Sunday, October 26, 2008

Road Trip Day 4, Oct : Mission: The Mission

After spending the night with Michael's godparents in Redwood City (about miles south of San Francisco) and attending church with them in the morning, we heading to San Francisco for our first real taste of the town. To me, that didn't mean Fiherman's Wharf or Ghiradelli Square - it meant the Mission District, home to an ethnically and economically diverse population, and also home of the Mission burrito.

The Mission burrito, like the neighborhood from which it comes, is down to earth and bursting with flavor. We parked across the street from Taqueria Cancucn (burritos in the Mission are sold from taquerias, just to confuse those not in the know), a garishly painted place sandwiuched between thrift shops and corner produce stands. Customers waited in the narrow corridor at the back of the taqueria to place their order, then wedged themselves onto a bench at one of the long pine tables after picking up a plastic basket containing foil wrapped goodness.

Supposedly these are the places that inspired chains like Taco del Mar. But I can tell you first hand, Taco del Mar has nothing on these burritos. Michael took one bite and let out a groan of happiness. "This is the best burrito I have ever had," he simply said, and I couldn't put it any better.

But what made these burritos so good? Michael's was brimming with carne asada, while I chose pollo asado, which is, to many burrito and taco aficionados, the most boring option. But the chicken in my burrito was, well, succulent is the best word I can think of. It was juicy and slightly spicy, studded with hearty chunks of avocado (which I love, love, love), not too much rice, and wrapped in a flaky tortilla.

Now, I have read reviews of various Mission taquerias online, and seems there is much contention as to which taquerias are really authentic and truly tasy. Some rave about Cancun while others respond with a resounding, "meh." I guess that maybe the people who live there are just spoiled for choice and have to find something to argue about. All I can say is that Michael and I, as Seattleites, just devoured our burritos and couldn't have been happier. And at around $5 apiece with chips and house made salsas included, these burritos are also a great deal.

There is more to the Mission than burritos, however. We stopped for a look at the beautiful Mission Dolores. Tours to see the interior of the mission are offered, but we declined in favor of seeing more of the neighborhood on foot. We passed through a diverse mix of historic San Francisco Victorian row houses, some freshly painted and well tended, others crumbling under peeling paint. Small shops and restaurants lined the ground floors of many of the buildings, randing from pawn shops to trendy tapas bars.

Tempted by the sight of a line snaking out the door of a shop advertising fresh made organic ice cream, we got dessert at the Bi Rite Cremaery. Back on the street we enjoyed toasted cocnut and malted vanilla with peanut brittle and milk chocolate ice cream. Thick and creamy, the ice cream was a real treat (although we both agreed that we favor our own local organic ice creamery, Seattle's Molly Moon's).

For science fiction and fantasy lovers, Borderlands Books is a must. This little shop is crammed with new and used books spanning the full breadth of these genres. While we didn't buy anything, I was tempted by a lovely illustrated edition of the complete tales of Hans Christian Andersen.

We also managed to spot a few of the murals for which this area is famous, including the exceptionally colorful paintings that line the San Francisco Women's building. There are many more we unfortunately did not have the chance to see.

If You Go:
Taqueria Cancun
1003 Market Street, San Francisco

Mission Dolores
3321 16th Street, San Francisco

Bi-Rite Creamery
3692 18th Street, Sand Francisco

Borderlands Books
866 Valencia Street, San Francisco

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Road Trip Day 3, October 4: San Francisco Here We Come!

South of Redwoods State and National Parks, the 101 leaves the coastline and heads inland, full of twists and bends. With redwood trees still towering on both sides, this road just screams cross-country motor race. The smooth curves in the asphalt just beg for speed... oh, wait! Did I just say that? What I meant to say was speeding is VERY dangerous and you should ALWAYS follow the posted limit and take corners with caution. Yes, that's it - that's what I really meant to say. And now that we've relived that flashback to Driver's Ed, let's move on, shall we?

So, after hours of cruising (but always following proper following distance and never, ever exceeding the speed limit, I'm sure) through forested hills and dales, it was getting late and we were still hours away from Redwood City. Not knowing where to find a good spot to eat, we pulled off the highway in Ukiah, heading into Old Town. After scouting out the streets we settled on dinner at the Ukiah Brewing Company. A low-key place in a historic building with amazingly high ceilings, it looked like the best bet.

