Thanks, all, for reading this little blog experiment over the 2 years we were in Drytown, CA. California 49 is no longer, as we’ve moved south to the Central Coast. If you’d like to see what we’re up to now, please check in at Range Top , my new blog. Hope to see you there! xo
How did you get here so quickly? And where did all the daffodils and flowering plum trees and quince bushes you brought with you come from? Maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised, since Winter never really showed up here in the first place. But for this New Englander, Spring always comes eerily early in Northern California. Isn’t the landscape supposed to be dreary and barren until the ground thaws out in May?
My seasonal confusion probably hasn’t been helped by the fact that B and I just spent 2 weeks in Côte d’Ivoire in West Africa, where the temperature hovers around H-O-T °F and the humidity seems to be about 99.9% (literally, my skin was moist to the touch at all times). We were there for my sister-in-law’s wedding, a beautiful mix of French, Ivoirian, and Congolese (my new brother-in-law–exciting for this only child!–is from Kinshasa) traditions. It seems our family has taken a liking to February nuptials. Amélie and Julien were married one week to the day before B’s and my one year anniversary. And Mamie Jo and Papi René (B’s paternal grandparents) celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary just last week.
Maybe February wedding celebrations are the best way to break out of the winter doldrums? They’ve certainly been a great excuse for travel for our family in France!
Since I never posted them last year, here are a few pics* from our Boston wedding.
Happy…dare I say it too soon?…Spring! Okay, not quite, but we’re almost there…
*All pics courtesy of our wonderful and talented wedding photographer, Joyelle West.
How I’ve neglected thee!
The summer has gotten away from me it seems, and Fall is upon us! Well, almost. There are still quite a few tomato days left in the year, and in our neck of the woods the thermostat is still reading into the 90s most days. But the kids are back in school, the apples are ripening on the trees, and the nights are getting cool enough for a blanket. I miss the smell of New England Fall that lingers in the air in the evenings at this time of year, but hopefully an upcoming trip to Portland, Maine will cure that.
Before Summer 2011 does slip away, here are a few images from how we spent the season. Though I do miss the East Coast, it’s hard to complain about living amid such glorious land and cityscapes:
Last year at this time, we were watching in shock and horror as our lovingly planted and tended first vegetable garden was eaten away, root by precious root, by a devilish little animal known as the gopher. And by devilish I don’t mean impish or naughty in that mischievous yet still somehow adorable way.
No, no, no.
Gophers are truly the devil (picture rodents with pitchforks) of any backyard garden in our neck of the woods.
Be warned: no raised beds, no hardware cloth, NO veggies! Set traps, get a gun, blast sonic waves. Do something or those subterranean bandits will steal the fruits of your labor and make you cry. Seriously.
But this year is different. Thank goodness. I am very happy to say that as I look up now from the kitchen table and glance out the screen door and across the horse pasture and into the far corner of our field I can still see the tomato plants green as the oak leaves on the hill.
Whew! Breath with me. One big sigh of relief.
Every night we visit the garden to make sure everything’s still standing and in good working order. Mainly, though, we go down there just to delight in the growth spurts of our Sun Golds and Cherokee purples and Odorikos (The Odoriko, a Japanese tomato, has actually grown to E-normous proportions. That is one mother of a tomato plant!)
There is something magical about watching tiny plants shoot up toward the sun, grow new leaves, flower, and produce fruit. So basic and yet so rewarding.
The deep color and smooth, glistening skin of our eggplants:
The sweet, licorice aroma arising from a crushed leaf of Thai basil:
The irony of a delicate cucumber tendril, stronger and more persistent than anything else in the garden:
Good stuff, right? And in just a few weeks, it’ll all be ripe, and we’ll be eating ratatouille and pesto and tzaziki and gazpacho and lemon basil sorbet and and and…
Are you getting excited yet?
Three cheers for gardens! (And one big cheer for hardware cloth!)
