Quick Dinners#1

I did it again...Baked Talapia with homemade Mango Salsa and ... on Twitpic

Baked Talapia with Mango Salsa. Another quick meal that has flavor, is healthy and very quick to make. Good for a weeknight dinner.


A visit to Montano de Oro

At the rocks at Spooner's Cove

At the rocks at Spooner's Cove

We love the area from Santa Barbara to Paso Robles.  The world changes here and life takes a step back.  Even in this Eden, there are areas that sparkle even more.  Montano del Oro is one of those areas.  Nestled to the south of Morro Bay, along the coast, this used to be a large ranch  that ultimately became a state park.   The park’s name, “Mountain of Gold,” comes from the golden wildflowers that bloom in spring.  At 8000 acres, it has many things to see.  There are hiking trails, camping, beaches and Spooner’s Cove across from the ranch house.  There was a dock here during the ranch days used to tranfer the produce and stock.  The old ranch house has been converted to a museum and the docents can help explain life in those days. 

The website has a wealth of information http://www.slostateparks.com/montana_de_oro/default.asp . Take lunch and enjoy the varied sights. Much of park is along the coast and offers breath taking views of the rugged coast. Being just south of Morro Bay, the spectacular views of Morro Rock are inspiring and unique. Even the drive to the park entrance is surprising as the road it winds through a residential area with views of the bay to the north. Take the trip and imagine the past!

Volunteering at the California State Fair Wine Competition – 2009

THE CHAMPAGNE TEAM - Norma, Alice, Glenn, Me and Jerry

THE CHAMPAGNE TEAM - Norma, Alice, Glenn, Me and Jerry

This year, I had the honor of being the Captain of the Champagne Squad at the California State Fair wine Competition.  This is perhaps the most prestigious of the wine competitions in California.  To enter, the wines must come from California.  This year there were over 2600 wines entered from almost 600 wineries.  The prize?  The coveted “Double Gold” (where every judge on the panel rates the wine a gold), the “Gold” medal, the “Silver” medal and the “Bronze” medal.  Judges come from all over the wine spectrum; from wine makers, to winery owners, to writers, to restaurant owners, etc.  All judges must demonstrate the sensitive taste palate necessary to discern the subtle characteristics of the wine maker’s efforts.  Judges are subjected to intense tasting over a three day period starting around 9:00 every morning and finishing in the early afternoon.  This is quite an undertaking with around three volunteers for every judge.  I was particularly impressed with the dynamic nature of the volunteer team.  Although they only work together this one time every year, they come together to make a seamless event.  There are volunteers that can claim to have been involved with this event for over twenty years.  Makes me feel young with only three years under my belt.  I have made many friends over these three years and have reacquainted with old friends.  One of the judges was one of my college professors at UC Davis in the late seventies, one I work with every year at the ZAP conference in San Francisco and two were friends from the Society of Wine Educators.  It’s amazing how small our world really is.  In any case, this year I was able to direct the Champagne Squad, with the responsibility to pour the right Sparkling Wine ( as is now referred) at the right time and the right way to show the beverage at it’s finest.  This is the only squad to perform “live pours” for the judges.  A live pour is where the wine is poured directly in front of the judge.  All other wines are poured in a separate room from the judges and then delivered.  Champagne is different because the carbonation and cooler serving temperatures are critical to the flavor profiles.  All in all, a great experience.  Not only to be involved in such a great event, but to be associated with such a highly talented volunteer team.  Life is just a great place to be!

Desert in Bloom – Anza-Borrego

Vivid colors from the desert
Hard to find Ghost Flowers
Hard to find Ghost Flowers
Vivid colors from the desert

The Ocotillo's vivid color

We had never been to Anza-Borrego and the spring bloom seemed like the right time.  Wow, we happened to pick one of the best years out of the last five to make our trip and what an experience it was.  Anza-Borrego is the largest of the California State Parks, covering over 600,000 acres  and continues to grow.  It is west of the Salton Sea and is best to visit anytime but the summer where temperatures can reach in the 120’s+.  The park is named after Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza and the Spanish name borrego, or bighorn sheep.   For those of you who have never seen the desert in spring, it is quitHumming Bird Moth feeding on a flowere a sight.  The normally dry and brown desert explodes with a carpet of colorful flowers.  In some areas the bloom is as far as the eye can see.  Reds, yellows, purples and white flowers cover the expanse.  This year, the northern side of the park was in bloom with little to be seen in the southern portion.  Mary and I could not take enough pictures.  This is a photo rich area that is only around for a few weeks each year and then returns to the stark, harsh environment we so commonly associate with the desert.  In one canyon, the Ghost flowers could be seen.  They were limited to one patch on one hillside (at least where we could drive).    I have included a picture above.  Surprisingly, the weather this time of year, March, is very comfortable but a little warm.  Be sure to bring water.   Of particular interst is that it is not just the flowers that can catch you eye.  While taking pictures, Mary thought she saw a Humming Bird and snaped this picture before she realized it was just a moth.  When we got home and opened the image, we found it was a fabulous shot of a Humming Bird Moth feeding on a desert flower.  What a great eye she has and what a great picture she took.  Her new Nikon D90 helped a little.  Enjoy!

