Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Tahoe Arrival! (Grumpy Pants)

“Sort-of-Sabbatical” Day Nineteen, Thursday June 21

I catch my first glimpse of blue from CA 267 and I pump my fist in victory.  I don’t know if it’s from hearing my friend’s close held childhood memories about the area, or the fact that it is a landmark of the west still unknown to me, but I’ve been wanting to ride to Lake Tahoe for years.  At long last, I have arrived! 

Lake Tahoe from NV 431
This really wasn't my first view, but it felt just as grand!

The fly in the ointment is that I’m rolling in at the start of the weekend and, having been away from reliable internet for too many days, have no camping reservation.  Between my earlier experiences with “Campground Full” signs in CA, and the fact that more than one person raised an eyebrow upon hearing I planned to camp at Tahoe tonight without a reservation, I should feel lucky I’ve nabbed a spot only a few steps from the lake’s edge.  While Tahoe State Recreation Area is not the loveliest of campgrounds, there are countless diversions for me to pass the time between the moment my bike is safely parked before sunset and the time my head hits the stuff sack.    I can have an actual shower for the low, low price of 50 cents, watch the setting sun cast its colors on the mountains across the lake, dabble my feet in the cool waters of the Truckee River, watch ducklings catch a ride on momma’s back, find myself surrounded, at close range, by well over 50 Canada geese, access the 150 mile Tahoe Rim trail, and (how often does this happen?), later tonight, have just about anything I can imagine to eat (and drink!) all a few steps from my tent.  Tonight is a night of urban camping, and although it’s not my usual choice, it can occasionally be a welcome change from a cold granola dinner in the middle of the forest.  And while I enjoy the rhythm of rolling until mid-afternoon and hiking until sundown, tonight, my frustration with my inability to ride at night, usually a background grumble, chooses to surface to the forefront with a ferocity that takes me by surprise.

Tahoe City Walk (3)
Mom gives her ducklings a ride in the Truckee River.

To those of you who would say “Oh, just this once” or “It’s only a few miles,” I invite you to squint such that your eyelids are open no more than a atom’s width.  Really.  Got it?   Now, ride your motorcycle (or bicycle, or whatever) just this once, or just for a few miles. What'?  You can only see 10 feet in front of you?  Kind of-sort of-ish?  Now  you get it. Because that’s pretty much what I’m working with. Even deep shade disorients me. After dropping my bike in a familiar but dimly lit parking garage, unable to judge the turn into my space, I now know to stop, plant feet (I have to guess when to actually take my feet off the pegs, because I can’t really judge my speed when I’m coming to a stop), and paddle my way to safety.  Tunnels are no better, and as soon as I enter one, I am floating ten feet above my ride, no longer in contact with the road, or having any understanding of where my body (or motorcycle) is in space.  My eyes cling to the light at the end if I am, indeed lucky enough to be able to see it, or, perhaps, to the brake lights in front of me if there are some.  I am suddenly proverbially and literally religious. If you can now grasp the terror I have at being stranded after nightfall, perhaps now you understand why I opted to grab the first available campsite today, no matter what.  Whenever the topic arises in casual conversation with other riders, they always nod in agreement.  “I never ride at night.”  And then,  “Unless I can’t find a hotel, or I’m out for a late dinner.”   How nice to be able to make exceptions!  For me there are none.  Period.   A few days ago, I met a fellow rider who did, in fact, get it.  “I never ride without a tent.  It’s just too damn terrifying.”  I can’t tell you how validating it was to hear that.  To date, ophthalmologists offer a shrug, but no real assistance. Perhaps my eyes are dry. That is about as ludicrous as offering a starving child in Africa an oyster cracker for lunch.  Or a slight adjustment in my prescription?  Laughable.   “Huh,” the last one said.  “You lose depth perception, too? Interesting.” 

Tahoe City Tahoe Gal
The "Tahoe Gal."

While I generally make peace with this handicap, tonight I can not seem to manage it.  I’m all too aware that while I can enjoy the benefits of my current accommodations, I am practically without free will in choosing them.  My riding plans have me staying in the Tahoe area for three nights, and although I typically dislike the process of campsite “shopping,” today, for a change, I would like to scope out the various campgrounds before selecting one.  Quite simply, I am more than annoyed it’s not an option. In fact, I am so worried about not finding a site I not only pull into the first campground with vacancy, I feel I must grab the first available site without a preliminary survey loop, lest I be punished for my selectiveness. Tomorrow the hunt will begin again, because I am only allowed one night as a walk-in camper at my current location.

