Author Archives: Greta

Glass Beach

P1100066 We discovered by the end of our trip that sometimes the really cool stuff is badly advertised, or hard to find information on. Glass Beach is a prime example of this. If I hadn’t heard about it in a National Geographic Kids magazine several years previously, we would have driven right by on our way north from Mendicino. Fort Bragg, CA used the beach, at that time as plain and ordinary as beaches come, as a dump from the forties all the way until 1967 when the state water control board closed the it for this purpose. Several cleanup efforts were made, removing the largest pieces of garbage, like broken-down cars and kitchen appliances, but they couldn’t get everything. The tides eventually broke down what was left, until the beach itself was made up of weathered glass and tumbled scraps of metal.

There are two beaches open to the public, on state park property. One is labeled easy to get to, the other difficult. It isn’t so hard really, if you can manage a flight of stairs without a handrail you should be fine. The harder to acsess beach is much more isolated from people and the full force of the Pacific Ocean, and so is much more impressive. Mostly made up of white, brown, and green glass, scattered with the occasional blue, the rare red, pieces of pottery, and scraps of metal, it’s best visited when the tide is low. Though its shine is somewhat muted by the milky exterior and sanded texture, the glass within a few inches of the shore that is wetted by each small wave will glitter in the sun. They tell you not to take any glass, for fear of depleting the beach, but I wasn’t arrested for keeping a small handful. P1100057

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Cajun in California

After actually spending some time in New Orleans, it was interesting to go to Angeline’s in Berkeley, CA, a New Orleans restaurant. When the beignets were delivered, it felt just like being back at Morning Call Coffee. Fluffy, fried dough drenched in enough powdered sugar to make it seem like it snowed in California for the first time.

The hushpuppies, though more of a southern than a New Orleans thing, were served with herbed butter like at Leon’s, but, although good, lacked that spice that made them over the top fantastic.

I may be biased by having tried some of the best gumbo in human/Cajun history, but I think Angeline’s has fallen a bit short. It was kind of bland, a little thin, and there was no potato salad on the menu to pour it over.

While we were in New Orleans, I never ended up getting Jambalaya (too full of beignets, king cake, and gumbo), so I have nothing to compare this to. It seemed a little heavy on the rice, with little sausage or vegetables mixed in. However, it did make great breakfast the next day.

All in all, Angeline’s probably has the best and most authentic Cajun/Creole food in California, and if they stepped up their gumbo game, she could probably even hold her own in the Big Easy.

Palo Altoan Vietnamese

P1090931 The last time we were in Palo Alto, about six years ago, we went to a Vietnamese restaurant called Xahn. I was too young to appreciate good food, but my parents were very impressed. They said it was the best Vietnamese they had ever had.When we returned there, sadly, I was still underwhelmed. That isn’t to say it wasn’t good, but, well, it was no Fish Sauce. The beef noodle salad was fresh, but lacked the distinct flavors of the lemongrass beef at our favorite Portland restaurant, and the duck we had was downright boring, although it was presented nicely.P1090934
We had better luck at the second Vietnamese restaurant we tried. Tamarin, just a few blocks away from Xahn, had five-spice braised beef that literally fell apart when I tried to pick it up with chopsticks. The spices did nothing to mask the beef flavor itself, only enhanced it.

Fashion

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On this trip, I’ve started developing, or rather, rediscovering a taste in fashion. It may have started at the Inaugural Ballgowns of First Ladies in the American History museum in D.C., or earlier, with the spectacularly fashionable and practical tourist in Yellowstone who had to be French. Either way, by the time I got back home, my practice of pulling a random shirt and pair of pants from the drawer had been all but abolished.
I was kind of surprised by which of the ball gowns in Washington I liked. I hadn’t thought of myself as someone who had strong opinions on fashion beyond, “That is totally impractical.” DSCF6190I thought Michele Obama’s was quite overdone, and much too sparkly where I liked the simple elegance of Nancy Reagan’s.DSCF6192 I wonder if next  year, the President’s Inaugural outfit will be added to the collection.
At the Folk Art museum in Santa Fe, NM, I found myself strangely drawn to the flamenco dresses. The trains (trails, tails? I may be more interested in fashion, but not enough to learn the terminology) were beautiful, although they seem like a pain in the neck to to drag around. The best part of the exhibit was the dress-up area. Yet more proof that I am still a little kid at heart was how delighted I was to try on a big ruffly dress. DSCF9700
P1090995By the time we reached California, I was beginning to acknowledge my newfound interest in fashion, so when the Oscar de la Renta Exhibit at the DeYoung in San Francisco was recommended to us, I was raring to go. It was especially praised for its exhibit design, which was truly exquisite. In the entry hall, wooden skyscrapers lent backdrops to what was considered everyday wear, though the plainest among the outfits would be sure to turn heads. DSCF1478
A screen showing footage of gardens played behind some of the most outlandish dresses I’ve ever seen. I don’t care how elegant you think you look, there is no purpose for a train that long. It will never naturally splay itself out like that, and no matter how clean your garden paths are, it will be full of grit by the end of a five minute walk. Cut off, another dress could be made of its fabric.P1100011
The room beyond that was perhaps even odder. Mannequins with Mohawks in ball gowns, and the sign explaining it seemed to be talking about Vietnamese women’s empowerment. I think I may be missing something, and if anyone has any idea what it’s saying, please tell me!P1100015DSCF1487
Mirrors and sequins made the next room glitter like a disco ball. These were the dresses worn by people like Taylor Swift and Rihanna, and they were every bit as glamorous as you’d expect, although some of them made me wonder how Oscar and the woman wearing them had ever come to be regarded as fashion experts. My tomboy tendencies as well as the modernist views transferred to me by architect parents led to a distinct feeling that less is more where bows and sparkles are concerned. A simple red dress by the exit was not one of these atrocities.P1100028 The fabric layers were reminiscent of the scales on a butterfly’s wing, and part of me wondered whether I would rather have spent the hour in the science museum next door. Fashion may be a new passion, but it won’t outweigh my old interests.
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Monterey Bay Aquarium

