Carmel-by-the Sea: Art, History and the Sea

 

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The beautiful cove at Carmel-by-the-Sea

 Carmel-By-The-Sea! Oh, how that rolls off the tongue so easily. If you’ve been there, you know what I mean. Nestled in the shore of Carmel Bay, on the south end of the larger Monterey Bay; one of Northern California’s natural wonders and marine life habitats. With a heritage of the Old World, this natural artist’s colony, hub of wealth, comfortable homes, and culturally engaged society, still manages to throw open its arms to visitors from all over the world.

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One of the many galleries in Carmel

With big brother Monterey just over the hill to the north, and the enchanting Highway One route to Big Sur to the south, Carmel simply says, “Stay and rest awhile.” It is very easy to comply. All are welcome here.

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The venerable drug store in downtown Carmel

Having weathered some criticism for “commercialization” over the years, (if the easy-on-the-eyes architecture, and brilliant merchandising skills in the shop and gallery windows is to be criticized), drive down to your local strip mall before you make a judgment. Sure, we all miss the truly funky artist’s colonies that flourished along the California coast, but let’s face it, things change, and sometimes they get better. Carmel is a case in point.

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Get ready for some treats here.

Let’s talk a little about Carmel’s history. As with many California coastal areas, tribes of Native Americans, the Esselen and Ohlone along the Central Coast, flourished before the Europeans showed up in the early 1600’s, claiming the area for Spain. Carmel Valley was named for Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The big names showed up in the mid-1700’s: Gaspar de Portolá and Father Junipero Serra, and soon the historic Carmel Mission was established. As usual, in spite of some frequent good intentions, European diseases decimated the Native Americans and they either died out from illness or fled to the mountains to the south due to the treatment by the Spaniards. Father Serra died in 1784, but not before helping to establish the famous chain of missions throughout California. Highway One is called El Camino Real, “The King’s Highway.” as many have known it, and many old missions can be visited along its beautiful route. In 1848, after the Mexican-American war, Carmel became part of the United States, ceded by Mexico, with California becoming a state two years later.

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Some of the treats!

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Clint in the window.

An art colony was born, seismically, if you will, after San Francisco’s disastrous 1906 earthquake. Artists of all disciplines fled San Francisco for the south, coincidentally supplementing another growing art community in Los Angeles, which continues to enjoy worldwide renown. But many artists simply stopped, agog, in Carmel, and there they stayed and worked. New venues such as The Arts and Crafts Theater and The Forest Theater evolved and a visual arts community that included early photographers such as Arnold Genthe, Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, arrived and thrived. Musically, among other events, the Carmel Bach Festival has been celebrating J.S. Bach since 1935. The feeling of an artist’s workplace still permeates the quiet streets.

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One of the many working artists’ studios in Carmel-by-the-sea.

It would be hard to imagine a more connected place to stay in Carmel than The Cypress Inn; wonderfully linked to the town’s history, warmly preserved by the ownership of Doris Day and Dennis Le Vett, and managed with a big smile by the very capable Fiona VanderWall and her accommodating staff.

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The wonderful Cypress Inn.

Checking in to the 44-room establishment, at the corner of 7th and Lincoln, is to step into a 1920s building suggesting a Mediterranean-Moroccan style, rich in wood, window treatments hung from forge-twisted iron rods and venerable tile floors. Doris Day memorabilia are tastefully displayed in the lobby and other parts of the Cypress Inn and are enjoyable to review. Our suite overlooked Lincoln Street and had a delightful balcony facing west, and a spacious circular Jacuzzi tub in the large bathroom. Top shelf linens and a lovely inset fireplace also set an elegant tone.

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The Cypress Inn is very pet-welcoming.

If you travel with your dog, The Cypress Inn especially welcomes you, as they are one of California’s most pet-friendly establishments. While we were sans pet, we thoroughly enjoyed the well-behaved dogs that came to the abundant continental breakfast with their owners. Dogs and their humans also showed up for the afternoon Yappy Hour at Terry’s Lounge, the Cypress Inn’s great bar/restaurant. You could feel the popularity with the locals who gather daily for some libation, and fun pet sharing. Yappy Hour is fun, remarkably quiet, and entertaining.

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The Cypress Inn lobby with some Doris Day memorabilia.

Terry’s Lounge, named for Doris Day’s late son, music producer Terry Melcher, is a cozy, elegant place to eat and drink. Mixologist Will Larkin, whose family roots are deep in Northern California history, has an amazing grasp of wines and liquors with a solid knowledge of beers. Not to be missed is the cocktail menu, which features wonderful quotes from famous movie stars. My favorite is Mae West’s, “Why don’t you slip out of those wet clothes and into a dry martini.” Cocktails at Terry’s Lounge are fun and edifying!

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One of the public rooms off the Cypress Inn lobby.

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The walk along Scenic drive.

We ate at the bar two nights in a row and Will was generous in sharing his knowledge of food and drink. Food and Beverage Manager Jonathan Bagley has made the most of a small-plate concept in keeping ingredients as local as possible and Terry’s Lounge is signed on with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program, which monitors species threatened with overfishing. Among the items we enjoyed were delicate, briny Miyagi oysters from the Hog Island Oyster Farm at Tomales Bay, seared Ahi Tuna with a light butternut squash cream sauce, house-roasted beet salad with goat cheese, and a stand-out watercress and apple salad. The burger and fries on the menu is enough for two! Finally, Will recommended a delicious Hahn Winery 2010 Santa Lucia Ridge Pinot Noir, a smooth, fruit-forward vintage that rivals any California or Oregon Pinot Noir we’ve tasted. Terry’s Lounge has a comfortable, local feel to it and it became our favorite place to eat in Carmel.

