Tuesday, May 31, 2011

10 Reasons You Should Take Your Kids to Henry W. Coe State Park

Fording creeks at Henry W. Coe. Photo by Frog Mom
The second largest California state park, Henry W. Coe State Park is also largely ignored from the general public. At 87,000 acres, it is twice the size of the District of Columbia, could be a national park in other parts of the US, and yet only saw 38,000 visitors in 2010. We camped there with three other families over this Memorial Day weekend and I want to show you what you could do with your kids there, so you can enjoy this gem of wilderness and ranch lands.

Here are 10 reasons why you should bring your kids to this incredible park before school starts again.
Oak hills and grassy meadows. Photo by C.G.

1. Support your parks! Henry W. Coe is a park on life support. Generating only $100,000 in revenue last year with car and camping fees, Henry W Coe. is on the chopping block of the California state 2011 budget. Unless a solution is found, it will close in September 2011 together with 69 other state parks. if you don't think that's a good reason, read items 2 through 10 and think about what would be lost if the park closed. To support the park, you can also sign a petition on the website of the California State Parks Foundation.

Even in wet weather, great site! Photo by Frog Mom
2. Camp at Manzanita Point. Forget camping at the park's headquarters. The views may be nice but you are missing out on a great opportunity to feel like you're backpacking - with a car. We camped at the Manzanita Point group site #9, 2.5 miles from the park's headquarters. The reason it feels so remote is you're only allowed 1 to 2 vehicles per site, and only one trip in and one out. Of course, this requires some planning with your friends but a flatbed pick up truck does the trick for 3 families. Four of us adults hiked in, the rest drove. Once you're there, imagine this: no RV engines humming next to you, no cars driving in circles late at night, no trucks banging metal while collecting dumpsters in the wee hours. Just listen to the sounds of nature - and possibly your neighbors partying but sites are fairly spread out so it shouldn't be a problem.

3. Hike on beautiful trails. With its large size and four entry points on the borders, very little of Henry W. Coe's wilderness is accessible for day hikes, even more so with kids. This park means some serious hills! However if you're already 2.5 miles in at the Manzanita Point campground, you open up access to lesser known spots and awesome views.

On Sunday, we all hiked to China Hole, one of the best swim holes in the Bay Area. The total hike was a 6.6-mile loop from the campground, starting on Cougar Trail continuing on Creekside trail, Poverty Flat Road and ending on Manzanita Point Road. Total elevation gain: 1,300 feet. All kids from age 4 to 7 walked it. Not too shabby, according to my friend Jason who recorded the itinerary on his Garmin Forerunner 305.

Frog Mom swimming at China Hole. Photo by C.G.
4. Swim and splash at China Hole. Fed by an underground spring, China Hole is the most popular swim spot in the park. No wonder. This lovely lush spot on Coyote Creek offers a string of wading and swimming opportunities for all cold-water endeavors.

Playing in Coyote Creek. Photo by C.G.
Located just a few hundred feet downstream from the confluence of the Middle and East forks of Coyote Creek and the gateway to the Narrows, China Hole is where we laid down our backpacks, changed into swim suits and let the kids play on the sandy beach or jump in 3-feet deep pools, while two adults went swimming in deeper parts of the creek.

A balancing act. Photo by Frog Mom
While all the kids dipped their feet in the creek, only half of them decided to play with the water. Others started making "rock paint" by crushing two pebbles against each other, adding water and painting arms and faces. A couple played in the warm sand and even made sand angels. Good thing there was water nearby to rinse it all off!

5. Ford a creek on rocks. Finding the exact spot where your shoes won't get wet while crossing a creek is intensely satisfying for hikers. For kids, crossing creeks is an even bigger deal as it involves combining good balance with sizing up skipping stones as potential bridges to the other side. We forded Coyote Creek on two occasions and both times the kids did great.

How many kids can fit? Photo by C.G.
6. Swing in a hammock at the campground. Ever since we received a travel hammock as a Christmas gift 6 years ago, it's been part of our camping set. Wherever you camp in wooded areas, you can always find two trees roughly 8 to 10 feet apart to hang this hammock. The kids will love you for it.