Locked in my heart –

Chuck & Janet-11-27-2003Quote: “You are locked in my heart.  The key has been lost.  You must stay there forever.”  Frau Ava

This morning I went to Huntington Beach at the end of Brookhurst Avenue.   Five years ago today we had a memorial service for my brother, Chuck, in the same area after he passed away.   I’ve gone down to the same area every year since then just to remember and honor Chuck in my own way.  I sit and read, take a few pictures of the water, sand, birds, and shells.  I’ll even pick up a few shells like I did that morning five years ago and add them to a small jar on my kitchen window sill.  A couple of times I’ve stopped at the cemetery and left a shell or two for Chuck.

I’ve often wondered if anyone else in the family or if any of his friends have done anything similar.  I’ve never invited anyone because I like the solitude and being alone with my thoughts and memories.  Well, I did bring Nick along one time but had to keep shushing him because he didn’t “get it” – it wasn’t the time to chat.   As I’ve sat on the beach I’ve notice a couple guys who are about Chuck’s age and wonder if they’re there to remember him as well.   This morning, one guy even removed his ball cap and scratched his bare head in a manner very similar to Chuck’s.  I almost went over to ask but decided not to intrude on his quiet time.

After taking pictures this morning, I sat and read while enjoying the warmth of this January morning in Southern California.  I think an angel tapped me on the shoulder to make me look up when I did because there was a small group of dolphins passing at that exact moment.  Thanks Chuck There were only 4 or 5 that I could see and I only got a couple of pictures that are so-so.  But I couldn’t help but whisper “Thanks, Chuck” when I saw them.  I know it’s romantical but for me the dolphins make me think of Chuck playing in the water with Mom  & Dad.  I smiled and teared up at the thought that they were together and came by to say hello to me on the beach.  I actually think of them like that whenever I see dolphins offshore but especially today.

They are locked in my heart.  And the key is lost.  They must stay there forever.



A Night at Hearst Castle

The Great Hall During the Holiday SeasonMost of you have been to Hearst Castle and know of  the grandeur Hearst gave to the family camping grounds.  Not too many know about the evening tours.  Some time ago, the lights were restored to the grounds and a tour established to give you the feel of what it was like to attend the evening festivities.  Although Hearst wanted his guests to have all possible distractions during the day,  the payback was that they had to attend the dinner party every night.  This consisted of dressing to the max and beginning the evening in the main room at 7 PM.  After socializing and  allegedly alcohol stingy drinks( beer was OK as is) , the party moved to the dinning hall for dinner.  After dinner, some more games and socializing, the formal scripted part of the evening would assemble in the movie theatre.  Once the movies were done, Hearst would retire for the evening (usually to do a few hours of work) and the guests had the run of the place.  The tour is set to give you the feeling of the evening.  Docents, dressed as they did in the period, are along the tour route and the tour guides are a little more abstract about the history and ongoings during this time.  The Pool at NightDuring the holidays, they decorate the castle as Hearst did.  He was very big on Christmas and it shows.  The tour also takes you for a walk along the gardens at night. There the ambiance of the lights, the quietness and the beauty of a star filled night take you back to what it must have been like.  A walk through the kitchen gives you a feel for the level of entertaining that occurred regularly.  Even before you get there you begin to travel back in time while driving up highway 1.  The area is pitch black except for the glow of the light on the hill and the outline of the castle waiting for you.  Now I know why it was on the map for mariners.  This is a must tour for those who have been to Hearst Castle and have seen at least one day tour.  The night tour is entirely different and gives a very realistic feel for this magical place.  Check it out at the Hearst website.

Greek Wines on a come back

Greek wine waiting to be tastedThe Greeks were one of the first to commerically export wines around the civilized world.  However, history was not kind to the Greek wine makers with occupations from civilizations not favorable to the art of wine making.  It was not until the 1960’s that the art returned to this ancient country.  Embracing the uniqueness of the land and weather, this new generation has reacquainted with the historic Greek vines such as Moschofilero, Roditis, Asyrtiko, Agiorgitiko, Xinomavro, Kotsifali and Mandilaria as well as adding more internationally recognized vines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and even Semillon.  On Sunday, I had the opportunity to attend a food and wine pairng of Greek wines by Tom Martin.  Tom gives an excellent history and accounting of these historic wines and brings you up-to-date with some excellent wines.  If you can find one of his seminars, it is worth attending.  Greek wines are characteristically high acid and low fruit making them excellent for food pairing.  Initially, white wines dominated with 65% of the production but now there is a rough 50/50 split with the reds.  My own personal favorite?  I have discovered Agiorgitiko.  This is perhaps the Beaujolais of the Greek red wines.   Mild, low fruit, easy to drink, mild tannin, just a great wine to drink with mild to low intensity foods.  If you have not experienced Greek wines due to their rightly deserved history, then now is the time to give them a new chance.  You will be surprised.  They have come that far and are worthy of sharing a meal with you…OPAH!

The Monarch Butterflys of Pismo Beach

Monarch Butterflys are everywhere in the grove

Mary finally convinced me to go see the butterfly grove in Pismo Beach.  What a great place!   The Monarch’s winter here from their summer sites in the Sierra’s.  Tens of thousands of these Monarchs winter in this grove.  These butterflies live up to six months while wintering but the rest of the year they survive only weeks.  This means that the ones who spend the winter are not the ones who leave to return to the summer sites and the ones who arrive at the summer sites are not the ones who come back to Pismo.  Yet, somehow the descendants find their way back.  Absolutely fascinating.  The grove is easy to find and the tour is short.  But, it is something to add to your list of things to do if you have never been there.  Great information is available at the Pismo Grove Website.  I was pleasently surprised and had a good time.

