Lunch at Sur Burger

Ack. It appears that I have let “busy-ness” plague me like so many in our society. A friend messaged me the other day to have lunch and so we met up at Sur Burger on Alvarado. He commented that I hadn’t written on my blog in some time so here I am.

This life is crazy and beautiful. We get so many things thrown at us that we get no formal training on how to deal with. I guess busy-ness is one of those things. We all have our ways of coping: making schedules, exercising, ensuring we get enough sleep, etc. But sometimes those habits are less than healthy, maybe we lose sleep to accommodate the busy schedule and try to accomplish more in the day. Maybe we drop the exercise on account of being tired from losing sleep or to try to accomplish more in the day. I guess this is me reminding myself to focus on the healthy habits and not the less than healthy habits. To remind myself that no matter what happens, it will all get accomplished and it will all turn out OK in the end.

My friend suggested we order a bottle of champagne…we had lots to celebrate: life, friendship, living in California, a day ending in “y.” So we ordered a bottle of bubbly and a couple of burgers (we were at a burger joint, after all) and I thought this is so California. A little known fact is that the name “California” originates from the Spanish conquistadors after “califia” a mythical island paradise in Las Serges de Esplandian by Garcia Ordonez de Montalvo, a Spanish romance written c. 1510. But also California is a land of abundance with a Mediterranean climate. With that abundance, people–inventive, motivated, life-loving people–have learned how to refine and perfect so much of the natural abundance and resources. Take for example, agriculture (and gastronomy) and viticulture. California has such lovely food and wine.

Anyhow, I’m not trying to get too philosophical here other than to say champagne and burgers felt like a very “California” lunch to me. Champagne is reminiscent of “high-class” culture, if you will, and burgers are fast food. Put together, and eaten slowly, you get the perfect Californian meal.

Something unique about Sur Burger is that they have a “condiment bar.” You can fill up on pickles, cole slaw, and different dips for your fries and sauces for your burger. The menu offers “chicken and waffles,” which I was going to say is a California food on account of the popularity of Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles in Los Angeles, but upon further research, I have found that the dish is a bit older than Roscoe’s. There are multiple theories about its origin but one posits that in the early 1800s hotels and resorts outside of Philadelphia served waffles and fried catfish but over time the catfish became any other meat due to catfish’s limited availability. By the end of the nineteenth century, the dish was a symbol of Pennsylvania Dutch Country. How cool!

Anyhow, I had a lovely lunch of bubble and burgers, spent good time with a dear friend, and was reminded that I need to write on my blog more often. I hope you have enjoyed my stream of consciousness and that you can take a minute to remind yourself to do something you love that maybe you haven’t done in a while. Or reach out to a friend for lunch.

sweet potato fries, burgers, & bubbles

Lumpia in Lemoore

Greetings from Lemoore, CA! What I call the armpit of California, with all due respect to Lemorons—someone who lives here told me it’s what they’re called—it’s because of the farmland, the location, and the weather. Anyhow, in case you didn’t know there’s a Naval Air Station there so I’m down here for a work trip.

The Navy has a large population—and a long history—of Filipinos serving. In 1901 President William McKinley signed an executive order allowing the Navy to enlist 500 Filipinos as part of its insular force. Later in 1952, on account of the Korean War more personnel were required in the Navy so an agreement was negotiated that up to 1,000 Filipino citizens could enlist in the U.S. Navy annually. In 1954, this was increased to 2,000 people. Also, with the Nationality Act of 1940, aliens who served honorably in the armed forces for three or more years could be naturalized as U.S. citizens without having to meet certain normal requirements of naturalization. This law was repealed in 1952 and replaced by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 which was essentially the same thing although it stated that they shall have been lawfully admitted for permanent residence.

Enough with the history lesson, this is after all a food column. I called a friend who lives in Hanford—just outside of Lemoore where another dear friend says the only thing there is to do in Hanford is die—and we decided to meet for beers at Plan B Taphouse. I guess there are things to do in Hanford besides die, like drink beer. He told me they didn’t serve food and asked if I could pick up lumpia at Zeny’s, a Filipino restaurant in Lemoore on my way. Lumpia is a Filipino spring roll made of thin crepe pastry skin and filled with chopped vegetables and meat. It is served with a sweet chili sauce. These particular ones were made with ground beef and shredded carrots.

