On the Beach

May 26, 2015

Until we got a dog, I rarely went to San Francisco’s beaches. If I wanted go to the ocean, I usually went out of town to Santa Cruz or Marin. But having a dog has changed all that.

funston14

While most SF beaches aren’t as wild or secluded as some of the beaches up or down the coast, they have the advantage of being extremely dog friendly (most have an off-leash area).

And the beach is so clearly our dog’s happy place. She jumps around happily the minute her feet hit the sand. She digs, plays in the water, and pursues sea birds with intensity and purpose. We try our best to prevent her from rolling on dead sea birds and eating hermit crab shells.

bakerbeachlaborday14

It’s become one of my happy places, too. On warm days, I’ll pack a towel and a copy of the New Yorker, and I’ll read while our dog digs nearby, and it feels as if I’m on vacation. And being at the beach offers such a different view of San Francisco — as a place where people surf and fish and sunbathe naked, and also as a place where crabs, sand dollars and even the strange blue velella wash ashore.

velella

The beach has become one of the things I really value about living in SF. I love that there are so many different beaches to choose from: the giant dog park that is Fort Funston; the long, graffiti-lined stretch of Ocean Beach; and the postcard-worthy views from Baker Beach or Crissy Field.

And I love that we have such easy access to the beach. I feel downright smug at times that we can head to the beach for an hour or two. We don’t have to cross bridges, fight traffic, or pack up and spend a full day there. Instead, we can head home if it’s too windy or crowded or we can pop over just to take in the sunset.

oceanbeachsunset

 

Advertisements

New York You Make it Happen

May 21, 2015

There’s something about New York that stays with me long after I’m back home in San Francisco, something that doesn’t get washed away once I’ve fallen back into my usual day-to-day routine.

New York gives me a renewed appreciation for San Francisco. It reminds me why I live in a city, why I love cities, and it motivates me to treat San Francisco the way I treat New York — with more of a sense of adventure and a willingness to go out of my way to experience more of what a city has to offer.

nycskyline

During our four days in New York, we hit up six coffee shops (eight if I count each Blue Bottle location separately). Blitzed from the red-eye, we stumbled into a tiny Cafe Grumpy location in the Lower East Side and then had more coffee on the High Line (where we saw our dentist). We had macchiatos in Brooklyn where we sat in front of the actress Hope Davis, and we had coffee in the East Village next to a mural of MCA. On our last day, we got coffee at a little espresso outpost located in the back of a working barber shop.

parlorcoffee
And it got me thinking about some of the coffee shops in SF that I rarely get to. Sightglass, for example, has a seriously gorgeous cafe in the Mission. It serves good coffee and carries excellent pastries from Neighbor Bakehouse, and yet, I’d been there just once because the location isn’t particularly convenient for me, and I tend to get turned around in that part of the Mission.

When we were hunting down sandwiches on our last day in New York, I thought about Cane Rosso in the Ferry Building. I’d loved their sandwiches, and I thought they were some of the best sandwiches in SF. But I hadn’t been there in at least a year, even though it’s walking distance from work. I put off going to Cane because I didn’t want to brave the crowds of tourists in the Ferry Building, and I’d have to go early in order to avoid the lines.

Being in New York helped me get beyond these excuses and think beyond my well-worth path between work and home. It made me realize that by only going to places that were convenient or familiar, I was limiting my experience of SF and my life here.

And so on our first week back from New York, we went to that lovely Sightglass cafe in the Mission and had coffee and pastries among the techies and yoga-mat toting customers. And then we crossed town and got more coffee at Andytown in the outer Sunset where there were parents and kids inside and three dogs tied up outside.

We took the dog to Ocean Beach — easy access to the ocean is another thing I appreciate about SF after being in New York — and then we stopped at Outerlands, which had expanded over a year ago but we’d yet to check out the new space. (The design was better than the food).

And last week, I took an early lunch break and went back to Cane Rosso, where I confirmed that the brisket sandwich is still delicious.

