Bûche de Noël

I know it’s after Christmas but Christmas is not a day but a season so why not a recipe three days late? I wanted to share this for the recipe-clippers and recipe-savers out there; it is pretty involved but well worth it as my family testified to.

A brief history: a yule log or bûche de Noël (in French) is a traditional dessert served on and around Christmas in Belgium, France, Switzerland, Quebec, and several former French colonies, one of which—Syria—yours truly happens to be from. The word “yule” actually means a festival observed during the winter solstice by the Germanic and Nordic peoples. The tradition of the yule log predates Christianity and is believed to be about luck. During the yuletide season (between November and January), families were to go into the forest and pick a hearty tree to cut down. They were then to return with the most robust log they could find and burn it in deference to various deities in celebration of life and prosperity. One old European belief says that the log had to catch fire on the first attempt to light it, otherwise the family was doomed to bad luck that year.

The yule log, the cake, is composed of a genoise—an Italian sponge cake—iced, rolled to form a cylinder, and iced again on the outside with chocolate buttercream decorated in such a way so as to resemble a log.

For the genoise (sponge cake). This recipe came from my mom’s tattered and batter-stained cookbook. She transcribed it long before I existed and got it from her childhood neighbor and mom’s dear friend Tante Viva—Tante meaning auntie, another remnant of French colonialism in Levantine Arabic.

100 g. all-purpose flour, sifted

125 g. powdered sugar, sifted

4 egg yolks

6 egg whites

The juice of half a lemon

The rind of a half a lemon

1 tsp baking powder

Heat the oven to 400˚F. Line a swiss role pan with parchment paper, leave some parchment as overhang.

In a medium bowl, mix the flour and baking powder, set aside. In a large bowl, beat the yolks, sugar, lemon juice, and lemon rind. The goal is to not have lumps, set aside. In a separate bowl beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Add one spoon of the flour mixture to the egg yolk mix and fold slowly and gently enough to not form lumps. Add one spoon of egg whites and fold gently. You want to incorporate the egg whites into the yolk mixture but maintain the fluffiness and airiness of their texture. Repeat this until all of the flour and egg whites are fully incorporated.

Spread evenly onto the prepared swiss role pan. Bake for exactly 10 minutes. Until the top of the cake begins to have a golden tinge—almost like the texture and color of the perfectly roasted marshmallow. Remove from the oven and let cool a few minutes. While cooling, dust a clean kitchen towel with powdered sugar and gently peel the cake onto the powdered sugar-dusted towel. Roll gently and set aside.

While the cake cools, prepare the buttercream, recipe pieced together from multiple verifiable sources:

3 egg yolks (how convenient, you have 2 leftover from step 1)

1 egg

1 cup sugar

1/3 cup water

1 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1-2 tbsp. coffee extract or make a really strong coffee using 1 tbsp boiling water and half a tbsp instant coffee

In a standup mixture, beat the yolks and the egg until it has tripled in size. While it is beating away, prepare a syrup with the sugar and water in a heavy bottomed saucepan. You want the syrup to reach 225˚F, measure with a candy thermometer, and be patient because it may bubble over so you will want to do this over low heat and pay attention.

Once the syrup reaches 225˚, reduce the speed on the standup mixer, remove the syrup from the heat and add slowly and gently over the egg mixture. Once you’ve added all of the syrup beat for three more minutes.

Add the butter slowly, 1/4 stick at a time. You want the quarter stick to get at least half incorporated before adding the next quarter stick. Once all of the butter has been added, beat another ten minutes. Add the coffee extract, according to your preference.

Chocolate icing, from Paul Hollywood an English celebrity chef

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature

200 g. powdered sugar, sifted

25 g. cacao, sifted

1 1/2 tbsp. milk

With a handheld mixer beat the butter until it’s soft. Sift sugar and cacao over the butter and mix well. Add the milk to soften the icing. Add it in increments because you may not use it all. Or you may need more, use your judgement, but you want it to be a somewhat stiff icing—soft enough to spread but stiff enough to hold the shape of “bark.”

