February 24, 2009

Migration: Child's Play

A Road trip to Beach Town USA

Pismo Beach, California

We really enjoyed our weekend getaway to Pismo Beach, California. We only stayed one night, and we wished we had planned to stay for another (although one night is plenty if you don't have the time to stay longer).


Initial Draw

Why Pismo Beach? To my husband's dismay, I had to see the migration of the Monarch Butterflies.
Every year from October to February, the Monarch Butterflies find their way to the California coast line. Fleeing their winter homes, they travel 2,000 miles to the same trees every year. The strange thing is, the butterflies that find themselves in California, are the great grandchildren of the butterflies that found themselves there the year before. No one knows how the butterflies continue to find their way to the same trees as their ancestors, but rest assured, they are there every winter. We decided to plan a trip to Pismo Beach to see this amazing phenomenon.

When to Go

Since the butterflies only visit between October and February, it probably is best to visit during this time of year (unless you aren't into the butterflies). In December, you are likely to see the largest gathering of butterflies, but you (and the butterflies) are also likely to be really cold. Since the butterflies only open their wings in the sunshine, you may want to try for November. In November, enough butterflies have reached their final destination, but you have a better chance of enjoying nice weather. We were also told that in February the butterflies begin their mating season. The floors are covered with mating butterflies in a sea of orange - or what our nature guide preferred to call "a massive orgy." We opted for a quick getaway in November, but one day we hope to make the trip again in February.

The Highlights

We headed up the 101 and 154 to reach our destination, although the drive itself was part of the vacation. In a couple hours we saw a bustling city, rolling hills, vineyards, and miles and miles of beach. The drive up California's coast was breathtaking.

When we finally made it to the Pismo Beach Monarch Grove, we couldn't wait to see thousands of butterflies. The grove was much smaller than we anticipated, it only consisted of several trees in a small cluster.

When we first arrived, we made our way into the grove. We were a bit confused as to where all the butterflies were. We had checked the website for the butterfly count and had expected to find at least 12,000 butterflies. We couldn't see them at first, but then, we realized the thousands of leaves on each tree were not leaves at all.

We sat for hours watching the butterflies make their way from one branch to another,.
We were like little kids, entranced by the delicate butterflies gracing the branches of each tree. The stresses of city life melted away. We had found a dream like playground.

The trip had an educational aspect as well. We had made it in time to listen to a nature talk about monarch butterflies. There were many families with small children, and it was an entertaining lesson. However, if you have children I will warn you that the talk about butterflies revolves around their mating. Unless you are prepared to explain the birds and bees to your children or explain to them what an orgy is, you may want to pass on the nature talk.

Although the nature talk was a bit more risque than I expected, we did learn something fascinating about butterflies - apparently they are a rape culture. The male butterfly pounces on the female butterfly while she is flying in midair and brings her down to the ground where he proceeds to mate with her (hence the sea of orange that occurs each February). While it wasn't yet mating season, we did happen across some eager early starters, and managed to take a couple of crime scene shots: Yep, that's a rape in progress.

After enjoying our nature adventure, we decided to head into Pismo Beach. The town itself is quite small, but incredibly charming. But the best part is that it's full of candy stores! We stocked up on plenty of salt water taffy, before heading to our hotel.

We had a little too much fun in the candy stores. We laughed for hours at the different, and interesting, items for sale

And, yes, they did have a tamer version for those opposed to eating insects (or those who felt odd eating a butterfly after watching them playing in the trees all day).


We stayed at the Kon Tiki Inn. Our friends picked it out after reading reviews on tripadvisor.com. The hotel was on a cliff over the beach, and the location was perfect. Although the Kon Tiki Inn is not the type of hotel I normally would stay at, it was very reasonably priced. It was clean, and you could not beat the location. We had a beautiful view from our balcony, and there was easy beach access (assuming you are not afraid to walk down two stories of steep stairs). All of the rooms on the first floor had a patch of grass instead of a balcony (see picture below), which looked very pleasant.
If you are used to staying at fancy hotels, or if you require a massage while vacationing, this may not be the right place for you. It is more like a motel than hotel. There are no amenities, and the decor is far from fancy. Although the room did come with free breakfast, the breakfast consisted of Sara Lee bagels and doughnuts. Don't expect an omelet bar.
Because our friends picked the hotel, I didn't do any research on places to stay, but after visiting Pismo Beach, I would be pretty surprised if they had any resort-style hotels (although if you know of one, please share).

Also, note that smoking is prohibited on the property - and they mean it. They threaten you with a fine (that is 3 times the cost of the room) if they catch you smoking in your room or on your balcony. That said, if you can't stand smokers this might be a great place for you.
All in all it was a sorda charming place, in a motel kinda way. The location was more than worth the cost of the room. As I sat on our balcony enjoying the view (not smoking, of course), I kept thinking that we paid seven times more for a room with an Oceanside view in Maui and didn't have as good of a view. Perhaps the no thrills motel style of the Kon Tikki Inn helps you focus on the beauty and quaintness that is Pismo Beach, California.
(Picture of Kon Tikki Inn from beach. Note the scary stairs on the left.)