36 Hours on the California Coast (from San Francisco to Santa Cruz)

March 30, 2015

The coast of California from San Francisco to Santa Cruz is particularly gorgeous in the spring when the hills are still green and the weather tends to be better. In just a quick overnight trip, you can eat well, spend time at the beach, take a hike, and visit a farm.

californiacoast414

Saturday Morning

Ferry Building Farmers Market, San Francisco

Start at the Saturday farmers market at the Ferry Building. Go early so you can shop for shelling peas, fava beans and tiny artichokes without dealing with tourist crowds. Pick up some provisions for your road trip, like Della Fattoria’s fig-and-walnut baguette and Andante’s herbed goat cheese. Buy a few of Blue Bottle’s new, adorably packaged iced-coffees (god knows when you’ll have good coffee again). Have breakfast at Primavera and take in the view of the sparkling bay and the Bay Bridge while you eat.

baybridge-fromferrybldg12

Ocean Beach, San Francisco

Hopefully you’ve remembered to dress in layers because there’s a cold wind blowing at Ocean Beach. Stick to the north side of the beach so you can walk your dog off leash. If you happen to be at the beach around 10am on Saturday mornings, you’ll see the weekly small dog beach walk (less upsetting than expected).

oceanbeach

Saturday Afternoon

Downtown Santa Cruz

There are now a handful of casual restaurants in Santa Cruz that are taking advantage of their proximity to terrific local farms. Have lunch at Assembly on Pacific Avenue downtown. It’s a more modern space than you’ll usually find in Santa Cruz, but the menu has broad appeal, with more typical lunch options like a burger and an enormous fried chicken sandwich, as well as less common options, like a wheatberry salad with kale, feta, and dates.

Walk down Pacific Avenue and take in the usual Santa Cruz mix of crazies and surfers. Pop into Bookshop Santa Cruz for something good to read (or to use the restroom). Stop at Verve, another relatively new (and essential) addition to downtown Santa Cruz, for a coffee, or opt for a milkshake at The Penny kiosk in front of Bookshop.

Costanoa

From Santa Cruz, it’s a spectacular 30-minute drive up the coast to Costanoa, one of the few lodging options between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay (and one that doesn’t require a two-night stay).

costanoa-beach

Costanoa has a few lodging options, including rooms in the two-story lodge, cabins, tent cabins, and RV camping. There’s also a general store, a restaurant and a garden.

Stay in a Doug Fir cabin, which are farther from the general store and restaurant. Sit on the porch swing while the lodge’s handyman fixes the door knob that came off in your hand and take in the view of the green coastal hills and, in the distance, the ocean. When the door is fixed, head out on an easy 3-mile loop hike down to the beach.

costanoa-cabins

Take a Hike

There’s a fair amount of poison oak near the trail, but the views are extraordinary. To the north, you can see the Pigeon Point Lighthouse and to the south, the gorgeous and rugged Northern California coast.

costanoabeachpath

You’ll be back at your cabin in time to open a bottle of wine (there’s a wine opener and two wine glasses in the cabin) and snack on the bread and cheese you bought in San Francisco. You’ll want snacks since the Costanoa restaurant isn’t particularly special. Hit the hot tub early if you can; it gets crowded after dark.

Sunday

Farm Tour

It only takes about 15 minutes to drive from Costanoa to Harley Farms in Pescadero. Sign up for a tour before hand (they usually fill up quickly, especially in the spring when there are baby goats to see) or just show up to enjoy the scenery, peek in at the goats and buy some of the cheese in the farm’s shop.

harley-goats

You’ll be back in the city before dinner, but it will feel like you’ve been far away.

3 Days in Oaxaca

March 16, 2015

Oaxaca has been on my travel list for years, mostly because of the food. So while I was prepared to eat well in Oaxaca, I was completely unprepared for its beauty.

oax-santodomingo

Oaxaca is a lovely city with cobblestone streets and candy-colored buildings. In the distance, there are green mountains with big white clouds covering the top, which gives it the feeling of being both in the mountains and the tropics.

