In Search of Dragons

My wife and I are food junkies. There are some opportunities that we sometimes cannot resist putting everything on hold to indulge ourselves. This past weekend our taste buds were perked up by the potential to revisit the taste of Dragon Fruit.

The first time we tasted the dragon fruit, we were in Hawaii and shopping in an ABC store. At the time I thought it was fun, but the delightful moist "egg" almost melts in your mouth.

Returning to the present, my wife found an Organic Dragon Fruit farm in Ramona, CA. It didn't take long for her to drag me into the car and head out on the road. 

While there we sampled 6 different Dragon Fruit from the front display table. It was nice to pick your favorite flavor. The coloring ranges from white, lavender, purple, and deep red. Some are sweet like a strawberry, the seeds are crunchy like a kiwi and have a soft texture. The final product was an explosion in our mouths.

The farm was organic, and the fruit was picked fresh off the vine. The fruit can last some time in the refrigerator but may lose some of the sweetness. The farmer also dehydrated Dragon Fruit, which was a sensation I had never had before, it was like a wafer made with taffy.

Here are photos of the Dragon Fruit Haul (my wife labeled the different varieties in the first photo):

Here is a photo from the tour we took around the property.

We found more fruit at the store (pictured below). The yellow-skinned Pitahaya fruit comes from Palora in the South American country of Ecuador. While the pitaya plant and its fruit have spines, they are removed before being distributed to the store for easy consumption. Pitahaya has white flesh similar in comparison to the Vietnamese Giant variant, however, the pitahaya is very sweet and juicy. 

Libraries and Pools of the Gigante Castle

We took a weekend trip to Avila Beach last week.  During our first trip to Avila Beach we found there wasn't a lot to do. So we made a one hour drive just North of San Simeon to see Hearst Castle up close (for my first time).

The Castle was named Casa Grande, by William Randolf Hearst himself. I believe it would be more appropriate to call it Casa Gigante. 

The outside of the structure was more of a facade in comparison to the medieval castles in Europe, but for good reason. The walls had to be poured concrete reinforced by rebar, covered by tile. This was in accordance with State engineering regulations. That way the Castle could stand up against earthquakes. 

Casa Grande stands perched above Highway 1. To get to the Castle you must take a bus from the visitors center. We paid for tickets to see the Upstairs Suites tour, because this took us through the two libraries, and upstairs celestial suite. My favorite parts of the tour are, the Main and Gothic libraries (see photos below). In my opinion they were more breathtaking than the pools, which were a close second.

The Main library held 4,100 books. This library was open for general use for his guests. The lamp light was warm, but I should emphasize the shadows probably made it hard to read (it was a cloudy day so sunshine was not pouring through the windows). Never the less it was cozy. I shouldn't forget to mention the ornate decor, including the ceiling. The Main library is decorated with ancient Greek vases.

The second library, was basically Hearst's private library adjacent to his bedroom. Known for the Gothic architecture, the vaulted ceiling and pointed archways.

The libraries are decorated with massive Persian rugs (probably over 30 feet long). Which we could appreciate from afar.

The tour further renewed in me a great appreciation for libraries. Library's not only serve as a source of information, but also a sanctuary for relief, and rejuvenation.

The tour was "book ended" by stops at the two iconic pools on the property. 

The Neptune pool.

and the indoor Roman pool or a "plunge" (for it's uniform depth of 10 feet).

 In my opinion the elegance of the pools surpasses any pool I've ever seen.

This is our view from the resort in Avila Beach overlooking the bay. The Central Coast of California is an often overlooked by state.

On The Wharf in Santa Barbara

 On our way to Avila Beach, we made a smart move by stopping in Santa Barbara. During a previous trip we saw there were fresh Uni (Japanese for Sea Urchin) at wholesale prices. That trip we unfortunately didn't get to indulge ourselves. 

This stop made a short detour off the 101. It took a bit of time to find parking, but we didn't stop for the sushi, which was overpriced to our dismay. Nevertheless, we waited in a short line and lucky for us we got a seat at the bar, where all the action was taking place.

Our first course was 6 raw scallops on a sliced lime and urchin on top. Yum. The Urchin shell was placed on the plate, and to our surprise the spines were still moving. 

We also got an abalone plate, but the main dish was rock crab (the cheaper of the 2 crab on the menu, the other being box crab). Per our request they also saved the tamale, in all it's fatty goodness, as you can see in this picture.

On the way back to the car I spotted a Mexican Fruit vendor, and I picked up a huge mango on a stick. It was sprinkled with tahin and drizzled with chamoy. It was a perfect desert ending to our brief stint in Santa Barbara.

Steam your Crustaceans at the 99 Ranch

Here in California we are very lucky to have access to fresh seafood, even traveling here to the Inland Empire it's not hard to come by. When we get a craving for Crustaceans we can visit our local "99 Ranch" Market. they have seasonal varieties of fish, shrimp, lobster, scallops, mussels, clams and crab and more.

The butcher will go to the tank and pull out a crab, and you just need to ask them to steam it for you. The service is free, regardless of the size you pick. It takes about 15 minutes, you just need to bring them the receipt before they can start cooking.

The option is quick and easy, you just need to take it home! The service is only available until 8PM, and depending on the day you might wait in line. 

If you ever cooked Crustaceans at home you understand it takes the right cookware, it's an added expense. Not to mention the sound that a lobster makes being plunged into a huge pot of boiling water. It's better to have the professionals do it for you. 

Once you get home, you still need to prepare the crab. If you don't know how to eat steamed crab, it is basically flipping the crab on its back and separating the shell. Make sure to take out the poop sack (which contains a lot of bacteria). I would suggest doing a little research online. My wife can clean a crab like a pro, so I've watched the process, it's less difficult than you might imagine. 

We save all the “tomalley”, which is part of the molting process. Basically it's the juices and inside fat of the crab, which we cook with rice later. Tomalley is tasty, so don't throw it out!

It's impossible not to love crab, but be sure you're not allergic. 
If you don't want to go to a restaurant you can bring it home cooked and ready for some melted butter.

2.69 lbs Dungeness Crab

99 Ranch is now in both Northern and Southern California. The crab above was on sale (for Fathers Day) it was $17.99/lb. It ended up costing $48.39 total. You don't have to get a crab as large as ours, 99 Ranch made it easy to pick the right size for you e.g. usually separating them into large and small tanks. Prices have really increased, but if you can get crab or lobster on sale I would highly recommend trying it.

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