Munch’s trip to Disneyland on Dad’s Birthday

Juat a cute Munchkin

Just a cute Munchkin

A new friend has started joining us on our journey’s.  Her name is Munch and she is special for two reasons.  First,  our daughter’s favorite animal is an Okapi.  She saw one at the SD Animal Park and it just so happens our new travel friend is an Okapi.  Second, when Kim was a toddler, her Grandma Waldau once affectionately called her a “munchkin” .  It stuck and became her nickname.  In her early teens, she said she was too old to be called Munchkin, but after some thought said I could still call her “Munch” if I wanted.  Well, many years later and here we are…a stuffed Okapi called Munch who travels with us on our special trips.  Enjoy Munch’s journeys……

[clearspring_widget title=”Animoto.com” wid=”46928cc51133af17″ pid=”491a6a65e5ce1b2d” width=”432″ height=”260″ domain=”widgets.clearspring.com”]

Credit for this idea came from a friend’s blog, Scent Weakly, Check it out.

Wine and food dinner, Laguna Culinary Arts & Tablas Creek Winery

The menu for the night
The menu for the night

Our good friends, Jeff and Annette are BIG fans of the Tablas Creek Winery.  In addition, Jeff and I have taken a few culinary classes at  Laguna Culinary Arts.  So, when he saw that the they were going to have a food and wine pairing dinner featuring the culinary skills of Laguna’s Executive Chef Laurent Brazler and the fine wines of Tablas Creek, Jeff just had to go.  To top it off, since it was my birthday weekend, he made it a gift.  So, on Saturday, Jeff, Annette, Mary and I went off for what turned out to be a memorable wine and food pairing.  The Culinary Arts kitchen is located in the beautiful Laguna Canyon.  The national sales manager, Tommy, from Tablas Creek was there to greet and educate us on the wines of the evening.  The executive chef Laurent spoke to us between every course making our mouths water in anticipation.  This had to be be one of the best food and wine parings we have ever attended.  The food from Chef Laurent was well constructed.  His delicate sauces accented the main element of each dish yet allowed to taste of that main element to come through.  It is a special form of cooking that is hard to achieve.  The pairing with Tablas Creek’s Rhone style wines was done such that both the wines and food shown well.  Although all the dishes were well received and wonderful, most of us kept talking about the Black Mussel soup.  A great creamed puree that was both delicate and flavorful at the same time.  In all fairness however, all the courses and pairing were favorites to someone that night.  The wines were typical of Tablas Creek, well developed and even though young, paired well and gave a glimpse to how great they will be in a few years after some more aging.  These wines are noted for aging well for years.  We all walked away from the evening very impressed and are committed to checking out the next offering.  Chef Laurent gave us a magnificent dinner worthy of any fine restaurant and developed the dishes to take the most advantage of the high quality Tablas Creek Wines.  We are even bigger fans of both now than before the event.  What a great birthday present. 

A walk in Irvine Park

Irvine Park - View across the lake

Irvine Park - View across the lake

Irvine Park is the gem of Orange County parks.  It is nestled in the hills in east Orange and was part of the Rancho Lomas de Santiago.  It was ultimately acquired by Jame Irvine and eventually deeded to the county with the stipulation that the 160 acre Oak grove portion should be kept “as natural looking as possible”.  The park is now around 500 acres and somehow has been able to keep that rustic, rural feel when other county parks have succumbed to the sterile, concrete modern look.  In some areas of this park, you can’t help but imagine what it was like back in the last 1800’s when it was a personal picnic ground for James Irvine.  Over last couple years, my wife and I have developed the habit of taking a morning walk on weekends.  There are many articles and reports that well document the benefits of  physical exercise of this type.  However, we have also discovered the mental and marital advantages of walking with the proper surroundings.  We have found a walk around Irvine park to be one our favorites.  First of all, one of the perks is that it gets us up and out of bed early on a Saturday or Sunday morning.  We can often be found at the park as early as 7 to 8 AM.  That’s an accomplishment for us.  Likewise, the morning finds the park quiet with the peacocks actively feeding and a few other early risers grooming their horses at the stalls on site.  Occasionally, you can see and hear the wild parrots in the trees.  The oak grove is still there in the natural portion of the park and while walking through it,  one begins to image what the area was like back around 1870.  A walk around the park takes about an hour and the loop covers the entire park.  Mary and I have also discovered that without the distractions of phone, radio or TV we are free to relax and talk a lot.  We probably talk longer,about more things and make more plans during our walks than any other time.  And, by the time we finish, its time for breakfast…..Which is another story.  So, get up early, grab your spouse (or significant other) go to your favorite place to walk, enjoy the sights, listen to nature, watch life in general and have a great deep talk with the one you love.  And, Oh,by the way, get some exercise at the same time…..