REI and Amazon.com carry a nice selection of ultralight travel hammocks made of parachute material, such as this Eagles Nest Outfitters Double Nest Hammock that weighs only a pound and can carry up to 400 pounds. It's so light I might even take it on a day hike!

Rope + tree = swing. Photo by Frog Mom
7. Improvise a swing. If you don't carry a hammock or a swing in your car (I know, I know, they are such essentials), make sure you always carry 50 feet of solid climbing rope with you. Rope is a lifesaver on camping trips, working equally well as clothes line, jump rope or knot rope. You can also find a sturdy tree branch, loop the rope around (tie a rock at the end if you can't get the rope past the branch) and hang a big stick on a noose at the bottom. Tie a few knots. Swing problem solved! Now kids, get in line and behave. The adults are busy relaxing!

A fort for the fairies. Photo by C.G.
8. Build a fort for the fairies. This has got to be one of my favorite activities for kids because it makes them figure out the basics of 3D construction with natural materials. My 2nd grader started building a fort with sticks and was joined by two friends.

Three forts and a little parental help later, they had a solid structure that could withstand a light breeze and kids running dangerously close around it.
Fairy. Photo by C.G.

The younger kids got interested and thanks to a fairy-making and a tea light/ping pong ball activity, turned the fort into a place where  the fairies could come and  play at night.

Playing with glow sticks later that evening on a backdrop of ping pong balls illuminated by the flickering light of battery-operated tea light candles, it was a magical sight.

Campfire. Photo by C.G.
9. Enjoy a campfire. The first night we camped, rain fell pretty steadily on us and almost none of us was prepared for the wet weather. Lighting up a fire proved the best antidote to keep spirits up and warming up the kids who were running around like mad gnomes.

The second night was glorious and the kids were hell bent on marshmallow roasting until the marshmallow supplies dried out. This they achieved, as well as some smeared white goo all over their hands, faces and clothes. Because you know, what better way to wipe off melted marshmallow than using your own sweater?

Checkerspot caterpillar. Photo by C.G.
10. See some wildlife. I've come to the conclusion that a trip to Henry W. Coe has to include wildlife sightings. There's just wild animals everywhere if you keep your eyes peeled.

On the way to Manzanita Point, we saw two wild turkeys wandering around the campground. They were the first of 4 wild turkey sightings over 2 days. At the campsite, we saw three big black hairy caterpillars with orange dots that turned out to be future checkerspot butterflies. Hair-rising cool because we didn't know if they were venomous.

Scorpion. Photo by C.G.
After I lifted a log in the fort building process, one of the kids identified a big animal that lived inside the log and was attempting an exit: a scorpion! I put the log down (you bet) and we all got close, trying to see it from a safe distance.

This blurry photo was taken by my husband who was trying to wrangle the scorpion out of the log with a stick (without harming the beast) while pushing on the camera's button and focusing.

Over the weekend we also had a deer visit us on our campsite, saw a couple more on the hills, my 2nd grader held a darkling beetle for fun and we heard a great horned owl call at night.

Now, will you believe me if say that you need to take your family to Henry W. Coe state park?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Family Guide: The Steins Collect at the SFMOMA and Seeing Gertrude Stein at the Contemporary Jewish Museum

Henri Matisse, Woman with a Hat, 1905; oil on canvas.
SFMOMA, Bequest of Elise S. Haas; © Succession H. Matisse, Paris
Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; photo: Ben Blackwell
Who said kids and museums don't belong in the same sentence? Make a child imagine what Paris was like when he could chat with Henri Matisse over tea and cookies. Tell him about sisters and brothers refusing to share. Explain a rose is a rose is a rose evenings with music and snacks. Then you'll get his undivided attention even if the topic is the birth of modern art at the turn of the 20th century. Art with a story to tell takes on a life of its own and is a lot more palatable to kids than dry paintings. If you are in San Francisco this summer, take the kiddos to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art where a good family epic, a strong storyline, and world-class paintings achieve pictorial fireworks. Welcome to The Steins Collect exhibition.

