Friday, February 8, 2008

Central Coast get-away: a progressive picnic

What fun! We’ve found a different way to share our area with visiting family, enjoy a beautiful day and not wear anybody down or out.

After some hemming and hawing about what to do, we went on a progressive picnic. In the process, the four of us did a little shopping, dodged a bird-watching event, sightsaw and wandered on a 60-mile tour.

Son Richard and his wife, Robin, live in Reno. They had managed to beat the snow on Donner Pass for their first visit here in a long time and first ever without kids along.

Finally, they were here, but then they had to decide how they wanted to spend their two free days.

Friday was easy. While I worked, husband Richard showed off his elephant seals in all their snorting-birthing-breeding-fighting-and-sleeping January glory. After some Cambria browsing, we stopped at the farmers market to cap off a leisurely day … relaxing, interesting and not too hectic.

But they still had one more vacation day. The county was their playground; they just had to pick the sport.

They’ve toured Hearst Castle and driven up Highway 1 many times. They love both, but decided, no, not on this trip.

A movie? Are you kidding? Sitting inside a theater on such a gloriously sunny day just wasn’t an option.

More browsing in Cambria? Maybe, but shopping in San Luis Obispo sounded too determinedly energetic. We all wanted to do something different, an activity that would extend the relaxation of their previous day.

Adrift on R&R’s sea of indecision, I finally mapped out the afternoon. We’d go on a leisurely, multi-town shopping excursion, browsing and stocking up for a gourmet picnic.

With a menu in mind, I tossed some necessities into our picnic backpack and a cooler, and we were on our way, stopping first in Harmony to wander through the Pottery Works and the funky little town itself.

Then we hit Ruddell’s Smokehouse in Cayucos. The smokery is about the size of a double-wide phone booth and houses a closet-sized kitchen, the smoker, a menu board and a large refrigerated case packed with smoky lusciousness.

We picked up brown-sugar-smoked salmon, ahi jerky and a few laughs with “Smoker Jim.”

Around the corner, R&R did some wine tasting at Cayucos Cellars and met our longtime friend Laura Selkirk, who for years had groped around in our mouths as assistant to Cambria dentist Jill Poulos.

Our next destination? Morro Bay. On that annual bird-watching-festival weekend, the whole town was packed. Even so, we squeezed into the Embarcadero’s La Parisienne bakery (actually on Front Street) and snagged the last cream-frosted chocolate cake and an exotic-looking basil-and-tomato-topped baguette.

Our last shop-stop for the picnic was at Giovanni’s for fresh cooked-and-cracked crab and some sauces.

With our portable larder filled, we headed for Montaña de Oro … which R&R had never seen.

Now, we knew every square inch of the shoreline would be jammed with binoculars held by avid birders. No problem. We turned left instead, away from the bluff and into the nearly empty picnic area.

Total population? Just us, another small family group and a large covey of quibbling quail.

We spread plastic on our table, unpacked our lunch and relaxed under the bright sun in the relative quiet of our own little valley. We ate and talked. Sat and talked. Walked around and talked. It’s amazing what you can learn about your own children when theirs aren’t along.

Soon, we’d picked clean every crab, devoured the bread, emptied the slaw bowl (if you'd like the recipe, send me an e-mail) and demolished the small cake. Beyond replete, we packed away our crab tools (including the real essentials — disposable chopsticks!), rolled up all the messy stuff in the plastic table cover and tossed the detritus into the trash can.

Instant cleanup! It was almost as good as my private dream … a kitchen that flushes!

We ambled home and watched the sunset paint vivid shades on the sky and sea.

It had been a perfect afternoon. We’d meandered and relaxed, introduced our family to some of our friends, shopped a bit, had a gourmet lunch and enjoyed being out and about together on the beautiful Central Coast.

The key word is together, and it just doesn’t get any better than that.

E-mail Kathe Tanner at

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