Guaranteed Good Baja Grub

  FullSizeRender-4Here's the latest from Baja Bound.

I simply cannot wait until the season is upon us for the annual Baja migration to begin.

My stomach and her demands are governed by a different compass - one that leads me down forgotten backroads, through dark alleys and into overlooked street side cafes. The real reason that I adore Baja so much is that it has just one main road, the one that spits you out in Cabo once you have made trails through the most spirited land many tend to ignore – you know it as the infamous Highway 1. There are always guarantees for my taste buds up and down the entire peninsula and I never have to stray that far to find them. Here are a few pit stops along Highway 1 that will get you amped for your next Baja adventure.

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Starting at the top of the craggy peninsula, we work our way down...bite- by-bite! Now, this isn't your regular dime store pozole. Nope, this is some kind of fresher than fresh concoction that will blow your mind and demands a slam-on-the-breaks reaction. The secret to a good bowl of pozole? First comes the butcher – he preps some fresh pork, boils it down with piles of bones to make some flavorful stock and then, simply gets to it - ultimately making a long simmering pot of the best dressed soup you will find in all of Baja. Why is it so otherworldly?  Is it because the meat man is onsite? Is it because the morning air is so chilly and the steam rising from a bowl is worth crying over? Is it because the locals happily explain to you exactly how one should dress a bowl of red joy? I think it’s because in the pot next to the pozole is a giant selection of steaming tamales. When you mix these two epicurean delights together, you have a road trip that just hit Mach 10. 

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San Ignacio to me represents life after the desert blues. When you hit this oasis full of super green palm trees, you know that you are on the verge of landing where you are ultimately headed. It’s a lovely place to park your wheels, wander about the town square, and just take a load off from cranking so hard. Perched on the corner just across from the towering church is a wee food truck whipping out snacks (antojitos) that set you up for the next power blast south. Cheese stuffed tortillas are rolled up, charred a bit and then, dunked in fiery salsa. Coupling them with a piping hot cup of coffee might seem like a weird match, but no road trip in Mexico is complete without a few slugs of Armando's food Nescafe. Don’t miss the gooey chile relleno – my dog, Minka, was caught salivating tendrils of drool to the ground when that treat was being griddled up.

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Once you blast over the final bit of desolate desert in mid-Baja, you finally hit the Sea of Cortez and it’s as if the skies have opened up and all hope in humanity is restored; time for a chilly margarita, a dip in the “pool” (which is what the bathwater warm ocean feels like) and a big platter of seafood. Turns out the former owner of this tidy seaside shack died recently and left his joint to his former employee, who took the initiative to make some improvements with his wife. They live onsite in their RV with dogs and babies galore. What impresses me most is just the sweet vibe of the place. Soft music, delicious fish, really fair prices, someone constantly sweeping and arranging tables to look just so, and the killer view of the ocean sprinkled with sailboats gone rogue. This is the spot that makes me want to make like some Americans perched on the beach in the RV setups have done and go full expat. Lobster with fresh lemons on a daily basis, anyone?

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Call me crazy, but the folks who crafted up Flora Farms must have drank some kind of freaky genius Kool-Aid because for me to make it a point to drive there no matter where I am camped in lower Baja is just straight up impressive. My favorite spot to kick back is at the bar (of course, the restaurant is wonderful too) where the bartenders take the cocktail game seriously and the service has a little more low-key beach feeling to it. This is the area where you will catch the family of the owners gabbing it up with the in-the-know Cabo locals who dub this their local hangout. This is also where you will tuck into some killer food while lounging way longer than you ever expected. My usual go to is very cold Prosecco, while snacking on dense chunks of nutty housemade bread (still warm, mind you). Minka obsesses at the turtle pond, kids swarm the garden, my man slings back a jalapeno-laced margarita and I just transport myself to one of the onsite culinary cottages that fringe the grounds and imagine living a simple life on an organic farm in Mexico. Get on Flora’s email list straight away for updates on movie nights in the park, special Sunday brunches, cool cooking workshops and other news about what is quite possibly my favorite spot in all of Baja. Just don’t tell anyone about it, it’s already packed enough – EXCEPT at the bar!

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Locations:

Pozole Stop - Located in San Vicente on the north side of town and directly in front of a butcher shop on the west side of the Highway.

Loncheria La Mision Kadakaama – Located just across from the church in the San Ignacio town square.

Armando's – On the beach at Santispac

Flora Farms – San Jose del Cabo - Visit the Flora Farms website


The Farm at San Benito - Raw Foodies Heaven

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It ain't just carrot sticks.