Jean-Paul Cluzel, director of the RMN, speaks after SFMOMA
 director Neal Benezra (standing, right). Photo by Frog Mom
Opened just last week, this exhibition spotlights the avant-garde art collection of young Bay Area transplants in Paris. These kids grew up in San Francisco and Oakland, their dad was in the cable car business, and yet they became prestigious art collectors in Paris - then the center of the art world. This rise to art stardom is nothing short of amazing and thanks to associated family programs and a lively narrative, children too can enjoy the exhibition.

Pablo Picasso, Boy Leading a Horse, 1905–6. The Museum of Modern Art,
New York, the William S. Paley Collection, 1964; © Estate of Pablo Picasso
Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York;
Photo: The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY
I was lucky to attend the media preview of this collaboration by the Réunion des Musées Nationaux (RMN) in Paris, the San Francisco Museum Of Modern Art in San Francisco and the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York. As San Francisco is the only city on the West Coast where the exhibition will be shown, the SFMOMA expects The Steins Collect to be so busy visitors will need to buy timed tickets to see it.

With a child, here is how I recommend to get the most out of the exhibition with minimal parental stress.

1. If your child is the runner type, you'll be able to see all 13 rooms without any problem. For a strictly visual take on The Steins Collect, stop at the SFMOMA's Haas Atrium and borrow an iPod with The Country Dog Gentlemen Travel to Extraordinary Worlds, an interactive tour of the museum for kids. While the app is not Steins Collect-specific, it can be used in various contexts and guides kids through rooms with playful prompts and activities.

2. If your child is the lingering type, stop in only half the rooms and walk by through the other rooms. My personal favorites, for color and subject, were:
Pablo Picasso, Soupe, 1902. 
  • Leo's Arrival in Paris - terrific impressionnist nudes and bathers, 
  • Discovering Matisse and Picasso -that's where you find Matisse's Woman with a hat and a serene Boy leading horses by Picasso - don't forget to check the giant pic of the Steins' apartment, a Real Simple wall clutter dream, 
  • Sarah and Michael - kids will appreciate Picasso's sweet family scene Soup and little girls will marvel at Manguin's La Coiffure while little boys will enjoy Matisse's Boy with a Butterfly Net,
  • Picasso and the birth of cubism - though I'm not a huge fan of that period, it's so different from the rest that kids should like the radical change of style, in particular Picasso's Head of a sleeping woman,
  • Picasso and friends - amongst the Spanish painter's friends, Marie Laurencin stands out with sweetly mischievous group portraits,
  • Pablo Picasso, Head of a Sleeping Woman (Study for Nude with Drapery)
    1907 Collection The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Estate of John Hay
     Whitney, 1983;  © 2011 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), 
    New York; Photo: The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource
  • Gertrude after Leo - got a kid interested in music? Try to find the music instrument in Picasso's Woman with a guitar, it is a fun guessing game,
  • Gertrude and Alice - the extravagant and rebellious Francis Picabia appears in his late years as a friend of Gertrude Stein.    
3. If by extraordinary coincidence your child is the contemplative type, a young and  thoughtful mind, do take an audio-guide and see your child hop from painting to photo, listening to music and sound recordings, as well as background info on the art. Developed by ear print productions, the audio-guide includes stories like this one (Rousseau Banquet) with accordions and a Parisian cafe scene.

Those are just a few ideas to spice up the visit with a child, but feel free to improvise according to your children's tastes. You can also participate in a few family events centered on the exhibition this summer.