Tuna a la Nick Saturday Night

Seared Tuna with marinated cucumber salad and couscous
Seared Tuna with marinated cucumber salad and couscous

While Mary and I were shopping Saturday afternoon, a nice selection of Tuna steaks caught Mary’s eye and she immediately new what she wanted for dinner.  My challenge now was to figure our how I wanted to prepare the tuna and then build a dinner around the main course.  I traveled to my local grocery store for provisions to match the expectations and decided on a sesame pepper encrusted seared Tuna topped with a garlic- shallot-soy reduction, accompanied with a cucumber salad marinated in rice vinegar, basil and salt.  As a starch, I added a seasoned couscous.  The recipe follows:

Salad:  remove the skin from a cucumber and then, using a peeler, cut long strips down to the seeds.  Collect the strips in a medium bowl adding a 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar, two teaspoons basil and a pinch of salt.  Stir and place in the refrigerator.

Couscous:  Saute a chopped clove of garlic and a chopped shallot in olive oil.  In a medium pan, boil 1 cup of water.  When the water boils, add the garlic-onion mixture, a pinch of salt, about 1/2 teaspon olive oil with a cup of couscous.  Stir, cover and remove from the heat.  Allow to set for at least 5 minutes.

Tuna:  Now the main course.  Rub the steaks with olive oil and then season liberally with sesame seeds and fresh ground pepper.  Place the steaks in a hot saute pan with olive oil that is just smoking over a medium-high heat.  Cook on one side for about 2 minutes and turn and cook for another two minutes or until the middle is warm, (not cooked).  Remove the Tuna to a warming oven.  Add chopped garlic and shallots to the pan and saute.  Deglaze with dry white wine and then add soy sauce for volume.  Slice the Tuna against the grain of the meat and plate.  Drizzle the pan sauce then add the salad and couscous.

Overall:  Wow, what a meal.  The Tuna was flavorful with an accent of the seasonings complemented by a nice contribution of the tart cucumber salad and the mediterranean influence of the couscous.  Served with a nice Foley Chardonnay and we had a meal worthy of a night out.  This is a very quick meal requiring minimal cooking.  The prep takes the longest and that is just to chop a few items.  Very impressive for guests.  As a variation, try pan searing the tuna for only about 1 minute on each side and then move to a hot outdoor grill and finish.  The heat of an open fire will add a toasting to the meat and the added grill marks always looks good on the plate.  Enjoy!

Wine and Food Pairing Dinner – A Benefit Function for CHOC

Jeff and Nick presenting the offerings for the eveining

Jeff and Nick presenting the offerings for the evening

A few years ago, Jeff, Annette, Mary and I got together to see if we could find something to donate to a fund raiser for our local high school grad night.  After looking at a few ideas, we came across the concept of combining Jeff’s great cooking skills with my interest in wine.  Mary and Annette would take care of the place settings, decorations and literature. Soon, we had put together a complete Wine and Food Pairing Dinner for ten people.  All the highest bidder had to do was supply the house, dining room table, kitchen and the ten guests.  We would bring everything else and leave the home the way we found it.  The dinner was an instant success and we have done a few of them now with each one earning more than the other.  They were all great income sources for the high school grad night.  As it turns out, one of our previous winners, Valerye, who has been helping raise funds for CHOC Hosptial for many years,  approached us about offering one of our dinners for an upcoming auction.  For such a noble cause, we all agreed and the wine and food pairing dinner was auctioned off at a record $1600 (the highest one sold as yet).  This brings us to Saturday night, 10/25.  With the invaluable help of our mutual great friends Bob and Edie, we all traveled to Lido Isle to deliver our dinner.  Kathy and Eric were the hosts who offered their lovely home on the island.  Jeff, Annette, Mary and I had met a couple weeks earlier to decide the wines needed and what foods we needed to do the pairing effects we were trying to achieve. 

The wine and food for the night

The wine and food for the night

 As usual, Jeff’s culinary skills shown brightly and the food was absolutely perfect to show the wines at their best, helping to teach the lessons.  His recipes can be found here at Jeff’s Website.  I have also included a copy of the menu we gave out at the dinner so you can see the food and wine that was offered.  Our ten guests were absolutely perfect for this type of wine class.  They were open to the experience, open to trying new things, wanted to learn about wine and were just a delight to have a dinner with. They were all good, positive people who love life and enjoy an opportunity to learn in a positive, fun setting.  They were qiuck learners and soon had caught on to the impact of food on wine acid balance, the impact of sweetness, spice, tannin, salt and even texture.  They soon picked up on how to bridge red wines into traditionally white wine dishes with the creative use of salt and good saucing.  There was even the great joy of exposing some people to wines they had never considered before.   We even were able to show how a “rip your face off Cabernet Sauvignon” is a delightful accompaniment with a delicious bittersweet chocolate cake.  The shock value was worth the evening.  Our great friends, Bob and Edie were invaluable in helping us set up and support during the event.  They even donated some of their instructive Wine Puzzle books (which Edie wrote and autographed) and some of their all wood puzzles from their website, Wine Treasures.  Please check them out.  Afterwards our guests asked if we would offer our Wine and Food Pairing Dinner at another fund raiser for CHOC.  We gladly accepted the opportunity to help such a great cause.  In our debriefing, we all agreed that this was the best dinner we have yet put on, not only from the great way Jeff’s food paired with the wines, but so much so because our fantastic guests were so participative and throughly let themselves enjoy the experience.  We were able to get our lessons across, exposed some people to new wines, showed some how to better match food and wine and finally, walked away with some new friends.  Life is just a good place to be!

