California out the window

by Caroline

Every Sunday morning, just two blocks from my house, our neighborhood farmer’s market lets me witness the seasonal cycles of California produce and other farm products. Valentine’s Day was the last day for satsumas, for instance, so I bought several pounds for our trip; the woman who sells me eggs explained she’d run out earlier than usual because “The ladies are slowing down.” Our farmer’s market, like many, is made up of small family farms: they bring their kids; they borrow change from the neighboring stand; they may run out of produce and close up early. California agriculture as seen from my farmer’s market every week is low-key and pretty casual.

The California agriculture I saw out the car window last week on our road trip is an enormous machine; it’s the California that feeds this country. One statistic I read says that the state grows “more than half the nation’s fruits, vegetables and nuts from less than 4% of the nation’s farmland.” Driving across that less than 4%, as we did on our drive east and south to Yosemite, and then south some more and west to Santa Barbara, is hugely educational and although I’ve done the drive before, doing it with the kids this time I paid even more attention than usual. I highly recommend loading up the car with the kids, snacks, and books and doing it yourself some day if you can.

This time of year, the orchards are just starting to bloom; we passed almonds, walnuts, peaches and other stone fruit (it’s hard to tell the difference between all the different trees from 70 mph). We saw orange groves that stretched out to the horizon, the trees heavy with big orange globes, and then, as we got closer to Santa Barbara, the spreading branches and shaggy leaves of avocados, their fruit hanging like so many heavy green rain drops. We passed farm stands advertising lobster tails and avocados at 10 for a dollar but because we were nearing the final miles of a six-hour drive and a stop would have made it hard to get the kids ever back into the car, I thought a little sadly of lobster tail burritos with guacamole, and we drove on.

In southern California I was lucky enough to visit two farmer’s markets: a small one in Montecito, and a much bigger one in Santa Barbara. I counted five different kinds of avocados (Pinkerton, Fuerte, Bacon, Hass, Zutano) and was amazed to see that it was already spring, from a produce perspective: the farmers offered snap peas, asparagus, strawberries and loads of tender herbs (at which point I finally remembered to take out my camera):

Then there was the small slice of California agriculture we saw out the window of our cousins’ home; they’re renting a place where the backyard is planted with a half dozen avocado trees. The New Yorker in me was amazed at the bounty (sadly none of it ripe):

The kids just loved playing with the great sticks and the dried-out pits that had fallen from the trees. Our cousins have a lemon tree, too, and this again, for someone who is tending one small potted lemon tree and finally got one planted in the ground this spring, amazed me; even the kids were notably impressed by the size of some of the fruits:

Driving from Santa Barbara back home, our car now fragrant with a grocery bag full of lemons, we crossed miles of grape vines, producing for both wine and table; acres of romaine and other lettuces; and plenty more fruit and nut orchards before the landscape gave way to the beautifully soft, uncultivated green hills of the South Bay. The farms represented at our neighborhood market aren’t visible from these big highways, but now that we’re home I can’t wait to see what they’re selling this week.

One more post about ice cream

by Caroline

It was a hot day. We’d been exploring the Storm King Art Center by foot and by tram; we had picnicked and sculpted and now it was time to refill our water bottles and drive home. We could see, near the water dispenser, a vending machine with ice creams. OK, we told the boys, you can each choose an ice cream.

Tragedy. The vending machine was broken.

Plan B: We’ll stop for ice cream on the way home, we promised. The boys were skeptical, hungry and tired. I wracked my brain, thinking of all the fast food joints we’d passed on the way, but couldn’t remember seeing a single decent ice cream place. We needed the Red Rooster. We got in the car and drove, fingers crossed.

And then I saw the sign: Rita’s Ice Custard Happiness. Perfect!


I have to admit, it wasn’t immediately happiness. This:


grand as it is, was a little overwhelming at first, and there were tears from one boy before there was happiness. But I made the supreme maternal sacrifice and ordered one of the two things he wanted (the lemonade ice custard, which I have to say was excellent, with chewy bits of lemon zest), and then we all felt like this:


Boardwalk Ice Creams

by Caroline

What’s a summer without ice cream? No kind of summer at all. Last week we made our own It’s-Its, this week, we stopped in at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk (where everybody has a good ti-ime) and tried out the ice cream treats on offer there.