SFMOMA Family events and discounts around The Steins Collect 
  • Starting in July, Family Sunday will be every  Sunday, not just 1st and 3rd Sundays. This means that every Sunday there will be additional activities for children ages 4-11, including at least one hands on art making activities, as well as family tours, children’s book readings, and more. Each week will feature a different book reading by children's authors including Amy Novesky (Me, Frida), Jeanne Walker Harvey (My Hands Sing The Blues, available September 2011), and Lynn Hazen (The Amazing Trail of Seymour Snail). 
  •  If your child is a mods member and he/she brings in an adult, you do not pay the general admission to see The Steins Collect but only the surcharge, so it would be just $7 instead of $25.
  • On June 5th, Gotta COLLECT. Kids get in free! 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. Explore a Stein-inspired salon for families in the Schwab room in addition to regular Family Sunday programming. The Schwab room will be converted into a living room with a continuous reading of The World is Round by Gertrude Stein as well as a reading of Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude by Jonah Winter. There will also be drawing activities in the living room as well Museums in a Box activities at the Koret Studio and sculpture, photo and drawing gallery art making activities. The gallery activities will be on the 2nd and 5th floors. 
Seeing Gertrude Stein at the Contemporary Jewish Museum
George Platt Lynes, Gertrude Stein, Bilignin, 1931, toned gelatin silver print.  Courtesy of the Baltimore Museum of Art, 
The Cone Collection, Gift of Adelyn D. Breeskin BMA 1985.3, © Estate of George Platt Lynes, 
Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories, Contemporary Jewish Museum (May 12, 2011 – September 6, 2011).
It's one thing to see the art, it's quite another to understand the multi-layered formidable woman behind the collection. Seeing Gertrude Stein includes five stories on who Gertrude Stein was, or who she wanted to be remembered as.

After the SFMOMA (or another day), cross the street corner at Mission and 3rd to head to the Contemporary Jewish Museum and go to the second floor for a complete discovery of this mighty woman. 

Even if you've read The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (the only book by Gertrude Stein I've read), you can't completely grasp the character until you visit this exhibition. She tried her creative juices at everything: poetry, essays, music, ballet, operas, fashion (shockingly) - what did she miss?

Kids will appreciate the video projections, the iPad listening station (hear Gertrude Stein speak) and - my favorite - the reproduction of a blue wall paper with white doves that decorated the walls of a photograph taken by Sir Cecil Beaton. 

Now enjoy. It's going to be a Steins summer.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bay to Breakers 2011: Happy 100th Birthday!

B2B finish line at Ocean Beach. Photo by Frog Mom 
Bay to Breakers, the iconic San Francisco foot race that starts on the San Francisco Bay and finishes on the Pacific Ocean, celebrates 100 years today! While only serious athletes rose early this morning to run the 12 kilometers going through town for the medals and make an actual  run for the finish, the real party was on the streets with tens of thousands of dressed-up participants.

Pacman gets thirsty. Photo by Frog Mom
Clearly San Francisco's response to the mid-year Halloween-deficit-disorder, the event was a relatively G-rated gig thanks to the no-alcohol policy. "Why are there so many men dressed in girls?" asked my 5-year old pointing to a dude in pink tutu. "This is Bay to Breakers sweetie, that's why you're dressed as a unicorn."
Biking along Ocean Beach. Photo by Frog Mom

This was my first Bay to Breakers (B2B) and after the skies cleared up this morning, I decided to take my girls. After all, it's not every year B2B celebrates 100 years and I'd read alarming reports of will-there-be-another-B2B-after-2011? I told my girls to find a costume. Quick! We pulled the costume box out of the basement and hustled.

Fifteen minutes later, my 7-year old was a pink bunny, my 5-year old a unicorn and both my girls suggested I do not wear my Wonder Woman costume. So I went for a casual bell-bottoms faux fur outfit. I packed our bikes in the car, parked by the zoo and we biked our way along the beach to the finish line at Great Highway and Lincoln.
Bridesmaids - not the movie. Photo by Frog Mom

At first my girls didn't see to many people in costumes. "Why are we dressed up mom?" they asked. Just you wait little girls, it shouldn't take long. Sure enough, we stumbled upon a party of bridesmaids being photographed at the free photo booths, still wearing their race bibs. Surely, they can't have run the 12K in poufy dresses. Can they? What do I know, maybe they did.
Baywatch B2B-style. Photo by Frog Mom 

The guy who was dressed as Pamela Anderson in his sexy red life guard outfit with overblown boobs was better suited to run for sure. Good running shoes he had.

I was on the lookout for two different types of animals who, from what I'd seen from previous B2B editions, were the trademark of the race and something that made it so San Francisco-specific: groups in coordinated costumes and people in their birthday suit. I guess because some groups naturally dissolve (in alcohol) or disperse along the course, there are fewer groups to be found at the finish line but we still found a few.

Freedom, man. Photo by Frog Mom
However it's the dudes in the nude that really got my girls' attention. "Mom, this man's naked!" Why, you're right, and this other guy too.

