The Laguna

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The Laguna de Santa Rosa and the vineyards near it are one of the most beautiful places I have ever laid my eyes on.  I mean, I haven’t really been to that many places in my short life, but I have traveled extensively in California and this one tops the list.  This whole area is a 12 on a 1-10 scale.  It just takes my breath away.

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Happy New Year!

Hope you had a happy and safe New Years Day!

After a day of building new mews (houses) for the falcons we headed to Salmon Creek Beach just north of Bodega Bay to watch the sunset.  It was freezing and very windy, but so beautiful.  I decided that one of my resolutions this year is to have someone take a family photo of us every time we go somewhere memorable.  We have very few photos with me in them and I have decided that is going to change.  Awhile back I read about Martin and Julie and their Global Mobile Family.  One of the things they do is take family photos at the places they visit.  I love the fact that they are biking around the world and I love the idea of taking a family photo at all the places we visit so my resolution is to take a family photo every time we visit a memorable place.  Anyone want to join in with me?

Our Best Wishes for the New Year to you all!

Welcome 2012 – With Pictures from Bodega Bay, CA

I want to spend the next year the same way I spent the last week.  With good food, good friends and fun adventures.  A college friend of ours is visiting for the New Year and we spent the week showing him around this area.  This Thursday we took a quick drive to Bodega Bay.  My neighbors had told me the coast was only about 20 minutes away and that it was a beautiful drive, but that was an understatement.  It was one of the most breathtaking drives I have been on in my life.  I sat there, watching the jaw dropping scenery pass by while occasionally repeating, “Oh my god, this is so beautiful.  I can’t believe I live here”.  I am sorry to tell you that I did not take a single shot the whole way there.  I didn’t want to miss a second fiddling with my camera.   Nothing is going to keep me from taking countless drives out to the coast from now on so don’t worry!  There will be pictures eventually.  Especially since I heard about the amazing bread baker in this tiny town called Freestone.  Can’t wait to visit them.  For now I hope you enjoy these pics from Bodega Bay.

We drove past Spud Point Crab Company on our way out to Bodega Head.  It was this tiny white fisherman’s hut that had a huge line coming out the door, through the patio and out to the sidewalk.   The bench style patio tables were full of diners.  This was obviously the place to eat.  We had to stop on the way back.

The food was amazing.  Super fresh crab hauled out of the water that morning and turned into crab sandwiches, soup and cakes.  As you walk up to the front door there are two giant vats of clam chowder bubbling away on the patio.  We arrived at about 1pm and they were already sold out of the red clam chowder and the crab cakes so we got a bowl of white clam chowder and a crab sandwich.  Both were awesome!  Don’t ask me why the only shot of my food was through Instagram.  I haven’t gotten used to taking photos of my restaurant food yet.  I always get a bunch of funny looks from other diners and it makes me feel like I am a total wacko!  Anyone else get that or is it all in my head?

Across the street is the Marina where all the crab boats are docked waiting for the next morning’s run out to sea.  It was so calm and peaceful that day.  The only noise was a couple of guys working on a boat and the low murmur of diners from the Crab Company across the street.

We heading back to the coast for New Years Day.  I hope you all have a safe and happy New Year.

There is a lot planned for Shoots and Roots in 2012.  It’s high time we take this blog to the next level!

Apples, Anniversaries and Birthdays

I feel completely unprepared for this post, moving boxes are on every surface and pizza boxes cover the stove, but its been too long since my last one and I feel you deserve an update.

We are all moved in to our new home now and we are slowly learning our way around.  If you have been following my twitter stream then you have heard me rave about Andy’s Market in Sebastopol, Ca.  I can not explain how happy the little chef inside me was while walking through that store.  Childish glee… maybe.  I bought lots of obscure ingredients that I don’t need now, I but DID need at some point in the last year and couldn’t find.  All of a sudden there they were and there I was with a debit card in hand.

