Santa Cruz Perfect Ending to 2014

Sunset at Stagnaro Bros. Santa Cruz, CA
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There are just a few days left in the year 2014, and moments from the past year dance through my mind. Travels I’ve undertaken, time spent with family, both good and heartbreaking, laughs with friends, new people experienced and new friends made. It was mostly a good year — actually, a great one.

The best way to end this year is in Santa Cruz, a place I call my hometown, although I was not born here. My family moved here when I was 12 years old. I left at age 21, traveled the world and ended back in Los Angeles. But my mother, brother and his daughter still live in Santa Cruz.

I find the beauty of Santa Cruz — the redwood-filled mountains, and it’s cove-filled beaches — the perfect setting to relax, and reflect on the past year. Just stepping outside my mother’s little home and taking a walk down the street in Felton, one of the first little communities people pass by on Highway 9 when entering the mountains, re-energizes me. The clear blue skies, fresh air and green all around — I inhale deeply and when I let my breath out, I am renewed.

Hiking and biking trails are located all throughout Henry Cowell State Park, which is in Felton, CA.
On clear days, you can see all the way to the ocean from a trail peak in Henry Cowell State Park.

Many homes are quaint craftsman in style. Others are basic redwood cabins, the kind I lived in when we first moved to Brookdale, which is further up Highway 9. Thin cabin walls barely kept the cold out during winter back then, but a huge river rock fireplace in our living room kept us warm.

One of my favorite things to do is watch the sunset from Pleasure Point, at the end of 41st Avenue in Capitola. In high school I learned how to surf  this spot, where the waves on the southern end usually are low and long. The other day I stopped at Pleasure Point Pizza, which is featured in the surf film “Mavericks,” and got a huge slice of Pepperoni Pizza and a coke, and went to the cliffs to watch the sunset. It’s calming to gaze at the ocean, and watch the sky change colors from a warm gold to a deep, rich red-golden hue.


View from Pleasure Point cliff at the end of 41st ave. in Capitola Santa Cruz, CA

Another great aspect about Santa Cruz is the history, food, and the variety of live music. I had dinner the other night at Stagnaro Bros., which has been located on the wharf in downtown Santa Cruz for almost 75 years. It was founded by brothers Ernesto and Giovanni Stagnaro, whose parents came from Northern Italy to Santa Cruz via Ellis Island in 1918. The brothers ran the fish seafood market and restaurant until 2004, upon Giovanni’s death. Family members still work at the restaurant to this day.

On Monday nights the restaurant offers a fantastic special, Cioppino, for $10.95. Normally the price is $24.95. A shallow bowl is filled with baby scallops, shrimp, crab legs and shellfish, and bathed in a thick, tasty tomato broth. I added some tabasco to spice it up a bit.

I went back the next day with my mom to try out their happy hour specials on the upper deck. We were just in time for a beautiful sunset, and snacked on calamari strips, clam chowder and a seared ahi tuna on a bed of greens. All dishes were $8.95 each, and house wine and draft beers were $3 each. Not bad. Warning, don’t order the prawn tacos. They are not made with prawn, but baby shrimp, and are not tasty enough to make up for the difference.

While the weather dipped to near freezing just before New Year’s Eve, people were out and about in Santa Cruz, at the wharf, on the West Cliffs, Downtown and elsewhere, spending the last days of 2014, I imagine, enjoying the quirkiness and beauty of this coastal town as much as my mother and I.

“Santa Cruz is great isn’t it,” my mother said, as we drove down River Street, past downtown back to the mountains.

“Yes it is,” I answered.

How to Navigate a Food Festival

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If you’ve ever been to a food festival, where the beverages are flowing and the food is seems unlimited, you’ve most likely rushed to the first food-laden tables and wine offerings, downing everything in sight. For goodness sake you wouldn’t want to miss out on any of it, and be left hungry and thirsty!


Gorge Restaurant Chefs Elia Aboumard and Uyen Nguyen teach Food Event goers how to make sausage.

Continue reading “How to Navigate a Food Festival”

The Space Between Us at Glo Santa Monica

Every three years for just one night, Glow Santa Monica, an art installation based on the theme of light, is installed at Santa Monica Beach and Pier. This year was my first time in attending. Having only seen images here and there, I never knew fully what the audience participatory exhibit would be like. I imagined it to be more than it was–more artwork, more light, more glowing displays that would astound the mind. Fifteen exhibits were listed in all, but some were passing events that occurred only once, and others, such as a treasure hunt for coins throughout the Glow area, to me, was not art, it was a treasure hunt.

Shana Koenig, Solar Sea Sculptures hung from trees on Ocean Avenue, Santa Monica during Glo 2013

Glow did have some unique, and large, installations, such as the ring of fire that I expected to see Evel Knievel ride through at any moment. Named “6:43PM” by artist Mathieu Briand, visitors stood in line to go through a tunnel made of steel containers on which the fire ring sat upon. The line was much too long, so I didn’t get to experience it, but, according to the event brochure description, it was a “chamber of mystery from a past or future time.” “6:43PM” “salutes the power of the sun,” and was named for the descent of the sun below the horizon at that time.

