Top Ten Things I Love About Christmas In The Bay Area

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A few days ago I posted the refreshed for 2018 Top Ten Things I Miss About Christmas In New Mexico, which has become something of an annual nostalgia trip for me.

As I was writing it, I thought to myself, you know….I’ve lived in the Bay Area for twenty years. Maybe it’s time to write a top ten for my current home.

I mean, I am an ex-pat New Mexican and will always be a New Mexican, but I’ve lived in the Bay Area long enough to also call it home. I guess I’m lucky in that way, to call more than one place my home.

And so without further ado:

Top Ten Things I Love About Christmas In The Bay Area


1) San Francisco’s buildings lit up like presents. Around Thanksgiving the buildings on and near the Embarcadero turn into glittering holiday presents and the Ferry Building lights up red and green.

My first Christmas living here, I’d taken a ferry over to Sausalito to buy presents. When I came back over on the ferry, just as the sun was setting, I saw those gift-wrapped buildings for the first time I couldn’t stop staring. It’s so beautiful and an annual tradition.



This was taken just after New Year’s Eve fireworks last year, hence the smoke, but the view can’t be beat. Image found here


2) And while we’re talking about things down on the Embarcadero, how about the tradition of Palm trees wrapped in Christmas lights? Other than one sickly Palm tree doing its best to grow by the NMSU library, there aren’t really a lot of Palm trees in New Mexico.

But there are plenty here and I love that they get in on the holiday fun. The Bay Area is hardly the only place to feature lit up holiday Palm trees, but it is the first place I ever saw the style and I’ve always loved it.

Here’s an example of the Palm trees outside of AT&T park (there are 24 Palm trees to honor legendary #24, Willie Mays).


Image by Fuzzy Traveler and found on Flickr.

3) To stay on the theme of trees, the Bay Area hosts and awful lot of offbeat Christmas trees each year. I don’t recall seeing a lot of weird trees back home in New Mexico, mostly normal trees decorated in the traditional way (which I love). But since living here in the Bay Area, I’ve seen a variety of trees including one decorated with only the heads ripped from dolls (weird), a tree decked out solely in Star Trek gear (nerdy), trees made of alternative materials like lab supplies, computer servers and routers, and then this one found at an architecture firm by internet friend, UPS driver extraordinaire, and longtime San Franciscan, Rafael Monterrosa.


Photo copyright Rafael Monterrosa (@rafael415 on Instagram), and used with permission. Give Rafael a follow, he is a fantastic photographer and posts photos from his travels all around the city of San Francisco. He’s got a sharp photographic eye and knowledge of the City like no one else.



4) Okay, one last tree thing: Another fine Bay Area holiday tradition is tree lighting ceremonies. Usually happenig the weekend after Thanksgiving, every town has at least one. From the Union Square and Ghirardelli Square events in San Francisco, to Jack London Square in Oakland, to Christmas in the Park in San Jose, and lots of smaller neighborhoods and businesses in between, people love to come out to see trees light up for the first time of the season, drink hot chocolate, and get into the holiday mood.

Here’s a photo from my little neighborhood’s second annual tree lighting event this year:



©2018 Karen Fayeth

5) Now it’s time to move on to the fantastic Bay Area food traditions at the holidays. Let’s talk about Lumpia which can be found at just about every holiday potluck. Living in the Bay Area has opened me up to the traditions of so many cultures that I just never experienced back home in New Mexico.

I have been honored to know and work with so many amazing people from the Philippines, and they have lovingly introduced me to their food, most notably lumpia, which can roughly be described as a Philippino egg roll. More colloquially it’s been called the food equivalent of crack, and I can’t disagree.

Nothing more joyful than a huge pile of lumpia at the holiday party. No matter how many are in the pile, they will certainly ALL be gone within no time, and I will do my part to make them disappear. So freaking good.


6) Let’s keep talking about holiday pot lucks because the Bay Area likes to eat, something I have always loved that about living here. In addition to lumpia, holiday eating in the Bay is an enormous cross section of diverse foods, all of them delicious.

This year my loaded down holiday plate included lumpia, pork buns, chow mein noodles, Italian seafood lasagna, samosas (delicious little savory pockets from Indian culture), German stollen, Hungarian floating island dessert, pecan pie (hello pecan producers in NM!), enchiladas, guacamole, ceviche (done in a Brazilian style), and much more.

I mean, come on! The amazing diversity of the Bay Area means the best of foods from around the world. What’s not to love?