The evolution of raw food has been something I've followed closely over the past few years.  Not that I ever thought I'd cook it; or go on a wellness retreat where it was front and center; or become slightly obsessed with it.

But, I suppose that time has come.  I'm over in the Philippines right now - at a wonderfully remote sanctuary called The Farm at San Benito.  It's an enormous coconut plantation that has been turned into a working coconut farm/luxe getaway from those needing to detox from all things dominant in their lives.  Like me - too much work, too little me time, too much wine and dairy and caffeine, not enough treks through the mountains.  Things like that.

So, I left.  I simply booked a ticket (OMG, using my FF miles, I scored a 1st class all the way ticket for $33 bones - can you just?)  and got on a plane.   Old school style.  Hate to say it, but I did no extra research, planned no other trips.  The goal was simply to spend 10 days on the farm.  Do a bit of yoga, rock multiple massages and other treatments, check out my blood with the Dr. on staff to see what is going on in my system (mjor allergies to wheat and dairy - I KNEW IT!), detox from constant internet/iphone monitoring, eat super well and clean and just really, grab a fresh sheet of paper and a nice pen + start over.

Simple.  I'm almost done with my stay here and I can tell you - though I didn't do their full on detox (all juices), I still feel pretty dang good.  I've done all the above and also just really learned lots about raw food.  I mean, the coconut crackers and nut cheese they make here rival sour cream & onion chips with cheesy dip.   For real!   I took the prep class in their open kitchen, bought their beautifully shot Alive cookbook, manage to inahle 3-4 courses at every meal and danggggggg....it's all just so, so, so good.  Well, then there's the late night soba noodle fiasco's that happen in my room:)

Just makes me want to go home and lay off.  I mean, I eat super good - but really rich.  Lots of cream, cheese, dairy - but at least it's all organic.  I need way more leafy greens and about 10x as much fiber.  Ditch the white stuff (sugar, salt, flour, etc...) as much as possible and instead, focus on more natural foods.  Which is really next to impossible when you are a foodie like me.   With a great kitchen, to boot.  Stick more to wine, less to the perfect old fashioned's I do so love.

But, I've been here and I don't miss a thing - not the coffee, not the bread + butter, not the daily cocktail(s).  I'm not saying I wont be right back on that train, but maybe I will be a little more aware - and even more judgemental of where my food comes from (home ain't the prob, it's restaurants).

Plus, it was really nice to be alone with just me and my thoughts.  And, to remember what MST real energy is.  I will be back!

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Shhhhh! I Have the Secret Ingredient in PERFECT Baja Fish Tacos

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It ain't the salsas, that's for sure)

I never would have believed it if I hadn't been there myself.  I mean, when does one ever get so lucky to witness first hand the fresh mix-up of Baja fish taco batter - actually like front row witness?  I can tell you - NOT MANY.   The little mama running this joint was pouring and churning a slew of ingredients all by heart and I'm sure years of experience - she had no idea my obsession as she spooned in the ingredients...she even did a 2nd batch, so I have real confirmation of what it takes to make the perfect Baja fish taco.

Now, I've been going to Baja for years and there is not one taco in the US that can compare.  I used to think it was the flour.  Maybe it was came from some special batch like how you need Lily White for proper skillet cornbread down South.  Then, I wondered was it the ratio?  Was it just a specific amount of Mexican beer that only the Baja ladies had mastered?  Now, I know the seafood is way fresher than most of the BS we have in the states (Gulf Wild - I can't wait til you rule the world and shake the fishing industry on its ass) - but man, there had to be something else entirely. 

And, then I saw her do it.  TWICE!  As I fiddled with my camera (ie - full recon on the DL), I witnessed this fine lady squirt in a boatload of yellow mustard.  Plain old French's.  OMG.  What a revelation.  Never would I have thought that childhood saffron jar of tangy mustard would be responsible for half my adult life's infatuation.  Where I come from, yellow mustard is for hot dogs, cheeseburgers, corn dogs - easy things like that.  Not the most perfect tacos the world has ever known. 

I know this because I look for those tacos high and low at home and in my travels and I know others do to.  I read the blogs, I get the updates.  We haven't managed to perfect them yet, and trust me I try to find them once a week.  In fact, most fish tacos are obliterated and really disgraced, if you ask me. 

But, these....these are the kind you yelp out as a dying wish.  Just give me a batch of Baja fish tacos with ALL the fixin's and I'll die a happy girl.  But, they better be made with mustard.

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The Power of the Camera

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Is Like No Other.

