Of all places….

I’m a pretty adventurous person. My earliest memories are of a cross-country road-trip from Atlanta to California when I was three years old, and I’ve been drawn to the thrill of the open road (or airport) ever since. My roots are in the South, my heart is in California, and I keep a suitcase partially packed to go wherever the wind takes me. So when I say that I never saw this coming….

We’re being moved to New Jersey.  We’ve become part of the diaspora of Americans being displaced by “the Economy” because of a company reorganization that closed the headquarters office here and relocated the staff to Chicago and New Jersey. Of all the places in the world I have ever imagined visiting, traveling through or living in, New Jersey never entered my mind. It’s so …..opposite.

ETA is about two weeks away. We’ll be in a short-term apartment until we find a place to live. Since we got our orders, I’ve been trying to get ready to go, trying to come to grips with this monumental change in my life, trying to say goodbye. Saying goodbyes are the hardest. It’s saying goodbye to favorite views (the bay as you emerge through the Caldecott Tunnel) and drives (coming home from the coast along Highway 37 at dusk), a beloved beach we discovered way way back on our honeymoon, a favorite farmers market and the strawberry farmer who always says hello when I walk by and never lets me pay for a basket of berries, the mountain that has been the backdrop of my everyday life for ten years, my favorite Peets shop and the guy with the Jimi Hendrix tattoo who talks to me about music and knows I prefer my coffee in a real cup, my favorite pho shop  where the waiter knows our order before we even sit down (#12 with tendon, small) and the taqueria where they make fresh chips just for Scott and our favorite torta (with carnitas). It’s saying goodbye to my garden and all of the other community gardeners who have treated us  young upstart gardeners with kindness and welcome. It is saying goodbye to my beloved friends who have made our hard times easier and our happy moments sweeter, who have brought so much life to our life. It’s saying goodbye to my life as I know it. My heart seems to have broken a thousand times in the last month and I’m sure it will continue to until we take that one last look in the rearview mirror and head East.

I know that there is light at the end of the tunnel, but I’m not sure how I feel about that light being New Jersey. Whatever is coming next in my life is nothing I ever expected but I know the grace that can be found in the most painful moments, and the treasures found in the most unexpected places. My plan is to take each day and build a new life one piece at a time, taking all of the adventure I can from it. There is a whole new world for me to discover.

While you may not be able to find me in California, you will be able to find me here at Cognitive Leeks. I’ll be posting as often as I can while we are in transition, but plan to get back into the swing of things with more regular posts when we see how things shake out with house-(and town)hunting. Catch you on the flip side….


And now for these important messages

I’ll be back soon I promise. There are times when “Life” interferes with writing and that has been the case for me lately. Other priorities are taking precedent at the moment, but I’ll see what direction I’m heading soon and be writing again in short order, and I hope with some lovely Summer cooking (although not short order cooking in case anyone felt that was implied by my last sentence all of which demonstrates why I am in no condition to be stringing words into cogent sentences suitable for posting at the mo).

Sweet sweet peas

Chuck, my across the path garden neighbor, is a smart guy. He figured out that as a gardener, you’re going to be more popular if you show up with your hands full of flowers than zucchini. So every year, he plants a long fence full of sweet peas on the east side of his garden. They come up during the late winter and bloom until it gets really hot, every shade of violet and blue, white, rosy and salmon pink, crimson, and this year a cross-pollinated volunteer of deep purple with crimson-ruffled edges. The breeze from that side of the garden is intoxicating. Chuck takes armloads of sweet peas to work, to his friends, and home to his wife, and sometimes, if I’m at the garden at the right time, he hands me a big blowsy fragrant gorgeous bunch. Sweet!

The other wine country

Livermore Valley

To say that California has a bit of a split personality is like saying that we have a “little fault line” running down our middle. Californians are Botoxed celebrities and middle-aged hippie activists, surfer dudes and ski bunnies, cosmopolitan urbanites and dry land farmers. It’s an afternoon’s drive from skiing to the beach, and from foggy redwood forests to sere deserts dotted with cholla cacti. So I guess it shouldn’t have been such a surprise to find that California wine country has as diverse a range of personality as the rest of the state.

I spent the last few weekends exploring some of the close- by lesser known wine regions: the East Bay’s Livermore Valley, Amador County’s Shenandoah Valley in the Sierra foothills, and the Delta’s Lodi region. These are not private chef and art collections and $20 wine tasting wine regions like their better known cousins to my north; these are dirt-under-the-fingernails and pick-up truck wine regions where you may be the only group in the winery, talking to the winemaker or his wife about why they love their jobs and what they are excited about sharing with visitors. Wineries and tasting rooms may be cool and elegant, or it may be in an old barn or cellar with tools on peg boards on the wall and folding tables holding a line of bottles for tasting. The grapes that thrive in each specific area are unique because of the weather, the soil, the elevation, even the direction that the valley lies. I was excited to try some wines that I was unfamiliar with: Alvarelhao and Verdelhos in Livermore, the Rhone varietals of Syrah, Grenache, and Mouvedre in Amador, and the Albarino from Lodi, as well as the more familiar Syrah, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, and Tempernillo grapes. And I came home with some bottles to try in a price range that made trying some new and different wine less of a risk.

Shenandoah Valley, Amador County

So, if you wake up one Saturday and you’re in the mood for some adventurous, low-key wine exploration and gorgeous scenery and instead find  yourself in a traffic jam behind a bunch of rental cars and stretch limos, take a side road out of there and take off for one of the other wine countries. I plan on spending a little more time looking for wineries on the back roads in the quiet corners and valleys this year.

Lodi, California

Jessie's Grove Winery, Lodi

Some wineries I particularly enjoyed were:
Thomas Coyne Winery
Bray Vineyards
Terre Rouge Wines
Harney Lane Winery

Bray Vineyards, Amador County

Road tripping

After griping about the weather, what could be nicer on a Saturday than a short road trip through the green and pearly-skied Sonoma County countryside.

What could be better? Maybe arriving in Bodega Bay conveniently around lunch time. And knowing that the best fried seafood you’ve had in a long time is (surprise!) right there in Bodega Bay! We’ve made the round trip before just for the calamari- it’s really swell.

If you drive up Highway 1 through town and look for the shop with the flags and kites on the shore side, pull into the parking lot just past it. The Boat House parking lot is reassuringly lined with piles of oyster shells and management has clearly been spending more money on the ingredients than the decor- it’s wood panelling and formica tables all the way. Order at the counter- everything that I’ve had is fresh and crisp, cooked perfectly, but I especially recommend the calamari, scallops and bbqed oysters. Grab a beer while you’re at the counter. A hoppy Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale compliments very well and find a sunny table. If they don’t bring cocktail sauce with your order, ask for it. It’s homemade and has a good not-too-sweet flavor.

It’s probably best not to talk for a while. There are better things to be doing with your mouth and fried seafood waits for no man. All it takes is a little perserverance and dedication and you’ll end up in the clean plate club.

The shop next door with all of the kites sells salt water taffy and retro candy like Pop Rocks and Boston baked beans. We got Zotz for the road.

We meandered back down Highway 1 through Valley Ford, Olema, and Point Reyes Station, stopped and watched the surfers in Bolinas for a minute. Is there anything like fried food and beautiful scenery to refresh the winter-weary soul?