Bunny Foo Foo

Bunny Foo-Foo at Hall Wines

On Monday, November 11, I had a reason to drive to Saint Helena, 50 miles north of our house in Albany, California. Saint Helena is in the midst of the Napa Valley. A client asked me to scout a location for a photo shoot. Rather than drive up and back alone I took my wife Joann and we combined the work trip with a dinner date.

Joann did some research ahead of our visit. Being that it was a Monday a few restaurants were closed and we thought it best to plan ahead, select a restaurant, and make reservations. We settled on the Farmstead restaurant at Long Meadow Ranch, a farm-to-table restaurant with a general store, cafe and tasting room.

After the client meeting we headed to Farmstead. While driving north on Highway 128 we were struck by a giant bunny leaping out of a vineyard; Bunny Foo Foo at the Hall Wine Tasting Room. The late afternoon sun glinting off the bright surface of the bunny was arresting. We stopped to grab a few snapshots. From there it was s short drive to Long Meadow Ranch.

With time to spare before our dinner reservation we took advantage of the tasting room and wandered the grounds while we sipped wine. Dinner was fabulous. I had the special of the day, bacon wrapped meatloaf. Joann had trout. I’ve never considered meatloaf to be a gourmet item, but with our waiter’s recommendation I’ll have to say this dish was out of this world.

Fall Color: Eastern Sierra

We’re on a short road trip to look for fall color in the Eastern Sierra. We’re also visiting family in Big Pine. Our trip took us through Yosemite National Park and over Tioga Pass to Mono Lake where we spent the night of October 2. The word was that the best fall color might be in Bishop Creek, so we started our tour at Mono Lake, driving South, avoiding some of the popular spots north of Lee Vining including Lundy Canyon and Virginia Lakes.

At Sagehen Summit we found some pockets of color with large swatches of Aspen still green. Having four wheel drive, we were able to negotiate some of the sandy terrain, although we did encounter some fellow leaf peepers that managed to get stuck. We were able to help them by using our leveling blocks and a shovel. They were quite happy for the assistance. From Sagehen we headed south to Bishop Creek were we set up camp at the Sabrina Campground and then drove the windy, narrow, one-lane road to North Lake. We were disappointed that there was very little fall color at North Lake. In years past, the mountain side above the lake is ablaze with orange and yellow.

Some fellow leaf peepers we consulted with said this was the worst year they can remember for fall color. Nevertheless, I can always find something to photograph, and I was particularly struck by a small grove of Aspen along Bishop Creek, adjacent to the campground. I returned to this site several times for late afternoon, dusk and dawn photos. My favorite from those efforts was the morning image. I was reminded how much I enjoy the soft light of dawn and dusk for photography. I find the harsh contrast of mid-day sun and dappled shade hard to work with. Back in camp after the morning photo venture we had breakfast and then took a short hike along the north side of Lake Sabrina. We found some nice color in the Aspen groves along the north side of the lake.

Overall we found the fall color conditions quite mixed with occasional pockets of color and many Aspen groves still showing green. There is some speculation that unseasonably warm weather followed by a sudden cold snap a week ago has delayed the display of color for the most part, with the sudden cold creating pockets of color. There could be good opportunities to see fall color over the next few weeks.

We’re now in Big Pine playing grandparents. More news to come. Stay tuned.

Mendo Madness

Each year our kayaking club, Bay Area Sea Kayakers (BASK), takes an extended weekend in Mendocino to do what we do best, eat food and paddle. Some members say we are an eating club with a kayaking disorder. Nevertheless, the event is great fun in a beautiful location with great camaraderie and fellowship. We headed to Mendocino on Wednesday September 18 making our way to Van Damme State Park. The next morning we were on the beach at Van Damme with our boats ready to get on the water. There was a good swell running and a number of paddlers opted to go hiking or paddle on calm water rather than deal with the wave energy being displayed on the coast. Joann and I took up the invitation to follow some of the more experienced paddlers who were offering a “Newbie Paddle,” for those new to the Mendocino coast.

This gave us some exposure to the rocky coast and we got to feel what it’s like to play in the rocks with waves with water surging this way and that and waves crashing on rocks. Mind you we stayed clear of the really active water. See my previous post Through the Washing Machine for more about that.

The next day, September 20, we opted for some quiet water after our rather adventuresome day on the coast. We joined a group of paddlers for a paddle on the Big River. The round trip paddle up the river and back was 11 miles and we were back in camp mid-afternoon to drink beer and soak up the sun.

Friday evening marks Bourbon and Brine, a social event with bar tenders concocting some unique mixed drinks. I had a Storm Cag with rum, ginger liqueur, Averna and orange juice. Joann had a Sea Palm with Gin, lemon juice, elderflower liqueur , celery bitters and a sprig of sea palm. Nathan and Krista, two club members hosted the event. Nathan outdid himself with his creativity as a mix master.

With most of these folks wishing to get on the water in the morning without suffering hangovers, drinking was done with moderation. I for one, did not want to find myself sloshing about in the waves suffering the after effects of alcohol.

Saturday night marked the club potluck dinner. With some 70 or so kaykers in camp it was an amazing feast.

Sunday was another flat water paddle on the Albion River. Our journey took us up the river past several houseboats, stopping to was river otters at play. We had a quiet paddle on smooth calm water. The paddle up and back covered six miles

You can view more photos of the BASK Mendo Madness activities here.

Dead Nuts

What is the ultimate machined object? This question is explored in fascinating detail at the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco. The exhibit is titled Dead Nuts: A Search for the Ultimate Machined Object. The exhibit runs through December 1, 2019.