As I lay under the covers this morning, trying to get one more short round of shut eye, Bastien marched into the bedroom, loudy trumpeting (yes, literally making the sound of a trumpet) a familiar tune. In my morning fog, eyes still heavy, mind still groggy, it took me a few seconds to recognize what song I was being serenaded by. Having given up on sleep when the trumpeting didn’t stop, my only choice was to play along. Name that tune! And as I opened my eyes, I realized that my own personal herald was tapping his toes to la Marseillaise, the French National Anthem. And in that brief moment between semi-consciousness and awakening, when images and reality go from cloudy to concrete in a nanosecond, I realized not what by why: today is la fête nationale en France. Bastille Day. Of course!
So in honor of my adopted country, where there is no longer a monarchy but where food is still king, I’m posting what else but a recipe.
Bonne fête et bon appétit!
Tarte aux fraises
I recently made this strawberry tart when our neighbors came for dinner. I’ve also made it with peaches and nectarines, and it could easily be paired with apricots, figs, raspberries or other fruits of the season. The recipe is inspired by one found in Food and Wine magazine.
Ingredients for the pastry:
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 -inch pieces
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons beaten egg
Ingredients for the filling:
2 large egg yolks
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1-2 pints strawberries, hulled (leave them whole, halve them or cut them in thick slices)
Directions for the pastry:
In a food processor, combine the flour, butter, sugar and egg; pulse just until the dough begins to come together. Turn the pastry out onto a lightly floured surface and pat it into a 6-inch disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350°. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry into a 12-inch round. Fit the dough without stretching it into a 9-by-3/4-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Trim the overhang to 3/4 inch; fold in the overhang and press it against the sides to reinforce them. Prick the bottom several times with a fork and refrigerate until firm.
Bake the shell for 25-30 minutes, or until golden and cooked through. Let cool completely on a wire rack before filling.
Directions for the filling:
In a medium saucepan, combine the egg yolks with 3 tablespoons of the milk, the sugar, flour, vanilla and a pinch of salt; whisk until smooth. In a small saucepan, bring the remaining milk to a simmer.
Gradually whisk the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture. Cook over moderate heat, whisking constantly, until the pastry cream boils and thickens like pudding, about 4 minutes. Strain the pastry cream through a fine sieve set over a bowl. Whisk in the heavy cream. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming. Let cool slightly, then refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 2 hours.
Vigorously beat the cold pastry cream until smooth and spread it evenly in the pastry shell. Arrange the strawberries in the tart, tips up, in tight concentric circles. Refrigerate for up to 4 hours. Unmold the tart and transfer it to a cake stand or platter before serving.
There’s nothing like house guests to propel you off the couch and out of the house.
It seems that every time we have visitors, we discover something new in our own backyard. Just when you think you know your neighborhood pretty darn well (especially when your town and all the towns around it are the size of postage stamps), an out-of-towner comes along and opens a previously unopened door and you think, how did I not know about this thing or place or person?
This was certainly the case this past week with my dad out in Drytown from Boston for eight days. We did our fair share of lounging around the house, attempting to keep cool in 100 degree heat, and we revisited some favorite haunts, but we also discovered a few amazing (a-ma-zing) new locations.
Over the year and five months we’ve been living in Amador County, we’ve started to rack up some great restaurants, bakeries, markets, hikes, and other fun local activities that are noteworthy enough to jot down for future days when guests are in town. Until now, though, they’ve been stored away in the cobwebs of my brain. For readers planning to tour the area or for those who just want a glimpse of life in gold country, I’ve decided to add a new feature to the blog, Foothill Finds.
The Foothills are nestled north to south along the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains. This is where the gold rush took place in the 1850s, and many of the towns here were once booming enough to be considered as potential state capitols (Drytown, which is now just a blip along Highway 49, once had 26 saloons in town!). Today the region is rural and sleepy, but there are plenty of historical points of interest, antique shops, good vineyards, good eats, and gorgeous landscapes to draw tourists to the area.
Foothill Finds will be part travelogue, part travel guide, a section in which I’ll share notes on where we’ve been that’s worth a detour.
So here goes, Foothill Finds, take one.
Point of Interest: Imperial Hotel
Location: Amador City, CA
Activity: Drinks in the garden
Just three miles from our front door is the Imperial Hotel in the charming town of Amador City. We pass through there regularly for bread and pastries at our favorite local bakery, Andrae’s, and I go zipping through on my way to work at the Cheese Shoppe in Sutter Creek. But until last week, it had never occured to us to walk through the doors of the handsome 1879 brick facade of the Imperial.
