Savouring Sanguis and the last few days of Shirleyfest 2020

Before leaving Santa Barbara, I visit Sanguis Winery. It is one of two wineries I really want to experience during my month (the other is MarBeSo which I wrote about last post). My desire to visit starts with this quote I read on Sanguis’ website, “There is BEAUTY IN ORDER — but to merely accept this as a fact of life is to surrender to the status quo. In this way things will be predictable, monotonous and boring.The ‘Secret’ to making beautiful wine is to work hard at not giving into the seduction of routine and instead to continue experimenting and pushing the limits by exploring new directions. ” This sounds like a wine version of my philosophy of life. So I bike over after my lunch at La Super-Rica and knock on the door of the winery, set in Santa Barbara’s industrial area. The owner and winemaker Matthias Pippig lets me in and I find him and his co- worker Elliot having lunch.

I explained my mission and Matthias interrupts his lunch to talk to me about Sanguis and how it came to be in 2004 with his wife Jamie. Bavarian born Matthias has had many past lives including jazz musician and a stint at La Brea Bakery. I learn of his passion for capturing nature’s beauty in crafting electric Rhône and Bordeaux style blends. Matthias is heading out to Oregon for a new wine project, but he sets me up to have a tasting in a couple of days with his colleague Robin.

Robin amazes me wIth her knowledge. She tells me all about the building and how it became this unique winery at the edge of town. She shows me the process the winery is using to make the perfect wines, and how Sanguis embraces what nature provides. She talks about how they are working with the farmers in all aspects of the planting, pruning, and picking. Then we get down to the business of tasting. From Stolen Moments, to Loner to the Optimist to Bossman I am loving the depth and nuance of these wines. It won’t surprise any of my readers that I have to own some of the Optimist.

While we taste. we exchange ideas about travel and life. I do not know when I have had a better full range conversation with someone I had only just met. A native of Santa Barbara, Robin is an athlete ( dancer) and as such she has focus, spirit and the ability to rise to new challenges. She also loves food and before I go she gives me two good tips. Revolver Pizza and a new wine bar called Venus in Furs.

I am actually fairly hungry after the tasting and even though Robin was dubious that I could get a pizza that day, as they limit what they make, I give Revolver a call. Luck is with me.

A chef driven New York style pizza place only opened one month, Revolver takes on the name of the Beatles iconic album which for the Beatles was a leap into the future. So it is with the trio of men collaborating on this new venture. As Robin suggests, I take my prize pizza to Mesa Lane Beach nearby and have my own psychedelic experience of all my senses being happy from the memories of the day at Sanguis Winery and now the delicious pizza and the incredible view of the sun on the beach.

I have been following the Santa Barbara zoo on instagram and thinking of dropping by. I learn from my new friends Paul and Lynn that if I bike there I can also bike to the Andrée Clark Bird Refuge so that is my plan. The zoo is nicely laid out and manageable. I do believe I am the only person at the zoo without a child in tow, but I don’t care, I’m doing research.

A short bike ride later I am at the Andrée Clark Bird Refuge, one of the largest wildlife refuges in Santa Barbara County. It is named for the older sister of the heiress Huguenots Clark, who owned Bellosguardo (which is near the refuge), one of the several empty mansions of the reclusive copper heiress who died in 2011 at the age of 104. Bellosguardo sat furnished but unvisited by Huguette Clark after 1951. The staff was under orders to keep the home as it was, and automobiles remained in the carriage house with 1949 license plates, as described in the Clark biography Empty Mansions. The heiress funded the refuge in honor of her sister who died a week before her 17th birthday. There are over 200 species of birds in the refuge. It is so peaceful just sitting here taking in the refuge, the palm tress and the view of the ocean nearby.

Remembering Robin’s other recommendation, that night my neighbor Lynn and I head to the brand new Venus in Furs wine bar/cafe. It is a collaboration of a well known restaurant group in town named after the song by the Velvet Underground who named the song after an 1870 novella by Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. The front of house, Jamie, talks to us about the opening and gives us some background before we settle into a wine cocktail. All the cocktails are made with wine–not hard alcohol. Our choice is the Bee’s Lee’s, a delicious concoction of textured white winer, yellow peach blanc vermouth, honey and lemon.

After consulting with our lovely server, Jo, we smartly pair the drinks with some garden fritters made of olives, fried greens and citrus.

We eventually move on to try some of the wines paired with the spiced lamb belly and the melon with duck prosciutto and persimmons. A fun evening and so great to be able to walk to the restaurant and then walk home under the Santa Barbara moon. We didn’t have dessert and that may be my fault. Earlier in the day, hot from my bike ride I made a little stop.

The last morning in Santa Barbara I do one last bike ride along the beach. I lock my bike up and go for one last stroll at the water’s edge. Thank you Santa Barbara and thank you all the wonderful people I met during my month here. I’ll be back.

Happy Birthday Drink Eat Laugh

Wednesday was my birthday. I was told those last 5 words that day and here it is 72 hours later and I still can repeat them. The tick of one year older has not caused any mental degradation in me! Can you remember these words? More about my birthday later.

Friday morning I head off for the Montecito Farmer’s Market. I love Farmer’s Markets, but also I was hoping Megan, Harry and Archie might be there picking up some local squashes or peaches. No such luck, but I did find some chayote which I had never seen before. It is a gourd originally from Columbia and is cooked like a summer squash.

After the Farmer’s Market I head straight up and 10 minutes later I am at Lotusland. Lotusland is an amazing botanical garden. Madame Ganna Walska, a well-known Polish opera singer and socialite, purchased the Montecito estate in 1941 and spent the next 43 years creating Lotusland, today recognized as one of the best gardens in the world. There is a spectacular collections of exotic plants on the 37-acre property. I start in the cycad area and a guide points to these large three cycads and tells me they are called the three bachelors. Madame Walska sold off a million dollars of her jewelry to get these and the other cycads. These three are sub tropical plants that lived over 250 million years ago, before the dinosaurs. They are no surviving female plants for the three bachelors on the planet today. As a single lady I find this amusing.

There are guides throughout the garden. I learn so much from each of them. Cory, the Gardner, talks to me about bees— native bees, bumblebees, honeybees. I learn there are over 4000 species of bees and that they morphed from wasps. They have an entire section devoted to flowers that the bees and butterfly’s love.