Michael ordered the pulled pork sandwich while I chose the fried fish sandwich (what can I say? I know I just ate fish & chips the day before, but I'm a sucker for the fried fish; I ate fish & chips three days in a row once while in England). And since this was a brewing company, of course we had to try the beer.

All in all, the food was very good and fresh, if not exceptional. Michael's pulled pork was tender and smokey, while the fish sandwich was fresh and enhanced by red onion, tomato, and red leaf lettuce . The only complaint I have is that the batter, which was rather delicate, couldn't quite stand up to the tartar sauce and lost most of it's crunch.

One thing of note, however, is that the Ukiah Brewing Company uses almost all organic ingredients. Because of this, the fare is perhaps a couple of bucks more than similar food might be at some pubs (although I've certainly more expensive pub grub elsewhere, too), but as a proponent of using organic, and most importantly local, ingredients when possible, I found this to be worth the price.

Of the half dozen or so beers on tap, we tried the Pilsner and the 10 Guilder, a red ale. Now, I do love a good beer, but I mainly focus on wheat beers and different Belgain styles, so I don't feel I'm the best judge of hoppy beers like the ones served at Ukiah. But I did enjoy the 10 Guilder, and think it's a good choice for those who like a full flavored beer that isn't too heavy on the hops.

By the time we finished with dinner the sun had set and we were in a hurry to get back on the road. After not quite two hours of driving, I called out excitedly to my sleeping husband, "Look! Wake up! It's the Golden Gate!"

Across the Golden Gate we came - maybe not back where we started from, but I was bubbling with excitement. As were crossing the bridge, Michael commented about a toll, but I sure didn't know what we was talking about. We were here, San Francisco straight ahead, and - wait, what was that up ahead? Could it be - ? Were those, just possibly, toll booths?

Sure enough, as somehow every person we've told this to since seems to already know, the Golden Gate is, in fact, a toll bridge. And not only that, but they only take cash, six dollars to be exact, which, funnily enough, was the amount we had already spent (well almost) on parking at Redwoods State Park earlier that day.

"Do you accept credit or debit cards? A check?" I hopefully asked the woman at the booth.

"I'm sorry, cash only," she informed me. But what was I to do? We'd already crossed the bridge; there was no place to pull off or turn around.

The woman was actually very pleasant about the whole thing, saying we may get a notice in the mail requesting we pay the $6.00, but if we did we should just contest it since we were from out of state and knew no better.

In short, in our first day in California we managed to smuggle in fruit, stiff the State Parks nine cents on their parking fee, and just completely cop out on paying the toll to cross what is possibly the world's most famous bridge. And, yeah, I did speed a little - just a little, mind you - driving through the redwoods. I guess California must just bring out the renegade in the Rouses.

If You Go:

The Ukiah Brewing Company offers good organic food and beer (a true California experience) and sometimes live music, too!:

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Road Trip Day 3, October 4: I Remember Redwood Trees

Our day got off to a good start with breakfast in Bandon at the Minute Cafe. I got the giant cinnamon roll I'd been craving and proceeded to slather it with butter (hey, I was on vacation - time to go all out, right?), while Michael enjoyed a plate of corned beef hash, hashbrowns, and a buttermilk biscuit. I took the fall and ate the eggs that came with his meal - incomprehensibly, that boy just doesn't like eggs.

Our ultimate goal for the day was to reach Redwood city, about 30 miles south of San Francisco, where we would spend the next two nights with Michael's godparents. In the meantime, we had a lot of driving to do and some real redwoods to explore. The coast was still shrouded in fog, but I was thrilled to see my first glimpses of the southern Oregon shore and northern California. Having grown up firmly ensconced in the northwest corner of our state, I'd actually never made it to this part of the country before. The 101 offered sweeping views of rugged sea stacks fighting a slowly losing battle with the elements around Cape Sebastian and the gorge-like drive around thickly forested Humbug Mountain offered just a glimpse of this incredible region.

Before long we were at the state border.

"Crap!" I exclaimed. "We have Oregon fruit in car, and I hear they ask if you have fruit when coming into California."

Sure enough, they really do ask if you have fruit. We lied. Actually, what Michael said, upon being asked, "Do you have any fruit?" by the border guard was, "Uh, not really, no." The guard looked momentarily confused but let us pass.

