Santa Cruz, California

To celebrate our wedding anniversary, my wife and I headed down to Santa Cruz for a long weekend. We returned to this great vacation house we had rented a couple of years before, also for our anniversary. We have fond memories of that weekend, as it was our last little getaway with our previous dog, Frannie, and I think it was the last time she ever made it to the beach. Now we have Sophie, and we took her along for this trip.

Frannie
Sophie

As you can see, there are some clear similarities. Mostly, they’re just happy to be at the beach.

The house we rent is in a great location. It’s on a dead end street that has public access to a really nice beach, and there is a good Hawaiian restaurant within easy walking distance. We also drove down to Capitola for an afternoon, I guess as a getaway from our getaway.

Pt. Reyes Station, California

On a recent Sunday my wife and decided to get out of San Francisco and head up to Marin for the day. The city is nice and all, and we usually find something fun to get into, even if it’s just a leisurely lunch complete with wine and Sophie, our yellow lab. But some days you just want a complete change of scenery, and Marin definitely fits the bill.

At first we thought about heading up to Hog Island Oyster Company, which is in Marshall right on the Tomales Bay. But since it was Father’s Day we thought Hog Island might be a little crowded. So instead we opted to head for Point Reyes, a tiny little town out in Marin.

Marin County barn

“Hello, fog.”
The family

Sometimes when you live in San Francisco, with all its summer fog, it pays to get out of town. We call it “chasing the sun.” As you can tell from the photos, it paid off for us on this particular day.

Dah brunch

After having posted about “Le Brunch” in Paris, it is now time for me to write about “Dah Brunch” that I recently had in Maui.

Dah brunch, Maui, Hawaii
Dah brunch, Maui, Hawaii

This was similar to Le Brunch in that it was a large conglomeration of a bunch of separate things. In this case, it was two eggs over easy, bacon, fried potatoes, toast, and a short stack of pancakes in case I was feeling cheated for starch.

This may have been the first morning we spent on Maui, and you can’t tell from the picture, but the ocean is only about 100 yards away from where we were sitting. In a setting like that, food doesn’t need to be all that good, but I can honestly say that Dah Brunch was better than Le Brunch. Everything was done really well, especially the pancakes, and about 12 minutes after this picture was taken, I had officially joined the Clean Plate Club. This meant, of course, no swimming for at least an hour, but it was worth it.

Life with a dog

My wife and I are dog people. Not in any extreme way, I hope, but simply in the sense that we have chosen to have a dog and we treat the dog like a member of the family. If you know our dog, Sophie, you would understand. She’s amazing.

Sophie, a yellow lab
Sophie, the first time I met her

Sophie is a rescue dog. She was found as a stray in Idaho and through the work of a labrador retriever rescue agency here in the Bay Area, she was brought here to find a home. You can’t see it in the picture above, but her yellow vest says “Adopt Me.” She was being walked by the woman who was fostering her. I took the picture while the foster mom and I were having a conversation about the possibility of my wife and I adopting Sophie.

A few months before this picture was taken, we had lost our previous dog, a chocolate lab named Frannie. Frannie was a wild one, full of life and energy, not always that well-behaved, but a joy to be around. She lived to be almost fifteen, and when we lost her this past January we were crushed. If you’ve been through it, you’ll understand.

Frannie, a chocolate lab
Frannie, looking for food

We knew we wanted to get another dog soon, but we took a few months, traveled to Europe, and tried to get over our loss. We started looking at the websites of a couple of lab rescue agencies, hoping to find one who needed a home. We hoped to find a young adult so we wouldn’t have to go through the puppy stage. Puppies are cute, but they’re a lot of work. Plus, we figured the rescue agencies would have an easier time finding a home for any puppies, since most people probably want a puppy.