I am mad that my inability to ride at night seems to dictate my every move and that, despite the diversions I enjoy, they simply cover up the fact that I am, quite plainly, marooned until sunrise.  I might be in the Garden of Eden, but even so, I'm stuck there.  And if it's a creep-out campground, well I'm stuck there, too.  It’s not unusual for me to ride 400 miles with nothing more than one glove gas stops, (no time to take off the second glove!), to ensure I arrive at my destination in a timely fashion.

Tahoe City Geese
I am surrounded on all sides.

Tahoe City Geese (1)
 If you've ever seen a goose on the attack, neck poised at a threatening angle, you know to be wary.

Tahoe City Geese (2)
 Between my experiences at animal rescues, and the old video of my childhood dog being chased on a slippy slidey frozen pond - well, I know!

Long after nightfall, I look down at my meal at  Rosie’s Cafe and chuckle to myself at the absurdity of my complaint.  I should be here drinking this wine and eating this pizza not because I have to, but because I want to!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Bits and Scraps (Christmas 2012)

It’s a rare joy for me to do something whimsical without even the tiniest bit of effort expended to make it come out “just so.”    Here’s the product of the scraps from the Gingerbread Bass Project. It was never intended for public viewing, but what the heck.  It amused me greatly as I avoided my "to do" list for a few hours last weekend. I hope it brings you a smile, too.

Gingerbread Houses

The last time I made a gingerbread house I was in high school. I remember it distinctly, because as I stood at the kitchen counter, measuring cup* poised in the air, my father walked in the back door and grimly announced that our dog was dead.  She was not just a prize winning bird dog in the prime of her athletic and perfectly healthy life,  but the absolute apple of my eye.  I have no recollection of the finished gingerbread house (or even if I actually completed it), but I do recall crying as I opened my Christmas gifts a few days later.  Anyway, I say this only to have the happy occasion to report that "Miss Molly," who you met here, is alive and well, and, now that I think of it, quite a bit svelte-er than she was two months ago.

As much as I love to cook, I am not spending today up to my elbows in gingerbread, whipped egg whites and lobster, or soapy dishwater, but instead, am out riding at this very moment (isn't scheduled blog posting clever?) and am looking forward to having a lovely trout dinner appear before me upon my return.  My only task is to assemble the already made components of the pumpkin pastry requested by my host tonight.

Oh Joyous Christmas!

* I think there was Crisco in the cup, which makes no sense, since I (thankfully!) grew up in an All Butter Family.  They say trauma can affect the formation of memories.  This is my only explanation.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Last Supper

So, the world is ending tomorrow, eh?  If there ever was a time for a “ de luxe” dinner, it is now.

Le Menu (you supply the fun French accent) is specially designed to be knocked out after tonight’s 7pm symphony rehearsal.  I sincerely hope we can consume the vast majority of it before the stroke of midnight, because I'm not entirely sure how the Mayans accounted for that whole time zone thing.

Seared Foie Gras* with spicy apricot thyme compote on crouton, Jean Albrecht 2010 Alsatian Gew├╝rztraminer
Steamed Lobsters,* fresh green salad, artisan bread, Lous Bouillot Grande Reserve Perle de Vigne Sparkling Wine  (need I mention the vast quantities of melted butter?)
Cheese Course - it took some discipline to skip it, but I figured with the late hour, my guests might be flagging. In the end, my European culinary sensibilities revolted, and I pulled some gorgonzola out of the fridge for at least a bite before dessert.
Eight-layer Thunderbolt Dobos Torte (the extra layer for luck?), coffee

Tres snooty, n'est-ce pas?

Thunderbolt Dobos Torte
Four more layers hiding in the background, but the proportions would have been just silly! I left it at eight, plus the caramel end-of-the-world decor.

Okay, so it's the end of the world for someone.

Surely there will be thunderbolts (and scary Mexican masks) when the moment arrives, no?

