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.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Holidays at Hearst Castle

For many of us, the end-of-year holidays are steeped in tradition. This year I added a new rite to my Christmas jubilee by visiting Hearst Castle. During the month of December, festive decorations gild the entryways and adorn the lavish interior of San Luis Obispo's illustrious villa, and guests can choose from one of several guided tour options to soak in the grandeur. I purchased a ticket for "The Grand Rooms Tour" and boarded a bus that took us high up the winding road that leads to the former estate of the late publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst.

Sitting lofty above the unspoiled coastline of San Simeon on "La Cuesta Encantada"—the enchanted hillthis palatial retreat, completed in 1947 by Hearst and his architect Julia Morgan, is a testament to sheer determination. After inheriting 250,000 thousand acres of ranch land in 1919 after his mother's death, Hearst enlisted Morgan to "build a little something" on the hill where he grew up camping. 

This little something, built over 28 years, grew in extravagance to encompass "Casa Grande," the main house comprised of over 68,000 square feet of grand rooms and a movie theater, as well as several impressive guest houses, two opulent swimming pools, extensive blooming gardens, and tennis courts. In its heyday, the property even had a private zoo. 

Now a California State Park and open to the public almost every day of the year, Hearst Castle is a landmark tourist attraction. Following are a few glimpses of the holiday sparkle and largess of a bygone era. 

Influenced by a trip to Europe with his mother when he was 10 years old, Hearst became a lifelong art and antique collector. He embellished his estate with treasures acquired from all over the world and this hilltop retreat is now a living museum. In the Assembly Room of La Casa Grande, Christmas trees and bright boughs of holly brighten remnants from the past.
 In the Refectory—named after a monastery dining hall—Hearst's guests dined while surrounded by sheer opulence from floor to ceiling, yet still had the informal comforts of home provided, like paper napkins and ketchup bottles. These accoutrements were similar to what Hearst grew up with on his childhood table. Filmmakers modeled this Gothic-inspired room for the dining hall in the Harry Potter film series. 
This poinsettia tree added crimson cheer to the Morning Room. What a place to have tea every morning!
After guided tours, guests can stroll the gardens and pools at their leisure. The dramatic Neptune Pool, influenced by ancient Rome and studded with Roman columns, holds 345,000 gallons of water and is surrounded by fine art and open views of the surrounding mountains and nearby ocean. 

During my visit in mid-December, San Luis Obispo County warmed up to ideal temperatures in the high 70s. I have to admit that lounging around the Neptune Pool was my favorite part of the tour.
While wandering around the estate's grounds, I stumbled upon this charming little 3,620 square-foot guest house, Casa del Sol. In order to withstand earthquakes, all of the structures on this enchanted hill are made of steel reinforced concrete. The architecture is influenced by historic styles from Hearst's travels.
The reflective Roman pool is the last site of exploration before boarding a bus for the five-mile ride down the hill. This splashy indoor pool, tiled from top to bottom with glass mosaic tiles, is simply amazing. 
No matter what time of year you visit Hearst Castle, it is always a sight to behold.

Wishing you holiday grandeur and a very happy new year!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

San Luis Obispo Horizon

During this splendid time of year when the clouds return, I find myself constantly gazing at the sky. When puffy formations blow across the horizon, I know chances are good that at the end of the day I'll find a spectacular light show where clouds meet the water. But sunsets are fleeting, never predictable, and never ever the same.

This evening I chased clouds all the way to Shell Beach in the southern part of San Luis Obispo County, hoping to catch a worthwhile view. Oh, boy, was I ever in the right place at the right time. Here is a progression of tonight's end-of-day phantasmagoria.



 Quite a light show in Shell Beach.

Friday, December 6, 2013

San Luis Obispo Sparkle

I have little tolerance for Christmas decorations popping up in stores prior to Thanksgiving. But once our national feasting day officially came and went and December 1 descended upon us, I felt ready to ring in the remaining end-of-year festivities. Only one problem remained: last Sunday's cerulean blue horizon and 80 degree temperatures. The weather just didn't suggest a holiday mood. 

So I went in search of my own yuletide sparkle and headed to Laetitia Vineyard & Winery. Perched in the Arroyo Grande hills at the southern end of San Luis Obispo County, Laetitia's grand tasting room is surrounded by their 620-acre vineyard, where since the 1980s they've been producing estate wines. Renowned for their sparkling wines, crafted in the classic "Méthode Champenoise"—the arduous process used in the French Champagne region where the effervescence is achieved by secondary fermentation in the bottle—Laetitia is second to none when it comes to bubbly.

