Mary Branscombe (marypcb) wrote,
Mary Branscombe

The gift of peacocks, the flight of the condor and the drenching of California

Apart from proofing an issue of IT Expert and writing my editor's letter we took Monday easy to recover from CES; lunch at Olives in the Bellagio (where our friendly waiter from Shibuya will soon be working) - truffled steak frites with a dippy egg and pink bellini - then across the desert to Mojave. It's a pretty sky over the desert, I think (I was still proofing pages). Leaving Mojave this morning we were tossing up which route to take and wondering what we could see that would be new; King Canyon appeals, but also involves lots of flat and boring central valley. I found a leaflet in the hotel for a feline research and breeding centre in Rosamond so we went and photographed lynxes and cougars and jaguars and jaguamundi and fishing cats and leopards and snow leopards and cervals and caracals and panthers and ocelots; typically, the Geoffroys cats were asleep. It's mostly a research facility and I always think the enclosures could be smaller but the lynx came out of his hideyhole and blinked at me and the cougar purred when one of the researchers stopped to chat with him. Also, they have many peacocks, which make more noise than any of the cats, and more mess. We wiped the gift of the peacocks off our shoes and headed on.

From Rosamond we drove an utterly straight road with occasional plantations of joshua trees over to the 14 and a distant view of the mountains of LA plus the smog of LA streaming into the desert; we did a few miles of freeway through big curving hills and paused for gas then came out of the pass into the central valley - and realised we'd missed our turn at the gas station and ran away from the central valley. From Travis up into the hills, where there is a little snow and many warnings for bears and much twisting of road, where we saw a red-tailed hawk flapping into the trees and a condor circling above us - I saw the white underwing and the black trim and then the sign for the condor programme at the wildlife preserve. Also numerous forest roads that the GPS tried to send us down. We resisted man-and-womanfully and were rewards with a twisting turning road and the most amazing views. To the left and south, tissue-paper layers of misty mountains; to the right a landscape of dimpled hills and slopes slowly falling to the central valley and more smog and beyond that the sierras, some edged with snow. The road went up and round and round and up and the view peeked at us between trees and spread out from the heights and we saw another condor - beneath us. Down, down, down the twists on the 166 and through canyons and gorges with only scummy green hints of the torrents of water that must have carved the landscape. We reached the 1 with the last of the light and saw the sea just past Pismo Beach then made impressive time into Paso Robles for the night. We hadn't planned ahead and Simon had done a lot of driving so rather than our usual trip out to Justin by the backroads we had dinner at the always-excellent Artisan downtown.

The bread at Artisan comes from Fresh Hills in Atascadero and if we ever remember to stop there I will buy half the bakery. Simon had Green Flash - very hoppy; I had Groth sauvignon blanc - which is as close as wine comes to hoppy, with a nice hint of peach - and Lascivious, a blend from a winery beginning with A that I enjoyed but might not seek out again. As usual Simon had the fondue with garlic toast, a sausage I think is kielbasa and broccoli; I had my first abalone, breaded in cornmeal and sweet and tender; the avocado and salad worked well with it, the pancetta was a little too thin and crispy and the fried green tomato was, I think, too hard. Simon's 48 hour short rib stew with market vegetables was tasty but my 'rack' of lamb (more a split chop and melting slice of shank with marrow to suck out of the bone) was so good I wanted to get down on my knees and thank the sheep. The inside was pink and juicy, the outside was crisp and dark and umami and the split bone was chewy and crunchy (and I picked up the bone and stripped it clean); white beans and cavolo nero to cut the fat, shoestring onion rings to make me aim to avoid fried foods for the rest of the week. Fried blueberry pies with lemon ice cream, of which we both said, with a feeling of shame at the comparison, like Macdonalds but done right, and the ice cream of the day - whisky raisin, cinnamon creme fraiche and guiness.

Back to the hotel and the warm day - 60 with the cats, 70 coming over the hills but spots of rain coming onto the last freeway and into Paso - turned into floods of rain pounding on the hotel roof like kettle drums. I'm expecting the car to have washed out to sea somewhere by Cambria...
Tags: beer, food, travel, wine

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