Friday, December 12, 2014

There's Spaghetti in My Underwear/Small Town Cuisine

My lovely wife and I moved back to this small town community in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains in 2009.  We originally moved here from the San Francisco Bay Area in 1979.  There’s a few chapters of life that can be found between here and there in “Late Night Letters to the Moon”, which is available on  That's a whole nother story, and contains things like going to hell and back and buying some new socks. The "hell" part is probably a lot more entertaining than the "sock" part.  Unless, of course, you have a major fetish for socks.

We were lured away from this scenic mountain locale in 2005 by a substantial monetary offer to my lovely wife to take over a title company branch office in Monterey, Ca.  Why not?  She was the top escrow maven of this county at the time and who doesn’t love the Pacific Coast?  Especially Monterey?

A year there and a couple years in Capitola, CA, and my lovely wife was getting burned out with the fourteen hour days in the hellaciously fast paced and freakish world of escrow.  Dealing with money and humans.  Other people's money.  Yeesh.  I have a whole nother story about that.  See paragraph one.  

We also figured we’d never be able to afford a home on the central coast when an 800 square foot house on a postage stamp lot was selling for around 800K.  That warranted a trip up to Portland, OR for a year to check out that scene.  

I say this so ambivalently now.  That was a lot of moving for older type folks who have a lot of crap.  It’s not like we were twenty, could partially fill up a VW van and skedaddle out to parts unknown.  Nope, we’ve got a lot of crap.  We fill up a BIG moving truck.  BIG truck.  We had to plan.

Professional movers did the first move out of here and it was paid for by my lovely wife’s new employer.  We had to pack and pay for the rest of the moves, and we’ve got a lot of crap.   I must admit, I did get very good at packing.  I had to, my lovely wife has a penchant for lovely, quite fragile glass and porcelain artsy type creations.  See: The Drunk Rooster.

Five thick, hardcore big box dish packs full of her breakable, decorative porcelain and glass.  I said, why not collect stamps?  They, too, are lovely creations of art you can look at and admire.  And when we move, they can fit underneath the front seat of the car in a cigar box quite nicely thank you.  She smiled, as she always does, but she did not listen to me.  She continued to find porcelain and glass wherever we went.

While the locale and climate were quite lovely and there was a fabulous doughnut shop there, it was lonely up in Portland, especially for my lovely wife.  I was telecommuting and she wasn’t working, and she's a little social butterfly.  She did a lot of volunteer work-we both joined the Red Cross-and we also became members of the Portland Art Museum.  But it wasn't enough, and it was nothing like the social community here that we were a part of for 30 years, more or less.  That takes a long time nourish.

We were also further away from our children, grandchildren and my lovely wife’s parents.  After living in Portland for a year, we began discussing how close we could move to the SF Bay Area but still be able to afford a house.  And Nevada County, California, our old adopted home turf, came back into view.

We made a recon run and were welcomed back with open arms by family and friends.  Within a couple months we had packed (again) and were back in our old home town.

Our amazing cat Tom knew he was home too.  He became quite animated in the car as we wound up into the pine scented hills from the valley floor.  Once we were at our new rental and we let him go, he immediately was drawn to a small pile of pine needles on the drive.  After a snort full, he was on his back  rolling in the old scents of home.  Tom went on his last walk to forever last summer.  I am so happy he was able to spend the last 4 years of his 18 year life in a place that he obviously knew and loved.

We were in that rental house for a year and then my lovely wife found this house on the side of a hill.  All it needed was a fool.  To watch the sun go down with the eyes in his head.  And see the world go ‘round.  And round.  And become more than a little obsessed with creating a colorful, panoramic and functioning dot of earth. 

Long before we left on our four year five move two state walkabout, we went to a crab feed here with some friends.  It was hosted by one of the local volunteer fire departments, which we always try to get on out and support.

Inside the firehouse, which had been cleared for this occasion, were three or four long rows of tables and chairs running the entire length of the room.  I think the entire hall was geared to seat about eighty people, maybe a hundred, of which we were a party of six.  We found our little spot of paper tablecloth and sat down with unabated anticipation.