The deconstruction begins.  Now I know I can safely stab the lightening INTO the cake.  I'll do it that way next time the world threatens to end.

What would you eat for your final meal?  And, more importantly, with which special people would you spend your final hours?  It’s an enlightening question.  My own answer surprised me.

If the world does end, I'll be happy not to pay the terrifying charges on my Mastercard incurred by this dinner.  If the world doesn’t end, I’ve got an excellent plan for the weekend. Leftovers.

*  Yes.  I said it. Live lobsters and foie gras.  Concerned about animal cruelty?  There’s a heck of a lot more in your average grocery store egg, even before you consider the sheer numbers of commercial laying hens. (News flash - “free range" ain’t what you think.  Read about it.)  And yes, every single one of the thirteen eggs in the torte was from a happy pastured hen and “certified humane.”
EDIT 12/22/12  - So, yeah, the world didn't end. I updated a few things on this post, including actually giving you a photo of the finished cake.  It also means I still might see my Ducati again, which is in the shop at the moment.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Daily Special: Gingerbread Double Basses

You say you’ve got two rehearsals and five performances over the next few days?  It's only sensible to say to yourself at such a time, "I think I'll bake and decorate some gingerbread double basses." It’s the least you can do for your bass playing, motorcycle riding, knowledgeable mechanic pen pal who has gone above and beyond the call of duty in helping you get your Ducati running. (You, dear readers, still don’t know the story on that, but I am getting to it very soon.  Really.)

Decidedly amateur piping, and not exactly anatomically correct, but definitely good for some laughs between Nutcracker performances and church gigs.  Note the classy yard sale bakeware.

Recipe: Make your standard gingerbread recipe, but double what you think the normal amount of spices should be. Then add a bracing dose of finely ground black pepper.  (Decide next time it needs more spices, more pepper, and wonder why you didn't add cardamom to the mix, since you add it to everything else.)  Decorate with standard issue royal icing (sturdy enough for the USPS, even if its taste is less than ethereal), the preparation of which is not recommended on humid days.  Fly in the face of danger, because today of all days, it's raining in Tucson, AZ.  Naturally.

In a flurry worthy of a chick-flick, run down the street to the post office, half packed box of cookies in hand, icing in hair, trailing packing materials, because (obviously) you ran out of tape and it is 4:15pm.

I really, really want to make a gingerbread house this month.  Except instead of walls and roof, it will have two wheels and say "Ducati" on the red candy gas tank.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Lassen Volcanic National Park

“Sort-of-Sabbatical” Day Eighteen, Wednesday June 20

It may have taken having narrowly escaped both a run in with an axe murderer and/or Bigfoot yesterday and near assault by dinosaurs this morning,  but I am actually glad to be headed away from the ever-mesmerizing Pacific Ocean.

Since I’ve been so cold while riding the last few days, I pass over a recommended bakery and begin my morning with what probably amounts to more calories than I usually eat in an entire day.   The hippy happy Blue Cafe in Arcata provides me a delicious veggie omelet, buttery biscuits, sausage, coffee, juice and… a power outlet.   Stomach and gizmos fully charged!  Go!

The Trinity Scenic Byway doesn’t start off promising, but - twists and turns and hills, oh my! - by the time I get further east, I find what very well  may be the sportiest section of asphalt since my day ride in Marin County.  The hairpins on the downhill slope are laid out before me with nothing to obstruct my view. And despite yesterday’s fun, I am more than ready to lean over the tank and explore the edges of my tires in earnest.  Except I’m moving so slowly I’m forced to carve out serpentines within my lane just to keep off the clutch.  I and at least 50 other cars are following a construction pilot car, creeping along at a painful pace for miles. It’s hot and getting hotter, and I am still wearing my wool riding clothes and electric vest.  By the time I reach Redding, the dash tells me it’s 102 degrees.  Even so, I am handling this weather challenge with much more grace than the cold conditions of two days ago, and I resist removing any layers because I look ahead and see snow.  Lots of it.  I know that within a half hour I will be Up There.

And here is Up There.  “There” being Lassen Volcanic National Park.  I had never even heard of it until I started planning my trip, but after seeing it on the map, I declared it a necessary destination.

