Western Hills Garden a Gem

IMG_4474

There is so much to see and do in Sonoma County. There is the coastline, the Russian River and the party town of Guerneville. You can wine taste in Healdsburg or Sonoma. Great food abounds in Petaluma and throughout the county. Many of the historic Italian dining rooms dotted throughout the western county are still serving lunch and dinner. One that holds many memories for me is Union Hotel in Occidental, California. I don’t know how young I was the first time I rode in the car from Occidental, up and over Coleman Valley Road and dropped down to Highway One and the Bodega Bay on the other side. Dramatic scenery abounds and if it is foggy it adds an element of terror to the ride. I have a romantic spot in my heart for Coleman Valley Road.

When my Auntie J sent me the notice about the Western Hills Garden reopening for visitors this summer and I saw the address (16250 Coleman Valley Road), I got a little thrill. We needed to go on Saturday because that is the only public day that I generally have free. I saw that dogs on a leash were welcome so I packed up Lulu the adventure dog and we headed to Petaluma to pick up my Auntie.

IMG_4468We drove the backroads through Valley Ford to Occidental. Coleman Valley Road deadends in to the middle of town. The garden is part way up the hill from town on the right. There is parking along the road. The garden and plant sales are open Saturday from 10 – 4 as well as Tuesdays and Thursdays by appointment.

The entrance fee is $12 for adults. The garden provides a map but the 3 acres of paths are straightforward. Lulu was so excited by the smells of garden cats and wild animals. We were excited by the amazing plants–oversized lilies, large rhododendrons, and a tremendous diversity of plants.

We saved some time for plant shopping. I found some specimens that are hard to find in most nurseries. Now that I have so much shade, I can consider some plants that couldn’t survive in my Central Valley garden with hot summer sun.

IMG_4478I’d go back to shop for plants (no entry fee needed) or to show the garden to friends. It is always inspiring to see a truly well designed garden.

We returned to Petaluma via Sebastopol and to Amy’s Drive In in Rohnert Park. Amy’s features delicious vegetarian diner food. It is just a block from an In-N-Out if you prefer a double-double.

 

 

Cooking Adventure in Santiago, Chile

Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-11-28,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y

Tevis Spezia loves to travel and has negotiated a month off to be able to recharge from his hectic nonprofit job. This year his destination was Chile, landing first in Santiago. With friends in Santiago there was plenty to do and still he found time to take a cooking class with his friend Edmond.

Tevis has cooked since his senior year in high school and he’s developed some skills from cooking with friends weekly in San Francisco and taking some classes in Southeast Asia. He’s also game to try new things. Based on past good experiences, he went on Trip Advisor and found a class.

 

They walked to the markets and took the subway to the kitchen. The teaching chefs had already prepared the dough to make dosladitas–a Chilean bread that is similar to sourdough that you eat with salsa or butter. The class put the bread dough in the oven and prepared the salsa (pebre). They also made ceviche. No recommendation here (Tevis is not a fan of fish, cooked or raw). They mixed up pisco sour cocktails (which can make you invisible but that is a tale for another day). The menu was rounded out with a pork and potato dish (Chorrillana de Cerdo) and a Panacota de Chirimoya dessert.

All of the food was very tasty. Tevis thoroughly enjoyed the experience and would recommend it to anyone spending time in Santiago.

Cooking classes are a great way to get to know a culture more intimately. Taste preferences are created over a lifetime. We assume pumpkin pie is delicious to everyone, but when I asked the chef at Moreton’s in St. Heliers/Auckland to make one for our family Thanksgiving dinner, he scrapped it because it tasted off to him. He remade it with butternut squash. And this in a country that eats pumpkin all the time.

Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-11-28,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y

The recipes and the knowledge of how to make them are the ultimate souvenir to take home.

Cooking Lessons in Southeast Asia

20160218_1109111

Cooking classes are a great way to expand your cooking repertoire and learning new skills. I’ve taken classes in Sonoma, California and in my hometown. My son Tevis Spezia took it to a new level when he spent 4 months in Southeast Asia. He took two classes–one in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and one in Hội An, Vietnam. He found both of them on Trip Advisor, which is his go-to when he’s looking for interesting activities when traveling.

img_20160218_123403

Tevis’ interest in cooking started with lessons from me for he and his friends Jenn and Heather. He quickly expanded his abilities past easy enchiladas and pasta sauce. While he lived in San Francisco he cooked dinner every week with a group of friends with a range of cooking experience. He tried a lot of new recipes and learned new skills.