Two bees or not two bees?

Honestly there is so much to tell about every section of the garden that I can’t do it justice. Let me just post a few more pictures I took and then encourage you to get a ticket if you are ever in Santa Barbara.

The one Farmer’s Market that I still want to get to is the Fishermans Market out on the wharf where the freshest catches are brought in from 6-11 on Saturday Morning. Today is the day.

It is so fun to see all the fishing boats and local fish, a lot of which is caught in the Channel Islands. I had a great talk with Paul who was selling vermillion ( like snapper) with his assistant Dylan. Paul tells me why the eyes of the fish bulge out ( has to do with a little balancing sac in the fish that expands when the fish come up from the deep sea).

Paul has been doing this for 40 years and seems to love both the fishing and the market. Paul tells me about an Italian man Salvatore Castagnola born in Italy in 1876. He came to the United States through New York in 1904. Salvatore started building fishing skiffs and acquired a fleet of 7 fishing boats. The family opened a fish market in 1929 in Santa Barbara and they shipped fish all over California. He and his wife had 11 children. One of the Castagnola fishing boats came up for sale and Paul bought it. It is named Sal C after Salvatore. He let me take a picture of him with his boat.

I have biked to the Fisherman’s Market so now I start biking to meet my new SB friends at La Super-Rica Taqueria. This beloved institution has been drawing crowds for decades from near and far with its simple, delicious food. Julia Child put it on the map when she moved to Santa Barbara after husband passed away. She announced in numerous interviews and magazines that it was her favorite spot. Lots of controversies exists as to its enduring claim to fame but I just want you to know that I loved it.

I beat my three friends there ( because I’m on my bike and don’t have to park) and get in the line. When they arrive they all have their favorites but I am torn.

I finally go for the Super Rica Especial (#16) and a special of the day fish tamale. If you look at these prices you see that over ordering isn’t a financial burden ( but it is a waistline burden). The people working here are so very nice.

This is Hector. I hung out talking to him while orders came and went. He has worked here for 20 years and takes such pride in his work. After a while he tells me, “ Shirley, you can call me Tito. That’s my nickname.” My order is up and it looks so delicious! Here is my tamale and my Super Rica Especial.

Here are my friends who suggested this outing. Lynn, Susan and Lynda.

But wait what about my birthday? Or birthday week actually. Do you remember those 5 words I told you at the beginning of this post. I was afraid of that. Happy Birthday Drink Eat Laugh

My brother John and sister in law Virginia arrive Monday night. We head out for a great tapas meal at Loquita in the Funk Zone to kick things off. The next day we hike the Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve. It is a beautiful protected area where the Santa Ynez Mountains can be seen to the north and the Channel Islands to the south. There is a view down to the Carpinteria Harbor Seal Rockery. The seals are there year round.

Now it is Wednesday my actual birthday. We start at a local art gallery, Sullivan Goss, to see the paintings of a local artist named Hank Pitcher.

Virginia and I are quite taken by another local artist in the gallery, Erika Carter. Her paintings are rooted in her travels to central Mexico. We both want this lady to grace a room in our homes.

When we arrive back at home, there are beautiful birthday flowers from two of my favorite people.

Now we head up to Buellton. First for a visit to Pence Winery. I mentioned Pence in one of my earlier posts. This time we sit in the Canyon and have a wonderful afternoon sipping their delicious wines.

But honestly the highlight of the wine experience is still to come. A brand new undertaking by Colin McNany, his wife Hannah and the adorable Poppy. I know this family from Colin’s days as the winemaker at La Honda Winery in the Bay Area. The new winery is called MarBeSo. They have a passion for coastal influenced wines. Please put this winery on your radar and get in on their wine futures. You will not be sorry.

Dinner tonight we easily walk to my favorite Olio e Limone. Despite my resolution to forgo dessert it comes out with a candle so what can I do but have a bite or two… or three.

John and Virginia leave Thursday and I would be sad except my friend Joan has invited me for a delicious lunch of a salmon salad from NYT Cooking at her beautiful home. It is so nice to meet new people on Shirleyfest with which you have an instant connection.

That evening I head to Hendry’s beach and catch the sunset and feel so blessed by all the love and friendship I have experienced this birthday.

And do you believe it, there is one more birthday dinner? Last year in Kyoto Angela and Jim helped me celebrate my birthday and they have made a return visit to to do that again this year. We head to Ca’ Dario and have one more beautiful celebration.

Another birthday, another post. Next and maybe last post will be in the next few days. Until then thanks for visiting Shirleyfest.

Food glorious food!

I am sitting on State Street which has been turned into a pedestrian zone, eating a Yoga Pants Salad and drinking a Sunshine Spritz and talking to the delightful Paul of Satellite about natural wines. It is noon on a Friday in Santa Barbara. The salad is created from the Santa Barbara Farmer’s Market offerings and the owner, Emma West, packed it with vegan protein to lure the patrons of the yoga studio next door after their sessions. The Sunshine Spritz is like an aperol spritz but two local vermouths replace the aperol. Paul gave me the recipe and I’ll make you one next time you come to my house. Better yet, come to Satellite the next time you are in SB.

Since I just had a “little” salad for lunch, I am happy to dig into Via Maestro’ fresh clams and linguine for dinner tonight with my new friends Lynn and Susan.

Via Maestro actually started as an Italian import business and then 20 years ago Renalto decided to showcase the products he had been supplying to restaurants by opening a restaurant of his own. It is a not well kept secret of every local I talk to.

So how do I choose where to eat and drink on Shirleyfest? I start by reading food blogs. Food bloggers have the inside scoop much more so than travel guides, TripAdvisor or Yelp. I almost never use those sources as they run to the touristy side of eating. I consult the travel writings of the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Guardian as I have calibrated those sources to usually be spot on with what I like. Then I talk to locals and most importantly when I like a restaurant I ask the chef where the chef likes to eat. I always keep a notebook and pen with me and you would be surprised how many chefs and restaurant workers have scribbled out fabulous places that I would never have known about.

