Sunday, February 26, 2017

A German-American-Turkish Weekend

Imagine our surprise when a few weeks ago we received a message from Hubertus, a cousin of the Geek. He was wondering whether we could see each other when he and his girlfriend were spending some time in California. The last time we had seen him was in the late 1990s when he was 13 or 14 years old and living with his parents on a horse ranch in the northeast of Germany. Now he is a pilot with Turkish Airlines and lives in Istanbul. His girlfriend Burçin is Turkish and works as a flight attendant for the same airline.

It turned out that the weekend they wanted to come and see us was the long Presidents Day weekend - the same weekend that Kaefer had planned to spend with us. What a wonderful coincidence!

We had a full house last weekend - and we had an absolutely wonderful time. Yes, it was cold and rainy, bu that didn't keep us from having fun and showing them a tiny little bit of our beautiful county.

So on Saturday, despite the occasional rain and overall gray skies we took them out to the coast. It was windy and chilly, but the ocean is breath taking no matter what the weather is like.

There was a lot of foam on the beach that the wind quickly blew all over.

Kaefer was the center of the attraction - isn't it funny how we're all taking pictures of her being goofy?

And did I mention that it was a very windy day?

Further up the coast to the north on famous California State Highway 1 we visited Fort Ross. From 1812 to 1841 Fort Ross was a thriving Russian-American Company settlement. This commercial company chartered by Russia's tsarist government controlled all Russian exploration, trade and settlement in the North Pacific, and established permanent settlements in Alaska and California. Fort Ross was the southernmost settlement in the Russian colonization of the North American continent, and was established as an agricultural base to supply Alaska.

Only one building is a true original building; all other buildings have new parts and have been restored. However, the entire place gives a good idea what it must have been like "back in the day".

I loved all the little details we saw - barrels and big bundles of - what? Food supplies?

This old Russian bell was gorgeous and it had a very melodious, rich and deep sound.

We were able to go into every building, look around, look out and look back.

There was a real fire in the big oven. The storeroom was full with stuff - a feast for the eyes.

Look at those windows! I loved the view outside, but I also liked to see what was inside and on the windowsills. I would love to have one of those bottles, especially the teal one.

Beside the windows the doors were fascinating, too. What do you think?

After all this touring we had become hungry. We went down to Bodega Bay where we treated ourselves to a nice seafood dinner in The Tides Wharf - I had clam strips and fries and it was delicious.

On Sunday it was raining and we couldn't do any decent sightseeing. So, what can you do in Sonoma County on a rainy Sunday when you have family or friends over? Wine tasting, of course.

I love the Dry Creek Valley, so this is where we took Hubertus and Burçin. The valley has the size and approximate shape of Manhattan, but instead of skyscrapers and crowded streets it has country roads leading through vineyards and passing wineries with more or less nice tasting rooms. The tasting always costs money, but you can taste some truly delicious wines.

We first went to Quivira Winery which has excellent wines and a rather plain tasting room with the only decoration of these old vines high up on the wall.

Then on to Dry Creek Vineyard which makes my favorite Zinfandel and we ended our tour at Francis Ford Coppola Winery. This winery has developed in a center of fun for the entire family especially in the warmer seasons since it has a big pool, lots of entertainment for the kids, an excellent restaurant, shops - and, of course, wine. Many of the bottles have artful labels which you can also buy as big posters.

We actually didn't want to taste the wine here - we were hungry and wanted something to eat. We had to wait about 30 minutes for a table, but waiting in a place like this doesn't get boring.

(The top picture was actually taken in the Dry Creek Vineyard tasting room)

I was so happy that Kaefer and Burçin got along so well. They had a lot of fun together and it didn't matter at all that there were 10 years age difference between them.

The food in the restaurant was excellent - I had a Moroccan dish which still makes my mouth water just thinking of it - and so was the wine. We rounded the meal out with chocolate mousse, espresso and cappuccino.

When we finally left it was dark, still raining, but the lights outside were beautiful.

Hubertus and Burçin left the next morning and Kaefer left in the early afternoon. Suddenly it became very quiet in our home again with just the Geek and I. The weekend felt like a mini vacation that provided us with lots of beautiful memories.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Market in the Lava

Hawai'i is always on my mind, lovely memories of the beautiful islands in the Pacific Ocean. In particular I love the Big Island, and today I just want to continue with photos and tales from our vacation there back in August of last year.

I told you about Kalapana and its devastating relationship with Madame Pele. Once a thriving fishing village it was wiped out by lava from Kīlauea in 1990. However, a small part of Kalapana is still left, and it turns into a very colorful spot on Wednesday nights when people come to visit the popular Uncle's Wednesday Night Market.

You can buy all sorts of things here, from organic soap to jewelry to t-shirts to hand carved spears and boomerangs. It is fun to walk around and just watch people, a colorful palette of unique characters.
The main attraction, however, is the food. So much to see, smell and taste. An abundance of flavor for all the senses. Let me give you a few samples.

Kaefer and I tried the Huli Huli chicken which was delicious, and the Geek couldn't resist the Paniolo steak with a spiced Kona coffee rub. The Huli Huli chicken with its sweet ginger soy was a hit and the Paniolo steak was delicious as well. We also tried the Banana Lumpia and some wonderful tropic lemonade.

When we left the almost full moon was in the clouds, illuminating the sky over the ocean. It was a gorgeous and a bit unreal scenery, very fitting for the location.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Chili Mac for Chilly Days

Our winter has been one of the wettest in recent years - which, on the one hand is good news as it puts an end to the four-year drought in most of our state. Today I read that nevertheless the California State Water Resources Control Board extended out state's emergency drought regulations at least until May which I think is very wise. On the other hand, so much rain has brought a lot of flooding and mud slides - and, of course, many gray and rather chilly days.

In order to beat the chill I cook chili - sort of. A couple years ago I found a recipe for this Southwest skillet chili mac, and it quickly has become a family favorite. The recipe says to put beef in it, and it certainly is delicious with it. However, since Kaefer has become a pescatarian and I also want to cut down on meat consumption, I have been re-thinking many of my recipes. This recipe is perfect for a filling vegetarian meal.

Here's what you need:

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, finely diced
  • 2 red bell peppers, diced
  • 3-5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 can diced tomatoes with liquid (14.5 oz)
  • 1 can tomato paste (6 oz)
  • 1 1/2 c water
  • 1 can corn, drained (15.25 oz)
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed (15 oz)
  • 1 1/2 c uncooked macaroni
  • 1 1/2 c shredded cheddar cheese

Heat the oil over medium low heat in a large cast iron skillet, dutch oven or oven-safe saute pan.

Add the onions and peppers and cook until beginning to soften (about 4 minutes), then add the garlic and cook for another minute or two.

Add the chili powder, cumin, cayenne, salt and pepper, and mix well.

Stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste, water, corn, beans and macaroni, mixing well.

Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the past is just tender.

Stir in half of the cheese, then sprinkle the rest on top and put it in the top third of your oven with the broiler on 400 F (200 C) and allow the cheese to brown. Then serve.

We like to eat tortilla chips with it, and - don't forget the wine!!!