Carob chips, tapioca pearls that have to be soaked overnight, unsweetened shredded coconut and sprouting seeds the list goes on.  They have every flour, nut, seed, bean, pasta or spice sold in bags by weight.  If you are gluten-free then you want to visit this place.  They have the best selection of gluten-free ingredients I have ever seen.

Anyway, I will tell you more about Andy’s in another post.  Back to our house.  It’s a two bedroom, 1 bath on a property with a couple other houses and an old apple orchard.  The house is a perfect fit for us with a freestanding wood stove and a large kitchen.  I have spent a happy last couple weeks learning its quirks.  For example, where all those sounds were coming from at night.  Ghosts were mentioned several times, but it ended up being the fridge.

Celebrations have been happening all month.  First Tom came home from the vineyard, we got our house, then it was my birthday and this blog’s 1 yr anniversary, then Tom’s birthday, then our wedding anniversary, then Halloween, which is big in our house.  Its been crazy!

We learned where the local yellow jacket hive was on my birthday and blog anniversary, October 11th.  There we were, joyfully picking apples in “the Snow White Apple Orchard” next to our house (Brae renamed it for the red apples).  I was posting photos to twitter about how I was in paradise.  The next minute my little one runs toward me screaming hysterically.  I see a wasp on her shirt and swipe it off her only to see another and another land on her and now me.  Suddenly I have flashbacks of the movie My Girl.  I dropped my bag and screamed RUN!  I grab her hand and we fled through the orchard, wasps hot on our tail.  I stopped halfway to the house to swipe more wasps off Brae, then realized they were still landing on us.  I grabbed her and ran for my life back to the house.  In the front room we stopped and swiped the ones that were on our clothes.  Several lifted off and started flying around the room.  Brae had been stung already and was freaking out.  There were still wasps on her.  We ran to the bedroom and shut the door.  Stripped off our clothes and I frantically beat the crap out of anything that moved until I was sure all the wasps in the room were dead.

We took stock of the damage.  She got 5 first stings and a couple secondary stings.  Yellow jackets can sting repeatedly without dying or losing their stinger.  I got stung twice with about 7 secondary stings.  Brae was freaked out, I was freaked out.  She had never been stung before so I was worried about allergies & the amount of stings.  I waited a few minutes to make sure her breathing was normal and she was calm before heading back out to war with the rest of the wasps.  I killed about eight around the house before calling it safe.  Then it took another ten minutes to convince Brae to leave the house and go next door for help.  That was how I met my very sweet neighbors who have become our fast friends.

In two days I turned 29, Tom turned 34 and this blog turned 1.  We were finally together, I have many pounds of free apples and found out that I was the one who had a mild allergy to bee stings.  Brae is apparently immune to their venom.  Her stings had disappeared completely by the next day.  Since that day however, she has developed an uneasy relationship with bugs that fly.  Outright panic and growing agoraphobia thankfully changed into extreme caution, which has, in the last couple days, changed again to a calm distrust of tiny flying things.  We have learned a lot about wasps and how to avoid a hive if you find one.  It’s a work in progress.  A couple of days later my neighbor and I were discussing what had happened, she laughed and said, “Welcome to the country.”  I laughed with her and said, “Actually, its welcome back.”

Those apples were retrieved by a brave husband at dusk and were turned into apple butter a few nights later.

Elise’s Apple Butter recipe

More apple recipes to come.

Vineyard Trip 2011

I fought back tears as we drove away.  It was so much fun.  Tom is exhausted at night, but thanks his lucky stars every morning when he wakes up to this.

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I think I could live in his working trailer for a long time if I got to live somewhere as beautiful as this.  My days were spent cleaning his work/living place, medicating a sick hawk, cooking for several hungry workers, and blaring my car horn at invading starlings while scaring the crap out of the occasional car full of half drunk wine tasters (not intentionally of course!).  We flew falcons, saved and released a wild Shrike from a sparrow trap, munched on table grapes fresh from the vine, chatted with another falconer about growing up in Ireland, learned to strum on an Irish Banjo, flew kites… need I go on.  One more month and Tom will be home.  All these pictures were taken with my iphone 4.  I didn’t even take my dslr out of the bag.