7) I’m not done talking about food either. Holiday season is also Dungeness crab season. Starting roughly in November (start dates depend on a lot of things), this is the time of year where the commercial crab season opens, and oh what a season.

For many Bay Area families, it’s tradition to go down to the wharf or to certain places at the coast on Christmas morning to buy crab. Fresh caught that morning, and you can take it home and cook it yourself, or pick one out from the steaming vats.

As a single gal, I used to celebrate holidays with a dear friend, and she loved this tradition. She’d go out early in the morning to buy crab then put a huge stock pot in the middle of her dining room table to catch the shells and we’d dive in with hands and metal crab crackers. Some folks think eating crab is too much work, I say those people leave more crab for me and that’s just fine. Delicious!

8) Going to the beach on Christmas day. One of the best Christmases I ever had was when I was all alone, a little depressed, and I made the excellent decision to pack up some leftover Chinese food, a blanket and a small radio and head to the beaches of Half Moon Bay for the day. It was a balmy 65 degrees and for many hours I had the beach all to myself. I read, I ate, I zoned out, I watched the waves, and I wasn’t lonely for a minute.

9) The smell of eucalyptus and fog. Okay, fair enough, this is not just a holiday thing, but for some reason it stands out for me during the holiday season. The Bay Area is home to quite a few Eucalyptus trees, which are actually an invasive species, but are now just a part of life here.

The Bay Area geography means we have what is called a “marine layer“, which is the reason for the iconic fog we experience. Roughly explained, when a warm Bay Area day meets the cool, cool Pacific Ocean, they crash into each other and create fog.

Add to that when a Eucalyptus tree gets warmed up, it releases its very aromatic oils.

So you have a warm tree giving off oils and by the afternoon a marine layer pushing ocean fog into the Bay Area. This creates a smell that is unique to the Bay Area all year round. Add in the moist damp air from the rainy season that starts around the holidays and you have something that will forever be etched in my mind. Even my sister recently commented on her memory of the Eucalyptus smell from her last visit.

10) To use a colloquialism from the internet, I truly love the way the Bay Area is so very extra at the holidays. Examples include the enormous real Gingerbread House at the Fairmont hotel, the entire Oakland Zoo covered in holiday lights, the huge Dickens fair, the full size skating rink constructed every year at the Embarcadero Plaza, real live reindeer at the Discovery Museum, the lighted boat parade with holiday lights from San Francisco’s not one but two yacht clubs, and that’s not even the beginning of a comprehensive list. There is always something to do, to try, to remember, and to make a tradition.

The Bay Area loves the holidays and I love everything about that.

_______________


Well that ended up being an awful lot of fun to write. Maybe posting this version right after my New Mexico version becomes my new holiday tradition.

Basically, I just love the holidays and all the food, smells, and trees, so I guess wherever in the world I live, I’ll find something to love and write about at the holidays.

Thanks for coming along with me on this journey. Feel free to tell me what you love best about the holidays where you live either here or on any of the social media where we connect.

And to you and yours, wherever in the world you are, wishing a wonderful, joyful, and magic holiday season.





Top Ten Things I Miss About New Mexico – 2018 Edition

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One of the most popular posts I have ever done on my little blog is this one: Top Ten Things I Miss About Christmas in New Mexico.

Originally written in a fit of holiday homesickness in 2007, I republished it at the holidays for many years.

It’s been a while since I put it up on the blog, and this year I decided not to republish that same post but instead write a new one. It’s now eleven years later and things have changed. I have changed.

I’m sure many of the items will be the same, but may be on the list for a different reason. I don’t know, I’m riffing this as it comes to me. Eleven years seems like a long time, then hardly a blip on the radar too.

Anyhow, I’m super sentimental today and I’m listening to oldies Christmas music (go Bing Crosby!) so here we go:


The (refreshed) Top Ten Things I Miss About Christmas in New Mexico:


1) The smell of piñon fire smoke mixed with the smell of snow or very cold air. Don’t think snow has a smell? Think again. And piñon is the smell of home, hands down. Where I live now it’s often a spare the air day, so no fires. And also, no snow.


2) Shopping with my mom for the annual Christmas ornament. Usually we shopped in Old Town, but not always. I took the challenge of picking out my annual ornament very seriously. I have all of them now in a box. Maybe I should hang them on the tree this year? I haven’t done that in a while.


3) Biscochitos for sale pretty much everywhere. I love making them but also love eating them so sometimes my demand outpaced my supply. There was a little restaurant in Los Lunas that my folks used to like for breakfast that sold their own biscochos by the register. So light and crumbly. Gah! I could go for one now.