So there we were in California, winding through forests of massive redwoods, snacking on peanut butter pretzels and illegal Oregonian plums. We made a detour in Crescent City to pick up some hickory smoked dry jack cheese at the Rumiano Cheese Company store. We then stopped to say hello to my old childhood hero, Paul Bunyan. As a four-year-old, I was enamored of Paul and his blue ox, Babe. I was also under the mistaken impression that the logger's name was really Tall Bunyan, and when I discovered it was Paul my heart broke a little. Tall was the perfect name for this giant! What kind of a wimpy name was Paul, anyway?

I'm not sure what my four-year-old self would have thought of the enormous talking Paul Bunyan that guards the entrance to the Trees of Mystery. Thrilled, probably. I think this Paul was a bit disappointed that we didn't actually stay and pay the $14 per person entry fee to visit these mysterious trees. Maybe another time, Paul.

Determined to squeeze a short hike in, I scoured the little Best Short Hikes in Redwood National and State Parks book I had borrowed from the library. We chose to visit Fern Canyon in the Prairie Creek region of Redwoods State Park.

Perhaps the small lake that covered the road after we turned off the 101 should have been a warning. Turn back, before it's too late! But, inspired by the SUVs and pick-ups ahead of our little Pontiac Vibe, we took the plunge - quite literally - and waded through this small pond of a mud puddle. Oh, what the heck, we're in the land of tall tales, after all! This was a body of water so wide, we had to roll down the windows, grab hold of a passing branch and row ourselves across. And would you believe it, a fish jumped right into Michael's lap! But since he's only a fan of the kind that come battered and fried with tartar sauce on the side, he threw it right back.

After a few miles of winding through pristine redwoods, we reached a pay station for the Fern Canyon area. And although my little guidebook had been published in 2005 and claimed that the day use fee was a measly $2, it had evidently increased to a whopping six bucks! Whopping to us, that is, because we only had $3 in our posession. A thorough search of all pockets, wallets, backpacks, and car crevasses turned up an additional $2.91 in change, as well as a Canadian penny and 4 Croatian kunas. I thought about throwing these last two coins in to make up for our missing nine cents, but thought better of it when I saw that the little envelope stated "no foreign currency". Having already broken California law once that day we were trying to stay on the straight and narrow. "Sorry! This is all we had," I wrote in tiny letters at the bottom of the tiny envelope.

Our trials had only just begun, however. It was at this time that the grey skies decided to let loose and rain. We attempted to drive to the trailhead, but were blocked by another enormous puddle. This time we took the hint from other cars parked on our side of the pond, parked our car, and swam across on our own. After what felt like miles, we made it to the actual trailhead. The rain was pounding down like bowling balls, and this is the reason I took no photos on this hike. By the time we got back we were soaked to the bone through three layers of clothing and mushrooms were already sprouting from our shoulders.

Fern Canyon is gorgeous, though. If you can go on a day when the rain isn't strong enough to send knock over a herd of elk and if you can scrounge up six bucks ahead of time (although by the time you go it may well cost ten), I highly recommend it. The site of a former mining operation, the steep walls that were once scars of the mining industry are now covered with a thick, emerald green carpet of maiden hair ferns. Nearby is a windswept beach and meadows where you can frequently spot elk (we saw a couple of impressive bucks and a doe with her calf).

The rain stopped about the time we got back to the car and forded the lake in our path once more. Soon we were on the road again, winding our way back to 101 and crossing the majestic mud puddle to reach the highway. And although I can't be sure, I think I caught a glimpse of Babe the Blue Ox peering over the tops of the redwoods to see if the rain had really stopped.

If You Go:
For a hearty breakfast in Bandon with great service, go to the Minute Cafe:
145 2nd St.
Bandon, OR 97411

When in Crescent City and in need of some tasty cheese, try the Rumiano Cheese Comapny (unfortunately they don't sell their own cheese pre-sliced for picnicking, and the only bread they had were frozen loaves of La Brea to be baked at home):
511 9th Street
Crescent City, CA 95531

You, too, can visit Paul Bunyan (and even have a conversstion with the big guy) and other sights both tacky and awe-inspiring at the Trees of Mystery:

Find more information about Prairie Creek Redwood State Park online at:

Friday, October 17, 2008

Road Trip Day 2, October 3: Let the Feasting begin!

Now, you don't think I could possibly talk about one whole day of our trip without bringing up food, do you? No, I've decided that the food is SO important that it demands postings of its own, dedicated to the art of eating while on the road. Let's just say that Buy Nothing Month was now over with a vengeance!