Laetitia offers an impressive tasting menu and guests can imbibe in five pours of their own choosing. Some might be inclined to start with just one of the many sparkling selections before moving on to sip Laetitia's estate varietals; such as chardonnay, pinot noir, syrah, or even a Rhone varietal from their label, Nadia, which sources grapes from nearby appellations. But not me. I lolled over the holiday sparkle. 

I explored the Brut Cuvée non-vintage, the Cuvée M 2009, the Brut Coquard 2008, the Brut de Noirs 2010, and finally the Brut Rosé 2009. Sipping through these five dry, fizzy gems galvanized my holiday spirit. 
I envisioned tall flutes filled to the brim, pairing well with holiday fare and festivities. 

I also hit their winery trail, which meandered through the auburn-colored estate vines. 
During this short walk I felt the sun's blush and peered all the way to the ocean.

Although the upcoming holiday season clashed with the gorgeous weather, I have no grumble. 
After sipping Laetitia's effervescent creations and exploring their peaceful surroundingswhere guests can relax comfortably while picnicking and sipping a bottle of wine outside who could complain?

 Later in the week, wintry weather finally nudged its way into San Luis Obispo County. 
With freezing night temperatures and chilly days, I imagine Laetitia's vigorous fall leaves found their final resting place.

With the onset of this brisk week and the official start of the Christmas season, a relative and I decided to ring in the holidays by dining at the landmark Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo City. The pink inn's jubilant decorations are over the top and not to be missed during this cheery time of year. I couldn't resist indulging in a little more bubbly (pink Spanish cava) to continue soaking in the holiday sparkle. 

There are countless ways to trumpet the end-of-year festivities.
Regardless of the weather, enjoy the dazzle of this season!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thanksgiving Goodness

Over the weekend someone gifted me a day-old baguette. I could have turned it into croutons, but with Thanksgiving just a few days away I experimented with a sweet-savory bread pudding recipe. The end result was over-the-top goodness.

No matter how much we stuff ourselves on Thanksgiving, somehow we always seem to find room for dessert. So I offer up this flavorful bread pudding recipe that your family and friends will give thanks for. This custard treat makes good use of leftover bread and sweet potatoes, so you might even want to wait until the after-holiday weekend to whip up as an extra special breakfast. Enjoy.


Serves 6 - 10 hungry or not-so-hungry mouths.

6 cups stale, cubed baguette
1 teaspoon butter
1 - 2 cups roasted sweet potatoes
1/3 cup honey
Zest & juice of one small orange
1/2 teaspoon each of salt, cinnamon & ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon each of allspice, nutmeg & cardamom
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups milk
4 eggs plus 2 egg yolks 

To roast the sweet potato, heat oven to 350°F. Cut potato lengthwise in half and place flesh side down on a glass baking dish. Bake for about one hour, until tender all the way through when pierced with a fork (and you'll see caramelization bubbling on the bottom of the dish). Remove and let cool. 
Sweet potato goodness: from pantry to oven. 

Rub the bottom of a 9 x 11 glass baking dish with butter. Slice or tear the baguette into large bite-sized pieces and scatter evenly in the dish. 

Scoop out the sweet potato flesh from the skins and add to a large mixing bowl. Whisk in the honey, orange, salt and spices and mix for a few minutes before adding the cream and milk. Stir the liquids in and then add the eggs, whisking until everything is well incorporated. 
The mixture will be slightly thick but still runny. 

Pour the mixture over the bread and let it sit for 10 minutes. Then place in a preheated 350°F oven for 40 - 50 minutes. You know the pudding's done when the flavors brighten the kitchen, the top crisps up to a golden brown, the custard sets firmly, and the center puffs up. Remove and allow to cool for a few minutes before serving with freshly whipped cream or vanilla ice-cream. 

Before and after pictures: chewy bread soaks up fall flavors to yield a festive dessert. 


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Holiday Thanks

Even though I don't always practice what I preach, I'm a true believer in focusing on what I'm grateful for on a daily basis. As 2013 slips further into autumn and the holidays loom just around the corner, perhaps this is a season for added reflection.

