Monday, April 20, 2009

Goats, goats, glorious goats








Henceforth,
no spring will be complete for me without a visit to Harley Farms in Pescadero, California--a goat farm and cheese factory nestled in a green and picturesque valley moistened by ocean fog. I'm sure a visit any time of year is nice, but what happens in the spring? Baby goats do, that's what. As of April 1st or so, 267 had been born. Goat fans can not only tour the farm, the fields, the barn and the cheese kitchen, but also pet endless (very friendly) adult and baby goats, and even, with the explicit consent of Harley Farms, pick up, hug and kiss the babies. And even--can you believe it--milk a goat!! I was in heaven for two hours, and that wasn't even counting all the free samples of fresh goat cheese I scarfed down in their little shop.

All the babies are descendants of the first six goats acquired by Dee Harley over a decade ago. They are watched over by three guardian lamas, who instinctively protect their goat friends from predators in the fields. The babies stay with mama for about four days, then they are penned up together--separated by sex--and fed on re-hydrated sheep's milk as mama returns to the milking parlor for twice-daily milkings, at which she delivers about a gallon a day.

What else did I learn? A baby goat may nurse vigorously on your finger, but it won't hurt. A grown-up goat enjoys gently chewing on your clothes--they browsed on me like a shrub! A socialized goat really likes people and petting. Milking is hard--imagine getting a secure grip on a turgid water balloon and then coaxing the water out through a pinprick, a tablespoon at a time. I suspect carpal tunnel didn't originate with the typewriter, but with the domesticated dairy animal.

And the take-away advice: next time I'll choose gardening clogs over tennis shoes (they still smell like barnyard) and perhaps bring some knee pads, so I can kneel in the muck for maximum petting pleasure and picture-taking prowess.

Friday, April 10, 2009


A three-day visit to my home town of Portland, Oregon, and all I did was eat. Really. Thai food, bar food, fancy tasting menu, homey crepes. It was divine.

One highlight was a five-course lunch at Bleu, the restaurant of the Western Culinary Institute. Now, I don't need five courses at lunch, but at $14.95, I managed to put them away, having skipped breakfast in anticipation. My very accommodating lunch date agreed to go halvsies on everything, and most courses included two choices, so we covered most of the bases.

Soup: potato leek or butternut squash puree.

Salad: shaved fennel and red onion, (too) lightly dressed with orange, garnished with orange and blood orange, or butter lettuce with peeled cherry tomatoes (had they been canned? in any case, very nice! they absorbed some of the excellent dressing) and bacon.

Appetizer: salmon mousse with asparagus tips, awash in beurre blanc, or a charcuterie plate showcasing two kinds of salumi, with 3 mustards, sliced apple and cornichons.

Main: clams (5 of 'em) with wide noodles, seasoned with curry, or pork loin with curry sauce and lentils.

Dessert: chocolate souffle with creme anglaise, or creme brulee.

All this, plus a coffee, tea or soda--a screaming deal. While the food was neither transcendent nor sublime, it ranged from fair (the fennel salad, grievously under-seasoned) to delish (the salmon mousse) and nicely portioned. We cleaned our plates throughout, until we were met with the substantial creme brulee, which defeated us both and returned to the kitchen unfinished.

Perhaps we ate too much bread: slices of an excellent baguette, served with three kinds of butter: plain, herbed, and honey-saffron. This last was delectable, although I'd prefer to see it on the breakfast table, not with my savories. On the whole, I will gladly be trying more cooking schools.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico


Visiting Old San Juan feels like visiting Europe, including the collision of heavy tourist traffic with stately old buildings. Narrow streets, statues, flocks of begging pigeons, wrought-iron railings--but huge American cars are squeezed onto the tiny roads. And it's hot and humid. With the occasional tropic downpour.

There are a few heavily touristed streets, but when you get off that oh-so-trodden path, it's quite charming. The whole thing can be walked in a day, with fortifications from the various street vendors selling deep-fried goodies, ice cream and exotic snow cones.

I had my first sesame flavored snow cone. It will be my last. Imagine thin sweet tahini over crushed ice. As always, I'm happy to have tried something completely out of my usual sphere, even though it will doubtless stay there.

A more reliable--and expensive--frozen treat is the Pina Colada, alleged to have been invented in Old San Juan.