fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


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more on the move, road trip and short vay-kay

You fail only if you stop writing.
— Ray Bradbury

…and I have failed now for almost a month.

This stuff just doesn’t write itself.

There’s also the small matter of math. My figuring says every week there’s less than 50 hours not dedicated to sleeping, work, commuting, eating, shopping, housekeeping, etc. A new project, a good thing (more on that later), will further diminish time available for personal projects.

Hopefully this will wind up what was started with the last post. After that, maybe a new schedule or new focus to get this blog thing back on track and minimize lapses of radio silence.

I’ve never lost sight of the truth that this is more of a diary or personal history than anything else, and I appreciate those who have stuck around or dropped in once and a while.

Now, where was I?…


It was a longish drive from mid California to the wet-side of Washington but not exhausting as predicted, thankfully so. Being one with an internal alarm clock that doesn’t easily reset, I was up before the sun. Which really isn’t too hard when there’s a nearly 10° or so northerly difference between the latitude of your origin and destination.

Not one to sit, or lay, too still for too long once awake, I was soon unloading the son’s stuff and playing Jenga with boxes, furniture pieces and miscellaneous asymmetrical items. With help from the wife and son, soon enough we had a relatively compact pile in a corner of the garage.

The agenda for the day meant a circuitous route to drop off the rental vehicle (which made the wife sad) at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and abandon the son in Bellevue with a friend with whom he’d stay for a temporary but indeterminate period of time. Being a Sunday, traffic wasn’t bad.

This was a trip without a real itinerary, but we did have goals. So that afternoon we met the brother, his wife and the two nephews for lunch, followed by a long visit at his house. My wife will tell you that such visits are marked by silliness. The nephews are at that age. My brother and I never outgrew it.

It was a good time, with casual, wandering conversation, unconstrained by a specific time. Until dad called, asking if we’d be home for dinner. Guess some things never change.


With the exception of earning a salary, the wife and I have probably benefited more from the son’s job than he has. His employee discount has allowed us to spend a few nights in the type of boutique hotels we’d usually deem a bit out of our price range. We spent some of Monday out and about, but the night at the Alexis Hotel in downtown Seattle.

Pleasantly, we were upgraded to a suite; a suite nearly the size of our house. It was a bit extravagant–we were only planning to sleep there–but still amazing.

Pike Place Market on a quiet night.

Pike Place Market on a quiet night.

Without much of a plan and needing dinner, we started walking up 1st Street, winding our way toward Pike Place. It didn’t dawn on me for a while, but there’s an almost indiscernible difference between Seattle and San Francisco on a Monday evening. There were very few people on the streets that evening. In a later discussion it was decided that San Francisco is more of a year-round tourist destination; Seattle not so much.

After enjoying the manager’s wine hour, we hit the streets in search of food. A number of restaurants were closed, and perhaps we weren’t that hungry, but it was difficult to find an eatery that we found appealing. Our search took us all the way past Pike Place Market, by Gum Wall (more of Gum Alley), through Post Alley, and about three miles later, my wife grabbed my arm and told me where we were going to eat: Kastoori Grill.

Karen’s become a good sport at more adventurous eating, and Kastoori Grill is a good example. Kastoori Grill is in an unassuming space and easy to miss, or dismiss. The dated décor belied the attention to the food and service that night. Though we don’t always stick to the plan, this evening we planned to split a plate and ordered the aloo chaat appetizer (because fried mashed potatoes), the lamb biryani entrée, and, of course, naan. It’s hard to judge a cuisine which one hasn’t sampled in the country of origin but judging by my taste buds, it was all good. The aloo chaat was good but I liked its garbanzo bean “salsa” topping best. The lamb in the biryani was tender and the least lamby tasting lamb I’ve ever eaten. More than satiated, we walked out satisfied. We slept well that night.

As we ended the night before, so began the next day at Biscuit Bitch. She really isn’t tough, and the guys and gals who work there were welcoming and quick to offer advice to new patrons. It was already decided we’d split the Easy Bitch (biscuits and sausage gravy with two eggs over-easy topped with crumbled bacon). Wanting to better judge the biscuit itself, I also ordered a biscuit with blackberry jam. It was almost too much goodness. Almost. The Easy Bitch was rich and the fresh-cooked crumbled bacon pushed it over the top. The separate, butter-slathered biscuit revealed the namesake product’s flakiness. This is the kind of place that’s quickly labeled “cute,” with a slightly hippy vibe and limited seating requiring a willingness to cozy up with a stranger.

