For better or worse, here I am—trapped in paradise. As long as I continue to live in this vital, inimitable spot on the globe,

I will continue to seek out the unique…the delicious…the innovative products, services and traditions of San Luis Obispo County.

Stay posted for a few of my favorite things.

About Me...

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A wanderlust at heart... captivated by the California Central Coast. Join me on my culinary and vino-infused adventures as I explore and discover the regional novelties of San Luis Obispo County that make living here...easy to stay...and hard to leave.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

SLO Reflections

Time sometimes escapes me. I find it hard to believe that just over a year ago I hit “publish” on my computer screen for the first time, sputtering my inaugural blog post out into cyberspace for all to see. Although a writer at heart, I’m a fiercely private individual, someone who does not easily share the details of my day-to-day existence. But my self-professed challenge to seek out the unknown in San Luis Obispo County—a place I had grappled with, as well as reveled in, for the last several years—impelled me to throw myself out there. So I set off on new adventures and my creative juices started to flow. I penned a few words, snapped the occasional picture, and created a lot of absolute memories.

As I reflect on the last 365 days, I cannot help but feel gratitude…a sense of accomplishment…a strong sense of purpose. I’ve discovered novelties about this flourishing county and about myself; forged new friendships and reconnected with old friends; developed  healthy new SLO habits; and now entertain a more positive outlook on life. I bought my first piece of real estate, tested my own limits, and had a few “a-ha” moments about what’s really important. I immersed myself in a community event that I felt passionately about and ended up on the board of directors—a huge feat for me. But the past year wasn’t all rosy. I lost a good friend to an untimely death and dealt with a few conflicts. But here I am. Still moving ahead. Still in SLO.

I will continue to hit "publish," as each story provides me with a huge sense of joy and satisfaction. I appreciate all of my readers, all of the feedback, and all of the encouragement. My blog is an outlet that's pushed me to explore my own backyard and will remain a constructive outlet that helps me connect with you—the reader, the adventurer, the creator of your own reminiscences. As I promised one year ago: As long as I continue to live in this vital, inimitable spot on the globe, I will continue to seek out the innovative…the delicious…the SLO-made products, services, and traditions. For better or worse, here I am—trapped in paradise. Here’s a look at some of my favorite things.

This past year I looked to the SLO hills for a place of quiet reflection as well as a challenging workout. Steep hillsides, stunning views and magnificent landscapes keep me on my inspirational path of exploration, and continue to lead me to new hiking grounds.

With a farmer's market in almost every niche of SLO County, the bright colors and fresh seasonal produce continue to lure me back every week.
Fanciful SLO County crops keep my creative juices flowing and my recipes imaginative.

Don't forget the grapes! With over 26,000 vineyard acres in SLO County, the abundance of sweet, juicy varietals growing in unique, optimal geographic conditions has led to over 200 wine labels in the county. 
So many tasting rooms. So little time. I've barely scratched the surface.
My quest to discover innovative SLO County products has led to a few favorite finds. I now have more varietals of honey in my kitchen than I ever knew existed. I truly believe you can discover the answer to any of life's problems while savoring a spoonful of heavenly, raw, unfiltered honey.
 Whether running a race on the beach or bumming in the sand, I've logged many beach hours during the past year. I will continue to explore the stunning SLO County coastline.

SLO County celebrates many of its novelties throughout the year. I attended wine festivals...olive and lavender festivities...a Renaissance Faire..even a surfing competition. But my favorite festival of the year goes to the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival—where "movies matter." Pictured here are actor Alan Arkin (SLOIFF's 2010 King Vidor Award Recipient) and director Norman Jewison (and me, raisting a toast in the background).

But my most beloved memory of the year? A visit from my brother and sister-in-law from Switzerland who introduced us to my new little nephew. He just turned one in July. How time flies!

Friday, July 16, 2010

SLO Saturday

Summertime diversions in San Luis Obispo County. So many choices. So little time.

Saturday afternoon my favorite scent—lavender—was in the air, so I let my olfactory senses guide me to to Downtown Paso Robles City Park, where the second annual Central Coast Lavender Festival was in full swing. Surrounded by numerous purveyors of this heavenly plant (an herb that actually belongs to the mint family), I browsed...I breathed...I sniffed the lovely array of fresh bouquets, sachets, soaps and lotions—all the while basking in the blissful aromas emanating on a hot summer's day.

This divine flowering perennial that is native to the Mediterranean, has over 39 species and not only tenders its intoxicating fragrance, but is also useful as an antiseptic; has antifungal properties; sooths minor burns; can be used to stop minor bleeding; is great for headache relief when placed on the temples; and is a good insect repellant. And these are just some of its benefits! Culinary English lavender (L. Angustifolia) also has its place in the kitchen. Have you ever tried lavender seasonings in your teas or in recipes? Think refreshing lavender lemonade...sweet lavender ice-cream...or a savory lavender rub on lamb chops.

As I sipped on cool lavender iced-tea and listened to one of the information talks presented by Lila Avery-Fusion of Central Coast Lavender Farm (who was inspirational in founding the Central Coast Lavender Growers Assocation, a non-profit organization which brought this fragranced festival to Paso Robles for the second year), I was moved by her inspirational story of how she transformed herself as a victim of multiple sclerosis into becoming an ambassador for essential oils. She channeled her positive health experience—that resulted from the benefits of using lavender essential oil—into an organic lavender farm of over 20,000 plants that she and her husband now grow and tend on their farm in Paso Robles. They distill their own oil in a 50-gallon copper still, offer consumers 100% pure organic lavender essential oil, and also produce an array of other lavender products. I picked up some of their blissful treats such as lavender seal salt, vinegar, culinary buds, and bath gel. I also stopped at a few other vendors and loaded up with a gorgeous sweet-smelling bouquet of fresh lavender, an enticing sachet, and a jar full of fragrant lavender honey. Mmmmmmmmmm.