After several weeks of scanning the rescue website, I encountered Sophie, purely by chance. Something about her, besides the vest, said “Adopt me.” She has a great disposition, she’s very calm, she’s friendly, and outgoing enough to be pleasant without being overbearing. After we worked out the adoption process with the agency (which luckily only took two days), we brought Sophie home. She instantly made a difference in the feel of our apartment. It’s difficult to explain if you have never lived with a dog, or don’t find them appealing (and yes, I judge you for it), but a dog warms a home in a way that nothing else can.

Sophie, lying on the floor at home
Sophie, lying on the floor at home

Dogs are very pure creatures, and are motivated mostly by food and attention. They can be mischievous, sure, and sometimes destructive. But the beauty of a dog, at least in my experience, is that they always want to be with you, even if you’re not doing anything special. As I am typing this post, Sophie is lying on her own bed beside the sofa, waiting patiently for me to feed her dinner. If I got up and put her in the car, she’d be super excited without having any idea where we were going. If I put the leash on her to take her for a walk, she would jump around like it was the best thing ever. Pure. I think I could learn a thing or two from Sophie. Maybe I already have.

Le Brunch, Paris, France

As mentioned in a prior post, my wife and I recently visited Paris and Barcelona. We first spent a week in Paris, where we rented an apartment on the Left Bank. We then flew to Barcelona for six days, and then returned for one last day in Paris, this time in a hotel near the Eiffel Tower. We arrived in Paris very early and managed to finagle an early check-in. Then we went in search of breakfast.

As you can tell if you have looked at my wife’s blog at all, we spend a lot of time involved with food, either eating it, thinking about it, making it, shopping for it, or wishing we weren’t so full. So the idea of spending some time in Paris was a source of a lot of excitement and anticipation for us, and that first, pre-Barcelona week was filled with many great meals. More on those in subsequent posts.

On this particular day, though, we didn’t have a specific place in mind, we were just really hungry and quite tired, since we had gotten up in Barcelona at about 4:00am to catch our flight back to Paris. So we headed out walking, mostly in the direction of the Eiffel Tower, if for no other reason than it actually is quite magnetic. We passed a couple of places that for one reason or another didn’t quite pass muster. Finally we found a place with some outdoor seating, no wait, and what looked like a decent menu.

For some reason, this place, despite being very Parisian in appearance, offered “Le Brunch.” A very American type of brunch. My wife ordered a croque madame, which sounded good to me, for for some reason I just had to get Le Brunch. Words could not do it justice, so here goes:

Le Brunch, Paris, France
Le Brunch in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower

Clockwise from the front center of the picture, we have: barbecue sauce, to go with the pieces of chicken adjacent; mozzarella with tomatoes; hash browns; bacon; chicken apple sausage; one pancake; Canadian bacon and/or ham; with the scrambled eggs in the middle.

It’s really impressive in some odd way. I think the chef may have had two thoughts going on here: 1) Americans who are visiting Paris want to see something familiar on the menu, and 2) Americans eat a lot of food. Since I was both sleepy and very hungry, le brunch didn’t stand a chance. I think the only thing I didn’t eat was the pancake, mostly because I don’t like pancakes all that much, but also because this one was very small, dry, and tough.

Needless to say, le brunch, along with a couple of cafes creme, provided me with enough fuel to get through to dinner. As well as a great picture and fodder for a blog post. Unfortunately I can’t remember the name of the restaurant, but if we are ever back in Paris, I’m going to try and find them again. But this time I’ll ask them to hold the pancake.

Cannonball Adderley, Bohemia After Dark

On a visit to Amoeba Records this past winter, I picked up a double LP compilation from Cannonball Adderley called Spontaneous Combustion. I had heard a little bit of his music, and had previously raided my late father’s vinyl collection for a different double LP release, but I didn’t really know that much about the guy.

Here’s a little bit about him: originally from Florida where he was a music educator, he moved to New York, got discovered at a club called Cafe Bohemia, ended up playing with Miles Davis for a little while before eventually forming his own band. He also recorded an album with John Coltrane, called simply Cannonball and Coltrane. Tragically, Cannonball Adderley died of a stroke in 1975 at the age of 46.

