Monday, August 31, 2009

El Capitan Canyon Campground - With Kids

We just returned from a great weekend in El Capitan Canyon. Our family of 4 spent 2 nights in a creek-side cabin with 1 queen bed and a cozy sleeping loft my kids loved. The cabin had a small bathroom with a shower and a small kitchen area with a coffee maker, microwave and under-counter refrigerator. No stove. There is a table with 2 chairs inside but you will want to take most of your meals outside on the large picnic table next to the fire pit. Out on the front porch are 2 canvas chairs that can easily be pulled up to the evening's fire.

The El Capitan Canyon Campground offers a few different sleeping options - campsites, cabins of various sizes and canvas "safari tents" containing either 1 queen bed or 2 twins. The camp sites are located on the beach side of the 101, the rest of the property is located on the other side. You can hear the freeway from the camp sites and the lower portion of the canyon so bear this in mind as you chose your accommodations. You may wish to ask for a cabin or safari tent located deep within the canyon. The website is terrific and you can see pictures and read all about what accommodations will best suit your group.

Below you will find information and suggestions I hope will be helpful to you as you enjoy your time in this special place.

What to bring

Beach/Pool towels - your bathroom will have adequate towels for washing up. They are not adequate for bringing to the beach or pool. Bring your own.

Pillows - if your are driving bring your own pillows. While the sheets and blankets are comfortable the foam pillows leave something to be desired.

A table cloth for your picnic table.

Water for the room. It's hot. And if it's not hot it's still dry. Water is available for sale in the market.

Bikes or scooters if your family enjoys them. Bikes are better because most of the roads are gravel and they're tough on scooters. There are a few places, especially around the Canyon Market, where the roads are smooth and scooters work great. During the Saturday night barbecue the main road was closed for the evening but open behind the barbecue. There were tons of kids on bikes and scooters having a ball. El Capitan has adult bikes that you can borrow but they are basic, gear free and hard going on those gravel roads.

Flash lights or a lantern for late night walking.

A basic first aid kit

A can/bottle opener - none in the room but some for sale if you forget.

The Food -

You can do all your own cooking on your fire pit if you are into that kind of thing. If you are into that kind of thing you don't need me to tell you how to do it and what kind of skillet to bring etc. Know that there are no dishes or silverware in the cabin, only a few paper cups for the coffee maker. There are no pots, pans or cooking utensils. If you are going to cook you need to bring everything, just as if you were camping in a tent.

If you don't want to cook you can take all your meals from the Canyon Market. The market is open at 8 and makes good coffee. You will find a small crowd of bleary-eyed people starting to gather about 7:50 even though there are coffee makers in the room. The market stays open until 8 or 9. I was very impressed with the number of staff and the speed in the market - this is the kind of thing that could be a real problem but it was very efficient. There is a full menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner that includes things like pancakes, huevos rancheros and hamburgers. The food is fair to pretty good. There is a small selection of candy, cookies, ice cream and snack foods - very basic, not gourmet so if that's your thing bring your treats. There is a good selection of sodas, juices, iced teas and beer in the cooler. I was disappointed not to find any cheese and only 1 kind of cracker. The market does have a good size selection of wine but that only made me really want some cheese to go with it.

If you don't bring your own it's a lot of fun to buy the s'mores kit to take back to your camp fire; 2 zip-lock bags of marshmallows, 4 Hershey bars, 2 packs of graham crackers and 4 metal marshmallow toasting holders for $15.


There were several different activities going on over the weekend. The star talk on Friday night was fascinating. Our group met at the market at 8 and the guide talked for almost an hour - he was funny and interesting. I loved this.

Saturday morning we went on the guided "hike" to see the animals; donkeys, goats and lamas. The hike is more like a walk though it does begin almost straight uphill for a minute or 2 - no strollers. It levels off shortly and is well worth doing. My kids got to feed the animals and the views of the ocean were great.

There are several hiking trails all around the property. You will find a trail map in the room.

On Saturday Afternoon the Santa Barbara Adventure Company offered a free ropes course. This was open to kids and adults, first come first served. Both my kids participated and I can't recommend this highly enough. There were 2 sessions of 2 -3 hours a piece. We participated in the first one, were there from 12:45 - 2:15 and were able to do all three of the available elements. Your options may vary depending on the size of the group. The 3 women who led the afternoon were great. Strong, experienced, very professional and terrific with the kids. The course is free but they do have a tip jar. For all their time and effort I suggest a minimum of $20.