Ah, Bay to Breakers. What would we be without its free-to-be-you-and-me attitude? For those wondering if there were any children there besides mine, the answer is yes. We saw lots of kids being rolled away in strollers, others enjoying the show on their parents' shoulders or walking in costumes alongside their folks.

It's super family-friendly and since it's a day-event, I applaud the organizers for the no-booze policy. Geez, some participants are so inhibited naturally that with drinks on top of it, it must be a real riot.

The Muppet Show gang. Photo by Frog Mom
In the kid-friendly category, we saw a man dressed as a banana and his gorilla friend ("Fifth banana walks the finish line!" announced the race commentators on the speakers as he made his way through), a giant Cookie Monster, a Muppet Show quartet consisting of Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Animal and - blank - gosh, who's that last muppet?

We also admired Batman and Robin, a few princesses, a Wizard of Oz ensemble (with a very good and green Witch of the East), the full Adams Family (minus the Thing) and a group of gnomes (straight out of Gnomeo & Juliet).

Birthday cake hat alert! Photo by Frog Mom
In the creative category, a few costumed groups totally stole the cake. First were those who were literally carrying cakes on their heads, thus celebrating the race's 100th anniversary. We spotted two ladies by Ocean Beach with sparkly birthday cake hats and a giant cake with a candle at Speedway Meadows.

Lying on the grass at Speedway Meadows was a group of Borat fans dressed in the highly graphic pink bunny costume. By then my girls were totally jaded and didn't even notice them.

No reservations taken. Photo by Frog Mom
The group that everybody was stopping for group photos was a bunch of dinner tables walking around with signs on their back saying "No reservations taken" or "Happy birthday." They were pretty funny and I imagine extremely relieved to be near the end of their ordeal because carrying a fake dinner table on your shoulders for 12 kilometers can't be that comfortable.

We biked up to Speedway Meadows to see the costume contest announced by the speakers at Ocean Beach. On the way, my girls were appalled at the amount of plastic trash littering the road. Thanks to plastic-wrapped drinks, snacks and what-nots, the Golden Gate Park was a giant trash can for the masses. Eeeew!

Speedway Meadows. Photo by Frog Mom
By the time we got above Speedway Meadows, locked up our bikes and found a dirt trail down to the meadow, a band was playing on the stage (I believe it was either Geographer or Loquat). Obviously, we had missed the costume contest. Boohoo, will I ever know the winner?

Mean and masked. Photo by Frog Mom
Down at the meadow, people let their hair down, raided the beer garden and enjoyed an unusually sunny day on the grass. It was peace and love and yet more freebies of the single-use kind. Sensing the end of our excursion, I looked for more stunning  B2B costumes and got lucky like this group of masked avengers or a triplet of totally funky girls in pastel tutus and striped tights. I wish I could publish all the photos I took but this is already getting too long so I'll cut it short.

Funky girls. Photo by Frog Mom
On the photo aspect, there's something I noted and that's pretty cool for people like me out for a good shot: most people to be very gracious about having their pictures taken and more than willing to strike a pose. Sure, part of the fun is to be seen and photographed, hoping to end up in the slideshow of SFGate. But above that, people looked jovial. Grumps were definitely the minority.

Vote for who? Photo by Frog Mom
My two girls got a few comments on their outfit (the unicorn was popular) and we had an odd moment when a group of Asian girls approached us for a photo. They said they found the girls' costume cute and asked if they could take a photo with a banner for their school. Apparently they were running to be president of their school (or class?). I'm nice so I said yes. Initially my girls refused to hold the sign but I told them it'd be over quick. That's where it got weird.

A man was filming the teens and at his signal they started jumping up and down while screaming "Vote! Vote! Vote! Vote!" around my girls who were not amused. They gave me the look that said "Mom what did you get us into?" Hmm, did I just say yes to that? Sorry girls, that was unexpected.

Never go out without rain protection. Photo by Frog Mom
After the "Vote!" episode, we hurried back to our bikes. My girls were tired and they'd seen their share of costumes for the half-year. We unlocked  the bikes, clipped our helmets and inched our way back against a strong wind on Great Highway. Boy were we glad to find the car.