Ben, no doubt still dreaming of It’s-Its (and also realizing that everything tastes better when served on a stick), went for the chocolate-dipped “sandae”:


Eli just went for sheer size, choosing the Super Sundae Cone:


He even ate the maraschino cherry off the top, and declared “This is the goodest moment ever!” Which made it a really good moment for me, too.

Road Trip

by Lisa

We decided to drive to San Diego so my husband could attend ComicCon, and once we figured out that it was too late to reserve a camping spot halfway down, we decided to stop in Solvang.  For us, if it’s a toss up between a tent and a great deal on a hotel with an excellent restaurant and spa, we’ll take the hotel any day.

We left at 5 AM. That’s right, before dawn, because 1) we wanted to be in Solvang for breakfast and 2) Ella gets carsick, so we figured the more hours asleep in the car, the better.  I had a bag packed with boxed milk, strawberries, and bagels to tide us over until breakfast.  Of course, the kids were so excited that once we were in the car there was No Chance in H— of Sleep.   To combat Ella’s carsickness, I gave her Seabands, which proved miraculous. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a pair for Finn, and about halfway into the trip he moaned, and turned green, and threw up.  So that was the end of the food on that leg of the journey.  He eventually slept, and we did, in fact, arrive in Solvang in time for breakfast at Paula’s Pancakes. I was basically underwhelmed by the restuarant, but the kids quickly got over the sleep deprivation and Finn bounced back from the queasiness, and they loved this place. They both ate impossibly huge stacks (adult servings, actually) of pancakes and blueberries…



which kept them fueled for the rest of a really fun day visiting the Hans Christian Anderson Museum (ok, not their most favorite part of the trip):


riding a bicycle surrey with  fringe on top(really!):


and taking funny pictures of windmills and other such Germanic-Scandanavian things:


We tried to think about eating ebelskiver, and fudge, and ice cream, which everyone around us seemed to be enjoying, but we had no appetite for anything after all those pancakes, not a single one of us.

That evening, we had a really lovely meal at the Hadsten House, which I enjoyed all the more after a terrific massage/body treatment, and then it was on to San Diego.  The kids ate breakfast at the hotel, which made me quite nervous, naturally, but we got Finn a pair of Seabands at the local CVS, and they worked miraculously for him, too. No carsickness for either child for the rest of the trip, which left them free to munch on the granola bars, plums, and piles of pistachios I had packed.  Yes, the car was a mess, but they were happy & not too junk filled.  On the way home, we ate lunch at In ‘N Out burger, the one fast food we allow ourselves, and for which we all, admittedly,  have great weakness.

The trip was not supposed to be about food, but it was about me not having to cook for nearly a week (which was an excellent vacation in itself, mind you).  I was wary of theme park food (which was only truly horrible on one occasion), and I had brought cereal, milk, juice, fruit, bread, peanut butter and jelly, and snack crackers for our hotel room, which proved a really efficient and economical way to deal with breakfast and the occasional lunch.   The food at San Diego Zoo was more than tolerable, at SeaWorld was abysmal (and you can’t bring a lunch in), and we avoided the crowds and junk at Disneyland by making reservations for 2 sit down meals (Blue Bayou and Big Thunder Ranch BBQ, both of which were pricey, but we found worth it for the decent quality food and the down time both places afforded us).

For most of the rest of the trip we visited with beluga whales & dolphins:



where the kids (& I) were truly smitten at the Shamu show:


enjoyed very cute pandas who really did eat bamboo:



met various Superheros & other denizens of the 2 & 3-D world:




consorted with fairies in Pixie Hollow:



rode rides with abandon (including every roller coaster at Disney & Space Mountain (twice), with both kids, and no, for some inexplicable reason, Seabands were not necessary…):


and just generally enjoyed watching Finn vanquish Darth Vader (which video I can only link to for size restrictions, but below is a preview…):


But we did have a few absolutely memorable family food experiences, which will be chronicled here in the coming days, including two excellent local San Diego spots, the kids’ first exposure to truly fine dining, and then the antidote to fine dining:  room service.

Really Urban Farming

by Lisa

Who needs a house, or even a yard, or even a few pots when you have a truck? This one parks in front of my friend’s home in Red Hook, Brooklyn, where they let him use their water.


He’s got lettuce, arugula, squash, basil, nasturtiums, tomatoes…all ready to go from truck to table…