With ideal temperate weather and vibrant fall leaves freckling the  Edna Valley region vineyards, this past weekend I felt even more blessed to live in San Luis Obispo County. I couldn't resist taking a drive in my own backyard, in search of distinctive local wines to share with family and friends during the upcoming Thanksgiving festivities. 

Hoping to find the perfect regional nectar of the gods to fill our glasses and complement the abundance of food and flavors that will mound our plates on this gratified holiday, I visited three small quality-focused wineries located in this cool-climate coastal zone. Here's what I found.
At Wolff Vineyards I couldn't leave without a bottle of their 2012 Dry Riesling, a nicely balanced, fruit-forward ambrosia of flavors. This varietal will hold up well to the countless flavors that might end up on our holiday plates.

 I picked up another outstanding white that pairs well with the myriad zest of the holidays: Claiborne & Churchill Vintners's 2012 Dry Gewürztraminer; a floral explosion in the mouth. Their 2009 "Classic" Pinot Noir also went home with me. Velvety and packed with notes of berry and herbs, I envisioned a glass of this medium-bodied red going down nicely with our festive meal without overpowering the roasted turkey.
I discovered an outburst of jam-packed flavor in Cerro Caliente Cellars 2007 Syrah. This vintage was a particularly good year for the region's grapes and I'm hopeful our smoked turkey will pair spot on with this pleasant, peppery wine.

Even though I still haven't quite figured out how I ended up so fortuitous to end up in San Luis Obispo County, I'll keep tasting away, thankful for every entreating sip. I will remember the importance of sharing with family, friends and even strangers, as well as continue to give thanks, give back to my community, and keep on exploring my beautiful environs.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Yosemite Hallow

Whenever I visit the Yosemite region my favored pastimes are simple: eat, drink and exercise. Not necessarily in that exact order, but always with a camera in hand. 

On Halloween Day, a relative and I drove down to hike the low forested meadows of Yosemite Valley. The weather screamed, "Clear blue skies with warmish breezes all day long," while the trails warned, "Enter at your own riskyou might never want to leave."

With luminous autumn colors lining the Merced River, we spent the good part of the afternoon leisurely following a 7-mile loop course. On this hallowing day, during an off-season time of year, we practically had the trails to ourselves. The absence of people in this national park was actually quite eerie. 

We worked up quite an appetite on our trek and the next celebratory dayAll Saints Day—went in search of regional food and libation. On Highway 41, located about 45 minutes from Yosemite National Park's south gate entrance, lies Fäsi Estate Winery. Set amidst the golden hills, mooing cows and serpentine oak trees of the lower Madera County Foothills, this stellar establishment offers a taste of local terroir. 

The tasting room opened just last year, but since 2003, Swiss proprietor Ralph Fäsi has been producing syrah from the winery's nearby 42-acre organic vineyard in the San Joaquin Valley. A member of both the Madera Wine Trail and the Yosemite Sierra Wine Road, this boutique winery attracts Yosemite visitors who travel far and wide. 

When our small party of three arrived, tasting room manager Jane Achermann greeted us outside with a big smile and a warm welcome. She escorted us inside where we explored four of their wines. 

First up: 2012 Fäsi Crest Chardonnay. Made from locally sourced grapes that benefited from both barrel and stainless fermentation, this dry white with mineral notes went down nice and crisp; quite a sharp contrast to the fruit forward chardonnays I usually drink on the Central Coast.

The next pour: 2005/07 Fäsi Crest Syrah. A blend of two vintages of the winery's flagship varietal, this nicely aging, dry syrah—heavy on blackberry and mineralwas an equally big hit with our tasting group. 

Then came a surprise: 2011 Fäsi Crest Malbec. According to Jane, Fäsi has ownership in an Argentine winery, where this big, easy-drinking malbec hails from. 

And last but not least: 2008 Fäsi Crest Sweet Syrah. We savored this sweetly restrained dessert wine that left a lasting impression without any cloying syrup or stickiness.

I've been on the wine tasting circuit for several years now and Jane—who is originally from Switzerland and speaks several languages—is hands down one of the most pleasant, knowledgeable tasting room hostesses I've ever encountered. She went above and beyond to educate us about this boutique winery and make us feel welcome. Our first visit to Fäsi Estate Winery will not be our last.
Then our palates diverted us to handcrafted beer and seasonal local pub fare. We headed up Highway 41 to Oakhurst, located at the southern end of California's gold country, and less than 20 miles from Yosemite's south gate entrance. Sometimes referred to as the gateway to Yosemite, this small town also boasts a new eating and drinking establishment: South Gate Brewing Company.

