UCSB professor and painter, Dan Linz's Santa Ynez wildflowers Spring 2016
Recent rainfall has softened the four year drought plaguing our Golden State. For the next month you can catch wildflowers in full bloom along the I-5. Showy tangerine poppies, lupine blues and incandescent yellows of flowering mustard greens, are easy on the eyes.
These hues remind me of the Nabi School of painters, Pierre Bonnard noted among them. We caught an in-depth retrospective of his work at the Legion of Honor, which should not be missed.
Whenever possible Barolo, our Australian shepherd, accompanies us. Two days minimum is needed for a memorable scenic route from Los Angeles to San Fran.
Classes on how to make living birdhouses every few weeks at Cambria Pines Lodge
After San Fran there was a final jog up to Napa for another novel experience.
Well fed and dry aboard the vintage Napa Valley Wine Train next stop Grgich Hills
What better itinerary than to head north to Gorman for the first breathtaking views? Time to switch driving duties an hour later, we spontaneously chose Fort Tejon to do so. This historical landmark is something passed hundreds of times. As luck would have it, we caught the reenactments of 1860's fort life going on for a group of fourth graders. From the I-5 we take Hwy 46 heading west.
We stop at a James Dean memorial carpeted in lemon yellow blooms.
On our way to River Oaks we drop into see Maggie Tillman at Alta Colina for a sip of her 2012 Toasted Slope Syrah, before a late afternoon outdoor dip at River Oaks where 101 meets the 46. The views of vineyards and the silky odorless water warm water was sublime.
In the fading light of day, refreshed and growing hungry we traversed the Brigadoon-like Green Valley Road to the Cambria Pines Lodge. Originally it was the party house of a European high society woman wanting to be close to Hearst and the festivities at his castle. Now it is a pet friendly inn with verdant grounds, including an organic garden that feeds the restaurant.
Next morning, we were back on the 46 - interesting a palindrome with 64 - happy to retrace our steps over the grassy rolling hills reminiscent of New Zealand or Ireland. Before the Hwy 101 into San Fran, there was a check into Brecon Estate for a friendly reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 and giant white fluffy dog to play with Mr. B.
All of this coming and going was wrapped around Lew's 64th birthday, a trip easily stretched out over a week or more, accomplished in 5 days. What better excuse for a wine and cheese tasting, family dinner, champagne toasts and museums?
If you have ambitious plans for home cooked meals and want to take responsibility for the lion share of planning and shopping without spending your precious time hunting and gathering, source your ingredients by planning ahead. Having as much as possible shipped to a key person's home in advance, you can enjoy being out and about with your hosts, .
Three Tips for Many Hands Light Work:
1. Build On a Theme with Related Activities
2. Plan Ahead and Delegate
3. Outsource and Have Items Delivered
This 64 tour began with a cappuccino or bottle of kamboucha, part of a ritual, a break I try to take at Caffee Luxxe, in a mid-century modern masterpiece courtyard to dream up my next scheme for how to have a good time.
Planning has a zig zag nature to it, just like the Land Art Andy Goldsworthy sculpture Wood Line (2011) near Lover's Lane that we loved so much at the Presidio. Situated in the impressive newly renovated Officer's Club, we found an equally impressive lunch at Arguello's next to another Goldsworthy sculpture, Earth Wall (2014).
So where did I start? A loose theme helped me organize. With Napa Wine Train as the end goal, it occurred to me that much of wine from this region is Bordeaux style. Yes there are the pricey high end Grand Cru that are relatively untouchable. Budget friendly second tier Superior wines captured my interest after reading about it.
We went with a selection of four. Chateau Mirambeau Papin 2010 we all agreed was the best. What was left of Petite Chapeau 2013 went into the short rib marinade. Chateau L'isle Fort 2010 looks like a great place to visit and what was left worked well in a red wine reduction sauce for scallops. Chateau Jean Faux 2010 Sainte Radegonde paired beautifully with short ribs.
Economizing on the wine, we splurged on the champagne and went with a horizontal tasting of Taittinger champagne. I melt for a pretty bottle, so Nocturne was a no brainer, the bottle is visually stunning and the birthday guy's preferred. Next time we will try the Prestige Rose before a big meal. The Brut Francaise was Lew's dear daughter's fave.
Googled best online butcher, and came across D'Artagnan. Perusing their great website, lo and behold the founder Ariane Daguin is a French woman from Gascon, daughter of a famous chef. In the recipe section, Lew's fave meal of all time short ribs appeared with a direct link to check out - irrestible - as are so many other recipes I would love to try.
Lew and I have been loving NPR's Science Friday's cheese series, a great accompaniment to wine. I Googled best French cheese shop in San Francisco and came upon La Fromagerie where Reuben and Ameryick could not have been more helpful choosing cheeses.
The Beatles soundtrack in my head, it was starting to hang together, family of Francophile foodies, Napa Valley Wine train and Bordeaux style wines, champagne and hot springs.
After toasts, dinner, laughs, conversation and a bit of digesting we were on the road again. This time to the Westin Verasa without Barolo. Luckily we checked in with enough time to bundle into robes provided, and enjoy an outdoor Jacuzzi and heated saltwater swimming pool.
Conveniently located across the street from the wine train station, a great breakfast was to be had at the casual companion restaurant to La Toque. Those in Los Angeles in the 1990's might remember the young Ken Frank who now has two restaurants in the hotel.
Woke up to the threat of rain. To natives like us this was sweet relief. Waiting in line Wine Train staff kindly passed out umbrellas while waiting to board.
Double sweet relief, a rainy day activity, not to behind the wheel. Seated at the table looking out the golden velvet draperies framing the window, I am reminded of the trompe l'oiel screens Bonnard painted. Back on the train for dessert and coffee in the lounge after a tour of Grgich where we sampled low production 2012 Merlot from four vineyards and the signature 2013 Chardonnay which beat the French in 1976 putting California wines on the map.
One more check in with the kids in San Fran to pick up Barolo, heading back to Los Angeles to face Monday and the work week. The legitimate and fundamental need for self-care stems from the belief it is important for couples and individuals to have something good to focus on and look forward to.
Why wait for the big birthdays, a decade changer like 70 or the half way point of 65 to mark and measure the days of your life? Middle essence transformation on the agenda, journeys come to mind as one of the best way to savor life. To plan well is to live well to maximize enjoyment and minimize last minute stress.
All photos courtesy of Lewis H. Perkins
Disclaimer: Nothing written here should be construed as advice or therapy. Any product, service or activity is only a suggestion, what I am a fan of, and should not be considered an endorsement.