4) Tamales as gifts. Tamales at holiday pot lucks. Tamales at holiday parties. Just, all the tamales! All the time.


5) Creamland Egg Nog. You might say, “What now? Don’t they have egg nog out there in crazy California?” Yes they do, but I’ve never found any I liked as much as that local NM dairy brand. Plus now that my ol’ rig can’t tolerate dairy like it used to, I just have live in memories of glasses of delicious chilled nog from childhood.


6) This holiday candle my mom had from Avon that she only put out at the holidays. It smelled SO good. I have no idea what the smell even was, some sort of spiced berry thing. It was in a really pretty gold painted glass container.

Oh wait, holy moly. I found a photo online. This is it! Called Avon First Christmas Frankincense & Myrrh, circa 1967 to 1972. This is the scent of my childhood holidays. Man I miss that smell. It’s all Christmas Eve just after Mass, gazing at the tree, eating tamales, and you know, drinking big glasses of egg nog.


Awesome nostalgic photo was, surprisingly, found here.


7) Holiday happy hour at Gardunos, the one by Winrock. They’d decorate that whole warehouse looking place for the holidays. The margaritas flowed and mariachis played and there were good eats in abundance. I hear that the quality of Gardunos has gone to meh in recent years, and that makes me sad. Those days live on in memories from my mid-to-late 20s. (Well, there are quite a few things I miss from my 20s. My waistline, for example.)


8) And also sopaipillas. Which isn’t really just a holiday but year-round thing, but gall durn I miss them.


9) Snow on Sandia Crest. Or snow on the Organ Mountains. Or snow on any of the gorgeous mountains in New Mexico. (and the delicious city water that flows at spring thaw). I do NOT miss driving in snow, or how crazy people get when it is snowing, or cleaning snow off the car. Or for that matter, snow melting then re-freezing for weeks so you have that one patch that you slip on every single morning on your way to work.

But snow in the mountains? Perfection.


10) Making, placing, and lighting luminarias. Yes, we called them luminarias, correctly or not. Labor intensive but a labor of love. Digging up good New Mexico soil to fill paper bags and plopping in a candle. Stamping out the fire when the NM winds got to be too much… Like that.


Wow, so that is ten. It’s over as quick as it started. You know, ten seems hardly enough to capture all of the homesick in my heart, but this list is a pretty good place to start.

Maybe later tonight I’ll sip a little good Irish Whiskey (which doesn’t hurt my tummy!) and put my old childhood ornaments on the tree and hug The Good Man and The Feline and let memories have me for a while.

Coming up in the next few days: When I am done with the Wayback Machine, I think it is time to write the Top Ten Things I Love about Christmas in the Bay Area. There is a lot to love at the holidays, and after living here for 20 years, maybe it is time to give it its due.





Very cool image of Central Avenue in the 1950s-ish, at Christmastime was found here.





This Week’s Theme: Speckled

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With a photography theme of “speckled” it was high time to photograph one of my favorite foods, the beautifully speckled pinto bean. Food of my people, staple of many a memorable meal, and occasionally a cure for what ails ya.

I am really loving playing with shadows to add dimension to a photo, and had a lot of fun figuring out how to make a few pinto beans worth looking at. I’m pretty happy with this photo, we’ll see how it does in this week’s Flickr group.



©2018 Karen Fayeth





48 Hours of Prague Thoughts

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I have found myself in the city of Prague in the country of Czech Republic for only forty-eight hours. Well, a little less than forty-eight, but let’s not quibble.

In forty-eight hours I have learned that the current leadership of the country wants their country to be referred to as Czechia, for reasons I don’t fully understand.

“The Terminological Committee of the Czech Office for Surveying, Mapping and Cadaster officially codified Czechia in 1993 in its publication “Names of States and their Territorial Parts”. Therefore, Czechia is the grammatically correct short name of the Czech Republic…” – from Go-Czechia.com

I have learned that occasionally I can understand a word or two in Czech, but then the diacritic marks give me doubt.

And I have interacted with Czech citizens, mostly the driver of my airport shuttle, hotel staff, and employees of the mall next door to the hotel. The clerks at the grocery store in the mall are probably the most Czech of the Czechs I have encountered. They have little to no English and can’t care that I have no Czech. I admire this.

One habit I have cultivated in my bit of international traveling is that I like to go to grocery stores when I visit other countries. I like to see what everyday people buy and how everyday people procure their comestibles. Also because grocery store clerks are the most representative of the people of the country because they have no enthusiasm for making it easy on tourists. They are just being genuine.