Now for a nice walk. You won’t find too many more picturesque strolls than along Scenic Drive in Carmel-by-the-Sea. With the Cypress Inn being located right in the middle of Carmel, it is a short drive or walk down the hill to Carmel City Beach.

Scenic Drive takes off to the south, and the walk, either on the easily accessible beach or on the lovely street-level path, is dreamy. Kelp, Cypress trees, a distant fog bank, and the odd sea lions and sea otters make Carmel Bay a signature of this part of the California coast.

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The ubiquitous Cypress trees of the Monterey Peninsula.

Along Scenic Drive, oceanfront homes, some modest, some daringly cantilevered over the water, dazzle, but the sea is the real star. The fresh ocean air is a tonic for the soul and this walk is one of the things that draws visitors back time after time. Forget your other concerns for a while, breathe in this air and enjoy the moment. Hug your partner a little closer and feel the gratitude for being able to be right there. You’ll find shared smiles among strangers along Scenic Drive.

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Just a touch of Carmel’s arty nature.

Returning to the town center, possibly via a big loop including Mission Ranch and the Carmel Mission, nosing around the art galleries can be a lovely way to spend an afternoon. The bar for art in Carmel, as historically noted above, is set high. Gallery representation is precious to working artists, and the vetting process for exhibition in this artist’s colony is comprehensive. Explore! The surprise of looking down a small alley and seeing a metal sculpture studio, or finding the precise seascape for your living room in a gallery window, awaits.

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Along the famous 17-Mile Drive.

Unless you’ve decided to stay forever in Carmel-by-the-Sea, the time comes to leave.  When you do, please do yourselves a favor and pay the fee to drive the world-famous 17-Mile Drive through Pebble Beach to Pacific Grove. The sea vistas, the famous Del Monte Lodge, the Inn at Spanish Bay, Del Monte Forest, the generous turnouts along the rugged shoreline, and the spectacular estates that speak of wealth, old and new, make this trip worthwhile. We gazed at the breaking waves for what seemed a very long time on The Drive. Two sea otters were busy in a cove, acting like the clowns they are, and a couple of deer ambled along, completely comfortable with passing cars.

Carmel remains a very special place in the hearts and minds of world travelers and locals alike. And when you go, here are some references for you:

http://www.carmelcalifornia.com/

http://www.cypress-inn.com/

http://www.stayincarmel.org

http://www.pebblebeach.com/

Along the Wine Road in Northern Sonoma County

Geyserville signage pointing the way!

Geyserville signage pointing the way!

And more signage!

And more signage!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Healdsburg welcome!

Healdsburg welcome!

You’re a wine lover. You have arrived in a wine-growing region full of hundreds of wineries, big and small. What do you do? How do you choose which ones to visit in the time you have? Sure, research is great and fun, too, but for many of us more casual winery aficionados, it would be wonderful to have some help creating a stress-free itinerary. The northern Sonoma County wine-growing area of California presents this kind of challenge.

With so many wineries in the region (including the Alexander, Dry Creek, Green and Russian River valleys and the Chalk Hill and Rockpile districts), someone had to come along to help manage the experience for visitors who might otherwise find visiting 150 wineries a bit overwhelming. Not only that, but vetting through the countless lodgings can be arduous as well. Thankfully, The Wine Road folks are here to help!

When we had the opportunity to let The Wine Road set up an itinerary for us, what followed was one of the best and varied three days of wine education and tasting we’d experienced.

Some of the highlights:

Dr. Stew Lauderbach does some sampling.

Dr. Stew Lauderbach does some sampling.

There was Dr. Stew Lauterbach up on a ladder in his unpretentious Lauterbach Cellars tasting room in the Windsor, CA countryside. As he took a plug out of the top of a barrel and siphoned out a sample of his delicious 2010 Pinot Noir, it was clear that this smiling ER Doc was having a lot of fun with his wine-making passion.

Dr. Lauterbach shares his wine with a visitor.

Dr. Lauterbach shares his wine with Amy Sherman of Cooking With Amy.

The same was true as the charismatic Bill Myers grilled some fresh salmon and expounded on his love of wine making in the Alexander Valley, home of his beautiful Mediterranean-style White Oak Winery and tasting room. The White Oak Chardonnay is remarkable. These folks are having too much fun!

Bill Myers at his White Oak Winery.

Bill Myers at his White Oak Winery.

Bill Myers at White Oak Winery.  He knows his wine and knows his salmon.

Bill Myers at White Oak Winery. He knows his wine and knows his salmon.

And while all this fun is going on, they are making world-class wines. In fact, along the Sonoma Wine Road, there seem to be a huge number of winemakers, in facilities large and small, enjoying a robust relationship with the earth, the vines and sharing their passionate interests with their visitors.

Yoakim Bridge Winery.

Yoakim Bridge Winery.

Virginia Morgan and David Cooper hosting at Yoakim Bridge Winery.

Virginia Morgan and David Cooper hosting at Yoakim Bridge Winery.

A tip of the hat to Virginia Morgan and David Cooper at their quaint Yoakim Bridge Vineyards and Winery, near Healdsburg, for serving up their “Hearts and Minds” meatballs while we tasted their 2008 Dry Creek Cabernet and 2009 Dry Creek Zinfandel. This outgoing, charming couple met at a cooking school and took the big leap and founded a winery because, well, the passion is there for them as well.of the wineries have huge production, but some, like Lauterbach, produce less than 500 cases a year and the Yoakim Bridge folks a relatively modest 2500 cases.

 

We visited B&B’s such as The Honor Mansion, run for 18 years by Steve and Cathi Fowler, complete with croquet, putting green and inviting bocce ball courts beyond the huge pool. Honor House is the only 4-Diamond property in Healdsburg and the Fowlers work hard to make sure their guests really understand and feel the value of their stays.
The Honor Mansion, Healdsburg CA.