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When I was little, my dad recorded Nature videos for me, including one about Monterey Bay. Having watched it a million times, I’m rather knowledgeable, and only a little obsessed.

The most unique exhibit is the kelp forest. Kelp, thirty or more feet tall and capable of growing a foot a day in optimum conditions, is notoriously hard to keep, needing a constant supply of seawater. To combat this, they designed and installed a giant pump that continuously pushes water through the exhibit. P1090616
On the way out, it also goes through the tidal exhibits, and over the big tunnel that kids love to scream in.P1090651

The shark and tuna exhibit had the largest single pane of aquarium glass in the world until it was topped by one in Japan. Then that broke, raining broken glass and sharks down on onlookers, and the one in Monterey Bay was back to being the largest. Sitting there in front of that giant portal into another world, I was struck by how large tuna can grow, unconstrained by gravity. They were much larger than the sharks, although they didn’t look as funny as the hammerheads, or even this baby leopard shark.P1090741

I was honestly less impressed with their jellyfish. Monterey Bay was the first aquarium to learn how to cultivate and display jellies, but they didn’t have the same variety as the special exhibit in Baltimore. That being said, the sea nettles were as beautifully backlit as always. P1090794The famous sea otters were the central exhibit, the first thing you see when you walk under the fiberglass orcas hanging from the ceiling. The four females, Rosa, Abby, Kit, and Gidget, frolic under the awed gaze of visitors. Their fur, thickest in the world with over a million hairs per square inch, more than humans have on our entire bodies, keeps them dry in the cold water, but without blubber, they still have to eat up to a quarter of their body weight each day to stay warm. I’d highly recommend going to watch when they’re fed, but if you want a good view, get there at least five minutes before the scheduled time.P1090771

Despite their adorability, they weren’t my favorite exhibit. Once again, a temporary show takes the cake; Tentacles, the cephalopods. In the kelp forest area, the aquarium had two giant pacific octopodes (It isn’t octopi. That’s the Latin pluralization, and the word is Greek.), who weren’t hiding in some crevice for once, were cool, but paled in comparison to the variety of this exhibit. As well as the creatures themselves, it had art featuring the charismatic molluscs, including a drawing of the infamous ship-eating Kraken, painted octopus pots dating back to the twelfth century, and, personal favorite, an octopus shaped diving helmet.P1090817As cool as that was though, as soon as I spotted the squid tank at the end of the hall, I was lost to the air-breathing world. The only real squid I’d seen before were either dissected in fifth grade, or fried and delicious. Out of its class, squid are the masters of mobility. Streamlined bodies allow great speeds through the simple act of siphoning air in and shooting it back out into the ocean. There was even a fake tank where you could pump a handle and make a model squid spin around.P1090824

Nautiluses, the only shelled cehpalopod, haven’t changed much since the days when they were called ammonites. Large eyes allow them to see in the low light of the twilight zone, where they spend the daylight hours. At night, some ascend to the upper levels of the ocean, filling the pockets in their shell with air so they bob upward, and no one really knows why. Cephalopods are a mysterious group.P1090849

Octopuses (the most common and also correct pronunciation) are revered for their brains and their escape artist abilities. Sadly, I was not witness to any of this. My disappointment was lightened by the mimic octopus, whose long limbs and chromatophores allow it to disguise itself as almost any animal. Once again though, I was not privy to the octopuses’ secrets.P1090840Screen-Shot-2016-05-14-at-9.35.50-AM
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The cuttlefish though were proud to show off. Especially the appropriately-named flamboyants. Rainbow zebra stripes raced down their bodies from their mantle towards their rather stubby but no less colorful arms. P1090852Their eyes only added to the alien qualities, W-shaped pupils observing us as they wait patiently for the takeover. P1090867Flashing patterns can be used for communication, as well as hiding from predators andstunning potential prey, so it isn’t unreasonable to assume that cephalopods have an ocean-spanning network of spies and soldiers waiting to swarm into our cities when they flood.The most interesting things in the world are often also some of the scariest, and these ancient, plotting, shapeshifting buglers who can grow to enormous sizes are no exception. It’s no wonder to me that sailors feared the Kraken.