To assemble the cake:

Spread buttercream over the sponge cake and even it out. I only used about half of the buttercream, the other half you can put on toast and enjoy post holidays but before the New Year’s resolution goes into effect. Gently roll it up and transfer to the platter on which you will be serving. Delicately spread the chocolate icing over the rolled cake. I say gently because you don’t want to tear the sponge cake. Some people use a fork to make the effect of a tree’s bark. You can dust powdered sugar over it to look like snow, or shave chocolate, and add decorations such as macaroon or marzipan mushrooms—the traditional bûche décor. I made my mushrooms (and ladybug) by dying marzipan and hand-shaping the figures. And lastly, enjoy!

My 2018 bûche de Noël, I took the photo from the side
so you could see the genois and buttercream
Voilà

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

 

The Oasis on Lake Travis — Austin, TX

The day after my cousin’s wedding, a lot of my side of the family decided to go to The Oasis at Lake Travis in Austin, about an hour and fifteen minutes northeast of San Antonio.

It was a long drive and my cousin’s car doesn’t have the most reliable air conditioning (read, it turns off randomly) which made the two hour drive in 102˚F plus 80% humidity less than enjoyable (read, miserable). Ok, I’m being a bit dramatic, my aunt, who is one of the best cooks I know had freshly made shawerma (gyro) sandwiches in her purse (naturally) and I ate one and wrote down the recipe with a blissful heart and belly.

When we arrived, we put our name down for a party of 20 for “first available” but really just wanted to sit inside. We were told it would be a two hour wait so one group of us went and found refuge from the heat and coffee at a nearby shopping center. I guess that’s what people who live in really hot places do, go hang out at Safeway. I’ve actually heard of this phenomenon, Safeways have Starbucks in them and they keep the store really cool so you just bring your laptop or a book and have coffee and sit in the lobby of Safeway, passing the July Saturday. Man are we lucky in Monterey.

The Oasis is known as “the sunset capital of Texas” and the building is a multiple level restaurant overlooking Lake Travis. Everywhere you turn there are funky statues and quirky signs. All along the rails throughout the restaurant there are hundreds of locks and it is referred to as “Lovers Lock Lane.” There’s a sign saying:

May your love live forever at the Sunset Capital of Texas.
Lock your love with your soulmate,
family member or friend.
Personalize your love lock and toss
your key into the fountain.

Locks available for purchase in The OASIS Gift Shop.

I think the last line says it all. I also hope your love endures past the Sunset Capital of Texas.

The kids (ages 20-30) were assigned to sit at one end of the table while the adults sat at the other end of the table. We all shared food and drinks and just hung out, it was lovely. We waited for the sun to set and snapped group photos. It was a nice way to spend the last day in Texas and the day after a long weekend of family time and a big wedding. If you find yourself in Austin, and you like quirky places, lakes, and people, head over to The Oasis. In the meantime, enjoy my photos!

 

View of Lake Travis, note all the locks hanging from the fence

My aunt and mom posing with the old lady statue–one of the many quirky statues around the grounds

My dad, my baby cousin, and my dad’s baby brother

Nachos!

Chicken enchiladas

The sun setting over Lake Travis

Me!

Sunsetting over Lake Travis

Boatrides at dusk

The entrance to the Oasis, note the statue

Lemoore & Family time

I got an e-mail from a dear colleague and friend the other day, subject: “Protest!” I smiled immediately when I saw who it was from but was wondering what he could be protesting.  The body of the e-mail was a sweet way of saying why haven’t you been writing? 

If you read this blog you may notice that blog activity picks up when I travel because I have so much time (read, I make time) to write about the things I am experiencing.  BUT my daily life is just as adventurous and my thoughts and opinions certainly don’t wane when I’m at home.  So the lesson to learn here, is I need to block out 30-minutes a couple times a week to dedicate to my blog.

So, I spent the weekend in Lemoore, CA.  Friday, I left work at lunch time and picked up my sister-in-law who was with her parents at my parents’ house.  As I walked up the stairs to the front door, I could hear my dad’s voice and I could tell that he was telling a joke.  His voice changes when he’s telling a joke and he gets louder.  I walked in and greeted everybody, I hadn’t seen my sister-in-law or her parents in months.  I had seen my dad that morning so I guess I forgot to give him a hug and got a Sally! which meant, “hello, I exist.”  So I ran back and hugged my dad before putting my things down.

My sister-in-law and I bid our farewells and drove to Lemoore from Monterey.  On the three hour drive, with the exception of the very short stretch we drove on Hwy 101, we maybe saw 8 cars.  We both got car sick on the hot, bumpy, winding roads but at least we had each others’ company!  Friday night was super low key, we had take out sushi at their house and were in bed by 9.

The heat makes you lazy and I love it.  Being that their house is new, it is minimally furnished and it’s great.  In situations like these I think, in the future we’ll look back and say “remember when I came to visit you guys in your new house in Lemoore and it was so hot and we drank so much beer? Even though your house was minimally furnished. And we slept on air mattresses.” Or whatever.  I think people often get stuck thinking if things aren’t perfect we can’t live our life.  If the house isn’t spotless, I can’t have guests.  If I don’t have the perfectly sculpted body, I can’t go to the pool party.  Etcetera.  I don’t live like that and hope for people to shed those thoughts as they are nothing but set backs.

Saturday we slept in.  The heat will do that to you.  We had some coffee and a bite to eat and headed to the gym.  I swam laps in the outdoor pool and, in the 95˚F heat, I reveled in the sun warming my back.   With lunch we had a bottle of champagne, after all we were celebrating my sister-in-law’s move and being reunited with her husband.

We spent the day preparing for the BBQ we would be having that evening.  Which was so fun!  We had vegetable and shrimp skewers, marinated chicken breasts and drumsticks, and burgers.  Followed by a carrot cake which I had made.  Sorry I didn’t take photos, I was having too much fun just talking to people and eating.

 

Happy (balanced) Thanksgiving

On a run today, a young gentleman sitting on the sidewalk with a lady called “Life doesn’t have to be so rushed,” as I ran by.  I chuckled and a chain reaction of thoughts was sparked.  First, I was doing something with a specific objective, that is running, I was not “rushing through my life;” would you tell a cat that is waiting for the perfect moment to pounce on her prey that she’s wasting her time lolling around, motionlessly?  There’s a time and place for everything, as my father always says.  There’s a time to be fast, to run, to sweat, to feel the energy of life rushing through our veins and there’s a time to sit, and enjoy a leisurely meal with family, and not move from the table for several hours.  This leads to my next thought, there is balance in life.  It would be no good to run all day long, to never take a rest.  It would also be senseless to rest all day long and do nothing.  Each action beckons the other, the run leaves you hungry and tired; the meal nourishes you and encourages movement.

So on this Thanksgiving, as we reflect on our blessings, I wish that you all take a moment, however you are celebrating, to be thankful for what you have, for who you have, for who you are, and embrace balance.  Maybe after you’ve eaten your meals with your lovely family and friends, you go out for a walk and enjoy the crisp autumn air, the ability in your legs, and the love in your heart.

Happy Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for all of you and all your tremendous love.

Merry Christmas with smoked salmon and amaretto margaritas

Merry Christmas!  We decided to have margaritas with breakfast, why not? 


Amaretto Margaritas

Serves 3

  • 3 parts (6 oz.) of a mixture of freshly squeezed lemon juice* (3 oz.) and frozen Minute Maid limeade concentrate (3 oz.)
  • 2 parts (4 oz.) tequila 
  • 1 part (2 oz.) amaretto** 
Mix all the ingredients above and serve over ice in a margarita glass (you could also blend all the ingredients in a blender).  Garnish with the curly rind of one of your lemons.  

This is a simple recipe, a 3:2:1 ratio, easy to remember even with the hectic nature of holidays!

*I like to use Meyers lemons if you have them handy; they are more floral and pair very well with the amaretto.  
**This recipe normally calls for triple sec here but I didn’t have that so decided to try amaretto, it was a perfect accident.  Amaretto is a delicious drink that is often forgotten about except for in amaretto sours, so I guess this margarita is a spin on an amaretto sour.  Excellently sweet, sour, with a touch of bitter almond. 

Merry Christmas margaritas! 

Smoked salmon with whole grain mustard on sourdough baguette 

In his homily, the priest at church last night concluded about Christmas (which I think can be extended to life in general) is that we all just want to love and be loved.  Isn’t that the truth? I hope you spent your day with the people you love and that love you. 

“To love another person is to know God in the face”

I just saw Les Miserables, the movie, based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel.  Many of you may not have read the book, too bad Monsieur Hugo was paid by the word as the novel is a good 1000 pages, but well worth it!  The book was made into a musical and came out today (25 December 2012) on the big screen.  I saw the movie at Lighthouse Cinemas, in Pacific Grove, a quaint theatre nestled in the downtown of our sleepy town.