The Honor Mansion, Healdsburg CA.

Breakfast at the Honor Mansion, Healdsburg CA

Breakfast at the Honor Mansion, Healdsburg CA

A room at the Honor Mansion, Healdsburg CA.

A room at the Honor Mansion, Healdsburg CA.

Another gem to visit in Healdsburg is the Grape Leaf Inn, complete with a cozy “speakeasy” wine tasting room downstairs and, like The Honor Mansion, very good value and excellent customer service standards.

Grape Leaf Inn, Healdsburg CA

Grape Leaf Inn, Healdsburg CA

 

"Speakeasy" wine bar at the Grape Leaf Inn, Healdsburg CA

“Speakeasy” wine bar at the Grape Leaf Inn, Healdsburg CA

One more stop deserving mention is Everett Ridge Vineyards and Winery, sited on a lovely slope above Dry Creek Road in Healdsburg. Three generations of the remarkable Sterling family run this engaging operation, producing about 15,000 cases of superb wines annually. The family story is epic. When you visit, be sure to ask how the “Diablita” label got its name.

Let’s face it, you need two or three days to cover the northern Sonoma County wineries in a quality, memory-making way. You’ll learn a lot about wine and the personalities of the winemakers. The tasting room staffs are throwbacks to an age of courtesy and are well- informed and share their knowledge with pride and generosity. The commitment to sustainable agriculture here is notable and the desire to preserve the region in agrarian and viticulture endeavors is strong and pervasive throughout the valley.

With the Santa Rosa Airport offering service to major cities and SFO just a little over an hour south, the northern Sonoma County wine region is a convenient destination and The Wine Road is a best bet to make your visit memorable.

Quivera Vineyards in the Dry Creek area of Sonoma Valley.

Quivira Vineyards in the Dry Creek area of northern Sonoma County.

The beautiful tasting room at Kendall-Jackson, Santa Rosa CA.  Check out their herb garden!

The beautiful tasting room at Kendall-Jackson, Santa Rosa CA. Check out their herb garden!

Tasting at Quivira Winery along the Wine Road.

Tasting at Quivira Winery along the Wine Road.

New York New York, It’s (always) a Wonderful Town!

Taking a break, Central Park, New York City

Taking a break, Central Park, New York City

It was a long sweeping approach to JFK, almost like an IMAX movie. Clear Spring afternoon, freighters queued in the offshore anchorage, Manhattan stolidly anchoring the backdrop. I come to New York with the spirit of a pilgrim. I love the place. Love the people. When I saw Lady Gaga’s Madison Square Garden show on HBO I was struck by the love she has for New York and New Yorkers. I’m with her.

On this trip I might have been crunched in the coach cabin for 5 hours, but the rest of the trip was prima classe, starting with the very reliable and competent folks from EmpireCLS Worldwide . Having a car meet you at JFK is a real treat and once you’ve done it, you’re hooked.

And if, as on this trip, you can stay at The Peninsula Hotel, at E. 55th and Fifth Avenue, well, it is hard to go back to that last “thrifty” hotel you tried to save money on. The suites will leave you breathless as will the culture of service. The art of good service is deft; not obsequious, never overdone. From General Manager Jonathan Crook to Guest Services Manager Johnny DeBrito and Front Desk Agents like Marie-Anne Pain, the hotel hums with quiet graciousness and elegance. The Concierge desk and room service personnel are just, simply, on it.

The Peninsula Hotel, New York

The Peninsula Hotel, New York

Add in the scene at Salon de Ning, the rooftop bar atop The Peninsula and Fives Restaurant ,serving breakfast lunch and dinner, plus the swimming pool and the Peninsula Spa by ESPA on the 20th floor, and you’ve got yourself a great base of operations in New York City.

Sundeck at the Peninsula Hotel, New York

Sundeck at the Peninsula Hotel, New York

Living room in Peninsula Hotel Suite, New York

Living room in Peninsula Hotel Suite, New York

 

Swimming Pool at the Peninsula Hotel, New York

Swimming Pool at the Peninsula Hotel, New York

Some huge extra value accrues if you use your American Express Platinum card at The Peninsula. The card gets you a complimentary room upgrade, when available, a daily continental breakfast for two and a $100 hotel credit that can be used anywhere in the hotel, Spa and restaurants. I figured that these benefits alone pay for the card’s annual fee. Just in one stay! And Amex has over 700 Fine Hotels and Resorts partners around the world offering these benefits, plus dedicated Platinum Cardholder concierge services, travel desk and lots more. I’m still trying to figure out how they can possibly offer so much on one card, and they are still adding benefits. I’ve recently been assisted by Danielle Van Dinter in the Atlanta office of American Express Travel and she is a total pro.

PJ Clarkes, New York City

PJ Clarkes, New York City

As I arrived and got settled in the very late afternoon, I decided to walk down E. 55th St. to 3rd Avenue and dine at the venerable P.J. Clarke’s, after a many-year hiatus. Somethings never change, thank heavens. And that includes P.J. Clarkes’ exquisite burger. Manager Brian Carter was overseeing a very busy night but made the time to talk with me a little bit about some of the restaurant’s history and point out the wedding photo on the wall at table 53. The photo is of Buddy Holly kissing his bride Maria Elena, and was presented to the restaurant by his widow. P.J. Clarke’s table 53 was where Mr. Holly proposed to Maria Elena.

