30 January, 2009

Friday Favourite - Salt

Hubby is addicted to salt.  Seriously.  Almost nothing is salted enough for him, he loves salt and vinegar chips, and actually licks his finger and dips it in the salt pig.  One Christmas I nearly bought him a salt lick as a joke, until I realized that I would be the one stuck finding a real home for it.  In true fatherly generosity he passed this love on to The Monster.

Daddy salts his food, she wants salt on her food.  Mama seasons the sauce, she has to season the sauce.  We've developed the fine art of faking it for her.  She is a wickedly smart girl, but somehow the motion of salting her food satisfies her, even if she doesn't see any salt crystals falling from our fingers.  We're either that tricky or she's only two.
With the past few weeks filled with a lot of sick days we've turned to baking as a way to keep her engaged and away from Yo Gabba Gabba (she is a child obsessed).  When she asked to bake cookies this week I inquired as to what kind.  


Yup, salt cookies.  In a freaky twist of fate, I had pulled out my Cook's Country cookbook and had it open to the cookie table of contents.  Wouldn't you know, they have a recipe for salty thin and crisp oatmeal cookies?  Considering it was a real recipe and all, I figured we had a better chance than last week, when she requested salt muffins.  In case you didn't know, salt as a crunchy topping on a banana muffin is okay, but not something I have a desire to repeat.  Salted oatmeal cookies are another matter entirely.

Crispy, thin, and with just a touch of salty crunch.  These are good cookies for people who don't like sweets.  Such a change from dense and chewy oatmeal cookies.  Equally delicious, and I'm not a big fan of salt.

Salted Oatmeal Cookies
(adapted from Cook's Country)
Makes 2.5-3 dozen cookies

1 cup flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp table or kosher salt
14 tbsp unsalted butter (2 tablespoons less than a cup)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups rolled oats (not quick or instant)
fleur de sel or Maldon salt

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.  In a medium bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and 1/4 tsp salt.  Set aside.
3.  Beat together the butter and sugars  until fluffy.  Scrape down the bowl.  Add the egg and vanilla and beat until fully incorporated.  Slowly add the flour mixture until just blended, then stir in the oats until well mixed.
4.  Roll cookie dough into balls about 1.5 - 2 inches around.  Place them 8 to a cookie sheet and press down with your palm.  Cookies should be about 3/4 inch in thickness.
5.  Sprinkle with fleur de sel or Maldon salt, a generous pinch per cookie.
6.  Bake for 10-12 minutes until the cookies are spread out and lightly golden.  Let them cool completely on the cookie sheet.

29 January, 2009

In The Category of Insane

Most certainly I should be committed.  I am feeling a bit overwhelmed some days as it is.  And on those days I feel like the crazy lady in that scene in "Airplane" where people line up to slap her because she is going a little blinky.  Hubby would probably be first in line and I would slap myself second, third, and fourth.

So, what do I do?  Sign up to volunteer of course!  I've just taken on the challenge of developing a day and a half professional development event as part of Quilt Canada 2010.  Planning an event like this is certainly in my skill set, but it is a lot of work.  Thankfully most of my immediate responsibilities have to be concluded before I return to work in May.  And the event isn't until next April/May.  Phew.

Oh wait, but there is still a lot of work to do.  That's where I am hoping you, my fantastic readers, can help me out.  If you were attending a conference/workshop as a quilting professional (teacher, judge, designer, store owner, writer), what would you want to see?  This isn't about technical skills or new patterns.  This is professional development for your business, yourself.  Some of the topics we've thought about are incorporation, getting your quilts appraised, branding, breaking in to markets, the ergonomics of craft, and lots more.  Any suggestions?

As the event planning moves along I will also keep you in the loop.  Maybe some of you will join us?

27 January, 2009

Taste Adventure - Haggis

We've all had those moments in our jobs where we want to run screaming from the building, hands pulling out hair, and screaming obscenities.  Okay, maybe I'm the only one.  Last week was one of those weeks.  Drowning in dishes, snotty noses, laundry, and baby food I very nearly did run from the house.  Lucky for my kids, I know I'm better than child services, even in my frazzled state.  Two things kept me going - the new laptop Hubby bought me and the promise of a date night for Robbie Burns Day.

