilled veggies. For dessert she tries the Cowboy Chocolate Chip Cookie which has chopped bacon in it for a twist. She loved it , but not my cup of tea-too smoky. Waddling back to our room, we try not to think about all the calories we consumed focusing instead on tomorrow's eateries.
My last day has arrived so I savor an early morning rise, reading with coffee on the balcony watching the golfers cook and the jackrabbits scamper (yes, they have them here too) until Bonnie rises at 9:30. After more coffee and a walk around the grounds we head for lunch at Tommy Bahamas which is always a favorite and then back to wait for my replacement, Lori, to arrive. Thanks to Bonnie for inviting me.
Israeli or "pearl" cous cous (cooked 2 oz)
Argula 2 oz chopped
Roma tomatoes 2 oz chopped
Smoked salmon 1 1/2 oz
Pepitas 1/2 oz
Black currants 1/2 oz
super sweet dried corn 1 oz
pesto (prepared) 1/2 c
shallot, 1 roughly chopped
Aioli (mayo) 1 C
Buttermilk 1 C
Coarse black pepper 1/2 tsp
1/2 lemon juice only
salt and pepper to taste
Add first three ingredients to food processor and blend thoroughly. With motor running pour in buttermilk. Add remaining ingredients to combine. Store in refrigerator.
Well, I hope this whetted your appetites and when in Scottsdale you take advantage of their culinary options.... what else is there to do when it is so hot but eat and swim, yes?
Until next time , your wandering gourmand,c

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Carpinteria, April 2009

Wilkerson, the Wanderer

Carpinteria, April 2009

Carolyn and I decided to take a mini vacation so we drove up the California Coast to Carpinteria, a classic little beach town about 20 miles above Ventura and twelve miles below Santa Barbara with a population of 15,000 people. Why there? It represented a trip down memory lane for me having spent many childhood vacations camping at Carpinteria State Beach Park with family and friends.
Just to give you a bit of history Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portola camped with his men here. The town was named in honor of the area’s Chumash Indians who came to the area to use the tar found here to seal their canoes.
We arrived about 1 pm and drove through Carpinteria State Beach Campground which holds 262 tents and RV sites. As usual it is packed being popular because of the grassy areas and its proximity to the beach and town. We parked at the end of Linden Avenue, the main street of the town, where Carpinteria City Beach starts. Known as “The World’s Safest Beach” because of its gentle waves and shallow water it is a great place for strolling, beachcombing, and building sand castles (some of which we pass and stop to admire).I notice that many of the older beach houses have been replaced with modern duplexes, condos and fancy houses with an elite area called “The Hamptons”.
Being a little chilly still because it is of course April, we decide to check out one of the upscale restaurants that I had been reading about in travel magazines and tour books, Giannfranco’s Trattoria. What a find! We have the place to ourselves and are blessed with a great waitress.

Giannfranco's Trattoria

The owner, Franco Contreras, told me about his acquiring the restaurant and his relocation to Carpinteria.

Chef Giovanni in his gleaming kitchen
The restaurant is a family affair with their son, Chef Giovanni Sherwyn, a Santa Barbara Culinary Guild graduate, displaying his talents creating contemporary southern Italian cuisine

A Family Affair On the Patio at Giannfranco's Trattoria

The presentation was excellent, the prices reasonable, and the choices plentiful. I selected a panini milano (grilled chicken breast, Roma tomatoes, avocado, provolone and basil aioli served on Ciabatta bread accompanied by an ensalata de casa for only $8. We were given a tour of the back patio, charming with its fountain and trees. After discussing our mutual Italian heritage we ended our repast with a promise to return and recommend it to others. I could eat here every day, but they are closed on Tuesdays.

Inside Giannfranco's Trattoria

Time to check in to our motel, The Best Western Carpinteria Inn. We are pleased with location –walking distance to the town and beach and easy to access from the freeway. The inner courtyard ties in the Spanish décor. Our room is spacious with views of the mountains from our little verandah. A small restaurant is on the premises, exercise room on the bottom level, and a pool. Best of all, I can check my email from a computer with high speed free internet set up in the lobby.
Later Carolyn found a Japanese restaurant for sushi. We stroll Linden Avenue, after dinner checking out the small vintage and assorted shops that we will peruse tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 2009

The Worker Bee Cafe on Linden Avenue

Breakfast finds us at the Worker Bee Café-a mom and pop operation where we were invited to “Buzz on in”. Kitschy beehives, cups, jars and décor with the bee motive adorn every available shelf and wall. We feel right at home with the locals.

The Bee Motif

I declared the biscuits the lightest I have ever tasted and engaged the chef, a retired machinist from a family of seven, into a conversation with the motive of finding out his recipe. Turns out after a flop he accidentally created the recipe by using half cake flour and half biscuit mix. YUM!!!
Yearning for some exercise Carolyn urges me to take a short dive down Ballard Road which dead ends into a free parking lot at Carpinteria Bluffs. Alternate transportation would be to take the city bus. A two mile round trip walk starts there following one of many paths through a blooming wildflower meadow out toward the ocean.
Carolyn Among the Blooms

When we reach the cliff’s edge we turn right along a trail flanked by eucalyptus trees. We skirt a flower farm where bright purple flowers are sprouting, and then bear left and cross the railroad tracks. Our destination-The Harbor Seal Preserve, home to about 100 seals who this year birthed over 400 cubs according to one of the volunteers we talked to. From December through May it is so protected you must be silent. No dogs are allowed nor is the tossing of any objects and of course, you can’t walk on the beach below them.
The Harbor Seal Preserve
If you continue past the Chevron oil pier you will come to Tar pits Park, where you will see tar oozing down the cliffs. We opted to walk the other direction and spent time watching hang gliders launch from the cliffs and drift across the beach below. View from the Bluffs on our way to the seal preserve