It’s also a city that manages to be historic and modern at the same time. Behind a traditional-looking exteriors, we found some modern courtyards and landscaping. One museum had a metal-and-glass library built right into the old stone building (second photo below). And while the city is well known for its traditional handicrafts, like ceramics and textiles, it also has a thriving street art scene.

oaxaca-flag

oax-modernold

But what I really loved about Oaxaca is that it’s the kind of city that comes to you, and those are my favorite kinds of cities to visit. We didn’t have seek out anything in particular in Oaxaca — it seemed like where ever we went, there was something interesting to do or see, and usually something good to eat or drink, too.

oax-dayofthedead

Our first day in Oaxaca was just one example: we didn’t arrrive until around 3pm, and on that first afternoon, we walked through two markets (20 de Noviembre and Benito Juarez); had a great meal at La Olla; discovered a Oaxacan beer that was so delicious that we sought it out all over town; wandered into a photography exhibit; and popped into a small mezcal shop where the owner led us through an extensive tasting.

On our walk back to the apartment we’d rented (which was perfectly located right behind Santo Domingo, pictured at the top of the post, and near a charming pedestrian-only street), we passed a parade of people in traditional Zapotec clothing, and by the time we were home, there were fireworks going off around us — and not little Piccolo Petes, but big Fourth-of-July fireworks. We’d only been in Oaxaca for a few hours, but we were already talking about coming back.

And that feeling was confirmed the next morning when we walked to the Reforma neighborhood for breakfast at Casa Oaxaca Cafe, where we had Oaxaca’s famed hot chocolate, a very good concha, and chilaquiles (although I’m still disappointed that they were out of the costillas, or pork ribs, that morning).

oax-beer

We ate pretty well in Oaxaca. Thanks to our obsession with Primavera, the Mexican food stand at the Ferry Plaza farmers market, some of what we ate was familiar (tinga, jamaica, molotes, garnachas, enfrijoladas). But we also found new things to try, like tasajo, a thin, grilled piece of beef that was served with the enfrijoladas, and tetelas, filled tortillas that are folded up in a triangular shape. We had estofado at La Teca, a restaurant that operates out of a home just outside the center of town and specializes in food from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the skinny southern part of Mexico.

But I didn’t love everything we tried. The cream in Oaxaca, which was in the tetelas and in the sauce served with the molotes, made me gag. (Mr. WholeHog later described it as having a “blueberry yogurt” taste, which made me gag again).

oax-monte-p

On our last day in Oaxaca, we went to Monte Alban, the ruins of what is said to be one of the first cities in the Americas. There was so much we still wanted to do in Oaxaca that we wondered if spending half of the day at the ruins would be worth it, but it turned out to be one of the highlights of our week in Mexico.

oax-monteview

Climbing the ancient stairs and wandering around the old stone structures gave us a chance to see birds (black vultures and gorgeous vermillion flycatchers), wildflowers, fruit trees, butterflies, as well as Oaxaca’s famed chapullines (grasshoppers). It was a reminder of the things that still live up amid the ruins of the old civilization. And a reminder to me that an ideal vacation often includes both time exploring a city and time outside the city.

oax-montevulture

And soon enough, we were back in the city, eating tacos in an bustling, smoky corridor in one of the markets, and thinking once again about how soon we could get back to Oaxaca.

At Last, a Good Dog-Friendly Hike

March 7, 2015

It took about a year, but we finally discovered a great dog-friendly hike. And it’s on Mt. Tam, of course.

tamview2015

Mt. Tam is one of my favorite places to hike (particularly in the winter and spring — it’s just unbelievably beautiful). But many of my favorite Tam hikes, like the Steep Ravine or Matt Davis trails out of Pantoll, don’t allow dogs. In fact, dogs aren’t allowed on any of the trails in Mt. Tam State Park.

beaTam

But what I had failed to notice until recently was that Mt. Tam State Park only covers some of the trails on Tam. Most of the other trails are part of the Marin Water District, and these trails allow dogs on leash. This wasn’t mentioned in my book on dog-friendly hikes, and it wasn’t obvious on the online trail maps of the area (it’s not like the maps of Point Reyes, which specifically highlight the two areas that allow dogs). But once we were on Tam, the trails were very clearly marked.