Months ago I'd signed us up for a scotch tasting event for Robbie Burns Day.  Technically there is some Scottish in Hubby, although you wouldn't know it.  He isn't a crazy Scot, just a little wonky.  Last week I was the crazy one and a lot of Scotch was going to help me get over it.  This was not a night for the girls.

The event was hosted by J. Webb Wine Merchants.  Conveniently we live only a few blocks from their flagship store so we are familiar with Lee and the folks who run the joint.  Their first Burns Night saw them bring in a number of scotches all made by independent bottlers.  These are scotches distilled by certain owners who then sell their casks, in all or in part, to bottlers.  Having generally stuck to certain distilleries in our scotch adventures in the past it was a somewhat welcome change.  Only somewhat because most of the scotches on hand were milder than what we generally like.  It was an interesting comparison nonetheless.

And yes, there was haggis and the requisite crusty Scotsman in a kilt reciting Robbie Burns.  We loaded up our plates with a good portion of haggis, some oatcakes, gravlax, and a wonderful strong cheddar.  Being the adventurous eaters we are, there was no hesitation in tasting the haggis.  It smelled like a combo of meatloaf and pate, and tasted as such.  Considering what it looks like - cooked in a pig's stomach and all - I chose not to photograph it for here.  No great complaints, but I wouldn't gush about it.  I'd rather have a Valbella pate.

All was going well until one of the presenters suggested that it was very Scottish to pour scotch on your hagggis.  Let me tell, that was a bad idea.  It took a beer from the Wild Rose Brewery to take that nasty taste combination out of my mouth.  Leave good scotch alone and we'll all be happier.  As was I at the end of the night.

26 January, 2009

Moving Forward

My Project Improv has begun!  I could tell you all about our house re-ordering, bedroom moving, infant separation anxiety, new laptop(!), sick kid, and date night adventures, but that all seems so ordinary compared to my latest quilt project.

Can I make a confession?  While I like the look of wonky log cabin blocks, I don't love them.  There are some gorgeous examples out there, but I've made a few myself and now I'm done. When it came to my own Project Improv I wanted a different challenge.  I turned to my latest obsession: triangles. 

These blocks are made with the same technique as you would a wonky log cabin.  You start with a center shape and sew strips on one side.  Open, press, rotate and sew on another strip.  So on and so on.  To get the triangle shape I started with a small triangle.  And because I wanted distinct triangle shapes I went white - colour - white.  To ensure I got to the desired size I created a template that I used as a guide.  It let me know if I needed a thicker or thinner strip when it came time to sewing on the outside white triangle.  I then used the template to trim the blocks to size.

The entire thing is a scrap/stash quilt.  Each coloured portion of the triangle is different, with colours from nearly every bin in my stash.  I really liked the white with multi-colour effect of Amanda Jean's Snippets quilt.  In my first fabric pull I grabbed about 30 fabrics.  After laying out the first group of finished blocks I've decided that I need to make some more blocks, and I might vary the size of the triangles.

Now it's time for my second confession.  I don't like making wonky log cabin type blocks.  I find it tedious.  Yes, you can get a lot of blocks done, but the construction part is boring.  Well, it is for me.  But I am committed to this and I am liking the way it is turning out.  We'll just have to see where it goes.  In the true spirit of Improv I don't have much of a plan right now.

21 January, 2009

A New Addiction

Oh, what have I started? I felt the need to get quilty last week and I wanted a start to finish project. The Monster started playing with dolls recently, so a doll quilt seemed like a good choice. From start to finish it took me about three hours. That includes the time spent with The Monster picking fabric.

I've had this Dick and Jane fabric for a while. She is obsessed with the Dick and Jane books. Do you know how annoying those are to read and reread to the enjoyment of a 2 year old? Maybe I was hoping that the quilt would quell her desire to hear the stories by encouraging her to make up her own with Dick, Jane, Sally, Puff, and Spot on the quilt. Yeah, foolish thinking on my part.

This is very simple construction. Two pieces of fabric sewn together and some circle appliques covering the seam. To quilt I simply outlined the circles and copied the diamond pattern on the big piece of fabric.

