4.30.2012

Charmed by Aberdeen

Anti-social is not a word anyone would use to describe me. Far from it actually, but on some recent trips to Aberdeen I started to think of myself that way. T and I had been using Aberdeen as a base on the winter weekends as we skied at Mammoth and as usual, I hunker down when it gets cold and dark. I spent the winter weekends snowboarding or hunkered down in Aberdeen. T on the other hand, spent the winter skiing and meeting everyone in Aberdeen. It's a little ironic actually because if either one of us would be considered less-social, it would be T, hands down. So imagine my surprise when we would come back from skiing and T would disappear only to return later with a beer and a story of a new neighbor he had met.

Looking back on it, I wondered if I was anti-social because I would get back to the airstream and try to put things away, shower, or do other things that "should be done" while T would just walk away and meet someone new; or if I made a choice not to get to know my neighbors. Strange. I am not really sure what the answer is. At the end of the winter I knew a handful of our neighbors and T knew almost all of them.
T also really, really, really liked going up to the Eastern Sierra and Aberdeen was part of that this past winter. If he wasn't skiing he was fishing, or shooting, or jumping in a neighbors Rhino to go explore the area. Me? I was neutral about everything except the snowboarding part. I really liked snowboarding. And I liked hanging out with our friends / neighbors the Fish Whisperer and his wife. Until this past weekend I was pretty neutral about Aberdeen too.

But this past weekend something changed. It was the Trout Opener (opening of fishing season) and a lot more people showed up in Aberdeen. The weather was amazing and Aberdeen started to charm me.

I think it is time of a few facts about Aberdeen. Aberdeen (formerly, Aberdeen Station and Tibbets) is an unincorporated community in Inyo County, California. It is located 12.5 miles north-northwest of Independence, at an elevation of 3914 feet (Wikipedia). The only structure in Aberdeen is the store. It looks like the original store was built in 1921 (Owens Valley History - Aberdeen). All our neighbors live in mobile homes, Cavco Cabins, or RVs. So far, we are the only ones with an airstream. According to the Aberdeen Resort webpage, Aberdeen has about 70 permanent residents. After hanging out in Aberdeen for a season, I am not sure if that means they have 70 FULL TIME residents or 70 residents who have a home here. There are a lot of people who treat Aberdeen as a second home and don't live here year round. Many of them have been coming to Aberdeen for years.
The opening of Trout season is a big deal in the Eastern Sierra and it seemed like everyone who had a place in Aberdeen showed up this past weekend. The airstream backs up to Goodale Creek and I watched fishermen walk by all day on Saturday as I read my book. Our neighbor the Fish-whisperer, said there was a potluck fish-fry on Saturday night and that we should go. Out the airstream window I watched all our neighbors come out for the fish-fry. Picnic benches were filled and everyone was laughing and having a good time. When the call for dinner came, I stayed in the airstream because T was "gone fishing" and the Fish-Whisperer was at work. In hindsight I realize I could have gone over for the fish-fry, but I just didn't feel comfortable doing that.

By the time T got back it looked like the fish-fry was over. Most of the neighbors had meandered away and just a few people were sitting around talking. We were going to have some cold BBQ chicken for dinner when one of our "neighbors" (I feel like everyone is a "neighbor" in Aberdeen) asked us if we had eaten dinner and told us to grab a plate and come have some of the fish-fry.
And that is when things started to change for me.

All day I had been watching people helping each other and laughing together. There was a duck who had laid her eggs by the creek (across from the airstream) and everyone was trying to help protect her eggs. Grown-ups were helping children learn to fish and everyone had a beer for their neighbor. It finally dawned on me that Aberdeen was a kind of extended family that takes care of each other. Eating the fish-fry with my neighbors I learned that on Sunday there was a BBQ rib potluck for anyone that was staying. Turns out, they had been doing this for years. Eating together. Fishing, laughing, drinking. Bring their kids up here, watching their kids bring their kids up here. Creating a community. The kind of community I've never seen before. The kind of community where everyone was indeed, your neighbor.

4.23.2012

Wine Cask. One of the best meals of my life.

This past weekend the sisters and I escaped to Santa Barbara (CA) for a wine weekend. The Little Sister was the mastermind behind this little adventure, booking the hotel (Hotel Oceana) and getting the Middle Sister and I involved. We had a good time and drank a lot of wine but my favorite thing about the weekend was Saturday night dinner at Wine Cask.

If you have ever gone wine tasting before you realize by the end of the day you are kind of..... wined out. The sisters and I were feeling this way as we walked to have dinner at Wine Cask. I also think we were suffering from low blood sugar or too much sun exposure because we were dragging. The Middle Sister had a recommendation to try Wine Cask and had made a reservation for us. We entered through the bar (a happening place) were lead through a beautiful covered courtyard (I want to eat out there next time) and final shown to the beautiful restaurant.

This photo is from the Wine Cask website and shows the restaurant.