We stumbled onto this exhibit several weeks ago when we were out on a photo shoot. We being my assistant and myself. We had a couple of hours of down time between photo shoots and and the museum was close to our work sites.

The museum is located on Third Street in the Dog Patch neighborhood. It’s off the beaten track for most tourists, but it’s well worth the visit if you’re in this part of town or if you are a hardware geek.

The exhibit covers everything from the humble nut and bolt, to a microprocessor, to the space shuttle with all sorts of fascinating subjects. The exhibit originated out of an online forum called Practical Machinist. The members of the forum debated the question “What is the ultimate machine object/mechanism?” They proposed their favorite ideas in an ongoing conversation. Much of that discussion is represented in the exhibit.

Island Hopping on San Francisco Bay

Our BASK Thursday Paddle on September 5 took us past three islands. Launching from Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor, we paddled out between The Brothers Islands. East Brother is an old light station that now serves as a Bed and Breakfast Inn.

There are 48 islands in San Francisco Bay. Alameda Island is the largest, followed by Angel Island, Treasure Island and Alcatraz. Only one of the islands is privately owned. That is Red Rock Island, our lunch stop for today’s paddle.

The island is owned by Brock Durning who inherited it from his father Mack Durning. Mack tried to sell the island in 2012 for $22 million. But a few months later he slashed the price to $9 million. He died before it sold. There are no services on the island and developing it could be a nightmare. The island is split among three counties — Marin, San Francisco and Contra Costa.

Legend has it that pirates hid treasure on the island, though it’s never been discovered. In the early 1800s, Russian fur traders used the island as a camp for hunting otters.

We normally land on the lee side of the island facing the Richmond San Rafael Bridge, although this day the wind was down so we paddled around the island and landed on a small beach on the windward side. We noted a flag pole on top of the island with a very tattered stars and stripes flying. There is no trail to the top and there are steep cliffs on all sides of the island.

After lunch we launched our boats again and paddled back to the yacht harbor, passing close to the ruins of America’s last whaling station, closed in 1971. There is not much left of it now save for a few pilings. We logged 6.8 miles on our paddle with favorable wind and currents. One needs to be mindful of wind, currents and ship traffic including ferries that zip across the bay.

More photos from the trip are available here and a map showing the track of our paddle is show below.

Quixote Winery: A Hidden Napa Valley Gem

The Quixote Winery is a hidden gem among the better known wineries of the Napa Valley. It’s located on the east side of the valley in the Stags Leap District. Having returned from Spain in June with a fascination for Antoni Gaudi’s designs, a friend suggested we check out the winery.

The whimsical architecture is like nothing else in the valley. The original winery owner, Carl Doumani, was fascinated by Don Quixote the Novel by Miguel de Cervantes. In his search for somebody that could create a winery to fit his vision he commissioned Friedensreich Hundertwasser, a Viennese artist and architect.

We visited the winery on August 27, having made a reservation the day before. Tasting is by reservation only, although you might be able to get same day reservations. We signed up for the White Label Experience that included an estate tour and a tasting of five wines paired with a plate of gourmet cheeses. With just two of us we had a rather exclusive tasting. It was a delightful experience and we left with three bottles of wine. This is a small winery. The estate vineyards cover 27 acres with Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.

If you are planning on visiting the Napa Valley keep in mind that there are some 400 wineries with tasting rooms, and the valley includes some 16 distinctive appellations, each with it’s own distinctive soils and climate that lend themselves to different varieties of grapes.

The Los Carneros AVA at the southern end has a cool climate moderated by marine winds from the Bay and soils dominated by a clay-hardpan. This region produces Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Noir. Thirty miles to the north the Calistoga AVA with warmer temperatures and rocky volcanic soil is better suited to thicker skinned grapes such as Cabernet, Zinfandel, Syrah and Petite Sirah.

If you are thinking about wine tasting check out the Napa Valley Winery Map and the Napa Valley Vintners.

Oh, and after our wine tasting we drove the short distance to Yontville where we split a Pulled Pork Sandwich at the R+D kitchen; a delight to the palate after the wine tasting. There’s no shortage of options for wine and food in the Napa Valley and the surrounding areas.

More photos here.

Birthday Weekend

So much has happened in the past few weeks that I’m going to have to back up to July 25. That’s the day we climbed in our truck-camper and headed to Markleeville for an extended weekend of camping and birthday celebration. The main event was our Granddaughter Annabelle’s first birthday.

Birthday Girl Annabelle is in the middle

We made it a five day weekend, leaving our place on July 25 and driving to Markleeville, a small town on the Eastern Sierra located at 5500 feet elevation. It’s about a 200 mile drive, taking us about four hours with a quick stop for a picnic lunch on the way. Our destination was the Markleevile Campground, a US Forest Service Campground with 10 sites. A lovely location with a stream running through it and a very attentive and helpful camp host.

Having settled into camp it was birthday time. July 25 is Joann’s birthday so we broke out the cake and celebrated.

Over the course of Friday and Saturday our campsites filled up. By Saturday evening we had 24 people, five dogs and one parrot. These folks are all seasoned campers and quite adept at entertaining and feeding a crowd.

We had pork shoulder cooked in a dutch oven on Friday evening. It’s a mystery to me what seasonings went into those ovens, but the resulting pulled pork was beyond compare and it made delicious tacos. Sunday morning was a Mushroom and Brie Breakfast Strada and Sunday evening was Chicken Cordon Bleu on Sunday evening.

And of course no camping experience is complete without Smores. So the evening found us toasting marshmallows on a campfire and making a sandwich of the hot toasty marshmallows with chocolate and graham crackers.

In addition to family fun in camp, we did manage to get in some hiking, take in a blue grass concert at an event in town and visit Grover Hotsprings. To see more photos click here.