There is one more bit of work to do, or rather, re-do. I did the binding by machine - a big mistake. I've never done that before and I won't do it again. One quiet night I will take the seam ripper to the stitches and sew it down properly, by hand. Of course, I have about a dozen more sketches of other quilts to make. And a list of little girls I know who would love a doll quilt...

20 January, 2009

On Apple Cake and Race

"What colour this, Mama?"
So asks The Monster on a regular occassion. She might be asking about the colour of a toy, a bird, a carrot, or a person. In all but the last case we hapily give her the answer in detail - aqua not blue, chartreuse not green (I am a quilter, after all). But when she asks about people I struggle to answer. I feel the weight of race relations on me. I feel like that moment will define how she approaches people who look different than her.

Yup, I know I'm over-thinking it. But on today, of all days, it's at the forefront of my thoughts. We watched a bit of my show - the inauguration - before she left for the day, after I convinced her to turn off Sesame Street, of course. Hubby and I tried to explain to her what was going on, but I think the significance was lost on a two and a half year old. But tonight we'll be reading stories and she'll ask me what colour Dick and Jane are and then what colour are Pam and Penny.

Hubby is straightforward about things, but I'm not comfortable with that. He and I debate over the best approach. We were both raised without much of an issue over race. Here in Western Canada we just don't have the race issues of the US, at least as we see it. It is a product of our own suburban upbringings and the exposure to so many cultures along the way. I prefer to focus on exploring cultural differences, rather than race. But that still doesn't answer the Monster's questions.

And when I cook her coconut curry or spaghetti and meatballs or pierogies or suya she will learn about the world in a way that our travel budget just doesn't allow. Will that teach her about race and different cultures? Perhaps. But in the coming eight years both our girls will grow up with the memory of their first US President and not even understand what the big deal is.

To change the topic slightly, I've been thinking about what it would be like to live in the White House as a young family. What if Michelle and Barack want to make pancakes for breakfast? What if Malia and Sasha want to bake cookies? Is there a special family kitchen in the White House? There must be, otherwise it would feel like living in a hotel. That's got to wear on anyone.
I'm hoping to keep tabs on things by faithfully reading Obama Foodorama. And today, in honour of the inauguration I'm baking this apple cake. It isn't the recipe from the luncheon, but it looks beautiful and honours the food of the day.

18 January, 2009

Inspired Improvisation Ready for Delivery

My Inspired Improvisation quilt is done. Oh, and I finally got my new camera, so I can share the pictures with you.

This quilt was truly an improvisational piece. In a fit of insomnia a few months I bundled up and headed to the basement. On the table was the doodle I'd saved. The Monster was only scribbling, but it captured me and I kept it. From that drawing I started pulling fabric, cutting some squares and strips, swiped my rotary through the squares, and sewed. As you can see, some blocks only got swiped once, some twice, some here, and some there.

When I started I had no plan. This was definitely about the process. Hell, I didn't even know if this was going to end up as a quilt. Sometimes you just need to start something and see what happens. Along the way I realized that it was going to turn into a vibrant quilt and I needed to start thinking about the end result. At that point I began to plan block sizes and total number of blocks. And because I didn't cut enough fabric that first night I could actually cut to better size and end with less waste.

The back was pieced with the few remaining fabrics in large enough quanities. This was entirely stash-built so I wasn't about to buy fabric for the backing. It required a bit of creativity, but I thought I captured the energy of the front on a large scale for the back.

The label had to include The Monster's scribbles. I scanned the original and used it as the background for my label. Unfortunately our ink was a little low so the colours weren't as vibrant as the original, but that paper is damn expensive so I wasn't about to reprint.
The quilting is in sharp contrast to all the angles of the front. I debated with myself for a few days over whether I should contrast the design or mimic it. I started it and then let it sit for a few days because I wasn't sure about it. To be honest, I went ahead still unsure merely because I was too lazy to rip it out! I'm glad I did. It gives a nice weight to the quilt and the contrast is striking.
Finally, the quilt was finished with this multi-fabric binding. It was the perfect touch. A solid binding would have been too boring.
I can't wait to deliver this one. My boss is still waiting for his heart. He's home now. We'll be heading up in a few weeks and with luck I can present it to his family for his transplant recovery. If not, then I can get a visit with a remarkable man and show him some gratitude for all he's done for me.

