June 29, 2013

Photo Essay: A Hike Through California Coffee & Exotic Fruit

I'd been looking for an excuse to go back up north, later in the year, to explore more of Santa Barbara County. It's beautiful up there, but thus far I've only visited in the spring, when it's too cold, wet and drippy for my taste.

I'd heard that Good Land Organics hosted guided hikes through their coffee farm in the foothills of the mountains above Santa Barbara, just below Los Padres National Forest, and that turned out to be a good enough anchor for me to build an entire trip around. I mean, coffee? Grown in North America? Much less...California?

Of course, the day I went, it was cold and rainy, but it turns out that typical climate of California's Central Coast is actually good for coffee growers. What started out as an experiment - what can we grow here? - eventually ended up expanding the geographical boundaries of coffee agriculture.

Good Land Organics may be located at 650 feet elevation, but it's also only two miles from the beach, creating foggy mornings and generally frost-free winters.

They have very little flat land on their property, requiring constant grading of their gentle (and not so gentle) slopes, providing for adequate drainage.

Although the coffee was the main draw for me...'s not actually the farm's main crop.

Coffee has been interplanted amongst several varieties of tropical and subtropical, exotic fruits... finger limes (also called "caviar lime"), a microcitrus native to Australia that's in season now...

...and avocados...

...which happily share the land with coffee plants and other exotic fruit plants.

We visited the farm in the middle of harvest... we got to see (and pick) some of the ripened coffee cherries right off their stalks.

The cherries ripen from bright green... bright red.

They're ready to pick when no trace of green coloring remains where the stem meets the cherry.

Some of the coffee plants were even flowering.

Good Land is experimenting with all kinds of different coffee plants, whose varietal designations are reminiscent of wine grapes...

...and whose flavors are distinct from one another, not only in their raw, just-picked cherry phase...

...but also after the seeds (the "beans") have been roasted.

One of their more sought-after varietals is the Geisha, which has recently risen in popularity (and price),  despite the fact that its predominant flavor profile is petroleum. Seriously, those cherries taste like motor fuel.

Good Land is even trying to grow (and roast) the rare yellow coffee cherry...

...which, like the red cherries, also carry two beans inside. (Occasionally, you might find only one...)

Once the cherries are harvested, Good Land embarks on a wet process to remove the skins from the beans...

...hand-cranking to separate them...

...the de-skinned beans dropping into one bucket of water...

...and the cast-off skins (yellow & red together) into another.

For years, the coffee cherry meat was considered biowaste, but now that it's been designated a superfood (like, say, acai berry), coffee growers are trying to figure out how to use them.

Good Land dries and bags some of theirs, and sells it as tea.

The wet coffee beans are spread out onto a screen, where any stray skins are removed...

...and the beans are left out to dry...

...ready for roasting. It's a long process, but, of course, it's a labor of love.

Amongst Good Land's other exotic fruit offerings (in addition to the finger limes) are goji berries (another superfood)...


...and cherimoyas, which commonly grows in Central and South America. Its white, fleshy, sweet fruit can easily be eaten off the skin with a spoon, giving it the nicknames "custard apple" and "ice cream fruit."

Certified organic, Good Land sells its fruits and coffee beans at local farmer's markets and a few local natural grocery stores, but the best way to experience them is to go visit yourself, drink a freshly-brewed cup of coffee, snack on some freshly-cut fruit, and start walking.

Isn't it always best to go directly to the source?

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm
Everything Comes from Somewhere

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June 28, 2013

My Turn to Paddle

The first time I kayaked La Jolla Cove (which is, I think, the first time I ever kayaked), I didn't really know what I was getting myself into. I didn't wear a wetsuit. I forgot sunblock. I got burned so badly, I had to sleep with cold compresses on my legs, and get an ointment from my dermatologist.

At the time, I sat in the back of our tandem kayak and let Edith do a lot of the paddling work up front.

Technically, whoever sits in the back is supposed to be stronger and therefore in charge of paddling, but I got stuck back there because I was bigger than Edith, and my (heavier) weight had to anchor our vessel. I wasn't stronger, only bigger. The mildest current wiped my energy out. And there we were, out there in the ocean, amidst tiger shark and sea lions, all on our own.

Back then, we were a bit nervous about getting too close to the caves along the shore, much less paddling ourselves inside of any of them. The best we could do was, back on dry land, pay a couple of bucks to peer out at the ocean from a platform inside Sunny Jim Cave which, now a tourist attraction (accessible through the Cave Store), used to be where mob boss bootleggers brought booze in by rowboat during Prohibition.

But now that I live in California, and San Diego is only a couple of hours away, making annual visits easy enough, I could return, later in the year, on a sunnier day, and try again to get closer to at least one of the seven sister caves of La Jolla Cove.

This time, I booked a sea cave kayak tour with a group. Again, I declined a wetsuit, despite encouragement to the contrary. Again, I was in a tandem kayak, but without Edith at the bow, I got matched with a partner: a young Mexican father whose wife, son, and two teenage daughters had all paired off together. And, once again, I, the bigger passenger, got placed in the back.