On Saturday nights there is a barbecue and concert in the large picnic area outside The Canyon Market. The barbecue is kind of expensive - $18 for adults and $10 for kids. You get 1 entree, beans, salad, 1 piece of corn, 2 small pieces of bread and a cookie. Mine had a pretty large piece of wood in it -don't ask me. Honestly I wasn't thrilled with the barbecue. Next time I will cook dinner over my own fire and go down later for the concert. There was a really good crowd to hear the band and everybody was dancing. Kids were running around (biking and scooting as mentioned) wearing glowing necklaces (available to buy in the market) - it was a blast. Don't miss at least going down to check out the music. Bands change weekly.

El Capitan is 20 minutes north of Santa Barbara right off the 101, an easy drive from Los Angeles. It's a fun place for some family time, a great place for groups ( we meet a group of 14 families traveling together, their 4th year) and a special place for a romantic weekend for 2.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Mozza 2 Go

In an effort to get into the fabulous dress I bought for an upcoming party I have been sort of exercising and kind of watching what I eat. I am pretty good at the exercising part because I actually like doing it but something about the other, well...

The challenge is not helped by the fact that it is now possible to purchase Butterscotch Budino (hold on a sec I have to wipe something off my keyboard) yes, that Butterscotch Budino, (oops) from Mozza 2 Go. So a Westside girl with a little time can simply drive all the way over there, sit outside watching the door until noon when the place opens, run inside and buy a few containers ($ 8 dollars a piece), drive a couple of blocks east to a shady spot under a tree in Hancock Park and eat herself right out of a fabulous dress but right into a whole other kind of bliss before she has to rush back to the Westside to pick up a kid or something. I know it sounds crazy but, listen, I could be having an affair.

Mozza 2 Go offers other things too, I guess. Something about fantastic pizza and good salads, a selection of Mario's beloved meats, and great panini too. For almost everything you have to call ahead (phones open at 11am.) You can dash in and grab a salad, some cookies, the above mentioned Food of the Gods, maybe a few other things but there are no prepared sandwiches or pizzas. It's not really a grab and go. I hear when it's busy the wait for orders can reach an hour or more.

If you live or work in the area you get Mozza 2 Go as your pizza delivery place ($25 minimum.) You lucky people you. If you're going to be over there, go ahead and arrange your day around picking up your takeout. Don't forget the Budino.

Mozza 2 Go
hours 12pm-11pm - phones open at 11am (323) 297-1130

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Resort at Pelican Hill part 2 - The Food

The food at The Resort at Pelican Hill is, overall, quite good. Bearing in mind that it's a hotel let's begin with those words beloved of tired mothers everywhere - room service.

We had 3 room service meals - 2 breakfasts and a dinner. The menu is pretty typical for a resort of this quality and includes a decent sized children's menu that is reasonably priced.

My kids had the pasta marinara with "tiny meatballs" which they liked, the macaroni and cheese which they really liked and a "cheeeeez pizza" which they liked so much they ordered it for their dinners at Camp Pelican. For breakfast they tried the pancakes (shaped like Mickey Mouse), french toast and the waffles. My meat eater loved the bacon but did not like the chicken and apple sausage (too spicy.) The juices were high quality and the maple syrup was real.

Dinner for the parents eaten in soft robes on the terrace overlooking the ocean (can I go back please?) -the hamburger to which they were happy to add grilled onions, a nice cheese plate which, oddly, contained a small pile of slivered sun dried tomatoes and, happily, another pile of raisins and cranberries that nicely set off the soft cheeses. Unfortunately it comes with a basket of grilled bread which was not only cold and rubbery but not my favorite choice for cheese. Hard bread or crackers please! A good size shrimp cocktail (8, I think) with very nice shrimp and a bottle of pinot noir and I was happy.

Our breakfast was fine. Fruit with yogurt (sweetened, not my favorite) and soft granola when I like it crunchy. The fruit was ripe and sweet, the coffee and hot chocolate good. But, and here's my new favorite thing in hotel rooms - an in-room toaster, discreetly hidden beneath the bar, in which to toast your own English muffin or whatever kind of toasted thing you ordered. Oh, happy day! I LOVE a room service English muffin but could never, never have it exactly right until this fantastic innovation. What is supposed to happen is that the room service attendant takes out your toaster and "starts" your toast for you. Okay. But, this did not happen. When I went to get my muffin, after taking a few moments to make sure my kids were covered in napkins from head to toe, I found a split but untoasted muffin in the basket. So, I called them and they apologized and told me about the whole server was supposed to start it thing and I thanked my stars that my server neglected to do this because while I love the toaster, someone else putting in my toast while I'm standing there in my bathrobe is just too weird.