16 January, 2009

Can I Take a Sick Day?

Just like Christmas parties, moms don't get sick days either.

All four of us have been fighting colds for the past week. I am totally blaming Hubby because he had it first. And, of course, when he was sick I was the happy housewife - keeping the kids quiet in the evenings and making him chicken noodle soup - from scratch. Yeah, and this week we've eaten crap from a package (fish sticks anyone?) or pre-made food because I am too exhausted to cook and Hubby isn't volunteering to cook. Not good fodder for a food blog either.
So today I am resting, sipping some wonderful tea from Murchies and nibbling on a new addiction - freeze dried raspberries dipped in dark chocolate from Dufflet. Oh, and I still don't have my new camera. Hopefully the pics I took on our last sick day before Christmas when the Norwalk virus hit us will tide you over for a few more days.

In the meantime, I thought I would share with you a few new (at least to me) local places for foodies in Calgary. My mother-in-law was in town so we convinced the Monster that an adventure was a good idea. And adventure it was. I really forget how big the city is getting.
We made the trek to Blush Lane's new retail operation - way, way West in the city. It was a nice store with an easy layout. As far as grocery items go there was little difference between them and the Planet Organic that I can walk to. But they do carry far more in the way of dairy and meat (Sunworks Farm) than my local place. And, they have a wonderful cheese selection with reasonable prices. My mother-in-law and I were ecstatic to see products from Gort's Gouda cheese farm, one of our favourite products and places to visit in Salmon Arm, British Columbia.
I won't be making the trek out to Blush Lane Organic Market too often. We go to the Calgary Farmers' Market every weekend and they are a regular stop for us. Besides, I'm not sure how good it is to drive halfway across the city for products I can get closer to home. Cheese, however, will be the exception. When I have a craving for that salty and nutty Maasdammer I will brave Calgary traffic and drive to Blush Lane. It beats the seven hours to Salmon Arm!
On our way we stopped at another new foodie jewel - Fresh Kitchen. There isn't much in the way of grocery items at Fresh Kitchen, but there is some very yummy food. They carry serrano ham - something I now like better than proscuitto parma - along with a decent selection of meats and cheeses. What I was really impressed with was the fresh meals-to-go options. From salad dressings to fish, from soups to muffins, they had it all. Curry was obviously on the menu that night and the place smelled wonderful. Fresh Kitchen is owned by a very friendly man, Paul Morrissette, who had no problem with the Monster running around and grabbing things just to show me. He seemed generous of spirit and taste. Because I knew Hubby wouldn't be making me soup I did grab some forest mushroom and truffle soup. Soup with serrano ham and maasdammer on the side? It was enough to make a sick girl swoon. Or maybe that was the fever?

13 January, 2009

Breaking Free

Improvisational quilting is not just about making wonky log cabins or wavy strip quilts. it's about not buying kits and patterns and fabric lines. In the spirit of Project Improv, and because I still don’t have a camera, I thought I could offer some encouragement for those just breaking into improvisational quilting.

Where do you start? Well, that depends on your goals and inspiration. Are you trying to make a baby quilt to match a room? Have you fallen in love with one particular fabric that you want to showcase? Are you simply interested in playing around at your machine? Heck, maybe it's all three.
For the nearly 50 quilts I've made or contributed to in my 10 years of quilting I can honestly say that maybe 5 were from a pattern - a straight out of the package or book pattern. I'm not one to be told what to do, so early on I started adapting ideas I saw, or creating my own to make my quilts. I would really call it an evolution of technique and effort, not a style.
The first foray into my own designs was simply taking traditional block patterns and putting them together without a pattern. I never understood how companies got away with putting together a pattern for a traditional block, like a maple leaf or churn dash, in a simple setting and convince people that they should pay $10 for it. Maybe it made sense before the proliferation of block patterns available on-line or in books? But you still see them in the stores. I digress.
My favourite places to search for blocks were here or here. If I was making a quilt for someone in particular I would try to pick a block that related to the person. For example, a Monkey Wrench block for a friend that likes to make furniture. Generally I would make a few blocks before I decided where I was going with the quilt. I almost never decide exactly what the quilt will end up as before I start. It is always an iterative process. Sometimes the settings were even quite traditional, with sashings and everything. It just depended on the recipient (if there was one planned) or simply what looked right.
Another favourite thing for a while was to take a block pattern and make it big. This works nicely for baby quilts. A 12 inch block translates nicely into a 36 inch block. This evolved into what I called jazz quilting: taking that original block pattern and repeating it in different sizes.
Then I got my new sewing machine. Thus started the obession with circles. I've made a whole shwack of circles quilts, all very different. The first one I did is one that still requires a label, but it already keeps Hubby warm on the couch in the evenings.