Our guides coached us on how to paddle like hell through the surf to get out to sea, giving us a bit of a push over the cresting waves that others were surfing and paddleboarding.

I didn't remember such big waves, and I wondered how Edith and I had gotten out there on our own. I was glad not to be attempting it by myself.

Only this time, my partner in the front was more concerned with shooting video of his family out on the ocean than with paddling. I watched him rest his paddle across his lap as the current tried to sweep us alternately back to shore and out to sea, and...

...I paddled like hell.

How could I have once had such a cushy position at the stern, and now such a hard job - pushing not only my own weight, but also an extra large vessel, and the weight of an additional person, all by myself?

Since when was I in charge?

Actually, in some ways, I preferred to be the sole paddler. When we sidled up to the caves, I wanted to hang out and float, take some photos of my own, observe the cormorants, and bump up against the other kayaks. But in those peaceful moments of quiet observation, that's when my partner decided to go.

He never seemed to want to remain still, always encircling the group, getting too close to the rocks, paddling too much on one side, leading us too far astray for my preference. Once I'd had a taste of being in charge back there, at the helm of the stern - as tired as my arms were, as much as my hands were blistering, as much as my already burned legs were reddening - I wanted to steer us, solely, slowly.

At the end of the tour, passing sunbathing sea lions and dodging snorkelers, we actually got to paddle our way into an opening in the rocky shoreline - with openings at each end, not technically a cave, but more akin to a cavern.

Paddling into the cave through a straightaway, the side of the kayak bumping against the tunnel's rocky walls, we looked up at the wet rocks above us and let out various battle cries to hear our own echoing voices, as we bicyclists do when wheeling under highway overpasses. The current nearly sucked us into the other side, so we had to paddle hard just to remain still, making photography inside the cave itself impossible.

By the time our group was ready to turn around and return to the beach, I was marveling at how strong a paddler I'd become, having negotiated the rapids of the LA River just a few weeks before, and having carried much of the weight on this excursion. Unlike the LA River (where our kayaks have not been tandem), out in La Jolla, the ocean is deep, its terrain various - from an underwater canyon to a reef and even a desert and a kelp forest. You can really dig your paddle in and push, not merely skim the surface the way shallower waters sometimes dictate.

And on the way back, the ocean tide just brings you back in. If you sense a giant wave cresting behind you before you've reached shore, just lean back and let it take you. No paddling required.

Related Posts:
Black Swan, and The View from Behind First Place
California Girl

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June 25, 2013

Photo Essay: LAX's New International Terminal

After all of the air traveling I've done, from when I started to run away from New York in 2008 to when I finally made the commitment, switched coasts and moved to LA, I have to admit, I love hanging out in airports. I plan entire, elaborate meals and coffees around my arrival time. I get manicures and massages during layovers. I indulge in gossip and bridal magazines during flight delays, and I shop all the other wares.

Of course, this is by design. Since the advent of the jet age, proponents of air travel have made it an event - even, at times, a luxury. (This is particularly evident in Eero Saarinen's TWA Flight Center in New York's JFK airport, replete with private lounges and cushy red benches and undulatingly curvaceous service bars.) But private lounges eventually transformed into cookie-cutter airline club rooms, upscale restaurants flipped to mass-marketed chain bars & grills, and most departure gates are now full of screaming, drooling, French fry-munching obese children and grown adults sitting cross-legged on the carpet to charge up their various electronics.

As much as I enjoy lingering around airports, it hasn't been very nice, for a long time.

And now welcome to Los Angeles.

This is LAX, already one of the most beautiful airport arrivals in the country. This is LAX, whose Theme Building is a modernist architectural wonder, no matter how cheesy the Star Trekkian "Encounter" restaurant has become.

This is the new International Terminal of LAX, set to open later this year. And it's exciting.

The Fentress Architects new masterpiece was designed to evoke the shape of a Pacific Ocean wave breaking against the beach, making it unmistakably L.A. This shape is visible not only from the outside, but also the inside of the South Concourse.

But this doesn't feel exactly like today's LA, where what was once new intermingles with what is actually new now.

This feels like a yesteryear Los Angeles, or even New York.

Upon the public preview of the terminal, some parts of it still remain unfinished - empty hallways, empty chairs at empty tables -

...but the structure is there.

The lines, light and shadows are there.

All that's missing are some finishing touches...

...and the passengers.

Like many places, the new LAX terminal is gorgeous when it's empty.

It can breathe.

You can see it.

But soon, these mezzanines and promenades surrounding and intersecting the Villaraigosa Pavilion will be teeming with security officers and jetsetters...

...perhaps too harried to really take in their surroundings...

...distracted only by the presence of satellite locations of some of LA's best-loved restaurants: Border Grill, Umami Burger, 800 Degrees Pizza, The Larder at Tavern, etc.

Unfortunately, whether it's empty or full, you can't stay in an airport. It's merely transitional, transportive. But when you have to go somewhere (after all, no one hangs around once they've arrived), it's nice to get a good send-off.

Watch a time lapse video of the Bradley Terminal renovation here:

Related Posts:
Surfridge (Parts I-III)
TWA Flight Center, JFK (Interior & Exterior)

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