This was a most mediocre and tremendous meal.
It wasn’t locally sourced, grass-fed beef. I’m sure the guacamole came out of a tub. The beans were sort of spongy, the tortillas lukewarm. That pre-grated cheese didn’t taste like much. The taco buffet we make at home on Thursday nights has pickled radishes, slow-braised carnitas, and crunchy cabbage for the shells.
However, I’ll never forget this meal. I’m so very grateful for it.
We came home from California bedraggled and happy. We carried our bags to our car in the rain, somehow strange after 12 days of blue skies and warm air, but also welcome after seeing the effects of the California drought. It has taken us days to unpack and gather memories to us coherently. We’re still lingering in the beauty of this trip.
We came from California with a few mementos. A jar of elderberry jelly, made by our friend Elise last summer, so kindly handed to us after an extraordinary visit with her in Sacramento. A copy of The Harvey House Cookbook: Memories of Dining Along the Santa Fe Railroad, a book we found at the California State Railroad Museum. Danny and I marveled over the recipes for cheese straws, guacamole monterey, albondigas soup, and New England scallop salad, while Lu just wanted to run from the real-life sleeping car to the dining car, over and over. Five bags of Cup4Cup flour mixes — pizza! brownies! pancakes! — given to us by the good folks in Napa, the team who created these flours for gluten-free folks to feel good about their baked goods again. And after a stop at Rancho Gordo to hug our friend Steve Sando, we added banana vinegar, midnight black beans, and dark chocolate tablets to our bags. Only a few days into our trip, our rented minivan was starting to fill.
From a private potluck lunch with friends at Contigo in San Francisco, there were dried persimmons and a case of SFQ, our very favorite barbecue sauce in the world. (Michele and Danny made a bet when the Seahawks played the 49ers. Lucky for us, the Seahawks won.) Lucy skipped to the car draped in wildly colored pop beads after playing with Tilden all afternoon. She also clutched the tiny AAA tow truck flashlight Anita had given her earlier. By the end of the evening, there was a small jar of tomato confit, made by our friends Tracy and Kim, who asked us to stay in their new home in San Jose.
The next day in Madera, we had walked through the rows of olive trees with the man who ran the Rosenthal Olive Ranch, then stood in his kitchen, sipping orange-flavored olive oil and white balsamic vinegar. Both bottles made it home safely, thankfully. We ate a salad of endive and romaine, goat cheese, and walnuts this evening with that olive oil and balsamic.
After a stop at the Santa Barbara farmers’ market, Lucy owned a copy of The Royal Treasure Measure (Math Is Fun!), a lovely book that the even lovelier Amanda brought her. We met Amanda and a handful of other people in front of the Harry’s Berries stand, laughing in the Saturday sunlight. Lucy insisted we buy a jar of pickled dilly beans and another of strawberry preserves. She walked back to the car with them all in her hands, set them down on the floor of the car, and put on the Groucho glasses our friend Leela had given her the night before. (This photo of her wearing them might be my favorite one of the hundreds and hundreds left on my phone after driving down California.)
After the potluck we held in Los Angeles, in a park by a playground, I took home a pair of earrings made by a reader, earrings the color of the Pacific Ocean we had swum in the day before. And after the next to last day in California, Lu came home with a pair of Minnie Mouse ears. Danny and I both wore our Mickey Mouse t-shirts on the plane back home.
It was, without a doubt, the best trip we have ever taken together, the three of us.
Of course, there were far more memories than tangible mementos. Those memories — of the good people with whom we shared food, of driving past dusty fields still being planted by farmers, of friends feeding us and taking us in for the night, of Disneyland and Oakland and hotel pools in Los Angeles, of meals with friends in restaurants — will stay with us for a long time.
We’ll be sharing the stories of our time in California with you, here, over the next couple of weeks. There will be recipes too, inspired by our time in San Luis Obisbo and Sacramento and Santa Barbara. There will also be recipes in our next cookbook, which will have a good number of comfort food dishes and another good number of meals inspired by the fresh produce and healthy celebration of California. We will share photos and stories of the places we have gone, which might inspire you to visit them too.
Mostly, though, I’m left with a wave of gratitude for the state that was my childhood home. California, I underestimated you as a kid. I choked through smog and wondered why we lived in a place with skies so perpetually brown. The vapidity of Hollywood and the desperate need to appear beautiful all the time drove me away. (I was a bespectacled bookworm brunette in southern California in the late 1970s and 1980s. I never stood a chance.) But now, as an adult, firmly rooted with Danny and Lu on this island we call home, I fell in love with California in a way I never could as a child. The entire trip, I hummed Joni Mitchell in my mind:
“California I’m coming home
I’m going to see the folks I dig
I’ll even kiss a Sunset pig
California I’m coming home.”
It was a good trip home.
We can’t wait to share it with you here.
We’d like to send out a huge acknowledgment and thank you to Erewhon Organic for sponsoring this California tour. Without them, we wouldn’t have been able to meet you and gather material for our next cookbook. Erewhon Organic makes some of our favorite foods in the world, including their new quinoa-chia cereal and their buckwheat-hemp cereal, which was our favorite breakfast on this tour. They do things right.