So beautiful hereWe're grape!View from my trailer on the vineyard

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Heartland of CAWill eventually be $300 a bottle Pinot NoirI love abandoned buildingsGrapes for as far as the eye can seeSunset SilhouetteGrowing flowersTom and ThurgoodCanning Section at Vons SM.jpg

This Vons has the largest canning section I have ever seen!  My local store only has two types of jars and they are nearly impossible to find.

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This was our favorite stop on the way home.  Bubblegum Alley in San Luis Obispo, California.  Brae insisted, apparently Judy Moody has been here.  Yes that is all chewed up gum, 2-4 inches thick down the entire length of both walls.  Yes, it is nasty, but smells a lot better then you think.

*Due to naughty job poachers (yes, seriously) I cannot tell you exactly what vineyard that we are on or where, only that we are somewhere off the 101 freeway from Santa Barbara to Paso Robles.  In August it’s Paradise here.

Protecting California’s Grapes with Raptors

Hanging grapes

We got up early Saturday morning to get Tom on the road before the morning fog burned off.  He’s leaving for 2 months to work on a vineyard with his falcons.  Yea, read that again.  Vineyard, falcons…  Pretty amazing right?

Harris Hawk on Farm

A few months ago our plans were just an idea.  A risk.  A leap we could take which may push us further along our list of goals, or throw us down a well of debt and unemployment.  We have normal average goals like buy a house, take a trip to Europe, build a savings, live life the way we want.  In our current situation those were never going to happen, so we decided to take a very planned and scheduled leap into fate.

Tom flying Hermes

What was the plan?  For Tom to transfer from one contract to another.  This means that we will have to move wherever the company puts us this winter.  Right now, I don’t know where that will be yet.  For now, he is living on vineyard somewhere in California scaring away all the little birds that feast on the grapes.  He absolutely loves to do vineyard work.  In Tom’s opinion its a falconer’s dream 8 week vacation and you get paid well too.

Grapevine in the sunRow of Grapes in the sun

So what is he doing exactly?

The company Tom works for is Airstrike Bird Control.  They offer bird abatement services to orchards, vineyards, farms, landfills, airports, schools and office buildings.  Pretty much anywhere you have too many pest birds like seagulls, pigeons or starlings.

GrapesTom Flying Gloria on vineyard

The sugar content in grapes begins to skyrocket during the last 6-8 weeks before the September harvest attracting all kinds of birds.  I have heard that more than half a vineyard can be eaten in a weekend.  Usually vineyard owners hire 5 guys on quads to shoot pyrotechnics all day, to the dismay of his non-vineyard owning neighbors.  Some companies even shoot them out of the air with shotguns full of bird shot!

The problem with these tactics is that pyrotechnics can cause fires and its late summer in California, the wildfire state.  Many agricultural towns in CA have outlawed the use of pyro to avoid burning the town and its thriving agriculture to the ground.  Not to mention the strict rules the ATF instituted this year.  Now you must have a special license through the ATF to buy and use pyro.  This pretty much eliminates pyro as an option for most companies as the license is expensive and time-consuming to obtain.  As for shooting the birds out of the air, that is barely legal and in my opinion irresponsible and immoral.

Tom flying Shirly on vineyard

To protect the grapes, and other crops/landfills/airports sustainably we use trained falcons and hawks, which hunt the birds and chase them away.  A flock of starlings, or any bird, will not understand what happened when a gunshot or noisemaker goes off.  They fly away because of the scary noise, but they don’t associate the noise with the location or understand what happened and why.  This means the same birds will keep coming back everyday to feed.