So after work, I drove to the gym. From the car I called Zeny’s and placed an order for 25 lumpia, per my friend’s instruction but the nice Filipino man on the other end told me they only do orders by the dozen so I ordered two dozen. I went for a swim in the outdoor pool because the armpit of California is warm already. Feeling refreshed—and starving—from my swim, I went to Zeny’s and bought snacks for my eight-minute drive to Hanford. It’s one of those times when “my eyes are bigger than my stomach.” I bought garlic flavored crunch-covered peanuts, Thai iced tea (super sweet, unnaturally orange iced tea), the lumpia, and dessert.

Blasting country music on the radio I drove the flat highway to Hanford, drank Thai iced tea, and munched on crunchy peanuts. Life is good, I thought. I’m glad I had the peanuts because the smell of the piping hot lumpia was terribly tempting.

I arrived at Zeny’s and parked in the parking lot just to notice two big German Shepherds in the huge truck next to me. In case you don’t know, I have an irrational fear of German Shepherds. Maybe it’s rational because I’ve been attacked by dogs—on multiple occasions—but I’ll save that for another time. I took a deep breath and opened the door, the dogs both stood and started sniffing, the crack I had opened in the door had wafted out the delicious smell of lumpia…meat. Just then I saw my friend walk into the bar so I slammed the door closed and called him. He answered and I asked if he could come to the parking lot to help me. Within seconds he was there and per my pantomiming he opened the passenger door. I told him I was afraid of dogs and could he grab the lumpia. He laughed—or maybe he rolled his eyes, or both—and grabbed the lumpia and we went in for beers.

The lumpia were amazing. The outside crust is crunchy and the inside is warm, meaty, and salty. Dipping it in the sweet cold chili sauce is just perfect as the flavors go together really well. And of course, they went great with a cold beer and good company. If you ever find a Filipino restaurant serving lumpia order a dozen or two and enjoy with a friend. I don’t know for certain of any Filipino restaurants in the area but I believe there is a Filipino market in Seaside and a Filipino restaurant in Salinas.

piping hot lumpia

Stammtisch German Restaurant

“The true enjoyments must be spontaneous and compulsive and look to no remoter end.”

–C.S. Lewis

We are incredibly lucky to live where we live. For many reasons but one because we don’t have to travel far to find good food. One such gem in our area is Stammtisch German Restaurant in Seaside.

I picked up my friend Maryann who lives in Seaside the other day in search of Mexican food for lunch. As we drove down Fremont, yacking away, she asked if I felt like having German food. I know German cuisine is not anywhere near Mexican cuisine but I am always open to spontaneity. “I’ve always wanted to go there!” I said. So, we wove our way back from the end of Fremont to Echo Ave. and found Stammtisch.

We walked in and were greeted by Erwin, dressed in traditional Austrian embroidered white shirt and a vest. He seated us and asked if we would like to have a beer. We both said no thank you but looked at one another. “Come on,” he said with a smile in his charming Austrian accent. “OK, fine,” we both said. The table where we were seated was in the middle of the main dining room, next to the pot of the umbrella plant that is growing perfectly out of control around the room with one branch supported by yellow yarn on the ceiling. I commented on the beautiful plant and Erwin told me about once a month he wipes the leaves down with a mixture of water and beer, just like his mother taught him. “That way it’s always drunk!” he proclaimed.

Two slices of rye bread along with butter appeared in a gold-rimmed black basket lined with a napkin and then two steins of German pilsner beer from the tap. Next, we were each brought a bowl of the daily soup, cream of asparagus. We chatted with Erwin, who was very hospitable and charming, and we found out is married to the chef and owner, Claudia who is from Berlin. We ordered our lunch, Maryann, the special of the day—the cabbage stew with slow-cooked pork on top—and me, the currywurst.

The décor and vibe felt so German. The wooden tables and chairs, the wall clocks, and the Underberg: the iconic German herbal digestif. Traditional German music played in the background and it was raining outside. When our main dish was served, Claudia came out and we introduced ourselves. She gave me a stiff handshake and welcomed us. The food was presented so beautifully and we immediately dug in. Claudia’s goal is to serve traditional German food, old-fashioned home cooking. “I have achieved my goal if someone says this is how my mom or grandma cooked,” she told me. Now I don’t have a German mother or grandmother whose cooking I can compare to but I do know that even for me, a non-German, it was comfort food and I certainly felt comfortable.

