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.
On Saturday, we’re flying down to San Francisco to start our California road trip.
Why California? There is so much good food there. Think of how California chefs and restaurants have set the trends for meals and ingredients these past 50 years: Chez Panisse, farmers’ markets, Wolfgang Puck, Zuni Cafe, Lucques, Bar Tartine. California supplies so much of this country with fresh produce, particularly those farmers in the central part of the state. And I grew up in California, in Claremont (where we are going), but I never appreciated those miles we drove when we went up to Washington to visit my grandparents. To really understand the food of that state and its importance to American cuisine, I want to go back as an adult.
Danny, Lu, and I would like to meet you.
Here’s where we are going to be.
Sacramento, Sunday February 16th
On Sunday, we’re having an afternoon potluck party at the home of a friend in Sacramento. This one is an invite-only potluck as we can only have so many people there. If you would like to attend, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, telling me why you’d like to be there. I’ll let you know the address and details in the return email.
Oakland, Tuesday February 18th— Mariposa Bakery, 7 to 8:30 pm
We’re big fans of Mariposa, one of the best gluten-free bakeries in the Bay Area. Years ago, we had a small event in honor of my first book. Now, we’re going back to their new space in Oakland. We’d love to meet you there.
Bring a potluck dish to the party, a food that really feels like the cuisine of the Bay Area to you. (This is a dedicated gluten-free baking space so please do not bring any gluten!)
5427 Telegraph Ave, Unit D3
Oakland, CA 94609
Come on out!
San Carlos, Wednesday February 19th — Zest Bakery, 3 pm
We can’t go to the Bay Area without visiting our friends Charissa and Patrick at Zest Bakery. Lucy still talks about their baked goods. We’ll be making a stop there for tea and treats. If you’d like to join us, come on by at 3 pm.
Madera, Thursday February 20th — San Joaquin Wine Company, 6 to 8 pm
We’re very excited to meet the farmers of central California and meet you at the lovely San Joaquin Wine Company in Madera. They have generously volunteered the space for our party. Let’s gather with great food that feels like that part of California to you. Bring a potluck dish, with gluten or without. We want to hear your food stories!
San Joaquin Wine Company
21801 Avenue 16,
Madera, CA 93637
(Thank you so much to K.C. Pomering for organizing this for us!)
Santa Barbara, Saturday February 22nd — Santa Barbara Farmers’ Market, 11 am
We won’t be having an official potluck here, but we’ll be heading to the farmers’ market to meet farmers and gather armfuls of the produce we won’t be able to find in Washington for months still. If you’re in the area, and you’d like to say hello and share some food, come on by.
Los Angeles, Sunday February 23rd — Silverlake Park, 1 to 3 pm
Years ago now, we had a potluck picnic in Central Park. Everyone who attended either had the word YES or IMAGINE somewhere. That lovely afternoon in New York was really something else. And that experience taught us how much we love potlucks. There’s something wonderfully relaxed and inviting about a potluck. Instead of the perfect table glowing with candles, white plates and wine glasses? There is green grass, dozens of different dishes, and laughter.
It’s time for another picnic in the park.
This year, we’re having a potluck at Silver Lake Park in Los Angeles. As our friend Catherine said, it has a “…huge grassy flat area with hipsters, kids and kites on a windy day.” There seems to be a open expanse of grass right in front of a reservoir. We’ll meet you there at 1.
Bring the food that really feels like Los Angeles to you. (If you want to bring the gluten version, feel free to do so! Just mark it clearly.) We can’t wait to feast with you.
(We’ve looked at the weather forecast and it’s supposed to be in the mid-60s and reasonably sunny. I remember from when I grew up in southern California, 63° still felt like we needed parkas. But think of the people on the East Coast and their 5 feet of snow right now. They’d love to be in 63° weather. Go ahead. Brave the weather. Come out to meet us.)
Silver Lake Park
1850 W Silver Lake Dr
Los Angeles, CA
As you can see, we’ll be in plenty of places. But we learned our lessons from the trip in September. We won’t be doing a potluck every day this time. Instead, we’ll be meeting with farmers, friends, chefs, bakers, and savoring the tastes of California. (And also, driving. There will be plenty of driving.) To follow along with our adventures, feel free to check out my photographs on Instagram, see what we’re saying on Twitter, and hear everyone’s suggestions for places to eat on our Facebook page.
Speaking of that, if you have suggestions for great restaurants, farms you feel we must visit, places to stay, farmers’ markets where we should shop, or gluten-free bakeries we should try, please leave your suggestions in the comments section of this post. Everyone who wants to visit California someday — make your lists.
We can’t wait to meet you, to eat with you, and to hear your food stories, California.