Harris on Hunting Perch

If you fly hawks and falcons on a vineyard or anywhere else, suddenly the little birds understand that bigger hungrier predators have moved into the territory and they had best move out before they become dinner.  Being chased off a vineyard by a hawk sticks in their minds.  It’s an ancient fear, to be eaten by a hawk, its natural for a prey species to avoid areas that are hunted by their predators.  In effect, they avoid the vineyards with hawks and gorge on those vineyards that don’t.

Vineyard row

As much as I will miss Tom I am excited for him.  He has worked so hard over the last 2 years that he totally deserves this.

If you would like more information about falconry-based bird abatement or Airstrike Bird Control you can visit their website at

And be sure to tell them Tom and Melissa sent you!

Cooking and Camping in the Rain

Big Basin Brae in Front of Big Tree

When we left for Big Basin Redwoods Campground we knew rain showers were in the forecast.  I thought.  Rain?  This late in June.  It’ll be nothing, it probably wont even rain.

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Boy was I wrong.  At about 2 pm, 30 minutes from camp it started raining, hard.  And it didn’t really stop until the next morning.  So how did we do it?

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Well, we picked up our sagging hopes, channeled our inner Bear Grylls and set up camp in the rain.

Big Basin Melissa CookingBig Basin Tarp Kitchen

We laid out the tents and covered them with tarps until the poles were through.  After the tent was lifted we got the fly ready and replaced the tarps with the tent fly.  A tent fly is essential for keeping out the rain.  Otherwise there is nothing but mesh or thin fabric between you and the rain.  After the tents were set up we strung a tarp to a few trees, which was technically against the rules, but we were desperate for a dry spot to cook dinner.  A makeshift kitchen was set up under the tarp with a chair, an ice chest, food bins for counters and a propane grill propped up on a couple of logs.  The ground was soaked so we didn’t worry about setting it on fire, but just to be extra safe I had a couple of gallons of water nearby.

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As I finished setting up the kitchen I noticed the young family camping next to us were roasting hot dogs over their fire.  Classic, I thought.  Cant go wrong with a frank over the fire.  I didn’t think anything more of it until I saw them doing it again the next day for lunch AND for dinner.  Poor campers!  Is that what most campers usually eat?  It didn’t look like they had a propane stove which is almost essential when cooking on a camping trip.  Yes, you could cook over the fire, and we did do that on night 2, but a propane grill can be started in 30 seconds, they are small, and you can cook damn near anything on it, even in the rain.

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So we made fried chicken, in the rain, with our old Coleman camp stove.  While the chicken cooked, we warmed our hands in the steam of the tea kettle and wondered when the rain would finally end.  The ranger told us to expect rain all night.  We hoped he was wrong.

Big Basin Frying Chicken

That night Brae wanted to roast marshmallows and make smores.  Since it was still raining we toasted them over the stove flame.  They were melty, creamy and so hot they burned the tip of my tongue.

Big Basin Roasting Marshmallows on GrillBig Basin Marshmallow on FireBig Basin Braes First SmoreBig Basin Crossing Trees

Her first smore.  She loved them.  She is still telling me that the best part of camping were the smores and sleeping in a tent.  She didn’t even mind the rain.  She thought it made the trip more exciting, more adventurous.  She likes that.

Menu for Day 1

  • Snack – Fresh fruit, granola, nuts, and chips
  • Dinner – Fried chicken with warm tortillas & salad
  • Dessert – Smores

Fried Camp Chicken

  • 1 chicken, cut into pieces for frying
  • canola oil
  • cast iron pan
  • camp stove or a fire pit with a BBQ grate
  • salt and pepper

1.  Pour oil into the pan until it’s about 1/2 inch deep.  Heat on med-high heat until very hot, but not smoking.  Season the chicken with salt and pepper.

2.  When the oil is hot add the chicken and do not move them until the bottoms are a crisp golden brown.  Then turn the chicken pieces with a pair of tongs.

3.  Cook the other side, without moving the chicken, until that side is golden brown and crispy.  Check to see if the chicken is cooked through.  If not cover with a lid and continue cooking until chicken is cooked through (no longer pink at all in the center).