After the meal—which we each took half home for the next day—we ordered two desserts to share, the lemon dessert and the apple crumble along with two cups of strong German coffee. The desserts were delicious and with the rain pitter-pattering on the roof, I sat back drinking my coffee contemplating my happy, full belly and how content I was with our spontaneous decision. I encourage you to check out Stammtisch, spontaneously—if you find yourself in Seaside, or if not…plan a trip. 

Cream of asparagus soup
Currywurst, potatoes, and sauerkraut
Apple crisp and coffee

Porta Bella, Carmel

This past Friday night I went out to dinner at Porta Bella in Carmel with my friend Father Dominic and our deacon friend John. We sat in their quaint, heated back patio that is painted Tuscan clay red and has plants creeping on the walls. One of the co-owners of the restaurant, Faisal, who is also a friend of Father Dominic’s joined us.

One thing I always do when I go out to eat—after looking over the menu and picking one or two things that sound good—is ask the waitress what her favorite item on the menu is. The response is one of two things: without skipping a beat she tells me her favorite item or she says, “that’s a tough one!” and lists a few items she likes or are popular among diners. If what she recommends lines up with what I was looking at, I definitely know what I’m ordering. If not, well it depends on if it was her favorite item in which case I’ll consider ordering it. This time I had the luxury of asking one of the restaurant owners. One of his three favorites, the Lamb Ossobuco, was one of the items I was considering so I knew I’d be having that for dinner.

But of course, it was Friday night and Father Dominic and John, like myself, are epicures so we started with soup and appetizers. I had the roasted corn and crab bisque and it was spectacular: rich, warm, and creamy on a cold rainy night. I appreciate a slow meal and this was just that. We talked and caught up on life and for those of us who were not already friends, we got to know each other a little more. Next, we shared the skewered grilled jumbo prawns served with a lemon aioli, the lobster ravioli, and the beef tenderloin carpaccio. I love beef carpaccio—a raw dish of thinly sliced meat typically served with lemon, olive oil, parmesan cheese, and truffle oil. Porta Bella’s also adds arugula and capers and they’re perfect accompaniments to the raw meat. Interestingly enough, the dish was invented in 1950 by Giuseppe Cipriani of Harry’s Bar in Venice for countess Amalia Nani Mocenigo when he heard that her doctors had recommended she eat raw meat. The name—carpaccio—comes from the Venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio whose work is characterized by red and white tones, reminiscent of raw meat.

The main course, the Lamb Ossobuco, was served with a potato gratin and vegetables while the lamb itself was cooked with red wine and white raisins. The meat was spectacularly tender and the flavors were perfect. We enjoyed a local cabernet with the meal and it was the perfect complement.

As the evening and meal went on, more people joined or replaced others and our table was buzzing with people and lively conversation; as the plates were cleared, a backgammon board appeared and a game was started. You see Faisal comes from a big family and network of restaurateurs in Carmel and as some got off work they would come to check out Porta Bella…seeing the owner seated for a change inspired people to come chat, pull up a chair, and join us. And even more so after learning that we had a priest at the table.

The discussion grew philosophical and Father Dominic was questioned on issues of morality which he answered in stride…as a Catholic priest, this is what he does for a living. It became a regular occurrence for someone seated at the table to apologize to him after saying something off-colored. Which brings me back to my initial point, “how you do anything is how you do everything.” I don’t believe that we ought to alter our behavior or our self in the presence of a Catholic priest or anyone for that matter. Sure, there is discretion and professional behavior but who we are ought to be who we are always. I find the idea of behavior-altering more troublesome than the off-colored comment, in other words, I appreciate integrity of the self. If I say something and feel I must apologize for it, maybe I oughtn’t have said it. Don’t get me wrong, I have said my fair share of things that I shouldn’t have said and will probably do so many times over in my life but, in an effort to grow and constantly improve myself I like to remind myself that how I do anything is how I do everything, to be intentional with each little thing because the culmination of all of those little things is me and my character. So here’s to being true to oneself when nobody is looking or even in the highest profile of company.

roasted corn and crab bisque
skewered grilled jumbo prawns with lemon aioli

Mags’s wedding in Sonoma & brunch at the Girl and the Fig

Sonoma in late summer/fall is amazing. While we anxiously anticipate Indian Summer in Pacific Grove, it’s nice to know we can drive northeast for three hours and be in (another form of) paradise.