TamSign

We made a roughly five-mile loop out of Water District trails: heading up to the West Point Inn via the Nora trail and looping back via Old Stage road to the Matt Davis trail. This loop had nearly everything I like in a hike. It took us across wooden bridges, over creeks and up stairs that had been cut into the rocks. It went through damp, shady redwood groves and along drier, exposed trails lined with manzanita. It had views of the Pacific and across the bay, where we could see the white sailboats by Sausalito.

tamdogtrail

This is not what most dog-friendly hikes are like, at least from what I’ve experienced so far. The other dog-friendly hikes I’ve taken were often on fire roads or even paved roads rather than actual trails. These hikes didn’t go by creeks, and they didn’t have such beautiful views. They were perfectly fine hikes, if you just want to take your dog somewhere new, but they weren’t what I was looking for.

tamdog-trees

I wanted the sort of hike that really feels like you’re in the woods. The kind of hike that makes you feel like you’re finally taking deep breath, that unwinds something in you that you didn’t even realize was tight until you were out on the trail. I wanted the kind of hike that drew my attention to the way the sunlight cuts through the trees or glints off the ocean or to the sound of water moving along a creek even during the drought. That might sound strange coming from someone like me who really loves living in a city, but I’ve found that as much as I crave the energy and beauty of a city, I also need time outdoors — and these days, ideally, time outdoors with my dog.

 

Rave: Mexican Pastries

November 21, 2014

Given that the best thing I ate in Paris was falafel, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that the best thing I ate in Mexico City was a concha, a seashell-shaped pastry with a quilted sugar top. (I took almost no food pictures on this trip, but I do wish I’d taken a picture of a concha.)

I’d expected to come home from our week in Mexico dreaming of tacos al pastor, but I was disappointed by the pastor we had in Mexico City. (At both Huecito and Califa, the pastor was dry; Huecito’s tacos were saved by their salsas.) The conchas, on the other hand, were like nothing I’d ever had before.

mex-duo
Before this trip, the Mexican pastries I’d had were dry, dense and sandy-textured, but the concha I had at Duo on our first day in Mexico City was light and airy, which contrasted beautifully with the crackly sugar top.

And it wasn’t just Duo. We had many good pastries in Mexico, mostly from places that seemed to pair French technique with Mexican ingredients.

Mr. WholeHog had a fantastic snail-shaped pastry from Panadería Rosetta in Mexico City (I didn’t think their concha was anything special). In Oaxaca, I had another concha at Casa Oaxaca Cafe and this version was almost doughnut-like — different but just as delicious as the one at Duo. At Pan y Co, a bakery with two locations in Oaxaca, we had a very chocolatey pain au chocolat, and a small, snail-shaped pastry that turned out to be full of nutella.

panyco-chocolatePicture from Pan Y Co.’s Facebook page

Since we had a very early flight out of Oaxaca, we brought Pan Y Co’s pastries with us to the airport for breakfast, and that chocolate croissant and nutella-filled pastry were our last tastes of Mexico.

3 Days in Austin

October 14, 2014

I knew we were in Texas when we walked out of our hotel and saw someone riding a horse down South Congress, a busy four-lane road in Austin. There were other clues as well: the traffic lights hung horizontally rather than vertically, and the butcher shop on the corner advertised “quality smoked meats and deer processing.”

texsflag-austin

Last November we’d headed to Austin for a short vacation. We like visiting cities, and Austin sounded like the kind of city we like to visit — a progressive, walkable place with good food, hip hotels and independent bookstores. Although it was tempting to visit Austin during one of the city’s many music festivals, I wanted to see Austin first in its normal state, the way (I hoped) a local might experience the city.

Cities often offer clues about what they’re about, what they’re interested in and where their priorities are. And it was clear that music is a big deal in Austin. Generic-looking downtown restaurants had open-air second stories that were set up for live music with professional-looking lights and sound equipment. These venues also seemed like a way that Austin made the most of its mild climate. (We were in jeans and t-shirts at 11pm in November.)

austin-river

Outdoor dining, particularly food trucks, were another way that Austin seemed to take advantage of its nice weather. Food trucks (and trailers and school buses and shacks) were just about everywhere we went in Austin — even in areas that didn’t seem like robust neighborhoods or places that didn’t seem (to me) to get much foot traffic. There might be a group of food trucks set up in an empty lot (and there were a fair amount of empty lots), or there might just be one truck parked out on its own or tucked behind another business. We walked by a hair salon one night that had a ravioli food truck out back.