Our waiters name was Blake and he was incredible. Imagine going to a table of three (slightly grumpy) girls and asking them what they would like to drink when you work at a restaurant called the WINE Cask and having them tell you they are wined out.... To our credit we did say we were going to rally and just needed a little time. To his (Blake's) credit, he just rolled with it and never steered us wrong.

The menu was two pages and looked delicious. The chef goes to the local Farmer's Market for a lot of the menu and even has market tours on Tuesdays! Blake told us about a few of the specials and I noticed there was a note on the menu about letting the chef know if you were a vegetarian or had special diet restrictions and he would try to accommodate you. The Middle Sister is a vegetarian and I mentioned this to her. It turns out that the chef, Chef Brandon Hughes, loves to make something special for someone who would have to modify a meal if he has time. Blake told us he makes spectacular things and my sister just needed to say what she wouldn't eat. He joked that he would not be serving her a plate of steamed vegetables and so she went with whatever the chef would make her. I think her comments were something like, no tofu, don't like mushrooms, and LOVES cheese.

We started the meal with a half bottle of Flying Goat Pinot Noir and placed our order. Now I have no pictures. The lighting in the restaurant was "dark and romantic" and I just couldn't bring myself to use the flash to take pictures. Next time I will go earlier and get some photos.... or ask to sit by a window...

SIDE NOTE:
After placing our order I asked to see a dessert menu. I'm a dessert girl and I wanted to see what they had. I took one look at the dessert menu and asked if I could cancel my meal and just order dessert? Blake (to his credit) told me no and I am so glad he did. Even though I am already planning a trip to Wine Cask that just includes wine and dessert.....

FIRST COURSE:
For the first course I had the "Market Soup" which was a cauliflower pureed soup drizzled with avocado oil (I think it was avocado) and prosciutto bits served in a square bowl. It was amazing. The soup was thick and made with a complex vegetable stock. The oil blended perfectly with the cauliflower and brought out a hint of nuttiness. The prosciutto added a little crunch and salt. It makes me want to make cauliflower soup at home and I am not that big of a fan of cauliflower soup, until now!

The Little Sister had the Lyonnaise Salad with smoked egg white, prosciutto, spinach, and warm mushroom-bacon vinaigrette and the Middle Sister had the Farmer's Market Mixed Greens with toasted hazelnuts, strawberries, ricotta, and champagne vinaigrette. Everything was amazing.

MAIN COURSE:
I am still thinking of this meal, days later. Wishing I had gnawed on the bones from my rack of lamb. Wishing I had a chance to eat everything on the menu. Thinking that even though my stomach was going to burst when I left the Wine Cask, maybe there was something more I could have eaten....

My main course was the Spring Garlic Marinated Rack of Lamb with BD farms wild greens, tourneed cauliflower and romaine hearts, and romaine pistou. Yeah, I should have gnawed on the bones... This was one of the most amazing things I have eaten in my life. The lamb was medium rare with a crispy outside like it had been prepared over an open fire or grill. The pistou, cauliflower, and wild greens (wilted under the lamb) complemented and completed the meal so well that I would have ordered a second round if I could have eaten it. I am not usually silent at meals (and neither are my sisters) but when our main course arrived a hush fell over our table as we all began to eat. It was like we were attending church and saying a little prayer to the food gods.

For a main course the Little Sister had Roasted Double-Cut Kurobuta Pork Chop with black truffle puree, fingerlings, smoked lardo, and Greek yogurt emulsion. The Middle Sister had something the chef made up that included eggplant ribbons and farmer's market vegetables presented in a stack or layer cake with a cheese sauce and a side "salad" of edamame with slivered beets tossed with a dressing. She said it was spectacular!

DESSERT:
By this time I was getting pretty full but the dessert menu had looked so amazing that I had to try something. The Little Sister went with the Butterscotch Pudding with whipped cream and fleur de sel, while the Middle Sister tried the Chocolate and Chevre Doughnuts with crème anglaise and cappuccino ice cream. I am a big chocolate fan, but there was not a dessert on the menu that screamed out "Eat this!". I was thinking of getting the Market Cobbler with cinnamon ice cream and Ojai Valley honey, but the Little Sister said I should get the Hazelnut Crepes with bananas, caramelized hazelnuts, house-made nutella, and banana ice cream. We asked Blake for which one I should try and he said the crepes. I will say they were pretty amazing. The flavors all complimented each other so well. Caramelized hazelnuts need to make an appearance in a lot of restaurants. I can't believe I haven't had them before. The Market Cobbler by the way was a blackberry cobbler. I wish I had an extra stomach so I could have tried them both.

I walked out of Wine Cask and immediately knew this was one of the top ten meals I have had in my life. Days later I am still thinking of it, trying to remember the roasted lamb or see if I can put my finger on all the ingredients in the cauliflower soup. I am even trying to think of the next time I will be in Santa Barbara to see if I can eat there again.

Next time you find yourself in Santa Barbara I highly recommend Wine Cask and think you should start with dessert!

CHEERS!

4.15.2012

My first Mayo

On Friday I made mayonnaise for the first time. And while it's not rocket science or world peace, it did give me that "I just learned to ride a bike" feeling. Strange, but very cool.

