What is referred to as mid-coastal California, aka the area near Big Sur, Carmel and Monterey. Actually, the weather wasn’t always fully sunny but it changes very fast especially in the Carmel Valley where friends rented a great house with 360 degree views.
I collected my car at the San Fran airport to drive to the house. The car was billed as compact but in truth was almost a skateboard with a steering wheel. It was the new Nissan Juke — fun to drive but not the wheels of my dreams–but I can’t complain as it took me wherever I wanted.
Big Sur is as beautiful as ever, crashing waves, hairpin turns and, at certain times, very crowded with hikers, campers, families etc. I stopped at Dteejens Inn where breakfast was ending. Then went to Nepenthe to see it but wasn’t hungry; by the time I got back there the parking lot was impenetrable. Ended up having a terrific lunch at the Big Sur Bakery which also sells gas, a good thing as my teensy car was down to vapors. Note to foodies: everything on the menu here looked wonderful and other diners were very enthusiastic.
Point Lobos has excellent hiking on well-marked trails. The day I visited the famed harbor seals and sea lions must have been catching up on Netflix as none were in evidence. if you visit, pick a weekday and park on the road, not in the very small parking areas.
I’m a huge artichoke aficionado so Castroville was a must. Fried choke hearts were good, the artichoke bread interesting but the whole artichoke was steamed into submission and missing the requisite “bite.” Artichokes on sale at the next door market were the price I pay in NYC so I passed.
Terminally cute Carmel has shops, restaurants and the Sunset Center where my hostess took me to a concert given by the excellent Monterey Symphony orchestra. We also went to Pacific Grove which has a more authentic vibe than Carmel along with fewer people and less attitude. Carmel Valley has several wonderful restaurants, among them Roux where the food is innovative and often show-stopping.
I skipped the Monterey Aquarium but went to the John Steinbeck Center in Salinas where there are reminders of Steinbeck’s prolific career with film clips, author notes and the like. Good place to take a kid who is a reader.
This is my take on lunch at the Big Sur Bakery:
Avocado Toast –Big Sur Bakery
Slice of high quality bread cut in half and lightly toasted
Mashed avocado (1/2)
Candied kumquats or Meyer lemons
1 1/2 pound sugar
To candy the kumquats you have to buy them–not hard but not as ubiquitous as, um, regular lemons. Cover fruit with cold water and bring to a boil. Drain and set aside. In the same saucepan, combine 1 cup water and the sugar, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Pierce each piece of fruit 2 or 3 times with a paring knife. Drop fruit into the sugar syrup and continue to simmer for 15 minutes for kumquats or 20 minutes for lemons. Remove from heat and leave the fruit steeping in the syrup unrefrigerated for 8 hours or overnight. Drain and slice into thin slices to use in this recipe. Nibble the rest.
For the open- face sandwich: drizzle some honey on the bread. Top with the mashed avocado. Dot with goat cheese and top with slices of the candied kumquat artfully scattered.
Say OM. Or maybe Yum.