Along with the ravioli truck, there were doughnut trucks, taco trucks, chicken trucks, coffee trucks, pizza trucks, Thai food trucks. (The aptly named Short Bus Subs made me laugh.) In SF, most food trucks move around to different areas of the City on different days, but in Austin some trucks weren’t mobile. They had infrastructure set up — dedicated seating areas with strings of lights hung over ahead, and even serious signage like the chicken truck (pictured below) near our hotel.

austin-chickentrailer

Austin has its own food obsessions, too — something I really appreciate in a city. Breakfast tacos are one of their obsessions, and I much preferred the eclectic, freshly made tacos we ate outside at Torchy’s (a food truck) to the gummy, pre-made ones at Jo’s.

Barbecue is another obsession, and here is where we made a grave mistake: we flew into Austin on a Sunday, arriving after most of the barbecue places had sold out or closed for the day, and most of the barbecue places we’d hoped to try were also closed on Mondays (John Mueller is now open Thursday through Tuesday). This gave us just one day to eat barbecue. I do not recommend this.

austin-barbecue

With limited time, we didn’t want to risk waiting and not getting into Franklin so we took the bus to John Mueller Meat Company, on the eastside of town, and Mueller’s delivered: we worked our way through terrific barbecued brisket (I really appreciated Texas’s focus on brisket) as well as barbecued ribs, a stack of white bread and a pickle. It was definitely one of the more memorable meals we had in Austin.

Austin also has a pretty good coffee scene. Traveling with a coffee fiend like Mr. WholeHog often involves a lot of coffee drinking, and we hit at least four coffee shops and one coffee truck. (Houndstooth was our favorite, despite its drab financial-district location).

austin-sign

With travel, there’s often some friction between the way I think a place is going to be and the way a place actually is, and that was true for me in Austin. The things I expected to like about Austin turned out to be pretty underwhelming (see: Book People, Hotel San Jose). And while I got the sense that Austin is very different than other Texas cities, compared to San Francisco, it didn’t stand out as particularly liberal or “weird” or even that walkable.

But Austin also impressed me in ways that I didn’t expect. To me, Austin felt a lot like another capital city built a long a river — Sacramento. And yet Austin has become a destination in a way that Sacramento can only dream about at this point. Austin has figured out how to be a place for people to come to music festivals or to meet with their state legislators; a place that supports both yoga studios and shops that sell only cowboy boots; a place where, within a few blocks, you could buy some fried chicken from a truck and then walk over and get your deer processed. There’s something to be said for that.

 

Bernal Adjacent

October 9, 2014

We live in the part of Noe Valley that is “Bernal adjacent” as a recent Bernal Heights blogger put it. We even share a zip code with Bernal Heights.

Bernal used to seem completely off the beaten path to me. It felt like the last SF neighborhood before Daly City. But these days it’s the center of my City life. It’s where one of my best friends and her husband bought a place, and they recently had a baby so that’s a draw. It’s also one of the most dog-friendly neighborhoods in a pretty dog-friendly city. And it’s also a great walking neighborhood with laced with my beloved SF’s stairways and full of breath-taking views of the City.

bernalview2012(Pretty sure Mr. WholeHog took this incredible pic)

The neighborhood is anchored by Bernal Hill, a great off-leash area for dogs that offers panoramic views of the City. (We were up on Bernal Hill just last night to watch the moon rise.)

Getting to Bernal Hill is part of the fun. I prefer to link together some of the many stairways that lead up the hill (there’s also one set of slides for the way down). Some of the streets that back up to Bernal Hill have little trails that lead up there, too.

Another reason to walk around Bernal? Some of the homes were once earthquake shacks from 1906. The streets tend to be narrow, which is fine for walking, but a bit of a pain if you’re driving.

bernalstairs

Most SF neighborhoods are lucky to have just one good place for dogs, but Bernal has a few options. On the north slope, there’s Precita Park, which is flat and grassy. Dogs are supposed to be leashed at Precita, but there’s usually a few dogs running around off-leash.