In less than forty-eight hours I have come to appreciate and even feel a deep fondness for the people of Prague. Come with me on this tangent: Over the course of my life I have been fortunate enough to be friends with many Russian people. People from Russia have a very distinct cultural identity. Most Russian people I know can find a way to be unhappy even in the most incredibly happy of times. Not a sadness, but a deep disappointment tinged with world weariness. There is almost an enjoyment in unhappiness.

Obviously, owing to the long history of Czechia (see, I can learn), Russian culture has had a deep impact on the people who live here. I find some of that same slight sadness, irritation and fatigue with life in the people of Prague. At least the people older than say…thirty-five. It’s almost kind of endearing.

Here’s my best example. I went to the grocery to get some water, some chips and some cookies to stock in my hotel room for snack time. I had just a few items and I approached the register, feeling nervous.

I had learned two days ago that if I want a bag, I have to take one (paper or plastic) from the front of the register, and I have to let the clerk know I am buying the bag, and then I have to bag my own groceries. It’s very common in Europe to bag your own groceries. I was proud to have learned the whole bag situation (a nice Czech lady helped me) and was ready to check out. (Czech out? Okay, bad pun.)

My sweet little American self stepped forward when it was my turn, and I held up the bag and pointed and nodded. The clerk sighed and began mumbling in Czech. Then the mumbling took on a ferocity. She riffled through some papers on her table and spoke more loudly, but not to me.

She shouted across the aisle to the clerk at the next checkout station. A conversation ensued. As near as I can decipher, she needed the code for the paper bag I had chosen. The other woman offered a suggestion that didn’t work. My checker kept trying until after several attempts, she sorted it out.

She then began to scan the rest of my items, mumbling and gesturing in Czech. Not speaking to me, but clearly unhappy. Occasionally she’d shove at the papers that had let her down.

In my mind, I translated from a language I do not understand, but I think I understood the moment.

“This person wants a paper bag and they tell me I have to charge for it and if I’m supposed to charge you’d think they would at least give me the code on these damn papers,” shoves papers, “but no, I have to guess and this goofy looking American is standing here, don’t think I don’t know you are an American. Just because you haven’t said a word doesn’t mean I can’t smell it on you from a mile away. And of course the American wants a paper bag. Plastic bag, I know the code for that, but no she wants a paper bag and I don’t know the code and I don’t have the code here,” shoves papers, “I have to scan all her stuff and I don’t even care, I just am trying to make a living here and I have to charge for paper bags and what is the meaning of life anyway, but to be miserable, forced to charge for a paper bag and never really knowing the correct code.”

Or, you know, I could be reading into things…just a teeny bit.

We concluded our transaction and I smiled and said “thank you.” She looked at me like I was a developmentally latent child, and I walked away, a few Czech Crowns lighter, a bag of chips water and cookies in hand, and a story that felt like it needed to be told.

Tomorrow brings the most intense day of meetings, the whole reason my employer sent me to Prague. Once that is concluded, I can hardly wait to finally explore more of this beautiful city and learn more about the people and places of Czechia. I can’t wait!




The Google translate app (using the camera, a very cool feature) tells me that this grocery bag says (roughly) “With 25 years, from us you take away freshness and quality.” You can see how the last word really could be the word “quality.” But beware of thinking you know something now, because you certainly do not. Your Czech is of no kvalitu.





Photo ©2016 Karen Fayeth, taken with an iPhone, the Camera+ app, amusement and jet lag. Subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page.




¡Comida! There is Indian and then there is Indian

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Part III in a series.

So of course, one of the things I miss the most about my fair New Mexico is the food. It is unlike anything else in the world and as a native, the green chile flows in my veins.

Too much California time and I start to get a little pale, weak and shaky. I survive by cooking my own New Mexican food and that ties me over pretty darn well. But it’s not the same as being home.

From my first footstep on hallowed and dusty New Mexico ground and I was ready for some good eats.

I would have to wait for a good greasy restaurant meal, however. First stop on our tour was to go to see my best friend’s little sister who is a very dear friend in her own right.

Her three kids are growing too fast and I really couldn’t believe how time has flown. I guess that is how we mark time as adults, by how fast the kids grow?

After hugs and “it’s been too long!” we all loaded up in a Suburban and headed over to the nearby little league fields to watch her oldest son, who is ten, play a little baseball.

It’s pretty well documented how much I love baseball, so I had a great time watching the kids try to learn how to put it all together. I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time.

