We have a "new" link on this page to "Bruce and Kevin's Web Pages and Recipe Site". Cousins Bruce & Kevin are quite the colorful writers, and I suppose that would be expected of artistic people living in San Francisco, but you really might enjoy visiting their page. Kevin or Bruce will describe a feeling, an outing, or something that may well be followed by inclusion of recipes associated with that happening that are the best. IF you check it out, make sure you go to the first entry to look at the "Pulled Pork Sandwiches topped with Spicy Coleslaw".....that's what they fixed for us, and we had to be "coaxed" to put coleslaw on TOP of a pork sandwich, but once we did, we had to have seconds.
In fact, as we settle back into home life after a trip to Ripon, CA for Rodger's family's annual reunion at Aunt Paula's, I found Kevin's description of this little rural event so funny, I asked and got his permission to copy it here:
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 2005
From the Blossom Comes the Nut
Every year, the town of Ripon has this festival which consists of a parade and a carnival, and every year we all gather at Aunt Paula's for fun, food, and family. The festival is to celebrate the blossoming of the almond trees that blanket the area like snow and reek havoc on the allergies of thousands of people. A float in one year's parade summed it all up in one phrase: "From the Blossom, Comes the Nut". And that's about as exciting as it gets. Of course, we always have a blast at Aunt Paula's.
The parade is a lot of fun to watch too, but not in the way the Chinese New Year Parade or the Gay Pride Parade is fun. Oh lord, nothing like that! Think more like the winners of the Christian schools' beauty pagents riding on top of the back seat of a cheesy convertible, purebred show horses, Shriners in go-carts, shameless corporate promoters, numerous pimply-faced ROTC cadets and out-of-tune marching bands, the town's librarians, the mobile County Jail bus, and the PT Cruiser contingent. The crowd ranges from weekend warrior motorcyclists, to bubbas, to soccer moms, to old duffers, to hordes of teenagers. Mix in with this your good ol' fashioned carnies and drunks, Mormon missionaries and dunkards, and really crappy "craft" booths, and you've got yourself a festival. Like all small-town American carnivals, this one is dominated by perhaps the evilest food combos one can imagine, with fried this and chocolate dipped that. You want fusion? This is con-fusion. Sugar, salt, grease bombs that were, without a doubt, born to complement whirling, nauseating rides with seizure-inducing strobe lights and loud top 40 rock. Greasy and fried, like the carny who's about take your life into his drug-addled hands on a twirling vomit machine that hasn't been serviced since your sister had feathered hair.
Forget the rides; very few of us brave the food booths. Last year I braved the mechanical bull and was sore for two days. This year, I braved Aunt Carol's strawberry funnel cake, smoothered in whip cream, chocolate syrup, and powdered sugar. I'm still waiting for the aftershock.
Funnel Cake Of Death
Away from Burning Man and back to Aunt Paula's for some real food. Granted, nothing's fancy. Nothing's gourmet. In fact, isn't that what you expect from family events? Yet everything was good and homemade. For instance, there is Karen's cheese ball. Yum! They're so good, she has to make extra for Bruce and I. Then there's Mark and Rodger's spicy dilled beans; so garlicy and hot that they're more addictive than bongs full of lemonade. And this year we had a special treat as Jennifer, a budding cook, made superb Parmesan cheese crackers that would've gone great with smoked fish, fruit, or in a salad. Of course, there are the standards of potato salad, ham sandwiches, and chips. But come on, this is a family get together in a garage on a Saturday afternoon! You don't have to go all Martha, though Ripon does have its share of ex-felons. You just have to go easy. And that describes the Ripon Almond Blossom Festival at Aunt Paula's in a nutshell.
Back to Blogging..............see, go check out their web pages.....good reading.
So there you have, in "a nutshell" a summary of our last Thursday-Sunday fun times in Ripon.
