Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Grabishfarm Mulefoot Hog Farm-to-Fork Dinner

October 12, 2014
Dixon, CA

This past weekend, we had an opportunity to attend a farm-to-table event at Grabishfarm, a small working farm just outside Sacramento that specializes in heritage hogs, goats and guinea hens, along with ducks, turkeys and various other fowl.  

The dinner was put on in conjunction with two Oakland restaurants - the chefs from Chop Bar and Lungomare prepared the amazing dishes with food that came from the farm - along with Field Recordings Winery.  As a bonus, a shuttle bus was provided from Oakland to the farm in Dixon! 

Ready to depart for the farm from Jack London Square
Upon our arrival at the farm, we were met with flutes of bubbly and invited to tour around the farm, visiting with the animals and mingling with the other guests.

Here's to Grabishfarm!
Amy, who owns and operates the farm with her husband Larry, was a fantastic hostess!  She poured wine, took guests on tours and happily answered any questions that people had about the farm and the food, all while seeming totally friendly and relaxed in the midst of putting on this event for a large group of strangers.  Amy's parents, who came from Pennsylvania to attend the dinner, were quite hospitable as well, ensuring that no one's glass was ever empty and just being generally friendly, enjoyable and host-like, making everyone feel as welcome and at-home in the farm environs as the animals themselves.

The goat area at Grabishfarm
The tables, placed in a single long row, were elegantly set with down-to-earth organic details such as a single quail feather attached to each menu card, flatware bundled and tied with jute and a sprig of thyme, burlap table runners, and benches created from hay bales covered in burlap sacks in lieu of traditional chairs. So festive and fun!

Putting finishing touches on the table
I had wanted to attend this sort of farm-to-table dinner for quite some time and was thrilled when this opportunity arose.  I wasn't quite sure what to expect but the entire event definitely surpassed my expectations.  The animals were friendly and fun, living in a pleasant, free-range environment amongst the eucalyptus trees.  

Um, Scott?  There's someone nibbling your hair...
The farm's heritage guinea hens and friends
Making friends with Frances the Standard Donkey and her equine pal
The food, from the tomato/watermelon and green salads and goat cheese and pate with homemade bread to the roasted-beet-and-faro salad with duck morsels and Mulefoot Hog porchetta, was all outstanding and the various wines provided a nice accompaniment to the meal.  
Are we in France...or Dixon, CA?  Best. Pate. Ever.
A salad of organic chicories, pears, candied almonds and freshly made goat cheese
Mulefoot Hog porchetta

After dinner, there was a generous selection of dessert wines and we especially enjoyed a bourbony-tasting brandy, while lingering at the table beneath the strands of tiny white lights, as dusk turned to darkness.

More photos:
We received a warm welcome at the farm
Here's to you, my tasty friends!

One of Grabishfarm's heritage Fainting Goats

Scott's always making friends wherever he goes...
The hogs so good they got a farm-to-table dinner named after them!
Tim the goat, taking a break from hangin' with his Mulefoot pal, Boss Hog
Frances, the Standard Donkey
Talking about melons, in the vegetable patch.  I'm not sure I trust these two...
The table, located beyond the vegetable patch beneath the trees

Ready to eat!
Perfectly seasoned chicharrones to start.  Pro-tip: they taste even more amazing with a little dab of the pate spread on top...
Thank you for an amazing evening, Grabishfarm!
The brandy was so good, we decided to take some to-go for the ride home...
Grabishfarm, we love you!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Perfect Autumn Day in Maine: Climbing the Beehive in Acadia National Park and a Lobstah Pound Lunch

October 2, 2014
Acadia National Park & Bernard, ME

We arrived in Bar Harbor to a late afternoon not-very-welcoming committee of overcast skies, chilly temps and brisk breezes that felt closer to winter than the final day of September.  

Acadia National Park
The following day, October 1st, continued cloudy and cool and we spent it wandering and exploring in Acadia National Park in the damp and gloom.  When our second and final day in town dawned sunny and with a promise of warmth in the air, we enthusiastically set off for the park after breakfast at our Holiday Inn resort hotel.  