We ate a lunch at the pool - pretty standard; wraps, salads with shrimp or chicken, sandwiches, pasta, the full kids menu etc. Prompt service. Too small tables.

Saturday evening we had dinner for 2 at Andrea, the resorts fine dining restaurant. We started with a drink in the bar, drinks (and tea in the afternoon) are also served in the Great Room which had live jazz both Friday and Saturday nights. A guitarist was playing in Andrea. The room is large and creamy. One wall is lined with comfortable, romantic booths and there are several tables, some overlooking the resort and out to the ocean. We were happy in our booth. The staff was very attentive and we felt well taken care of.

My husband and I each decided on the 4 course chef's tasting menu with the wine pairings - $100-- a reasonable price as far as these things go. We chose from a selection of starters, I had a delicious tomato based lobster soup (like a lobster bisque but not) with a portion of micro-diced, deliciously fresh lobster and herbs on the top. My husband began with shaved artichoke. The choke had been poached in something very delicate and could have used a bit more flavor but the overall dish was nice.

For the second course we both ordered the risotto and this was my favorite dish. A wheel of Parmesan is brought to the table (see above) and the rice is finished in it before being presented in these darling serving pots -

A gimmick? Maybe. But it was absolutely delicious and as I write this I wish I had some of this cheesy, salty goodness, nicely complimented by the addition of squash blossoms, right now. A Vino Noble Di Montelpuciano, Poliziano, was a good match.

We each had a fish as our main course and they were happy to bring me the turbot from the a la carte menu as a substitute for the sea bass that was my husband's choice. Good, but nothing to write blog about.

The wine pairings were especially nice and I recommend this option as it allows you to try 4 things from the large wine list. Our waiter was also one of the restaurants somelier so he was very knowledgeable and happily wrote down our favorite choices. The Moscato D'Asti served with dessert, a tiramisu and a zabaglione with berries, was especially good. Due to a little mix up some of our glasses were taken away before we had finished them. The waiter handled this beautifully and brought "one of my favorites" to make up for the mistake. This worked out well as his favorite turned out to be a delicious Super Tuscan "Cum Laude" from Banfi, 2005.

It's a resort. The food is expensive. But the service is good and prompt at the pool and in the room and lovely at Andrea. Overall, we were very happy with the food at Pelican Hill.

Finally, especially if you are visiting with children, don't miss Pelican Hill's Gelato Shop. Truly, the gelato is excellent.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Resort at Pelican Hill with kids

I was a little worried while planning our weekend at The Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Beach. It wasn't the drive - an hour or so down the coast depending on traffic. It wasn't the high cost - we were prepared for that ( and I got a good package - see below.) It wasn't even the fact that Pelican Hill is in the OC, a varied but largely gorgeous place filled with, well, let's just call them folks whose political views differ from mine. Heck, that's a plus - it's so easy to spot my Prius and its Obama sticker when I'm standing in a valet line down there. In Santa Monica I always need to wait until the car pulls all the way up and then look inside to make sure it's mine.

What worried me was just how kid-friendly the place would be. My husband and I, having no family out here, take our kids with us on most overnight trips. I have spent too many of these weekends in too many expensive hotel rooms worried that the people on the other side of the wall were on the verge of calling security to complain about the volume in my room. Parents take note - The Resort at Pelican Hill is VERY kid-friendly. This is not to say that the place is crawling with loud children. It isn't. When I say "kid-friendly" what I mean is that it's easy to be there with children - it's set up so that families are as comfortable as those traveling without children.

Pelican hill is great for kids because-

1) Camp Pelican
This is what greeted my boys in the room along with hand written notes from the staff at Camp Pelican, the resorts kids club. I was very impressed by these well trained, friendly people who are on top of it. I felt totally comfortable leaving my kids for the Saturday night dinner and a movie (offered during the high season from 5-9, $60 each child.) The place has a small bank of computers with a variety of games, a very large screen TV and all kinds of cute, comfy chairs for movie viewing. During the day they offer 2 sessions of camp and things like reptile shows, arts and crafts and games. Outside Camp Pelican is the family pool with a depth of 3'6", a fun, dancing water play area and a sand box. If, as with me, you would like to have a nice dinner with your husband but your kids have no interest in going to the Saturday night movie, take them to the family pool sometime during the day, eavesdrop on Camp Pelican and, hopefully, they will be tempted enough to sign up. Don't forget to tell them that part of the experience is walking to the resorts gelato shop to choose their dessert. Half day sessions are $60 and a full day is $90.

2) The Main Pool
The Coliseum Pool, seen above, is the resorts pride and it is gorgeous. Because Pelican Hill offers the "Family Pool" I was concerned that children would not really be welcome at the main pool. Not the case. This huge pool, the largest circular pool in the world, has room for everyone and, as with the Family Pool, a depth of 3' 6." My kids met other nice kids and it was hard to drag them out of there. We had comfortable seats under a canopy (cabanas are available to rent at $150 - $300 a day, depending on day of the week and view and they are lovely but they are up a level from the pool and not a good choice of parents of young children.) The staff was attentive and it was a great place to have lunch.

3) At the Beach
Pelican Hill offers a "Beach Experience" that made me feel like the Speilbergs in the Hamptons a couple of years ago when they got all that flack for having assistants set up their beach chairs. A shuttle leaves from the main entrance on the hour and drives the 3.5 miles to Crystal Cove State Beach in a few minutes. In the back of the shuttle are Pelican Hill beach bags containing towels, water and sunscreen. Once you get down there an attendant, we had the darling Joey, greets you, sets up chairs and umbrellas, brings you toys, drinks and lunch if you want it and cleans all this stuff up when you leave on the shuttle that returns to the resort at 20 minutes after every hour. Unfortunately, this was where we had our one bad experience. The 3:20 shuttle had not arrived by 3:45 and we had to call the resort to get it to come and pick up the 10 people who were waiting.

4) In the Room
In our room the overall quality of the resort is apparent in the thickness of the walls. I had to shush my boys far less than I usually do and as long as we kept the patio doors closed, they could pretty much have at it. There are several kids movies available on the TV, though no games. Here again is something to tempt them to Camp Pelican - lots of video games there!

The rooms at the resort are large and beautiful. We had a Queen Bungalow (845 sq ') that suited the 4 of us perfectly. Multi-bedroom villas are also available. The beds are comfortable, the linens are of the highest quality. Every room has a large patio with at least 2 lounge chairs and a dining table, a fireplace, large screen TV, and several special touches like a stack of beautiful books, a coffee maker with a collection of coffees and teas and, something I've never seen before, a toaster so that your room service "toast" is actually toasted in your room and you can eat it while it's hot. I loved this feature. The large bathrooms have deep soaking tubs and large showers.

The view from our bedroom patio.

Pelican Hill has 2 Tom Fazio designed golf courses. My husband played the south course and said it was terrific.There is a spa though, sadly, I didn't go. I did take a peak - lovely - and I read the menu front to back. Here's what I liked - they ask about your intentions for your treatments. Want to relax? They have treatments and products designed to support relaxation. Do you need something invigorating? There are choices for that too. I appreciate the mindfulness behind this and I look forward to trying the spa on my next visit. There are no tennis courts but there are a few fitness classes offered as well as several walking/hiking trails surrounding the property.
The 2 golf courses overlook the ocean. As you can see it was pretty hazy for much of the weekend.

There is one thing about the resort that I really don't like. The property itself is not very walkable. Built up on a hill ( which allows for all the beautiful views) you need to walk up and down the hill to get from your room to the main hotel buildings. It's not that I mind the walking, in fact I love it. But at Pelican Hill, if you want to walk, you wind up walking in the road a lot. The roads are quiet but still, I would like to see more walking paths, and some staircases for those hills! There are shuttles running all over the resort all the time. You can call for one and it will arrive in moments to take you anywhere you want to go. But, as I said, I like walking so this was a disappointment.

We had a lot of meals at the resort and these will be covered in the next post.

Currently Pelican Hill is offering King or 2 Queen Bungalow rooms starting at $695 per night. They have some packages on the web site that might fit your needs and budget.

Also, take a look here - I booked through this Leading Hotels of the World site and got a package that included a round of golf and breakfast for 2 for the price of the room. This package was not offered on the Pelican Hill site.