I don’t know about you, but I’d never been to a crab feed before.  Fortunately, the friends we went with had and gave us a little guidance.  The first thing that came out of the kitchen was a plate of spaghetti.  And probably not very good spaghetti either.  Vermicelli with unadorned tomato sauce and a sprig of oregano.  I was so hungry I almost ate some, but one of our friends abruptly halted the forward movement of my fork. 

“No, no, no,” he said, “You don’t want to eat those crappy carbs, you want crab.  Don’t waste your waist on that.  They want you to eat that so you’ll eat less crab.  No carbs, crab.  Trust me.”   And he threw the plate away.  I almost potentially thought about hypothetically wanting to maybe put a handful of spaghetti in my pants, just so the title of this post could fit in with the body, but that would have been messy.  And stupid.  So I didn't.  

Next came a handful of lettuce with some Thousand Island dressing on it.  There was also a cherry tomato on top.  I figured that small amount of roughage couldn’t hurt, and much to the chagrin to my purist crab eating fiends, I mean friends, I managed to get in a couple bites before they took that plate away.  

Then came a bucket of crab legs to our little crab clan of six.  It wasn’t a huge bucket, like something you'd put oats in to feed a horse.  Or whatever they put food in for Sumo wrestlers.  It was about the size of a standard ice bucket you’d see at the Hilton, or Motel 6.  But it was full of crab legs.  Everybody took a socially acceptable amount, not quite depleting the bucket of its luscious fodder.  By the time we had almost finished our first round, the second bucket came.

Now, you know, we don’t live on the coast here in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  And crab, usually somewhat pricey in the grocery stores, is usually considered a delicacy in these here parts.  So, you know, “All you can eat crab for $25.00. Charity Event.  Blah, blah, blah.”  I’m thinking maybe they'll cap our group at three buckets.  I mean, they couldn't really mean, “All you can eat”, could they? 

I expanded my belt buckle when the fourth bucket came.  I got giddy when the fifth bucket came. After the sixth, or maybe the seventh bucket, I wandered outside to find the Vomitorium.  I found a pine tree and had a smoke instead.

Then I went back inside, loosened my belt ANOTHER notch and partook of another two or three buckets of crab.  I felt like I was at a Roman orgy, but without the Romans.  Or naked people for that matter.  Which is probably a good thing since most folks were fabulously bloated by this point in the evening’s soiree and wouldn't feel fabulous naked.  Especially in front of strangers.  Or friends.

I would imagine enough crab was consumed that night to fill up at least one episode of the “Deadliest Catch”.  Or maybe a swimming pool.  By the way, a fabulous  game to play drunk when money is no object: drain a swimming pool and fill it with pickles.  Toss in a frog.  Whoever finds the frog wins.  You could reverse it, fill the pool with frogs and toss in a pickle, but it's a lot easier to catch and contain one frog than it is forty thousand.  Just a thought.

 It was great to catch up on a little seafood since there aren’t really any restaurants in town specializing in ocean delights.  I mean, you can get the catch of the day at many fine restaurants in town, but there's no specific fish stand to speak of.  Like Phil's in Moss Landing, which is absolutely fabulous by the way.

Speaking of restaurants, we do have a number of fine establishment here in our twin city towns of Grass Valley and Nevada City.  There aren’t any chain restaurants either.  Nothing like an Appleby's, or Chili's.  Or Ruth's Chris.  What is that anyway, Ruth or Chris?   There’s a bit of a small town resistance here to any of  that falderal, which is a showy but worthless trifle, flapdoodle or nonsense, by the way, coming in and taking business away from the established, local independents.  

If you want a steak here in town, head on out to The Willo, which is a couple miles out of Nevada City in the country.  Casual dining at its best, The Willo has like five, or maybe six items on the menu.  BBQ New York steak, BBQ chicken, BBQ ribs and a BBQ pork chop.  I think they've recently added some BBQ fish.  That’s about it.  Sense a theme here?  Whatever you order comes with some beans, green salad and slice of garlic bread, all on the same plate.  You also get a scoop of vanilla ice cream for dessert.
Ambiance runs high at The Willo.  You can get cocktails there, play shuffleboard in the bar and for an extra fifty cents you can cook your own steak at the huge indoor BBQ.  There’s also a painting of the old SF-Oakland Bay Bridge with teeny weeny miniature Christmas lights running both sides of the span.  If that ain’t enough, there’s also velvet's of Elvis and the Duke on the wall.  Class trash at its best.