My friend’s husband was the umpire for the game, so of course Blue got a hearty ration of crap from us in the stands. “Use the good eye, Blue!” And I boo’d him when he called his own son out on strike three looking. That ain’t right to ring up your kid! LOL!

Thankfully he has a good sense of humor and is a very kind man. Also, he can dish out it just as well as he can take it.

Later that evening we ate together and had a wonderful home cooked meal. There was a nice bowl of chopped green chile to add to our good eats and I knew every little thing was going to be all right. Well, that and the four adults knocked back a few glasses of Mimbres Red and got a real good cuss and discuss going.

It was a good place to be, a very good place. This was one of those rare times and places in the world where I was able to simply be nothing other than my true self. No hiding my words, no trying to show off, no being circumspect. Simply 100% me because I know these people are family, and for well over twenty-five years they have accepted me just as I am. It gives me peace.

The next day we got it all together and got back into the ‘burb. We continued our journey by heading north to Santa Fe. Once we got settled into our hotel, my best friend remembered a restaurant that her husband recommended was located nearby, so we loaded up.

The place is called PC’s Restaurant Lounge and their menu included something called an Indian Taco. We used to call them Navajo Tacos, and they really are something special.

For the uninitiated, a Navajo Taco is a piece of Indian Fry Bread that is loaded with all the ingredients of a taco then covered in green chile and melted cheese.

Heaven on a plate.

These are not as common on the menus of Southern New Mexico and I haven’t had one in a long time. I hopped right on ordering this and giggled with anticipation.

I’ll save the suspense, it was galldang delicious. (Lactose intolerance be damned!)




Terrible photo of a terrific meal.

A beautiful combination of Mexican food and Native American food, right on my plate, into my tummy, into my veins, sustenance for my very soul.

This should be the State Dish of New Mexico because it perfectly describes our blending of cultures and the New Mexican’s love of a good meal.

Of course, I was a useless lump of lard for the rest of the day after this meal. My salad-and-a-little-exercise body was quite confused but mostly pleased. A nice lunch like that makes a siesta real easy and full of nice dreams.

The next day we managed to pull ourselves up and out the door and we explored the Plaza in Santa Fe. We shopped and strolled and touristed. Because why not?

I really enjoyed absorbing everything, recharging the batteries, and remembering when these feet last strolled the same sidewalks. So familiar. So different.

When it was time for lunch my friend suggested we go to an Indian place to eat.

“India Indian?” I asked, because one can never be too sure in New Mexico. She laughed, but she was very serious. She wanted to take me to an Indian (i.e. Central Asian) restaurant in the middle of Santa Fe.

What?

No. Wait. What?

Yes. We went to a little place named India Palace and had their lunch buffet.

Ooooh damn. That was some of the best Indian food I’ve ever had. I live in the Bay Area and there are a lot (and by a lot, I mean A LOT) of good Indian food places here. And you know what? India Palace in Santa Fe, New Mexico beat them all.

I know, right? You may be saying, “C’mon, really?” Yes. Really. Sadly I was too busy shoving Saag and Paneer Masala down my gullet to stop and take a snapshot of such gorgeously delicious food.

Good eats are good eats and I sure had ’em in New Mexico. Damn, I ate well. There were a few of things I had wanted to get to while I was there and I missed out. Like good old fashioned Sangria (a restaurant in Santa Fe that sadly isn’t there anymore called La Tertulia served the best I ever had) and carne adovada, and sopaipillas.

Oh well. I guess that gives me more to look forward on the next visit? And incentivizes me to make that next visit happen very, very soon.

Side Note: I just looked at the Wikipedia page for sopaipillas.

In that entry, it says the following:

“A simple imitation of a sopaipilla can be made by frying a flour tortilla until it puffs up then cutting it into triangles and serving with honey.”

Um. No. No it can’t. No it absolutely cannot. A puffy tortilla and a sopaipilla are absolutely NOT THE SAME THING. I am highly offended it was even suggested. Mo’flicking Wikipedia full of lies and insanity.

Just. No.

Ok, let’s get back on track here. While your mind reels over that sopaipilla madness, rest your eyes on this photo of my older goddaughter’s green chile chicken enchiladas, a perennial favorite of mine. Yum!




Yes, apparently while in New Mexico, I am a hipster freak photographing my food.




Coming up next: Part IV, The More Things Change





Images Copyright © 2014 Karen Fayeth, and subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page. Taken with an iPhone5 and the Camera+ app.