But before food there is the cocktail hour. I learned of Test Pilot from a food blog. When my sister MJ came to town last week we headed straight over. I had the Millennial Falcon Fizz and MJ had the Spicy Margarita. Excellent! See happy sister below.

We proceed to dinner at Bouchon, recommended by several friends. Take a look at that bottle of wine behind me.

Remember in post #1 where I found a Santa Barbara Gruner Veltliner I loved? This restaurant didn’t have it on their list but our server agreed it is really the best so he went and found a bottle for us to have. The wine is the Tatomer Gruner Veltliner.

The day after Bouchon, MJ and I rode bikes out o Butterfly Beach and then my friends Tom and John joined Shirleyfest. We walked all over town before ending up at the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company where I ate my first night in Santa Barbara This time I went for the fresh Dungeness Crab Louis.

All that walking led of course to needing sustenance so the guys had McConnell’s ice cream— which has been around for decades and is the finest ice cream in the world according to Time magazine. Organic eggs, grass grazed cows producing the milk and nothing added. I resisted that but broke down at Chocolate Maya. Maya is a Swiss woman, who 20 years ago, finding no fine chocolates in this area returned to Switzerland and studied under famous Swiss chocolatiers to return and open her fine chocolate shop. In talking with her we discovered we had both been in the same fine chocolate shop in Kyoto last year at the exact same time.

Hours pass before we all reunite at The Stonehouse at San Ysidro Ranch for the most beautiful, extravagant dining experience in Santa Barbara. We are ushered to a table under a canopy of twinkly lights and start with a flatbread and cocktails. This is followed by amazing local halibut and Steak Diane and…..please stop me before I explode!

The next day we are going wine tasting at three wineries just north of here. You know what that means— gotta eat before tasting. We head to Industrial Eats in Buellton. It is a restaurant tucked into a re-purposed warehouse in the town made famous by the movie Sideways. The ingredients are all grown on the surrounding farms,

We first taste at Alma Rosa next door and then drive 10 minutes to Pence Winery , a 220 acre working ranch owned by Blair Pence, a Burgundy lover. His wines are esteemed Pinot noirs and chardonnays. The tasting is so beautiful as we are led past a pond and into a canyon for a private tasting with Mia.

We also do a very nice tasting at Melville Winery, but it is soon time to head back to Santa Barbara for a dinner overlooking the city at El Canto. It is straight up from where I am staying so MJ and I walk up and meet Tom and John. We feasted on whole Branzino while seeing the city glitter below.

The next day MJ and I hike for miles on Hendry’s beach and Tom and John meet us there after a long bike ride. We eat at the Boathouse Restaurant overlooking the beach. The hostess sends over a mud pie because we had to wait for our table and I think MJ and I got a teaspoon each.

That night we eat at Lark, a favorite for a long time. The Lark is named after the overnight Pullman train of Southern Pacific Railroad that serviced Santa Barbara from 1910 to 1968. The octopus there is so tender!

Before MJ leaves we bike to a great brunch at Joe’s Cafe and make a stop at Oat Bakery, my very favorite in Santa Barbara. It is called a superfood bakery for its all natural ingredients but you would never know it. Lovely Anna is so helpful and suggests I get everything.

Now I am on my own and I know what I want to do. Go to Cold Spring Tavern. It was an old stagecoach stop in 1865 and is about 20 minutes drive away. In the 1800s drivers would change horses there and have a meal. It is a throwback in time. It is a beautiful drive there. I made a reservation and I am glad I did as even at 11:30 the place is getting crowded with interesting types. I get a great table out back and go for the special tri- tip sandwich with onion rings. Delicious!

I think it is time to call it quits on food glorious food. There are some great other places I have tried: like Tyger Tyger (Thai) and Los Agaves ( Mexican) but I think you are full now.

Tomorrow I am hiking to Inspiration Point and going to try to only eat lettuce all day!

Channeling Santa Barbara…..how I saw the biggest mammal in the world

I’ve always wanted to go to the Channel Islands. It seems so mysterious. I jump out of bed at 6 am and then head down to Ventura to catch the boat. I am not disappointed as the harbor is shrouded in fog.

My new friend Joan has agreed to go on the adventure with me and after about 90 minutes we reach the exotic Santa Cruz Island. According to legend, Santa Cruz Island was named for a priest’s staff accidentally left on the island during the Portola expedition of 1769. A Chumash Indian found the cross-tipped stave and returned it to the priest. The Spaniards were so impressed that they called this island of friendly people “La Isla de Santa Cruz,” the Island of the Sacred Cross. It is the largest island in California and has a rich history of over 10,000 years of habitation. Today we are a small group of adventurers who temporarily inhabit this beautiful place.

The fog has lifted to showcase the beautiful blue water and an unbelievable variety of flora and fauna. We are offered the opportunity to hike to Pelican Bay, a “strenuous” hike if we sign a waiver. Of course we do.

We have a well deserved picnic at the end of the climb overlooking the bay.

Back down to the shore we explore the beautiful coastline.

Now we embark for the journey back. The sun is shining and we are treated to dolphins jumping along side the boat.

But the best was yet to come. Cue Jaws music. What is that bright blue object just under the surface of the water?

It is a blue whale, the biggest mammal on earth. 100 feet long and weighing 100 tons. And guess what? They live to be between 70 and 100 years old ( the oldest one recorded was 103). This one was a joy to watch. They generally stay down about 8 minutes so we patiently waited and then this happened.

It was a fabulous day and I can’t believe how lucky we are to have the Channel Islands so accessible.

The Channel Islands haven’t been my only adventure since my last post. I am coming to realize that Santa Barbara has 4 main things going for it: Water, mountains, wineries and the town. Let me take you back to the end of my last post to show you what I mean. I’ll start with water and go in all four directions.

After a great brunch with new friends Paul and Lynn and their boys, I took myself on a little exploration road trip. I saw the resort Bacara in the west, sitting on a remote lovely beach.

Then I went west to Santa Claus Beach and Padaro Beach and walked a long ways just loving the beautiful homes on the beach.

I went due south to Hendry’s beach shown above and then north to Lake Casita.

