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February 2008

It Never Rains in California

Bad_weather_904_3 Years of plentiful rain are sometimes few and far between. Water Conservation is a must! Originally posted January 29, 2008, California is in the midst of a water famine the likes of which we have never seen. Water conservation is imperative and not just in famine years. Water is the source of all life. Conserve at every opportunity and understand that it's a precious resource.  

I want to meet the person, or persons, who coined that phrase -- in song or otherwise. Californians have come to understand that our weather -- if you can call it that -- is either feast or famine.  The warm months -- of which there are many -- are almost entirely the feasting months. Long, lovely springs and even longer summers -- how much sunshine can you stand?  But where the famine comes in is generated by our unstable winters when we (supposedly) get all of our rain and snow.

Weather forecasters drone on and one about the "normal" precipitation. Comparing this year's totals to last year's totals, and historically to totals dating back to the dawn of total-taking time. I don't know what defines a normal year in California. Every year is different. Hence, the feast or famine of our winters. With rain and cold comes the snow. Some years it rains, but if temps are warm...well, you get the picture...and we've had famous years of Pineapple Express when warm weather melted tons of seasonal snow and flooded everything in valleys below. Last year was a famine year. Little rain. Little snow. The fear, of course, is that it was a trend and the start of a series of drought years. I moved to California in the '70s in the middle of a serious drought. There hasn't been anything like it since, but it's only a matter of time. It's just nature.

When this year's rainy season began, it wasn't looking good. And ski resorts who pray for early snows to coincide with the Thanksgiving holiday and the official start of the ski season...well, this year they were sorely disappointed. Though it was cold enough to make snow, the powers-that-be weren't bringing forth the real stuff from the skies. And there was no rain to speak of in the remainder of the state. Things weren't looking good -- another famine year.

Well, that was then and this is now. We went from way below normal to off-the-charts above normal in the rain category. And the snow...well it just keeps on coming. And it's cold that the snow levels have dropped well-below normal. And that, my friends, was the reason for this rambling. The snow was so low (how low was it?) that we decided to hop in the Subaru to see. No big deal getting away from the city. Heading up the road into the rolling Gold Country foothills past turn-offs for historic towns like Jackson, Amador City, and Sutter Creek. We skirted through the tiny town of Plymouth and found one of those quiet back roads that we love -- Shake Ridge Road -- even sounds nice. And eventually we started to see what we had come to find...white, shimmering snow. And unbelievably below the 2,Img_8941_3000-foot level.

And we weren't alone in our quest. We found families building snowmen and playing with their saucers. Cars having returned from higher elevations were pulled Snow_road_2off the road removing their snow chains.  but mostly we found quiet. Cold, white, quiet. We easily reach Hwy. 88 just below the chain-up area. Other then the cars along the roadside, we hadn't passed another car. Shake Ridge ends at Hwy. 88 where we find skiers returning from the mountains -- Kirkwood, Heavenly, Hope Valley, but we weren't about to join them. We easily turned the Subaru around and headed back down Shake Ridge Road. It was like seeing it all for the first time.

 If my Subaru can't get me there, 
that's a good reason not to go!

Subaru logo


The Noble California Haute Dog

Hot_dog_line_up_credit_barbara_steiI maintain a fairly healthy diet. I'm nothing close to being a vegetarian, but tend to keep the carnivore in me at bay. Go figure that  I would be the one to say, "A good hot dog is a thing of joy!" It's stimulated by one of those wonderful childhood memories of chowing down on a Nathan's buried in sauerkraut and onions, with the roar of baseball fans ringing in my ears.  Those were the days.

I only rarely get to the games anymore. So sometimes, I am happy to settle for a stool in front of the counter at one of the many old-time hot dog joints. Who would guess that something nicknamed "tube steak" could proudly hold it's on with other California culinary delights as haute cuisine.

In a small, nondescript shopping center (not a mall, 'cause this spot's been around before malls were invented) The Weinery has been feeding generations of Sacramentans more than 120 pounds of hot dogs a week. A LOT of dogs! Steamed or served-up in homemade chili. It's downright dog delirium. So popular are these local pups, that the walls proudly display Congressional, State, and City Council resolutions honoring theChili_weiners_reuben_dog_credit_bar  legendary Weinery.

Their most popular dogs: the Hotsy Dog (Chinese mustard, onions, and tomato) and the BLT Dog -- served open-face with crumbled bacon, mayo, lettuce, and tomato. Some dogs are seasonal, like the Summer Dog (April-September) adorned with tangy cucumber, green onion, relish, mustard, and tomato. Young and old alike agree, they are all (truly) a thing of joy!

Going to the California Haute Dogs:

Weiner Works, Carmichael – Foot-long, beer-steamed dogs are the cat’s meow. The large order of fresh-cut fries weighs in at…well, how does 2 pounds sound to you?

The Wienery, Sacramento – Steamy pups and kid friendly.

Dogzilla Café, San Francisco – Gourmet dogs in the heart of SF financial district
Pink’s, Los Angeles – Since 1939, hot dog to the stars!

Don’s Dogs, Monte Rio – Housed inside the Quonset hut Rio Theater on the shores of the Russian River.

Tail O’ the Pup, Los Angeles – A landmark since 1945, this LA fave closed in 2006. Hot dog-o-philes have heart! A new location is in the works, with a scheduled re-opening in 2007. Stay tuned. The_price_of_a_dog_back_in_the_day_

PS - Be sure the read The Rest of the Story.

by Barbara L. Steinberg

Another Beautiful Foggy Day

Subaru bOh, joy! It's another beautifully foggy day! And even more exciting, I get to get in my Subaru and drive during the height of the morning commute. I am positively giddy.