Our first official stop after leaving my parents' place was the South Beach Fish Market. This place should never, ever be confused with South Beach, Florida, or the South Beach Diet (whatever that is, anyway). Ever. One look at this place, pictured here, should convince you that this is the real Oregon deal - fresh seafood, fresh seafood, and more fresh seafood.

I had read that the South Beach Fish Market had the best fish & chips on the Oregon coast. Unfortunately I haven't been able to sample nearly enough seaside fish & chips joints to agree that this statement is objectively true, but I can say what they serve is darn good. The batter is light, almost tempura-like, and the fish really shines. Michael ordered the halibut version, while I stuck with the less expensive traditional lingcod. While both options were good, we both agreed that it was work the extra three or four bucks for the halibut. This fish was so flaky and sweet, with not a hint of the "fishiness" that can plague all but the freshest catch. The fries were crinkle cut, not as good as house-made, but still not bad for all that.

Good as the battered fish was, it was a shame to leave without trying any of the other offerings, which ranged from crab and shrimp cocktails to whole crabs that were cooking in the giant kettles out front. I was simply to full to think about another helping of any kind, but I did buy some canned Oregon line-caught tuna that I'm eager to sample.

While lunch was good but basic, for dinner we splurged on fancier fare at the Wild Rose in Bandon. Only a short drive from Bullards Beach State Park and a few blocks off of 101, Michael and I both agreed that the Wild Rose was a step above any previous camping dinners we'd had. I admit I was a bit shocked when I saw the prices after we were presented with the menu; I hadn't expected cheap, but I had thought there would probably be entrees under $20; not so. However, unlike the Seattle restaurants that are currently our city's "It" eateries, entrees here included your choice of a house salad or soup of the day. This appeased me somewhat, and I reminded myself that Buy Nothing Month was over, after all, and it was OK to go a little crazy.

And once I tasted my soup, and then the sea scallops I chose for my entree, I had absolutely no regrets about the choice I'd made. The sea scallops, in particular, were amazing. Truly, I have never had better scallops in my life. Succulent, sweet, sauteed to perfection so that the outsides were crisp and seasoned while the insides melted in the mouth, I felt that I was in heaven. And the artfully arranged fennel, arugula, and grapefruit on the side were the perfect complement. The only bad thing I could say was that the seasoning on the scallops was just the tiniest bit on the salty side. Michael, meanwhile, enjoyed a lovely dish of gnocchi with blue cheese, bacon, and caramelized garlic and shallots.

But I can't forget our starters - the carrot soup that came with my meal was also wonderful. I had to offer Michael a taste. "Wow," he said. "Why is this soup so much better than the carrot soup you made last week?" Gee, thanks, dear. But I couldn't really argue - this thick, brilliant orange soup flecked with cracked pepper was far more flavorful than the soup I'd made at home the week before. Michael's salad was also particularly good. We each washed it all down with a glass of Oregon wine - pinots, of course - a pinot noir for him and pinot grigio for me.

Now, before you go thinking that this all sounds unbeatably delicious, but a little pretentious, let me assure you that the Wild Rose itself is a pretty humble joint. The food may be fine dining, but the atmosphere is Oregon coastal casual - staff in jeans, simple wood booths that look like they spent time under the open ocean spray, a sloping floor covered with industrial grey carpet, and framed photo prints of black and white nostalgia shots featuring bubble gum factories and beauty queen spaghetti feeds.

Unfortunately I have no photos to share of this meal, as the one nod that they make to a traditional haute cuisine dining atmosphere is to keep the lighting very low, so all my hand-held no flash shots are a bit blurry and dark. Well, we can't have it all; I'll just have to be content with having had perfect scallops once in this lifetime.

If You Go:
South Beach is located just south of Newport. When coming from the north, you'll see it on the right-hand side of 101 not long after you cross Newport's iconic bridge. For more information (and how to order their great products online) see:

Unfortunately the Wild Rose has no website. It is located at 130 Chicago Street in Bandon, phone number 541-347-4428.