Water everywhere! Then there are the mountains. Santa Barbara is blessed with the very usual transverse mountains ( East-West). Most of the Santa Ynez mountains are in the Los Padres National Forest. I tried to hike in the mountains my first few days here but with all the fires it was forbidden. They call it Red Flag Days. I have to say the locals all know when those days are, but it is very hard for a visitor to find out. Luckily I have made friends with my next door neighbor, Lynn, who clues me in. If you park your car and go hiking on a red flag day— it is towed!

The ban has been lifted and I have done a lot of hiking since. The views from the mountains are fantastic.

The day before the Channel Island trip I combined the mountains and the ocean to go from the highest point I could hike to kayaking at sea level at sunset. I started off on Cold Spring Trail but then veered towards the top of the ridge.

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Santa Stunningly Beautiful Barbara

I didn’t know what to expect this year. No long airplane ride, no changing currency and time zones. No cell phone plan, no long cab ride from the airport to my new home and then figuring out how to work the lock in the dark. No pondering how to get a metro card on the first day. Nope, I just lock my front door and hop in my car.

I finish the 5 hour drive by cutting over on Route 154 and passing the most beautiful lake, forest and wineries. And suddenly I am here in my new home for 30 days.

Everywhere you look in Santa Barbara you find beauty. The sky is so blue, the palm trees line most streets and , well, the weather…..After getting settled in I walk down State Street which has been turned into a pedestrian zone.

Restaurants spill out onto the sidewalk. I meander until I reach the end of Stearns Wharf. This long wharf was built by a lumberman so that his ships could off load their lumber rather than throwing the lumber into the ocean and having it float to shore. It was a bustling business until the railroads came to California and took over the hauling of lumber. Now it is protected from becoming a Pier 39 or Santa Monica amusement area by the SB city council, but it does have a couple great places to grab dinner. So I did. At Santa Barbara Shellfish Company.

The next day, I start by finding the best coffee place in town: Handlebar Coffee. Delicious coffee and a great crew working there. Shout out to Brianna.

Not far away is a historic neighborhood I want to see called Brinkerhoff Ave. I bike there and it is a well preserved architectural showcase. It is named after Mr Brinkerhoff, a medical doctor from the east coast who persuaded people that the fumes from the tar in the sand in Santa Barbara was good for their health. He bought the whole block for $20. That idea coupled with the advent of the railroads and Sunset magazine luring people to the easy living of SB caused a huge influx in SB in the late 19th century. Then I bike along the beach for a long ways, seeing the stunning coast line and biking along a flower filled path.

I return to the area called the Funk Zone. This was a run down industrial area until it was turned into a “funky” interesting artist/restaurant/urban tasting trail. I have scheduled a walking tour but before it starts, I get in line at Mony’s, a little walk up burrito/taco shack. Mony’s is said to have the best Mexican food outside of Mexico City. It was delicious!

The walking tour is given by John and happily my two new neighbors, Lynn and Lynda, join the tour. He does a great job of showing us the history behind the current buildings and is a wealth of knowledge. His favorite ( and mine) was a building called Plant 59 where in 1942 Lockheed secretly moved half their operations into in order to avoid an anticipated strike by the Japanese on Los Angeles ( which never happened). There are little artist studios everywhere.

This is one where after having her windows vandalized, the artist decided to put up big scale art work instead of new windows. This used to be the headquarters of Weber bread— the west coast equivalent of Wonder Bread. Those train tracks are where the flour was dumped off each week by the rail.

Speaking of flour, Helena Ave Bakery is really well know in SB. I stop by for a cup of coffee and a piece of their sourdough toast the next morning.

I am pretty sure that is an entire jar of blueberry lavender jam on that toast. Ok well I’m biking off to join a Harbor Tour with John.

Another great tour that helps me understand the history of this wonderful place. We end with the famous Moreton Bay fig tree, planted from a seed in 1876 given by an Australian seaman to a little local girl that now 10,000 people can stay in the shade of and the beautiful SB railway station.

After the tour, I explore the Ambassador neighborhood of SB. Small homes and apartments near the ocean.

As many my followers know, one of the best parts of Shirleyfest is meeting people at my local destination. This evening I meet Joan, introduced to me by my friend Lila ( who visited me on Berlin Shirleyfest). We had a bite and drinks at the venerable Joe’s Cafe and had a great time discussing our mutual love of travel.

Coincidentally the next morning I am meeting another of Lila’s introductions, Maggie, who lives in Ojai. We agree to meet at Field and Fort in Summerland. It is a beautiful day and I decide to bike the 7 miles there. Another terrific person! I learn so much from meeting locals— why they moved to my host city, their favorite spots, but most of all it fits into the Tao of Shirleyfest. The real point of my travel is not vacation but exploration and part of that is in connecting with others. As Teddy Roosevelt’s uncle Robert once said after Teddy Sr wrote home from Europe about the sites he’d seen, “ I’m afraid, Theodore, you have mistaken the object of travel. It is not to see scenery…it is to see men. To enlarge your mind you must converse with and see the bent of minds of other people.” And so it goes with my Shirleyfest.

Later that night I head to an art gallery exposition followed by wine tasting at the Santa Barbara Wine Collective. Santa Barbara is one of the most interesting wine regions and famously is the longest East to West valley from Alaska to South America. This means the climate is perfect for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes.

The lovely Brooklyn pours me a flight of Santa Barbara whites and was nice enough to switch out one for a SB gruner veltliner that I was excited to try. For years this Austrian denominated wine has been my favorite white. I certainly drank a lot of it on Vienna Shirleyfest. I was excited to find a local winery making that wine. (Tatomer Winery). During the tasting I had a great conversation with Grace and Garret, there with their lovely baby Remi.

The next day is warm. I walk to the Saturday farmer’s market which is large and diverse. I see lots of chefs loading up their carts for their restaurants. I stop by the tiny but lovely Alice Keck Garden on my way home.

My brother John and sister-in-law Virginia ( the owners of this lovely home I’m inhabiting for SB Shirleyfest- I can’t say thank you enough times for that 🙏) took me to the Douglas Family Preserve when we visited together in August. I remember them telling me you could see great sunsets from there, so tonight I drive back and I am not disappointed.