Another great steak house, The Owl Grill and Saloon, is located in downtown Grass Valley.  Recently  taken over by an old high school alum chum, Steve Graham, the Owl still sports much of the same great meaty menu, but now presented with a little more panache, flavor and flair.  The Owl is much more upscale than the Willo, but both have their place.  

A nice, romantic dinner, the Owl.  A nice, shit kicking time, the Willo.  Any questions? 

If haute cuisine is more your thing, head on over to The New Moon Cafe in Nevada City.  There Chef Peter Selaya is always cooking up new, exciting and tasty culinary works of art.  You can watch him do his stove top ballet through the large picture window near the entrance.  

South of the border?  Maria’s.  There’s also Thai.  Italian.  Sushi.  There’s pizza.  There's a host of other very fine dining establishments, like Tofanelli's, Cirino's, and Lefty's, to name a few.  All restaurants listed have been around for years, they have definitely withstood the taste of time.

There's a couple of pastie shops too.  Yeah, right.  Get your mind out of where you know it just went.  That's, like, Cornish pasties.  Again, I am not referring to a lively young lass with small items of glitz adorned strategically ala Janet Jackson, I am referring to kind of like a meat pot pie or burrito, only different.  This delicacy was brought to the area during the gold rush by Cornish miners who came to work in the gold mines.

There’s a few small coffee shops too.  There used to be a Denny’s, but since most of the locals stayed with small, local shops they left town.  It’s a bagel shop now.  I think only five of the main line fast food crap places are represented here, but not all of them.  Only one IHop.  So we have that going for us.

One night a couple months back in 2014 we ate at a local restaurant with a couple of the same friends we went to the crab feed with.  We’re all foodies.  They had a gift certificate for The Swiss House, an off the beaten track and out of the way place touting Swiss and German food as their specialty.  Somehow the Swiss House had remained in the same location for a couple decades.  It isn’t located downtown where most of the eateries are; it's out by the freeway interchange, if you want to call it that.  It’s probably more like a highway intersection.  The industrial part of town.  Without the industry.

We arrived at 7:00 PM on a Saturday evening.  There was a couple at the six seat bar having cocktails, and there were also two other tables in the restaurant that were occupied when we arrived.  It appeared to be a fairly quiet evening, with about eighteen tables sitting empty.  The décor was straight out of the late seventies, with walnut wainscoting and red and gold flambé wallpaper everywhere.  

The hostess, a lovely Asian woman in her early seventies, left us with menus and a glass of water.  Fifteen minutes later we had yet to be approached by a waiter or waitress.  With two lovely spouses thirsting for Martini’s, I decided to head to the bar myself to get the ladies a drink.  There, I learned from the couple seated, that the bartender had been missing for about the same amount of time as our hostess.  And we still had not seen a waiter.  Or waitress.  This was beginning to feel like an Agatha Christie mystery.  Or Blake Edwards romp.

We soon learned our seventies hostess was also our waitress as well as the bartender.  And chef’s spouse.   She was a busy girl.  Besides her and the chef, there was only one other person helping in the back.  I wonder what would have happened if the place had all twenty tables occupied?  We'd probably be paying extra, just like at The Willo, to help cook our own meal. 

We had a lot of fun poking fun at just about everything that was going on; the decor, the ambiance, the service.  Or lack thereof.  But when the food finally came, arguably it was some of the best tasting cuisine in the area.  Chef Karl definitely has his schnitzels down.  Perfectly cooked vegetables.  Perfectly tasty and textured sauces.  The food was impeccable.  And once we got into the one person waitress/hostess/bartender slow show pace, we had a wonderful time.  I would highly recommend this establishment to any and all.  Just don't be in a hurry.

As I write this, I am sad to say that Lily Pai Resch, the energetic and multi-tasking hostess/waitress/bartender and wife of Karl the chef, has recently passed away.  The restaurant is closed until further notice per their website.

Besides the cadre of wonderful and delicious edible locations that grace our effervescent community, we also have a unique feature that is a staple at our county fair.  It is one tasty avenue that is called Treat Street.  It ought to be a boulevard.