Day 3 of our Journey to Yosemite

Good Friends, good wine, the meadow in front of El Capitan...does it get any better?
Good Friends, good wine, the meadow in front of El Capitan…does it get any better?

Day 3 started with a walk across to the south side of the valley to see the Yosemite Chapel.  The Chapel dates back to the early days when the village was in this area.  It is a nice quaint place but somehow one has to wonder why build a chapel inside what is already a chapel (Yosemite valley) anyway?  From here we wandered back across to the north side to shop at the village.  Bought a few things.  Finally, we ended up in the meadow in front of El Capitan waiting for our friends Jeff and Annette.  When they made it up here, we enjoyed a bottle of Claiborne & Churchill Gewurztraminer, nuts, olives, jerky and cheese over some great conversation and atmosphere.  I mean, how do you beat sitting with good friends in Yosemite valley?  Once we ran out of wine, it was time to go back to the lodge to dress for dinner.   We had reservations for the Ahwahnee dinning room at 6:30.  I mentioned to the staff that our friends had never been here so they kindly sat us in the alcove.  This is a special place up front near the floor to ceiling windows.  A very special area to eat for special friends.  Our servers, Marty and Rose, made the evening that much more special with their friendly and entertaining attention.  They play off each other very well.  Jeff and I enjoyed the braised meat entre while Mary and Annette split the Filet Mignon.  Jeff and I both brought delicious wines from Claiborne & Churchill and Tablas Creek.  The evening finished with a recommended Boysenberry pie and a cheese plate.  This was a special evening to share with great friends in a special place.  Pricey? You bet ya…..worth it?….definately.    On to day 4……………….. 

Day 2 of our Journey to Yosemite

We saw a lot of deer this year.  They had no fear of us.

We saw a lot of deer this year. They had no fear of us.

Day 2 saw Mary and I get up at 7 AM and out the door by 8:00.  Mary was ready and suggested we walk to Yosemite Village for breakfast.  This turned out to be a long day of walking.  On the way to the village, we came across a mother deer and her two young ones.  After a few pictures we wandered on, meeting one of the workers who suggested we head over to the east end of the valley to see the bear.  This sparked Mary’s interest so we grabbed a quick breakfast at the village cafe (it is more of a 7-11 with seats) and  jumped on the shuttle to the Ahwahnee.  Once we reached the hotel, Mary got directions to the stables (that’s where the bear was reported) and I wandered around the Ahwahnee.  Called Bob and Edie and almost got them to join us for dinner at the Ahwahnee.  We then found a trail by the backside of the hotel and began our trek.  We found what appeared to be a Crane ( this high up, I just don’t know, but check out the pictures).

The thing you see in the valley

The things you see in the valley

  Just past the stables we found bear tracks but never saw the bear.  We came out from the trail by the Mirror lake trail, which is at the extreme east end of the valley.  We jumped on the shuttle and took it to camp Curry.  We could not get to the area of the landslide earlier, but we did get to see where it came off the mountain.  I convinced Mary to take the hike to the Vernal Falls bridge and although it was steeper than expected, we made it.  Took some great shots and then had lunch on a large boulder by the bridge, consisting of smoked Gouda, beef jerkey, garlic stuffed olives, dried mango and dried cherries.  A nice meal in a nice spot.  By then we had enough energy to walk back down the trail and catch the shuttle back to the lodge.   After a little rest, (and working on the blog) we wandered around the meadow near sunset and picked some great pictures.  Finished the evening with a light dinner of dips, cheese and fruit at the bar.  Of course we did have a desert of apple pie ala mode…..and came back to the hotel for the next day.  The weather has been warmer than normal and the valley hazier due to the burns.  Pictures not as great but we still have two days and another trip up in the spring.   The more I come here, the more I enjoy it.  I could spend many, many days here…..Off to day 3

Day 1 of our Journey to Yosemite – the Maraposa Grove & more

That is one big tree.

That is one big tree.

Every time we have come to Yosemite from the south, we pay our entry fee and make the immediate left turn heading toward the valley.  This time however, Mary and I decided to turn right and visit the Maraposa Grove.  This is a large grouping of Giant Sequoias, with some rumored to be over 3000 years old.  Oh my.  We elected to try the tram rather than walk both groves.  It seemed like a good idea at the time and probably still was.  The tour is rather expensive at $25/person and takes you for an hour and fifteen minute tour of the upper and lower groves.  The upper grove is a good hike and we would not have gone there if we had to hike that distance.  The tour is well narrated with two 10 minute stops for pictures.  The tour is good if you want to see both groves.  On the downside, you don’t get the best pictures since you are bound by the angle and stops from the tram.  Also, the tram is just a trailer modified with seats.  That means it is directly bolted to the axle and the road is just a paved trail, sooooo……you feel every bump and dip.  I would not recommend it if you have a bad back.  All in all, an OK experience and good to do at least once.  From the grove, we headed back towards our original destination at Yosemite Valley.  You know about our trip to the Ahwahnee (see below), then we checked into the Yosemite Lodge and started to wander. By now it was in the late afternoon with some great shots of the setting sun hitting the valley sides.  We have included pictures of the “dry” Yosemite falls (one thing about a trip to Yosemite in the fall is that the falls are all pretty dry and the rivers are low and quiet), an orange half dome and some of the fauna having dinner in the meadow.  (For a view of the pictures for now, just click on the Picture widget to the right of this article. We will update when we get back)  What a photo rich area…..The only problem was that they were doing some controlled burns in the park and the valley had picked up a slight haze in the evening ( note the shots of half dome).  Mary and I then had a light dinner at the Lodge cafeteria and followed with a few drinks at the lodge bar while watching Boston make an incredible comeback.  All in all, a great way to spend our first day in Yosemite.  This is such a great place to come for vacation.  It is almost spiritual here.  This is nature at it’s most impressive. 