It was fantastic!  It really follows the passion that life can possess and the endurance of the human spirit – both for good and for bad.

If you don’t know the story, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is enslaved (his punishment for stealing) and then released but violates his parole –  he assumes a new identity and starts a new life as an honest man, but he is not free as he is hunted from that point on by Javert (Russell Crowe), the unwavering face of the law who has made it his personal vendetta to seek justice.  Now we also have Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a mysterious factory worker who we discover from the other jealous co-workers, has a child, Cosette, whose father left and is being taken care of by an inn-keeper and his wife, although it is unbeknownst to Fantine that her Cosette is not treated very well.  After it is revealed that Fontine has a child, illegitimately, she is kicked out of her job and forced into prostitution to provide money to the inn-keepers for Cosette.  She falls ill and is discovered by Valjean who takes her to a hospital and promises to raise her child.  All the while, Javert has discovered Valjean’s true identity and is determined to see justice served.  Doesn’t happen.  Valjean finds the innkeepers (TheThenardiers), who feign the role of caring parents and pays them to take the child and Valjean and young Cosette escape into hiding.    

Much later, we see the grown Cosette, indeed under the (great) care of Valjean but living in secrecy as they are still hiding from Javert.  We are now in the midst of the French Revolution and the young revolutionaries are out in full force, including Marius Pontmercy (Eddie Redmayne) who sees the grown Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) in town one day and falls in love immediately.  Now in between the revolution, we also have a love story, a hopeless love and a secret (as Valjean’s true identity is unknown to Cosette).

I will leave it at that because I really don’t like spoiling the end of stories.

The music from the musical is fantastic and it was very well done in the movie. Who knew Russell Crowe could sing?  Anne Hathaway, who lost 25 lbs. for her role as Fantine does an excellent job looking miserable, half dead and defeated.  We, the audience, as we often do, find ourselves sympathizing with the underdog – having hope for true love, for true justice, not just the legal type, and believing in the goodness of humanity.

Point Lobos with Papa B

It was a gorgeous Indian Summer day here in beautiful Monterey so Papa B and I decided to go down to Point Lobos for a hike. (For those of you who unfamiliar with the concept of Indian Summer – it’s a phenomenon that occurs in the Northern Hemisphere marked by warmer than expected weather in late-September-November, we definitely experience it here in Pacific Grove).  