So when Dad suggested we pop over for a drink, after hearing about the hotel all the way back in Boston, we jumped at the chance to investigate a new watering hole.
We drove the back road from Drytown past the Fremont and Bunker Hill mines and then down the hill into quiet Amador City, my favorite “city” in the area. The hotel sits facing the rest of town with a second story balcony that hangs out over the front of the building. The front door leads you straight into the saloon with an attractive barroom maintained in the style of what one would imagine were the glory days of the hotel.
We thought about sitting with the cowboy at the bar, but the room was heavily airconditioned, and I wanted to sit outside, so we walked through the long, exposed brick dining room to the back of the restaurant, where glass paneled doors led to an unexpected find, a European style garden.
Young olive trees, trellised vines, mini cypress in terra cotta planters, a bubbling fountain, and white globe lanterns overhead made us feel like we had stepped out the door into an Italian courtyard. What a heavenly perch for a pre-dinner drink.
Channeling my mother, my first reaction was, What a great spot for a party! And, as it turned out, they were hosting a rehearsal dinner in the garden an hour after we arrived. Had we not had to vacate our table for the incoming party, I could have easily whiled away the evening there. But an hour-long cocktail was plenty to appreciate the tranquility of the place and to add it to the “must return here” list.
Bastien and I ordered cosmopolitans, and Dad ordered a glass of Chandon Blanc de Noirs. And for $9, we split a Mediterranean Plate with house-made hummus, baba ghanoush, pita, greens with olives and roasted tomatoes. The rest of the menu advertises French and Italian influenced American bistro fare. A few highlights from the menu include Liberty Duck Breast ($29), Chicken Marsala ($23), Pumpkin ravioli ($13), and Bistro steak ($24).
The food, unfortunately, was the one disappointment of the evening. Someone in the kitchen clearly has yet to discover salt, and the hummus and baba ghanoush were completely bland. I can’t report on the rest of the food, as we didn’t stay for dinner, but as you can see from the photo below, our enjoyment was unmitigated by the flavorless appetizer.
It won’t be long before we’re headed back for more cosmos in the garden!
Once, on a college trip to Costa Rica, I encountered an older couple flying to the tropics to bird. They were decked out in camouflauging colors and vests with more pockets than I could ever imagine a use for. Around their necks were cameras, binoculars, and the strings attached to wide brim straw hats that sat squarely on their backs as we waited for our luggage to appear. To complete the uniform, in the fashion (or lack thereof) of a flashing siren that screams, I am an American tourist!, they wore bermuda shorts, shiny new sneakers, and white tube socks pulled to mid-calf. (Wouldn’t the birds see them coming from a mile away?)
I observed them, at the time, with a mild edge of mockery (okay, I was 21, so it might have been more than mild). Their over-eager attire wreaked of geek to me, and their mission, “birding,” seemed laughable if not downright ridiculous. Who goes on vacation to look for birds?
My roommate and I were headed for adventures in the rainforest and hours of lounging on the beach. These two imbeciles would spend their time in tropical paradise sitting motionless in a blind, binoculars glued to their faces, waiting for hours for the elusive quetzal to fly by when they could be sipping mai tais by the water. Idiots!
Skip ahead ten years and you will see me going out onto the porch or taking walks up the hill not for a breath of fresh air…but to see the birds! D’oh! Yes, I’ll admit it, I’m becoming a birder. And it’s clear that I’ve married one.
The tiny burg of Drytown seems to be a sanctuary for birds. There are certainly more of them than there are of us. The sign into town should read POP. 200, BIRDS 2000 (the first number being a wishful miscount and the second most likely a gross underestimation). We have all the usual cast of characters here — blackbirds, crows, magpies, sparrows, blue jays (though not the kind I was used to seeing on the East Coast) — and then a whole slew of new and unusual (to me) ones.
On a steamy afternoon last week, Bastien crept and slunk stealthily around our yard and over the neighbor’s fence to capture of few of these beautiful winged creatures. Here’s what he saw:
Turns out birding’s not for the birds after all!