In hindsight, B2B lived up to my expectations except I expected to find more outrageous groups. Really? Yes, really. I guess you have find them closer to the start line before the steep part on Hayes Street. Overall it was the best excuse to go out with our bikes today even if I know that my family in France will be reinforced in their belief that we live amongst crazy hippies.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Camping Report: Kids' Breakfast Ideas

Time for breakfast! Photo by C.G.
The picture above show a French mom's dream breakfast for kids: fresh fruit, whole grains and a touch of indulgence. You got your vitamins, proteins, fibers and lipids too. Since we go camping a lot, breakfast is always a meal I like to get right. After all, isn't breakfast the most important meal of the day? That's what I learned as a kid anyway. After years of trial and error, I've decided to share our biggest successes and our most glaring mistakes in the breakfast department. May this inspire families to get over the breakfast block on their next camping trip!

Pancakes are an obvious go-to breakfast item for camping trips. Open the stove, heat up the griddle, whip out a spatula and pancake mix and you're good to go. We've tried pancakes a few ways and here are my thoughts.

Our favorite pancake mix. Photo
courtesy of Stonewall Kitchen
Hands down our favorite pancake mix, the Stonewall Kitchen Farmhouse Pancake Mix has a lot going for it. The pancakes turn out crisp, puffy, not overly sweet, and they don't stick to the pan. My husband, who never eats for breakfast, actually asked seconds of pancakes made with this mix. It's that good! My girls eat it with good ol' maple syrup or drizzled with honey. Definitely worth the extra $$, I'd get some more in a heartbeat.

Our least pancake mix, so far, is the Arrowhead Mills Multigrain Pancake and Waffle Mix. I bought a pound in bulk at Rainbow Grocery and it turned out bland and caky. I thought I was being a good mom by squeezing multigrain into our breakfast menu but the experiment was a disaster. My kindergartner - who's our family pancake ogre - didn't even ask for seconds. Out with Arrowhead Mills. Too bad, I usually love their stuff.

Batter Blaster flavors. Photo courtesy of Batter Blaster
In the gimmicky category, we tried the Batter Blaster last year for the July 4th weekend. By the looks of it, it's the ultimate junk food item a health-conscious mom would avoid. Our friend Matt kept calling it cancake, the pancake that comes out of a can - which it pretty much is. It's pancake batter you spray out of a pressurized can. That is says "Organic" on the can did not alleviate my health concerns a bit. However I got a complementary can for an article I was writing on camping with kids so I took a chance. The result was interesting.

The Batter Blaster experiment. Photo by Frog Mom
If you look closely at the photo, you'll see that the pancakes are frumpy-looking. Because they came out squeezed out of a tiny hole, the resulting pancakes had no body at all. They were hard to flip and I couldn't get the perfect round shape. They came out thin too - not puffy and crisp. Tastewise, kids liked them - I didn't. However ... all kids got a giant kick out of the experiment and kept asking for more.

When I started squeezing on the can and batter shot out like whipping cream on the hot griddle, all eight  kids let out a yelp of excitement and gathered around me as if I were pulling a rabbit out of a hat. It was breakfast magic - or so they thought. My conclusion is: Batter Blaster is fun for the kids, OK if you're in a bind, but don't expect much more.

Second to pancakes, oatmeal is the perfect way to cheer up a child when you're out camping, particularly if the morning is crisp and you haven't built a campfire.

Morning oatmeal. Photo by C.G.
Once they're out of the tent, kids can get cold and a steaming bowl of oatmeal goes a long way into warming up their bodies. Personally, I go for Bob's Red Mill Steel Cut Oats. It's my favorite type of oatmeal and since it takes centuries to cook, I soak it overnight to cut on cooking time in the morning. When I'm up and running, it doesn't take more than 5 to 10 minutes depending on the stove. My girls like it straight up with sugar and milk, I like mine with Trader Joe's orange-flavored cranberries and raw pecans. It's delish.