Point Lobos is a State Natural Reserve a bit down the coast from Monterey.  We headed down and parked just outside of the park and walked in.  There were many people out today, it’s Saturday and a clear day – it’s great to see so many people out! 
We walked through the trees, it was a bit cooler than out in the sun and a little darker.  After some time, we saw blue and turquoise through the trees.  Although I have grown up on the Pacific Ocean, I find it amazing how diverse it is – it amazes me every time.  It’s completely variable depending on the weather, the lighting, the time of day, the tide, the wildlife, etc.  Today was especially spectacular.  
The ocean through the trees 
Gorgeous cove!
Looking across to Carmel, Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove
p-r-e-t-t-y
We admired the ocean, told jokes and “hello-ed” people as we passed them on the trails.  Going around a little cove made me think of “Island of the Blue Dolphins” a book we had to read in the 4th grade.  It’s about a Native American girl that lives on an island off the coast of California.  I haven’t read the book in over 10 years but I guess the imagery stuck in my subconscious.  
This is what reminds me of “Island of the Blue Dolphins”
There were scuba divers preparing to go out – how cool!  I wonder what all they see down there?  
We were lucky enough to see a vulture fly by overhead, its wings spread magnificently with the ends sticking up like fingers.
The water was pretty calm, when the waves were well behaved, the water looked super smooth and the sun reflected brilliantly off of it.  
It looks like glass, doesn’t it!
At one point we sat on a bench and admired the coast.  There were rose petals all around the bench and Papa B said there must have been a girl here reciting “he loves me, he loves me not.”  
I love seeing the crushed abalone shells in the ground, their metallic color always catches the light just right and reflects up at you.  It’s like a silver, green, pink, purple color.  
Broken abalone shells, can you see the metallic coloration?
Eventually we came upon a little cabin with whale bones around it.  One rib was about the length of my height!  There was also what looked like the hip bone of a whale and the vertebrae of a whale.  On the side of the cabin was framed baleen – the filter in the mouths of baleen whales.  (S)He consume a huge volume of water that hopefully has lots of krill in it, the whale then pushes the water out but the krill are trapped in the whale’s mouth – dinner! 
Whale bones!
It looks like where the vertebrae would connect, but I’m not too familiar with whale anatomy…
Whale ribs, vertebrae, fin and baleen 
Next we went around a different bend and encountered some deer.  It is rutting season for the deer here.  That means they are mating.  This usually happens right before daylight savings time and there is a drastic change in their hormone levels.  They behave abnormally, more agressive, and if they don’t move out of your way – you should get out of theirs.  We saw three young males and clapped at them, they looked at us a bit and didn’t budge, we went down a different trail.  
We came upon another bench overlooking another little cover.  There were three seals resting on the rocks.  
Seals on the rocks! Can you see them?
Looking across to Carmel 
We admired from afar and eventually had to get down to the water.  Luckily there was a bonafide trail and we slowly made our way down to the rocky beach.  I quickly lost my shoes and socks and tried to run to the water, it was difficult to do on a non-sand beach.  The water was refreshingly cool.  It was low tide and so there were uncovered rocks filled with sea anemones.  You can’t really see them unless you’re looking because they are closed and have bits of sand and rocks stuck to them.  I touched them just to watch them shrivel back – I hope I wasn’t harming them, they’re just so amazing, and I couldn’t help it!  
Rocky beach 🙂
Sea anemones!  They close up during low tide
More sea anemones 
We eventually walked back to the car, retracing our footsteps.  If you are observant enough, you can notice slight changes in the light, coloration, etc. in the trails that you walked in not too long before.  There was the same creaking noise from a tree when we walked back as when we had walked past the first time.  It would stop as we walked by and pick up again after we were past the tree.  I therefore am convinced that it was an animal but my dad claims it was just the wind causing the tree to creak.  

Cacti, cookies, coast and condors

I went down the coast again with the ladies, this time it was with my mom and the aunties.  Yesterday was one of my aunties’ birthday and so naturally we needed to celebrate.  The plan was to drive down the coast in the morning, to Big Sur, have a treat from the Big Sur Bakery, go for a hike and then have lunch at Nepenthe.

Well, we got a later start that expected – which is to be expected.  On the drive down, we stopped at Save-Mart, one auntie had forgotten her sunglasses and as she says “fashion first.”  She ran in and bought cheap-o sunglasses as my mom, other auntie and I plotted how we would liberate the tri-tip being BBQed on a grill outside the store, unattended.  Seriously?

We parked at Nepenthe, we were going to eat there after all.  But first we had to stop at the Phoenix Shop.  It’s a shop below the restaurant that sells great books, stationary, jewelry, clothing, cosmetics and all sorts of home accessories.  Sampling hand cream, leafing through books and perusing the clothes sale rack really works up an appetite so up the stairs we hiked to eat lunch.  So much for hiking…

We waited to be seated, admiring flowers and making quite the scene.  The weather was gorgeous and it was nice to see so many people out enjoying the sun and the scenery.

We were seated on the back patio, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  The view was breathtaking.  I have a picture below but it doesn’t even begin to do justice to the beauty that we had the pleasure of admiring.  We had a slow meal sharing each plate, family style.  A woman walked by with a baby on her hip, wearing just a onesie and had a fountain of hair coming out of the top of her head.  I stopped my story mid-sentence and began my well-versed baby flirtation.  Within minutes the baby was on my lap and she had all my attention, I was in heaven.

After our 3-hour meal, we decided we were tired and we should probably head to the bakery for birthday goodies before going back home.  The Big Sur Bakery is nestled in The Big Sur Spirit Garden. How beautiful!  We walked through the cacti and sweet peas, among other flora.  There was a man watering the garden and the smell of wet plants on a hot day is unmistakable – it gets etched in your scent memory pretty vividly.  It reminded me of watering plants in the summer with my uncle on his land, north of Damascus.  He taught me how to syphon water out of the well despite being on an uneven surface.  What nostalgia!  For a moment your psyche transports you to that time and place.  You are who you were when you were there.  The smell is the same in these two place, where you are in actuality and the place in which you have olfactory memories.  I guess your soul, if you believe in souls, is the same, but your body has changed; what we remember in our mind fails to point out the differences, the pain, whatever.  You are simply existing in two places at once – in your memory and in the present.  It’s truly phenomenal.