Surrounded by the Sierra Nevada foothills and filled with a warm interior, friendly service and a welcoming menu, we started out by indulging in a few suds. Crafted on site, South Gate's current selection includes golden ale, American pale ale, English-style porter,  IPA, as well as a seasonal amber Oktoberfest beer.

We needed something to wash down with our beers and ordered the crunchy, tasty blonde ale beer battered fish and chips as well as a few of their delicious artisanal brick oven pizzas. "The Mountaineer," topped with alfredo sauce, fennel pork sausage, bacon, mushrooms, red onion, fresh basil, and mozzarella and parmesan cheeses is my new favorite pizza. Utilizing many local, seasonal ingredients, I can't wait to visit this brewpub again to experience more of the tasty, regional flavor combinations.

There's much more to the Yosemite region than just spectacular granite cliffs and glacier-carved valleys. When in Yosemite, eat, drink and hit the local trails. 
Not necessarily in that order.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Central Coast Oyster Festival 2013

I can slurp a raw oyster just fine. Follow it down with a swish of sparkling wine, even better. But last Saturday I discovered oysters in a new light. At the Second Annual Central Coast Oyster Festival, San Luis Obispo County chefs and restaurants elevated these shell bearing bi-valve mollusks to new culinary heights.

Barbequed, wrapped in puff pastry, served as ceviche, name it, oysters were the edible star of the show. Gobbled up all day long at this live music festival by thousands of guests, serenaded by the nifty sounds of musical acts Smallpools, Vokab Kompany, Diego's Umbrella, TROPO, Forrest Day, and He's My Brother She's My Sister, local oysters rocked the house. 

Sojournersmany under the guise of food and music enthusiasts, others masquerading as locals and out-of-towners who just wanted to hang out in the relaxed atmosphere and listen to live tunesconverged on the inviting green grasses of the Morro Bay Golf Course. Surrounded by modern art installations; rows of food, beer, wine and art vendors; and studded by the SLO Brew Music Stage, this noon-to-eight party brought the ultimate field day.

Located just a stone's throw from Morro Bay Harbor, coastal fog and a cool atmosphere made an appearance, only to get squashed by the sun's shimmering arrival. But no matter what the sky delivered, the mellow, contented crowd jived to the melodic tunes and indulged in the audacious oyster fare that was par for the course. 
Oysters, oysters, and more oysters were the hotand colditem of the day. Pictured on the far right is the cool creation of Executive Chef Neil Smith of Windows on the Water in Morro Bay. Oyster ceviche! An elegant fusion of papayas, tomatoes, coconut milk, macadamia nuts and micro greens accompanied this raw, citrus-marinated, tasty bite from the sea.

Hot-off-the-grill giant oysters! Morro Bay's Tognazinni's Dockside Restaurant kept the hungry crowd coming back for more of these freshly shucked giant monsters, smothered in butter, garlic and lemon.

SLO Brew, a major sponsor of the Central Coast Oyster Festival, served up specialties from their brewpub and produced the music stage. I imbibed in their spunky Reggae Red, a dry-hopped red ale made with wheat malt and roasted hemp seeds.

At this gratifying festival, there was something for everyone. Everything from cigars, artwork, beer, wine, non-alcoholic drinks, oysters galore, as well as tasty bites from the land were available for purchase. After I'd had my fill of oysters, I sat down on a plush red velvet chair at Granada Bistro's Gypsy Caravan and devoured a tasty beef slider covered in delectable melted cheddar cheese.

The art installations set up for the day's spirited event, rigged by Bamboo DNA and SpinCycle, granted striking symmetrical bamboo structures and shady lounge areas. 
Supposedly Casanova used to breakfast on 50 oysters. The Aphrodisiac Lounge was the place to hang for a shuckin' good time.
Pictured from left to right, musical greats: He's My Brother She's My Sister; Diego's Umbrella; and the headliners, Smallpools. The idyllic golf course presented the perfect backdrop for guests to set up chairs and take in the sounds.
This colorful critter rocked to the sterling harmony of indie pop band, Smallpools.

Oysters. Music. The Central  Coast. 

Shuck on!
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