Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Little Cabin in the Big Woods

Okkkaaayyyy! So I have returned from Big Sur... ummm about a week ago. I needed a minute upon my return to get my head screwed on straight. Or at least partially so... I guess I am never completely and properly put together. I had a pretty good trip.... it definitely had it's highs and lows. I very much felt like I was dreaming the whole thing for about 95% of the time I was there. I flew into Monterey where my old pal Gordon picked me up. We popped down to Carmel for a few hours to grab a bite and visit for a bit. After that it was straight down Hwy 1 to Big Sur. We arrived at the bakery mid afternoon and I was promptly given a tour of the kitchen by Matt the manager. The kitchen was one of those things you have to see to understand.... it has evolved over the years as the place has grown and changed and is a place wholly unique. While I was getting to look around there were a couple of guys huddled in a cobblestone corner, a sort of indoor/outdoor area boiling crabs in a huge pot.... the bakery is separate from the main kitchen and is a very small room but efficiently laid out. Soon the chef/owner arrived and he brought us up to the little cabin I was to stay in a few minutes walk from the bakery. The place was as cute as a button. I thought I was going to be housed in a room in someone's home and then all the sudden I had this sweet cabin to myself. I was pretty stoked. Thanks Chef Phil for setting me up with such a comfortable place to hang out while I was visiting.

I started my stage the very next night. I woke at around 3 a.m. and got ready. The chef had left a little Coleman lantern for me to carry on my walk down through the wooded path and along a brief section of Hwy 1 to the restaurant. I am a total chicken about walking in the woods at night. I can turn a short walk into a long one in my mind. There was an owl hooting in a redwood across the highway and I felt like he was telling every man eating beast or rabid raccoon within ear shot that there was a lone red head on the loose and up for grabs if any one was hungry or just wanted to mess with her for sport. Anyway, I made it to the back door of the bakery for the 4:30 start time unharmed. I met Matt #2 (there are three Matts who work at the bakery) and he got us rolling on the production for the night. The place makes an amazing array of baked goods each day ranging from several different croissants, muffins, cookies, donuts and scones to baking their own hamburger buns, pizza dough for the hearth stone oven and two different beautiful hearth fired breads made from a sourdough starter. There are also several plated desserts for the evening dinner service. It's a busy, busy bakery kitchen. We baked off the mornings fare and I worked on prepping some apples for galettes and strawberries for danish. Matt showed me the process over the next three mornings for laminating the croissant dough, making the doughs for the sourdough breads, pizza dough, the buns and a few other special treats. He is a super cool guy and really knows his stuff. I very much enjoyed working with him and getting to chat about our travels and hopes for the future. In my off time I pretty much hung out at the cabin with Mamma Kitty... the big fatty cat who lives there. She was good company other than her bouts of lust in the small  hours of the night when she was prone to ravishing me with her furry little paws and purring like a lawn mower. Sadly I don't have any photos of the stuff I made and saw made while I was working at the bakery. It just did not feel right to drag my camera in to the scene for some reason. I regret it now... but at the time it seemed too flakey to be trying to snap pictures while Matt was busting his ass trying to get the job done for the day.

I did take a walk through the redwoods into state park land across the highway from the bakery. I had to overcome feeling very small and very alone while on my little hike but I had to go see the trees and get a good dose of woods before heading home to the dry ass southwest.  I shot these pics with that new little Canon Elph I bought just for the trip.

This was the view I had out the front windows of my cabin...

I did not get many good coastal view shots... but I do like this one. 

Gordon came back down on Sunday afternoon to pick me up and we shot straight back up the coast where we had a drink at The Mission Ranch (owned by Clint Eastwood!!) We stayed in Monterey that night and hit the hay pretty early. Our hotel was swathed in Burgandy from head to toe... it was like sleeping inside a raspberry bath robe. That makes no sense... but let's go with it anyway. The next morning we took Hwy 1 all the way up to San Fran and then cut over to Napa so we could lunch at Bouchon. God Bless you Cappy for driving my dumb ass all the way up there. We had a beer across the street while waiting for a table to open up at Bouchon.