Next on our list is window shopping down the main street, Linden Avenue.New for me was a bed and breakfast, Prufrock’s Garden Inn, a converted 1904 bungalow. Great location!
For lunch-a must stop at “The Spot” , a hamburger stand close to the beach and campground that has been there for 50 years. When we were kids the highlight of our day was to walk over there for a banana split or fish and chips served up their little plastic boats. The boats are gone now but there is still a waiting line for their famous burgers. We order, savor and then walk over to check out the Amtrak station. We had debated whether to come by train or car but didn’t know the logistics. The station is unmanned but the train stops on a regular basis. With the proximity of lodging and shops it would be an excellent way to visit.
Carpinteria is home to 30 nurseries and is a top producer of orchids. With Carolyn’s green thumb off we go across the freeway to an orchid wholesaler,Westerlay Orchids, where the deals were amazing. Unable to resist Carolyn buys several plants that are gorgeous, huge and only $20.
Last but not least is a stop for what else but chocolate. Chocolats du Calibrassan is a chocolates lover’s paradise. Glass cases house the most unique creations. Being so close to Easter we saw colored yellow bunnies and other creations that made us salivate (of course being greeted with a free sample didn’t hurt either). Jean-Michel Carre,chocolatier extraordinaire, has the most original truffles ever including 1)ginger/lemon,2)curry/coconut,3)Sichuan pepper/orange etc. Let me tempt you with a description of the Buchette Irlandaise-milk chocolate ganache with Irish whisky cream, covered with milk chocolate, rolled in powder sugar.
Sampling chocolate at Chocolats du Calibrassan
Then there are the bonbons, and a myriad of specialties that vary depending on the season. Jean-Michel and his wife Jill created their business in 1966 moving to Jill’s native California. Glimpses of Jean-Michel in the kitchen adding touches to his creations are a treat. At this writing truffles were $1.75. We opt for an espresso served with another chocolate and relax at the little table provided. The black and red packaging with the silver Eiffel Tower is manifique. Each of us select our favorites and take home a small box. Much to our dismay we are not able to attend the Chocolate Tour and tasting that are offered two Thursdays of each month. Reservations are required and include a glass of what else…. Champagne. A 45 minute tour is $20.
Next door is a wine shop with a large variety of local wines with tempting descriptions and recommendations. Naturally, I select a few interesting bottles for a future dinner.

A brief respite and we are off to dinner. Westways Magazine reviewed Sly’s, highly touted as a power dining spot with an experienced owner from Santa Barbara. Reservations are recommended. The wine cellar is visible and impressive .Service here is excellent, however, we found it to be very pricey. A perfectly flavored and cooked to perfection sea bass was $28, a la carte-no vegetable, no salad, NOTHING else. Every day there is a Blue Plate Special like a meat loaf platter with sides for about $22, much more reasonable but what was offered this night did not sound up our alley. Of course lunch is less expensive but in these economic times in my opinion it was not worth it and I would not return. Had Giovanni’s Trattoria been open I would have gone there again. The weather has changed and it has begun to rain lightly so we return to the hotel.

Wednesday, April 2009
A new breakfast spot was recommended to us, The Cajun Kitchen. Operated by surfers it is very casual with surfing videos running inside and palapas at outside tables. Huge portions are served here with a varied and extensive menu. Prices are reasonable and shades of Hawaii, you can get sticky rice instead of potatoes with your breakfast. We take one last stroll up Linden on our way back to the hotel and make a final stop at Robitailles Candy Shop, a Carpinteria institution of 40 years. What a delight for children of all ages! Here besides their famous homemade candies

Making Homemade Turtles

are the candies from yesteryear-rock candy of all colors, candy cigarettes, Cup of Gold candy bars (and others you thought you’d never see again). You name it, they have it. We each buy a package of their famous mints (they made the red, white and blue ones served at President Reagan’s inauguration ) for our mom's for Mother's Day.

In Robitaille's With One of Its Founders

Reluctantly we pack up the car and make one last stop at Porch, a unique outdoor/indoor store with fabulous accessories for patio and garden.

Outside of Porch......(my rug was featured in Sunset)

A brightly colored blue, gold and brown patio rug in a geometric print made from recycled plastic soda bottles caught my eye. Carolyn buys a stainless steel windmill for her patio. And so the happy shoppers depart laden with their goodies (maybe it was a good thing we didn’t take the train). We supported the Carpinteria economy, renewed old memories, created new ones and oh yeah-my rug had to be special ordered so gee, I guess another trip is in the future! I LOVE this house!

For Foodies:
Chocolats du Cali Bressan,4193 Carpinteria Ave. Ste. 4(805)684-6900 http://www.chococalibressan.com/
Sly's Restaurant, 686 Linden Avenue, http://www.slysonline.com/ ,(805)684-6666
Robitailles Fine Candies, 900 Linden Avenue, http://www.robitaillescandies.com,/
The Spot- 389 Linden 805-969-1019
Giannfranco's Trattoria
666 Linden Avenue
Carpinteria City Beach (805)684-5405

Places to Stay:
Carpineria vacation homes, http://www.vrbo.com/
Best Western Carpinteria Inn,4558 Carpinteria Avenue,(805)684-0473
Carpinteria State Beach,Camping reservations (800)444-7275