Subsequent circle quilts have included pieced backgrounds. This move then got me thinking about different ways to do these backgrounds and new shapes to applique. It's amazing how a simple shape like a half square triangle can look so different depending on what you do with it. Three of my most recent quilts all have half square triangles, but fabric choice and placement change the way they look. Often I cut the fabric first and make the blocks, then worry about placement and setting. Such was the case with this, this, and this quilt.

Along the way I've tried new things too. I had to get my Denyse Schmidt on and made this quilt a while ago.

And I liked the idea of the popular Yellow Brick Road quilts. But again, I couldn't bring myself to buy a pattern for what looked so simple. Rather than try and copy it I drafted my own pattern. When I went to make the quilt I decided I didn't want the look of a whole bunch of squares and rectangles. So I combined the wonky log cabin look with the pattern I drew and came up with this.
(Sorry about the crappy photo, I could only find a tiny one. The original is on the old computer and that's packed away for the renos.)

My latest projects have been about shapes too, and a lot of seeing what happens as you sew. Cut some fabric and sew, then see what happens. It's kind of like what would happen if Jackson Pollack quilted. Sometimes it is more about the process and not the end product. But you can still make something beautiful out of it.

When you are looking to break free from patterns and kits, remember you don't have to throw out everything from traditional quilting. It is always still a good idea to use a scant quarter inch seam, press well, and trim your blocks square. You can still take those traditional ideas and make them into something new. Don't be afraid. Just start sewing.

11 January, 2009

Baja Adventures - Mexican Sushi

“Which one is my fish?”

So rang the constant tune of my nephew for three days in Baja. This is what happens when you take a 6 year old deep sea fishing and he actually catches something. As long as we were eating fresh the rest of us didn’t care whose was whose, but this was vitally important information for a 6 year old boy. Puts a whole new meaning to the adage that if your kids help you cook they will be more likely to eat what comes to the table.

It’s not surprising that we ate a whole lot of fish in Baja. If Hubby or my dad had their way it would have been every single day that we ate seafood. Between meals out and our own fishing adventures we captured almost half the days.

There were the shrimp tacos at beachfront palapas restaurants that were so sweet you thought it was miniature lobsters inside the tortilla. When you risk your rental car and the wrath of a two year old who is sick of bumpy roads to check out the next beach and see the shrimp boats right there you have full confidence in the freshness of that shrimp.

There was the grilled sierra mackerel, dorado, and tuna that you caught that day. Okay, so the boat broke down and Hubby had to drive the boat by literally holding the motor in a straight position. At least you had your fish. Although, that was iffy when the boat and the truck brought down to haul it got stuck in the sand once you finally made it back to the launch beach – and the fish was still on board. The antics of many locals and one wiry American with a winch on his truck just for this purpose finally got things sorted out and we were on our way home with our fish. After a quick blitz of garlic, lime, and tequila we grilled filets of all three. My brother made a fantastic salsa with sweet and hot peppers, tomatoes, corn, cilantro, lime, garlic, and tequila. Halfway through dinner we had to throw more fish on the grill because between 11 people the fish was quickly disappearing. That’s okay, it meant I had leftovers to make an improvised fish taco for breakfast the next day. Can I just say that sierra mackerel is my new favourite fish? Light but full-flavoured, oily but just a bit fishy to allow you taste the ocean in every bite.