So that is my first five days of Santa Barbara Shirleyfest. As I look out at the sunset, I am so happy I pivoted to SB for my 10th Shirleyfest and didn’t let the coronavirus cancel my exploration. I’ m looking forward to what comes next on this year’s Shirleyfest.

Oh yes there will be a Shirleyfest 2020

So far 2020 has brought us all a lot of bad news….coronavirus, social unrest, so many untimely deaths, impeachment, Brexit, stock market melt downs, floods, fires and locust …..I think we all are looking for some positive relief, both globally and personally. My original Shirleyfest plans were scuttled when France said “merci, mais non” to any US visitors. This being my 10th Shirleyfest, I definitely wasn’t going to forgo my month tradition, so I needed to regroup quickly. I am so happy to announce that Shirleyfest 2020 will be in Santa Barbara, Ca. It’s a 5 hour car ( not plane) ride away with excellent September weather and loads of trails and beaches. It has a rich history that I’m looking forward to digging into as well. Did you know it has been inhabited for 13,000 years ( originally by hunter-gathers known as the Chumash people) and the oldest human remains in North America, a 10,000 year old skeleton called the Arlington Springs Man, were found there? It has been leveled twice by earthquakes (1812 and 1925) and the avocado craze started in Santa Barbara when a local judge brought in the tree from Mexico in 1871.

Please pass along any suggestions you have for this year’s adventure and let me know if you know people there that I could meet ( socially distance of course). I hope you will follow along on this blog during September!

When life gives you a typhoon make typhood

A train ride away there is some great mountain hiking. I headed up to Karama to do the trail through the forest to Kibune. At several stops, ladies who were friends got on to make a day of hiking of together. As we started the trail I took their picture and then showed them how to use air drop to get it from me.Take a look at that neat Audrey Hepburn shirt.

The hike was really beautiful and I met many nice people with the same idea, including these two Austrian men. The photo at the top of this post is the start of the trail. I finished my hike with a nice lunch along the river and then made my way back to Kyoto. Tonight I will finally meet Gerhard who was introduced to me several years ago by my friend Amanda. As Gerhard grew up in Vienna, he helped me with that Shirleyfest in 2017. He lives in Tokyo so he was so much help on this current trip. He kindly stopped in Kyoto on a business trip to Osaka and we had a fantastic dinner and conversation at Maruhuku. The manager Yuki was a lot of fun and brought us lots of delicious sake to go with our sushi. My friend Momoko came by and introduced me to a new restaurant focused on locally sourced vegetables. It is called Izakaya Negiya. Negi means leek. We had a great lunch and then went gallery hopping. As an eye drop user, I was captivated by this one piece of art. Maybe I’ve been doing the eye drops all wrong.I took another cooking class recently. This time it was Bento Box cooking. It was great because once you learn the underlying basics you can apply them to lots of dishes. I even learned how to make sushi rolls. As the typhoon passed through Kyoto today I tried to use some of my newly acquired skills to make myself lunch at home in my little kitchen. I made my own dashi and that was the basis for home cooked miso soup, squash with plum topping and teriyaki chicken. Typhoon food!

I’m not sure I’m getting the high level of concern over this typhoon. It’s been raining today but I went out in it several times and it is no worse than a December California rain storm. They closed the Kyoto National Museum which seems odd as that is where people would want to go on a raining day. They even closed Starbucks early!This is what the sky looked like last night as I walked home from dinner. I always thought it was red sky at night sailor’s delight. Guess not. Tomorrow will be a beautiful sunny day here!

Catching you up on Kyoto

So much has happened in the last week ( broken up with my weekend trip to the Art Islands) that I thought I’d let the pictures tell the story.

First off I was fortunate that the Rugby World Cup was in Japan because it brought my friend Bob McNamara and his friends John and Mike to Kyoto. There was lots of laughter as we enjoyed Shabu-Shabu at the Restaurant Shabuzen in my neighborhood. That’s where the restaurant brings you 5 plates of wagyu beef and platters of vegetables and you cook them in the boiling pot of water at your table.

This is my new friend Jose from Arizona. We met at a coffee cart early in the morning that was blasting Ed Sheehan’s “What do I know?”All I know is Kyoto is amazing. We both realized that the iconic Kyoto pagoda was sitting picture perfect ready for us in the empty morning street.

This is the Heian Shrine near my apartment. The fortunes left on the tree look like snow. People make an offering and in turn get a fortune. If it is bad, it is the custom to fold up the strip of paper and attach it to a nearby tree. The idea is the bad luck will wait by the tree rather than attach to the bearer. The shrine was built on the 1100th anniversary of the capital’s foundation in Kyoto. This is the enormous kiln of the famous potter Kawai Kanjiro. His home is gorgeous and serene. So is his cat with his face turned to the sun. I visited here one afternoon and there was only one other couple there ( from Oakland!).I got up so early to go see Kiyomizu-dera Temple. I’m glad I did as it is stunning in the morning and I was nearly all alone wandering around the grounds.Now for some food pictures.

First is Hitami which the New York Times dubs the best yakitori restaurant in Kyoto. I went at 10:00 at night and tried every part of the chicken including chicken knees! They are crunchy. I didn’t love them. See the picture of the chicken for more info. The owner/grill master pictured here took a liking to me and pretty soon lots of chicken parts were coming my way. It would have been impolite not try them!

Next is a neighborhood restaurant Manzaratei with the nicest cooks and a bowl of what looks like French fries on the counter but is fish skin fried! I sat next to a young Chinese couple both dressed in kimonos. After a few courses they each left and came back wearing shorts and tshirts. Kimonos can be very restrictive– I know!

Then we have dango( sweet rice balls) from Ohagi no Tanbaya which is street food just up the block from my apartment. Very nice older women entice you as you walk by. I couldn’t resist.

Those are pork and leek gyoza. Whenever I can’t think what to eat, I just go get these and sit at an outside table with a Japanese beer and keep ordering these until I’m full. Yesterday I was there and a guy from Hawaii took a stool next to me and in the space of time that I finished two orders, he had had 4 orders and 3 glasses of sake. I need to get better at my gyozas.

The tea picture is from today. A friend told me to go to the flagship Ippudo tea store and have them instruct me on the whole tea ceremony. It was really fun and educational. I’m pretty wired from all that tea!