I went to Sonoma this past weekend for a friend’s wedding. My friend Magda and I met while we were studying abroad in college. I was at UCSD and she was at Davis and we both chose the same “language and culture” program the fall semester of our junior year to spend in Córdoba, in the south of Spain. Back then, Mags was a tomboy and incredibly athletic (she still is very athletic). She was opinionated and a ball of energy. She concluded after orientation that she didn’t like me because I was too happy. Last I checked this was no reason to dislike someone but nobody ever asked a 20-year old to rationally justify their feelings. At the time, we all lived with old Spanish ladies. They were responsible for housing us and feeding us three meals a day. My señora got me snacks to take with me to school, like little individually packaged chocolate-stuffed croissants. I didn’t care for them so I would always bring them to school and share with my classmates, namely Mags who, much to her disappointment sat next to me in the front row of Spanish class. We were both overachievers.

Every day I showed up, happy to be in Spain, happy to be in class, excited about something I had seen or learned, and to sit next to Mags who had her arms folded over her chest and was slouched in her chair. She would roll her eyes at me when my hand would dart up at the
“what is something you learned that you would like to share with the class” prompt. But every day at break I would lean over and ask her how she was getting by and if she wanted some snacks. Mags was a bottomless pit and always wanted my snacks but she was always leery of my sharing them.

When we eventually became friends, which was not long after orientation day, she confessed that she hated my optimism and didn’t understand why I shared my food with her when I could eat it all myself. I was dumbfounded. I remember telling her that food tastes better when shared with other people and I couldn’t eat in front of someone else and not offer what I was eating, it wasn’t how I was brought up. Over the next four months we traveled together to Lisbon, Paris, Zurich, and several towns in both Spain and Morocco. We ran a miserable marathon in San Sebastian and went sky diving over the Alps in Switzerland. By the end of our adventure we were sad to part and promised each other we would have a lifelong friendship. My attendance at her wedding this past weekend is a testament to this wonderful friendship.

The day after the wedding a (different) friend and I went to have brunch just off the Sonoma Plaza at the Girl and the Fig, a Sonoma tradition. Due to the restaurant’s popularity, we sat at the bar and enjoyed an amazing brunch, sans-mimosas on account of our needing to drive home to Monterey. The little old lady sitting next to me ordered the Quiche Lorraine (ham and Swiss cheese)–which was an enormous slice of quiche that looked more like a soufflé than anything–and she said it was the best thing she had had in her life. Well already by the look and smell of it I was leaning towards ordering it but with that recommendation, I had to. It came with both a small salad and shoe string fries and it was indeed, delicious. The sides were seared so after cutting the slice of soufflé from the pie dish the chefs must sear each side, adding a caramelized, slightly crisp and charred taste to the already amazing egg flavor. The shoe string fries were good although fries aren’t my favorite but they did make an excellent vehicle for gobs of the garlic aioli, which was amazing. The salad was nice: frisée, baby chard, quinoa, marcona almonds, and cranberries with a light vinaigrette. But the quiche was the star of the show.

Next time you find yourself in Sonoma, be sure to check out the Girl and the Fig.  Heads up, you are better off with a reservation ahead of time to avoid the wait, especially on the weekend.

Quiche Lorraine at the Girl and the Fig

**a shorter version of this story appeared in my column Postcards from the Kitchen in the Cedar Street Times on 14 September 2018

Morning walk on the beach with my dad

Throughout my adult life, I have had on-and-off routines with my dad where we do things we both like to do and allow us to spend time together. This is mainly around exercise because he is a very active guy and we both love to be outdoors. Although once we decided to take up yoga together…in addition to being very active, my dad is very funny and in the middle of downward dog he would make noises or comments to make me laugh which is frowned upon in yoga. We never went back.

