Thursday, October 7, 2010

My Kick-Ass Week in California

I can't believe it's already Thursday and I'm just now sitting down to post about the fantastic time I had in California with some of my very favorite people last week. Here's a quick (though somehow incredibly long) run-down including the good, the bad, and lots of awesome food and wine...
The trip started out on Friday afternoon with some good, but things went bad by the time I arrived in Santa Barbara. I was traveling with my power wheelchair for the first time, and had been worried in the weeks leading up to the trip that the airline would break it in transit. I got to Logan airport quite early, and it was so amazing to be able to travel freely around the airport and grab a bite to eat rather than being forced to consume a crappy $10 sandwich on the plane to avoid starvation. (In the past I would receive wheelchair assistance in airports, but then you're basically stuck at the gate from a couple minutes after you get through security until your flight boards...) I was so psyched about how much easier travel was with my own chair... until I got to Santa Barbara and discovered that the airline had indeed broken my chair. Awesome. I'd driven it up to the plane at LAX, but when it arrived in Santa Barbara it would no longer turn on. I wasn't able to identify the problem immediately, but picked up the claims paperwork and headed back to Steph's place. When we got there, we discovered that one of the batteries was oozing gel, so I'm pretty sure they dropped it out of the parked airplane. Sigh. I placed a quick order for new batteries, praying that they would arrive before I needed to fly back to Boston, and tried to put the stress and badness out of my mind so I could enjoy the impending happy-fun-times with my friends.
Jenn had arrived at Steph's on Friday night as well, and we got up bright and early on Saturday to start our road trip up to Windsor, CA. Things went well until we approached Gilroy, at which point an accident forced us to sit in a long line of cars, traveling 3 miles in just over 90 minutes. Awesome. It's one of those things where it could have made us cranky, but we were so happy to see each other again that we actually had a great time laughing and talking in the car (aided by the infamous fruit-punch-face incident...). When we got up to Windsor, our friend Mel joined us and it felt just like old times. We decided the best option for dinner would be a Steph-and-Emily classic: Grilled Rib-eye Steaks with Roquefort-Stuffed Mushrooms.
(That's the sauce in the juice glass... Maybe we should pack fancy dishes next time?) Add in a few bottles of wine and some high-quality patio-sitting, and it was the perfect way to start our time together. We couldn't do much wine tasting on Sunday, due to the fact that I had to spend the morning in a sports bar. Somehow we ended up in a Steelers bar in Santa Rosa to watch the Bucs-Steelers game (which I don't want to talk about), so I got to "enjoy" smack-talking from a large number of Steelers fans. Awesome. We headed out to a couple wineries after the game, and had a nice time chatting up the tasting room staff in the Healdsburg area wineries while enjoying some tasty wines.
On Sunday night we decided to go with another Steph-and-Emily Classic: Grilled Chicken, Avocado, and Tomato Wraps. This is truly one of the best sandwiches on the planet, and I strongly encourage you all to give it a try someday.
Monday was the day we'd all been waiting for: the day of our dinner at the French Laundry. We had a mellow morning, then drove out to Papapietro Perry, which is one of my very favorite wineries. (If you love Pinot, you need to check them out. You can thank me later.)
A couple more stops to do some tasting, and we headed back to get dolled up for dinner. It was such a spectacular evening that it warranted its own post, so I won't recap it again here... except to say "Wow..."
Mel had to head back to work on Tuesday like a loser, while Jenn, Steph, and I drove down to Napa to taste at a few smaller wineries there that Steph and I like. One of our favorites is Benessere, where we found that we had stumbled upon the first day of their Pinot Grigio crush. The awesome lady in the tasting room took us back to see the action, which was pretty cool...

We wanted something relatively low-key for dinner on Tuesday, so we whipped up some hummus, homemade pitas, and lamb kofta kebabs. Since it was 110 degrees outside, we decided to throw our pizza stone on the grill and cook the pitas there (instead of heating the kitchen with a super-hot oven...), and it worked perfectly (thanks in no small part to the fact that Steph makes quite the high-quality pita dough...).
After minimal prep, we found ourselves with a delicious spread...
... and tasty, tasty pitas.
Wednesday marked our departure from Windsor. We had originally planned to head down to Paso Robles (where we would be spending the night) early enough to do some tasting, but we somehow didn't get the car packed up until noon, so we decided to just be spontaneous and hit Bonny Doon on the way to Paso Robles instead. We ended up spending almost 3 hours in Santa Cruz (between Bonny Doon and grabbing some lunch), so we were exhausted from a longer-than-anticipated day of travel by the time we got to the motel, and the creepy guys standing outside ogling every passing female didn't help our mood. Rather than run out to the store for groceries for a complicated meal, we heated up leftover lamb and pitas from the night before on our camp grill, and made the evening a little fancier with fresh peaches and vanilla ice cream served with the ridiculously-good shortbread cookies that the French Laundry sends home with you after the meal. Not bad for dinner in a cheap motel.
Jenn needed to be at work by Thursday night, so we decided to forgo tasting in Paso Robles on Thursday, instead making a quick stop at Claiborne and Churchill on our way back to Santa Barbara. It's a winery that Steph and I both love, and the visit was made even better by the fact that the young man working the tasting room was extremely adorable and fun to talk to. We parted ways with Jenn that afternoon and went back to Steph's house to wait for my wheelchair battery. When it arrived, I transferred the wires (including this little grey plastic thingy that they were attached to at one side) from the broken pair of batteries over to the new set, hooked it up... and the chair still wouldn't turn on. Awesome. I was pretty darned stressed at this point, but there was nothing to be done about it at the time, so I found a nearby wheelchair repair place where we could take the chair in the morning and we decided to smother my stress with dinner from one of my favorite Santa Barbara establishments: Super Cucas. We got "the usual," which includes a Carnitas Super Plate for me,an Asada Super Plate for Steph,
and a kick-ass Shrimp Quesadilla to share.
Look at all the goodness inside:(There were obviously some leftovers...) On Friday, my last day in Santa Barbara, the day got off to a rocky start as we drove all over tarnation figuring out what was wrong with my wheelchair (Repair guy: "The wires are bad." Off to an electrics and wiring store. Wiring guy: "It must be this grey plastic piece that's the problem. Apparently it's a circuit breaker. We don't stock any that size. I would DEFINITELY not try to use the wheelchair without it!" Off to four other places, trying to find somebody who has the part in stock. Guy at the last place: "I can't see any reason not to use it without the circuit breaker..." Back to Steph's house. Chair works with new batteries minus broken circuit breaker. Yay! and Whew!) In the middle of driving all over tarnation, we stopped at Santa Barbara Shellfish Co. for some sustenance.This is the view from your picnic table while you dine at SB Shellfish Co.:
I saw that the Oyster Po' Boy (which I always get) was no longer on the menu, but the guy said they still make it and just serve it on Ciabatta now. Sold.
(Look at all the pretty, pretty oysters...) Steph ordered a crab sandwich, which looked pretty fantastic, too.
With the stress of wheelchair troubleshooting behind us and lingering happiness from our awesome lunch, we were able to sit back and enjoy the rest of the day before putting together our last dinner of my visit: Blue-Cheese-Crusted Steak with Red Wine Reduction Sauce.
This was fantastic, and it paired beautifully with a Bordeaux blend we'd picked up in Napa. For a day in which the running theme was "Nothing is ever easy, man...", things ended on a very positive note. I flew back to Boston on Saturday without incident, and was very, very happy to be home...

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