Other so-called “exhibits” were existing structures on the pier, the carousel and the solar-powered Ferris wheel (maybe the city was trying to save money). The carousel was fun to ride at 2 in the morning. I’ve never seen a carousel filled solely with adults. The music, one clip representing each decade throughout the 20th century, filled the room and energized the experience.

There was one exhibit that did impress many. To me it made it worth dealing with the traffic and parking to get to Glo.  It drew a steady stream from the thousands of people who came to Santa Monica to see Glo. “The Space Between Us” by artist Janet Echelman looked like a huge, billowing sea net hung from the sky, which constantly changed colors, sometimes slowly morphing from one to another hue, and other times lighting up suddenly in a bright white or blue. When it went dark, occasionally little lights would run up and down the strings of the net, like stars, or glowing sea life, on the move. A shooting comet at one point caused the audience to ooh and ahhh. While it seemed there was a caution tape barrier around the entire structure, it was trampled down as the masses of people streamed toward the sculpture and climbed up the small hill and down into a bowl sculpted out of the sand below the artwork. Here bodies lined the bowl, gazing up at the billowing net above them. The piece was set to music the artist composed, which listened to later on her Website,, sounds like water in variations states, included being flushed down a toilet. I overheard a couple asking, “Where’s the music.” While cliché, that would have made the experience truly fine. Here is a video below set to music by Pink Floyd.

No Red Meat–at All?

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Another study has been released about the dire facts of a diet heavy in red meat, especially processed red meat, like salami.

I love salami! That with olives and cheese, plus a glass of wine, is one of my favorite snacks.

But, according to CNN, the 28-year study–that’s right, health professionals and researchers followed 121,000 middle-aged men and women for 28 years–showed that 20 percent of the subjects died during that time. Now this is people who eat red meat on a daily basis, including the salami, hot dogs, bacon etc. Eating just one extra serving a day of red meat put the subjects in the study at a 13 percent higher risk of dying (does this count if you didn’t have the first serving?)

The bad facts of red meat consumption are:

  • High saturated fat content that can contribute to heart disease
  • Carcinogens produced by charred red meat at high temperatures
  • The high amount of additives in processed meats could cause cancer

Health professionals, cited in the CNN health report, suggest eating more whole grains, legumes and fruits and vegetables, and even eliminating red meat altogether. One professor of medicine though believes that lean meats, fruits and vegetables would be fine, as long as you limit sugar, starch, grain and dairy intake.

One thing is for sure–we Americans don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables.

I don’t eat red meat daily, not even the salami, but considering the thought of all those additives, I might just have to stick to nuts and cranberries for my snack. Do they go with wine?

Here’s the full story on CNN.



Alternatives to Coffee

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I gave up coffee about three months ago without planning to. The three-day headache that resulted from not drinking my daily one or two cups hardened my resolve to stay off coffee, more specifically the caffeine. However, I miss the morning ritual of a hot cup of coffee with the aroma, the cream and sugar, and quite truthfully, the taste of coffee.

So I’ve been looking for a substitute. Tea is not my thing, and I’m hesitant about decaffeinated coffee.

There are several methods in the process to remove caffeine from coffee beans: one in which the beans are soaked in water, which removes the caffeine and the flavoring oils. Ethyl acetate is added to the water and the caffeine binds to the chemical. When the water is heated, the chemical and the caffeine evaporates. The beans are then soaked in the remaining water that now contains only the oils. While ethyl acetate is a naturally occurring substance in fruits (it’s responsible for their aroma), it is considered a “flammable liquid and vapor”  and, in addition to causing irritation of the eyes,  “prolonged or repeated contact causes defatting of the skin with irritation, dryness, and cracking.” (Mayo Clinic).

“Defatting of the skin”? My skin is dry enough already, I’d like to keep some of that moisturizing fat…

So, while realistically drinking what is called “naturally decaffeinated” coffee may not defat my skin and cause other problems, I’d rather be safe than sorry.

There is the Swiss Water process that uses no solvents or chemicals to decaffeinate coffee. The water that beans are soaked in to remove the caffeine processed through a carbon filtering system. This kind of coffee I might try. The prices don’t seem too outrageous, from $16 for a 1 lb. bag of Organic Decaf Peru to $31 for 30 oz. from Jeremiah’s Pick (it’s organic too).

In the meantime, I found in my pantry shelves, from a long ago trade show, a small envelope of Caffeine-Free Herbal Coffee from Teeccino. It’s not really coffee, but a blend of herbs, grains, fruits and nuts that  taste surprisingly close enough to it, and has a dark rich color, like coffee! The flavor I am drinking now, Almond Amaretto, is made with roasted carob, barely, chicory root, dates, almonds, figs and natural Amaretto flavor. The price range is decent as well–a 1 lb. can of its French Roast Herbal Coffee is $13.50.

I’m more used to spending $5 to $7 for a can of supermarket-bought coffee, like Don Francisco’s, but as in my quest to healthier eating, having to pay more for organic produce, I have to consider what’s more important–my health or a new pair of shoes.



Mayo Clinic

International Coffee Organization

U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Swiss Water