Holly Park, on the south side of the Hill, seems to be the local’s dog park. After work on weeknights, neighbors and their dogs congregate below the children’s playground. When the ball field is free, it’s often used as an unofficial dog park (“He likes third base,” one dog owner told us about his dog). When there’s a game, there are usually dogs run up and down the grassy slopes and through the trees.

hollypark

Holly Park is one of our dog’s very favorite spots to run around, and it’s one of our favorites, too, since it’s close to our friends’ house, and it’s just a block to Holy Water, a dog-friendly bar on Cortland Street, the main commercial stretch of Bernal Heights. Holy Water is darker than I’d ideally like my neighborhood watering hole to be, but it has a good beer selection (including a rotating sour beer on tap!), and it feels like a treat to get to have a drink with the dog.

In the morning, I’m more apt to leash the dog in front of Pinhole Coffee, one of the only legit coffee shops in the area. Run by a longtime Blue Bottle alum, Pinhole brews coffee from many good local roasters, including Blue Bottle, Linea and Verve. It’s a much needed addition to the area.

pinhole-facebookimage from Pinhole’s Facebook page

And if we need something other than coffee or beer, we can usually find it on Cortland. There’s Avedano’s, a woman-owned butcher shop that sources good quality meat (read: not-factory-farmed), or The Good Life, a conventional (but independent) grocery store. There’s a cramped little pet store and a small library. There’s The New Wheel, a shop focused on electric bikes, which was opened by a friend of ours from the farmers market and her husband.

Bernal can feel like a small town, which is why when Mr. WholeHog suggests, as he does from time to time, that we cash out of the City and move to a smaller town, I don’t see the point. It feels to me like we’re already in a small town, or at least adjacent to one.

 

Reading Rainbow: What I Read This Summer

September 22, 2014

This summer marked a return to reading — specifically a return to reading novels. I spent many hours outside on our deck or perched on a beach chair at Tahoe relishing that disorienting and liberating feeling of falling under a writer’s spell and then getting to live in that writer’s world for a little while.

The novels I read this summer were thoroughly engrossing to read, but I found some more satisfying than others. These were my favorites:

roundhouseThe Round House
Louise Erdrich

Probably my favorite of the seven novels I read this summer was The Round House. I’m not usually a Louise Erdrich fan, but this book was just about everything I look for in a novel: compelling, touching, enlightening, well-paced, and all loose ends creatively and satisfyingly tied up by the end. I also happen to love books that have a younger protagonist so it didn’t hurt that the main character is Joe, a 13-year-old boy whose life is turned upside down when his mother is attacked.

The story takes place in classic Erdrich territory — in a Native American community in North Dakota — and the setting offers an additional twist to the story: who has jurisdiction over Joe’s mother’s case given that no one knows if she was attacked on Indian territory, Federal land or state property? The crime gives the story the urgency of a who-dun-it, while Joe’s relationship with his friends and his extended family give the book more emotional heft than a mere mystery.

alllightAll the Light that We Cannot See
Anthony Doerr

I thought there was nothing else to say about World War II, but this book proved me wrong. Rather than delving into the horrors of the war — Hitler, the concentration camps — the book focuses on the experiences of ordinary people on both sides of the war.

Through the lives of a French girl and a German boy, both of whom come of age during the war, we see that in both countries, some people suffered and others prospered. In small French towns, there were those who organized and participated in a German resistance, and there were also people who turned on their own countrymen to curry favor with the Germans. For some German boys, like Werner, the war offered an opportunity– it was an alternative to working in the dangerous coal mines, but the war dashes the opportunities of more scholarly boys who weren’t cut out to be soldiers.

Perhaps the most moving part of the book, to me, was the stories after the war. A German woman travels to France and worries that the French will judge her for her country’s actions during the war, and a French woman who is so shaped by her experiences during war that she’s uneasy about living in a world where people’s lives weren’t shaped by the same kind of loss and survival. The book is written so lightly that it often feels like it’s just skimming the surface, and yet it carries an enormous weight.

lowlandThe Lowland
Jhumpa Lahiri

In many ways, The Lowlands is a classic Lahiri piece: as with her other books, this novel has Indian-born characters who end up working in academia on the East Coast. But even with those somewhat predictable elements, the book is an absorbing tale about how two brothers who are inseparable as children grow apart from each other as they get older, particularly during a period of political upheaval in India, and the unusual ways that the brothers remain connected to each other even as one moves to the U.S.

burgessThe Burgess Boys
Elizabeth Strout

The Burgess Boys also focuses on sibling relationships. In this case, two brothers who come back to their small Maine hometown to help their sister when her son gets into trouble. The son’s trouble is emblematic of the town’s struggle to come to terms with a recent influx of Somalis.