Lassen Volcanic National Park (2)

I snap a photo of the bike. Why have I taken so few of it, when it's the very point of my trip?  Probably because I can see the real live thing any time I want to.  I already know what it looks like.

Ducati at Lassen Volcanic National Park

Alas, much like at Crater Lake National Park, all the trails at Lassen are still under many feet of snow. I will not be hiking “Bumpass Hell” (so named by Kendall Bumpass who, in 1864, fell into a boiling pool, losing his leg) and viewing interesting hydrothermal features today.   Nor will I be summiting Lassen Peak, viewing Kings Creek Falls, or even learning a bit about the park at any of the Visitor’s Centers, because they are closed.

Instead, I take great joy in my consolation prize – riding back and forth along the twisty scenic bit of CA 89, more of the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, that runs through the park.  One pass for the scenery, another for the corners...

Lassen Volcanic National Park

I pull in near my campsite to catch my breath and fill the tank.  This road is good fun and deserves yet another pass.  But something is wrong with the fueling station credit card reader, and the attendant, who is just closing up shop, will not take a cash sale. Looks like I’m marooned until morning.

No matter. I amuse myself by stalking geese…

Lassen Volcanic National Park Manzanita Lake Campground Area

… and watching the light turn golden on the trees across Manzanita Lake.

Lassen Volcanic National Park Manzanita Lake Campground Area (1)

Lucky me.  It’s been another good day.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Daily Special: Roasted Pumpkin Mascarpone Pastry Strip

Pumpkin (or butternut squash) is a frustrating ingredient for me, because as much as I love sweet things, I want them after dinner, not for dinner.  So while most people love things like pumpkin (or butternut squash) soup, I really don’t*. Today I thought I’d highlight my CSA sugar pumpkin’s sweetness rather than try to disguise it.

This is what I came up with.

Roasted Pumpkin Mascarpone Pastry Strip
 I'm calling it my Roasted Pumpkin Mascarpone Pastry Strip.

Want one of your very own?  Then read on.

Make (or buy) some puff pastry dough, roll it out to a size and shape that fits your cookware and intended serving platter, trim it and bake it blind.  The number of recipes for this on the internet may very well rival the number of “Look at Me! I’m So Awesome!” motorcycle wheelie youtube videos, so you really don’t need another one from me**.  “Rough Puff” is fine for this purpose, but if you are so inclined, go right ahead and make the classic version.  As the dough is resting peacefully in the fridge between “turns,” practice your flute.  Unless, of course, you are planning to ride to Baja later this month, in which case, leave the flute in its case and spend some time working out various details, gazing at maps, and consulting Captain Google.  (Can over-excitement induce a seizure?  Because if it can, I'm a high risk case right now.)

Prepare your pumpkin or squash slices.  Brush them with butter, sprinkle with sugar and roast them, but don’t let them get too brown.  Think about the timing of this step, because you really don’t want to heat up your kitchen right before you plan on working with your pastry.   I’d wait until the formed but unbaked pastry was safely in the fridge, if I were you.   But then again, I'm the one who attempts croissants when my kitchen is 95 degrees, so go ahead and do what you want.

Mix some mascarpone cheese (or cream cheese***) with a little bit of sugar and a leetle pinch of wintery spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, ginger or… gasp! black pepper?) and gently spread it on your cooked and cooled pastry.  Top with the pumpkin slices, glaze with some barely warmed honey (or apricot preserves, or… caramel?) and sprinkle on some walnuts or pecans or hazelnuts.

Because you spend your money on motorcycles, rather than a wide selection of serving platters, take the cardboard box your most recent motorcycle accessory arrived in, cut it into the perfect shape, cover it with parchment paper, and serve your elegant pastry on this elegant platter.

I would absolutely make this again.  It was, quite simply, a knockout.

*Unless it’s full of roasted, smoky chiles, but, hey, that’s a different story. And pumpkin ravioli. They’re a different story, too, but I omit the traditional crushed amaretti cookie.  Because that would make them – yes – too sweet.
** I did offer a few tips in my croissant post, however.  Croissants slightly more complicated (they contain yeast) but the basics of working with butter pastry remain the same.
***Mascarpone is about five times more expensive.  And at least ten times more delicious.  Choose wisely, because once you try mascarpone, you will never go back.