However, we DID get to do a few OTHER things not mentioned above. We arrived in CA Monday, President's Day and were going straight to Ripon, but found that an IKEA store was in Oakland, just over the Bay Bridge from cousins Bruce/Kevin's place. IKEA has come to into our conscience thoughts since planning this Kitchen Remodel and realizing how expensive it can be. SO, we hopped into the ERAC SUV, yes, Enterprise gave us a deal on the Man Sizing Dodge "with a Hemi" SUV, and Rodger said, he wanted to know that all those guys are feeling when they drive into town with those monster vehicles. So here we're driving into San Francisco, whose parking is as limited as can be and we're driving a monster truck. We get to Bruce and Kevins, dine with some sloppy elegance on toasted Pulled Pork Sandwiches topped with the Spicy Coleslaw, then motor to IKEA for a two hour tour. On the way we see the beginning of the "new" Bay Bridge being built to replace the bridge that partially fell during our 1989 quake there. Originally designed to match any spectacular new bridge being built in the world these days, Gov. Schwarzenegger (being from SO. CA.) put the kabosh on the budget and so a plain flat bridge is being built heading into the one of the world's finest cities..... As it turns out, after all the permits, environmental studies were re-done, the cost is going to end up more than the original design was going to be.
Anyways, we arrive at IKEA and putting a long story short, almost all (not all) merchandise really seemd flimsy and cheaply made, in Kevin's words, a glamorized K-Mart. So we were disappointed to see that even Cabinetry for the most part, wouldn't be holding up to two guys cooking in the kitchen. I suppose it was fun to see this store after all we've heard about the chain.
Next day, Tuesday, we began a walking trip around SF with Bruce. First off up to Union Square to have breakfast at an SF old old spot, "Sears Fine Foods" who's fame claim derives from Swedish original owners. The breakfast meats were highest quality, and the swedish pancakes great.... then on past Union Square, a brief stop in SF's oldest Library, inside of which we see this stairwell at the entrance:
There is so much grand architecture in some of the really old building in SF.
We walked through the Financial District and on to the Ferry Building on the edge of the Wharf area. That grand building has been completely retro-fitted for earthquake safety now and in the renovation, it's been loaded with the most up-scale, gourmet food outlets I've seen in a long time. Next time you go to SF, make sure you plan a visit to this spot.
We meet Kevin here, and walked back up through Chinatown where we would have a little lunch. After viewing the lobby of a real tourist trap in all the travel folders and seeing it was completely over-priced and menu items built for white tourists, we decided to try out Sam Wo's where Rodger had some very late night meals when he living there, let's say, a long time ago.....and very young. Sam Wo's has to be the classic OLD Chinatown dive. Very narrow throughout, you almost walk through the old beatup kitchen to steep narrow stairs climbing to a low-ceilinged tiny eating area equally as old and, well, "quaint" (?). Kevin ordered the one thing on the menu that must be edible, it was tasty, but the rest of us couldn't finish the tacky bad food. A classic chinatown experience.
Well. It so happened we ended up in the Castro District that evening and not for what you're all groaning, "those gay boys just can't stay away from the Castro"................... IN the Castro is the gorgeously restored Castro Art-Deco Theater with the Mighty Wurlitzer Theater Organ and massive domed ceiling with huge chandelier hanging. By luck, a documentary about a truly unique artist, Klaus Nomi, was showing so there we were. We had a fantastic time watching the theater organ rise from the floor just in front of the stage, get played with all the color you'd expect, and just as the movie's getting started, the organist finished the set with a flashy flashy organ piece while the instrument lowers back to floor level. CUTE.
I was very struck about the appearance of the "people" in the Castro now days. 20 years ago, night and day, those streets would be crowded with tourists or men............that's pretty much gone and replaced by a very mixed neighborhood, couples with kids in strollers, and hardly anyone on the streets. Castro has matured into just another city neighborhood.