Dessert Menu, PJ Clarke's New York City

Dessert Menu, PJ Clarke’s New York City

In the morning I headed down the stairs of the MOMA subway station on W. 53rd, and, pushing a few right buttons on the MetroCard machine, I purchased a 7-day unlimited ride ticket good for buses and subways.  And off I went to meet a friend for lunch at a French bistro-in-New York called Pastis. Great noisy place at the corner of 9th Avenue and Little West 12th Street in the West Village area.  Loved the fish and chips and the fluffy herb omelet on two visits. Ask for an outside table on a sunny day.

It is a short walk from Pastis to The Highline, and this is a must-see. In the 1930’s, in order to get railroad freight switching operations off the city streets, the tracks were elevated 30 feet above the street and some spurs ran directly inside the factories and other buildings. This went on for 50 years until the tracks were abandoned in the 1980’s and fell into decay. A group of influential “Friends of the High Line” got together in 1999 and today The Highline is a wonderful above-the-street promenade for all New Yorkers and visitors. It is another example of what makes New York a world-class city.

The Highline, New York City

The Highline, New York City

The Highline, New York City

The Highline, New York City

The Highline, New York City

The Highline, New York City

The Highline, New York City

The Highline, New York City

A stroll on The Highline is a great feeder event for a visit to the thriving Chelsea Market, 9th Avenue between 15th and 16th Streets. This fun and delicious food hub is housed in the old National Biscuit Company complex, dating from the 1890’s. Just walking through the former hallowed baking home of Oreos, Saltine Crackers and Barnum’s Animal Crackers is a treat and the preservation that went into morphing this property into The Chelsea Market is remarkable. You’ll find professional kitchen supplies, special pastas, fancy cookies, fresh seafood, a great wine store and bakeries galore. Bring a shopping bag and an appetite because you are in for treats and dazzling foodie visuals.

Chelsea Market, New York City

Chelsea Market, New York City

Chelsea Market, New York City

Chelsea Market, New York City

Back to The Peninsula for a swim in the 21st floor pool. Heaven. Joining friends at A Voce Columbus, 10 Columbus Circle, it is easy to see why Executive Chef Missy Robbins and Chef di Cucina Adam Nadel have made this modern, chic eatery a success. A light focaccia lands on the table right away, service staff are prompt and polite and my Corzetti (hand crafted pasta coins, crab, specks of pancetta and a hint of lemon) is delicious. The Misticanza salad, arugula, herbs, citron vinaigrette with a little ricotta is a reminder of how delicious simplicity can be.  And off to the theater.

The reason we were able to get tickets for “The Best Man,” starring James Earl Jones and Angela Lansbury and Candace Bergen at the Schoenfeld Theater, was that the American Express Concierge service pre-reserves a lot of theater and event tickets. Who knew? There were no more tickets available for this particular performance but they were available for Platinum cardholders. I’m not sure all those Platinum cardholders out there realize all this, but it is really terrific. Absolutely wonderful and funny show with Gore Vidal’s sharp-pointed humor well-delivered by a top-notch cast. Best surprise: Kerry Butler’s performance as a candidate’s wife.

There is a pilgrim’s route I always like to take on my New York visits. I take a subway (either the 2 or 3 train) to Clarke St. Station in Brooklyn (you can also take the A or C to High St. station) and then, depending on time, I like to walk on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, which offers spectacular views of Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge.

The Dumbo Neighborhood

The Dumbo Neighborhood

After this stroll I like to walk around the Dumbo neighborhood and see the progress being made on the beautiful riverside public park, that now features a classic, glass-enclosed carousel in full operation. The re-habing of of old warehouses in Dumbo continues with many shops and eateries starting to move in. A bakery I love is Almondine at 85 Water St. Very French with a friendly staff and great pastries and sandwiches to take down to the park, just a block or so away.

Park on the East River in Dumbo Neighborhood

Park on the East River in Dumbo Neighborhood

Now the pilgrim heads towards the Brooklyn Bridge foot and bike path for the return to Manhattan. Get yourself to the base of the bridge and you’ll find the stairway up and then you’re off, above the traffic on the deck below. There is a separate bike lane so most of the time there is no problem with space issues. On a recent sunny Saturday, though, I think at least half of the population was on the bridge. Weekdays are nice.

One World Trade Center

One World Trade Center

As you come into Manhattan on the bridge, you’ll go by City Hall and then turn south towards the new One World Trade Center building going up at Ground Zero, and the Monument to the lives lost on 9/11/2001. This is, of course, an extraordinarily moving location. We will continued to be affected by the enormity of that tragic day and, for many, it will be a regular destination of remembrance.

Central Park, New York City

Central Park, New York City

Central Park, New York City

Central Park, New York City

Central Park, New York City

Central Park, New York City

Finally, a morning walk in Central Park soothes the mind and soul in a special way. The trees in the Park are so well-tended that the views in the tree canopy is especially beautiful. The tranquility of the park is enhanced by the amazing amount of birds and other wildlife giving you a glimpse from time to time. Benches in the Park have nameplates that hint of wonderful stories and it is interesting to speculate on what the whole tale is of a bench whose plate might say, “I love you Annette.” Central Park is to some a national monument. It has endured so long now, and continues to thrive, inspire and comfort. Thank you, New York, for keeping this gem polished.

Bench Plaque, Central Park, New York City

Bench Plaque, Central Park, New York City

Bench Plaque, Central Park, New York City

Bench Plaque, Central Park, New York City

Just a note about the fabulous museums in New York. You’ve got them on a big list, I hope, but just in case, here are just a few starting with the Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd St. There is the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Central Park at 82nd, then along “Museum Mile” are The Frick Collection, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Guggenheim Museum, Cooper Hewitt Museum, The Jewish Museum and the Asia Society Museum on Park Avenue. One of my personal favorites is, you might guess, the International Center of Photography at 1133 Avenue of Americas at W. 43rd Street.