Steel cut oats. Photo
courtesy of Bob's
Red Mill
By far our least favorite now that we've gotten used to steel cut oats, is the Quaker Oats Instant Oatmeal. To my girls, it tastes no better than cardboard and I'm with them. Two years ago I bought a selection of instant Quaker Oats oatmeal packets, thinking they'd come in handy on a camping trip. Sure, it was easy to prepare but once the moment of truth came, I had to whip up a Plan B breakfast pronto because they were not going to eat this.

So, we're French. And crêpes are a staple of family breakfasts in France. So I decided to make crêpes while camping. The problem was, we didn't really know of a good crêpes mix so I opted for the crêpes from scratch strategy. Boy has it paid off.

It all came out of this great book, The Usborne First Cookbook illustrated by Stephen Cartwright. I got it for my girls when they were toddlers and it's become part of our camping kitchen box.

Open it on page 46 for the crêpes recipe. It's devilishly simple, illustrated in 9 simple steps and I'll give you the gist here.

2 cups all-purpose flour
a pinch of salt
2 eggs
Flippin' fantastic, mom! Photo by C.G.
2 1/2 cups milk and water (I use milk only)
1 Tbsp melted butter

Basically, I just mix everything up (sometimes I premix the day before in a plastic bottle and refrigerate overnight in the cooler)  and use it without waiting. The recipe does say it's got to be thick enough to coat a spoon. However it shouldn't be thicker. This is not a pancake. Go and flip away!

Eggs and Bacon
Clearly, this is not my girls' favorite breakfast. At a time they used to love eggs anything-style but now they've become fearful of anything eggy. So unless someone in our group cooks eggs and bacon, I just don't bring any in the cooler. If it's bacon, the applewood smoked bacon at Guerra Quality Meats on Taraval is as good as the one at WholeFoods.

How I wish my girls liked granola. How I wish. I am blessed with two kids who like neither raisins nor dried cranberries, forget about dried apricots and dates too. It's not even a "no no", dried fruits are on their "never never" list. So I bake batches of the New York Times' fantastic Olive Oil Granola with Dried Apricots and Pistachios and eat it all by myself.

The Food Tray Trick
Here comes the food tray. Photo courtesy of
Last but not least, breakfast in style. We camped in the Yosemite National Park for Mother's Day this year and I finally found the answer to my kids' breakfast conundrum: the melamine food tray! Durable - it takes a million years to bio-degrade - versatile - great for carrots, peas and sausages too - portionable - obviously - the preformed melamine food tray is the answer to your breakfast prayers!

I got cheap ones at Safeway courtesy of the Easter sales but there are swanky ones like this one or that one. Two camping trips later, I can safely say it's a success! I think it's the little holes that get my girls excited. I loved my first food tray as a kid too. It made any type of food so much more fun.

If you liked this, check out:

That's my 2 cents on breakfast. Now what's yours?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Rancho Corral de Tierra: A Short Walk Through a Long Story

Kids on the trail. Photo by Frog Mom
How are Ocean View Farms, Marylin Monroe and a forest troll connected? You will find the answer at Rancho Corral de Tierra, a 4,000-acre undeveloped plot of land in El Granada, a 2011 addition to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. On a sunny Saturday morning in March 2011, we joined two families on this 2-mile walk through coastal hills and farming history entitled "Rancho Corral de Tierra: A Short Walk Through a Long Story." Though the Artichoke Wars is not your everyday bedtime story, the kids had fun learning about artichokes, native plants and even petted a horse on this hike led by park ranger George Durgerian.

Got ocean views, will walk. Photo by Frog Mom
We met at the end of Le Conte Avenue and hit the trails. A couple hundred yards into coastal meadows, Ranger George stopped and told us about the farming history of the land. Formerly grazing ground for the cattle of Mission Dolores, Rancho Corral de Tierra got its name "earthen corral" in a Mexican land grant in 1839. The name referred to the fact that the shape of the rancho formed a natural enclosure for cattle. Back then, the rancho encompassed more than 7,000 acres stretching from Montara to Half Moon Bay. With hills swarming with grizzly bears and mountain lions, the area was virtually inhabited.

Plat of Rancho Corral de Tierra, confirmed to Tiburcio
Vasquez. 1859. Photo from the Bancroft Library, Berkeley.
Now, imagine 1839 California for a second. The Spanish mission system had been dismantled, the Russians occupied the north coast, the United States were preparing for war with Mexico. San Francisco was a risky place to be and that was where Jose Tiburcio Vasquez and Francisco Guerrero lived, having served the Mexican Californian interests.