Road Trip Day 2, October 3: Cruising the 101, Oregon Style

Every time I drive Highway 101 down the Oregon coast, I fall in love. Oregon is blessed with having some of the most beautiful, pristine, and yet accessible beaches anywhere. True, they don't offer the magic of swimming in tropical aquamarine waters or lounging under palm trees on warm sand, but even under gray skies the Oregon coast astounds me. On Day 2 of our journey Michael and I headed from the small town of Sheridan, where my family lives, to Lincoln City on the coast, continuing along 101 as far as Bandon.

True to form, the weather was windy and blotted by off-and-on rain showers. But the beauty is still there in the windswept pines and craggy cliffs and sea stacks that are routinely battered by swirling white surf. In October, bursts of fire red and golden orange punctuate the grey and green landscape as maples and alders show off their fall colors amid the evergreens.

When the weather is truly bad, however, it can be most enjoyable to enjoy the scenery from the warmth of one's car. Michael and I made only one stop for sightseeing purposes, pulling over at the viewpoint for Heceta Head Lighthouse, a sight familiar to just about anyone who has ever received free scenic calendars from their local bank or drugstore. In those calendars, the sky is always a freshly scrubbed blue that reflects off the water and dotted with no more than a few benign white puffs of clouds. In person, there is a depth even under an overcast sky that can't be captured by a camera.

The other bonus to stopping at Heceta Head was the view of hundreds of sea lions lying on the rocks directly below us. Dozens more could be seen bobbing up and down in the sea as waves came crashing in. Just down the road not even half a mile is the famous (or infamous) Sea Lion Caves, where you can pay to take an elevator for a closer look at these blubbery sea mammals, but I would say you get a pretty good look at them from here for free.

We arrived at Bullards Beach State Park, just north on Bandon, in mid-afternoon and checked into our yurt for the night. This was our first yurting experience, but I can say that we are now true yurt fans. For only $30, many Oregon State Campgrounds, especially those on the coast, offer yurts for the night. For that low price you get a cute canvas-sided, cone-topped tent with a tiny front porch, picnic table, and fire pit. Inside is a bunk bed with a double bed on the lower level, a futon, small table and chairs, a heater, and an electric light. A bubble skylight lets in plenty of sunshine (if there is any), and windows on the sides can be covered for with sturdy canvas flaps for privacy or opened to the light. We were pleased to note that the heater really did work, and the yurt made a perfectly cozy little cabin, the only downside being that rain pelting against the tarp roof is loud enough to be a real disturbance when you're trying to sleep (not so different from a regular tent, after all).

When going yurting, remember to bring your own bedding, and you'll still have to share the campground restrooms unless you spring for the "deluxe" yurts they offer at Umpqua Lighthouse State Park (still a good deal at $66.00 per night in high season, with enough room to easily sleep seven).

Also, Oregon yurts are insanely popular and book up well in advance. I went online two months before our trip to try to book one and Bullards Beach was one of the only places, out of more than a dozen coastal parks offering them, that had any available - and this was for a date in October, not exactly peak season! But if your least favorite part of camping is setting up and tearing down the tent, and you always wished it was just a little more, well, comfortable, yurts are the way to go.

If You Go:
Oregon State Parks (info on where to go, including Heceta Head and Bullards Beach, and how to reserve yurts!):

In the Beginning: The Great Road Trip of 2008: Day 1, October 2: Oregon, I Am Coming Home

To be honest, I can't say our road trip started with a bang. There were no trips to the airport, eager with anticipation for a city never before seen at the end of a too-long flight, no champagne bottles smashed off the bow of a ship while excited passengers wave streamers as they pull out of port. It started like any other weekend trip to my family's place in northwestern Oregon; Michael picked me up early from work while Lucy wiggled frantically in the back seat before anxiously settling in for a long ride as I took the wheel.

And off we were like a speeding bullet! We made good time, in fact, until we hit Portland at 5:30, still in plenty of time to participate in the evening's rush hour crush. We were all glad to finally make it to my parents' for dinner, an unusual mix of leftovers to which both my mom and I contributed, with a couple choice cheese selections thrown in for good measure.

The real trip, of course, would begin the following morning. Over the next week (or two - however long it takes) I'll be reliving the memories and offering reviews of where we visited and what we ate (and, oh baby, did we eat!). Enjoy the armchair view!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Blog Gone Fishin'

I am currently on vacation, hence there have been no new posts; I just don't have regular access or time for story telling... yet. When I return Rutabaga Stories will be better than ever because I will get to do what I've been waiting for - travel writing, complete with more photos! All about our California Road Adventure coming up!