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By the time we woke up the next morning the rain had stopped.  The woods were wet, but alive with campers re-starting fires and making breakfast.  We cooked eggs and bacon on the stove with home fries, all in the same pan.  Since we were using cast iron, cleanup was easy.

Big Basin Torn TreeBig Basin Inside a Burnt Redwood Tree

Before lunch we took an easy hike to the largest of the giant redwoods in this forest.  Several trees were hollow at the base, but still alive because the tree is attached to all the other trees around it through the roots.  They are fire resistant, don’t fall over easily, and the base can grow to be as big as a two lane road in places like Sequoia National Park, Ca.  Truly amazing to see.

Big Basin Brae Shorter then Tree WidthBig Basin Redwood Tree Rings

Wildlife was everywhere, but quick to hide from my camera.  Blue Jays were on constant patrol, scooping up every spare scrap of food left behind.  A chipmunks, cute as can be, found its way into our trunk during lunch and got trapped.  The little guy didn’t seem to be too troubled by his predicament.  He made the best of his situation by invading our bags of potato chips and pistachios.  When we opened the trunk to get food for dinner he scared the crap out of my mom then bolted for the exit when the coast was clear.  We even came across a Banana Slug, my UCSC mascot, on a hike to the waterfall.  He was too slow to hide from the camera.

Big Basin MossBig Basin Banana Slug

For dinner we cooked over the fire.  Turkey burgers, grilled zucchini and mushrooms, corn on the cob, and salad from my garden.  I really felt bad for the hot dog family.  They were missing out on quality camp cooking.

Menu for Day 2

  • Breakfast – Eggs, bacon, home fries (packaged frozen home fries, real eggs and bacon)
  • Lunch – Ham Sandwiches for the adults, PB&Js for the kids.
  • Snacks – Granola, fresh plums & nectarines
  • Dinner – Turkey burgers, grilled vegetables, corn and salad.
  • Dessert – Smores

Coal-Roasted Corn on the Cob

  • corn on the cob, one for each person, husks removed
  • a few tablespoons of butter cut into small pieces
  • tin foil
  • salt and pepper (chili pepper is great too if you want to bring it)

1.  Cut a piece of tin foil large enough to wrap around one corn cob completely.  About a foot long.  Just eyeball it.

2.  Place a corncob onto the tin foil.  Dot with a couple of pieces of butter and season with salt and pepper.

3.  Wrap the tinfoil around the corn to completely cover it, trapping the butter inside.

4.  Place corn directly on the outer wood and coals of a wood fire.  I like to find spots where the center of the pieces of wood have turned to coals but the outer parts of the wood are unburned but getting close to burning.  I put my corn on the unburned pieces of wood right next to the coals.  Turn them with a pair of tongs or a long stick about every 5 minutes.  After 15 minutes check one for doneness.  Let them cool a few minutes before eating.  Those babies are hot!

Big Basin Fallen Mossy TreeBig Basin Forest Fungus

Tips for Making Hamburgers at Camp

Preparation is key here.  The easiest way to do this is season the meat and form the patties at home.  Freeze each patty individually and then store in a freezer bag until you are ready to pack your ice chest.  Keep all meat frozen, covered in ice at the bottom of the ice chest.  It will stay cold for the longest this way.  We surround our meat with crushed ice and several bottles of frozen water.  Only bring what you need!

Bring lettuce, tomato, avocado, onion and cheese for the hamburgers and keep it together in the ice chest, in one bag, so you know that’s the hamburger stuff.  Mayo, mustard and ketchup are stored in small jelly or baby food jars and kept in the ice chest.  Don’t forget the buns!  We have a plastic bin where we keep non refrigerated food.  The buns go in there.

Menu for Day 3

  • Breakfast – Pancakes & bacon

By lunch we had checked out and were on the way home.  A couple of days in the forest was just what I needed.  I would love to bring Tom up there for a weekend.  Hopefully we can do that soon.

Big Basin Sun Through Trees