People. I busted out and ordered the steak frites. WTF, right? I KNOW! It's the first time in my LIFE that I have ordered red meat in a restaurant. Hell it's the second time in my entire adult life that I have eaten red meat, period. This is an awful photo... but here it is. My huge steak.  It had caramelized shallots and herbed butter on top of it. I managed to eat maybe half of it. Crazy. It was a little too fatty for me to really be able to dig in wholeheartedly... but seriously, for those who really know me.... this was big time nutty.

We split a dessert of blueberry tart with lemon ice cream. It was beautifully done.

The next morning we drove into San Francisco to Tartine for breakfast. I was so excited to get to see this bakery in person! The kitchen is very open so I got a good view of the scene back there. Very cool place and their baked goods are gorgeous. I had a pain au chocolat as well as their muesli with a huge latte in a bowl. This was the best croissant I have seen maybe ever. The muesli fell a little shy of being great but the latte was awesome. I wish I could have tried a bite of everything in that case. I do have to say the price y'all at Tartine are charging for your tote bags is falling into the category of highway robbery.  I came close to developing an acute case of turrets when I heard my total charges waft over the din of the crowd at the cash register. Knock her down by about twenty bucks and the world will be a better place to live in.

We found a great little gourmand grocery a block or so down the street and wandered through it oohing and ahhhing over all the fancy treats they had to offer. I found an item I have been trying to get my hands on for a few years now... a Mast Brothers chocolate bar. They do not carry these very many places in the U.S. and I have been dying to try one ever since I first heard of their place out in Brooklyn a few years back. All their bars are hand wrapped in these great printed papers and at $8.99 a bar you are really investing a bundle in what you hope will be a bad ass piece of chocolate heaven.

I grabbed one of the straight 73% bars and passed on the fancier stuff with sea salts or maple syrup and walnuts because I wanted to see what their signature blend of cocoa tastes like. Let me tell ya people... it's freaking fabulous. I have to give these guys huge props for not only seeming like the coolest chocolatiers in the states but having some hella good chocolate to boot.

I flew home that afternoon with my head swimming from the confusion over what to do.... move to Big Sur? Stay in NM? I was too tired to think straight and decided to just let my brain chill until I could get home and have a proper discussion with Billy and Rudy about what we should do.

Long story cut short... it would seem that the best choice for now is to stay put in Santa Fe. The logistics of moving to Big Sur are pretty daunting. The only place we could find to live would require a 40 mile round trip drive for me daily to and from work. Getting up at 2:30 a.m. and then driving twenty miles to work is not high on my list of favorite ideas. Let alone the $400 or so it would cost in gas per month. Yuck. We are still planning to head to the coast some time in the next year.... maybe even this fall. It all depends on what this summer brings here in New Mexico.... the winds of change are definitely blowing. I gave notice at the donut shop and this weekend will be my last making the donuts. Billy and I have a few trips planned this spring to areas south of here and in AZ for me to shoot photos and for him to do paintings for our coming art shows here this summer.  We are excited to be on the brink of another season here at El Zaguan and hopeful that it will be a bountiful one. As for my future in baking there is a big ole question mark hanging in the air above my head at the moment. We are talking through a few ideas and I will post about any new developments as they roll in.

Thanks again to the folks at The Big Sur Bakery for hosting me and I hope that someday I will get to let the flour fly in your little back room of that crazy kitchen. And thanks to Gordon for being my chaperone for the trip. I could never have done it without ya Cap! Love you!


The Writers Fancy said...

Big Sur is mine and I'm going. Good stuff. Thanks.

Tracey said...

Sounds like a full-on yummy trip. I made a cuppa tea specially to sit down and read about it. I'm ashamed of my shop-bought choc chip cookies, bleurgh!

Karen/Small Earth Vintage said...

Enjoyed the whole dang post...look forward to hearing more about your future adventures.

Bethany said...

Tracey.... shop bought cookies can be a good thing. I have a bag of Uncle Eddie's Vegan Oatmeal Raisin in my kitchen right now!

Caitlin said...

Sounds like a really full trip :) I'm glad you guys had fun and hope we can get together here in SF soon!