We were disappointed, as the bakery was in transition from lunch to dinner and there were no pastries left, it was 3:00 in the afternoon, after all.  As we piled back in the car, my aunt pulled out a little bag of coconut, apricot cookies and a bar of dark chocolate.  She is always prepared…take note.

While attempting to nap in the backseat on the drive home, I was startled by our abruptly pulling off onto the shoulder.  I naturally jumped out of the car as my aunties did – they were armed with a camera and binoculars.  After a great deal of binocular focusing and oohing and aahing we decided that we were in the presence of 2 California Condors and 2 vultures.  Cool!  We took turns passing around the binoculars.  One auntie is a naturally trained biologist.  And I mean naturally in the literal sense of the word, like in nature.  She explained the difference between a condor and a vulture and as she did, a third condor flew in and joined the other birds in circling their dinner – and putting a show on for us.  She explained that condors have up to a 9 foot wingspan and that they have white on top of their wings and below, whereas vultures are smaller and don’t have the white on top of the wings.  We marveled at their magnificence in the mid-afternoon sun until they were through and flew off.  It was really the perfect ending to our day.

cool picture from the deck of Nepenthe as we waited to be seated, not too patiently

view from our table…oak tree + Pacific Ocean + fog
deck at Nepenthe, sweet checkerboard that these kids were playing some form of hopscotch on 🙂

Grapes!

Cacti


Crab cakes in Baltimore

I am on the East Coast for a conference in DC this upcoming week and came a bit early to see some family and friends.

Today my brother and I went to Baltimore to get crab cakes.  From where he lives, that is about 45 minute to an hour drive.  We got a late start, went to the gym, had a swim, showered, got on the road, forgot we needed gas, went back for gas, got back on the road, listened to the GPS which gave us bad directions, re-routed, stopped to use the restroom, and eventually made it to Baltimore.  If you don’t know me, this is typical of my road trip style.  The journey is all the adventure, the destination is just an added bonus.  
We found parking in Baltimore rather easily considering that there is a sports event today.  We saw a lot of people dressed in orange jerseys, which even for a non-sports fan is indicative of some event.  We walked to Lexington Market, if when you’re in the Baltimore Area, check it out! It’s an indoor market speckled with fruit stands and fish vendors, bakeries and florists.  There was a live band jamming and people were gathered dancing, there’s so much life and soul in this city! I bounced my head to the beat of the music as we walked along in search of these legendary crab cakes.

We finally made our way to Faidleys Seafood, and the line wrapped around the perimeter of the inside of the building! We planted ourselves in line which surprisingly moved quite fast.  The smell of the fried crab cakes did not help our hunger but it did help in the pre-meal anticipation.  We got to the front of the line and ordered: 2 lump crab cakes, an order of mussels and an order of calamari.  The cashier wrote our order on the paper place mat that fit in the red tray and our food was almost immediately placed on the tray.  We chatted with Bill Devine, the co-owner of Faidley’s Seafood.  He asked where we were from and I answered California.  “Are you a movie star?” he said with a smirk on his face, I giggled, “no – I mean yes yes, I am!”

We took our trays and went over to the high tables where we ate standing up.  It was delicious.  The crab cakes are lightly fried on the outside and soft and moist on the inside.  They kind of crumble and fall apart when you push your fork into them.  Each bite melts perfectly in your mouth with such simple flavors that just work together.  We slowly ate our meal, soaking the calamari in hot sauce, dipping the mussels in garlic butter and savoring each bite of crab cake just as is.  We finished our meal, very full and wobbled back to the car…it was wonderful. 

There is a definite distinction between male and female crabs.  From what I’ve researched, male crabs are meatier and therefore more desireable
The super crowded oyster bar
FISHY! 
Oysters are said to be aphrodisiacs…hence the red sign.  Also, this young man was shucking oysters so fast it was incredible!  
Nancy Devine Faidley, co-owner of Faidley Seafood and the “crab cake queen,” she is the creator of the famous Faidley Lump Crab Cake. 
Lump crab cake from Faidley’s
Calamari
Mussels with garlic butter 
“Baltimores Best” – Faidleys crab cakes + me 🙂