How many of you remember Connections – that BBC television show hosted by James Burke in 1973 that took seemingly unrelated events and, over the course of an hour or so, showed how one thing led to another in a series of connections? I remember loving that show when I was growing up and recently found it on YouTube so I am watching the forty-year-old episodes and reliving the journey as James Burke spins his tales. It is fun looking back on the 70s from a 21st century perspective, yet it amazing how much has stood the test of time.
Recently we partook in a series of edible connections of our own when we enjoyed some wonderful cheeses from Pennyroyal Farm with a friend over a few games of cribbage. Our friend often stops by with a few nice bottles of wine so it is nice to have snacks that pair well with what he might bring. In this instance, I had ordered a fresh cheese sampler from Pennyroyal in order to give their farmstead cheese a try.
So where do the connections come in? Well, as you all know by now, we relocated from Illinois to California years ago and, as a result, that is how we met our wine-toting friend. It is also the reason we purchased a good little reference book written and updated (nine times now) by Tom Stienstra entitled “California Hiking“. The book lists off-the-beaten-path hiking trails and rates them for their difficulty, their length and their scenic beauty. Over the years, we have used Tom’s book to find trails to hike all over the state as time and opportunity have presented themselves.
A few winters back, we were looking for a place to go exploring. One of our personal quests is to visit all the US National Parks and we have been to many but Redwoods National Park in upstate California had not yet been one of them. Looking at a map, we plotted a course and set out for Redwoods over a long weekend. (Visiting all the national parks is somewhat of a daunting task as they keep making more of them. There were 392 of them the last time I looked and President Obama signed in a few more just this past year. Fortunately, we have already been to some of those new ones before they were officially declared national park so now we just have to decide if that counts or not! )
Anyhow, back to the connections. We decided that a quick way to get upstate would be to depart after work on a Thursday night so we took off and drove through wine country arriving in Boonville as our first stopping point. [Boonville is in a region of California where locals can be found to speak a regional language called Boontling. It’s an engaging little town.] The next day took us first to The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Ukiah, California ( a very thought-provoking stop) and then on to Solar Living Institute for an equally, albeit very different, interesting stop. [Check out this link to a post I wrote on my design blog which will give you a feel for how they view things a bit differently at the institute.] From there we wound our way up US Highway 101 along the ‘Avenue of the Giants‘ stopping at one magnificent redwood tree after another. It was a wonderful day’s drive that culminated in a thoroughly enjoyable dinner at the Plaza Grill (loved everything we had!) in Arcata, California and an overnight stay in McKinleyville, California.
The next morning we did a quick hike at Patrick’s Point State Park which has beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean and some very interesting remains of a Yurok Indian village on site before heading off to Redwoods National Park. Referencing back to Tom’s “California Hiking” book, we found a Tall Trees trail that hiked out to a grove of the tallest redwoods in the world. The catch was that you had to stop at the park headquarters and get a permit to drive back the road to the trail and there are a limited number of permits issued every day, but we took our chances and got lucky. They gave us the code to the lock on the gate and off we went.
Driving in to the trail head, we saw beautiful scenery and even came across a black bear a few feet away from us while we were in the safety of the car. This gave us a wee bit of an adrenaline rush as we considered that we may encounter more black bear once we were off on our hike so we made sure we didn’t tread too quietly as we set off through the woods. Generally a bear will get out of your way if he knows you are coming so we made sure he knew we were coming!
After hiking the better part of an hour, we came around a bend in the trail and Chuck let out a ‘Holy #$%!’ as he first sighted the tall trees. Amazingly, they were even bigger than anything we had seen driving through the Avenue of the Giants. We were mesmerized by those trees and the serenity we found in that grove. The visit was not to be rushed so we hung out for a little while before heading back the trail and driving back out the gate to head back south.
By now, we really didn’t feel like doing much driving and we had successfully whiled away most of the day anyway so we went back to the motel where we had stayed the night before and just got ourselves the same room back for another night. We considered going back to the Plaza Grill for another wonderful meal but, at the last minute, decided to try someplace new and tracked down a small, intimate restaurant serving all organic food called Folie Douce. We couldn’t have been happier with our choice. We split a wood-fired pizza covered with wild mushrooms, caramelized onions and gruyere along with a vegetarian lentil dish that was so good we considered getting a second portion to go so we could have it for lunch again the next day. We had also ordered a bottle of a Navarro Pinot Noir to accompany the meal which was superb.
The next morning we started our trek back south and wound along the coast making a very eclectic stop in Ferndale, California to visit the Kinetic Sculpture Museum which houses all-terrain, human-powered works of art designed to operate on land and water that people have used to compete in an annual race in Humboldt County. From there we meandered down to Fort Bragg, California (which contains no fort at all); a lovely little touristy town with good beer, good restaurants and an interesting glass beach.
By now we were on day four, the last and final day of our long weekend, and had to head home. This is where we made the next connection. As I was studying the map for a good route home, I saw a wee little label for Navarro Vineyards…home of the wonderful wine we had for dinner at Folie Douce. Of course we had to stop in at the tasting room. I hadn’t jotted down the name or the vintage of the bottle we polished off that night so when we walked in the door at Navarro all I could say was that we had a lovely bottle of Pinot Noir in a little restaurant in Arcata and were hoping to pick up some more. Imagine my surprise when the winemaker, who was working the tasting counter that morning, said “Oh, you must have been at Folie Douce. That’s a lovely little place, isn’t it? This is the vintage we supply to them” as he poured two glasses of Anderson Valley, Mendocino Pinot Noir. No surprise that we stayed and chatted with the winemaker trying this and that and walking out of there with the pinot noir and then some! This, of course, also added us to their mailing list for a quarterly newsletter in which (next connection) I stumbled across a link to their sister farm – Pennyroyal – from where I had ordered the cheese.
The sampler arrived (wonderfully packaged with still-frozen ice packs) at my doorstep the day after I ordered it with six cheeses inside:
- 6 oz tub Laychee– Laychee is the Boontling word for milk and this soft, delectable, tasty spread was full of goat milk goodness. We LOVED this chevre-style cheese! It has a bit of lemony tang to it yet it is sweet and moist. The farm doesn’t produce this cheese in January and February as the give their mother goats a bit of maternity leave while they raise their young but I can’t wait for March to roll around so I can order some more of this one. It is their most popular cheese for a reason. Wow!
- 5 oz round Bollie’s Mollies– Mollies is the Boontling word for the (ahem) part of the female goat anatomy that produces the milk. These 120 goats graze along Bollie Creek so this round of grey-rind, aged goat cheese is aptly named Boolie’s Mollies. Those of us who are fans of blue cheese enjoyed this variety while the others passed it over.
- 6 oz wedge Boont Corners, 2 Month, 6 oz wedge Boont Corners, Vintage, and 6 oz wedge Boont Corners, Reserve– These three cheese were all produced from a blend of goat and sheep milk and the only difference from one to the next was its age. The younger wedge was a bit softer whereas the oldest wedge was a drier cheese, almost like a pecorino. All three of these cheese were hits with our crowd.
- 7 oz wedge Boonter’s Blue– Being a blue-cheese-lover, I thoroughly enjoyed this goat’s milk blue cheese. Others were not so enamored but that’s okay…more for me! 😉
By now, having recalled this lovely little adventure for you, I am itching to go open up one of our stashed bottles of Navarro Pinot Noir, whip up something good for dinner and curl up on the sofa to watch the next episode of Connections. That’s the wonderful thing about travel. You just never know what it is going to lead to… and lead to… and lead to…..