“You can only go on so many walking tours and see so many museums, so I thought I’d try a cooking class.”  The Chiang Mai class included pick up and drop off from his hostel, and a shopping excursion at the market. Then they went to the farm kitchen for meal prep.

 

 

Tevis did feel like the odd man out in Chiang Mai as it was all couples except him. He did suggest the class to his dinner party friends Alison and Craig who honeymooned in Thailand. His experience in Vietnam was different–there was a mix of singletons and couples. He even ended up mopeding to the next town with someone he met in the class.

In Vietnam they spent more time in the markets shopping and even traveled part of the way by boat. Then they returned to a classroom kitchen in town. They made this specialty rice cake and crepe like pancakes used to roll up with different fillings. Tevis’ favorite recipe and one he’ll make again was the fresh spring rolls. They also made pho, but Tevis didn’t see the point in making pho when you only had to walk a few steps to find phenomenal pho made from a family recipe. And it was all so cheap (about $1.50 a bowl). Even in Boston, where he lives now, he’s more likely to buy a bowl a pho at a restaurant than make it himself.

I didn’t ask if he’d take another cooking class on future trips, because I knew the answer! Tevis’ Chilean cooking class is featured in next blog post.

20160320_101253

Thanks Tevis Spezia for sharing your experience with Adventures of American Julie.

 

Food Memoirs Inspire Travel

My blog posts have slowed in the last month or so because much of my spare time is dedicated to eating an elimination diet and acupuncture appointments. I soak my feet in an herbal tea and I drink gallons of alkaline water. I haven’t felt well for about 2 years but when I broke out in hives in mid-February and they were still with me 6 weeks later, I knew I had to take the time to address my health.

IMG-4434

Pour kettle full of hot water on one foot bath tea bag and let steep for 6 minutes. Then add another kettle full of hot water and 3 pitchers of roughly equivalent size to soak for feet for 30 minutes. Keep water as hot as you can stand. This is intended to help draw toxics out of your body. 

I still don’t know what is  at the root of my health issues. I am in the club of women and men who live with chronic pain that western medicine isn’t good at diagnosing let alone providing relief. If I had to guess I’d say that our western lifestyle is toxic. I know I’d feel better if I could travel. But I had to cancel my Michigan adventure due to my most extreme sciatica episode to date.

My pets are glad to have me home. Yet I need to do something to satisfy my wanderlust.

I have been listening to a lot of podcasts as I cook and soak. Two of my favorites are about reading: What Should I Read Next? and Reading Women. They are both delightful and now the top of my dresser is heaving with books to read. When Reading Women podcast hosts interviewed author Chibundu Onuzo, she recommended several books I wrote down for future reading, including Longthroat Memoirs by Yemisi Aribisala. I already had on my list My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss as a recommendation from WSIRN? I took the plunge and purchased them both.

I read My Berlin Kitchen first because I heard it favorably compared to Ruth Reichl’s memoirs and because I’m curious about Germany — Berlin has been rising on my places to go list. Never fear, if you think it is a book full of German recipes, it is much more varied. The author is American/Italian with deep ties to Berlin. The book is really the story of growing up on two continents and with people she loves in 3 or more countries before and after the Wall fell. She tells her story in short chapters ending with a recipe. I marked 9 different recipes I’d like to try. I already tried her Uncle’s ragu sauce and it was a B+ (of course I did not cook it for 3-5 hours as suggested). This book made me want to go to Berlin, and return to Italy, and for others it might make you want to go to Paris. Not me. She also sends a lot of love to New York City and even Los Angeles. It is a fun read and I managed it in a weekend.

Longthroat Memoirs is much less accessible to me. I have been to South Africa and Capetown is near the top of my wish list because of the penguins, but Nigeria is not on my list yet. This is an ambitious book as it is introducing a complex culture (Nigeria is very large and has many ethnic cultures within), and a cooking style with whom few people have any familiarity. I also found her writing more convoluted to follow with many references I don’t get. To be fair, so does Weiss, but I know Laura Ingalls Wilder and why someone would pine to go to Prince Edward Island.

