Road trip: Bodega Bay/Eureka

After Christmas, we were thinking it might be a good time to take a little babymoon. Mike had the time off, and we figured late December probably wasn’t the biggest touristy season (unless you’re up at Tahoe). So we booked a hotel in Eureka, CA, which is about a 5-hour drive north of us. Mike wanted to eat at a crab shack in Bodega Bay and I wanted to drive through a giant redwood tree. Don’t ask me why these are the things we wanted to do before we had a baby — we just did!

Fortunately, traffic was not bad at all and we made it to Bodega Bay in about an hour. If Bodega sounds familiar it’s probably because it was the setting for the Hitchcock movie “The Birds.” In real life, it is significantly less creepy.

The day we were there it was chilly, but absolutely beautiful. We got there around lunch time so we went straight to the crab shack, the Spud Point Crab Company. Clearly it was the place to be.

We each had a crab sandwich — just extremely fresh crab meat with a little sauce — and shared some clam chowder. Mike is the true seafood lover between us, but I can definitely appreciate crab that’s right out of the bay.

After lunch we drove up to Bodega Head and hiked around the cliffs. It was gorgeous up there.

I am not much of a hiker these days (and it was extremely windy), but we had fun. We want to go back another time because you can see whales up there.

After that, we continued our drive up north. To get to Eureka you drive through Mendocino and Humboldt counties, the pot growing center of California. So things are a little…different. The landscape is beautiful, all forest and mountains. But at times it looks almost like Appalachia, but mixed with hippies. The best way I can describe it is that we drove through a tiny town that had a natural foods co-op with a huge American flag in the front window.

Anyway, we got the sense that this part of the country was a little quirky. And that was fine by us. We got to Eureka just in time to check into the hotel and make our dinner reservation at the Brick and Fire Bistro. I didn’t take any photos because it was super dark in there, but it’s a nice little romantic restaurant where all the food is made in this big brick oven. I wanted to love this place, but many missteps into dinner I just couldn’t. Thankfully Mike’s coq au vin was out of this world and he shared it with me. I forgave them after that.

On the way to the hotel I noticed this funny little place called the Chalet House of Omelettes and I immediately knew where we’d be having breakfast the next day.

It’s basically a quirky diner, sort of in the spirit of Des Moines’ Waveland Cafe, where pretty much everyone knows each other. The food is huge and not at all fancy. But it’s great fuel for travelers (and I imagine loggers and fishermen, too). I had a bacon/broccoli omelette and some pancakes.

By the time we left I felt like we were friends with half the restaurant, including the woman at the next table over who, in a very grandmotherly way, had a lot of questions about my pregnancy. But it didn’t bother me at all. I kind of miss that instant kindness and trust of strangers.

By the way, if you get a chance to read a little history of Eureka, it’s a really interesting town. It has Gold Rush roots, but eventually became a center for lumber. There are tons of Victorian houses that have been restored, including the huge Carson Mansion.

The real attraction up there, though, is the Avenue of the Giants. It’s a 31-mile stretch of road in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, where you can drive through a canopy of some of the world’s tallest trees and stop at some sights along the way. And it really is mile after mile after mile of dense redwood forest. My kind of place!

We included the people for scale.

We stopped in one area that was supposed to have some of the tallest trees and hiked around. We were kind of lost, but it was still really beautiful.

It felt like we were in Oregon rather than California. Everything was so lush and green and mossy.

I know I’ve said this before, but being in the woods, especially in the mountains, is truly my happy place. It calms me down a lot. I think something about being dwarfed by nature is very spiritual, and it kind of steadies you. At least it does for me. I think this is what Gaudi was going for when he built the inside of the Sagrada Familia.

Later that day we stopped at a visitors center, where they had this truck carved from a single redwood tree. We are total nature and history nerds, so we spent kind of a long time there.

Then we headed to the last part of our trip — driving through a tree!

There are actually several places where you can drive through a tree. But this one also had little cottages carved out of trees.

Seems like it would be a fun place to take a kid, no? We’ll definitely be back.

Christmas recap

Mike got this gorgeous shot of the bridge from the top of our hill.

After so many years of trying to squeeze in multiple family visits with minimal vacation time, it was really nice for Mike to have more than a week off work and nowhere to go for Christmas. But I guess it’s a good thing we didn’t have any big plans because it seemed like there were a million things to do last week. And since I didn’t have family around for this holiday, I tried to squeeze in some of my traditions — mostly involving indulgent foods — where I could.

We had quite an adventure getting a Christmas tree. I was just going to buy one at the Berkeley Bowl for around $20 like we did last year. But they were out of trees! So we went from lot to lot on our way home, gasping at the prices. We ended up paying $50+ for a noble fir, which seemed crazy to me (they didn’t even have hot apple cider!). But it is a beautiful tree.

Unfortunately, one day while we were out, the dogs decided to tear into our wrapped presents and ruin my surprise gift to Mike. The gift was a Sodastream (which is awesome and you should totally get one), so that night also involved trying to get colorful syrup smears out of our couch and carpet.

We made out pretty well in the gift department. Of course the baby got lots of adorable goodies, but we also got a new Cuisinart griddler (plus waffle plates, thanks babe!), and a grinder attachment for our KitchenAid mixer so Mike can make homemade sausage. I got Mike some fancypants Scotch and some curvy Belgian beer glasses.

I had a lot of orders to fill after Renegade, including some that needed to arrive before Christmas, so I was a busy bee knitting and boxing up orders. But I also made time for some baking every couple of days. I made Chex Mix and puppy chow, plus these yummy pecan balls from Real Simple. Then, from my classic cookie archive, I made peanut blossoms and sugar cookies.

And most importantly, Mike and I prepared a bundt pan of bubble bread on Christmas Eve so we could wake up to it Christmas morning. It was just as good as I remembered it.

For Christmas dinner we decided to try this recipe I found in the New York Times magazine for smothered pork chops with anise brine. I’d never brined anything before, but it was really easy to do the night before we cooked. (By the way, I halved the recipe). Though it takes some time to cook in a dutch oven, the recipe could not be simpler. And it was so, so good. Probably the best pork chops I’ve ever had, and the recipe makes a ton of gravy that goes well with mashed potatoes.

We watched A Christmas Story, It’s a Wonderful Life, and all the other classic movies we could find on TV. Then we planned our trip to see the northern coastal redwoods, which I will tell you about very soon.