Out of all the projects and developments we've got happening over in Indo at 4th World Love, one that shakes my soul all the time is the gift of teaching.  Learning a new trade, skill, habit, idea - all these things are so often discarded in my own life - it's like - who has time to learn?!  I'm trying to keep up with the dang day to day...but that is something that I have to really work on or things just get super stale.

My good friend over in Lombok, Hasan, is the mega learner.  He sent me these pictures recently because he wanted to see if his composition was any good (we play with photos a lot).  I have given him and the CDC several cameras and any time I'm there, he is my go to guy for hauling all my gear, taking camera notes, helping with shot lists, making sure all the batteries are charged and taking point on all off site photo shoots.  Over time, he has become a super duper photographer and peeps now ask him to shoot their weddings, to document their lives.  What a wonderful treasure to have done (teach him some photography skills) and to continue to see flourish.  He is so very proud of having taken a passion and really trying to work on it every day.  I'm so proud of him, too. 

 

 

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I did the same thing with my super good pal, Lalo, down at Casa de Mita.  He is already a wonderful photographer, but every time I go, I spend a little time with him - just sippin' a marg and discussing all things photography - taking pix, assessing them, exhanging lenses.  I don't know that much about picture taking besides what I taught myself, but what I do know is that whipping out the camera and documenting the tiny things that I come across makes me happy - and clearly it does other folks too.

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That very thing is one of the reasons we started 4WL.   To be a conduit to hope and inspiration for those less fortunate.  We try to accomplish that every day - even in the TV shows we make; and on this wanderlust blog,as well.   Will this TV show or toothie post entertain, make a difference, change someones life/day, be remembered, make someone wanna have a good meal or some fine drink? If not, man...why bother?

That is the thing I wanna keep striving for every day, every photo, every moment, hell - every decision in the day.  Because if I don't do it for me, who will?  Ain't nobody snappin' my pic - I gotta get out there and document it for me.  And, if I stick to what the me in this wacky ass world loves, well - I will always be proud and happy to share a tidbit of goodness.  Picture that:)


A Dog's Life in Tennessee

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Stewpot Love

I've introduced my mom and dad's dog, DOC, to the wonders of stewpot and the ferocious 24/7 love of Minka.  They are peas in a pod no doubt.  

This stewpot is loaded with lots of good chicken, broth from the bones, bits of carrots, peels of potatoes, and chunks of celery that simmer all day long (meanwhile, I'm shovin' the french onion and chips mom just grabbed from the store).  The whole house smells like a real home all day long, and then the pups get a bit of stewpot, a bit of kibble and some broth.  Heaven.  

Minka runs from here to high heaven in the back 40 all day long.  She cannot believe the very fact that she can go outside the front door LEASHLESS.  She turns back - like WTF?  We let her and Doc out about a billion times a day and they already have a mega sked that keeps up with mom's.  She checks in on the dogs that the neighbor boards multiple times a day, which means that Doc and Pea must check in as well.  They are the best of friends.

All over the yard are wild mushrooms and some kind of wild garlic we tossed in Lisa's spaghetti resides next to the wee house in the pet cemetery. Earlier today, I discovered a pile of huge onions growing out of the dirt.  Good Lord - it's homemade come to life in the hills of TN.  All dogs included :)

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Napa Valley - I Took 3 Pictures the Whole Weekend!

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Who goes to Napa Valley and takes only 3 pictures?
Especially of a place I've never been!   Let me tell you though - 3 really lovely pix.  
Me in a constant state of lit (thanks Alex for all the wine and oysters and smoked meats and laughs with the dogs!)...never met hosts so great as her and John...
And two of the most delicious breakfasts at the B & B we were staying at - Oak Knoll Inn (thanks for the bounty of champagne the moment we stepped out of the car!).  I must recreate the chile relleno/egg/puff pastry dish.  We did it all right, even though you can't tell from the lack of pix.  Wine tastings, great dinners, champagne in the pool for lunch.  Even popped a quick wine/small bite/laugh stop at Bell St. Farm in Los Alamos on the way home.  LOVE THAT JOINT!
Turns out - summer is already happening and I've barely in touched on all that's going on right now!  The Flo is looking good, the sailboat is pretty as ever.  Minka is a stone cold mess, but the happiest dog I know.  I've got a road trip home to TN coming up.  Work just keeps getting turned down.  Just trying to live a minute, you know?  I haven't even touched on last months trip to Tulum and Hartwood...or the quickie flight to Baja for a scout in a remote mountain village.  So much all the time - but intel will come, I promise!
Still things to do though - get on the MEGA life workout program.  Cook and cook and cook.  Oh yah - make some shows, movies and books.  For real though :)
As the summer turns...
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R is for RV Parks