 More to come on day 2………

The People You Meet – aka, I pulled a Bob!!!


Mary, Mary, Nick, Jack and Kim....We pulled a "Bob"

Mary, Mary, Nick, Jack and Kim....We pulled a "Bob"

Mary and I are lucky to have some very near and dear friends.  One of those, at the top of this list, is Bob.  Bob is one of those rare individuals who has the knack of truly connecting with people.  He will strike up a conversation with anyone and within a few minutes has become their friend.  We joke with Bob that it is easier for him to tell us who he doesn’t know rather than who he does because it is a shorter list.  Well, to get on with my story.  Mary and I were at one of our favorite spots, the outdoor bar at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite, one afternoon having drinks and appetizers. There were no available tables when this man, his wife with their adult daughter came walking through looking for a table.  They looked like nice, friendly people and there was an open chair at our table with two chairs at the table next to us.  I decided to “pull a Bob” (as we often refer to his practice), and motioned for them to join us.  As luck would have it, they accepted.  It turns out, the father was retired from the military and was stationed in Germany, (coincidence?),  their daughter was named Kim, (another coincidence?) and his wife was named Mary (yet another coincidence?).  But he was named Jack, which was ok!.  We then went on to spend the next hour or so talking Germany, children, military, retirement, travels, etc.  It turns out Kim lives in San Francisco near Fort Mason and knows about the ZAP conference.  We may have even talked her into joining us for the food and wine pairing during the conference.  She has some interesting memories of her people watching after the Saturday event ends.  The conversation probably would still be going if they didn’t have to head back to S.F. and we did not have to check into our hotel.  We had an absolutely wonderful time in not only adding to people we have met, but with what we learned from the experience.  And we did this at a place that is special to both Mary and me.  Maybe Bob has something there!   Another one of life’s lessons has creeped in again……Go for it, you never know who you will meet?

In the Shadow of Greatness, Miramar Airshow, 2008

The Heritage Flight; P51 Mustang, F16 Fghting Falcon and F22 Raptor

Giving a hand.

Always willing to give a hand

I attended my very first Airshow on Saturday, October 4th.  I wish I had found out how great they were before this.  Our good friends, Dave and Danni put this together with another pair of incredible friends, Bob and Edie.  Danni also convinced us to purchase the premium box seats.  I am telling you, if you go try out these seats.  We were front-row on the edge of the tarmac with chairs, tables, shade, lunch and drinks all included.  First class all the way.  The show started around 9 AM and we did not leave until after dark.  Be aware, they have high security and all bags are inspected at the entrance.  It took an hour just to get in (no complaints, just to advise)  The show included vintage planes, the jets currently in use, helicopters, a mock attack with ground and air support, and a visit by the Blue Angels.  It is absolutely amazing what these planes can do.  The Heritage Flight, in the picture, is a special flight bringing together three different eras at the same time.  It is quite moving.  We had a demonstration of the new super F18 Hornet that boggled the mind.  Right after that, the new F22 Raptor took the sky and is such a leap in technology that the new F18 looks slow and old.  The Raptor is an explosion in technology and knowing that we only saw a few minutes of what it can do, we are not even touching the surface of it’s capabilities.  The Blue Angels are what precision flying is all about.  All in all, Mary and I probably have about 500 pictures. Try this link, Miramar 2008 ( then click on the “Contents” line to see the whole collection), to see just a sampling.    If you go, walk around the many planes they have parked for view.  You can crawl around inside many and there is always someone around who can, with pride, talk about “their” plane and it’s history.  What is the best memory?  Being a Marine Air Station, the show was being staffed by Marines.  They directed traffic, ran checkpoints and just about everything else.  I had the opportunity to talk with a number of these young men and women.  They all, every one, displayed the professionalism and politeness associated with our military.  Most had already spent time in Iraq or Afghanistan and in some cases I found a few who had already completed three or more tours.  They all were proud and expressed the willingness to go again.  It was an absolute honor to shake their hands, and I shook a bunch.  My hats off to our men and women of the armed forces.  They do us all proud!

Breakfast With Living History at Disneyland, Oscar Martinez

Me and a living legend, Oscar, at Disneyland
Me and a living legend, Oscar, at Disneyland