The morning was interrupted by a few phone calls and debate over how to best deal with the son’s need to retrieve items left only 20 miles away, but without a car and in a rural area, a lifetime away by public transit. Resolved, our morning was freed up for wandering through Pike Place Market and more than a few blocks up to the Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room.

A more descriptive term for Starbucks’ first Reserve Roastery might be Willy Starbucks’ Coffee Factory. A lot of gleaming copper and stainless steel are contrasted with warm wood surfaces. Not a coffee drinker, it was something to see but much of the experience was probably lost on me.

Later we’d end up finding one of my beverages of choice, on a winding trip back to the bro in Monroe.

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in the foothills for food

One of the best things about being willing to travel for food is that the allure of food…or wine or beer…can be the thing that motivates.

The release of monthly wine selection, which we elected to pick up rather than expanding our carbon footprint with door-to-door delivery, led to a last-minute decision to take a road trip last Friday that would loop through the Sierra Nevada foothill towns of Murphys and Jamestown. The last-minute part was a decision to make it a day trip rather than pack, unpack, then pack again for a short weekend stay at the cabin.

Spring Flowers at Ironstone Winery

Tulips at Ironstone Winery

Departure time that often dictates one’s route, and since we’d first stop in Murphys, timing put us in Stockton for breakfast. Yes, that Central Valley town, in the middle of some of the most productive farmland in the world. Yet is isn’t the prototypical farming community. Stockton is a city of 300,000.

When the real estate bubble burst, homes built on cheap agricultural land in and around Stockton — almost within commuting distance of San Francisco — were left empty. Without customers, businesses closed and shopping centers went dark. The construction industry that built both residential and commercial properties collapsed, increasing the rolls of unemployed. Income and property and sales tax revenue fell.

But Stockton is a city with a deep freshwater port handling over $1 billion in product shipment annually. It is home to the prestigious University of Pacific and its 7,000 students. During the boom years the city gained a new ballpark, a city activities center, at least one new hotel, an ice rink and a lovely marina. It’s been described as a slice of Los Angeles minus Hollywood.

Our stop for breakfast was at a restaurant within Stockton’s Miracle Mile Improvement District, three blocks south of UOP. Karen found the Midtown Creperie on our ever-present travel companion, Yelp. Years ago I spend half a week in New Orleans and Midtown Creperie offers any almost Disneyesque décor, and though dark, is complete with Mardi Gras beads at each place setting. The mood set, it was the King Cake crepe for me, with dark chocolate sauce substituted for the white chocolate glaze. Karen ordered an omelet with spinach, sausage and tomato with country potatoes. Per our usual strategy in a new place, we split our meals.

Apparently, I haven’t learned my lesson when it comes to trying a place for the first time, particularly one that specializes. The King Cake crepe was good, but with too much going on — apples, cream filling, chocolate sauce and multicolor sugar crystals — it was tough to judge the foundation of the dish, the crepe itself. It was good, to be sure, but I’d say the great presentation didn’t match the flavor. The omelet was good but the sausage was less present than I would usually hope.

After a 30-minute walk down Pacific Avenue and its eclectic mix of shops, we were headed to Ironstone Vineyards, the home of one of Karen’s favorite everyday wines. Outside planters around the winery always filled with the best-looking plants, and being spring, they were filled with flowers. We’re not extravagant with wine club memberships, but it is nice to walk in and taste all we want without a fee, so we did. A case of Karen’s favorite walked out with us.

We hadn’t planned for lunch, but after walking the grounds at Ironstone and up and down Murphys’ Main Street — and the result of my interest in the beers at Alchemy Market — we ended up at the Alchemy Café next door. My wife had suggested sharing a beer — gotta love her — and I suggested a small appetizer. That didn’t quite work out as expected.

We’d been to Alchemy Café before, and split the Thai Chicken Salad, which was more than enough. The idea was to just have small plate to nosh on. Karen ended up with a nice lamb soup. I ordered the Crispy Fried Calamari and forgot about the awesome and complimentary Alchemy’s Famous Gold Nugget Cheese Bread.

Despite its awesomeness, Karen won’t touch Alchemy’s bread. She doesn’t like cheese. But that’s okay. I got the whole serving of this spicy, heavenly goodness. It’s a foundation of ciabatta bread spread with a fluffy mix of salted butter, corn kernels, chopped green onions, minced serrano chiles, minced garlic, chopped cilantro, shredded white cheddar cheese and Parmesan cheese, the baked until golden brown.