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R is for RV Parks

Absolutely, my new fave way to live. Chilled up at the RV park in Malibu for about a month while the FLO remodel takes place and now repo'ed down to Borrego Springs (90 miles E of San Diego) as it all winds down.  Literally love it here. It's the place to come for pretty dang near perfect weather and freedom of the mind. It's like I can finally make some good food with proper ingredients, read a ton of books, research recipes, do a bit of hiking, get through piles of magazines, wander the awesome library in town and just generally chillax. I can write. I can think. Ponder. Dream.

 

Mouse has the most active social schedule ever. 3p in the doggie park is a MUST for anyone who's anyone in the dog world. She sprints desert trails. She traces the perimeter of our perfecto spot. She is the perfect tennis spectator.  She is truly a participant in nature here. No need to bark at every little motion. She's livin' in them all.

 

This little town is pretty tidy. Just a few stores. Couple of Mexican restaurants with decent margs (though I do have to request my style of drink - silver tequila, fresh lime and little else). Tish's Health Food Store makes me so happy with a well curated array of goodies.  The only grocery store in town in loaded with stuff you'd find in Whole Foods and there is a perfectly awesome Farmers Market on Friday in the town circle.  It's pretty delightful running into town to grab some sesame seeds for spelt bread or pick up a few jalapenos for tortilla soup (makin' that today) and not have to wear myself out thinking about all the options.  There are none.  And, they are GOOD ones. Really dig the escargot at the French restaurant in town too.  And, what mussels.  They roll out in a huge pot - so freaky good.

 

As for the actual RV park.  I mean.  It's just nutty.  I want to spend every Jan here just regrouping.  In between the daily sessions in the hot springs, nightly swims in the heated pool, yoga & pilates classes, tennis games, and golf if you want it - is a super efficient gym, a little library, a wellness center, and just the friendliest people ever.  It's all surrounded by palm trees, an beautiful golf course and super dramatic mountains.  Cocktails begin about noon-o-thirty (usually a margarita or two), and this comes after either a hike to Hellhole Canyon (6 miles round trip to a secret waterfall), perhaps a yoga class where a bit of marching happens after each move (the ancient hips really loved that part of it) or a whirl in the gym rockin' the Tibetan Rites. 

 

Books are being plowed through (thank god I discovered the town library), and I'm just happy browsing recipe suggestions from every mag and cookbook I'm always too busy to jam through.  The sun is pretty much always shining (been near 80 all week) and each little slot here has it's own lemon or grapefruit tree.  Hell, these camp hosts even cruise around in the AM picking up your trash and recycling.  It's just nuts.  Portlandia in the desert.  


Early afternoon, I might start up a soup (clam chowder is just so so easy to make and I think the key is skip the flour...I loathe glompy soup); throw on Greek green beans; or just let a big pot of beans simmer.   The days fly and fly here - up at 6 am and I swear to God, I'm tucked in with a book 'round about 7p.  Guess this is life.  Not a program.  Just life.  Where does work fit back in?  Having a real hard time even thinking about that one.

 

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C is for Corral Canyon State Park

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C is for Corral Canyon State Park.

I was just simply looking for a place to take Minka.  A dog friendly place to hike which is oddly rare most places.  A quick hikespeak search brought me straight up PCH to Corral Canyon - a place nobody I know seems to have heard of.  I went with Mouse on Thanksgiving morning - it was blissfully empty as we started up the 2.5 mile loop.  Oh the leashless (pronounced to Minka - Ah leesh lay) joy a 6 month old puppy can exhibit when given a fine dirt path in the woods!  

We walked to the top and sprinted to the bottom - her tenderly exploring hidden nooks and crannies that lined the trail and me drinking in all the wonderfully herbacious smells permeating the path:  anise, fennel, mustard, sage.  She races ahead, spins around, waits for me to catch up and takes off again.  My special Minka whislte causes the birds nearby to whistle back - which causes Minx to cock her head and wonder why my lips aren't moving YET SHE HEARS MY WHISTLE...

I went again the next day because I was so happy to know this patch of land. It made me feel alive again.  To the point of - time to go get the airstream finally and move it to the Malibu RV Park :).  Hell, the Malibu RV park is right next door, there's a fish market and restaurant (Malibu Seafood) that shares the parks parking lot, and there are loads of other trails up and down PCH that we now have to explore (we will just be doing it from the airstream next week instead of boat/apartment/sublet/hotel hopping).