I had the day off today and decided to go to Disneyland for breakfast.  The morning started off wrong with my favorite place, Cafe Orleans, no longer serving breakfast as of September 2nd.  The next choice was the Riverbell Terrace, next door, but they remodeled it a year or two ago and made it very “fast food” like.  It is no longer a place to go for a relaxing morning breakfast.  To top it off,  Disney decided not to allow coffee refills there.    How do you enjoy a breakfast on only one cup of coffee?  By now I am almost to the point of deciding to leave the park and go elsewhere.  While walking down main street,  I came to the Carnation Cafe and decided to go in.  The cafe is midway down main street and is a great place to enjoy the atmosphere Disney displays during the holidays. It is also a good place to just enjoy watching people.  I had a small two seat table about midway back near the fence.  The menu was simple with a few items.  I usually have “Oscar’s” Breakfast of scrambled eggs, potatos and bacon but decided this morning to have the eggs benedict.  I took a paper with me and was enjoying my coffee while reading the days events when a man came up and started chatting about the fires in the news.  I looked up and it was Oscar,(see the picture above).  Oscar is a living legend around the park.  Heck, he even has a breakfast dish named after him on the menu.  He has been working there for 52 years!!.  Quite an accomplishment for anyone.  He is a walking history book and somewhat of a fixture at the park.  You will often see him in the mornings at the cafe, in his spotless chef’s outfit, walking around the tables chatting with the guests.  If you ask, the waiters will happily go find him for you.  Get him talking about the old days…..What a perk to going to Disneyland.   There are not that many of the old guard still at the park let alone working where they are readily accessable to the guests.   While all this was happening, a young family of four sat down next to me.  It turns out they live in the Portland, Oregon area and come down frequently to visit Disneyland.  This trip included the husband, wife, young son and grandfather.  They were celebrating the wife’s 40th birthday and the husband had set this up as a gift.  However, they all love Disneyland and I think they just needed a reason to come on down.  We talked about family, Kim’s overseas journey, and the joys of being able to come to Disneyland any time you want when you live in Orange County.  It turns out the husband, Boyd, does freelance video and has set up some great stuff.  Check out Globe Trekker and watch a great parody, that includes family, and learn about adventure land at the same time.  All in all, what started as a disappointing morning, ended up with a new adventure that beat anything I was expecting, if Cafe Orleans had still been serving…..I guess if life teaches you anything, it is that you need to be open to whats around you, life just happens….What a blast. 

Waldau Oktoberfest 2008

Written by Mary –
My family has been celebrating Oktoberfest for many years. This tradition started because my father’s birthday was in October and he loved both beer and German sausages. Even though he’s been gone a couple of years now we still get together to celebrate and have some good family fun. We gathered at my sister‘s, Rosi, home in Anaheim – which happens to be the house we grew up in. Our menu included several different bratwurst, deer sausage, several kinds of rolls, Mary’s split pea soup, potato salad, Rosi’s potato pancakes, Swedish lox & mustard from Marianne Verge, applesauce, Suzee’s potato casserole, Suzanne’s desserts, beer and margarita’s (another family tradition). After eating from our fabulous spread, we worked off some of the calories by doing the chicken dance, the Macarena, and line dancing to Achy Breaky Heart. Some of the men ended the evening with cigars in the back yard. Overall, it was a fun day made more special by all the extended family that attended. We left looking forward to the next time we can get together and celebrate being a family.




I’m brand new to this blogging stuff so I’m not sure where to start.  I just reached the “golden side” of life.  There’s no way I feel old enough to be 50!  Since I’m the youngest of eight kids I know there’s always someone older than me and my age number has never bothered me.  I’ll be adding comments, pictures, and whatever else comes to mind as I learn which direction I want my blogging to take me – and you.

Celebrating My Aunt’s Birthday, An Ode To An Octogenarian

Whoa, Now that's a good lookin babe
Now that’s a good lookin woman

On Sunday, October 5th, a bunch of close friends and family gathered together at the FoxFire Restaurant for the celebration of my aunt Mary’s 80th birthday.  This was an event worth remembering.  We gave my aunt (Eha for those of us who know her well), a roast worth remembering.  We followed her life from the really early days, to the rememberings of a pre-teen nephew, to the rich memories of her wonderful, son, friends, sister and life in general.  My aunt has truly led the life from which movies are made.  She has hobnobbed with the rich and famous, traveled around the world,  met interestng people and still maintained the closeness to family that makes it all worth it.  Just a few pictures of the celebration are offered here at EHA, by my photographer wife, Mary.  Enjoy the various shots and pretend you were there.  Many of us, including her son, sister and friends took turns providing our most precious memories of our times with a great person.  We even took the opportunity to explain the origin of my aunt’s real name, EHA, the best verbal efforts by her first nephew trying to vocalize Thea (aunt in Greek).   I cannot recommend more the FoxFire Restaurant,  the sunday buffet was loaded with selection and the food was delicious.  The service was friendly and attentive making the day that much more special for my aunt.  This was a day that brought back the happy memories of youth created by a woman that has always been part of my life.  I cannot remember a holiday or special time that my aunt did not attend.  Eha, thanks for helping me become who I am today and letting me share in your special day.  What would we do without family…..

Kim Earns Her Third Stripe!

Watch out world, here I come!

Watch out world, here I come!

Yes everyone, it’s official.  As of October 2nd, almost at the end of her first tour of duty in Iraq, Kim has been promoted to a Sergeant! She has been looking forward to this for some time.  Here are the pictures of the event directly from Iraq.  Eventually her feet will get back on the ground and she will find her next focus.  You just never know where she will put her efforts next.  She has worked very hard and lately, every time we would get in touch with her, she always had to get back to her books to get ready for the “boards”.  We are all very proud of her accomplishment and wish her the best.  It’s hard to believe she has been in the Army for just over three years.  She has spent time in Missouri, Arizona, Germany and now Iraq.  When she finishes in Iraq this November, she will go back to Germany for a few months and then be reassigned to a station in Colorado.  It will be nice to have her back in the states and closer to home (and family).