Oh, and there was the fish that Hubby caught on his two day adventure to spear fish in the rocks right in front of our place. It wasn’t the big one that almost got away, but was grabbed by a moray eel before Hubby could spear it again. Yes, I said moray eel. He was spear fishing and I was snorkeling, I saw it all. We let the eel have it. Instead, we had to settle for the 8 inch grunt that he first caught. My dad set to cleaning it for him and we grilled it whole. Tasty, but barely enough for more than a bite by the adults in our group. Not bad for two whole mornings spent with the spear... We won't discuss the attempts at surf-casting.

And then there was the Mexican sushi. Hubby and I went out for dinner by ourselves one night and decided to go to the palapas that had sushi. A risky venture, no doubt. There was no Japanese master behind the cooler of fresh fish, but there was wasabi. The rolls were on par with cheap ones we can get at home – fine, but not great. The sashimi of snapper, tuna, and dorado (all local) was fantastic. The fusion of the fresh fish, decently cut, with a cilantro sauce was spicy, clean, and new. With some of our remaining catch I tried to recreate the dish back at the beach house. I didn’t quite capture it, but my brother said my version was even better.
Serve this sauce with a fresh, sushi quality fish. Preferably you will cut it with a proper knife and not some crappy serrated blade that is all you can find in the rental house. Do not, however, let the fish sit in the sauce for long. There is a lot of lime in it and this will effectively cook the fish like a ceviche. We were also going to try it on some grilled fish, but it didn’t last through the raw stuff. Even my nephew was eating it. Of course, his reaction was only meh after he found out it wasn’t with the fish he caught.

Cilantro Sauce for Fish

1 bunch fresh cilantro
1 garlic clove
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
½ jalapeno pepper, seeded and ribbed

1. Blitz the ingredients together in a blender.
2. Pour on to a platter, lay freshly sliced sushi quality fish on top, and serve.

09 January, 2009

Baja Inspirations - Water

What? A water-themed slideshow of just pictures of water? That would be pretty darn boring. Oh look, here's some blue water. And more blue water. More water, this time the waves are bigger.

There is no combination - aside from peanut butter and chocolate - that is more perfect together than kids and water. Any slide show of a trip to the ocean has to include kids playing in the water.

Grown-ups can play too. Here was the day we had a big water fight.

On a calmer day Hubby took Little Miss Sunshine into the ocean for a quick dip. She didn't like it the first time, but was happy the second time we did it. Alas, no photos of the second time because that was after the camera took its own dip in the ocean.
Of course there are lots of fish in the ocean. There were also a lot of these porcupine fish on the beach. These poor swimmers were quite easily tossed up by the waves. This one was still alive so we had a good look at it and dropped it in a quiet spot to hope for the best. My nephew wasn't very impressed.

One day we all piled into a panga, or fishing boat, to do some deep sea fishing. In the morning the boys caught sierra mackerel. In the afternoon we caught dorado and tuna. My brother snapped this photo at sunrise.
Just one of our rods primed and ready to go.
This was not a good moment. We'd just hooked two dorado and were high on the adrenaline and bruises of pulling them in - and the excitement over good eats for dinner. The captain, Ramone, was rehooking the lines and Hubby was steering the boat. Suddenly he couldn't steer. We were a good 6 miles or so from our launch beach and the steering on the boat broke. For a while Hubby actually steered the motor with his hands, but we couldn't go very fast that way. So Ramone tied a gaffe to the motor and amped up the speed while he and Hubby took turns holding the gaffe. It would be nice if the adventure ended there, but it doesn't. Once we got to the beach both the boat and the truck used to haul it out got stuck in the soft sand. Boy that fish tasted real good when we finally got home!

On another day all twelve of us loaded on to another panga to go snorkelling on the live coral reef at Cabo Pulmo. Absolutely stunning, but no one had an underwater camera. Also on the trip we saw a mama humpback whale and her calf, the flying rays you can see in the picture below, and we got to snorkel with a colony of wild sea lions. The latter was one of the highlights of the entire trip for me.

