California, Here I Come: Preface and Day 1

Preface (Day 7)

I am no longer human. I am a slug. I have been on sabbatical from work for almost four weeks. I’m getting used to just “being” and it feels so good. I read. I rest. I eat. And then I read some more. While lounging around, my sister and I started talking about my desire to make a living as a writer. It was a heated discussion (“No, you can’t quit your job!”) but it was the inspiration I needed to get my butt off the sofa and my hands on the keyboard.

Day 1

Recently I traveled to San Francisco and Northern California. It’s well-known that San Francisco is full of excellent vegan fare but did you know there are also many vegan restaurants tucked into small Northern towns? I was fortunate to frequent several vegan eateries on this trip including Herbivore (twice!), Gracias Madre, Cafe Gratitude (Healdsburg), Living Light Cafe (Ft. Bragg) and Ravens (Mendocino). More proof it’s easy being vegan. Before I get to the food, let me start from the beginning. I had been on sabbatical from work for three weeks before my boyfriend, Bill, and I were to leave for vacation. I had been enjoying my time off with long bike rides along the lake, mindless fiction (aka chick lit), naps, sailing, walking with friends, cooking and watching movies but I was itching to get to California where I could really relax. Ha! If I relaxed anymore, I’m not certain I would be able to talk for fear of drowning in my own saliva.

Our trip began in Chicago where I made the executive decision to cab it to the airport early Saturday morning. I’m all for public transportation but there isn’t a quick way to get to O’Hare from my far North neighborhood and I don’t have any intentions of schlepping my suitcase three blocks to a bus then to a train at 5am. After a short cab ride to the airport, we checked our bags via the self-check-in kiosk. That’s a time saver, but I’m still getting over having to pay the $25 checked bag fee. Why nickel and dime the little guys? Once we boarded the plane, I pretended to read for a bit before I asked Bill to play Scrabble. He recently bought the travel version and I recently became addicted to the online version (at pogo.com). A game was in order so I could make it through the flight. Despite a few questionable words, I won.

After we landed in San Francisco, we picked up our bags, waited in line for about 30 minutes for our rental car before being swished away by a frenzied agent to the check-in. Once seated in the car I booked through Priceline for 16 bucks a day, we drove straight over the Bay Bridge to Herbivore restaurant in Berkeley. (Sheesh, that’s a long bridge! 4.5 miles when combining both sections that meet up with Treasure Island.)

Herbivore restaurant in San Francisco

Herbivore boasts a large menu of vegan eats and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. We met friends for lunch in Berkeley and then went back to Herbivore in San Francisco the next day for breakfast. I ordered a BBQ tempeh sandwich for lunch and a tempeh, lettuce and tomato sandwich for breakfast but neither knocked my socks off. My friends who aren’t vegan enjoyed lunch as did we, but Bill was not in love with the “sausage” biscuit and mushroom gravy he ordered for breakfast the next day. When I tasted it, I thought it needed three times more gravy and then it would have been delicious. The saving grace for his breakfast was a fresh avocado, tomato, and spinach salad that accompanied the biscuit and gravy. We also had breakfast potatoes that had a really tasty flavor. Unfortunately they were undercooked by at least 15 minutes. Perhaps I’m spoiled but the Chicago Diner tops Herbivore in my book on vegan food, but Herbivore wins for being all vegan. What vegan can argue with that.

After lunch we walked around Berkeley, a well-known college town, as people sold their wares along Telegraph Avenue. It was a cool, brisk day and I was reminded of many Fall days I spent walking around Bloomington, Indiana where I went to college. Vendors were selling silver jewelry, bumper stickers and anything in-between. I skipped getting a Henna Tattoo but why! One of these days I will take the time. The intricate designs are beautiful and it’s only temporary after all. We also enjoyed browsing through several bookshops with both used and new books. I abstained from buying any books but that didn’t last long.

We drove back over the Bay Bridge ($5 to enter the city) to our hotel in San Francisco. The Bay Bridge is a double-decker bridge. When you drive East you drive on the lower level and can’t see much of the Bay. You are better able to see the water when driving West because you are on the top-level of the Bridge. I could see a lot of sailboats scootin’ across the water. It was a windy day and perfect for sailing. (I hope I’m in one of those sailboats someday!) Back in the city, we checked into Club Quarters which I again booked through Priceline. The room was small and the walls paper-thin. Our next door neighbors came home at 3:30 in the morning and woke me up. I couldn’t fall back to sleep for at least an hour. Listening to two guys yelling at each other where every other word was f**k makes it difficult to sleep. Fun times. Beyond that, the room served its purpose.

Bill and I in the Mission District near Gracias Madre

Herbivore may not have knocked my socks off, but Gracias Madre did. It’s a vegan Mexican restaurant in the Mission District. Mexican food is my favorite and I couldn’t wait to get there for dinner. We jumped on the BART at the Embarcadero and just a few stops later we stepped off the train to walk a couple of blocks to the restaurant passing several fresh fruit stands on the way. Once there we were seated at a table for six that we shared with another couple. Although this type of seating facilitates conversation among the patrons, I hope our neighbors didn’t mind me asking about every dish they ordered. Beyond that, there wasn’t any conversation among the four of us. They left mid way through our meal and four new guests were seated at our table. They were out celebrating a birthday and were a bit more fun and talkative.

For an appetizer, we ordered the guacamole which was served with warm, homemade corn tortillas — a nice change of pace to deep-fried tortilla chips. For dinner, I ordered the Ensalada de Betabel, which is mixed greens with roasted beets, pecans and a chipotle vinaigrette, served with grilled Acme bread and queso blanco, a creamy cashew “cheese”. Also adorning the salad were warm roasted peaches — a heavenly addition. Bill ordered Nopales, a prickly pear cactus grilled with garlic and fresh herbs, served with rice, beans, pico de gallo, cashew crema (another type of cashew “cheese”) and more warm tortillas. I was curious to try his pear cactus. It tasted unexpectedly good and similar to a common food but now I can’t remember what. (I will take notes in the future.) Dessert was a divine peach cobbler with Dulce de Leche “ice cream”. It was like eating heaven as the ice cream melted over the warm peaches — a perfect end to our day.

Next up, we head North through wine country to my sister’s rental property near Irish Beach.

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