Finally I also went to the town of Uji today where matcha is from. Had matcha tea, matcha rice crackers, matcha buckwheat noodles and I finished with this matcha ice cream cone. Actually maybe that’s why I’m wired!

Everyone is talking about the typhoon headed our way. It suppose to be a doozy and hit in Saturday. But tomorrow is predicted to be sunny and warm so I am going hiking in the mountains.

Ki wo tsukete

Naoshima and Teshima: Art heaven from once abandoned fishing villages

Shirleyfest followers know that mid-month I leave my host city for one or two nights to find a special experience in the host country. Until now I would have said flying from Melbourne Shirleyfest to the island of Tasmania to visit the MONA ( Museum of Old and New Art) was my most extreme mid-month excursion. My last two days in Naoshima and Teshima have set the bar even higher.

I’m on the train at the moment heading back to Kyoto. By the time I’m back at my apartment, I will have taken 8 trains, 5 ferry boats, rented two different electric bikes and walked for miles. And it will all be worth it.

I arrive Saturday morning at Uno Port and walk three minutes to the stunning Airbnb I had rented. It is called Uno Nido and I highly recommend it. h ttps://abnb.me/h3SULxFpA0. Yumi, the owner meets me and shows me the place I will be staying, designed by her architect husband. If it wasn’t for the ferry beckoning me, I would have just stayed there the rest of the day. I hop on the ferry which is 5 minutes away and we sail along the Seto Island Sea.

I get the first of my electric bikes and start my pilgrimage to the amazing art sites. It is the Setouchi Triennial while I’m here so in addition to the permanent installations there are lots of special exhibits. It’s a gloriously sunny day and I would be content to just be riding my bike around the island, but art beckons. I stop first at the Bernesse Art Museum, designed by Tadao Ando, an unorthodox, iconic, self-taught Japanese architect whose presence is felt all over the islands (and globally).

My favorite piece at this museum was the Jennifer Bartlett triptych painting Yellow and Black Boats with two objects in front in the form of the boats. When you turn around from the painting and look out the window to the Seto Island Sea you see the actual black and yellow boats. Do you see the boats? I also loved these three chattering men.

Back on my bike, I pay homage to the famous Yayoi Kusama Pumpkin, which has become a symbol of Naoshima. I’m off to the Lee Ufan museum. It’s an underground house designed by Tadao Ando with the art work of Korean artist Lee Ufan. While all the rooms in this museum speak to me, I absolutely adore the art in the Silence Room called Relatum Silence. I am frozen in front of it.

No pictures were allowed in this museum so the snap above is from a postcard I bought. There is a projector and the pool in front of the stone goes from solid to a hole to water crashing on a beach. I know– hard to explain but trust me it was cool.

After viewing the house, I walk down to the beach below. Surprise! There I find the black and yellow boats from the painting! I’m so happy that I sit in the black boat and snap a selfie. Now I am off to see the Chichu Museum where I had to buy a special ticket online weeks ago. This is also a Tadao Ando museum. It is subterranean with only three rooms. One contains Monet’s water lilies , one has an experience art by James Turrell and my favorite is the third room: Walter de Maria’s exhibit Time/Timeless/No Time of a black ball surrounded by 27 sculptures of gold painted pillars. How did they get that ball in the room? ( I’m curious. I have to know, so I find someone and ask. The art went in first and then they built the roof. Wow!)

Now I just drift around the island admiring the beautiful waters. Finally I lock my bike up and take the ferry back to Uno as the sun is setting. Yumi has suggested a sashimi restaurant nearby for dinner. The fish couldn’t be any fresher with the sea right here. It’s a husband and wife operation and I enjoy watching the sashimi being prepared right before me. Also, sake goes very well with sashimi!

The next day I want to get the early boat to Teshima because I was unable to rent a bike ahead of time and also I was unable to buy a ticket online to the Teshima Art Museum which I’m dying to see. I grab a coffee and catch the boat to the small island. Luckily when I get off the boat a young Japanese girl tells me about a place to rent a bike about a half mile away. I sprint off and they have one for me! Off I go, heading straight for the Teshima Art Museum. More luck! I can get a ticket to the museum in one hour. With the hour available, I pedal to the “Les Archives du Coeur” by Christian Boltanski exhibit. There are three rooms. In one you can hear thousands of recorded heartbeats that Boltanski has collected since 2008, in the next you can go to a registry and pick out a specific person’s heartbeat to listen to and in the third you can elect to have your heartbeat recorded and added to the registry. I pass on the last one as I go off to claim my museum ticket. However, I couldn’t resist stopping at this multiple basketball hoop installation and watching people having fun.

There is a winding path thru the woods to get you to the tunnel opening of the Teshima Art Museum. It is a concrete shell resembling a water droplet with two oval openings. You take your shoes off and go in and sit and you see water droplets forming everywhere and moving along the concrete floor and forming puddles and you hear the wind and the birds and well…..it’s meditative and mesmerizing. No one talks and some people lay down and others walk among the droplets. I just watched and I couldn’t believe it when I looked at the time and 45 minutes had passed. I took the picture below when I left. No pictures allowed inside so the inside one is from the museum.

I do a few other art installations on Teshima. One that I’m sure American safety and accessibility folks would have a fit over was the Storm House. We all crowd into a dark house, with only one small exit up a flight of stairs and then the show begins with violent rain, thunder and lightening with the experimental work using light, movement of water and sound from speakers to recreate a storm approaching and then retreating. It was fun, but growing up with 5 siblings in a small house in Indiana where we experienced rainstorms pretty often…not such a unique experience for me.

After downing a bowl of ramen at the port in a cute cafe from the nicest old lady, I ferry back to Naoshima and get my bike there again. Now I head to the other side of the island to see the Art House Project. Artist have taken empty houses scattered around the residential area and turned the spaces into works of art. One is actually an old Eno Period shrine. You get a flashlight and tunnel underground to see this glass staircase that the artist Hiroshima Sugimoto designed to link the above ground temple to an underground stone chamber thereby uniting the worlds below and above. I couldn’t take pictures of the below ground part but here is the above ground part.