After spending a relaxing night at the Kon Tikki In, and after watching the sunrise the next morning from our balcony, we decided to take a walk down to the beach (despite the scary stairs) and headed to the pier.
The weather was perfect, and the walk down the beach was divine.

Because the town is quite small, we had plenty of energy left at the end of the day to walk back to our hotel.


We couldn't leave Pismo Beach without stopping at Cracked Crab (OK, twice - I fess up, we went there for dinner the day we got there and lunch the day we left). I am not much of a crab connoisseur, but the food was amazing. I had heard that the food was amazing, and the bucket of crab comes with several choices of crab legs, potatoes, corn, and sausage. I ordered mine sans sausage (I have my own version of keeping kosher: for some reason I have no problem with the crab, which is clearly shellfish, but I won't touch pork). I have to admit, I was a little taken a back when the waitress dumped a bucket full of crab, potatoes, and corn right on top of the butcher paper tablecloth that we just drew all over with crayons. I was very tempted to ask for a plate, but when in Pismo. . .

While the crab was amazing (especially the fresh King Crab), I ordered an amazing shrimp poorboy when we went back the next day for lunch.


The perfect end to our weekend getaway to childhood? After watching butterflies, stocking up on (and eating) tons of candy, walking on the beach, playing on the pier, drawing on a tablecloth, and eating with our hands right off a table, we headed back home for an enjoyable ride with good music (with some bad, but fun singing), and amazing views. Ah, the good old days :)

February 14, 2009

Valentine's Day Feast

As much as I enjoy heading out to dinner on a fake holiday and waiting over an hour for a table (even though I have a reservation), this year we decided to spend Valentines Day with an economic-friendly night at home. For a quarter of the price of a fancy dinner, I made my husband a four course meal in the comfort of our home and pajamas.

The Menu:

Citrus Salad

This is a popular salad in our household. I usually just mix together baby spinach, apples, oranges, sliced almonds, and Brianna's Homemade Dressing, and it's a huge hit every time.

For Valentine's Day I tried to fancy things up by shedding the apple in a food processor.

Lentil Soup

I first came across the recipe for this soup when I wanted to make a lentil soup for New Year's Eve a couple of years ago. It is one of my favorite soups. I follow the recipe exactly as written, except: (1) Before I add in the pasta I puree two cups of the soup in a blender (and hopefully I remember to expose the whole in the blender top and cover it with a towel - trust me, you don't want to forget to do this); and (2) I throw in the pasta 10 minutes before I am ready to serve the soup (even if it is ready before then) because the pasta absorbs the liquid in the soup very quickly.
As an added bonus, this soup is great for leftovers. I either eat it later as a stew (I wasn't kidding about the pasta absorbing the liquid quickly), or when I reheat it, I add chicken broth to turn it back into soup.

If you didn't believe me about that pasta, above is proof of the stew leftovers.

Chicken Picatta

This is one of my husband's favorite dishes when we eat out, but I've never made this dish myself before. I thought I would give it a try, and it turned out great! I even made a "healthier" version by using margarine instead of butter, but you could not tell. Another bonus: It turns out chicken picatta takes about 9 minutes to make. This might end up on our weekly dinner menu rotation.

For a fun Valentine's Day touch the entree was heart shaped.

Mashed Potatoes

The grocery store didn't have the potatoes I usually use for making mashed potatoes, so I grabbed baby red potatoes instead. My secret to making them is that I heat the milk and butter before I add them to the potatoes, and I mash the potatoes with the skin still on the potatoes.

For a special touch, I packed the mashed potatoes into an egg ring (thanks to my bridal registry) and packed them down with a spoon. After I lifted the egg ring, I had perfect round patties of mashed potato.

Chocolate Covered Strawberries and Raspberries

It was probably just as fun making these as it was to eat them. Although the original plan was to sprinkle white chocolate stripes across each of them, the white chocolate did not cooperate.
I had some extra chocolate after dipping the strawberries, so I dipped a couple of raspberries in the chocolate (why should it go to waste?). The raspberries were great. I think I might make them again as a bite sized dessert.

Next time, I also might experiment with milk chocolate (and, I will do proper research about how to properly melt white chocolate).
Raspberry Tartlettes

I bought frozen filo dough tart shells, and I filled the shells with a mixture of vanilla pudding and fat free cool whip. I topped each tartlette with a raspberry. They were OK, but I would make some adjustments if I made these again. I probably would have spread melted chocolate on the bottom of each tart to fix the texture and to make them a little less bland.