I don’t think Adderley gets mentioned in the first rank of jazz saxophonists, such as Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, and Ornette Coleman. I suppose the criticism is that he wasn’t as groundbreaking as those guys, but to my ears, he sounds just great.

The first song on Spontaneous Combustion is “Bohemia After Dark,” an Oscar Pettiford composition. Although this recording was originally released under the name of the session’s drummer, Kenny Clarke, it is now often released under Adderley’s name, as it is one of the earliest recordings featuring Cannonball (real name, Julian) and his brother Nat.

Album cover of Spontaneous Combustion, by Cannonball Adderley
The album cover

Whatever name it’s under, it is such a great piece of music. Click the image of the album cover to link to a YouTube version (there’s no video, it’s just a still image of the Savoy record label). Check it out, and if you like it, see if you can find a copy to buy. It’s on iTunes under “Spontaneous Combustion” but vinyl is more fun. But in whatever form you find it, I bet you will listen to it again and again. I know I do.

El Xampanyet, Barcelona, Spain

El Xampanyet, tapas bar, Barcelona, Spain
Behind the counter at El Xampanyet

My wife and I recently took our first trip to Europe (well, she had been to Scandinavia when she was young), and spent time in Paris and then Barcelona. I will likely post many more times about this trip, but I wanted to start with one of the more memorable experiences — a visit to the tapas bar El Xampanyet in Barcelona.

Xampanyet (shahm-pan-YET) is a Catalan sparkling wine, and El Xampanyet actually has a house brand that they serve in the bar, and also sell by the bottle.* We had heard about this place from a friend and tried to find it on one of our first days in the city, but without success. Later in the week we ventured to the Picasso Museum (not as exciting as we had hoped), and as we left the museum we stumbled across El Xampanyet. Apparently the first time we searched for it it had been closed, possibly for the siesta.

The bar was crowded when we walked in, but to us, that’s a good sign. Another good sign was that just about everyone was speaking either Spanish or Catalan. That’s another indicator we like to use when visiting a restaurant or bar in a new place — if the locals don’t go there, why should we?

Since there were no open tables we bellied up to the bar. There were no bar stools, so we had to stand. A little unorthodox, but hey, I’m a guy, and it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve eaten standing up. We stood there for a moment, admiring all the tapas behind the glass and wondering what we would have (besides “All of it.”).

Selection of tapas at El Xampanyet
Mmmm, cured fishes

A guy came up to us to take our order (the bald guy in the blue shirt in the first photo). Since cava seems to be a popular choice in Catalonia, that’s what I ordered. He looked at me and said “Cava, o xampanyet?” I stood there, nonplussed, since I wasn’t aware at that point that xampanyet was an actual thing (I guess if I had thought about it I could have figured it out: “champagne”:”xampanyet”). While we stood there, our fellow patron, perhaps an American, muttered “Get the xampanyet.” We obliged, and the guy behind the counter seemed happier for it.

He popped the top from a bottle and poured us a couple of glasses, and let me tell you, it was incredible. Sometimes things occur in just the right way, and this was one of those times. We had spent most of the day walking around the city, and we were thirsty and hungry. I have developed a taste for sparkling wine recently, and that xampanyet went down so easy.

Soon we were ordering up tapas, making friends with another patron, and admiring the chaotic grace behind the counter. The blurry guy in the photo wasn’t really moving that fast, but they were all in pretty much constant motion. It’s easy when eating tapas to keep nodding when they ask if you want something, more food, another round, etc. Let’s just say that we made the most of our time there, and it’s an experience that we will both remember for a long, long time. And just in case you’re ever looking for it, here’s what it looks like from the outside.

Exterior of El Xampanyet, Barcelona, Spain
"'Bye, El Xampanyet!"

* Yeah, we took one back to our apartment.