The story is simple. It was pouring rain on Friday and I decided to make tuna salad for lunch. I had used the last of these amazing pickles and the end of my celery only to discover that we were out of mayo. Now we might have been out of mayonnaise for months. We are not big "mayonnaise" eaters, but somehow I hadn't noticed it until I needed it. Staring at the rain, I decided to make mayonnaise for my tuna salad.

I googled a mayonnaise recipe and chose the Making Mayonnaise link from Allrecipes. Simple and easy to make with things I already had in my kitchen. I whipped it together and had my first mayonnaise!
My first Mayo!
How was it?

Well, I would give it a "C" and only after I doctored it up by adding some salt and pepper and even a little pickle juice for more flavor. A little of the fault lies with me. The recipe called for light flavored olive oil and I only had the olive oil I had in my house (which was in no way light). I also went with the lemon option and think I might try the vinegar option next time.

Did it work for my tuna salad? It worked extremely well. I put the extra in a jar in the fridge and wonder if the flavor gets better over a few days.

Did it make me a rocket scientist? No, but my first mayo did start me thinking about the processed foods I eat and how I really want to think about everything I put in my body. About how easy it is to make a lot of the things I need in less time than it takes me to go to the grocery store. About how something as simple as mayonnaise made me feel like the king of the world for 10 minutes.

Who knew that my first mayo could end up being such a big deal to me?

Bonus: If I get any good at this, guess what everyone is getting for Christmas!

4.06.2012

Fierce Foods: What's in season?

I am a co-blogger over at Fierce Foods talking about Farmers' Markets and Gardening. Check out my post about Farmers' Market 101: What's in Season?

4.02.2012

Remembering Winter 2012


Something happened this winter that has never happened before; I was actually looking forward to it.

Winter has always been my least favorite season. The days are dark and short. It is cold and I always seem to be so tired. The only thing I like about it is the food from the Farmer's Markets and cuddling with T. In my mind, Winter didn't really have much going for it.

Until this year. This was the first year I was actually looking forward to Winter and it had a lot to do with snowboarding.

Over the last three years I have taken up snowboarding and this year T and I bought passes to Mammoth Mountain our "local" (if 6 hours away is "local") ski hill. We bought these passes last spring and hadn't really thought things through when we purchased them. T had said he wanted to ski 30 days at Mammoth and we planned to go every other weekend. Over the summer we started looking at rentals in Mammoth and quickly realized this adventure was going to be more expensive than we had thought. After crunching some numbers and looking at our options (including what to do with our cat Samson) T decided to put the Airstream in Aberdeen.

View Larger Map
The short version of why he decided to do this would go something like this: We have friends who live in Aberdeen (the Fish Whisperer and his wife) and they talked T into Aberdeen. Mainly it was because they were there and could watch the Airstream. T also rigged up the Airstream so they flip a switch before we came up and the heaters are on low and heat the place right up (a trick we learned after freezing our first trip up). It's also nice to know your neighbors, so T went with Aberdeen.

From the map above you can see that Mammoth is about an hour and a half from Aberdeen. Surprisingly, even with factoring all the gas from driving and the cost of keeping the Airstream in Aberdeen, this still worked out to be less than what we could find in Mammoth. And we would have a place for Samson. So Aberdeen it was for the winter.

A few weekends into our plan I realized it wasn't going to work for me. I found myself dreading going to Mammoth because I had to play catch-up with everything I had to do at home. Typically we would drive to Aberdeen on Friday night and get there between 10:30-11:30 p.m. The next morning we would be on the road at 6 a.m. heading for Mammoth. Repeat on Sunday. Sometimes repeat on Monday and sometimes sleep in on Monday and stay around the Airstream. Leave Monday and get home at 10 p.m.

I would then spend the time between getting home and going on our next trip to Mammoth trying to catch up in things, only not really able to and then getting even more behind each trip we took. T didn't really understand it and would say thing like "just don't do it", "Mammoth should be your priority", and "you're getting stressed out about things that aren't important". Those comments didn't help the situation and I finally realized that Mammoth was the thing that was really important to him and finding a balance that worked for me was the thing that was really important to me. So I did and told T I was skipping every other trip to Mammoth because the things I wanted (needed) to do at home were more important to me than going to Mammoth every other weekend. This worked for me and I found myself enjoying the trips to Aberdeen and Mammoth much more.
Mammoth bluebird day
This winter turned out to be a very dry winter and not very good for snow. Last winter was epic and we got in a few days at Heavenly in Tahoe but this winter was not what we expected. Never the less, I had a great time snowboarding at Mammoth and even though I mostly stayed on the green runs, I liked it enough to get a pass next year. Somehow Winter has become a season to love.

This was the seasonal blog banner for Winter 2012. I took this picture last winter driving on Hwy 395 with T on one of our Tahoe ski trips. We call this "our house" and always point it out on our trips. It is south of Mono Lake and north of Mammoth. During the summer it is not much to look at but the snow that winter made it beautiful.