Sunday, August 07, 2011

In a Golden State 4: Big Sur, pt. 1

big sur 18 fig. a: fading fast

Quick! Before these memories fade any further...

gloom fig. b: fogbound

We had pretty astounding luck on our trip to California last summer. Yes, we all remember that tired old Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain line about the summer he spent in San Francisco, but much of Northern California had been languishing under an unusually cold, grey, and miserable summer when we arrived in August. Our friend C. was in Frisco just before us, and the whole time she was there she kept sending us the most dire emails. "It's freaking cold here!!" "Dress warm when you come here--apparently it's the coldest summer in 100 years." That kind of thing.

Well, she wasn't exaggerating. When we showed up it was definitely "freaking cold." And everyone we talked to confirmed what C. had told us--it had been an unusually cold summer. Bitterly cold. But then the very next day, the miraculous happened: the weather broke. The sun came out, and it started to warm up. Everywhere we went, people were reveling in the sun and the warmth. And that trend just continued the entire time we were in California--it just got nicer and nicer. By our last week, the weather had done a complete about turn: it was freaking hot! San Francisco was suffering from a full-blown heatwave.

Anyway, when we went down to Big Sur, mid-way during our California vacation, for a three-day camping, hiking, and noshing jaunt, we had the same kind of good luck. It was overcast when we got up and hit the road, and the combination cloud cover & cool conditions lasted all the way to the Monterey Peninsula. We knew the weather could be highly unpredictable in Big Sur and we were prepared to have to bundle up for a few days, but then another minor miracle happened. When we got about five miles from our Big Sur campsite, the sky broke.

first glimpse fig. c: first glimpse

And by the time we'd driven those five miles, that cloud bank had pushed out to sea, never to return for the duration of our stay. We were pretty happy about this rather fortunate development, but what we didn't realize at the time was that this was the first time there'd been any sun in Big Sur for over two months (!). Again, everywhere we went, it was like the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. Big Sur's natives were going around in a serious sun daze.

Our time in Big Sur was spent camping, hiking, visiting, walking, and relaxing on various beaches (as well as taking the occasional plunge in those frigid Pacific waters), and while we did a fair bit of roaming, the two focal points of our stay were our campsite and the Big Sur Bakery.

the big sur bakery cookbook fig. d: Big Sur by BSB

Michelle and Philip Wojtowicz's The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook: A Year in the Life of a Restaurant was easily one of our favorite cookbooks of 2010 (and it's continued to be a fave well into 2011). It's beautifully photographed and it's chock-full of amazing recipes of all kinds, but we love the detailed account of Big Sur Bakery's seasonality and the focus they place on the community of producers, harvesters, and foragers who make the restaurant's cuisine possible.

I'd always wanted to show Big Sur to Michelle anyway, but after we got hooked on The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook we had even more reason to pay a pilgrimage to the area. We ended up going to The Big Sur Bakery a lot. There were numerous reasons for this, but it certainly didn't hurt that the very first time we visited The Big Sur Bakery we had a major (and majorly Californian) star sighting.

Actually, the story bears repeating:

Okay, so we'd brought along a copy of The New Yorker on our trip. The issue in question contained a story on the mysterious life and times, and recent disappearance, of painter, ex-Lounge Lizards saxman, Jim Jarmusch muse, and Fishing With John host John Lurie. The author actually managed to locate Lurie fleetingly towards the end of the article, and apparently one of his safe havens was the home of Red Hot Chili Pepper funk-punk bassist extraordinaire Flea--in Big Sur. This detail struck us as hilarious, for some reason. "Can you imagine? What if we run into Flea?" Michelle had visions that Flea would instantly recognize her as a celestial twin and welcome us into his home. We'd instantly form a deep and lasting bond and he'd ask us to stay on as his personal chefs, as well as the witnesses and chroniclers to the spiritual quest that is his Big Sur existence.** I thought it would be pretty cool to run into Lurie, too. I was sure the two of us would have plenty in common.

Anyway, who should be the very first person that we run into as we made our way from the parking to the Big Sur Bakery on our very first visit, but...

Flea? Nope.

John Lurie? Sorry, not him, either.

Are you ready for this?

Anthony Kiedis! I have to admit, I didn't get the fullest look. I noticed some buff, tanned, long-haired, mustachioed, surfer-looking dude in a flannel shirt and a tuque, but was too fixated on the bakery to make the connection. Michelle, on the other hand, locked eyes with AK (the other AK!) and apparently received a very knowing glance. Not quite an invitation to his buddy Flea's place, but almost!

Let me tell you, from that point on, we were even more enthusiastic about visiting and re-visiting The Big Sur Bakery. After all, this wasn't just some cheap celebrity sighting. It felt like we had a date with destiny.

big sur breakfast 1 fig. e: breakfast by BSB 1

We didn't have every meal at The Big Sur Bakery. That would have felt a little decadent, even if we hadn't been camping. We did, however, begin every morning there.

big sur breakfast 2 fig. f: breakfast by BSB 2

They had a great selection of doughnuts, morning buns, and assorted viennoiseries, and some decent fresh-brewed coffee, so Michelle insisted on a small taste of civilization each morning before we set out on our hikes. It was worth it just to see the locals roll in for their morning fix.

To be continued...


* a.k.a. The Chi Peps!

** Michelle follows Flea on Twitter. She knows.

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