Had I remember the bread would come, I’d have skipped the calamari. However, I’m glad I didn’t.

Then there was the beer. Both the Alchemy Café and the associated Alchemy Market offer a good selection of beer, along with a long list of local and not-so-local wines. I tend to gravitate to local brews, and most local offering on the list that day was
Knee Deep Brewing Co.’s Batch 135 from Auburn. To my tastes, it was a bonus that Batch 138 uses Simcoe hops in addition to three unnamed “C” hops (likely Cascade, Chinook, Columbus or Centennial). It was a good light but hopped up beer, though the Simcoe only served up a pine aroma and wasn’t too dominant in the drinking.

We sipped, talked and noshed. It was a great day.

Oh, there were flowers, too.


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a “mini” vacation

Free is good.

A free Mini for a day is very good.

The Wife — courtesy her entry in a public transportation agency’s contest — ended up with a free Zipcar for a day. And as luck would have it, she invited me to come along. For the car, she picked a Mini and left the destination(s) to me.

A silver Mini named “McNorton” waited at a parking garage on Geary St. in San Francisco. We took BART in, hiked a few blocks to the parking garage, and gained entry with a magic wave of a ZipCar card. Pretty unique and convenient system. A few blocks down the road and my wife, decidedly not the “car nut,” was thoroughly enjoying a sporting drive to the Exploratorium, where the kid bailed and we officially began “having a day.” By now my wife had announced a few times that the “wanted this car.”

The car was entertaining on many levels — there’s always switches to play with in unfamiliar cars — but it was the computer’s calculation of average fuel consumption that held our attention at first. Up and down the hills of the city it bounced around the teens, but once we were on the highway to San Mateo, it quickly rose to the rather amazing 30 to 32 mpg range. Did I mention that my wife said she wanted her own Mini?

After a nice visit with my sister’s family in San Mateo, we pointed the bonnet west. Destination: Half Moon Bay. The weather: incredible for January. (I’m very conflicted about enjoying the great weather at a time when we should have rain.) In Half Moon Bay, in my humble opinion, one can find some of the best fish and chips around at the Half Moon Bay Brewing Co. So it was fish and chips for me, mini Kobe burgers for Karen, and an IPA shared between us. A great lunch with a great view on the bay. A quick drive back up the coast brought us back to reality, but it was a great “mini-vacation.”


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speaking from the stomach: rita’s

A recent visit to Eureka and chance landed me on a little slice of Mexico in the form of the excellent Rita’s Café & Taqueria. There are two Rita’s and I can vouch for the Harris Street location as well worth veering from Hwy 101 and into one of Eureka’s older neighborhoods.

During my meal I imagined the diners around me include a girlfriend and boyfriend from one of the local colleges, a mother and father and their children joined by grandma and grandpa, older couples enjoying dinner out and a mother treating her college-aged daughter and her friends. A handful of customers must be regulars as customers greet them by name; always a good sign. Another good sign: smiles a every table.

This smallish restaurant greets diners with happy colors while the friendly staff swiftly brings chips and salsa to the table and take drink orders. Music reminiscent of the streets of Mexico reinforces the feeling without bring obtrusive. Margaritas in nearly gallon-size glasses, apparently a big draw for Rita’s, grace many of the tables. Others call to mind Corona commercials, with galvanized buckets filled with ice and half a dozen Coronitas. Tortilla more delicate than expected arrive with a novel treatment: mild and warmer salsa in small dispensers with bowls that allow you to sample, choose, then use only the salsa you want.

Without calling myself a connoisseur, I have an idea of what makes good Mexican food. And Rita’s makes good Mexican food. The huge menu will satisfy the cravings of nearly anyone, with the only blatant American influence being the inclusion of the omnipresent chimichanga. I chose Burrito Especial, encouraged to find a place offering two smaller all-meat burritos — one chili colorado and the second chili verdé — instead of one giant version of tortilla-wrapped goodness. By virtue of these burritos being home to only meat, they are accompanied by beans and rice.

I finished it all. It was that good. The burrito chili verdé is the spicier of the two, but just enough to wake the taste buds. The burrito chili colorado presents a more mellow flavor that sneaks up with a bit of heat. However, this dish is one probably better — an easily — shared.

Around my office a few of us recently agreed that the better Mexican restaurants are in Southern California and that it’s hard to find a solid Mexican meal in or around San Francisco. Rita’s offers the irony that I found one of the better Mexican places almost at the northern edge of the state.

Mexican food lovers…there’s hope! Unfortunately it’s roughly 275 north of my house.