The morning after our snorkelling trip we were drinking our tea and coffee at the house when we spotted whales about 100 metres off shore. We watched them for about twenty minutes, after which time Hubby woke up. Without hesitation he grabbed a kayak and decided to see how close he could get. He raced out there, but this was as good as it got. See that tiny black spec? That's the whale. By this time she (we think it may have been a mama and calf again) was turning out to deeper waters.

Finally, no pool is really a good pool unless you cannonball. I snapped this great shot of my nephew just before we began our cannonball contest. No surprise, my 250 pound father won!

06 January, 2009

Baja Adventures - Road Food

If Jane and Michael Stern ever went down to Baja they would look for the place advertising local cheese and selling their homemade sweets, then stop at every place within walking distance to check them out as well. We found El Oasis in our guide book, but could have happliy eaten at the Tienda across the street or the other two restaurants down the road.

El Oasis is a fitting name for its location. Up in the Sierra la Laguna moutains the town of San Bartolo is a respite from the sandy haze of the Baja desert and the ocean winds. Lush and filled with wildly blooming flowers, citrus, and appropriately for the season, pointsettas San Bartolo promised a view and some tasty road food. Oh how it lived up to its promises.

We were travelling with some slightly less adventurous eaters; adventurous in tastes, not necessarily in locale. I think my family was nervous at first, stopping at essentially a diner in the middle of Mexico. Inside it was filled with dulces, empanadas, and the cleanest kitchen serving tamales, tacos, and fiery salsa. All fears were allayed with the hairnets. And tastebuds were alive with the olfactory tease of broiling pepppers.

We ate the best tamales any of us have ever had - and my mom used to live along the Texas/Mexico border, accompanied by the purest salsa ever. Broiled jalapenos and tomatoes, put through a grinder. That's it. Nothing else. Heat, sweetness, and the taste of the mountain sun.

Fortified for the day we drank our cervesas and iced teas in the mountain breezes while the neighbourhood chickens serenaded us. Onward for a drive. Not without a dozen tamales wrapped in a plastic bag and some salsa for snacks upon the return to the beach house.

One of our other Baja road trips took us to the Sierra la Laguna Biosphere Reserve. We drove through Santiago, decorated for Christmas with a more than life size nativity scene in the town square and out of place snowmen lights. Beyond the fields of palms and down more sandy roads we paid our entrance fee to the reserve. A small parking lot with a surprisingly stylish looking outhouse marked the entrance to the trail down to a freshwater oasis.

When the guidebook said a short ten minute hike it neglected to mention that it was narrow, phenomenally rocky, and not suited to fancy jogging strollers,people with bad knees, or hot toddlers. With the stroller parked and the kids and Baba assisted we arrived at the waterfall.

It wasn't a palm tree and pond in the middle of the dessert, it was better. A 30 foot waterfall plunging into a dark pool of freshwater, surrounded by granite, grass, and cool air. Impatiently we got the kids and ourselves into bathing suits (this isn't a place for modesty). Only my brother and Hubby were brave enough to climb the rocks to the top of the waterfall and jump. It proved to be a dangerous mistake for my brother after he slipped on the wet granite. Thankfully it ended well, albeit in a badly bruised back. For the rest of us we savoured the fresh water and dust-free hours.

When it was time to return we stopped in Santiago. No restaurants around the plaza, but a few tiendas to choose from. We'd hoped to luck into some ice cream for the kids. Note to self, be cautious when opening unmarked freezers in small Mexican towns. Ice cream? No. Freshly butchered meat, unwrapped and still smelling bloody? Yes. All was made better when we found what we thought was fresh yoghurt in a front cooler. Marked with Christmas colours and covered tightly with foil we grabbed a few for the kids and headed to the plaza to munch. Okay, so it was probably packaged Jello with some milk, but it was fantastic to us and the Monster.

There were more good meals to be found along the road. Small beachfront palapas with amazingly sweet shrimp tacos and cold beer, gas stations with fiery burritos and soft sandwiches, and even a bakery making tender gingerbread cookies.

Some people told us to be afraid of the road food - will it be clean? what about the water? We had no fear and were rewarded greatly. Indeed, I would say it was some of the best food we ate there. I can still taste the salsa and Hubby wants more of those burittos. Next time, in the Airstream for sure.