The previous day, Scott had overheard rangers and other park visitors talking about the popular Beehive Trail, where hikers use iron rungs and ladders along with simple hand- and footholds carved into the rock face to scale the side of a mountain with the reward of stunning views at the top.  He was intrigued and enthusiastic to try it. "How bad could it be?" I thought to myself, since they let just anyone do it.  Besides, I love climbing opportunities on hikes and was feeling adventurous and nimble, so we off we went.  

The trail started out very easy and largely flat and provided a pleasant, tree-lined morning meander through the sun-dappled woods.  

And then we came to this sign at a junction in the trail.

I started to get the feeling that this adventure might prove to be a tad more challenging that originally anticipated.  I looked up and, in the distance, saw tiny hikers appearing to scale the side of a mountain.  With a jolt, I realized  that this was precisely where we were headed! 

While it is only about .8 miles to the top, this was easily the most treacherous feat I've attempted.  Ever.  For much of the trail, I was completely terrified, knowing that one stumble or missed hand-hold could mean a freefall toward near certain and painful death (as the warning sign located at the trailhead had so kindly pointed out). 

Negotiating the nearly vertical ascent of the Beehive
However, to my credit, not once did I even think about turning around (which is good because it is basically impossible to turn back once you begin).  I bravely soldiered on, utterly and completely focused on that task at hand, namely that of preserving my own life.  

The many hours Scott has put in at the climbing gym over the past year really paid off on this venture.  I let him go first and he frequently made helpful suggestions for strategic hand and foot placement in order to most safely and easily get to the next level as we switchbacked up the mountainside.  

"Sure, I feel like walking across an iron ladder extending out over thin air on the side of a mountain, why not?"
Finally, and seemingly against all odds, we reached the summit.  Upon reaching the top, the euphoria and adrenaline rush from simply having made it to safety might have been even more rewarding than the (albeit gorgeous) views!  

All the same, after a couple of cloudy days, having the opportunity to see the park’s beauty in the bright autumn sunshine did not disappoint!

Scott admires the view from the summit
View from the summit
After our death-defying morning climb, we decided we had more than earned our planned lunch that day at a lobster pound – an obvious must-do when in Maine.  The places we had passed by in and around Bar Harbor appeared uninspiring and we really wanted to have a great lobster pound experience.  So Scott jumped on Yelp and discovered Thurston’s.  Located clear on the other side of the island from Bar Harbor, it was little more than a shack, albeit a prettily trimmed one, with a no-frills, screened-in dining room and separate bar, both perched over the water and overlooking a charming, working harbor.  

The menu was simple and the food simply amazing.  Scott took this opportunity to tuck into an entire 2.5 pound lobster while I enjoyed the amazingly delicious crab-and grilled-cheese sandwich.

Oh yeah, it's Maine lobster time!
My crab sandwich (on plain sandwich bread, at that) might not look like much but, let me assure you, it was unadulterated, fresh-seafood bliss!
Thurston's proved to be pure New England-shellfish-and-ambiance perfection - it was exactly what we were looking for!  The only downside was that we had to sit in island construction traffic for an hour in order to get there.  And we would do it all over again without a moment’s hesitation!

More photos:
Admiring the view from the halfway point on the Beehive Trail
Climbing the Beehive

Enjoying a relaxing stretch of the Beehive Trail
Beehive summit selfie - we made it!!!
View from the top
Beehive Summit vistas

Beehive summit panorama
The less steep (read vertical) return trail down the other side took us by a pretty lake known as "The Bowl"
The Bowl, captured in the autumn sunshine
The Bowl
While much less perilous, there was still a little climbing required on the return trail...
A customer selects their lobster from the "pound"
The "pound"
Thurston's wins for best bloody mary ever, due to the de-shelled lobster-meat claw garnish!
Scott's lunch - dig in!
Thurston's screened-in dinning room, overlooking Bass Harbor

Lobster boat moored at Thurston's dock
Bass Harbor
Lobster traps
The inviting deck off of Thurston's bar offered a picturesque photo op
If I were a local, Thurston's bar would definitely be my hangout!
Bass Harbor buoys
Bass Harbor working boat