So, adieu New York City and let us be lucky to return to your busy and always interesting streets, parks, theaters, museums and culture…And a very special thanks to the folks at American Express who hosted much of this trip.  The value is there and I’ve used my AMEX card for years.

Palm Springs – Natural Beauty High and Low

Story and Photos © Frank DiMarco

The thing I like the most about the Palm Springs Tram is that the cabin rotates while you are transported to and from the lofty Mountain Station 8,516 feet into the mountains of San Jacinto State Park.

Thus begins a jaunt to enjoy some of the “high” natural beauty of the Palm Springs area.

You will rise through five unique life zones from the Sonoran Desert Zone at the bottom to the Arctic Alpine Zone at the top. In the winter expect some snow; in the summer expect some real heat. Either way, water is a smart companion, and packing a lunch for a picnic is a great idea.

View from The Palm Springs Tram

On our trip up we shared the tram cabin with an international range of people from elderly grandmothers to young eco-hipsters with hi-tech snowshoes and camping gear, ready to adventure beyond the “To Wilderness” sign on the trail guide. Once on top, taking a few moments to acclimate to the altitude, you can set off for a modest hike from Mountain Station along several well-marked trails or set yourself up for a more extensive guided or self-guided hike with advice from the Adventure Center, a short distance from the Mountain Station terminal. None of the trails will disappoint as this is breathtakingly beautiful and rugged country.

A beautiful wilderness awaits at the top of the tram

Though wildlife frequently tends to stay hidden from humans, this is a habitat for bighorn sheep, bobcats, mountain lions, coyotes, hawks, foxes and deer, along with the usual suspects of birds and squirrels. Alpine flora of the area can range from cactus to white fir, big cone pines and colorful wildflowers, especially in the Spring.

Awesome views from Mountain Station

 

Once you are back to Mountain Station from your hike, a visit to the Forestry Department shop is very interesting as is the adjacent display of taxidermy. And, importantly, the Lookout Lounge serves a delicious Bloody Mary while food is served in two restaurants in this mountain aerie.

The tram operates from 10AM on weekdays and 8AM on weekends with the last tram down at 9:45PM, giving you a full-day in the mountains if you wish. More details at http://www.pstramway.com Tel. 760.325.1449

So, what do I mean by the “low” natural beauty of Palm Springs? This refers to the cool canyons of the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation. The Aqua Caliente Band of the Cahuilla Indians have been in the Palm Springs area for centuries. In ancient times they thrived due to a good water supply, growing a wide range of crops as well as sustainably harvesting the natural wildlife and plants.

Palm grove in the Indian Canyons in Palm Springs

With the 1876 acts of the U.S. Government, the Agua Caliente Indians were deeded 32,000 acres of the area for their homeland, some of the land lying within the Palm Springs city limits. Now, several of the beautiful canyons are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and a hike in them is a unique experience.

To get to the Indian Canyons, drive out South Palm Canyon Drive and you’ll come to the entrance where you’ll pay admission to this sacred land and receive a good trail map. The trails are marked by difficulty so visitors can match their strength and health to their hikes.

Along the Andreas Trail in Indian Canyons area.

We hiked in both the Andreas and Palm Canyons and found them to be tranquil and full of a sense of history. The rocks and flora are beautiful with the ancient palms the stars of this natural beauty show. Palm Canyon, 15 miles deep, is redolent with this sense of history and with examples of ancient living quarters trailside. Frequent ranger talks are given at the trailhead Trading Post. While informal, these talks draw visitors and a good place to learn some details about how the ancient tribe members lived.

Some of the awesome cacti plants in Indian Canyons.

As always, plan ahead, and pay close attention to the precautions of hiking in the desert. Stay hydrated, sun-protected and be watchful for rattlesnakes.

Tranquil creekside area along Palm Canyon Trail in Indian Canyons.

More information: http://www.indian-canyons.com Tel. 760.323.6018 Before moving on, some additional websites for desert touring are http://www.desertmountains.org and http://www.nps.gov/jotr which will provide you with some basic information about a side trip to the beautiful Joshua Tree National Park located near Palm Springs.

OK, let’s eat.

Breakfast can be a make-or-break-the-day meal and I would challenge anyone to find a more consistent and hearty morning meal than Elmer’s at 1030 E. Palm Canyon Drive. The staff at the Palm Springs incarnation is particularly cohesive in their service and if you are looking for fare that will get you through a morning hike and beyond, Elmer’s is for you. On our recent visit, it was encouraging to see one of the owner’s of all the Elmer’s working the door, and greeting people around the restaurant. Loved the berry crepes. http://eatatelmers.com/?q=content/see-whats-cooking

For lighter morning fare and a scene-and-be-seen experience, try Palm Springs Koffi at 515 North Palm Canyon Drive. On a typical blue-sky Palm Springs morning, we took our coffees and pastries out back where there are lots of chairs available on the large lawn for dawdling over a paper, comparing dog notes or simply people watching; a fun place with a sistership now open at 1700 South Camino Real. http://www.kofficoffee.com

Ernesto Gastelum shares a passion for his native Sinaloan cooking with his customers at Rio Azul at 350 South Indian Canyon Drive. I’ve never had guacamole prepared tableside, a starter treat which we followed with Carne Asada with Enchilada and Adobado Shrimp. Great Margaritas and an entertaining and personable floor staff. http://www.rioazulpalmsprings.com

I’ll also include a couple of recommendations from my friend and food blogger Amy Sherman http://www.cookingwithamy.com She likes Trio Restaurant at 707 North Canyon Drive http://www.triopalmsprings.com for their Porterhouse Pork Chop and Australian Sea Bass and the King’s Highway in the Ace Hotel at 701 East Palm Canyon for their Ricotta Pancakes and Homemade Lox. http://www.acehotel.com/palmsprings

With air service directly into Palm Springs from major hubs, and a couple ofhours drive from L.A. proper, Palm Springs is accessible to a wide-range of visitors. Lodging is abundant at numerous retro-themed hotels and home rentals are a big thing as well. Web searches will surprise you with the options for stays.