Also, I cannot envision making groundnut soup, also known as Nigerian River Province Soup or Bayelsa. Aribisala seems determined more to use food as an entry point to so many other subjects that it is probably miscast as a food memoir. And where would I get the ingredients! “There is the green leaf vegetable that cannot, and most definitely should not, be frozen spinach. There is afang leaf unwound from its symbiotic partner in the bush. There is afang leaf grown in town and snubbed by the bush afang. There is the pumpkin leaf that, in one unique language ‘ibok iyep’ (red blood corpuscle) for its nutritional powerhouse status.” (p 23)

So while the book doesn’t satisfy as a food memoir, it is essential reading if you want to spend more time in the diverse countries of Africa. I will give it to Grace Julie who has already traveled extensively in Western Africa.

Food is such an essential part of the travel experience. I will explore this in more detail in future blog posts.

World Penguin Day Today

Meet Monty and Poppy at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. These baby African penguins are not yet on exhibit. You can see the other penguins on the regular penguin cam.

The New England Aquarium in Boston, MA also has some little blue penguin chicks–from New Zealand! You can read more about it here.

Take a moment today to appreciate penguins as most species are threatened by food or habitat loss. Thanks climate change. And ride your bike or walk instead of driving your gas guzzler to give the planet a break.

Happy Local Yarn Shop Day!

IMG_4270

My closest store: Rumpelstiltskin on R Street in Sacramento

I am very fortunate as there are several stores that specialize in knit/crochet supplies. Babetta’s is my other go-to if I am in the burbs. Rumpelstiltskin is my closest shop and the one I bonded with when I began knitting 30 years ago. It recently changed ownership and the new management is bringing a fresh enthusiasm to knit, crochet and weaving.

Today is “support your local yarn store day” and Rumpelstiltskin was offering lots of exciting extras. I bought the store t-shirt for just $5 with my purchase. I bought the yarn to make the spring challenge and got the drea renee knits “The Shift” pattern for free! I also discovered a new zine called Making.

I love supporting a local business and getting new inspiration and projects. It is a complete bonus when the store is close enough to bicycle to on a beautiful spring day! My basket was full of cotton yarn on the way home. Love.

Confessions of a Cycling Fan

Screen Shot 2018-03-20 at 5.10.20 PM

This email got me thinking about my relationship to cycling as a fan and rider.

I have followed professional cycling for decades or since Greg LeMond won his first Tour de France. I have spent much of my precious time and resources as an avid fan in Italy, France, England California and Australia. When the UCI ejected Peter Sagan from the Tour de France last July, my fan heart was broken.

I never thought Lance Armstrong was clean because I saw an interview with Greg LeMond talking about getting dropped by riders who the year before were middling racers. Then he knew the drugs were winning. Lance was up among the elite riders who were winning and they were getting caught doping. My assumption was that he was better at not getting caught. So I left some room for being wrong and cheered Columbia High Road and other riders on. Besides he was a bully, that was clear without a urine sample.

Somehow I survived those wretched years when the press broke a new drug scandal every year. I remember once I was traveling in Africa and spent some time with a German couple. He was a sports writer and the German press had just made a big deal about not televising or covering the Tour de France because of the drugs. I couldn’t understand how you could just stop caring. I was still in the throes of attraction to cycling.

Now I understand. Sometimes the corruption of the officials and the lack of fair play doesn’t just knock the wind out of you, it hits you with such a punch you just don’t give a flying fig anymore. I have huge respect for Peter Sagan. His cycling skills are unparalleled today. And his attitude is super fun and eccentric. He brings excitement to the sport. Oh, and he’s won the world championship 3 years in a row. He was on track to win the green jersey again, when his crash with Mark Cavendish drew the ire of race officials. They didn’t just relegate him for that stage (like they did Mark Cavendish when he had a similar crash back in the day), but ejected him from the race. Later the UCI dropped the disqualification, as if that does anything to erase the stupidity of the first decision.

The rest of the season I followed the Australian team and their excellent videos on social media. Orica Bike Exchange’s Backstage Pass was awesome. I stopped using my NBC Gold Pass to watch races. Still I wondered if I’d go back to feeling good as a fan after a break.

Then I received this email about Peter Sagan’s Fondos in California. Nope. I have a precedence. After many years as a USC football fan, I read about the concussions, then I took my family to a home game and the pre-game videos of greatest “hits” made me sick. Haven’t watched a game since. The Olympics, well who hasn’t lost faith in the Olympics? The latest in scandals is the Russians’ systematic doping. But that has been going my whole life. See the documentary Icarus on Netflix for a refresher.

I am sad to announce my heart break was finally irrevocable. I am a former cycling fan.