Basically it’s a hundred yard long, twenty foot wide walk with food stands on each side offering a wide variety of eats. From stuffed baked potatoes to burgers to tacos to brats to hot buttered corn on the cob to possibly the absolute best darn corn dogs on the planet.  Home town fair fare at its finest and each food vendor is a local charity or volunteer organization.  

Several local volunteer fire departments are represented, several churches, the Rotary, the Elks, Big Brothers/Sisters, Boy Scouts, ETC.  Besides the camaraderie, these organizations make a ton of money.  Job’s Daughters, with their uber fantabulous corn dogs, anchors the street and ALWAYS has a line from twenty to forty deep.  They sell a ton of dawgs each year during the fair.

Treat Street is not as lit up during the 4th of July as it is during the county fair.  A few booths are usually open, but not all of them.  It was 4th of July, 2010, on Treat Street, that I knew, after our four year walkabout, we were home.  

The 4th of July is a big deal around this community.  The two towns flip each year hosting a parade, which is actually a pretty darn good affair.  Marching bands, humans on horses and fire trucks.  A couple batons.  A few old cars.  A few old bats.  A politician or two.  We haven’t been in a few years because they switched the start time to 1:00 in the afternoon.  And these foothills can get quite warm in the middle of summer.

I’m not much of one for heat.  I can do the high 80’s and low 90’s OK, but when it gets up there in the high 90’s to triple digits count me out.  I need to be in or near a body of water or in an air conditioned room, definitely not standing out in the street sweating and sweltering and waving a miniature American flag.  Back when the kids were young we went all the time.  Back then the parade started at 10:00 AM, which was great.  And a lot cooler. 

I think one of the reasons they changed to a later start time was to seamlessly motivate and lure folks on out to the fairgrounds right after the parade for further patriotic celebration.  And to spend money of course.

There’s always been a huge aerial fireworks display at the fairgrounds, which always draws a huge crowd.  But that doesn’t usually start until, you know, dark, which is when most people would arrive.  But the fairgrounds always opened right after the parade, around noon.  I guess not that many people were migrating out there immediately following the parade.  We never did.  Who wants to spend an entire afternoon in the heat, sweating and sweltering?

We would usually find a body of water and submerge ourselves for the afternoon.  Then we'd mosey on out to see the fireworks around 7:00 PM.  Now that the parade ends around 3:00 PM, I guess more folks are heading out earlier to partake of the festivities than before.  Not us, but some folks. 

By the way, we have the best darn fairgrounds in Northern California, if not the world.  Tall pines grace the grounds and offer tons of shade in the heat of summer.  During the fair the long, main walk is lined with regiments of bright orange marigolds.  Rustic red colored buildings dotted everywhere present quilts, baked goods, flowers, produce, and paintings during the  fair, all entered with the hopes to take home a blue ribbon.  I keep threatening to enter one of my African Violets, but I always seem to miss the deadline. One of these years...

The fairgrounds hosts many other events throughout the year, like the annual Father’s Day Blue Grass Festival, KVMR's Celtic Festival, the World Music Fest, the Strawberry Music Fest, Clydesdale Horse Fest, Classic Car Fests, a Home & Garden Show and a few isotopes.  More or less.

It was at the 4th of July, 2010 celebration, that I experienced a very warm, subtle and welcome Aha!  Although we didn’t go to the parade, we still moseyed out to the fairgrounds around 7:00 for the fireworks.  We got together with my sister and her family and ultimately an entourage of fifteen to twenty, which included kids, grandkids, vegetables and hangers on meandered out.  We brought blankets and chairs and set up a nice little island in a huge sea of madness with hundreds of other folks.

After we had set out our blankets and chairs, my lovely wife and I meandered off to explore the festivities.  I ended up in some Treat Street line, getting something nourishing, you know, like caramel corn or ice cream.  And I was standing there, in line, soaking up the atmosphere.  Some country music and children’s laughter danced in the background, a subtle breeze tickled my fancy.  And I was overcome with a mellow melange of  melancholy and nostalgia as a soft, sugar sweet symphony swept over my sensibilities.  I knew we had come home.