Magic hours like this are common in Palm Springs.

A personal favorite of mine is the elegant and quiet Korakia Pensione at 257 S. Patencio Road with its amazing history, ambience and personal attention. Set close to the west mountains, it is central to town but with the feel of “off on your own.” We had an delightful stay there a few years ago and a recent re-observation was encouraging. http://www.korakia.com/ Even if you don’t stay there, check out the history on their website and drive by for a look.

Palm Springs, has a very long history with artistic people and the arts in general. The Palm Springs International Film Festival draws big name speakers and films and frequent food, wine and art festivals draw lots of visitors. Outdoor activities such as golf, biking and hiking will keep your interest and keep you in shape. Shopping? Lots of it along the main drag.

Downtown Palm Springs is famous for The Follies.

And don’t forget one of the longest running (30 years) fun shows in the desert, the Fabulous Palm Springs Follies! http://www.psfollies.com

Visit http://www.visitpalmsprings.com/ for lots more information on this great, venerable desert destination. And enjoy the “highs and lows” of Palm Springs’ beautiful setting.

I’ve posted more images at http://www.dimarcoimages.com/palmsprings/

Mazatlán – Pearl of the Pacific

Sunsets like these are frequent in Mazatlán

 

Mazatlán – La Perla Del Pacifico

Cliff Divers at Olas Altas Beach, Mazatlán

They had me with the Mime. When you deplane from a packed flight onto a hot tarmac in Mazatlán and all you really want is a cold, local-brewed Pacifico on the way into the terminal (super-clean with gleaming floors and nice art) at least there is the charming Mime to welcome you. He’s really good. He just needs a case of cold ones to hand out to arriving passengers. We are, afterall, about 20 miles south of the Tropic of Cancer.

So began a return to Mazatlán after a 10-year hiatus. What I found was the charm and friendliness of the Mazatlécas alive and well.

Fun at the Fish Market in Mazatlán

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New hotels and yacht harbors have been  built as well as a world-class Mazatlán International Center, smartly located near The Golden Zone. This beautiful facility is a testimony to Mazatlán’s serious pursuit of the convention business.

The brand-new Mazatlán International Center

Mazatlán translates as “place of deer” and the Totorames tribe had the place to themselves until they disappeared many years before Spaniards first showed up in 1531. You can see some artifacts in the Museo Arqueológico in Centro Historico.

It was many years until the city emerged from a fishing village. Gold and silver shipments transited Mazatlan’s port from the mines in the mountains during the 1700’s, attracting pirates to the area. In the latter part of the 19th century, the city grew significantly, upgraded its port and buildings and, in the first few decades after the 1910 Revolution, Mazatlán became a modest tourist destination, with several hotels establishing themselves in the old town near Olas Atlas Beach, enjoying popularity with vacationing movie stars.

Near the Art Zone in El Centro

The heartbeat of this enchanting city is strong and the First Friday Art Walk (from November to May) is a great way to experience a bit of the Centro Historico, discover a great meal at one of the sidewalk cafes around the Plaza Machado (1837) and perhaps attend a concert at the multi-tiered Teatro Angela Peralta (1870). We attended a splendid performance there of Mozart’s “Requiem” the on the eve of El Día Del Muerte.

The Mazatlán Symphony Orchestra

 

 

 

Two dining standouts around Plaza Machado: La Bohemia and Pedro y Lola’s.

La Bohemia Restaurant on Plaza Machado

Plaza Machado, Mazatlán

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While on the subject of dining, close to venerable Olas Atlas Beach is a delightful courtyard restaurant, La Bahia, overseen by hostess Maria Lourdes, aka “Malu.” A few dishes we sampled were Pulpo a la Diabla (octopus) and a great rendition of Aquachiles con Camarones.

Lourdes at La Bahia Restaurant, near Olas Altas

Pulpo a la Diabla at La Bahia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not only a fun and sun tourist destination, Mazatlán is a huge shrimping port and the state of Sinaloa, in which Mazatlán resides, is Mexico’s top agricultural producer. A trip to the French Colonial-style Pino Suarez Mercado (1899) in Centro Historico speaks to this with butchers at work on fresh meats and fish mongers selling the day’s fresh catch.

Butchers at work in the Mercado

A smile and some beautiful fresh fish at the Mercado

Food stands fill with locals and the feel of a community gathering place is tangible.


This is one of my favorite destinations in Mazatlán and over the years it has become a more comfortable place to wander around.

Fish stand in the Mercado

 

 

 

Born in Spain, Julio Berdegé was a man of vision and personal achievement in Mazatlán’s modern history. Arriving in Mazatlán as a young man, he built Mexico’s largest commercial shrimp fleet and created the first master-planned resort community in Mexico, known as the El Cid Resort and Country Club. As a marine biologist and conservationist, he also had a prominent voice in matters of Mexico’s fisheries management. The El Cid development, now in command of his son Carlos, is dominant in the Zona Dorado of hotels and restaurants which takes off north of the Olas Altas Beach area. One of the newest properties is the El Cid Marina Hotel, which sits along the channel for the marina, has two beautiful pools, a splendid, attentive staff and a unique, private ocean beach accessed by a short water taxi ride. Party fishing boats come in and out of the harbor and the curious can catch a glimpse of what kind of luck prevailed on the day’s fishing adventures. It is my favorite of the El Cid properties. http://marinaelcidmazatlan.com

The El Cid Marina, Mazatlán

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many cities in Latin America have what is known as “The Malecon,” a broad promenade along the beach. Mazatlán’s Malecon is one of the longest in Latin America, stretching miles along Olas Altas and newly widened with new monuments. In Mazatlán they love their monuments.

The Siren Monument along Mazatlán's Malecon, the longest in Latin America

There are monuments to Pacifico Beer (the dramatic copper top of a beer cooking vat), the Fisherman’s  Monument, The Siren Monument, The Continuity of Life Monument (fabulous sculpture of leaping dolphins), famed musician Jose Angel Espinoza Aragon aka “Ferrusquilla” , a delightful, whimsical monument to the Pulmonia, the ubiquitous open-air alternative to taxi-cabs and many more. All the monuments serve to enhance a long amble along Mazatlán’s beautifully upgraded beachfront Malecon.

Monument to famed musician Jose Angel Espinoza Aragon aka "Ferrusquilla"

For a little more immersion into Mexico, Pronatours http://www.pronatours.com.mx can help.

One destination that a day-trip will cover is the nearby country town of Quelite (25 miles northeast). Most of Quelite’s residents are engaged in ranching or agriculture and town has a feel of “real Mexico.” It is in Quelite that Dr .Marcos Osuna built El Meson d’ Los Laureanos, a terrific restaurant in a venerable history-rich building. An excellent host, Dr. Osuna’s kitchen serves recipes handed-down through generations and prepared with a “home cooking” touch that reflects the cuisine of southern Sinaloa.

 

As you walk around Quelite, you can visit a wonderful bakery with a huge stone oven and delicious treats for sale, Our Lady of Guadalupe church and a monument to an ancient Aztec game of “The Ulama,” still played by locals.

Monument to the ancient game of "The Ulama" in Quelite.

Stone oven in Quelite bakery

 

 

 

There are additional tour options available, including a hugely fun cooking and dancing experience called Salsa y Salsa http://www.salsaandsalsa.com, rated the no. 1 tour for Mazatlan on http://tripadvisor.com. Hotel concierges work hard in Mazatlán to connect vistors with a fun experience and are there to make sure you want to come back.

Some quick study of online sites and a little Spanish brush-up can enhance your trip.

Many Mazatlécas speak excellent English, of course, but attempts at conversing in the local language is always bridge-builder. ¡Vámos a Mazatlán!

 

 

Additional Mazatlán and Quelite images at:  http://www.dimarcoimages.com/mazatlan

A local in Quelite, about 40 km from Mazatlán

 

 

 

Caesar Salad

Of course we have to credit Chef and Restaurateur Caesar Cardini for this one.  Chef Cardini opened his restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico in the 1920’s when Tijuana was a hot destination for the Hollywood movie and art crowd.  He was originally a restaurant owner in California and this was an expansion of his business to avoid Prohibition and to capitalize on a popular destination.  Later, he produced a line of dressings that can still be found on supermarket shelves.  This recipe was given to me by an old friend named Quito and I’ve used it for years.  Many Caesar Salad makers have their own personal takes on the salad and here is what I do:

First, you have to make really good croutons!  Your guests will love you for them.  You can even tease them with a small bowl of them with cocktails.

Here are the ingredients to make croutons from a full-size baguette:

2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons salted butter

3 garlic cloves, minced or through press

1 tablespoon dried basil flakes

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees F.

Taking a nice long baguette, such as the one shown here, sliced into four sections for

easier handling.  Note:  Always keep your eyes on the work when slicing and make sure

you develop a style to keep your fingers away from the blade.

Baguette Slicing for Caesar Salad Croutons

Slice length-wise in half

Slice the baguette sections in half, lengthwise, then make longitudinal cuts, minimum 2 cuts.  Most croutons are best savored if they are medium-sized, about 3/8″ cubes or so.

Then make the final crouton cuts at 90 degrees to the longitudinal cuts for get your individual croutons.

Longitudinal Slices

 

 

Final Crouton Cuts

Put all your croutons in a mixing bowl.

All your croutons in one bowl

In a sauce pan, over low heat, melt the butter in the olive oil, add the garlic and basil flakes, stirring until combined nicely.

Combined Oil, Garlic, Butter and Dried Basil Flakes

Then pour mixture over croutons a little at a time, tossing crazily so that everyone gets their fair share, until entire mixture has been added.  Continue to toss crazily.

Adding Mixture to Croutons

Tossing Croutons Crazily Yet Democratically

Prepare a cookie sheet  (I line mine with aluminum foil) and transfer the anointed croutons from the bowl to the cookie sheet making sure they are not lumped together too much, enabling uniform baking.

Croutons Ready for Oven

Now they can go into that 325 degree F. oven.  They will need at least 20 minutes but check on them periodically in case the oven is not temperature-accurate…and, ovens, you know who you are.

While the croutons are happily cooking away and the house starts to smell REAL good, I usually make the salad dressing.   I’ll tell you how to do that in a minute but first I’ll jump ahead to bringing the croutons out of the oven, and how they should look.

They should start looking golden brown.  Reach in and grab one and taste it when it cools off.  It should be crunchy.  It they are golden brown and crunchy, they are done.  Take ’em out.  I store the extra croutons in a plastic bag inside a plastic food container.

Golden Brown and Crunchy Croutons

Now lettuce make the dressing!  Note:  THIS RECIPE IS FOR A LARGE AMOUNT OF DRESSING, intended for a large group or for several Caesar Salads over a week period or so.  I will discuss storage after we make the dressing…

To start with, let’s list the dressing ingredients:

1-1/4 cups extra virgin olive oil

1 can of anchovy filets or 1-1.75 ounce tube of anchovy paste

3 cloves garlic, finely minced or through a press

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1-1/2 tablespoons Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce

1/2 tablespoon coarse ground black pepper

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

Juice of 1/2 lemon

3 tablespoons finely grated, aged Reggiano parmesan cheese

No egg in this recipe.

First, in a nice-sized mixing bowl, combine the anchovy and the garlic in 1/4 cup of the extra virgin olive oil until you get a nice even mixture.  I tend to use a fork for this combining operation.  It should sort of look for like this.  Not pretty but nicely combined.

Combining The Anchovy, Garlic with 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Next, add the Dijon, Worcestershire sauce, white vinegar, black pepper and lemon juice and combine with the anchovy, garlic and oil mixture already in the bowl. I start using a whisk here as I find it works better.  After very thoroughly mixing these ingredients together, start slowly whisking in the cup of extra virgin olive oil and whisk away until all the oil is added, then start to whisk in the finely grated Reggiano parmesan and whisk more, really working to combine that cheese into a nice marriage with the rest of the family.  It should look like this:

Caesar At The Finish

Now, here we are with large quantity of dressing.  What do we do?  I use an array of jars from preserves, artichoke hearts, etc., etc.  Jars about 8-12 ounces in capacity. They should be glass and have a good sealing, screw-on cap.  If you are bringing a Caesar to your friends’ for dinner, these little jars are great (and you still can have some for yourself at home).

Carefully pour (funnels work here) the dressing into one or more of these storage jars and stir/whisk the dressing while you are pouring (you can do this) so that the ingredients of the dressing go into the jar proportionately.  In other words, when you go back to the jars, you don’t want it to be all oil and/or all anchovy.  Store these jars in the refrigerator.  I usually feel safe about the dressing jars, when properly refrigerated, for at least 8 days.  Take a jar of dressing out of the refrigerator at least an hour before serving and be sure to stir all the ingredients in the jar uniformly before putting on the salad.

Nice!  We’re about ready to put it all together for your guests.

Wash and spin (get a spinner if you don’t have one yet) fresh, crisp Romaine lettuce leaves until dry.   I figure one head for every two people. If the salad is the main course, one head per person is what I use.  Remember the croutons will add bulk to the salad.

Break Romaine leaves into a large salad bowl. I try use a bowl that prevents salad and croutons from flying out while I toss.  Add croutons to your personal feeling about croutons per square inch, but remember that you can always add croutons to the salad.

Now, making sure that your dressing is stirred to make it uniform, start with about 1/4 cup  of dressing over the lettuce and croutons and toss thoroughly.  You’ll be surprised by the coverage with your tossing.  You can always add more, or even have a little mini-pitcher at the table in case a guest needs more.  No drinking directly from the pitcher, however.

So we’re tossing, we’re tossing and, finally, add some coarsely shaved Reggiano parmesan over the top and, right, toss some more, just enough to get that cheese married (there’s that word again) to the salad and TA DA!  Bon appetite!

Caesar Is Served

Special thanks to Chef Cardini, Quito and to La Muse, Lucinda, for the photography.

Also special thanks to the kitchen of Bino and Marty.

 

 

 

Aloha from Maui – The First Post

Landing at Kahului Airport

Aloha!  I thought I might inaugurate this blog with a few words and pictures from The Valley Isle.  Maui continues to be a wonderful “easy” destination for people because you can really style your own vacation here.  You can choose from a diverse menu that might include being a “beach potato,” driving to Hana for a night or two of jungle bliss, exploring Up Country Maui, sunrise on the Haleakala volcano, a seasonal whale watch and tasting some wonderful food.  Permit me a few suggestions.

You might have noticed the current banner photograph.  This is a shot I took last night of the seared ahi appetizer at Colleen’s restaurant in the Cannery Building, in Haiku. http://www.colleensinhaiku.com  Colleen Nicolas has been on Maui for many years and has a knack for creating recipes and finding the right people to prepare and serve to her customers.  Colleen’s is one of my favorite places because it is a local haunt and off the beaten path a bit.  They are open for breakfast (great omelets), lunch and dinner.  Another favorite is the Mahi-Mahi Fish and Chips and the Kula Greens Salad with Roasted Local Beets.

If you are going to Haiku, you might consider making a loop from Paia to Haiku, then up to Makawao and back down Baldwin Avenue to your starting point in Paia. You could take a day doing it, and the sights and shops are lovely.  Start with an early morning walk on Baldwin Beach, just west of Paia on the Hana Highway.  Early mornings are best because the trades can pick up by mid-morning.  Parking is easy and the beach walk is sweet.

Baldwin Beach, Maui

After your Baldwin Beach march, drive into Paia and park.  You might grab a bit at Cafe Des Amis (great crepes) or the Mambo Cafe, close to each other on Baldwin Avenue.

Another great place is the Paia Fish House, right on the corner of Hana Highway and Baldwin Avenue (the only stoplight in Paia).  These folks know how to do it and the family-style dining, bring-your-order-to-the-table casual atmosphere is conducive to conversations, sometimes very international.  The fish is always fresh.

Cafe Des Amis, Paia, Maui

Another fun local place in Paia is the long-standing and very high-granola Mana Foods http://www.manafoodsmaui.com/ where some great local organic greens can be purchased in a store seemingly filled with the hippest most blissed-out patrons I’ve ever seen.  Groovy, man.  Seriously, a lovely store with a great selection of healthy products.

And, by the way, if over-nighting, or longer, in Paia is an option, let me recommend the oceanfront Paia Inn, beautifully upgraded and staffed by the sweetest staff this side of, well, paradise. http://www.paiainn.com/

Next up, a Caesar Salad receipe, then, later, some more on Maui.  A hui hou!