Even if the cephalopods have moved on by the time you go, don’t miss the Monterey Bay Aquarium if you’re ever in the area. Tickets are expensive, but for good reason. A single sea otter eats $15,000 worth of seafood every year, and the other exhibits aren’t cheap to maintain either. Don’t miss out on anything this aquarium has to offer, from otters to touch pools to penguins and octopuses and beyond.

Corkscrew

In my experience at least, Carmel Valley is prettier, less pretentious, and has better food than Carmel-by-the-Sea, although that macaroon we got after walking on the beach was delicious.  Despite its name, there is much more than wine to be enjoyed at Corkscrew.  A waiter greeted us while we were still admiring the brick pizza oven and the tantalizing aromas drifting out of it.  The best way to keep a customer, they seem to have found out, is to make your restaurant smell too good for them to even consider leaving.  Our table was by a bay window, from which we had views of both the green valley and the pizza oven door, which, for someone who likes being able to track their pizza like an impatient shopper will track an Amazon delivery, was a definite plus.

Pizza wasn’t the only thing on the menu, but for a teenager, there is really no other option.  And with ingredients like sausage, carmelized onions, and arugula, how could I resist?  The crust was crisp, and the meat flavorful, everything you want in a pizza.P1090888

Two things I have learned to love on this trip: duck, and having a dad who lets me sample/devour some of his duck.  Smeared with a citrus glaze, which I’m finding is a common and good way to prepare it, it was deliciously moist and succulent. P1090887

Despite being raised in Canada instead of Penn Cove, the mussels were fabulous. They were much larger than I was used to, but for their size they lost none of their flavor. Steamed and served in a simple broth with butter and garlic, much like we make them at home, they were delicious, and suffered little from being maybe not quite as fresh.P1090889

Our dessert experience was in no way undermined by already having had a slice of cafeteria chocolate cake at the aquarium for lunch.  I tried coffee ice cream for the first time in a few years, and actually liked it.  But the killer was this little tiny chocolate cake, smothered by more chocolate.  It somehow managed to be both rich and light and fluffy.P1090890

So if you’re in Carmel, don’t miss a drive down the valley.  And if you happen to be there around dinner time, well, now you know a good place to go.

House of Eternal Return

DSCF9899The House of Eternal Return is what happens when you give over 100 artists funded by George RR Martin a 20,000 square foot bowling alley in Santa Fe. It was lucky that a friend of mine had told me about it, because having only been open a month when we went, it hasn’t worked its way up through the ratings on Tripadvisor. This is not the kind of conceptual art people complain about not understanding as they stare at it on the wall. You can literally climb inside, over, under, and through this art. I think the best way to describe it is to call it a marvel of non-linear storytelling combined with a jungle gym and a carnival funhouse.DSCF9916When you first walk inside, it looks like a normal house. A Victorian from Mendicino, the Elsbergs, a normal family with two girls and a boy, own it, and it looks like they just left. Newspapers strewn across the kitchen table and everything. Then you start to find the portals. The fireplace, the kids’ closets, the door under the stairs, the refrigerator. DSCF9887I couldn’t stop thinking Pixar and Disney movies as I walked through. The mammoth skeleton behind the fireplace seemed straight out of Ice Age, and the door under the stairs led to a tropical rainforest that made you feel like Mowgli in Jungle Book. The strongest connection, at least to me, was how the yeti and the little trailer came together to make it feel like you’d just been banished through a door in Monster’s Inc. DSCF9895DSCF9910Part of me wonders if they have to send someone through when it closes to make sure no one’s hiding in there to spend the night. Then again, I’m not sure how effective one person could be, as there are literally a thousand places to hide. After two hours, I still kept stumbling into whole new sections. And I don’t see why anyone would want to spend the night alone there. Things that seem mystical in the daytime with lots of people nearby would easily turn to nightmare-inducing terrors at night, and it would seem quite possible that the shadow on the wall is being cast by a monster, not a coat rack.

The story itself would not help. Scattered through the place are kiosks with headphones. Little movies present clips of the humans’ lives, and how the dad of the family finds a way to tap into the vibrations of the universe to access a secret world. A deep rumbly voice tells about the Charter, the agreement between the Anomaly and the beings who spawned her, and a period before the creation of time. I won’t say too much, as I don’t want to ruin anything. You might be like Dad however, and not even notice the screens and headphones or that there’s any order to the place at all. It’s still a perfectly enjoyable experience.
DSCF9889So if you’re in Santa Fe, do not miss this. Bring your kids, they’ll love it, but don’t let them out of your sight. You’ll never find them again if you do.