Nicely done Sergeant Stavros…….We love you (and keep safe!)

Juniors Continues to Amaze Me

I hope he can stop the ball

I hope he can stop the ball

Fall Ball Juniors game on Saturday, I had the plate.  Bases loaded, two outs, dropped 3rd strike.  Both defense and offense leave the field…..Out stands, next inning.  I mentioned to the offense coach that it was a dropped 3rd strike and he just looked at me in confusion.  I explained the rule and later he told his kids to run on all dropped third strikes and let the umpires figure it out later.  He was just trying to do good, not the kind of guy to cause trouble, but there are better ways to learn the rules…..Classic Juniors with fall ball thrown in to make it more interesting.  On the positive side, I got to do the game with my umpire partner Bob.  He has been doing games over 20 years and is not only a good umpire but a great person to know.  The coaches were great people with the right attitudes.  It spread down to the players who were a joy.  Catchers were friendly and talkative during the game, having fun with all the mistakes.  Great way to spend a Saturday morning.  Best memory of the game: was a breaking ball with two strikes that was way high and just at the end broke down through the strike zone.  Before I could signal anything, the batter looked up at me after following the ball through to the catcher’s glove (with the bat still on his shoulder) and said “oh s…”, and walked back to the dugout.  I almost fell over laughing.  It’s always good to give a little back.

A Day in a Family Portrait

After a day of shooting

This summer, my mother said she wanted a family portrait.  The whole family was in town and we had not taken any pictures with the children in years, so why not!  My sister’s family, our parents and my family all got together one morning at Eisenhower Park in Orange for a fun time.  It was not the sunniest day but we had two very nice cameras and went to work once everyone showed up.  Ok, my sister was a little late, but what the heck, it takes a long time to put on all that make-up.  We began the shoot with my mother’s encouraging direction.  As you can see from the pictures, The Family Shoot, there were many, many shots taken.  My mother was very helpful in suggesting the absolute best spots and positions.  Most are not posted but you can see from the ones on the link that the day seemed to go on and on and on and on.  The kids had a great time and had to be brought back to the shoot more than once.  Heck, even the photographers got distracted and seemed to be having more fun shooting the casual shots than the portraits.  By the end, as you could imagine, and see from the picture above, we were ready for the end.  We all got back together to review the pictures and ended up with a great family portrait that is currently hanging in my folk’s house, a fantastic bound book designed by my wife (also at my mom’s) and a few great photo albums for everybody.  And perhaps most important, were all the fun memories of trying to get all those people to focus on one thing long enough to take a picture.  It’s what being a family is all about!  Although I think we will wait until there are a bunch of great grandchildren before we do this again.

Dinner at the Clark’s

Watching the prep was as much fun as the meal

Watching the prep was as much fun as the meal

Last Sunday, the 21st, we were invited to Jeff and Annette’s for Dinner. Jeff and Annette are two very special friends whom we have known a long time. Jeff is a fantastic self taught amateur chef (I use amateur only because he does not do this for pay) who is known for his variety and absolutely delicious meals. If you want see what he can do, visit his website at Jefferyclark.net. Back to my story, we arrived at the Clark home around 5 PM and I brought a couple wines from my modest collection (that is another story). Jeff started the evening with a homemade minestrone soup that was as good as a minestrone can get. We all commented on not only the nicely balanced blend of flavors, but the great consistency of texture. It turns out he had recently adjusted the recipe to make all the cut portions of similar size just to address the texture. This is a secret to cooking that I find is too often underappreciated by chefs. We broke open a bottle of Michel-Schlumberger Pinot Blanc to complement this already wonderful soup. For the main course, Jeff produced a nice cut of meat and proceeded to custom cut our filet mignon steaks right in front of us. With our mouths watering, Jeff covered them in crushed black pepper and then pan seared the steaks. When cooked, Jeff removed the steaks and deglazed the pan with flaming brandy(another great show!) and created a sauce with garlic and cream. These perfectly cooked steaks were then plated and covered with the sauce. As sides, Jeff added a cauliflower mash seasoned with garlic while his daughter, Nicky, sauted asparagus in a garlic infused olive oil. We all rinsed it down with a mild but fruity Valley View Cabernet Sauvignon from Oregon. To top it all off, we enjoyed Jeff’s famous(to his friends and family) chocolate chip biscotti. We are talking a meal as good as found at any good restaurant. An absolutely great way to end a long week and get ready for the beginning of the next. As usual, I look forward to an invite to his next show!!!!

A Day in the past with a Terra Cotta Soldier

He is taller than I expected

He is taller than I expected

On Saturday, we attended the Terra Cotta Soldier exhibit at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana. The whole visit takes about 1.5 hours and is worth every penny. This is the largest collection of these soldiers ever shown outside of China and it is excellent. Not only is there a good variety of soldiers but there is also time taken to understand the history, how the emperor came into power, the way he ruled and how the memorial was made. It is well done and deserves the reputation as the 8th wonder of the world. They have still not recovered even a third of the soldiers and have yet to enter the tomb. The technology used around 200 BC rewrites history. Chromed weapons, chariots and building techniques for earthquake country. Well worth the effort. Do your homework before going to get most out of the visit. It is only here until October 16th so don’t wait. The lines will only get longer!