The fog is thick. I mean really thick! We live in the city and when the fog is at street level you know it's bad out in the open spaces. But I'm not concerned. I am one of the few sane drivers. I actually slow down in this pea soup weather. AND, keep a real distance between my Subaru and other auto projectiles.

As expected, out on the freeway, people are whizzing...jetting...zooming...driving at rates that simply can't be defined by simply saying they are speeding or driving too fast. In this stuff, whatever it is they are doing is simply insane! I stay in the right-hand  lane. I let anyone who wants to, pass me. I won't exceed the speed limit and, imagine, I'm actually driving a little under the legal limit.

The fog is heavy until just past Davis and then, as if some unseen force had wiped the haze from your eyes, it's suddenly clear blue and sunshine. I'm still enjoying my blissful cruise along the interstate; heading for one of my favorite destinations...Sonoma! The anticipation is almost heart-stopping.

And speaking of stopping, suddenly traffic comes to a near stop...a we approach the exit to Sonoma. I have no idea what's happening since I've never been at this junction, I-80 and Hwy. 12,  so early (8:00am) before. Are all these cars heading up valley (that would be Napa) or is this some shortcut I don't know about? We creep along but I don't mind. It gives me time to almost enjoy the scenery, because now the fog has returned. Newly greened hillsides and rural landscapes are visible through the ghostly mist. And soon the terraced vineyards appear -- stripped bare for winter their vines twist above the velvety rows of cover crops.

Suddenly, a vision -- just out of the corner of my eye -- flapping, descending -- the fancily form of a great blue heron comes floating out of the fog to a graceful, one-legged perch a-top a grape-stake. I am awe-struck and wonder if any of my other road-mates had observed this marvel. Just then I see, an overturned big rig has spilled a load of sand onto Hwy. 12. OMG - this is the reason for the
 rush-hour crawl. It appears no one is hurt and cars are easing by and (of course) quickly back to the lead foot. Personally, I am thankful for this momentary lag in my morning drive. 

I leave all the traffic behind me as I head towards beautiful Sonoma and the yet to be discovered, Relais du Soleil -- a rustic country ranch B&B tucked away in the hidden wilds of Sonoma County. I have no idea the wonders that await me.  The visions of a landscape that seem almost forgotten by time and a rutted and narrow road -- just the sort of thing that my Subaru and I live for.

If my Subaru can't get me there, 
that's a good reason not to go!

Elk Grove Subaru


Urban(e) Adventure

Once in a while it helps to be free of our modern-day shackles: Cars; phones; email; TV; answering machine. All those modern conveniences we claim make our lives so much “simpler” and, at the same time, keep us running in circles. 


In an attempt to slow the pace, I planned an urban escape.  Now I know you’re wondering how this could be slow.  We rarely equate urbanism with a leisurely pace. But even on our best rural vacations, I find myself rushing to get to from place-to-place; trying to see as much as possible. Fearful I’ll miss something. And what if I never return?

So when planning what we have humorously come to call our “Urban(e) Adventure” a few things had to be ironed out:

First:  We had to leave the car behind. Solution: Amtrak


Second: Somewhere unencumbered. Where everyday distractions don’t block-out all that is special in your destination. Where there are no phones. Or TV! There’s email if you feel the need or urge to stay connected to the outside world, but you have to pay for it. Solution:  How about a youth hostel?


Third: A location full of great sights, sounds and tastes – all accessible on foot or by transit. A certain sophistication without all the trappings of a 5-star retreat.Solution: From Sacramento there could be but one solution: The urban delights of San Francisco and Hostelling International at Fisherman's Wharf/Fort Mason – part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area; perched along San Francisco Bay and a short walk to all the excitement and wonders of San Francisco!

 We were the quintessential tourists visiting all of the classic spots:  Fisherman’s Wharf, The Cannery, San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, PIER 39, and the Wax Museum.  There was no way we would miss Irish coffee at the ever-so famous Buena Vista Café.  They serve more than 1,500 Irish coffees daily – this according to a 33-year- veteran bartender – and pour more Irish whiskey than any other bar in the world. 


Boudin_museum_and_sourdough_bakery_ We stopped in at the Boudin Sourdough Bread factory, restaurant and museum.  The museum and bakery tour is well-worth the $3 entrance fee. The interpretive displays are first rate and it includes a bread and olive oil tasting at the end. You may even win a free loaf of bread!  YUMMY!!

The Youth Hostel is bare bones, but they do have a few private rooms if the usual dormotority-style isn't your thing. Private or public, it's the cheapest, best San Francisco Bay view and location ever! And if the location isn't enough, with the diversity of guests, it's like its own country -- young, old, rich, the not-so rich, and accents from near and far -- no wonder they call it "international."      

    Brunch_at_greens_credit_barbara_ste Table_view_at_greens_credit_barbara 

 An added bonus for me was realizing that the Hostel is a stone's throw from the world-famous Greens Restaurant. Vegetarian delights and window-table views of the marina and Bay brought us to dine two days in a row. All organic, all local, all the best! If not for the public place, I would have licked my plates clean.  Well, maybe I did anyway.


The walking left us exhausted but exhilerated. The worry- and hassle-free no-car option was a fantastic choice. And making some new friends along the way...well, that's just special.Making_some_new_urban_friends_credi

For more information and to plan your own Urban(e) Adventure, visit: