Quite possibly what I love most about Southern California is the fact that you can drive an hour or so in any direction and be in a completely different world.
To the NORTH, you have Santa Barbara, an upscale costal town with mountains, great restaurants, a beautiful pier, bike trails, shops, wine and a sophisticated beach bum attitude as well as the Malibu Mountains where you will find anything from a beautiful dam on a hike to a line of buddhist monks at the Getty Center Gardens.
To the EAST, you have the dessert areas like Palm Springs (a chill desert town with a retro-chic charm and a huge casino), Joshua Tree (a small hippy-ish native town with a huge unspeakably beautiful national park for hiking, camping and awwwwing), other desert towns (where you can do things like apple-picking or gambling at random casinos) and Big Bear Lake in the mountains (great for hiking, kayaking and other water sports in the summer, snow skiing in the winter and lama petting!).
To the SOUTH, you have charming coastal towns like La Jolla (where the seals literally sun bathe on the shore). New Port, Huntington, Seal Beach and Laguna are all worth while destinations for weekend trips that might include surfing, relaxing, shopping and whale watching. You might even prefer the small-town life in a place like Jullian, famous for their apple and berry pies. Travel slightly farther south, and you will reach beautiful San Diego...slightly farther to reach Mexico!
To the WEST (southwest), you have Catalina Island which is a gorgeous small island off the coast of Long Beach. Catalina is extra romantic and relaxing, but you can always occupy yourself with the beach, SCUBA, fishing, walks through the gardens and the casino...unfortunately, I cannot find my pictures from Catalina. I will just have to go again soon I suppose!
The amazing thing about these each-completely-different pictures is not that they are all in California (the state is huge!), but that they are all within day-trip distance of Los Angeles (2 hours or less). I wanted to expand to all of California (or weekend-trip distance), we would have a completely different situation on our hands! I would include places like Mammoth Mountain for skiing, San Francisco or even Las Vegas (which is slightly out of state, but still just under 4 hours driving. This place is crazy!
Part 3 of our Thanksgiving adventure takes place in a town just southeast of Los Angeles called Temecula. Temecula is one of the wine countries of Southern California, reaffirming the southern California mentality that you can, in fact, have it all. I couldn't believe this area even existed. I loved traveling to Northern California and visiting Sonoma and Napa wine country the few times I went. It seemed like such a unique experience and great way to spend a relaxing day just frolicking from winery to winery casually sipping on wines that took the winemakers years to perfect. Then you say something like, "I like this one...has a bite to it...now THIS one...it has less of a bite at first but then it kicks in after a few seconds." I, of course, don't really know what I am talking about, but it is fun to compare the wines once you have started to try them. It is also fun to take a little piece of the experience home with you when you buy a bottle...or two...or three...or....
I must be fair and say Temecula is no Napa. It is less beautiful and the wineries do not have the reputation of the northern California wineries. However, it is the perfect substitute when you consider the time it takes to travel to Northern wine country and the lack of knowledge I possess about the difference between a taste of a good wine and of a great one (if that barrier even occurs here...like I said...I cannot tell). I decided to take my parents to Temecula for some lunch on the terrace of a winery that overlooks the Temecula valley and some tastings of our own. It was a really nice time, and we got back to town just in time for a Lebanese feast at one of my favorite restaurants, Pi which was followed by a trip to the Planetarium show at the Griffith Park Observatory. Phew! It makes me tired just recapping it.
The final recipe I will share with you from my Thanksgiving feast was the first recipe I decided on making. As you can see, it was at the top of my list on the chalkboard:
Vegetable Tian is something I have never heard of before. I am still not entirely sure of what it means, but it seemed like the perfect side dish (not only for Thanksgiving, but for anytime of year). The recipe I used was from a really great cooking blog I came across called For the Love of Cooking. This was one of several recipes I will be trying from this site. I am especially drawn to the roasted chicken recipes she has posted...there are some unique and delicious sounding ideas I am excited about. The result for this dish was so pretty and tasty as well. It is just a great way to get in your starch and veggie sides in one fancy-looking dish. The one thing I regret is prepping this one ahead. I baked it half way (without the cheese) the day before, and then I continued the day of. The cooking times were all off because I was putting a cold dish into the oven on Thanksgiving day instead of a pipping hot one (because you are normally just taking it out to put the cheese on and then returning it to the oven). The result was still tasty, but my potatoes did not end up cooking properly so we were forced to get by on only the mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes on the table this year.
(recipe exactly from For the Love of Cooking - serves 6)
2 tbsp olive oil (divided)
1 large sweet yellow onion cut in half and sliced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1-2 russet potatoes, unpeeled
1 yellow squash
3 large Roma tomatoes
Sea salt, freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
Dried thyme, to taste
1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Coat a baking dish with olive oil cooking spray. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add the onions and saute until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 60 seconds. Spread the onion mixture on the bottom of the greased baking dish.
Slice the potatoes, zucchini, squash and tomatoes in 1/4 inch thick slices. Layer them alternately in the dish on top of the onions, fitting them tightly into a spiral, making only one layer. Season with sea salt, black pepper and dried thyme, to taste. Drizzle the last tablespoon of olive oil over the top.
Cover the dish with tin foil and bake for 35 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Uncover and sprinkle the Parmesan cheese on top and bake for another 25-30 minutes or until browned.
*I forgot to et a close up of the dish with my camera, but my dad snapped this shot with his phone. I guess I got a little tired of taking pictures by the time it came out of the oven. The good (read: great) news is that the blog link for the original recipe has a beautiful picture that I could never duplicate anyway. So look to that for inspiration, and enjoy!