With the siblings, the small town, and the Somalis, Strout cleverly plays with the idea of being an outsider. We soon see that the Somalis aren’t the only people who feel out of place. Other characters also feel like outsiders in their own families, in their hometowns or in the big city.

Runner Up

americanahAmericanah
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah was one of the most thought-provoking novels I’ve read in a long time. Seeing America through the eyes of a Nigerian woman who comes to the U.S. for college really made me think about what I assume about people who live in Africa — Are they educated? Can they vote? But while the book felt like an important read, it wasn’t necessarily the best story. The parts of the book that focus on race in America were powerfully written, but the actual story felt too thin to me.

(All images from Powell.com)

Farm Tour: Harley Farms

April 29, 2014

The time to visit Harley Farms, a goat dairy in Pescadero, is spring — not for the beauty (although the coast and the farm are particularly gorgeous in the springtime), but for the baby goats.

harley-babygoat

The farm’s herd of 200 ladies deliver their kids in the spring, typically starting in March and running through the first part of May. You can simply stop by the farm (as many people seem to do) to see some of the baby goats in their pens, but if you take one of the paid farm tours, as my sister and I did last Sunday, you’ll get to hold an adorable, week-old baby goat in your arms.

The two-hour, $20 tour isn’t only about baby goats, of course. Harley’s primary business is goat cheese and the whole process — from raising and milking the goats to making and selling the cheese — is all done right on the farm. The tour covers nearly every part of the process: it starts in the fields with the goats and ends in a 100-year-old hayloft eating cheese made from the goats’ milk.

harleygoat106

I loved being in the pasture with the adult goats and their llama protectors (the llamas have punny names, like Dalai and Lorenzo). I avoided the llamas because I have a strong aversion to llamas (or worse alpacas!), but the goats were unbelievably friendly, which the farm says is because they’ve been handled by people since they were born. They came right up to us for a pet or to happily rub their heads against our legs, and they followed us as we walked through the pasture. (I loved the caravan of goats in the picture below.)

harley-goatsinline
The baby goats are kept in separate pens based on their age (some were just days old!). One of the farm workers showed us how to support their legs when we held them. The babies seemed happy to be held, but they moved around so much I could hardly get a clear picture of them. (The one pictured above kept trying to eat my sister’s jacket).

Milking the goats used to be part of the farm’s tours, but it became too stressful for the goats. Now the tour simply goes through the milking parlor, where the goats are milked twice a day at 5am and 5pm. Each goat produces about a gallon of goat milk a day which is enough for about a pound of cheese, but currently some of the goat milk is going to feed the babies. The remaining milk is piped directly from the milking parlor into the commercial-grade cheese-making facility next door.

Harley’s goat cheeses are often decorated with edible flowers, which are grown right outside the cheese-making room. In the cheese-making room, we decorated a chevre with borage, calendula and johnny jump-up, and then headed up to the hayloft to taste our concoction along with the farm’s chive chevre and cranberry chevre.

harleyfarmsgarden

The farm store, which is right beneath the hayloft, sells additional cheeses, like goats milk ricotta, feta, and fromage blanc, as well as goats milk soaps and a variety of skincare products. But there’s no hard sell on the tour. Instead, the tour ends with a push for visitors to explore more of Pescadero. Our guide, who’d worked for the farm and the Pescadero school system for many years, suggested a few places to eat and things to do in the area.

On past trips to Pescadero, I’d never been wowed by Duarte’s pies or the town’s taqueria-in-a-gas-station, but I’d return to Harley Farms in a heartbeat — to see some goats, buy some cheese, and spend a little more time on this lovely piece of land.