Monday, 13 May 2013

Sacramento: Getting to Grips with Grits

Craig Writes;

7/05/13 We flew into Sacramento on Friday to stay with our friend Kate. I haven't met Kate before, she is a friend of Christina's who she met some 14 years ago when they both attended the Cordon Bleu School of Cookery in London. But she's a friend to all of us now. She has housed and fed us for the last two days. She has shared some of her exquisite wines, some wonderful stories and escorted us to some amazing places. 
Our good friend Kate in her wonderful home
The Napa Valley has always loomed large as this agricultural utopia where wonderful and magical purple orbs burst forth from the ground and are transformed by the hand of man into this elixir of the gods. Well, it pretty well much is. Rolling green hills and pastures, covered in neat rows of trestled vines.  Wineries like Darioush were built to resemble beautiful old Persian palaces that beckon the weary traveller inside to rest awhile and take of some liquid refreshment, for a small price of course.

And waayy on the other end of the scale, but just as demanding of your time and your appetite are places like the Fremont Diner. It's in the Sonoma wine region just west of the Napa. Ramshackle pale green picnic tables scattered here and there in the loose gravel, chickens brushing your legs and settling under your feet, happy happy waitresses scurrying here and there and happier looking customers bunched together against the cold winds chowing down into enormous plates of Fried Chicken and Waffles, Shrimp and Grits, Turtle Pie and hot hot coffee. Now, I've never eaten Grits before. To me grit is something you scrape out from under your fingernails after a hard days gardening.I didn't know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised. It's like a creamy porridge made from corn kernels

Damn it was frosty but the food was worth ever shiver
Shrimp and Grits
Turtle Pie and Caramel Cake

Look for the big old rusty Ford Pick Up out the front being driven by the skeleton. 
On the way back we stopped of at Yountville to see Americas most awarded Restaurant, Thomas Keller's, The French Laundry. Two times voted Restaurant Magazines Best Restaurant In the World and holder of three Michelin Stars. Fortunately we had forgotten to make a booking so best we could do was press our noses up against the glass and drool a little.

"THE" girls outside of "THE" restaurant
Kate has taken the plunge and opened the most amazing wine bar in downtown Sacramento called Downtown and Vine. It is very tastefully furnished but not in a stuffy way and the timber tones and dark fabrics are warm and welcoming and cleverly brightened by a series of low lush white leather seats. We were treated to some magnificent wines and a tasty cheese board.
Too soon our visit to Sacramento was over and we were piling into our beautiful new Ford Explorer to start our Road Trip.

6/05/13 Yosemite Falls or bust. It was only supposed to be about a four hour drive but a couple of stops, one requiring an emergency mop up job of the stinky kind stretched it out to six. 
IMPORTANT MESSAGE. I can now say, definitively, without a moments hesitation, unequivocally and in full faith that paper bags DO NOT make reliable spew bags. In fact a paper bag will get ya precisely 23 seconds of "what the hell do I do now time" before the putrified liquid and accompanying lumpy bits will burst from the bottom of the bag straight into the holders lap who will then in a state of horror proceed to fling the holey mess over his head spreading the contents in a perfect arc over brother, roof, carpet and straight out the half open window. Thank god Kate packed us a bundle of napkins in the goodie bag she sent off with us.
Ironically our lunch stop was literally one minute down the road where we pulled into the Prairie Station Cafe for Gourmet Burgers and Tomato and Red Pepper soup.  The food was that good even Mr Upchucky ate.  We didn't arrive till around 4.30pm and although our welcome to Yosemite was a cloudy, drizzly and chilly one the gift of the these majestic mountains always makes the journey worth while.

You could pitch a tent and just live your days out here... bliss
Chilly, wet and magnificent
Apart from a very short walk around we relaxed in our cabin, rested and journaled. The following day we took a bus tour, which when your time is limited, is still the best way to get the lay of the land. Our driver was an older veteran of the park who was so laid back I'm surprised he could see over the steering wheel. But he was very funny, very knowledgeable and stopped a lot for us to get out and wander around. The problem was, and it stayed that way the whole time, was the low clouds didn't shift so the peaks and crests of the mountains and the streams were hidden. Still there was an abundance of thinks to see below the clouds. The thick forests of Redwood's, Ponderosa Pines,Cypress Pines and Dogwoods were beautiful.  
We made this mighty log float with the power of our minds, honest
I love to hike but geez you work up a thirst

Someone's drunk too much, poor woman.
We saw deer and squirrel but no bear and we saw a climbers tent several hundred metres up the side of El Capitan, clinging to the side like a big lump of green moss. They were waiting for the cloud to clear so they could continue upwards but they would have still been waiting when we left the following day.  We packed the car and took a final stroll to the bottom of Yosemite Falls for a final look but the place was packed with tourists at the bottom and clouds still at the top so we turned and headed for Frisco.

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