After that I get in line for the ferry with everyone else including this cute girl. Tonight I’m going to try the Japanese Onsen baths for the first time. I walk over to the Onsen under a beautiful night sky.The Onsen is separated by men and women, each side has 5 different types of baths and saunas. I try them all. It is pretty cool to be sitting in the Japanese bath looking at the Seto Island Sea and gazing at the moon. Some of the baths are filled with peonies, hydrangeas and irises. Afterwards dressed in the lounging kimono and pants provided to each guest, I have dinner in the restaurant. I order the local sea bream two ways– sashimi and then diced into a dashi broth and poured over rice, called Tai-Chazuke.

I’m really glad I made the effort to make this excursion. The ambiance of the islands was soothing and relaxing. I really want to return again to this special place in Japan.

Nara, Ohara, Sake and Sukiyaki

The featured image is from a ceremony I observed at Nanzen Temple. There was chanting, incense and a Buddhist leader praying for the many attendees by holding a card to his forehead and meditating for a short while. I was also lucky enough to see in my neighborhood two beautiful geishas on their way to an appointment.

Since I last posted I have been a busy gal. I went to the ridiculously picturesque town of Nara via a one hour train ride. It was easy enough with only one transfer. Nara was Japan’s first capital in the 8th century and has many significant temples and shrines. First though, I headed out of the station to see the beautiful Yoshiki-en gardens.

Interestingly entry is free for foreigners. The nice man asked to see my passport ( which of course I don’t carry with me) and when I said it’s ok, I’ll just pay, he said, no it’s ok you won’t pay. Next to the gardens is the famous Todaiji Temple which houses one of the largest bronze statues of Buddha.

But the real reason to go the Nara is the deer! The deer roam wild in Nara– over 1,000 deer. Everywhere you look there are deer.

But the cutest deer are those up by the Kasuga Grand Shine that roam the stone lanterns. I turned around while walking up the hill to the shrine and there was this trio just looking at me. Overloaded by all that deer cuteness, I head to a brewery called Harushika Sake Brewery. Oh yes please I’ll try the six sake tasting with these two gents from Osaka. I actually know very little about sake but I learned a ton and by the time I left ( actually they poured me seven tastings since I was enthusiastic) I knew enough to know I like it and want to drink more of it.Home in Kyoto that night I followed my Melbourne friend Eugene’s suggestion and headed for a local Izakara called Yururi for dinner. So glad I did. Tobe, the owner who loves Hawaii and has Hawaiian music playing and surfboards for decoration was so attentive and fun, plus the food was excellent! He and I really bonded. I loved this place so much that when new friends from California came to town, I suggested we go there for lunch. It was late afternoon and the 3 of walked in to find they had closed until dinner. I accepted that, but Tobe, said “no Shirley-San, I will make you and your friends lunch”. He reopened just for us. He called in two helpers and we had a beautiful private lunch.

The next day, I decide to go to the little mountain village of Ohara. It is a rural town straight out of a timeless bubble, nestled at the foot of Mt Hiei with great hiking and a beautiful temple. I hop on the bus and I’m there within an hour and set out on foot up the path. There are streams and waterfalls and little family run 3 seat cafes on the path. The Sanzen Temple there is beautiful. I sit at this tiny window in a small room with flowers, incense burning and candles lit, overlooking the forest and then when I’m ready I go thru a small door outside and look back through the same window– magical what I can see from that side.

Farther up the mountain, I meet Kimichi who makes her own matcha tea and sells it. She let me try a cup of it as well as a cup of tea made with dried seaweed, Kombucha. I purchase some of her tea. I got to get back because I signed up for a cooking class at 2 pm. Running back down the path, I come to a screeching halt and snap this shot!

I go straight to the class and find it is 6 guys and 2 other gals. The people are from Australia, England, South Africa and Ireland. Right away we fire up our individual stoves and the teacher guides us through making dashi from scratch and then 5 different recipes. I am amazed how well we all do.At this point, out comes the sake. We drink it “sake in a box style”. That means you fill the glass to the brim while it is sitting in a cedar box. You drink your glass and naturally some spills into the box. Then after you are done with your glass, you pour that back into the box and realize the cedar has given it a new twist.

Kanpai!

A Bamboo Grove and a Kimono of My Own

Wednesday was my first solo day in Kyoto, as the last of my visiting siblings and friends left that morning. We had such fun together ( more on that later) but now it was time for me to do what I’ve been itching to do– get up at the crack of dawn and go out to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. An hour bus ride and a quick walk in the woods led me here and it was magical. There is such a strange quality to the light. Later there would be hordes of people but for now it was all mine. I took quite a few pictures as I just could not believe my luck to be alone in such a gorgeous place.

After a meditative walk in the bamboo grove, I headed down to the river to see the boats slowly go by. Later I visited the Tenryu-ji-Jim Temple with its beautiful gardens ( and more bamboo).

Once again I was asked by a student to be interviewed about my stay in Kyoto. Returning to Kyoto, I met up with a new friend Gaji, who invited me for drinks at the Kawa Cafe overlooking the Kamogawa River. Gagi took this picture.After drinks, we headed for a secluded restaurant, called Yamabun, in Gion where Gagi is friends with the chef, Aoki. What a meal! Course after course. Three different kinds of sake and loads of fun as Aoki conversed with us while we ate and drank.

You would think the night would be over at that point, but no….we needed to go to one more place. A sushi bar in a back alley called Tomizusi, run by the talented sushi chef Nobuo. We sat there while he took a knife and made art work of a cucumber. Such a fun evening.

Despite all the sake and food, the next day I’m excited to meet another new friend Momoko. A post-grad student at Kyoto University, I met her like Gaji through my “lines in the water” before leaving home. She arrived at my apartment with the idea that we should rent beautiful kimonos and spend the day doing what we want but dressed in our finest. Why not! We head to a lovely kimono shop, Kinhare, where Mr and Mrs. Akiyama proceed to help us choose our finest. Mrs. Amiyama then carefully designs our hair style to go with the Kimono we have chosen.

This is the finished look but you probably can’t imagine all the layers and ties and hairspray that went into this! We take off in our kimonos and Momoko takes me to lunch at a place near my apartment called Wabiya Korekidou that only has one thing—Oyakodon. The dish translates to “mother and child” because the two proteins are chicken and eggs. Depending if you like raw egg or cooked egg, the server presents the dish and then stirs and stirs the egg into the hot broth until you are happy.