He recently had a knee replacement surgery and he is not very good at the healing process. I don’t mean his body isn’t healing, it is healing fine, he isn’t good at waiting for it to heal and tolerating the pain and discomfort. However he is encouraged to move his knee and walking is good for him. Plus, we all know that exercise is great for the mood, too. My dad loves to walk on the beach. He has a whole routine—much like everything else in his life—it is orderly and specific and only he knows how to do it right. So I just go along for the ride. I decided that a couple mornings a week we would go walk on the beach together. Which means you have to do things his way so I have to wear pants I can roll up because we walk barefoot, wading in the water. He walks with a stick which is also a prop for the lectures he gives me while we walk, shaking it in the air in disapproval of something I have done or to emphasize a point.

So we got to the beach and left our shoes in his car. We walked down the sandy path onto the beach, down to the water, and over to the tide pool because that is where his walk starts. All of this other stuff is just prep for the walk. I had my phone and was snapping photos of sea anemones and sea stars for which I was scolded. “We came to walk! Not take pictures put that thing away.” (That “thing” is an iPhone.)

We walked and talked or just walked together in silence. I heard stories and jokes I have heard a hundred times but have learned to listen. At one point I said “oh my God,” in response to some joke my dad had said and without skipping a beat he said, “oh my Buddha.”

When we walked by a group of ladies he waved his arm in the air to wave, they all smiled and waved back. He makes friends everywhere he goes.

When we finished our walk, we went back to the car and I was given strict instructions to sit in the passenger’s seat and wait for him with my feet hanging out of the car. He came over with a bottle of water he had filled up at home and poured the water over my feet instructing me to rub them together to get the sand off. We have done this for years. I asked him if he wanted me to do the same for him and he told me I didn’t now how to do it, as he threw me an old towel to dry my feet off. He rinsed his feet off in a similar fashion and dried them off with the same towel. I sat in the car thinking of the number of years we have done this. I remember being a kid, before we had discovered that water is better for rinsing sand off than a dry towel which acts like sandpaper against your feet. I remember squealing and complaining as my parents cleaned my feet off before I was allowed back in the car.

Life is strange and can be frustrating. We have expectations of how things should be or ought to be and social media certainly doesn’t help with our expectation management. However, this morning on my walk with my dad and my observations of our interaction, I was just thankful. I was thankful to have the morning walk, thankful for my dad, and thankful to be able to reflect for a moment.

In my reflection, I concluded that today is the first day of autumn. While the calendar says otherwise, today the sunlight changed dramatically. The air was crisp and it was windy. This is my favorite time of year here in Monterey. I hope you enjoy it, too, whether you are here or wherever you are.

A sea star hiding under the kelp at low tide

A sea anemone, retracting at low tide

Lots of sea anemones

Papa B & me

Sunrise

Papa B with a treasure from the sea

A sea gull with a treasure from the sea

 

Philosophizing at Soberanes

I went for a hike with my brother and sister-in-law this past weekend at the partially closed Soberanes Canyon Trail. It was closed for some time due to severe damage from the 2016 Soberanes Fire and not helped by all the rain and flooding in the winter of 2017. It has recently re-opened but only 1.25 miles–which is the Soberanes Canyon Trail that meets with the Rocky Ridge trail and takes you down the west side of the slope. We ended up doing a 2.5 mile out and back hike and it was lovely.

A trail closure notice at the trail head

We enjoyed the trail and the creek that was actually filled with water. The spring wildflowers were in full bloom and it was gorgeous. Bunnies darted across the trail and we all watched one another try not to fall in the creek while crossing the footbridges or hopping on the rocks.

A fern

On our way down, when people were hiking up I would step aside off the path to let them pass. I would look at them eager with anticipation for a “thank you,” or a response to my good morning. Not once did I receive any thanks or a response to my good morning. I stepped back on the trail a little more aggressively than I should have and thought to myself, “a thank you would be nice.”

And then I got to thinking about it. Why am I moving over for people? Am I moving out of the way because I think it’s the right thing to do or because I want them to thank me? If it’s the latter then I’m doing something wrong. You don’t buy a person a gift with the expectation of a gift in return. In my opinion. As I went down this mental rabbit hole I concluded that that is what is (part of) wrong with a lot of our society, we things with ulterior motives, to be thanked, to be recognized, to be paid, etc. but I don’t want to be a part of that. I want to, with clear and kind intentions, act kindly to others. If I am only moving over for you because I want you to thank me or recognize me then I’m not living life right.