But the day wasn't over yet. Later that evening good music and good food also summoned my senses. As part of the City of Atascadero's Saturday in the Park, Summer Concert Series, I met up with some family and friends for an evening of live music performed by the House Red Band, and gobbled up a gourmet barbeque plate prepared by Pacific Harvest Catering. As we sat lakeside and listened to the live tunes, I dined on a delicious dinner of tender, flavorful grilled steak kabobs and veggies; a couscous salad, brimming with bright tomatoes, crisp cucumber and creamy feta; and a melt-in-your-mouth slab of thick, buttery garlic bread. They prepared 70 dinners and quickly sold out. No wonder.

At the end of the evening, after I'd returned home and necessitated some much-needed sleep, I brought out my English tea cup and dolloped a bit of lavender honey...dropped in a teaspoon of culinary lavender buds...and let the flowers steep in boiling water, covered for 20 minutes. I soon sipped and relaxed into a slumbery state—as lavender imparts properties that promote restful sleep. A lovely end to a long summer's day.

Wishing you sweet-scented adventures...
fragrant elixirs...
and a good night's sleep.

Friday, July 2, 2010

SLO Chow

Bright airy dining. Fresh bright flavors. Welcome to Chow. This innovative eatery, located in downtown San Luis Obispo (across from the Courthouse and just a few steps from the Fremont Theatre), brought its dazzling Asian-inspired dishes to my SLO Friday evening.
After strolling past Chow's sleek turquoise exterior, I stopped long enough to peek in at their nouveau, bamboo-ornamented interior and peruse their innovative menu—where delicacies like lemongrass pork satay with housemade peanut sauce, sesame orange roast chicken, and five spice duck confit salad caught my eye. I couldn't resist grabbing a seat at the "window."
After plopping down in this open-air storefront, sitting window-style presented me with views of historic buildings and continous passersby rambling up and down the sidewalks. I settled in at this salubrious setting and promptly began studying Chow's inventive list of drink and dinner options. After much debate (and welcome advice from my waitress), I opted for a soju cocktail ($7). Made with rice vodka, this muddled drink, with mint leaves and small chunks of fresh ginger piled high over ice, tasted refreshingly zingy. (Chow also makes a strawberry basil version, and either can be ordered in non-alcoholic form).
Next came the appetizer. After much deliberation, I chose the small plate of Korean braised beef lettuce cups ($7). Served on butter lettuce, the delicious, tender chunks of spiced beef melded perfectly with the sweet chunks of pineapple, the long, thin slivers of crunchy jicama, the housemade kimchi, and the spicy chile sauce. At first I didn't know best how to tackle this colorful—yet awkward starter—but finally I rolled one up, opened wide, bit down, and let the flavors explode. Oishii.
After this successful nibble my stomach was nearly full, but curiosity wouldn't allow me to stop. I ordered a noodle bowl, Zha Jiang ($9), which yielded a giant serving of spicy ground pork, plump udon noodles, and slices of cool crunchy cucumber. Accompanying this trio were three extra flavorful frills: spicy chile sauce, pickled serranos (ouch!), and a sweet chile sauce to provide some much-needed balance to offset the melange of fire. I spooned in a little of each condiment, then stirred up my mishmash of flavors until the beautiful noodles were stained with red, covered in minced pork. With my chopsticks readied, I prepared to chow down.
The lovely creaminess of the udon, the undertones of the allspice warmly flavoring the pork, the sting of the serrano chiles, and the sweet and spicy sauces left me contented. (These giant noodles remain a favorite of mine as they remind me of the school cafeteria lunches I ate while teaching English in Japan). I immensely enjoyed slurping up these long, thick strands in this new fusion of flavors and textures.
With my stomach full, my lips on fire, and my curiosity satisfied, I sensed that this would not be my last visit to Chow. Other creative items on their menu—salt and pepper prawns with gingered vinegar; Laksa, a noodle bowl with seafood and rice noodles in a spicy coconut milk broth—would likely lure me back at some point in the near future. But for now, I was content with my zesty newfound discovery. Chow.

After dinner, the summer Friday night Concerts in the Plaza attracted quite a crowd in the Mission Plaza, located just a few blocks from Chow. Live music by The JD Project rocked the SLO downtown core.

Also attracting crowds were the festivities brought by Art After Dark, a San Luis Obispo County Arts Council program. Taking place the first Friday of each month, local businesses showcase local artists, many offer up appetizers and local wines, and some offer live entertainment such as music and bellydancing. I wandered into several venues to admire the creative work of many local artists. My favorite pick of the evening goes to the History Center of San Luis Obispo (located across from the Mission and pictured above). Their current exhibit: Bells, Belles & Beaux, Wedding Traditions of SLO County, 1870's - 1950's, brought a unique display of vintage wedding dresses, evolving traditions, and a little-known piece of local SLO history to light.

Who says Friday nights in downtown San Luis Obispo are SLO? Not me!

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