|Whipped Feta, Jams & Homemade Crisp Flatbread|
Cruise down the road long enough and you're bound to hit a pothole eventually. With luck, it will be nothing more than a small divot in the asphalt and a minor jolt. With bad luck, it will be a gaping maw in the earth and a jarring, head-flopping, rim-bending impact. Even when that kind of pothole is figurative, like the one Mr. Noodle and I encountered, it's enough to mar an otherwise perfect roadtrip.
Nebraska to the snowy peaks of Colorado, then west through the sun-baked buttes of New Mexico and Arizona into the sun-bathed beaches of Southern California, Mr. Noodle and I turned our sights northward. Re-energized by our stay in Redondo Beach and sated by Sprinkles cupcakes, we exchanged cheery farewells and see-you-soons with my family and continued up the coast toward our next stop: San Francisco.
If our intent had been to get there as quickly as possible, then going 70 miles per hour on a multi-lane freeway would have served. But what's the point of having a front-seat view when all there is to see are blurred billboards and the rear bumpers of other cars? Instead, we chose a leisurely pace along one of the most beautiful roads in the world: California State Route 1, known by various names along its 655 miles, but most often referred to simply as Highway 1. From the moment we picked up the journey near San Luis Obispo on the Central Coast until we detoured into a charming little fishing town just south of San Francisco, the sights were nothing less than spectacular.
Seals, Hills and Moss...
There were magnificently corpulent elephant seals lounging on a beach near San Simeon, while frothy waves and sunny wildflowers softened the craggy line of rocks and cliffs along the shore. In Big Sur, we drove on a forest-shaded road dappled here and there by patches of sunlight, leading to a breathtaking vista that revealed where ocean blue and evergreen touched, as a wisp of fog gently encroached on the scene.
|Having a flabulous time on the beach|
|Wildflowers and waves|
|Ocean blue and evergreen|
However, this won't be a rapturous account of our SF eats, though our experiences more than proved the city's gastronomic reputation is well deserved. From Puerto Rican cuisine in Haight-Ashbury to dim sum in the Richmond district, every bite we had was a delight. However, it is the equally fabulous fare found outside of the city limits that deserves some attention.
Eating Off the Beaten Track
In and around the town of Pescadero (Sp. fishmonger) forty miles south of San Francisco, there are excellent artisanal food purveyors, such as Harley Farms, a farmstead goat dairy specializing in sublime cheeses like chèvre and feta, beautifully presented with pressed edible flowers or studded with dried fruits and nuts. Just a hop-skip away is Phipps Country Store with its shelves of homemade jams, organic rice and flour, and dried herbs from their own garden. But the real treasure troves are the bins o' beans that hold up to 75 varieties (of which many are grown by Phipps), from Adzuki Black to Zuni Gold and every shape, size and color in between.
To sate immediate hunger, however, head over to the Pescadero Country Store on Stage Road, the town's main drag, where menu offerings include deli sandwiches made to order, smoky BBQ cooked on outdoor grills and pizzas baked in the store's own brick oven. Ever the pizza devotees, Mr. Noodle and I enjoyed a flavorful four-cheese roasted garlic pie that was so memorable, I made our own version back at home. It might have been a Roadtrip Dinner Redux, if not for the aforementioned pothole that finally loomed on the horizon.
From Awe to Ewwww...
After a couple of fun- and food-filled days in the Bay Area, Mr. Noodle and I once again hit the road, heading toward Oregon. This leg of our trip was going to be particularly long, so we opted for speed on the interstate, but not before we took a detour for a drive among the majestic Sequioas of Northern California. On the Avenue of the Giants and dwarfed by massive trunks, the Big Maroon looked more like a wind-up toy, while we could only peer upward in a futile attempt to see where, or if, these awesome ancient trees reached their tops. Exhilarated by the beauty of the redwood forest but exhausted by the long drive, we looked forward to respite in Eugene, Oregon.
|The Big Maroon, dwarfed|
Talk about a smooth ride coming to a screeching halt! As much as we wanted to escape for dinner, Mr. Noodle and I were simply beat from 10+ hours of driving. Thank goodness for Bay Area goodies - some Harley Farms goat feta, thoughtfully refrigerated & well-packed by my sister-in-law the previous evening, as well as a sweet jalapeño jam and coriander-garlic naan purchased at the Alemany Farmers' Market in south San Francisco. Along with local Oregon smoked salmon and a bottle of wine, we managed to have an enjoyable meal in spite of our icky surroundings.
