Thursday, January 31, 2008


Where the sea meets the grass. That's a way to describe Pescadero, a quaint small coastal town surrounded by pastures and green hills. Amazingly enough, Pescadero benefits from a sunny micro-climate allowing the presence of berry fields during the summer at Phipps Ranch.

Just an hour south of San Francisco along a stretch of sandy shores and big waves, Pescadero is in the middle of nowhere. Literally. Up north the closest village is San Gregorio, then Half Moon Bay. Down south, it's Santa Cruz with nothing much in between. Once you reach Pescadero State Beach, make a left on the only road. It'll take you to downtown Pescadero.

While food options are not plentiful, they are nevertheless worth the trip. During summer time, the country store grills all sorts of meats on its outdoor barbecue, which you can then enjoy on the big lawn or picnic tables. If you fancy a cosy nook in a family restaurant, Duarte's Tavern has got to be your choice. Known for its artichoke-dishes, Duarte's serves a wonderful cioppino and casual comfort food. It's great for the kids and they sure won't mind if you're slightly noisy or squiggly.

If you have time, there are cute little antique and thrift shops right next to both places just on the same block. Once you're ready to hit the road, continue on Stage Road until you hit a sign with a goat and a little girl. That's where you want to make a right. All of a sudden, you'll notice the painted wooden houses, big yards, the funny lighthouse looking bed and breakfast and you'll feel miles away from city life.

Take in the slow pace, walk if you want and you'll soon reach Harley's Goat Farm. This place has got to serve one of the freshest goat cheeses of the Bay Area. The cheese and soap selection is displayed in the basement of a white-washed barn, while the groovy upstairs room can be rented out for parties and was featured in Sunset magazine last year. Not only is the flower cheese delicious but it is the prettiest thing ever with its flower patterns on top. For animal lovers, you need only step outside to say hi to the chickens and goats in the back. They're not shy and obviously love company. They might even try to jump the fence in front of you, in which case you have to go inside the barn and warn that there's a runaway goat!

A little further when Stage Road meets Pescadero Road, Phipps Ranch provides another type of country escape, particularly interesting if you're a bean lover. These guys carry over 75 different varieties of quality heirloom beans and each time we go there, we stock up on beans for chilis, cassoulets and the like. During the summer months, you'll meet families coming for the pick-your-own berries (strawberries, olaliberries and boysenberries) on the weekend. Young children will enjoy a funky nursery, a variety of farm animals (mostly of the flying kind) and lots of fluffy bunnies.

On your way back to the Bay Area and if it's a gloomy day, stop for a drink at the San Gregorio General Store. This place is amazing. Part saloon, part bookshop, part coffeeshop, part general store, it's all wooden floors, kick-back tables and new-agey feeling. Plus, they feature live music every single weekend so you might need to come back for a late brunch another time.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Ocean Beach's Christmas Trees Bonfire

Once a year, shortly after the New Year's, Ocean Beach is a giant bonfire scene when hundreds of dried out and miserable Christmas trees get burned at sun down and light up the dark winter night.

Across from the Beach Chalet restaurant, that's where you'll find them next year. Third Saturday in January or so. Last year we weren't ready so we didn't save our tree. This year we knew and came with our two trees. The bonfire is organized by our friend Sue's cousins. You won't see any posts around town or on Yelp! about it. It's family-style and confidential yet this year there were offsprings of the original Christmas tree bonfire next to us. OK, they're not quite up to the standard of Sue's cousins.

Sue's cousins are organized. They put together an impressive kitchen on the beach where they cook a Cioppino, a big seafood stew with bring-what-you-can seafood bits in it. Quite tasty in fact. In the parking lot, there's a U-Haul truck full of Christmas trees, in case we didn't bring enough of them. But the best part is for the kids. I dressed mine in ski overalls this year. If you're going to jump around in pine trees and in the cold sand at night, you might as well do it safely. Great fun for all ages!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Coyote Point Museum

When going down the Peninsula, Coyote Point Museum is always a good afternoon hangout. No crowds, eucalyptus tree groves, view on the bay and a nature discovery museum worth the drive.

Only 15 miles south of San Francisco, Coyote Point Museum is a tribute to the surrounding fauna and flora, including a big aviary and lots of hands-on exhibits. Past the entrance hall where kids can play construction or magnetic games, are two rooms devoted to sustainable agriculture and farming. Take a right and you follow a long window-paned wall with fun holes in the wall to be filled with colored-water bottles. Children of all ages just love to build color schemes with the plastic bottles. If you keep on running, you get into the honey bee exhibit, a display showing beee tunnels going to the outside, a honey comb sandwiched in plexyglass and a case displaying all the the bee by-products: liquid honey, honey combs, wax, royal jelly and other similar items.

It's almost like the Randall Museum but it gets better because it's the introduction to a four-level introduction to the ecosystem of California. Trees hollowed out by fires, crops needed to make a burger, gophers crawling underground, skunks spraying a window case, flying bats, solitary tarantulas and so forth.
For me however, the best of Coyote Point Museum lies outside. Past the entrance doors you enter the animal observation area with one of the best opportunities you'll ever have to watch a badger up close. And it's not even just the badger. There are snakes, frogs, toads, newts, coyotes, a mountain lion, a skunk, a lazy porcupine and if you gaze at the sky through the clear windows, you might cross the thoughts of a bald eagle. Enter the aviary and to your left underneath the trees, across the waterfall is a blue heron licking its feathers. It's quite magical really. My girls loved looking for the coyote and finding it sleeping on top of the stairs of its habitat.

Well, the weather outside was cold so we got back outside and did some more construction games. On the way back to the car, we couldn't help notice the planes flying right above our heads. SFO is five landing (or take off) minutes away. This may be a secluded spot on the Bay, but it is still in an urban area. You just can't have Bend's High Desert Museum combined with the charms of a big metropolitan area.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Cake Decorating Class

Last night I went to a cake decorating class in SOMA. The event was organized by the Just For Moms comittee of the Golden Gate Mothers Group and it was great. It took place at Baking Arts in South of Market. Baking Arts is one of a few places that delight baking lovers, including Sugar'n Spice, Tante Marie and of course the demanding and extraordinary California Culinary Academy that almost became my second career last year.

Past the big glass entrance of the loft building on Brannan near the Flower Market, I went up four floors and walked down corridors decorated with abstract paintings before hearing voices. The door was ajar and I got into a professional kitchen with a man surrounded by eight women in apron. Time to get serious.

The teacher, Richard Festen, showed us what we were going to make and take home: a clown cake he created specially for us. None of us really believed we'd make something remotely as nice as his but we all nodded. Plexyglass rolling pin, pairing kife, paintbrush and toothpick. We had everything we needed to get started before birthday season.

Richard explained to us that there are basically three shapes when using fondant to decorate a cake: round balls, pear shapes and logs. What looked simple in the beginning started shaping up with us making noses and smiles, adding arms to the side and making shoes of different colors. Then came a most important moment: covering the cake with a 1/4 inch of white fondant. I've always wondered how pastry chefs get no pleats when covering their cakes. You just press lightly on the sides of the cake and it evens out. It's magic! .

That being completed, all that needed to be done was making round white balls to decorate the sides of the cake (with an extra colored ball to give some spritz to the decoration) and Voila!