Oh and I just got the new Backpacker magazine in the mail this week and found a whole new hiking journey to undertake next year.  A new 100 mile trail that is part of the new Wales Coast Path.  OMG.  I have to go do this hike - hidden towns where you can bed down for the night, local food, carrying nothing but a day pack and I'm sure a lovely weight loss to boot :).

The feeling after a super good hike/run is what exercise should feel like.  I HATE THE GYM.

Oh and quick note - I am always on the hunt for perfectly cooked whole fish and after day 2 in Corral Canyon, a quick pit stop at Tavenra Tony had me wolfing down just that - a lovely whole sea bass.  Ended it with a next-level cappuccino that restored my faith in humanity & puts most coffee to shame and a hulking chunk of baklava.  Thing is, after a trek like that you deserve the best of and don't even think twice about a 2nd glass of pinot for lunch!

ALSO - after that fish, Mouse needed a walk and just around the corner from Tony's is the probably the best little walking park I've been to in LA. It used to be a big empty field and is now the most beautiful park ever - complete with a duck pond, herbs to die for, and loads of friendly dogs.

Next up is a hike thru Escondido Falls - about 19 miles up the coast from Marina del Rey.  I'm literally giddy with the idea of hiking.  As it should be :)

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California Spiny Lobster Season...Over But Not Forgotten

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Bring on the seasons....

I managed to find myself at a sustainable seafood cooking seminar this weekend at the magical store of Surfas. 

They had some good folks in there talking about reasons to eat seafood whilst it's in season, as well as this wizard chef, Mark Gold, from Eva.  He tricked out some mussels with a potato puree and a giant batch of spot prawns with fried tempura heads.  It was all delish and passed around to the audience like kids in a candy store.  Thing is - the reason it was so tasty was cause it was all just off the boat AND it was all in season.  You might think that seasonality doesn't matter with seafood, but it's just like fruit and veggies.  The fish come and go and they also need time to regroup and grow to a certain size.

There was also a fisherman in there that was answering questions - which of course, I stunned him with my litany of questions about fish fraud, fish tagging, and such...but it was just such a joy to see all these peeps really taking pride in where their fresh catch comes from.  And, just pulling off straight up responsible fishing.

Which brings me to California spiny lobster.  Now, ever since I was in Nicaragua years ago, I've had a real strong love affair with lobster (and mojitos and Flor de Cana rum).  I look for it in most places - but that does not mean that I will eat it in most places.  You just don't know where junk seafood trolls in from and you really gotta search out the spots that care.  The chefs that really know their shiz and have relationships with fishermen on that next level.

So, one day last fall I'm trolling about the marina and run into my old dockmaster (an avid diver and seaman all the way around) who was all jacked up about the opening day of lobster season.  His excitement in turn got me all jacked up and before you know it I was on the hunt.  Like hard core.  But, it was a little tough to come by restaurants actually serving TRUE Cali spiny lobster.  Guess where I found it?  That joint The Lobster, right off the Santa Monica pier.  I was soooo hesitant to try it thinking it was just a tourist trap, but after badgering the manager on the phone, he had me convinced that it was the real deal and BAM, I was on the move.  Turns out loads of locals go there - who knew?

Let me put it this way - no lobster I have ever had in all my travels in the world compared to that hulking slab of seafood.  It was char-grilled and dripping with butter.  Steam was smoking off it and the margaritas went down real, real kindly with it.

You know why it was so damn good?  Cause it was IN SESASON!  It was just off the boat.  It was fresh and mighty and since that day, I've pretty much turned my back on all lobster.  It was that phenom. And, now I have to wait til October to get it again - since the season is Oct thru March.

What made me bring all this up?  Welp, I was rockin' some research for my summer project of getting to know all the countries in the world via documentaries and food...and of course Afghanistan is #1 on the list.   I was looking up seasonal food there and of course all that pulls up is food shortages and god awful news about the country as a whole.  No matter.  I am going to cook some goodies from there.  I have my doc/movie list on the up and up...and I'm excited to get it all started.   I'm gonna wait til I move on my sailboat in a few weeks, though - cause right now I'm consumed with work and the FLO BO remodel beginnings.  And margaritas.   And all the seasonal goods in my CSA that I cannot possibly eat all of in one week. 

But, it's coming.  Summer ain't even here yet)...that's the good news!  And, if you've never shot over to Surfas - holy moly - bring the 'old credit card.  That place is insane. 

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