I highly recommend The Resort at Pelican Hill for a family traveling with children.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Carmela Ice Cream

Hot afternoon. Tired children dragged from errand to errand. Adults getting a little cranky. We happen to be near Joan's on Third. Let's get some ice cream. Everybody loves their house-made chocolate caramel crunch. I leave the males in the car and head in to the cheese-scented sanctity of Joan's. Over to the gelato counter - Drat! No chocolate to be found and lemon sorbet won't fly with this crowd. Disappointed faces if I head back to the car empty handed - and I'm acutely aware that we still have to traverse the minefield that is Bed, Bath and Beyond before we can go home. I'll try the freezer - what's this? Carmela Ice Cream - I've heard about this - didn't Los Angeles Magazine just name it best of LA? I've been meaning to try it. Any chocolate? I know they vary their flavors. Nope. But vanilla brown sugar, my kids will eat that. Nectarine, that sounds summery. And for me ? Gasp. Swoon. Yes I said yes I will yes - salted caramel.

Back in the car. The vanilla brown sugar is a hit with the boys. It's straight forward and I like it too. It would be a great choice to top a fruit cobbler or crisp this summer.

My kids don't like the nectarine. Its flavors are so subtle ( and they were hoping for chocolate after all.) I love the quietly vibrant flavors of peaches and nectarines. Eating them is like being able to suck the juice from a rose. My favorite stone fruits, white peaches and white nectarines, are the physical manifestations of Henry James' celebrated lines. Bite deeply into a perfect white peach and know exactly what he meant when he wrote summer afternoon...summer afternoon...the two most beautiful words in the English language. Carmela's nectarine ice cream tastes as if it is made with white, rather than yellow, nectarines. It's lovely but it's not for me. If you like peaches and cream, or nectarines and cream for that matter, you might like it. I do not enjoy enjoy all stone fruit and creaminess combinations. Weird sour milk type things sometimes happen in my mouth. Berries and cream- always. Peaches and cream - depends.

But, oh, this salty caramel...

First it's beautifully textured - smooth and creamy. It's not too salty, not too sweet, and has the slightest wonderful hint of burned sugar but nothing bitter or smoky. Each spoonful brings a half-sigh or tiny "mmmm" from my lips. Then, afterward, the bio-degradable, perfectly sized cup is empty and there's a heavy feeling of fat in my mouth - must be a HIGH percentage of butter fat in there ( the website doesn't say how high.) I don't like this feeling, this lingering guilt over something wonderful that you damn well know you should not have done. But it was absolutely worth it.

Thus fortified we head to B, B and B. Typically I would not take my entire family to this store or any place like it. But the coffee grinder broke this morning so what's a woman to do?

Carmela is sold at:
Joan's on Third 8350 1/2 West Third
Locali 5825 Franklin Ave.
Market Gourmet 1800 Abbott Kinney
Sweets for the Soul 3169 Glendale Blvd

and various Farmer's Markets around town.

Check the website for locations and flavors.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Home - to tomatoes

We arrived in reasonably temperatured Los Angeles from the very unreasonably temperatured Pacific Northwest yesterday to find that the tomatoes had been doing beautifully without my constant, obsessive hovering, thank you very much. Funny - I realized the same thing about my kids when we were away. Sensing that everyone needed a break from what some might uncharitably call my hyper-parenting, I pretty much left them on their own. They got filthy, swam naked, ate ice-cream daily (sometimes twice a day) watched totally inappropriate DVDs (Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a really good, really creepy movie - my 11 year old loved it and then climbed into bed with me at 4:20 am) and stayed up far too late. It was wonderful. I didn't want it to end.

But home we came, with a small sigh. My tomatoes, ripened to perfection during my week away, nodded their sunny orange heads at me as I pulled into the driveway. I felt a little better. I got out of the car- ignoring the suitcase full of dirty laundry- plucked one and popped it in to my mouth. Oh. Ohhhh... How will I ever eat another tomato from the grocery store? Even from the bounty of my local Farmers Market? It seems impossible now.

The initial pop brought the bitterness of the skin, the taste of my hand-mixed soil and careful watering and maybe a tiny bit of car exhaust since I grow mine in boxes at the top of my driveway. Then the seeds in their gooey coating gushed over my teeth and slipped down my throat and somehow the brightness seemed to find it's way to the very top of my head ( I know, I know but it really did.) They were so good eaten straight from my hand that I simply had to taste one from the vine, suddenly knowing that every second that passed between the plucking and the bite meant a tiny loss of flavor. I was instantly possessed with the need to bite one right off the vine. So, I did. It was amazing. I felt as ancient as the first forager and as young as the impetuous child I once was. It was so good I hardly minded when I realized that my neighbor, coming to collect her mail, had seen me.

It's August but here in Los Angeles it's not too late to plant yourself a tomato or two. Go to the nursery and get one that's off to a good start. Mix your soil right ( check on-line people, this is not a gardening blog) and you should be able to count on warm weather, which means the warm soil they love, through October.