Unsure about San Francisco's future, both men looked for a safe place to live and thought of the coastal hills south of the city. As the former supervisor of Mission Dolores’ livestock at the Corral de Tierra, then stretching from Montara to Half Moon Bay, Vasquez knew the secret route into isolated Half Moon Bay. Both men applied for a land grant as reward for their services.

Riders on the trail. Photo by Frog Mom
The governor of San Francisco granted the southern part of Corral de Tierra to Vasquez and the northern part to his friend Francisco Guerrero. Neither man enjoyed their rancho very long as they were both murdered - Guerrero in 1850 at the corner of Mission and 12th Street in San Francisco, Velasquez in 1863 sitting in a Half Moon Bay saloon.

The marsh "mallow" plant. Photo by C.G. 
After this roaring start, we progressed through the chaparral following an unofficial trail. Indeed, Corral de Tierra is in the process of being developed, which means that it has neither trails nor facilities, neither brochure nor parking lot. When you go there, you will find a few trails created by passing horses or wandering locals, but nothing official.

Ranger George decided to grab the kids attention by showing them local plants. Douglas Irises were starting to bloom, California poppies too, and the kids got to meet the common mallow, as in "marsh mallow". Yes! But wait. The current marshmallow in stores doesn't include sap from this plant - it's all sugar and chemicals you know. However in Ancient Egypt, the sap of the mallow plant was boiled and reduced to a paste sweetened with honey to form a cough drop. Fun, hey?

Yarrow. Photo by Frog Mom
Next to the mallow flower were carpets of yarrow, a plant with strong medicinal properties. Actually, legend has it that yarrow (Achillea millefolium) was named after Achilles, the Greek mythical figure who used it to stop the bleeding wounds of his soldiers.

We continued our way, crossed a wide service road, walked under rows of tall eucalyptus trees, and arrived at a horse ranch. That got us a gleeful smile from the kids. "Can we pet them?" they asked

Horse ranch. Photo by Frog Mom
Ranger George. With the prior agreement of the ranch's owner, Ranger George let the kids gently stroke the nose of the horse that was closest to us. If you go there without a guide, ask the owner if it's OK to do so. It's always a safe precaution with big animals and the ranch is private property so you're only technically "invited" to walk through the corrals.

Heading north after the stables, we got on a bridge above Martini Creek and that's where we found the forest troll. Look for it on the eastern side of the bridge. There's a geocache on the bridge if you hike with a geocaching device. As the saying goes, touch the troll and get good luck!

Troll on bridge. Photo by C.G.
We turned around and retraced our steps to a promontory right over the white fence that encircles Ocean View Farms. This is where you learn about the Marylin Monroe connection. You may or may not know it, but Marylin Monroe was crowned Miss California Artichoke Queen in 1947. As it turns out, Rancho Corral de Tierra was planted exclusively in artichokes in the 1920s.

Back then, Ciro Terranova "Whitey" (1889-1938), a member of the mafia and known as the "Artichoke King," began his monopoly of the artichoke market by purchasing all the produce shipped to New York from California at $6 a crate. He created a produce company and resold the artichokes at 30 to 40 percent profit. Not only did he terrorize distributors and produce merchants, he even launched an attack on the artichoke fields from Montara to Pescadero, hacking down the plants with machetes in the dead of night. Yes, artichoke organized crime at its meanest.

Ranger George and the kids. Photo by Frog Mom
The Artichoke Wars led the Mayor or New York, Fiorello La Guardia, to declare "the sale, display, and possession" of artichokes in New York illegal in 1935. Thus fell the Artichoke King. Honestly, who knew there ever was an artichoke mafia on the San Mateo coast? Weirder than Prohibition I say. Ironically, the San Mateo county is still a big producer of artichokes.

This pretty much closed our exploration of Rancho Corral de Tierra, a surprisingly m ysterious slice of coastal land. Just head there fast enough and you may see this without the crowds - to best enjoy  the trolls and the ghosts of Spanish rancheros and artichoke thieves.