The trail. And our fog that I have a love/hate relationship with

I got off the trail feeling like I had come to a conclusion. It was just a little way of reminding me what I think is important and how I ought to proceed, heart-forward in this life. Give generously and without expectation of getting something back and be kind. Period.

Writing Workshop at Esalen

I spent this past weekend at a writing workshop at Esalen Institute in Big Sur.

Esalen is a retreat center on the beautiful coast of California, pools have been built around natural hot springs overlooking the coast.  You can sit in the warm, sulfury water, listen to the waves crash and look out to the horizon.

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View from my room

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Looking south down the coast. The area in the lower left hand corner of the photo is the hot spring pools.

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And the same view on a clear day 🙂
Well, clearer…

 

The grounds at Esalen are lovely, there’s a big garden where most of the produce is grown.  You walk through and smell rosemary, admire tomatoes, and listen to the buzz of bees and marvel at fluttering of butterflies.

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Marigolds in the garden

Mealtimes are wonderful at Esalen, it feels like summer camp!  The internet (wifi) is disconnected for mealtimes and real, live human interaction is encouraged.  The food is clean – think salad from the garden, pesto polenta, roasted carrots, hot cocoa, fresh baked rye bread (a slab of which is available all day long sitting on a cutting board, in front of a butter and jam bar).  People sit at long tables and talk, the murmur of conversation testament to the fact that humans are still able connect to one another without technology.

The writing workshop was hosted by The Sun magazine which is a literary magazine, self-described as “Personal.  Political.  Provocative.”  I love the writing they feature in the magazine as it’s real, no sugar coating of life, raw human experience on the page.

My experience was just that, pride and preconceived notions stripped away and just talking to people beyond the surface level and, of course, writing.  We attended various sessions and were given writing prompts and a limited time to write.  After, people would share their writing with the group which unfailingly prompted conversations.  One woman wrote about the death of two of her children in a car accident, after the session several parents went and spoke to her, overcome with compassion and sympathy.  Others wrote about professional experiences, personal failures, politics, poetry, you name it.  One gentleman stood up and read about his recent heartbreak, after I approached him and thanked him for sharing.  I told him I could relate to what he had described and we struck up a conversation.  It was a beautiful, unassuming connection and we shared our stories – there’s something healing about knowing you’re not alone in your experiences, in the world.

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The moon’s reflection over the ocean

 

What are you passionate about?

After yoga this morning, I went to meet a friend for coffee on my way to work.  I click-clicked on my way in front of the Monterey Post Office as my eyes caught the gaze of a slender, tall gentleman.  He was wearing several layers of clothes and was smoking a cigarette.  “Good morning, Miss,” he called out to me, revealing his one protruding tooth.  “Good morning!” I replied.  “There’s just one thing I want from you today,” he said rather seriously.  “And what is that?” I stopped in front of him.  “Would you please give me a hug?” he asked.  I let my head fall back in laughter and gave him a big bear hug, he held me tightly and whispered “thank you” in my ear.

The yoga instructor had asked us today in class, “What are you passionate about?”  She repeated the question numerous times in the hour-long class and really urged us to think about it, to consider it, to embrace it.  I didn’t have to think too much to know that I am passionate about people.  Put aside allegations of extroversion, introversion, socialitism, etc. – I simply love people.  I love interacting with people, I love emotions, I love when people are passionate, I love opinions, character, feelings, human creation, art.  My interaction with the gentleman this morning was a great practical example of my passion for people.

What are you passionate about?  I hope your passion is attainable in your daily life and that you receive the gift of it today.

Monterey bike path

Why one oughtn’t have headphones/earphones on while running or walking on the bike path:
  1. The barking of the seals and sea lions is missed
  2. AND the sound of the otters crunching abalone 
  3. AND the sound of birds chirping 
  4. AND the sound of waves crashing or kayakers paddling 
  5. you are unaware of your surroundings 
  6. you don’t get to say good morning/good day/good afternoon/good evening to your fellow runners/walkers/bikers

Good morning, Monterey, view from my commute to work 
the Wharf