So, Wednesday and we're off the Oakdale, CA, cowboy capitol of the world, and home to Hershey's CA operation, a massive plant on the edge of town with a retail store IN town. We met Oakdale resident, cousin Karen and immediately toured Hershey's store to pick up more chocolate stuff. Karen then took us to El Cozel in Riverbank, a fabulous MX restaurant with the best Carnitas I've ever eaten.
The big reason to be here today, though, was that Jennifer, Karen's daughter, was going to perform for us, a rehearsal recital of what will be her Senior College Recital in three weeks. So we went to the Stanislaus Performing Arts Center and listened some very difficult music get performed by our own Jennifer Thomas ! ! ! ! I'm hoping we get a recording of the recital, The Brahms piece was passionately beautiful.
We stayed at Karen's BBBBB, this name is in fun, (formerly Karen's Bed, Breakfast and Beyond) has added B's to include Bats and Booze, but that's another story) and took off with her for the Gold Country the next morning. Sonora, Jamestown and Columbia were the high spots. Columbia, CA was taken over by the state a long time ago and now called Columbia Park as a restored gold mine town. Merchants all wear the vintage clothing, sell the vintage merchandise, etc. The chocolate maker does everything by hand. In fact, while we're buying a treat or two up front, we're watching about 15 people working by hand in the back forming beautiful candies. Here's main street:
The highlight for us in this town was visiting the old pioneer cemetery and the pioneer school that adjoins the graveyard. So MANY people died young in that harsh place....here's an example of what happened to several young men:
Another one stated, "Murdered on or about......."
Anyways, we then looked through the school yard and building, gorgeous restoration:
You can see this was fun to visit. Mark and Karen passed on buying the horse:
So Karen was, once again, the best hostess we could have had. We enjoyed our stay there, but had things to do, so motored in our Monster Truck over to Ripon to help prepare for the Almond Blossom Festival Gathering with Aunt Paula. Aunt Paula has been helped in the past get ready by Uncle Mike who always came from TX for about three weeks around festival time. He wasn't able to come this year, and Paula's son, Mick, has been severely injured in a bicycle accident (yep, just doing a wheely at the end of a biking day)....that will take months to heal, so Paula has taken quite a bit of time to help out there. We were happy and proud to there cleaning out a flower bed, cleaning out the patio from winter wear, etc., cooking a little, dining a little, and laughing with Aunt Paula about life. Even though Mick was on some pain meds while there, he seemed to enjoy having something happen around the place. Mick's a very active guy, so this has been difficult to just lay still for three months.
Here's what many square miles of land look like during the week of Almond Blossom Festival:
Saturday morning arrived along with all the family:
This tiny group is all that's left. I first saw this crowd in 1990.....and several members are no longer around. It's almost all the "next generation", heh heh...... Sometimes, they can be a stern group as Bruce and Jennifer show:
Look like art to you?
At any rate, the day was long and fun and more fun. The next day, Mark and Rodger insisted on one ritual. Getting over to the little farm town (one tiny main street) to have a unbelievable breakfast they serve there. The first time we ever ordered the "Chicken Fried Steak Breakfast" there the cost was $6. and it's now up to $11. Here's what you get: a true cracker breaded Chicken Fried Steak measuring about 8" by 16" on one plate (I am NOT kidding). The second plate are the three eggs and home fried potatoes, the third plate will be the over-sized biscuit with an over-sized cup of gravy on the side. And, get this, some locals can eat the entire thing! The four of us ordered two, split 'em up, and took some home. The dessert selections are all home-made from scratch pastries, tarts, pies, etc, that all win the Stanislaus County Fair Blue Ribbons as a trophy case shows. Yummmmmmmmm.............and yes, a nap later.
Finally, we came to the end of our money and time. Sadly, in some ways, but happy in some ways, we flew back home to find the Oregon Drought is continuing to the tune of beautifully sunny, warm, weather. I even planted lettuce yesterday.
What a great time..............................a real memory