After lunch we go to a beautiful temple and have matcha and sweets.

Everywhere we go we get stopped and people ask to have their picture taken with us. It is such a fun experience. We really hated to return our lovely kimonos at the end of the day.

Before I end, I want to shout out to John, Virginia, MJ, Angela and Jim who were visiting here before my kimono days. We had so many great meals and fun times. This is one of our first meals together at Tenyu, a 10 seat Michelin one star tempura restaurant. So many small tempura dishes and all of them perfect. My birthday dinner before they left was celebrated at Mamechu in a private dining room on tatami mats. Many courses, some of which we knew and some we did not, but all delicious and loads of laughing

Kyoto Arrival: Friends, Family, Food

I arrived in Kyoto to a delightful apartment, called the Gion House in Kyoto’s old historic district. My Shirleyfest home is over 100 years old, filled with antiques and before it was converted to a residence was a “ochaya”, or tea house where geishas entertained.

A beautiful flower arrangement from the owner overlooking my private Japanese garden greeted me.

I quickly unpacked as my friends Sandy and Harvey were in town and were bringing by champagne to kick off the trip.

We head out to dinner and are fortunate to see a geisha heading to an appointment.

The next day a walking tour of the Gion area reveals lots of information about the history and training of the geishas. Surprising they start their apprenticeship at 15 and for 6 years earn no money.

Our tour ends after the iconic pagoda of Kyoto.

I head home, go to the wine shop to stock up for friends’ visits and get ready for a birthday dinner on the 11th floor of the Kyoto Station overlooking the Kyoto tower.

After playing around at the Kyoto station with my friends, I head home to await the arrival of family and friends tomorrow. In the morning we decide to take the train to Fushimi Inari-Taisha temple with its magnificent gates and hiking trails. It is beautiful and mysterious and I love it! 

Meanwhile my sister has arrived so after the shrine, I head out to her hotel for a drink and we take a cab ride out to a restaurant I had learned of that specializes in ” burnt ramen”, Kyoto Gogyo. The ramen is not actually burnt. It’s called that because the miso or soy based broth is heated to 300 degrees C. It consistently is ranked as one of the best ramen experiences in not just Kyoto but in Japan.

Heading back to my cozy apartment that night I realized how much I will learn during this Shirleyfest. When I stepped off the plane I felt illiterate in that I could not read or write in Japanese. Then I felt mute and deaf as I couldn’t speak or understand Japanese. I’m starting to realize after this first 72 hours that instead of that being a hinderance, it is a blessing. I’m forced to use my intuitive senses and look for non verbal clues to understand my new home. One example of this– I noticed so often in these three days that young children were trudging off to school unaccompanied by an adult. I’m starting o understand that this culture does not embrace the “helicopter parenting” style you see elsewhere. I’m coining the term “slingshot parenting” to describe what I see as parents releasing their children into the world in a trusting manner. I’ll continue to observe and see if this is borne out during my stay.

Kyoto you make me laugh

Every year I do a post towards the end of Shirleyfest with things that have amused me during my month. Kyoto provided plenty of material. Let’s dive right in.

Yes the Nara deer are cute, but really? I guess that’s why they have this sign in the road. I can’t say I’ve ever seen an exclamation mark on a road sign, but in this case it makes sense.

Speaking of signs, here are some very funny ones. The first one is in my neighborhood and it is letting people know all the things they shouldn’t do– do not touch the geishas, do not eat and walk, do not use selfie sticks, do not smoke, litter or lean on the fences. Apparently groups of men tourist were cornering the geishas for pictures.

This next sign is also in my neighborhood. You got to hand it to the guy, he is straightforward.

This one is funny but very very sweet. I saw it on Naoshima when I was down in the Art Islands.

This one is in famous Nishki Market. Instructions on eating the octopus stuffed with a quail egg are most appreciated.

Speaking of eating, please heed this warning.

I was also so amused by the trend in Kyoto to always give the peace sign when your picture is being taken. Here are a few examples.

There was a shop at the end of my street that was rarely open and I could not figure out from the sign what it sold. Can you? Then one day I walked by and these two young girls had made a purchase.

Taxis in Kyoto are amusing for two reasons. First, you never touch the door to open or shut it. It opens and closes automatically. Also the side mirrors are not located where ours are. When I first saw a taxi, I thought it was a police car.

Speaking of police, the first Saturday I saw all of these uniformed men near my place directing traffic. I thought a dignitary was in town.

Nope. I tried to go into the building they were “guarding” and they all stopped me and pointed to this sign.

Oh I see. It was off track betting. It has been this way every weekend since I got here. I love the name of the facility…WINS.

I was cutting thru a forest area in Nara and when I turned the corner I saw this run down house. But….apparently they love my favorite sport of basketball.

Also in the forest, but at the start of a trailhead , was this guy. Maybe it reminds some of you of someone

Most people who come to Japan are amused by the next set of pictures. Vending machines everywhere. There is a mentality of efficiency that makes these vending machines very popular. When I went to the movies the other night, everyone was in line to buy their ticket from a vending machine while a live clerk stood by also willing to sell but with no customers.

This street in Osaka made me laugh and it still does. How can you find anything?

The Kyoto Station has 11 floors of lights and at night people come and make patterns by zig zagging thru them with their friends. Here is my friend Sandy letting herself zig and zag. It sure made me laugh .

Yasakakoshido Temple has unique way to worship. Worshippers write their wish on colourful ball called “kukurizaru” and hang them at the site. Kukurizaru is the round, ball shaped talisman made of cloth, representing the good faith monkeys. It is suppose to look like you put your wish inside a monkey. It is believed that if you give up one of your greeds, your wish will come true. 

There is so much more, but let me leave you with this one. Koe makes fabulous doughnuts . They are a delight to eat. It makes me laugh to think that they need to gild the lily by adding a lemon meranguine topping. But then I saw the signs outside advertising what else they do with doughnuts. Now that’s funny.

So Kyoto you are an amusing place and you make us all laugh whether we are born here, the USA or in Austria but now call Japan home. Thank you Kyoto!