Roadtrip Dinner Redux: Oregon Hors d'Oeuvres
It would have been a shame to have a corporate brand failure leave a stain on our roadtrip memories, so when Mr. Noodle and I returned to Minnesota, I set about recreating our Eugene dinner as an appetizer in a much more pleasant setting.
Like taking the freeway over the scenic route, I could have saved time and effort with my redux by using ready-made elements. But where's the fun in that? Still, there were limits to my ambition, such as making goat's milk feta cheese, à la Harley Farms, from scratch. Instead, I did the next best thing and made a feta-based spread. In place of spicy-sweet jalapeño, I cooked up a duo of late summer fruit jams, while local smoked trout from Star Prairie, Wisconsin replaced Oregon smoked salmon. Finally, to hold it all up, I baked my first batch of homemade flatbread crackers.
Whipped Feta with Artichokes
(Adapted from Sausage, Whipped Feta and Artichoke Crostini by Debi Shawcross)
This recipe comes from chef, author and cooking instructor Debi Shawcross, whose blog Table Talk features many elegant yet easy dishes for entertaining. The moment I read her Sausage, Whipped Feta and Artichoke Crostini post, I knew that it would be perfect for recreating the creamy-soft texture of Harley Farms' goat milk feta. For the original and many other delicious recipes, please visit Debi's website!
8 ounces sheep & goat's milk feta (such as Mt. Vikos)
8.5 ounces artichoke hearts (I used canned artichokes in water, drained)
1 whole head of roasted garlic, skins removed
1-2 teaspoons olive oil
splash of balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth.
Easy Fruit Jams: Raspberry and Plum Basil
I made these jams because I did not want to waste some lovely fruits that were languishing in the fridge. The so-very-simple technique comes via Cooking.com's Easy Fresh Fruit Jam recipe.
Plum Basil Jam*
4 red plums, peeled (leave some skin on for color) and coarsely chopped = 1.5 - 2 cups
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon fresh basil, finely chopped
1 small metal or glass bowl
1 large bowl filled with ice cubes
Place all ingredients in a medium-size pot and cook over medium-high heat. Be careful not to be splattered by bubbling hot jam!
When fruit has broken down and mixture has thickened, remove from heat and transfer jam to small bowl. Set bowl inside larger bowl filled with ice and stir jam gently until it thickens even more as it cools completely. Transfer to clean glass jars and refrigerate. Use the same process for raspberries and other fruits!
*Please note that these jams are not 'canned', which is a process using sterilization techniques to preserve foods for long periods of time. As such, they should be consumed as soon as possible.
Rather than a soft, chewy naan such as the one we had in Oregon, I decided to make this incredibly easy Gourmet.com recipe for Crisp Rosemary Flatbread. Wanting to ensure that the flavors of the whipped feta and its toppings would stand out, I left off the rosemary and simply sprinkled the crackers with black lava and pink Himalayan salts.
For complete measurements and instructions, please check out the original recipe.
Unbleached all-purpose flour
Sea salt for sprinkling
Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt, then add water and oil. Stir until a soft dough forms, then knead on a smooth surface. Divide into smaller pieces, place on a sheet of parchment paper and roll into 10-inch rounds, as thin as possible. Brush top with oil and sprinkle with salt. Transfer dough and paper onto a baking sheet and bake until golden. When done, remove from oven, let cool and break into pieces.
Spread whipped feta on flatbread pieces and top with sweet jams, smoked fish or cured meats.